Tag Archives: retire

Protect Yourself Against Cognitive Decline

My Comments: Readers of my posts know I usually talk about money or some aspect of it. My challenge over the years has been to assess the financial literacy of whomever I’m talking with. And that challenge increases with age; both mine and that of my friends and clients.

This article might start a useful conversation between you and your children and/or other family members. I’ve had clients reach the end of their lives leaving loved ones totally ignorant about their financial lives. It can dramatically increase the pain and frustration of those they leave behind.

by Danielle Howard \ Aug 12, 2017

You could lose the ability to manage your finances and not know it

Many people work hard to make sure there are ample assets to provide for the go-go, slow-go and no-go season of life. Have you ever considered how the mental capacity to manage those resources will change as you age?

A study done in January of 2017 by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College delves into how cognitive aging could affect financial capacity.

Your financial capacity is the ability to manage your financial affairs in your own best interest. It scopes a broad range of activities ranging from rudimentary money skills (understanding the value of bills and coins) to complex activities such as identifying assets and income, exercising judgment around risk and return of investments or comprehending tax implications of purchases or sales.

Many activities in our financial lives are based on “crystallized” intelligence. This is the knowledge and skills we have gained over time, also known as financial literacy. These are the practical, day to day financial applications or procedures in our lives. It is heightened with the level of involvement in family monetary matters. With normal cognitive aging, knowledge remains largely intact throughout our 70s or 80s.

Our “fluid” intelligence incorporates memory, attention and information processing. As our wealth grows, so does the need to track where it is, and how to best use it for what is important to us. This “fluid” aspect of our intellect can start to decline as early as age 30.

The research found that individuals who age normally are more likely to develop deficits in the area of judgment over their ability to carry out the basic tasks. However, there are cautions in both areas of capacity.

Many people in their fall season are competent of managing the “crystallized” aspects of their financial lives. If a person has not taken an active role in the family finances, they are vulnerable to losing capacity in this area. A “financial novice” may be a person that has had to take over the responsibilities of managing the family finances in the event of a death or incapacitation of another family member. Women who lose a spouse and have not been involved in the family finances are highly vulnerable to losing capacity in this area.

Cognitive impairment, ranging from mild (CMI), to dementia primarily affects financial judgment — the “fluid” intelligence”. This can pose challenges in that a person can feel confident and remain “knowledgeable” about day to day activities, but their impaired judgment makes them more likely to become victims of fraud. As people loose both the “crystallized” and “fluid” elements of their intellect, they are additionally exposed to financial abuse by caregivers.

Since a critical characteristic of cognitive decline or impairment is the unawareness of the deteriorating state, how can we protect ourselves and our loved ones?

1. Become financially literate. I have heard too many stories that started with “my spouse is the money person, I just let them take care of it”. Educate and empower yourself around everything financial. Start somewhere and keep learning.

2. Educate yourself on the aging process. Talk to your elder family members as to what they are experiencing. Embrace and make the most out of it. Do the best you can with your choices to maximize your health in all areas of your life during this season.

3. Build trusted relationships. That includes your relationships with friends, family and advisers (health, spiritual, financial). Make sure everyone has your best interest in mind and communicate with each other. Transparency, integrity and honesty will serve you well.

Danielle Howard is a Certified Financial Planner practitioner. She’s the author of “Your Financial Revolution: Time to Recognize, Revitalize, and Release Your Financial Power.”

Retiring Early? Here’s How to Delay Taking Social Security Anyway

My Comments: I’ve you’ve not yet signed up to receive your monthly Social Security benefit, this is worth a read. I encourage everyone to try and wait until Full Retirement Age (FRA). The outcomes are likely to be much better.

If you claim Social Security early, your checks will be permanently reduced. Consider looking for income elsewhere so that you can wait until full retirement age.

Wendy Connick \ Aug 9, 2017

Sometimes retiring early is unavoidable. If you’re struggling with chronic health issues, or if you’re laid off from your job in your early 60s and see no prospect of getting another, it just makes sense to go ahead and retire. On the other hand, claiming Social Security early can put a serious crimp in your income later on: Starting Social Security payments before full retirement age means your benefits checks will be permanently reduced. But if you can scrape together enough income from other sources, you can wait to claim Social Security until the most financially practical time for you.

Here are five ways to fill the income gap between the day you retire and the day you start collecting retirement benefits.

