Financial Lifeguard, Christine Luken, explains how she used Mindful Money Management to rescue herself when she hit financial rock bottom, and how you can, too. Joe and Big Al answer questions on when the magic of compounding is gonna kick in, Roth conversions, required minimum distributions, and how Trump tax reform will affect both. Plus, paying off the mortgage in retirement, marrying up for a better Social Security benefit, Joe’s drinking and college football watching habits, and skydiving at age 90.
- (00:57) Should Baby Boomers Pay off the Mortgage or Not?
- (11:32) Christine Luken, Financial Lifeguard: Mindful Money Management
- (26:19) Live Listener Question: Judy Is Retired, Has a Pension, and Money in IRA, but RMDs Are Going to Kill. How to Do Roth Conversions? What Happens With Tax Reform?
- (38:42) Social Security Spousal and Survivor Claiming Strategies
- (49:26) Email Question: When Is the Compounding Magic Going to Kick In?
“It’s so easy to spend money without really thinking about it. You just swipe your phone. You swipe a credit card. It’s almost like the technologies that the banks are rolling out are making it easier for us to spend money. Because that’s good for them. Sometimes we have to pull back and say, ‘OK, let’s really think about this.’” – Christine Luken, The Financial Lifeguard
That’s The Financial Lifeguard, Christine Luken. Today on Your Money, Your Wealth, she explains how she used Mindful Money Management to rescue herself when she hit financial rock bottom, and how you can, too. Joe and Big Al answer your questions on when the magic of compounding is gonna kick in, Roth conversions, required minimum distributions and how Trump tax reform will affect both, and they discuss paying off the mortgage in retirement, marrying up for a better Social Security benefit, Joe’s drinking and college football watching habits, and skydiving at age 90. Now, here are Joe Anderson, CFP and Big Al Clopine, CPA.
:57 – Should Baby Boomers Pay off the Mortgage or Not?
JA: We’re here talking finances, talking taxes, talking mortgages, Social Security, debt payoff, avalanche, snowball.
AC: Oh yeah. Man, we’re going to get down in deep, how to pay your debt off.
JA: Well, speaking of debt, I think some baby boomers need to pay attention to the show.
AC: Well they do, Joe, and this is from Reuters News. Here’s what they’re saying about the Baby Boomer generation. So by the way, in case you haven’t paid attention, those were those that were born between 1946 and 1965. There are 33.4 million baby boomer households.
JA: So if you’re 50 years old, you’re a Baby Boomer.
AC: Yep that’s right. So you’re not a baby boomer.
JA: I’m not even close to a baby boomer.
AC: But I am. I’m in the middle somewhere. I’m actually a little closer to the younger end, to be exact. Just for a frame of reference. But the oldest baby boomers were 65 to 69 years old in 2015. So then they kind of looked at, “well, how many those for mortgage free?” In other words, they own their home outright without a mortgage. And it was 49.4%. So half. The generation right before them, it was 60% didn’t have any debt. The greatest generation.
JA: No debt at all or just mortgage debt?
AC: No mortgage debt. But presumably, if you don’t have mortgage debt, you probably don’t have other debt. But interestingly enough, so it sounds like there’s a little dip down, but then it goes back up. The least they’re predicting. The youngest baby boomers are going to be – 58% of them – are going to have their home paid off. So something happened to the older baby boomers.
JA: I don’t know. Do you think that’s a bad thing to have a mortgage when you retire? I guess it depends on your perspective of things.
AC: See that’s the big question. Because I think given the choice, I’d rather not have a mortgage than have one. But then you’ve got to look at what the alternative is. And if you’re simply paying off your mortgage with every last cent, and you retire mortgage-free but have no liquid assets for spending, well that’s not a great plan at all.
JA: Right, you’ve got to be very disciplined. Because I agree with you, I think a balance sheet without a mortgage, emotionally speaking…
AC: I’ll take it over the other.
JA: Sure. But if you look at finance, the numbers and everything else, if you ran a cash flow scenario on the situation, it would be better off to keep the mortgage given current interest rates.
AC: Yeah if you figured, let’s just say an average interest rate is 4%, just to make up a number. And then you get a tax deduction currently. So maybe that interest rate is actually costing you, maybe 2.5% or 2.75%. So can you beat that with your investments? Probably over the long term. Not in and out each year, but very likely, if you have a globally diversified portfolio.
JA: But the problem is is that if I keep that mortgage, and then you’ve got to save the additional money.
AC: That is the key. Because what here’s what we see. We see people that they hear this discussion, “well, it’s better to have a mortgage because of the arbitrage, you can make more money in investing than actually having the mortgage and the tax,” which we agree with, that’s true.
JA: I guess for an example, let’s say if I have a $200,000 mortgage at 4% and given whatever tax rate you want to throw out there. In your example, it was 2.5% cost the capital. So that’s what it’s costing me because I get a tax deduction for that mortgage interest. And then let’s say I have $200,000 sitting in the bank. So then it’s like, do I take the $200,000 to pay the mortgage and to be debt free? All right that’s great. I’m debt free. But I had to use that $200,000 capital to pay off that mortgage. So are you going to save that $200,000 and grow it at something higher than 2.5% and not necessarily use it for miscellaneous expenses? That’s the problem. OK well now I have this excess cash, now I’m going to go on more vacations, buy a nicer car. Because you think you can afford it, and then you use that money, not necessarily save that money, and then all of a sudden you still have a mortgage and the $200,000 is gone.
AC: Yeah. And even if you keep the $200,000, you invest it in a CD and earn 1%, and then you spend all the savings, all the money that you could have saved, month in month out, having a lower mortgage payment. So that’s the problem, and unfortunately, Joe, that’s pretty common. I would say more often than not, the average person when they have extra cash flow, they spend it.
JA: I met with a couple, hypothetically. And they have a condo, and then they have a home. And they’re renting out the condo. And they have a big five, six bedroom home. The kids are now out of the nest. They’re like, “now we have this five bedroom house, and it’s too big. We want to downsize, so here’s the plan. I’m going to sell the house.” And then let’s say it’s half a million dollar house, they have a $300,000 mortgage on it, so it’s $200,000 of equity, give or take. They have this condo, it’s worth $300,000, they have $150,000 mortgage on it. And it’s like, “I’m going to take the equity from here, just pay off the mortgage.” I said that’s a great plan, but they have very little liquidity. They have little cash reserves. They’re kind of living paycheck to paycheck. They were decent savers inside their 401(k) plans. But then it’s like when you retire, you’re not really going to have any wiggle room here. It’s a $150,000 mortgage, their mortgage payment is less than $1,000.
