Financial decisions in our youth can be simple. How much can I afford to pay in rent? Should I budget for two meals out a week or four? What amount of car payment can I afford?
As we get older, however, our finances—and our financial decisions—can become more complex. As we accumulate wealth and begin thinking about the financial side of issues such as retirement, second homes, and leaving an inheritance, most of us could use some guidance. That’s where wealth management comes in.
What is wealth management?
Wealth management is an individualized financial planning service for highly affluent clients. These individuals work with either a single wealth manager or a financial advising team that provides comprehensive services and has expertise in a wide range of financial services and products.
What is a wealth manager?
Serving as personal consultants, wealth managers focus on issues that affect extremely wealthy clients, such as managing estate tax rules. They spend time getting to know their clients, including their financial and life priorities.
Along with answering questions and meeting with their clients, wealth managers often coordinate legal and accounting services for them as well. Wealth managers help clients with all financial planning needs, whether it’s setting up a trust for your grandchildren or working through how tax rules impact your business’s income.
Wealth managers provide across-the-board financial services, working with clients on all aspects of their financial holdings and decisions. Clients looking for a single service, such as help with retirement planning, may find it is more efficient to work with a financial planner who offers a la carte services. Similarly, individuals who are interested in guidance creating an investment strategy may want to consider a portfolio manager, who will offer advice on maximizing returns and minimizing risk but won’t provide additional financial services.
Wealth managers provide many services. These include estate and tax planning; accounting; retirement planning; providing legal guidance on finance-related matters; offering investment management and advice; setting up trusts and foundations; creating a plan for charitable giving; engaging in risk management; and planning for Social Security benefits.
Your initial meetings with a wealth manager may be more conversational as you talk through your personal and financial goals. A wealth manager will need to be familiar with the entirety of your finances as well as your financial history, hopes and plans for your future, and the legacy you want to leave. Using all this information, a wealth manager will craft a financial strategy that will meet all of your goals.
How do I find a wealth manager?
Generally, there are two types of wealth managers. Large firms such as Merrill and Morgan Stanley offer wealth management experts along with banking and other types of financial services. Smaller independent firms, on the other hand, may provide a more personalized experience.
Either way, you’ll want to make sure that the wealth manager you choose is certified. Only one certification specific to wealth management, the certified private wealth advisor (CPWA) is available.
Financial advisors with this certificate are qualified to work with clients whose net worth is at least $5 million. The certified financial planner (CFP) and chartered financial analyst (CFP) certify a professional in general financial planning practices and are valuable certifications for wealth managers.
You can start looking for a local wealth manager through online search. This should provide information about large financial institutions and small private firms in your area. You also could ask around. Word of mouth can be a valuable tool in finding a qualified professional that others— especially peers who have similar levels of wealth and financial situations—recommend.
The cost of wealth management services typically is based on a percentage of the client’s assets that are being managed. That means the more financial assets you have, the higher your fees will be. Firms may also add other charges—Morgan Stanley, for example, charges fixed fees for specific accounts and services. It’s important to talk to your wealth management advisor about their rates and fees before agreeing to work together.
What if I prefer online services?
If you’re more comfortable behind a computer screen, many financial institutions offer wealth management service online—although you’ll lose the personal touch of face-to-face meetings. Meetings can be moved to the phone or a video conference while much of the financial information is provided online.
Some online services offer unlimited access to a human financial provider or team of providers for a flat annual fee that’s determined by the services you need and how complicated your financial needs are. Other services calculate fees based on a percentage of your assets. The downsides for some of these services, especially when they offer a team approach, is that you may not consistently work with the same financial adviser.
Regardless of the criteria you use to select a wealth management service, it’s vital to think through your needs and research your options thoroughly. You have spent a lifetime building up your wealth. Your financial decisions often will impact your family for decades or more to come. This means it is important to work with a qualified wealth manager who takes the time to understand your financial situation and long-term goals.
The two basic types of retirement accounts are the 401(k) and the individual retirement account (IRA). While it is easy to confuse the two, they are actually quite different. While a 401(k) is an employee-sponsored account, anyone can open an IRA. This makes it an important product for people who do not have access to a 401(k) or who have already maxed out contributions to that account.
Unfortunately, the contribution limits for an IRA are significantly less than for a 401(k). However, they remain extremely important vehicles for retirement savings because of their tax advantages. An IRA is a way for the government to incentivize retirement savings outside of the employee-sponsored account.
The Various IRA Options Available Today
To open an IRA, individuals only need income from a job that is claimed for tax purposes, which rules out income from Social Security or an investment. When opening an IRA, individuals need to choose between a traditional and a Roth account. Like a 401(k), an IRA comes with certain tax benefits.