Buy an annuity

If you retire early, it may make sense to take a chunk of money and use it to buy an immediate fixed annuity. These annuities pay you a set amount of money every month for the rest of your life. That makes them something of a substitute for Social Security, and if you have cash to buy a substantial annuity, you may be able to delay taking Social Security for years, thereby letting your eventual benefit amount grow.

A caveat: Annuities are complex products that come with fairly restrictive terms, so do plenty of research on your options before buying one. You can start by learning some of the basics HERE.

Construct a bond ladder

Bonds are an excellent source of guaranteed income in the form of interest payments — but the drawback is that in order to get a decent return on investment these days, you need to purchase fairly long-term bonds, which means your principal will be tied up for years and years. Bond ladders help you to get around this problem. To construct a bond ladder, you buy bonds with different maturity dates so that you will regularly have bonds reaching maturity and releasing principal back to you. As you get your principal back, you use it to buy new bonds and keep the ladder going. Another perk of bond ladders is that if interest rates go up, you’ll be able to take advantage of the new rates as you continually buy new issues to replace the bonds that have matured. While interest rates are quite low even on long-term bonds, a good bond ladder can provide a substantial amount of income.

Buy dividend stocks

With their exceptionally high long-term returns, stocks are an excellent money maker. However, in order to realize the income from a stock’s increased value, you have to sell it. An alternative way to get income from stocks is to buy ones that pay regular, high dividends to their stockholders. While dividends aren’t as reliable a source of income as bond interest payments, if you invest in dividend aristocrats — companies that have paid dividends for at least 25 consecutive years — then those payments are likely to keep coming, and increasing, for many years. This strategy works well for retirees, because dividend aristocrats also tend to be large, stable companies that are unlikely to suffer from high volatility.

Get income from your house

The above strategies require a retiree to have a substantial chunk of money at their disposal. If your accounts aren’t quite so well-funded, you might not be able to generate enough income from them to get by without Social Security. In that case, your house may be the resource you need to make up your income gap. If you have more house than you require, renting out a room might be an excellent source of income — especially if you live in a college town. A somewhat more permanent option would be to get a reverse mortgage on your house, but before you pursue this option, make sure that you understand all the consequences of doing so. Finally, if all you need is a little extra cash to smooth out your cash flow, a home equity line of credit can help.

Work part-time

The side hustle is an increasingly popular way to make money at any age, and the best side hustles are the ones you actually enjoy doing. Your favorite hobby might be just the thing to bring in some extra cash; it’s clearly something you enjoy doing, since you’re doing it now without being paid for it. You may be surprised by how many people would be willing to pay you for the fruits of your labor. So if you practice any sort of craft, from sewing to building bird houses, try setting up a shop on Etsy or a similar site and peddling your wares. If you love gardening, look for a local farmers market and figure out what it would take to set up a profitable booth. And if you have years of experience in a job that can be done without leaving a computer, then you may be able to find freelance work online. There are several websites that exist solely to connect freelance workers with companies that have a short-term need for help.

A side hustle likely won’t pay the bills on its own, but combined with the other options above, it could help you stay afloat until you reach full retirement age — and finally claim those Social Security benefits.

Income Inequality and Local Politics

My Comments: As an economist, I’ve talked consistently about the threat to society posed by income inequality. My rantings make zero difference at the national level, where if this issue is not addressed, there will be rioting in the streets.

A friend and I talked this morning about the apparent collapse of societal norms he and I have used to navigate our lives for the past 60 years. Our hope now is that with the antics of 45 now a daily happening, the backlash from within the GOP and Democratic party, coupled with inevitable demographic changes, we’ll come out OK. Unfortunately, “hope” is rarely an effective management strategy.

Meanwhile, I’ve also become more engaged with elected people at the local level. And so while I can do little more than talk about it, I’m sharing this article with people I enjoy spending time with who might collectively be called progressives.

Thursday, Dec 29, 2016 \ Theo Anderson

In 1980, the top 1 percent earned 27 times more than workers in the bottom 50 percent. Now, they earn 81 times more

The income gap between the classes is growing at a startling rate in the United States. In 1980, the top 1 percent earned on average 27 times more than workers in the bottom 50 percent. Today, they earn 81 times more.

The widening gap is “due to a boom in capital income,” according to research by French economist Thomas Piketty. That means the rich are living off of their wealth rather than investing it in businesses that create jobs, as Republican, supply-side economics predicts they would do.