AC: And it’s fixed, right?
JA: Fixed, guaranteed for the next 30 years.
AC: Maybe property taxes go up a little each year, and if it’s impounded there’s a slight increase, but for the most part it’s fixed.
JA: So I was like, if you ran the numbers on this, it probably makes sense not necessarily to pay off the mortgage. And he’s like yeah, that’s really good information.” And all of a sudden the wife is like, “oh, then we can buy the RV!” (laughs) And it’s like, “nope, pay off the mortgage.”
AC: You let that genie out of the bottle.
JA: Exactly. No, you’re not responsible enough, pay off the mortgage. You’re done. (laughs)
AC: Yeah this is if you’re going to use it for your lifestyle. For your needs, not your wants.
JA: Yeah, have that equity then you build it and you grow it, and then you take a 4% distribution from it. Not take $75,000 out of it and buy an RV.
AC: That’s such a common mentality.
JA: Right. Because, “well, now we have all this excess cash flow. I don’t want to touch the retirement accounts because that’s for retirement. But this other $200,000 that I see, well that’s not necessarily for retirement.” And it’s like, no, it’s all for retirement. It’s just taxed differently and it’s still confusing to me. If it’s in a retirement account, then people at least are like, “OK well I know not necessarily to touch that, but any other dollar, it’s free game. It’s available. Let’s do it.” Money is money, it’s just how it’s taxed do you want to make sure that you have a little bit more liquidity, I guess, for lack of a better word in your overall retirement strategy.
AC: Yes speaking of mortgages, Joe. I’m sure in your career as well. But I especially, in my career as a CPA, I talked to a lot of financial planners. And some would be rather argumentative on not to pay off your mortgage. And I understand that. I do understand the numbers. I’m an accountant. I understand the arbitrage, you can make more than the net cost of the mortgage. Especially now with low-interest rates. But what that ignores is exactly what you just said. Well, that presumes you’re going to save. And so few people save. So it’s kind of should you pay off your mortgage, should you not? It’s kind of case by case, certainly, I’d rather you’d not have a mortgage. But I don’t want you to pay off your mortgage if that leaves basically nothing in terms of emergency savings, or assets outside retirement. If all you have is Social Security and assets inside your retirement accounts, you’re paying the highest taxes because it’s all taxed at ordinary income rates. There’s no flexibility. And when you have a year when you want to go on a big family cruise and you want to pay for it. Great. Good for you. But it’s all coming out of your 401(k). You’re going to jump yourself in a much higher tax brackets.
AC: It’s all about discipline. you can look at the numbers until you’re blue in the face and you can run all sorts of analysis, and having a mortgage, in most cases, you will have a larger net worth at the end of the day. However, the numbers do not equate real human behavior.
AC: Behavior is the key.
JA: Yes. It’s all about behavior, it’s all about discipline, it’s all about understanding how much should you be taking from the overall accounts on an annual basis. And a lot of times, like I said if there’s money outside of those retirement accounts… that’s why most of you listening, the biggest chunk of money that you have is right inside that 401(k) plan. In most cases. Very few are disciplined enough to save outside of retirement accounts. Those people that have money outside of retirement accounts either work for a company that had stock options, or restricted shares, where they were able to build it that way. They were small business owners, where they sold a business, they inherited the money. Or they’re real estate investors that divested from their real estate. And of course, there’s a few of you that diligently save inside a non-qualified or a brokerage account outside of retirement.
AC: Yeah. And when we do see you, and we meet with you, but you are the exception.
JA: Yes. That’s discipline. If you’ve already built up a good non-qualified or a brokerage account type, then yes, I think you can handle not necessarily paying the mortgage off. But for a lot of people, I think it’s better because that’s your home. You gotta live somewhere. And leveraging that up and having that over your head, sometimes is probably not the best move.
Whether or not to pay off the mortgage is one of several considerations when it comes to your home and retirement. (drop) That’s American College Professor Dr. Wade Pfau on Banking On Your House in Retirement, one of many episodes of the Your Money, Your Wealth TV show, available free, on demand on YouTube – we’ve got shows about Navigating Taxes in Retirement, Surviving Retirement Without a Pension, The A’s, B’s C’s and D’s of Medicare and hundreds of educational video clips. Just search YouTube for Pure Financial Advisors and Your Money, Your Wealth and start binge-watching with purpose! Check back regularly, we’re always adding new videos.
11:32 – Christine Luken, Financial Lifeguard: Mindful Money Management
JA: Big Al, it’s that time of the show.
AC: Well it is Joe, we have Christine Luken, she is the Financial Lifeguard. And I’m really interested to meet her on air, because…
JA: You don’t want to meet her in person.
AC: Well I would. But she’s in Ohio. It’s a little bit difficult.
JA: “It’s really interesting to meet her – on air. I don’t really want to see her in person at all.” (laughs) Way to go, bud, like right out of the chute you’ve already blown this thing up.
AC: She already hung up. (laughs) Hey Christine, how are you doing?
CL: I’m great. How are you? Ohio is not usually like a vacation destination, so I totally understand. I’d be much happier to meet you, out there in California.
AC: (laughs) Well let’s arrange that then. So tell me, Christine, so you were vice president of HR and accounting for a manufacturing company. Did that for about 13 years, and then you decided, “I’m going to be a Financial Lifeguard.” How how did that happen?
CL: (laughs) Yeah well, it didn’t happen just like a light switch. So, about four years after I graduated from college with an accounting degree, while I was working for this company, I hit financial rock bottom myself. And I’m talking bad. I had three different check cashing places’ money, I was behind on my car payment. I had collectors calling me, and it wasn’t because I didn’t know what I should be doing. It was because I had let my heart hijacked my wallet. And I was engaged to a guy, thankfully I didn’t marry him, but he was horrible with his money. And I’m talking in and out of jobs, in and out of jail. And I just was making irrational decisions with my money. And so by the time I decided, “OK, I’m done with this,” I couldn’t even afford to move out. I had to move back in with my parents, which as a young person, once you’ve been off on your own, and you have to move back in, it’s like the worst thing ever. But the interesting thing was, once I started to improve my finances, I decided that I wanted to help other people with this. And so it just started kind of as a volunteer thing, where I would just help other people who are maybe going through something similar to me, and eventually found out that, hey, I can get certified to do this.