With a traditional account, individuals can contribute to the IRA and avoid paying any taxes on those contributions. However, when money is withdrawn from the account, it is taxed at that time. A Roth account involves investment of taxed income. Later, withdrawals can be made without paying any taxes, provided that individuals do not touch the account until they are at least 59.5 years old.
Some forms of specialty IRAs exist. For example, a simplified employee pension (SEP) IRA is geared for small-business owners and self-employed individuals. These accounts operate much like other IRAs except that they have much higher contribution limits.
Small-business owners are required to contribute the same rate to eligible employee accounts and their own. In other words, if the owner saves 10 percent of compensation, 10 percent of an employee’s compensation must also be saved. Employees cannot contribute directly to their own SEP IRA.
Another product is the Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA. This product is designed for companies with 100 or fewer employees. A SIMPLE IRA is easy to set up and allows employees to contribute to their own accounts.
Questions to Think about When Opening an IRA
Individuals can open IRAs through most financial service providers, from banks and credit unions to brokerage firms. Different service providers offer various advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to do some homework before opening an account.
Ideally, the financial institution provides individuals with a wide range of resources, from online education materials to in-person meetings, to help guide choices. These resources can help individuals plan for the future. Also, different providers will charge different types of fees. While some companies charge monthly fees, others have customers pay per trade.
Sometimes, companies will charge both monthly and trading fees, so it is important to understand the full payment scheme. Otherwise, individuals may end up paying a lot more for the service than they originally intend. It is also important to figure out what types of investments can be held in the account.
The point of opening an IRA is to invest money for retirement and have it grow over time. As a result, the exact investment options tend to matter quite a bit—especially for people who like to play an active role in investing decisions. People who prefer a more passive approach to investing should consider the possibility that they may want to get more actively involved in the future.
The Basics of Investing in an IRA
When it comes to investing money through an IRA, people need to consider the tradeoff between risk and return. An IRA should be viewed as a long-term investment. Generally, individuals will use an IRA to invest in stocks, especially if they are more than a decade away from retirement.
The stock market involves more risk, but it also usually yields higher returns than products like a certificate of deposit or a Treasury bond. While it is highly unlikely to lose money with these safe investments, individuals will also not earn much money. Different service providers may have some guidance to offer about how to navigate the creation of an effective portfolio. However, it is important that customers not feel pressured.
Alternately, individuals may want to take a fairly hands-off approach to investing in an IRA. In these cases, they may choose something like a total market index fund, which provides access to the kind of diversity needed to mitigate much of the risk involved in the stock market. These funds choose investments from a range of different geographic locations and across a number of different industries.
Individuals would struggle to obtain such diversification alone, even if investing very large sums of money. This option is for people who are willing to leave their money in accounts for long-term gains without the need to micromanage it. Another option for people who prefer a hands-off approach is a robo-advisor. This service will select investments based on the investor’s preferred cost and risk profile.
For many people, the prospect of saving for the future and planning for retirement is daunting. You may feel like you have no options to increase your savings, or worry that you’ll have to make major sacrifices in retirement. You’re not alone—millions of Americans over the age of 40 lack substantial nest eggs for retirement.
However, don’t despair. There are many strategies to substantially boost your savings, even if you feel behind. People under the age of 40 have even more options to get a jumpstart on retirement savings, considering the power of compounded interest.
Some of the strategies you can use to quickly increase your retirement savings include:
Invest in permanent life insurance.
Most people have heard that they should buy term life insurance and invest the rest of their money, rather than going for the more expensive option of permanent life insurance. This option can work for some people, but many others end up spending the money they would otherwise invest, despite their best intentions. For many retirees, permanent life insurance is a better option.
With permanent life insurance, you’ll pay ongoing premiums, which is a sort of automated savings. Each premium increases the cash value of the policy tax-free, and you can borrow funds against the policy or sometimes withdraw cash from it. In addition, the policy will pay out death benefits, which aren’t subject to income taxes. In other words, permanent life insurance can serve as a way of supplementing your retirement income with non-taxable money. Think of permanent life insurance as a sort of bond or certificate of deposit (CD) that increases in value steadily over time.
Save the raise.
As you advance in you career, you’ll likely receive raises that provide a little extra room in your budget. While a raise can sometimes relieve the pressure on a tight budget, many people can make ends meet without the extra income. Frequently, a raise just leads to a corresponding increase in spending. But what would happen if you saved your raise instead? If you put that extra income into a retirement account rather than buying a nicer car or new home, for example, you’ll set yourself up for a more comfortable retirement where you won’t have to sacrifice much to maintain your standard of living. The best part about this strategy is that you won’t have to make cuts to your budget or feel pinched by the extra savings, since you’ll still enjoy the same monthly income.