Piketty played a pivotal role in pushing income inequality to the center of public discussions in 2013 with his book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” In a new working paper, he and his co-authors report that the average national income per adult grew by 61 percent in the United States between 1980 and 2014. But only the highest earners benefited from that growth.

For those in the top 1 percent, income rose 205 percent. Meanwhile, the average pre-tax income of the bottom 50 percent of workers was basically unchanged, stagnating “at about $16,000 per adult after adjusting for inflation,” the paper reads.

It notes that this trend has important political consequences: “An economy that fails to deliver growth for half of its people for an entire generation is bound to generate discontent with the status quo and a rejection of establishment politics.”

But the authors also note that the trend is not inevitable or irreversible. In France, for example, the bottom 50 percent of pre-tax income grew by about the same rate — 32 percent — as the overall national income per adult from 1980 to 2014.

The difference? In the United States, “the stagnation of bottom 50 percent of incomes and the upsurge in the top 1 percent coincided with drastically reduced progressive taxation, widespread deregulation of industries and services, particularly the financial services industry, weakened unions and an eroding minimum wage,” the paper reads.

Piketty and Portland

President-elect Donald Trump’s administration promises at least four years of policies that will expand the gap in earnings. But a few glimmers of hope are emerging at the local level.

The city council of Portland, Oregon, for example, recently approved a tax on public companies that pay executives more than 100 times the median pay of workers. The surtax will increase corporate income tax by 10 percent if executive pay is less than 250 times the median pay for workers, and by 25 percent if it’s 250 and over. The tax could potentially affect more than 500 companies and raise between $2.5 million and $3.5 million per year.

The council cited Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” in the ordinance creating the tax. Steve Novick, the city commissioner behind it, recently wrote that “the dramatic growth of inequality has been fueled by very high compensation of a few managers at big corporations, as illustrated by the fact that 60 to 70 percent of people in the top 0.1 percent of income in the United States are highly paid executives at large firms.”

Novick said that he liked the idea when he first heard about it because it’s “the closest thing I’d seen to a tax on inequality itself.” He also said that “extreme economic inequality is — next to global warming — the biggest problem we have in our society.”

Investing in children

There is also hopeful news in the educational realm. James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in economics at the University of Chicago who has spent much of his career studying inequality and early childhood education, recently published a paper that lays out the results of a long-term study.

In “The Life-cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program,” Heckman and others report that high-quality programs for children from birth to age 5 have long-term positive effects across a range of metrics, including health, IQ, participation in crime, quality of life and labor income.

Predictably, perhaps, the effects of the programs weren’t limited to children. High-quality early childhood education also allowed mothers “to enter the workforce and increase earnings while their children gained the foundational skills to make them more productive in the future workforce,” a summary of the paper reads.

“While the costs of comprehensive early childhood education are high, the rate of return of [high-quality programs] imply that these costs are good investments. Every dollar spent on high quality, birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children delivers a 13 percent per annum return on investment.”

The research is important because early childhood education has bipartisan support. Over the summer, the Learning Policy Institute released a report that highlighted best practices from four states that have successful early childhood education programs. Two of them — Michigan and North Carolina — are swing states in national politics. The others are Washington and a solidly red state, West Virginia.

Although it isn’t a substitute for other policy tools to address inequality, like progressive taxes, early childhood education has strong bipartisan support because it produces measurable payoffs for both children and the economy. One study found, for example, that the economic benefit of closing the educational achievement gaps between children of different classes would be $70 billion each year.

Early childhood education fosters an “increasingly productive workforce that will boost economic growth, provide budgetary savings at the state and federal levels, and lead to reductions in future generations’ involvement with the criminal justice system,” the Economic Policy Institute recently noted. “These benefits will, of course, materialize only in coming decades when today’s children have grown up. But the research is clear that they will materialize — and when they do, they are permanent.”

Investment Returns Will Shrink

My Comments: Putting money to work for the future is something we all try to do. Our expectations vary all over the map. If you use the past to predict the future, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

This is very relevant if we have money sitting somewhere that we plan to use tomorrow to support our standard of living.

If we’ve stopped working for a living, our only recurring income comes from Social Security, pensions, and whatever money we’ve saved. All of which makes it imperative we find a way to manage financial risk going forward.

by Dr. Bill Conerly, August 5, 2017

What will an investment portfolio earn over the long term? That issue is important to individual investors, state pension agencies and corporations offering defined benefit pensions. State pension agencies have been lowering their assumed returns. A decade ago, 8.0 percent was the dominant assumption, with some states higher and some lower. Now the most common assumption is between 7.0 and 7.5 percent. The sub-seven assumption was never used as recently as 2011 but is now embraced by several pension authorities.