AC: And so then you took the concepts that you learned from yourself and others and wrote a book, Money is Emotional. The tagline, “prevent your heart from hijacking your wallet.” So tell us, when did you write that?
CL: Well, I spent most of the last year writing it, and it was published in March of this year. And yeah, I jokingly tell people, “this is like the least boring money book you’ll ever read, because it’s like a half tabloid and half how-to,” because I tell all my crazy stories of all the stupid things I did with the money.
JA: How did you get out of the mess that you got yourself into? “I got a fiancé that’s in jail, gotta bail him out.” You figured out you hit rock bottom. So how do you get out of it? Because I know a lot of people have been in your situation, but a lot of people are still in your situation that is still fighting to find a way to get the heck out of the hole.
CL: You know, the very first thing you have to do is put together a plan. Everybody hates the word budget. So I don’t even like to use that. I call it the spending plan. Put together a spending plan. Let’s look at our debt and put together a plan to pay off our debt. And figure out how we can free up some money to start putting money in our savings. We know these things, we know we shouldn’t spend more than we make. We know that we shouldn’t have excessive debt and that we should save money, but nobody does it. There are a ton of books out there about how to budget, saving tips and tricks. But if you’re not addressing the emotional side of it, and getting into the, “Why am I spending more? Why am I not saving?” And really digging down into those reasons behind it. You’re never really going to change your behavior. And I think that’s why my book is unique because it addresses both sides of things.
AC: Talk about mindful spending versus mindless spending, because I think that’s a good concept that you introduce.
CL: Absolutely. And I call my whole system Mindful Money Management and we throw the word mindful around a lot, but it really just means paying attention. And for so many of us, especially because we’re disconnected from our money, it’s so easy to spend money without really thinking about it. You just swipe your phone. You swipe a credit card. It’s so easy to spend money that you can do it so mindlessly. It’s almost like the technologies that the banks are rolling out are making it easier for us to spend money. Because that’s good for them. Sometimes we have to pull back and say, “OK, let’s really think about this.” And sometimes I will tell people, “let’s put some of your categories on cash and get you reacquainted with your cash,” and you might have heard this before, but scientists have shown that when people spend money with cash, it actually registers as pain in their brain. And that doesn’t happen when you swipe a credit card. So it literally makes you think twice when you spend with cash. Now I know there’s a lot of people that feel nervous about carrying around a lot of cash, and that’s totally fine. I will have some of my clients put their spending money on a prepaid credit card. So let’s say they get $400 of fun money to spend every month. Well to make sure it doesn’t turn into $600 or $800, let’s put that on a credit card, and the only fun money we have gets put on that card.
AC: And once it’s gone, it’s gone.
JA: I got a quick question for you. So let’s just say that I’m already buried. I’m kind of at a point where it’s like, “man, I can’t afford my payments. I really don’t have a strategy or a plan.” If I’m head over heels in credit card debt, and I know that I have an issue now, and I’m getting emotionally stable to a sense of, I’m not going to be spending. But how do I get rid of this? How do I get this mountain of debt gone when I only have so much paycheck, I have so many bills, and I’m just buried in credit card debt or personal debt?
CL: The first thing that I do is look at all the inflows and the outflows, and see what’s going on here. Sometimes you might have to say to somebody, “you can’t afford this car payment. We have to take that to get you into a smaller car payment. Or into a smaller house payment.” Some of the things in our budget, they are negotiable, and a lot of times we view them as if they’re not. And so that’s one of the things that I can look at objectively with someone and say, “Your car payment is $700. That’s a pretty big car payment. I know you like your car, but there’s a good possibility we can get you into a different car with a much lower car payment that’s going to free up $200 or $300 worth of cash that we can start putting on the credit card and start paying them off.” Now, there are some people who come to me and I say, “Your cash flow is running so far in the red every month, that I’m going to either need to refer you to somebody who is a credit counselor, or a bankruptcy attorney.” And I think it comes back to that shame and that guilt, that people wait too long to say, “I need help.” Most of my coaching clients, they’re middle to high income, and it’s more than mindless spending.
JA: Al and I see that all the time, where someone’s making several hundred thousand dollars, don’t have a lot of money saved, they have credit card debts, they have 401(k) loans, they got plenty of cash flow, but the spending is just way out of control. And for them to maintain that type of lifestyle, just today, let alone in retirement… And I think that’s where your book comes into play so well because you do have to start with the emotional side of things. It’s like, “Well, why am I doing the things that I’m doing? What’s truly important to me in my life?” And then being able to prioritize things, and then getting educated then, on the overall finance side of things. I think it’s a great combination of what you put together.
CL: Well thank you. And when we throw the whole relationship and money into the mix, when we’re talking about – and I’m sure you guys see this all the time – parents who are financially supporting adult children, and some of those kinds of things, how do you deal? How do you deal with that stuff?
AC: Yeah it’s tricky. Me having two sons, college and some short stints back home, and Joe gets on me, I’ve still got them on the cell phone plan, and all kinds of stuff. (laughs) So mindless spending is not a good idea. Mindless savings, that’s a whole different story.
CL: Absolutely. I am all for mindless saving. And by that I basically mean, putting that discipline on autopilot. Have those 401(k) contributions coming out automatically, or IRA contributions. My husband and I, he gets paid every week, and we have an automatic transfer set up that, a day after paycheck goes in, a certain amount gets kicked over into our savings account. And when you put that on autopilot, because we just have a tendency to be lazy, it just keeps piling up. And unless you have a kind of crisis or an emergency, you’re going to let that keep piling up.
AC: It’s kind of like out of sight out of mind, and that is a great way to save because you don’t miss it. Because of our tendency, unless we’re really disciplined with a good budget, is whatever’s in our checking account this month, I guess we can spend it. Oh, I guess we can buy this item of clothing, or go out to dinner, or whatever it may be.
CL: Absolutely. Yes. That is so true.
AC: So let me ask you. So going back to love and money: should couples have individual accounts? Should they have joint accounts? What’s your guidance there?
