Financial researcher Larry Swedroe offers several reasons you may not be getting the returns you’ve enjoyed in the past, and he challenges Jason Zweig’s assertion in the Wall Street Journal that it’s because there are fewer stocks to choose from. Plus, 4 Ways To Reduce RMD Taxes – what are QCDs and QLACs, anyway? And, can you retire at 60 when you’re 43 and have no savings? How do chauffeurs and ambulances play into that equation?
- (00:56) It’s The End of Q2, Time to Assess Your Finances
- (10:38) Larry Swedroe: Is Stock Picking Dying Because There Are Fewer Stocks?
- (24:04) Larry Swedroe: What About Company Buy Backs?
- (31:50) Big Al’s List: 4 Ways to Reduce RMD Taxes (Ed Slott, Investment News)
- (42:20) Big Al’s List Continued
- (52:00) Email Question: Can You Retire at 60 When You’re 43 and Have No Savings?
As the pool shrinks, the opportunity to outperform, logically, should shrink. And if it’s shrinking because the tiniest companies are the ones that are disappearing, you don’t have that opportunity. So that’s the theory. Whether it matches reality is another story. – Larry Swedroe, author “Playing the Winner’s Game: Think, Act and Invest Like Warren Buffett”
That’s Larry Swedroe, author of “Playing the Winner’s Game: Think, Act and Invest Like Warren Buffett.” Today on Your Money, Your Wealth, he offers several reasons you may not be getting the returns you’ve enjoyed in the past, and he challenges Jason Zweig’s assertion in the Wall St. Journal that it’s because there are fewer stocks to choose from. Big Al’s got 4 Ways To Reduce RMD Taxes – what exactly are QCDs and QLACs, anyway? Plus, can you retire at 60 when you’re 43 and have no savings, and how do chauffeurs and ambulances play into that equation? Here are Joe Anderson, CFP and Big Al Clopine, CPA with some answers.
:56 – It’s The End of Q2, Time to Assess Your Finances
JA: Got a great show lined up, Alan. Super great show.
AC: I can’t wait. All kinds of material.
JA: You do, huh?
AC: I was expecting you to say something.
JA: Well, we had Pete the Planner on.
AC: We did, that was fun.
JA: And I keep listening to them. Now I’m kind of addicted to the podcast.
AC: Oh, his podcast? Or yours? Ours? (laughs)
JA: Yeah, I just keep listening to ours, over and over again. (laughs) Because what we talked about is, like, you got to set some certain standards. You have to put some laws on your overall financial life. And I think that’s very important for people to do. There’s always going to be thousands of other things that you can spend your money on, but when you look at, we only have a finite period of time here on this earth, and there’s only a finite period of time where are you going to be making those dollars. And you don’t want to work forever. So you have to put some decision points in on, are you going to save it? Or are you going to spend it?
AC: Yeah but you know what, Joe. I have an article here, in CNBC, that talks kind of about that. The number one cause of money stress is when expenses exceed income. And in a recent study, 48% of people, out of 5,000 people that they talked to, their expenses are equal to or greater than their income, causing a lot of stress.
JA: What was the percentage?
AC: 48%. Half of the people, their income is less than their expenses. They’re either barely covering their expenses, or they’re spending more than their income. So clearly, in either case, they’re not saving. But here’s part of the reason Joe, and we don’t really talk about this much. This is the Pew Charitable Trust, they did a study between 2014 and 2015. About a third of U.S. households had volatile income over that year. A third. Which means a gain or loss of at least 25% from one year to the next. And we know, there’s a lot of jobs where income is variable, and it makes it much harder to plan in that case. Much much more difficult to plan. Now if you’re on the 25% that’s going up, then that’s easy. Although, you can get lulled into security there, thinking I’ve got this income that I can count on and I start spending more. And then the following year I’m just back to where I was two years ago, but now my spending is too high. So that happens. And of course, if you’re on the other side, if it’s gone down, you could set up all the right plans but your income is way down. What do you? It’s it’s tricky. It makes it tricky and that certainly causes some of this. And it’s tough to deal with that kind of thing because you try to set up your plan the best way that you can.
JA: But I think the real problem is overspending then. Because you get comfortable with that certain wage. And then the next year you’re down 25% of that wage, and you’re still spending 25% more of what the wage is bringing in because your wages are down.
AC: Yeah. And in this article, this planner, the advice was to use a money management app. I’m not sure that’s going to solve it. (laughs)
JA: (laughs) Oh, the advice out there is solid!