What assumption should a family, a government agency or a corporate pension fund use? For a long time, it’s been best to go back to the long-term averages, but the current outlook is less rosy. I personally have revised down the estimate I use in planning the Conerly family’s spending and saving, and I concur with public bodies who do the same. I’m not fully convinced that I’m right; I just think the pain from erring on the low side will be less than the pain of erring on the high side.

The traditional approach is to look at long-run returns, and the book of numbers for that analysis is the SBBI Yearbook covering stocks, bonds, bills and inflation (hence the SBBI name). This research is based on pioneering work done by Roger Ibbotson and Rex Sinquefield.

Since 1926, when their dataset begins, U.S. common stocks have rewarded investors by 10 percent per year, counting capital gains and dividends, before taxes. Corporate bond returns averaged 5.6 percent returns. An investment portfolio split 50 percent in stocks (the Standard and Poor’s 500) and 50 percent in corporate bonds would have earned 8.3 percent per year over 1926-2016. That justifies a long-run expected return around 8.0 percent as was common.

But don’t stop reading yet! Remember two important points. First, past returns are not guaranteed in the future. Second, even if the past points the way to the future, the past includes whole decades with negative returns to stocks, albeit just slightly negative.

On the first point, the structure of the economy has changed substantially since 1925 when the good data begin. Jeremy Siegel in his book, Stocks for the Long Run, shows stock market data back to 1802. He finds a seven percent annual return from 1802 through 1925. This suggests that we cannot take investment returns fixed in stone; they can be higher or lower over long periods. (Siegel’s book is one of my top two picks for the average person making investment decisions. The other is Burton Malkiel’s A Random Walk Down Wall Street.)

Stock market returns have been pretty good recently. Look at the S&P 500 since 2012 (counting capital gains and dividends, before taxes):
2012 +16%
2013 +32%
2014 +14%
2015 +1%
2016 +12%

But high returns can be due to overly optimistic speculators rather than economic fundamentals. We know that economic growth has been below normal in recent years. We also know that interest rates have been well below long-run averages. That suggests – but does not prove – that returns on capital are lower now than in the historic average.

Low returns on capital might trigger a stock market gain in the short run, as lower interest expense makes corporate profitability look better. But in the long run, stock market returns must reflect the returns of investing capital in a business. So if low corporate bond interest rates today reflect low returns on capital, then stock market returns should be low in the future.

The story for low returns on capital now is simple: much of our new production requires very little capital. A steel mill or car factory requires lots of capital. A Google or Facebook requires far less. With less need for capital, the owners of capital will earn lower returns. And the global supply of savings is rising, partly due to aging baby boomers around the world and partly because a larger share of world income is in countries with weak social safety nets. I provided more detail in “Returns on Capital – And Interest Rates – Will Be Low In The Future.”

The second caution mentioned above is the tremendous variability of returns. The long-run average for stocks may be ten percent, but the entire decades of the 1930s and the 2010s had negative returns. An investor ended a ten-year period with fewer dollars than at the beginning. And don’t forget the spectacularly bad years: 1931, -43 percent, and 2008, -37 percent.

The long-run average tells you little about next year’s return. If the next bad decade starts just as you retire, you may feel pretty uncomfortable waiting for the long-run average to return. And if you can’t stomach the occasional bad year, then you’re likely to shift into a low-return investment when the stock market rebounds.

If I have to make a best guess as to how the next 100 years will look, I roll with the long-term average and say that stocks will return about ten percent. But I have arranged my personal affairs so that long-run returns can be much lower and I’ll still be able to eat.

2017 Social Security Trustees Report

My Comments: A critical question on the minds of everyone is “Will Social Security be there for me or my spouse?” It doesn’t matter where you are in life, short of being on life support.

Unfortunately, there is not yet the political will to impose a solution. That’s because the crisis is not yet within the last election cycle for any elected official. Few politicians have the necessary ability to think and act for anything beyond the next election.

The easiest fix is to increase the upper limit of earned income to which FICA taxes apply. But it won’t happen from either a Republican or Democrat controlled house and senate until the crisis is next door. But it will get fixed if we still have a Constitutional democracy.