CL: Oh, I get this question so often, and it’s so funny because people have really strong opinions about this. It’s interesting because I have seen, with the millennial generation, they have a tendency to keep things separate. And I’ve had couples come to me who have been married for 5, 6, 7 years, and their money is still separate. And they’re like, “We think we should have our money together, we’re just not sure how to do this.” And my suggestion is actually both. That you should have some of your money – or actually the majority of your money – together. But I think that each partner should have some money, their spending money, separate so that they can do whatever they want with it. For example, my husband and I have a checking account where we pay all of our bills out of, and we both put a certain amount in there every couple of weeks to pay the bills. But I’ve got some money in a checking account, and he’s got some money in a checking account, and that’s our spending money. So he doesn’t criticize me when I buy clothes or get my nails done, or whatever. And if he’s going to go and buy the latest electronic gadget, I don’t get upset about that either, because we’ve already decided that each of us has this certain amount every month that we can do whatever we want to with. That allows people to feel like they’re not being controlled. That they have some autonomy.
AC: Let me ask another question because I think a lot of this is common sense. We don’t always do it, but we know we need to get on some kind of a budget or at least some kind of spending plan, and we know we want to get rid of our debt, and we want to be able to save more and try to increase our income. But I would say an awful lot of people have irregular income, whether they’re self-employed, or their commission-based salespeople – how do you how should they do it?
CL: There are a couple extra steps to budgeting that way. And I actually talked about it in the book, but just the Cliff Notes version of it is you want to base your monthly spending plan on your worst-case scenario, or what you know you can count on. So if you fluctuate between bringing in $3,000 and $6,000, and then you’ve got a spouse that’s also contributing money, do the monthly budget with the lower amount. But, then you have a standalone list that says, if we make a dollar more than what our budget is, let’s plan in advance where that money’s going to go. So if we say our base budget is based on $6,000. Well, what happens when we make $7000? Well, we already have this list going off, the first $300 is going to be right to the savings, the next $200 is going to be paid extra on the Visa, the next $200 is, we’re going to have some fun with that money. But by planning that out in advance, so that you already know, if I have my worst case scenario month, or I have my best case scenario month, I already know where the money is going.
JA: What final piece of advice would you give our listeners, and where can they find the book?
CL: They can find the book on Amazon, and they can also find it at my website, which is MoneyIsEmotional.com. My advice to people is, keep learning about money. It’s not just a one and done thing. I teach about this stuff, and I read probably 10 money books a year because I want to get better. And I know that I can come up higher, and most people don’t decide they want to get healthy, and then they read one magazine on men’s health, and then they never read anything again. Educate yourself, and raise your money IQ. Listen to more podcasts like yours. (laughs)
AC: Well there you go, there’s a plug. (laughs)
CL: (laughs) I do what I can.
AC: Christine, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s good wisdom, and I think a lot a lot of people of all ages can use this kind of advice. You might think it’s more for 20 and 30-year-olds, but really what we see is there are many people of all ages that need a little bit more discipline.
JA: The book is called Money is Emotional. Check it out.
For even more useful information, visit YourMoneyYourWealth.com to access white papers, articles, webinars and over 400 video clips on tax planning, investing, retirement planning, Social Security, estate planning, small business strategies and more. It’s a veritable treasure-trove of information just waiting for you at YourMoneyYourWealth.com. Need more help? Got a burning money question that just can’t wait? Call 888-994-6257 for your chance to talk to Joe and Big Al and have your question answered live during Your Money Your Wealth. That number again is 888-994-6257. 888-994-6257. Let’s take one of those calls right now:
26:19 – Live Listener Question: Judy Is Retired, Has a Pension, and Money in IRA, but RMDs Are Going to Kill. How to Do Roth Conversions? What Happens With Tax Reform?
JA: Alan, we’ve got this new segment we started a couple of weeks ago. Remember the old days? We’ve been doing this show for how long?
AC: 10 years.
JA: 10 years. We’d take phone calls for three hours straight.
AC: (laughs) Yeah I remember that. And then we got tired of that.
JA: Well no, because you kept answering the wrong questions.
AC: I did? (laughs)
JA: Yeah and then we got in trouble… (laughs) No, I’m kidding. We’re back. We’re answering questions and I think we got Judy on the line. Judy welcome to the show.
Judy: Thank you so much, and Joe I have to tell you, I’m very jealous that you have a Darth Vader mask.
JA: (laughs) Well, you could come over anytime, I got Stormtrooper masks, we can have a costume party.
Judy: Um, I think I’ll pass, but thank you.
AC: Wow, snubbed, Joe. (laughs)
Judy: No, you know, he’s a little young for me.
AC: Oh! Well, you never know.
Judy: Eh… I do. So anyway, here’s my question. I’m one of those people that was a good girl, and I saved all my money in an IRA. And now I’ve retired, and I have my house paid off, and I have a pension, which pays for my living expenses, and now I have a whole bunch of money in my IRA that, when I turn 70 and a half is going to kill me, because I’m not going to drop in any kind of tax bracket. So is there some kind of – how do I know how much money to move into a Roth? That’s one question. The second question is if they do the tax thing and they take away the deduction for retirement accounts, do I have to move everything all at once?
JA: Well let me ask you a few questions, Judy. First of all, are you single or married?
Judy: I’m single.
JA: OK. Do you ever plan on getting married?
Judy: No. That’s why I’m not coming over. (laughs)
AC: Well that’s clear. (laughs)
JA: OK, alrighty! (laughs)
AC: He’s trying, Judy!
JA: And then, do you always plan on staying in the state of California?
Judy: Yes. I like my house.
JA: OK. So here’s what you have to look at. So you have a pension, do you have Social Security as well?
Judy: Yes. But I’m not going to take that until I’m 70.
JA: OK so you’re going to get a triple whammy then at age 70 and a half.
Judy: I have the windfall thing so it’s only half a whammy.
JA: Got it. So you have a pension, then there’s going to be a little bit of Social Security, but then you’ve saved some money in the overall retirement account, so now we’ve got to get a little bit more personal. How much money have you saved inside the retirement account?
Judy: About half a million.
JA: So you got $500,000 that you don’t necessarily need because your living expenses are covered through your pension.
JA: How much is your pension?
Judy: About $4,000 a month.
JA: $4,000 a month. So that’s $48,000 a year. So when you file your taxes, do you do the standard deduction, or do you itemize?
Judy: I itemize. I have until this year. I don’t know about this year yet because haven’t done them.
JA: Got it. So $48,000, you are, with the deductions, Al, she’s right on that 15% cusp. But then at 70… and how old are you Judy?