Take advantage of Roth savings.
Research has shown that Roth accounts are one of the most underutilized retirement preparation strategies. Many people understand the importance of maxing out a 401(k) and taking advantage of employer matching, but aren’t aware that they can do even more. Roth accounts are funded with after-tax income, but withdrawals during retirement are not subject to taxes. This option is especially good for people who may be in a higher tax bracket in retirement than they currently are. The other value of a Roth account is its potential to diversify your retirement savings. With both tax-deferred and Roth accounts, you can minimize the potential impact of future tax changes.
Purchase a home.
There’s still debate about whether buying or renting makes better financial sense. In some areas, renting a home is certainly cheaper in the short term than a down payment, mortgage, and property taxes. At the same time, research by the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies shows that people who own homes tend to increase their wealth significantly more than renters, even after controlling for socio-economic differences and other factors. This may be because home ownership is a type of forced savings. Every mortgage payment builds equity in your home. You pay down your debt on the home while its value likely increases. Of course, it’s important to think strategically about home ownership and realize it is a long-term investment. If you buy and sell homes frequently, you’ll squander any gains on closing fees and other one-time expenses.
Fund a Health Savings Account.
Not everyone is eligible for a Health Savings Account (HSA), but those who are often fail to use them strategically as they prepare for retirement. Contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible and can be invested to fund qualified healthcare expenses you’ll encounter later in life, including during retirement. Very few people use an HSA for long-term savings, even though the accounts can be rolled over annually. With healthcare costs typically increasing during retirement, it’s important to have money set aside to deal with these expenses. An HSA can help you offset the costs of healthcare without needing to rely on your primary sources of income. Ideally, you would start investing in an HSA early and invest the money so that it grows over time and serves as a sort of insurance.
Ideally, retirement is a time when people relax and enjoy their lives, but following bad financial advice or not planning enough can keep you from fulfilling your retirement dreams. While it is imperative to understand the key financial steps to take in preparation for retirement, it is equally as important to know the errors that many people make. Knowing these common pitfalls can help you to ensure that you stay on the right track as you plan for retirement.
Read on for some of the most common financial mistakes that people make in relation to retirement:
Paying off a mortgage.
People often want to enter retirement with as little debt as possible. Many think that paying off their biggest monthly expenses, such as their mortgage, early is the quickest way to free up more money. However, home loans tend to have very low interest rates—paying off a mortgage now will not save you much in the long run. In fact, it may be best to refinance your home at a low rate and invest the money that you would have otherwise used to pay off the home loan early.
You should always think about interest rates in relation to debt and strive to get rid of high-interest debt, such as credit cards, first. When it comes to low-interest debt, paying it off is not always the best decision since your money can be invested with a return higher that the interest on the loan.
Investing in variable annuities.
An annuity is a great investment tool for retirees since it provides monthly payouts, sort of like a pension. The most common type of annuity is deferred, which means there is a set payout upon maturity.
However, many people select variable annuities, which invest in the market. While the return can prove higher with variable annuities, they are also vulnerable to market fluctuations and can fees as high as 3 percent. These fees quickly eat into retirement savings, especially when that loss is compounded over the years. For these reasons, variable annuities can actually detract from retirement savings.
Neglecting emergency funds.
Everyone needs an emergency fund, even retirees. In fact, emergency funds become even more important during retirement, a time when many people live on a fixed income.
Emergency funds also prevent you from dipping into retirement accounts, such as a 401(k), during a financial emergency. Borrowing from retirement comes with massive penalties and fees, and doing it even once can significantly lower your overall savings (as the money that would otherwise compound over the years has been taken out). The makeup of an emergency fund will vary according to household, but a good general rule of thumb is to have enough saved to cover living expenses for at least a few months.
Taking Social Security benefits too early.
Too many retirees fail to understand how the value of Social Security benefits changes depending on when they are taken. Though you can get 100 percent of your Social Security benefit at age 66 or 67 (depending on birth year), it pays to wait even longer if you do not have a great financial need. Benefits continue to increase beyond 100 percent after full retirement age until you turn 70 (at that point, it will not grow anymore). Waiting means a significantly higher monthly benefit, and that amount will remain the same for as long as you remain living. The increase in payout starts to outweigh the cost of delaying for anyone who lives past age 82.
Purchasing a timeshare.