Dan Caplinger \ Jul 17, 2017

Americans rely on Social Security, but its financial future has been unclear for a long time. Every year, it’s the responsibility of the Social Security Trustees to report on the health of the Social Security Trust Funds, which hold the assets that will help fund future retirement benefits for Social Security recipients. Once again, the trustees missed their statutory deadline and were three and a half months late getting the 2017 Social Security Trustees Report done. The report, which you can access by PDF here, is 269 pages long, but the most important aspects confirm most of what those who’ve followed Social Security in the past have seen for years.

1. The disability trust fund again improved, but Social Security’s trust funds overall will still run out of money in 2034.

Most of the headline numbers regarding Social Security stayed the same as they’ve been for a couple of years now. The 2017 report repeated its previous projections that the combined overall trust fund reserves will be depleted in 2034. When you look solely at the Old Age and Survivors Trust Fund, which covers the Social Security benefits that older Americans and their families receive, 2035 is still the date at which that portion of the overall program will run out of money.

The Disability Insurance Trust Fund, however, has gotten more financially healthy. The depletion date for that fund is now 2028, five years later than it was last year. The report noted that favorable experience for applications and benefit awards for disability benefits has been helpful, continuing a trend of falling applications for disability since 2010. The number of disabled workers actually getting benefits has also fallen each year since 2014, and despite expectations that this trend would reverse itself, the numbers at the end of 2016 confirmed its continued improvement. Disability is a small portion of the overall Social Security program, so even if favorable trends continue, optimism about that trust fund won’t be enough to provide a meaningful extension of time for Social Security as a whole.

2. Americans will face a benefit cut after the trust funds are depleted.

Many people mistakenly believe that once the Social Security trust funds are out of money, the program will be completely bankrupt. That’s not the case, because the program gets income from Social Security payroll taxes and other sources. What will happen, though, is that recipients will only get a fraction of their scheduled benefits.

The 2017 trustees report said that following the spending of all trust fund balances, Social Security on the whole will only get enough revenue to cover 77% of scheduled benefits. When you break that down by the type of benefit, the Old Age and Survivors Fund will receive enough income to cover 75% of payments, while the Disability Fund will be able to cover 93% of what it owes beneficiaries.

3. Here’s what it would take to fix Social Security’s financial problems.

Trustees reports typically offer some thoughts about how to close the shortfall between Social Security’s long-term financial obligations and its current financial resources. The 2017 report made a couple of suggestions about how lawmakers could immediately solve the problem, although the measures are so draconian that they would never happen in reality.

One solution would be for the government to increase the current payroll tax that goes toward Social Security. For 2017, employees pay 6.2% on the first $127,200 in wages that they earn. Employers have to match that amount with a 6.2% tax of their own. In order to cover 100% of future benefits over the next 75 years, the government would have to increase that total tax by 2.76 percentage points, bringing the overall total to 15.16%. That’s considerably larger than the 2.58 percentage point increase that the 2016 report said would be necessary.

Alternatively, lawmakers could cut benefits. But even if they acted right now to cut all benefits — including those that current Social Security recipients get — then it would take a 17% cut to get the job done. That’s up from 16% last year. If you spare current recipients but apply a reduction to future beneficiaries, the reduction would have to be even greater at 20%. That too is one percentage point higher than the corresponding figure in the 2016 report.

4. It only gets tougher to fix Social Security later.

The solutions above assume immediate action. If lawmakers wait, the actions required to fix Social Security get even harder.

The 2017 report looks at what would be necessary if nothing changes until 2034. It would take a payroll tax increase of almost 4 percentage points to close the funding gap at that point. Immediate benefit reductions of 23% would also get the job done. Those cuts won’t be any more palatable in the future than they are today.

5. Social Security’s date of reckoning is getting more certain.

The Social Security Trustees Report has to make assumptions about the future, and that introduces uncertainty in their projections. However, the likely range of trust fund depletion dates is getting narrower, reflecting greater visibility as the dates get closer.

Last year, the 2016 report said that it was likely that the trust funds would run out of money between 2029 and 2045, with a 95% confidence level for that range of dates. This year, the range in the 2017 report narrowed to between 2030 and 2043.

The trustees did acknowledge that under low-cost assumptions, there is a theoretical possibility that the Social Security trust funds won’t run out of money. It would take higher fertility rates, slower rises in life expectancy, lower unemployment, and favorable macroeconomic factors to get to that low-cost scenario, however, and the trustees see that scenario as extremely unlikely.