JA: OK. So you’ve got five years. $500,000, that could grow a little bit. And then at 70, she’s going to have a little bit more Social Security. Do you know what your Social Security benefits are going to be?
Judy: Somewhere around $1,000 a month we think.
JA: All right so now you’ve got $60,000 of income, plus your required distribution. So maybe another $30,000 on top of that, Al?
AC: Yeah, that’s probably right.
JA: And so the question is looking at what does she do? How does she avoid maybe a potentially larger tax hit down the road?
AC: Yeah it’s a great question, Judy, it’s a common question. And so it depends. You always have to look at your taxable income now versus in the future, and you’re in a lower bracket today than you will be in five years from now, five and a half years from now, with the required minimum distributions. So just by quick calculations, you’re somewhere near the top of the 15% tax bracket. The Social Security and the required minimum distributions are going to put into the 25% bracket. So you might want to consider doing a Roth conversion to the top of the 25% bracket which actually is about $90,000. If you’re at, let’s just say $30,000 right now, or at 35, that could be a 50 to $60,000 Roth conversion, you could do that for five years. You could actually get a lot of the IRA money out. The real advantage there then, is you’re required minimum distribution would be quite a bit smaller, and perhaps not all your Social Security would be taxable. As it stands right now, with the IRA required minimum distribution, if you don’t do anything, you’re going to pay full boat tax on Social Security.
JA: Well she will anyway because of her pension.
AC: Well yes, she might. Yeah the pension’s 48 and half of Social Security – yeah, could be.
Judy: That’s OK, I don’t mind paying the taxes, I just don’t want to pay so much tax.
AC: Yeah, but see that’s that’s what you look at. You always look at this year’s tax bracket versus the future. Now, if you were, let’s just say it’s clearer cut if your taxable income was, say, $20,000. That’s in the 15% bracket, and then you might do a conversion of 15 to $20,000 to stay in the 15% bracket. Right now you’re kind of hovering around the top of that. So it’s a little bit trickier. Something else that we tell our clients and listeners is, when you do a Roth conversion, you can always recharacterize it. In other words, you can always undo it in the following year, actually all the way until you file your tax return. And one of the things that you can do with your Roth, is put certain asset classes that have what we would call higher expected returns. And if you have a year where the stock market grows, then actually that might be the better year to keep the Roth. If it doesn’t grow that much, you might not keep it, you might recharacterize it. So you’re in a 25% bracket, which you will be later, so you’re not paying any more tax, but it makes it more palatable if you have a bunch of growth in the Roth before you have to make the decision of whether to keep it or not.
Judy: OK. So I think I got that. So where I would go to the next bracket is about $90,000, so you can move money from the IRA to the Roth, and if it’s too much, you can move it back?
AC: Yeah you can bring all or part of it back. Like, let’s say you do a conversion and you end up at $100,000 of taxable income. You might want to recharacterize $10,000 because you’re in the 28% bracket.
JA: Whatever you feel that you want to pay tax on that year.
AC: And the truth is, you don’t necessarily have to completely fill up the 25% bracket. That may seem excessive, and you’ve got to pay all these exorbitant taxes, and so you may not want to do that. So it also depends upon how many assets you have outside of retirement that you can kind of earmark for taxes, without ruining your emergency fund and all that kind of thing.
JA: And then you have a second question in regards to tax reform?
Judy: Oh yeah. So if they’re talking about taking away the deductible for the Roth IRA type of thing, so if that happens do I have to move all my money quick?
AC: No, no. In fact, if they do anything, which we don’t know, but they would grandfather all the old stuff in. It would just be new contributions, which aren’t going to really impact you.
Judy: OK. So that makes me feel a little bit safer. In fact, it makes me feel a whole bunch safer.
JA: At the end of the day, where is the money going to go to?
Judy: Charity. Well, my house and any money that I have goes to charity. And I’d rather have them have it than the government.
JA: Got it. Well then, there could be another strategy, because what you could do then is do zero conversions. You don’t want to do any conversions at all, until 70 and a half. And then at that point, you would take your required minimum distribution, and you could give that directly to charity. So that would avoid any type of taxation on your overall tax return, and you would maybe give $20,000 a year to charity. If your living expenses are covered by your pension and Social Security, you don’t really think that you’re going to use that money, you’d rather give to charity rather today than on your passing, that might be a better strategy altogether, because you’re not going to prepay those taxes, because if it’s going to go to charity anyway, they’re not going to pay the tax at all.
Judy: Oh, I like that. That’s even sneakier!
AC: (laughs) I think that’s a good idea, and plus it’s not all or nothing. So you could have $10,000 go to charity and keep $10,000, you just pay tax on the 10 that you keep.
JA: Right. So yeah, that would avoid any type of bad taxes today and bad taxes in the future.
AC: And then some years you might have plenty extra. It all goes to charity. Other years you need it. And so then you’ve none of it goes to charity that particular year.
JA: Yeah. The conversion strategy really works best if you plan on spending some of that money, where you can have access to those dollars and not necessarily pay tax on it. Or maybe it’s going to your children, or nieces or nephews, that might be in a little bit larger tax bracket, because then you get the compounding effect in the Roth, because there is no required distribution in that. And let’s say you have a long life expectancy, all that money will compound tax-free, and then it would go to the heirs tax-free. But if it’s going to go to a charity at the end of the day, well they’re not going to pay tax on it anyway. It’s tax-free to them. So it might as well just keep it in a retirement account.
Judy: Thank you. That’s even easier I don’t have to do anything.
JA: Yeah you’re good, Judy, you are good to go. Now I just got to get you over to the house and have a little Stormtrooper match. (laughs)
AC: And I’m gonna, Judy….
Judy: No, I’m going to – you’re going to come too, Al?
AC: Uh, I’d better. I better to chaperone. So, Judy, I’m going to second what Joe just recommended. I think that given your situation, now that we know about the charity, that’s a better call.
JA: All right Judy, hopefully, that helps.
Judy: So easy, I like easy! Thank you so much, guys.
JA: Alright, hey, you have a wonderful day.
Judy: You take care. Bye.
JA: All right bye bye. So you just got to ask just one more question, and then boom, it just totally changed the advice is just that.
AC: And it’s funny that. And that’s how financial planning is. If you’re missing a key fact or two, you might go down the wrong path.
JA: Right, and I think sometimes when we talk about tax planning, retirement planning, Roth conversion, blah blah blah blah blah. Some people will hear that, and it’s just like, “oh, I’ve got to do that.”