Many retirees imagine themselves using a timeshare frequently enough to make the purchase worth it. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. In addition to the upfront cost of the timeshare, you will also need to pay annual fees to maintain the property. Even if you do use your timeshare frequently, the fees may not be any cheaper than simply renting a vacation home, an option that provides much more flexibility. Also, timeshares are not very liquid, so getting rid of them can be quite difficult.
In general, retirees should avoid timeshares altogether unless they get them at a significant discount from a third party and are sure they will use them regularly.
Retiring too early.
Too often, people retire before they are ready because they feel some sort of pressure to do so. Taking the time to work a few more years can keep you from getting bored, and it can also help you save more money for retirement. Then, when you do retire, you will have more spending money to engage in fun activities, like traveling. While you may have expectations about when you should retire, it’s important to be realistic about savings and work for a few more years, if you can.
The decision to retire can cause a great deal of anxiety, especially if you aren’t sure if you’re ready. Some people use milestones like career achievement, age, or even savings to assess their readiness for retirement, but there are other factors you should consider as well.
Ideally, you should create a comprehensive plan for your financial well-being in retirement. Such a plan makes it easier to deal with financial setbacks and other bumps along the road. Furthermore, the plan should help protect against as many contingencies as possible, to minimize the odds of being caught off guard. To ensure you’re prepared for retirement, it can be helpful to create a readiness checklist. While this list will look different for everyone, some of the key items to include are:
It’s probably not possible to say exactly how much you’ll spend in retirement, but estimates can help you get a general sense. A detailed budget will give you a better idea of how much you’ll need, both monthly and annually. This estimate should include all expenses: basic costs such as housing, utilities, food, transportation, and healthcare, as well as irregular expenses like travel and vacation. Your expenses may change in retirement, but it’s still a good idea to figure out how much you’re spending now, to create a baseline estimate. Remember that the more detailed your budget is, the better—don’t leave any expenses out.
During retirement, you may receive income from a wide number of sources, including investments, Social Security payments, and more. You may also have an annuity or pension income. Adding up your expected monthly income from these different sources can give you a better sense of what you’ll need to save to close the gap and ensure you can cover your bills. In addition, this tally will help you determine if you’ll need to reduce your spending or increase your income through options like downsizing to a smaller home or getting a part-time job.
The question of how much you need to save for retirement is a complicated one. Ultimately, you should base this number on the retirement budget you created for yourself, and then add plenty of room for cushion. To get a very broad estimate, multiply your estimated annual spending by 25. If you expect to have other sources of income in your retirement besides savings, subtract them from your annual spending, then multiply that number by 25. If your actual savings are less than the calculated estimate, it is time to revisit your budget and see what adjustments you can make.
Prior to retiring, you’ll need to plan how you will draw from your retirement accounts. It’s important to be strategic about how you draw down, especially if you have a variety of different accounts. Typically, tax-advantaged accounts should go untouched for as long as possible. Of course, traditional 401(k) and IRA plans have minimum required distributions once you reach 70.5 years of age, but Roth accounts do not have the same requirements. Roth accounts can continue to grow well into retirement, so try to keep as much money as possible in these accounts, for as long as you can.
Carefully consider your anticipated healthcare costs in retirement and figure out what insurance you’ll need. For most people, healthcare is the most significant cost in retirement. Medicare is a given, but many people find that they need supplemental insurance. You should also have an emergency fund for expenses not covered by insurance plans. Keep in mind that the cost of long-term care can quickly lead to bankruptcy, because traditional insurance does not cover it. If you know you won’t be able to shoulder the cost of long-term care, it’s vital to research insurance for this level of care. Long-term care policies become more expensive as you age and your health declines, so you may want to purchase a policy sooner rather than later.
While you might wait until you’ve actually retired to begin legacy planning, start thinking about what you want to leave behind before leaving the workforce. Your legacy could influence your retirement savings target, the timing of your retirement, and your estimated retirement budget. You should also draw up an estate plan. Be sure to revisit it regularly (at least every five years) to ensure everything remains up to date. During retirement, it’s important to have regular conversations with your spouse and heirs, so that everyone knows what to expect and any transition of assets proceeds smoothly.
No one wants to think about the possibility of losing their spouse. However, if you are married, it’s important to consider how your death or the death of your spouse will affect the survivor’s finances. Failing to plan for this could put one of you in a terrible financial situation during one of the most emotional times in life. Talk to your partner about what the surviving person should do; consider things like whether you should stay in the same home or whether you’d need additional sources of income. Some sources of retirement income are tied to one partner, so their death could mean the loss of a specific income stream. Identifying these potential gaps early will help you and your spouse protect each other and your family.