Most of those who follow Social Security will dismiss the 2017 Social Security Trustees Report as having few big changes from previous years. Yet as the impending depletion of trust fund balances approaches, lawmakers have to tackle the issue with more resolve if they want to avoid huge problems within the next 15 to 20 years.

Wall Street is sending huge warning signs for stocks

My Comments: Sooner or later, the penny will drop.

Joe Ciolli \ Jul 30, 2017

To a growing chorus of strategists and investors across Wall Street, the stock market looks like it’s headed for a rude awakening.

Their mounting pessimism comes at a time when US equities are looking healthy, at least on the surface. Major indexes are hovering near record highs they reached this past week, while corporate earnings are growing at a blistering pace.

Yet some market experts think this apparent strength is just masking deeper problems brewing under the surface.

Count Marko Kolanovic, JPMorgan’s global head of quantitative and derivatives strategy, as one of those stressing caution. In a client note on Thursday, he said that record-low volatility should “give pause to equity managers.” Kolanovic even went as far as to compare the strategies that are suppressing price swings to the conditions leading up to the 1987 stock market crash.

“The fact that we had many volatility cycles since 1983, and are now at all-time lows in volatility, indicates that we may be very close to the turning point,” he said.

A sudden move down in US stocks on Thursday — including a notably outsized loss in tech — was widely attributed to Kolanovic’s note, highlighting just how seriously many investors have started taking such warnings.

His consternation extends into the hedge fund world, where investment managers are also crying foul about low volatility to anyone that will listen.

Baupost Group, a $30 billion fund, recently highlighted the lack of price swings as a harbinger of pain to come, calling it a possible “accelerant for the next financial crisis.” Meanwhile, Highfields Capital Management, which oversees $13 billion, said this past week that low volatility is giving people the false impression that the market is risk-free.

Going beyond the much-maligned low-volatility environment, Bank of America Merrill Lynch has its own reasons for expecting an upcoming rough patch in stocks — one it sees coming sometime this autumn.

Michael Hartnett, the chief investment strategist of BAML Global Research, points to how the S&P 500 has continued climbing to new highs, even as the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has stayed relatively unchanged. He says this divergence is a “classic euphoria signal.” Such overexuberance has historically been a sign that investment sentiment is overextended.

Legendary investor Byron Wien, who currently serves as vice chairman of Blackstone’s private wealth solutions group, agrees with BAML. He sees the stock market outpacing the Fed’s balance sheet as problematic and called the development “disturbing” in a July 26 client note.

BAML also points to record low private client cash levels as a sign that the stock market may be close to maxing out. With investors looking fully invested, there’s limited dry powder for them to put to work in the market, should they feel inclined to add to positions.

And, perhaps most importantly to BAML’s call for a market top this autumn, a proprietary indicator maintained by the firm sits on the brink of reaching a sell signal. It’s put together a list of things that need to happen for the market to peak in August:
• The dollar index falls to 90, coinciding with “unambiguous” US labor/consumer weakness (non-farm payrolls lower than 100,000) and a flatter yield curve
• The end of high-yield leadership, which “should be an early warning system”
• Fatigue in equity growth leadership, in areas like the Nasdaq Internet Index, emerging markets Internet, and semiconductors

But, amid the growing pessimism, there are still strategists on Wall Street who see the S&P 500 hanging in there, at least through the end of 2017. A survey of 20 chief equity strategists conducted by Bloomberg shows an average year-end forecast of 2,439, basically unchanged from Friday’s close.

So while it’s anyone’s guess what will transpire in the coming months, it’s good to at least be aware of the cracks forming in the market’s foundation. And don’t say you weren’t warned.

How do I safely invest my retirement savings for growth?

My Comments: Financial illiteracy is a huge problem. But many people have no idea it applies to them.

The other day I was trying to explain something to a widow in her 70’s and it was like talking to my six year old grandson.

People should be exposed to the markets. But they need to shift some of the risk associated with the stock and bond markets to an insurance company. Over the next 10 – 20 years they’ll have a better overall rate of return without the headaches. There is a way to remain invested and not be exposed to all the risk. But you have to be careful about the fees. Send me your email (see Contact Info above) and I’ll explain further.

by Walter Updegrave/May 30, 2017

I have a retired friend who knows he needs growth to ensure his nest egg will last throughout retirement, but at the same time is nervous about the investing in the stock market. Any advice for how he should invest?–D.F.