AC: Because they think it’s right for them.
JA: Yeah. And it’s like oh no whoa wait a minute here. No, that is a totally wrong move for you. You do not want to do any Roth IRA conversions, that would make zero sense for you. So then you get the compounding effect, you’re not prepaying any of the tax, and then who cares? Your required distribution, if you don’t necessarily need the money, if it’s going to charity anyway, you could directly give a gift to charity from the required distribution, as long as you’re over 70 and a half, up to $100,000. She’s got a half a million. It might be worth, I don’t know, depending on how she’s invested, let’s just assume maybe $550,000. It could be a little bit more, a little bit less, but the required distribution on that, 20, $25,000. And so it’s 3.5%. She takes that out. She’s still living comfortably. No mortgage. And then plus she can give while she’s living.
AC: Yeah. And it’s more flexible. So then she can keep some, or she can give it all to charity, year by year, based upon what’s going on.
As Trump tax reform gets closer to becoming a reality, we’ll have to stay tuned to find out what’s in store, but don’t be caught unaware – find out how tax reform might affect you, just like Judy did. Start end of year tax planning now to help you not just this year, but for the rest of your life. Call Pure Financial Advisors at 888-994-6257 and make an appointment for a personalized tax reduction analysis. That’s 888-994-6257. Find out how your current tax strategy may be changing, and what you can do to keep up. Get a forward-looking, personalized tax reduction analysis at no cost or obligation to you. Call Pure Financial at 888-994-6257. 888-994-6257.
38:42 – Social Security Spousal and Survivor Claiming Strategies
JA: Alan, I was teaching a course this week at Grossmont College. And we were going through Social Security, and some claiming strategies when it comes to Social Security, and we talked about – for those of you listen to the show you probably know the two big things that you should understand before you claim your Social Security benefit: one is the spousal benefit, and one is the survivor benefit. And the spousal benefit works like this: let’s say one spouse has a benefit of $2,000, the other spouse has a benefit of $500. Maybe one spouse was a stay at home parent, the other spouse was working, whatever. The spousal benefit, you take half of your spouse’s, or yours, whichever is larger. So in that example, one spouse has a benefit of $2,000, the other one has a benefit of $500. Their benefit would jump up to $1,000. You take half of your spouse’s, or yours, whichever is larger. And then the survivor benefit works like this: as soon as one spouse dies, then that person takes the higher of the two benefits. So if one person had a benefit of $2,000 a month the other one had a benefit of $1,000 a month, the person that passed away, let’s say, was the one that had $2000 a month benefit, well, the surviving spouse would then jump up to $2,000 a month. So that’s the spousal benefit and survivor benefit. And to get those full benefits, either half or your full, you have to wait until full retirement age. If you do take it at 62, or full retirement age or earlier, the maximum is 62, then you receive a reduction of those benefits as well. But I’m just assuming they took it at full retirement age. And then we get into claiming on a spouse’s benefit, but you can also claim on an ex-spouse’s benefit.
AC: Yeah that is true Joe. And I saw an article this week on CNBC, and the title caught my attention, as titles are supposed to. It says, “Want one last dig at your ex? Then collect their Social Security.” So I thought, “OK. That’s an interesting title.” And of course, it goes on.
JA: Yeah but that title is totally false. (laughs)
AC: Well it’s false because it doesn’t affect your ex-spouse. But it may be emotionally that you’re getting some benefit from their labor.
JA: Right? So I’m going through this and I’m like, “All right well here, this is how this works, if you’ve been married to a spouse for 10 years, or 40 quarters, then you can claim on an ex-spouse’s benefit, and how that works is that whatever their benefit is, whatever yours is, if your benefit is lower than half your ex-spouse’s, then you can claim the spousal benefit on an ex-spouse. And all of a sudden this woman’s kind of sitting in the back of the classroom, and her face kind of gets a little upset, like an angry face? And I’m like, “Did I say something?” And she’s like you, “So you mean that deadbeat can claim on my benefit?” And I’m like, “Oh boy, here we go.”
AC: Yep, the answer is yes. And what you said is correct, and I’ll go through it a little bit more slowly. So to be able to qualify for this, your former marriage must have lasted for 10 years, or 40 quarters as you said 10 years. You are age 62 or older. You are currently unmarried. So you have to stay unmarried for this. And the benefit that you are entitled to receive based upon your own work, is less than your ex-spouse’s benefit. So in other words, your benefit is $750, and your ex-spouse is $1,000. This is spousal, sorry – $2,000. And so half of that is $1,000, that’s higher than your benefit, so that’s what you can receive.
JA: Right. So you take your benefit of $750, and then the Social Security Administration, what they do is they just shore you up to get to the thousand. So there’s really two benefits that you’re claiming. You get your benefit, and then they basically do the math to get you up to half of your spouse’s, or ex-spouse’s. And if you were married several times, as long as you were married for 10 years and 40 quarters to each of those different spouses, you can claim the highest. So let’s say I had one marriage, they didn’t make any money, so I jumped, upgraded, in another marriage for 10 years, they were a lot more successful. So I could take the higher of the two.
AC: The higher of the two, or the higher of the three maybe, or whatever. I don’t know how many are possible.
JA: Well what’s your life?
AC: If you start at 20 and you live to 100, I guess it could happen 8 times.
JA: I’m curious about this now. If I’m already claiming a benefit, and maybe that benefit is a thousand bucks on an ex-spouse. And then I get married again. Well no, then I would just go to that benefit.
AC: Yes, you would. And in fact, that was one of the things in this article, what if you get remarried? And so then, of course, you can no longer claim under your ex’s record. But if you get divorced again, you can go back to the first one, the bigger one. You married a deadbeat to start with, nothing, then you went for the money, and that didn’t work out, now you find the right person, although you don’t get much benefit. (laughs) And, I guess, most importantly, for the ex, it doesn’t affect their benefit. So it may piss them off, as in your example, but it doesn’t affect the amount of money that they’re going to get.
JA: Yeah but I think in most cases, the ex-spouse probably doesn’t know that the ex is claiming on their benefit.
AC: Oh, I bet some of the exes tell them. “Guess what?” (laughs)
JA: Well, yeah I guess maybe in hate mail or something.
AC: “Guess what I did?” (laughs)
JA: Yeah. “Hey, Brenda.” (laughs)
AC: Anyway, I think it’s good to bring up, Joe, because a lot of people aren’t really aware of being able to claim on your exes. And as we said, you have to be married 10 years. You have to be 62 or older, and you have to be currently unmarried. And if you have more than one ex that qualifies under the 10 years, then pick the better one.
JA: Right. As a current spouse, to claim that spousal benefit, your current spouse needs to be claiming their benefit for you to qualify for the spousal benefit. So just be aware of that as well. So if you want to claim the spousal benefit but your spouse is not yet claiming their own benefit, you will not be able to get the spousal benefit. So you just have to be aware. But an ex-spouse, they don’t necessarily have to be claiming their benefit.
AC: Yeah. When it comes to Social Security there’s a lot of rules.
JA: You looked a little confused what I was going through that.
AC: No, I wasn’t paying attention. And then I realized you were going to stop talking, and “Oh, I better have some good response,” and I got nothing. That was why. (laughs)
JA: What, you kind of just dazed off there? Social Security gets you pumped up?
AC: Well, I just got bored with it. (laughs) Let’s talk about something else. I’m over it.
JA: (laughs) Well you’ll be claiming yours soon enough there, Big Al!
AC: Not really, I’m a decade off.
JA: (laughs) Oh, you’re pushing it off to 70 is what you’re saying.
AC: That’s what I’m saying. That’s it. You did your math correctly. (laughs)
JA: (laughs) I did, off the top of my head. That’s pretty good. A decade away.
AC: That’s a long time.
JA: That is a very long time.
AC: So I did have a question about mortgages, going back to that. So are you going to have your mortgage paid off when you retire?
JA: Probably not. (laughs) Because here’s another good rule of thumb – not rule of thumb, but good practice if there’s no way that you’re going to be able to get this thing paid off, then I would highly consider people refinancing it, and then push out that payment as far as you possibly can.
AC: Like you had a 15 year, now go to 30.
JA: Yes. I think a lot of times, people will say, “let’s get this paid off in retirement. Let’s get a 15-year note.” But then something happens, and it’s like, “oh we’ve got to refinance again, pull a little bit of cash out,” but then they still do, “ooh, let’s do a 15-year note, 15-year note.” I get that. But all of a sudden, you’re five years from retirement, you got a 15-year note, and all of your cash flow is going to the mortgage. And then you’re going to be 10 years into retirement, then it’s paid off, and the likelihood of it getting paid off then is probably low because you’ll probably need more capital. It’s all about cash flow.
AC: You’ll need to get a home equity loan to pay your mortgage.
JA: Right! Yeah, you need to take a HELOC out just to pay your mortgage payment!
A So that, I believe, is good advice, and contrary to how most people think. And I’ll repeat it, because I think it’s important: you’ve got a 15-year mortgage when you retire, the payments are too high, you didn’t make it, you didn’t pay it off. Actually, maybe you want to refinance to a 30 year before you retire, while you can qualify, while you have income. And so what that means is lower payments, so it’s going to make retirement work better.
JA: Right. Instead of a $3,000 payment, go down to $1,200. That’s added cash flow to your bottom line that you can spend and do whatever you want.
AC: But I know what most people think, “I only got 10 years to go. So in 10 years, I’ll be able to spend more,” and it’s like, well, your best years of retirement are probably your first 10.
JA: You’re gone, you’re done!
AC: Or you’re not interested. (laughs)
JA: So you’re just kind of sitting around, you’re tired, back hurts, ’cause you’re 75!
AC: You already bought the rocking chair. Well actually, 75 is still pretty active. Now that I’m a little older.
JA: Yeah that’s 15 years away. (laughs)
AC: That can’t be. (laughs) I think you meant 85. (laughs)
JA: 90. Those people are maybe like skydiving. (laughs)
While you’re out there skydiving in retirement, Social Security may be providing you with a significant chunk of guaranteed income that’s invulnerable to risk, can’t be outlived, and can help provide for your loved ones after your death. (Hopefully not from skydiving.) But how to claim Social Security to maximize your benefits REALLY depends on your personal situation. We’ve got a white paper for that! 6 Critical Social Security Facts Retirees Must Know is available from the White Papers section of the Learning Center at YourMoneyYourWealth.com. In an era of vanishing pensions and volatile markets, making the most of your Social Security is critical. Visit the White Papers section of the Learning Center at YourMoneyYourWealth.com to download 6 Critical Social Security Facts Retirees Must Know.
It’s time to dip into the email bag, with financial questions courtesy of Advisor Insights from Investopedia, and you, the Your Money, Your Wealth listeners. Joe and Big Al are always willing to answer your money questions! Email firstname.lastname@example.org – or you can send your questions directly to email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org
49:26 – Email Question: When Is the Compounding Magic Going to Kick In?
AC: This is from Clint in Daytona Beach, Florida. He says “Go Gators.”
JA: Yes, Clint, my man.
AC: And I know you love this kind of thing: “Just found and subscribed to your podcast, I really like the form and the flow of how well you two work together.”
JA: Clint, just wait. He’s only listened to one episode.
AC: (laughs) After two you unsubscribe. That’s our history.
JA: Yeah. Peaks and valleys. (laughs)
AC: Yeah right. So he’s a 42-year-old mailman, who likes the idea of a fiduciary in his corner. “I have a question about my TSP. When will I start to see the compounding magic start to happen? I have invested from 5% to 18% per year since 1994.” Wow. So 23 years. “I max out the TSP Roth too, I have borrowed two times for residential loans over the years, I currently have $250,000 invested in a 2030 life cycle. I plan on working and investing until at least 2032. I really enjoy your podcast.”
AC: He said earlier…
JA: He’s 42. So he’s going to retire at 55. So he’s got the TSP, he’ll have a little bit of a pension, works for the mail service. Daytona Beach gotta be hot walking, getting that mail out there. In Florida, you just stay in the truck.
AC: You got to stay liquidated. Yes.
JA: You hydrate, Clint.
AC: Hydrate. What’s liquidated?
JA: I have no idea. (laughs)
AC: That’s when a store closes. (laughs)
JA: (laughs) Yeah, that’s a liquidation sale. Liquidated is when you’re a little buzzed. (laughs) Maybe Clint does that. You know, watch a little Gator Game. That’s what I do.
AC: Yeah. Well, I just did a couple of quick calculations for Clint, because it is a reasonable question, because of the compounding, it tends to work more of it’s magic towards the end of your career than the beginning.