First, let me say that I don’t blame you (I mean your friend) for being skittish. Even though stock prices have more than tripled after bottoming out in the wake of the financial crisis a little more than eight years ago and now stand at or near record highs, there’s that nagging concern in the back of many investors’ minds that the market could suddenly reverse course and we could be looking at another major selloff and a prolonged slump.

And, of course, at some point that will happen, as it has many times before. We just don’t know when or what will trigger the downturn. So the question is how do we invest our nest egg so we can take advantage of stocks’ potential for long-term growth without leaving ourselves too vulnerable to devastating setbacks that could jeopardize our retirement security?

The answer comes down to balance. But not just balance in an investing sense, or creating an investing strategy that reflects an acceptable tradeoff between risk and reward. I’m talking about balance in an emotional sense too, achieving a level of equanimity that helps us keep our composure when the markets are in turmoil, so we don’t do something we’ll later regret, like selling stocks in a panic at depressed prices.

The first step toward achieving investing balance is to build a portfolio of stocks and bonds that can generate acceptable returns while also providing reasonable downside protection. For help in creating such a stocks-bonds mix, you can go to Vanguard’s free risk tolerance-asset allocation tool.

The tool will also give you a sense of how such a blend of stocks and bonds has performed in the past, and you can also see how many years the various portfolios have suffered a loss and how each has performed on average over many decades.

You shouldn’t think of this as any sort of guarantee of how a given combination of stocks and bonds will fare in the future. If anything, many pros believe average returns going ahead for both stocks and bonds will be considerably lower than in the past. But at least you’ll have a good idea of how different mixes have behaved under a variety of market conditions.

In your zeal to protect yourself against setbacks, however, you don’t want to end up with a mix that’s so wimpy that you run a high risk of running through your nest egg too soon. So to get a sense of whether your recommended mix of stocks and bonds will be able to support the type of spending you envision during a retirement that could very well last 30 or more years, I suggest you also go to this retirement income calculator.

(The tool assumes you’ll live to age 95, which I think is a reasonable assumption for planning purposes. But if you’d like to see how long you might be around based on your age and health status, you can check out the Actuaries Longevity Illustrator.)

The calculator will estimate the chances that you’ll be able to maintain your planned level of withdrawals from your nest egg. If that probability is lower than you’d like — as a general rule, I’d say you’d like to see an estimated success rate of 80% or more, give or take — then you can re-run the numbers with different asset mixes and different withdrawal rates.

In general, though, as long as you keep your initial withdrawal rate within a range of 3% to 4% or so, you should be able to have decent assurance that your nest egg will support you at least 30 years. You can go with a higher withdrawal rate, but you’ll find that the chances of your money lasting throughout a long retirement start to drop off pretty quickly as you push your withdrawal rate above that range.

Once you’ve settled on an asset mix and withdrawal rate, you can turn your attention to emotional balance. I don’t know of a tool that can help with this aspect of investing and planning. Rather, the idea is to find ways to stay cool when the markets are (or seem to be) crumbling around you, and to avoid giving in to the impulse to take action when every fiber of your being is screaming at you to do something, anything!

One way you might maintain your composure when most investors are all shook up is to remind yourself that not all market downturns turn into full-fledged routs. You could even take a few minutes to review instances in recent years (Brexit, the Greek debt crisis, fears of a slowdown in China’s growth rate) when many investors were convinced a market drop would lead to a major selloff but stocks recovered. If nothing else, this exercise could reinforce the notion that it’s foolish to try to outguess the markets.
And even if things get truly ugly, you might take a few minutes to recall the process you went through to arrive at your portfolio and remind yourself that you factored the likelihood of a significant setback into your decision-making when you settled on your asset mix. Indeed, the whole point of the exercise was to create a portfolio that you could stick with regardless of what’s going on in the markets and that, aside from occasional rebalancing, you wouldn’t have to re-jigger.

And while I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest you don’t keep track of economic and financial news, you certainly don’t want to follow it obsessively, especially if watching every tick of the market’s downward trajectory gets you so rattled that you’ll eventually cave in to the urge to abandon your long-term strategy.

That’s not to say you can never make a move. There may be times when you should. If, for example, it becomes apparent that you overestimated your appetite for risk when setting your stocks-bonds mix, then you need to re-assess and do some fine-tuning. But if you do make a move, you should do it calmly, rationally and as part of a well-thought-out plan, not in response to the latest dip in the market or on the basis of some pundit’s prediction of coming Armageddon.