JA: He’s frustrated. He’s like, hey, I’m jamming all this money into my TSP plan. 23 years, I got $200,000! Come on! This is all BS! (laughs) This is all hocus-pocus.
AC: Yeah, where’s the million? So I just I took this simple, Joe. I said, well, let’s just assume an even savings of $422 per month, just because it’s simpler to calculate, at 6% interest for 23 years. That’s the $250,000. So what if you just keep doing the same stuff for another 10 years? So he’s 52 years of age. Now it’s $524,000. So let me kind of explain. So it took him 23 years to get to $250,000, and then it’s another 10 years to get another $270,000. So that’s how this works. And if he were to work until 62, I don’t think he wants to, but if he were, then he would have $1,023,000.
JA: So the compounding effect kind of works like this. You start with $100,000 and every ten years, let’s just assume that money doubles. So you start with 100, then it goes to 200, and so OK that’s great, but then all of a sudden, the next 10 years, that 200 guess what turns to 400. And then the 400 turns that 800, and then 800 turns to $1.6 million. So it’s just giving yourself a little bit more time, Clint. Also not a big fan of these lifestyle funds. You’re 42 years old, you’re my age. Go Gators. We probably (unintelligible) in Gator bars together, back in Gainesville. (laughs)
AC: Yeah. So what would you recommend?
JA: So I would probably take on just maybe a little bit more risk. The TSP is a great program. There are not a thousand choices, so you can’t get that confused, in a sense. You look at some of these 401(k) plans that we analyze. It takes forever because you’ve got a thousand choices. You’ve got to stock fund, you’ve got small cap, you’ve got large cap with the TSP, small cap, you’ve got a nice government bond fund, international. Boom, your done. Very simple. I would be more equities than bonds, and I’m not sure where the lifestyle funds – it has that glide path and things like that. Clint, I get that you probably want to make this a little bit easier. You don’t want to focus too much, but you’re listening to the financial podcast. We’ll help you along the way. So I would probably get a little bit more aggressive in my overall allocation, or at least, if you don’t want to change the allocation, make your contributions into the small-cap fund. You want to take on a little bit more risk with your contributions, because of dollar cost averaging. The market goes up, the market goes down. And small caps, they will give you a higher expected return long term, but it’s a lot more volatile. And when the market’s down, you’re buying a heck of a lot more shares, because that’s going to go down probably further a large cap, because it’s riskier. And so when that thing drops further, you’re still putting in your $400 a month or whatever that you’re doing, you’re buying that many more shares. So when the market does recover, you’re going to have that – it’s like a catapult. You’re going to have a lot more wealth at the end of the day.
AC: Yeah I think that’s good advice and I’ll say one other thing, based upon my quick simple calculations, probably what Clint’s doing, is he probably saved less in the beginning, and he’s probably saving more now. So my numbers are actually on the low side. Because if you’re saving more now per month, I’m just assuming $400 per month.
JA: Yeah he probably didn’t start with that when he was 20.
AC: Probably not. So maybe he’s up to $600 or $1,000 or who knows what he’s up to. But that’s going to advance this even quicker. But yeah, that’s what happens. You take a 6 or 7% rate of return, and you go over 10 years, it either doubles or comes close to doubling and so the more you have at the beginning of each 10 year period, the better it’s going to be. And of course, you’re adding to it as well. But on the other hand, this is what makes it frustrating for people in their 50s and 60s that haven’t started. Clint, you had a really good start here.
JA: Yeah, Clint, you’re 40 you got a couple hundred grand? Congratulations.
AC: That’s really good.
JA: Yeah. Because by the time you’re 60, with Al’s calculation, it’s going to be a big number. And if you get a little pension, a little Social Security on the top of it. Yeah. And so, I think he’s also talking about, he’s going some Roth, some traditional, then we have to dive in a little bit deeper. OK well are you married or are you single? What is your taxable income? How much money are you making? How much is your spouse making if you’re single? Then it’s like OK well, then you look at maximizing whatever bracket that you’re in. If you’re in a fairly high bracket maybe go traditional, but then you have to look at your fixed income sources as well. So if you’re going to receive a pension and Social Security that’s going to cover most of your needs, well then now I have all this TSP plan that’s going to be taxed at ordinary income rates as well. So maybe it might make sense to kind of split that up, to have a little bit a Roth in there too, depending on what tax bracket he’s in because most people don’t have a pension. And they have to accumulate all of, basically, their shortfall on their own. Clint’s going to have a little bit of pension, a little bit of Social Security. So that’s already going to put him in a fairly decent bracket, I’m assuming.
AC: It is, and then with the savings to boot, I would think so too. And what we see with a number of government employees that can save, as he is saving, they’ve got the pension and the savings to boot. Many times their income is higher in retirement than it is the rest of the working years.
JA: Alright Clint, hopefully, that helps. Go Gators. That’s it for us today. Hopefully, enjoy the show. For Big Al Clopine, I’m Joe Anderson. Show’s called Your Money Your wealth. We’ll see you next weekend.
So, to recap today’s show: Spousal and survivor Social Security benefits are complicated, so make sure you know how they work so you can maximize your benefit. Whether or not you pay off the mortgage in retirement or go with some other strategy depends on a lot of factors, so call us at 888-994-6257 to discuss your personal situation. And Joe is inviting podcast listeners over to have Star Wars costume parties, so if you’re interested, be sure to email email@example.com! Just kidding – but you should email him with your money questions, like Clint did, to find out that the magic of compounding will really show when he gets to retirement age, so keep jamming that money into your retirement accounts, Clint.
Special thanks to our guest, Christine Luken, the Financial Lifeguard. Visit MoneyIsEmotional.com to learn more on preventing your heart from hijacking your wallet.
Subscribe to the podcast at YourMoneyYourWealth.com, through your favorite podcatcher or on iTunes, where you can also check out our ratings and reviews. And remember, if you have a burning money question for Joe and Big Al to answer on Your Money, Your Wealth, just email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-994-6257! Listen next week for more Your Money, Your Wealth, presented by Pure Financial Advisors. For your free financial assessment, visit PureFinancial.com
Pure Financial Advisors is a registered investment advisor. This show does not intend to provide personalized investment advice through this broadcast and does not represent that the securities or services discussed are suitable for any investor. Investors are advised not to rely on any information contained in the broadcast in the process of making a full and informed investment decision.