AC: Let me tell you, what I think you ought to do is this. I think it’s that concept to pay yourself first. Always. So your 401(k), your 403(b) or your IRA, direct withdrawals from your account to your IRA. Make sure that happens automatically, so you don’t even have to think about it. And then you got a certain amount of money in your account. Now if you’re – like let’s say you’re in sales, and your income is variable from year to year. You really ought to try to live on kind of the minimum budget, if you if you will. And then when you have years that are higher, you save more. Maybe then you can do that little bit more expensive vacation, but don’t get used to it.
JA: Right. I mean I’ve heard that terminology is, “always live like you’re broke.” But God, that sucks. I don’t want to live like I’m broke.
AC: That’s hard. Especially when your friends just got a new car and you’ve got a Ford from the 70’s that you have to push, it’s got the little holes in it, Flintstone car.
JA: It’s hard. You don’t see an end in sight.
AC: It is hard. So that’s part of the problem. A big part of the problem is people spend too much. We know that too.
JA: Yeah. I think the bigger problem, and I think of where I was alluding to, is you have a couple that, both of them are making a very healthy income and there’s very little savings and they’re in their 50s and 60s. And the same thing always comes up, ” well we don’t spend that much.”
AC: “No, Joe, we’re not lavish.” How many times have we heard that? We’re not lavish. You can say anything you want, just don’t say we’re not lavish. We’ve overheard that.
JA: Yes, you have $300,000 of total income. You’ve been making this how long? I don’t know, past 10 years? Well OK.
AC: Well, Joe, Al, what can we cut? I mean, our maid is this much, and our gardener is this much, and our chauffeur….
JA: So it’s coming to reality and having the tough messages to really identify. I don’t want to go all doom and gloom, but we are facing a retiming crisis. There’s a lack of savings, there’s a lack of information, there’s a lack of knowledge of actually how much money people should have. And if that information really truly came out, I mean, people would freak. You’ll need a few million dollars. “Well, I’ll give up. It’s going to happen.
AC: Yes so I might as well just live for today.
JA: But then it’s like, you can’t do that. Have you ever watched 30 For 30 on ESPN?
AC: 30 For 30. Yes, I have.
JA: I just watched the Mike Tyson Evander Holyfield one. Have you seen that?
AC: Not that one.
JA: Oh, it’s awesome. It’s very good. I mean I love them all. But it was kind of going back to when they fought, and then Evander had this heart issue. So he’s going to the doctor. Eventually, it was misdiagnosed. But then he’s got an interview with Bryant Gumbel. And he’s like, “well, if you take a look at your body from this age to where you are now, you’ve gained this much weight and this much muscle, and then you have heart issues and do you think that’s a use of steroids?” And it wasn’t. But it brought me back to damn Pete the Planner. It’s like you live for today. You get all juiced up, so you could be the heavyweight champion of the world, and I’m not saying Evander Holyfield was on steroids. I’m just saying that some athletes have done that. To live for that moment, to live for that day in your 20s. And then all of a sudden you have awful, terrible health in your 40s and 50s. There are significant consequences. I don’t know, I’ll get off the soapbox. We’ll we’ll get into more substance.
AC: Yeah, some real news you can use. (laughs)
JA: I just want to motivate people to take a look, because it’s halfway through the year right now. It’s July. The second quarter is over. Now it’s time to say, “what did I do for the first quarter? Did I take a look at my financial goals? Did I save the amount of money that I wanted to save for the quarter? Do I have a not necessarily a budget in place, but do I have my spending under control? Do I have a target retirement date in place? Are my assets where they should be, given what my age and goals and timeframes and everything else are?” Now is a really good time to reflect on that to say, “maybe the first six months of the year I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, my new year’s resolutions are out the bag.” Well start over right now and figure out exactly. Plan now. Start now.
AC: Are you saying that this weekend I ought to have a little Clopine summit? Financial summit with Ann? Talk about how we did?
JA: Yeah. Don’t you don’t you go to Chili’s? You sit down at Chili’s, grab a little margarita.
AC: You have to spend a couple of days putting together the charts and reports, maybe Monday. Monday we will have the summit.
JA: Yeah there you go, Clopine, get your summit together. You’re going on too many vacations.
AC: Who’s your summit with?
JA Myself. I get on Mint.com, then I’m like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this. I got to rein this stuff in.” (laughs) So, just a little reflection. Are you on track? Do you think you’re on track? You’re not on track. Well, now regroup. I know it’s the summer. It’s the last thing you want to do. But I encourage everyone to do that.
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10:38 – Larry Swedroe: Is Stock Picking Dying Because There Are Fewer Stocks?
JA: Hey, welcome back to the show, the show is called Your Money, Your Wealth. Joe Anderson here, Certified Financial Planner, Big Al Clopine, CPA. Alan, it’s that time, we got our good friend Larry Swedroe with us.
AC: I know and I can’t wait to hear his observations this time.
JA: Hey Larry welcome back to the show.
LS: Thank you very much. A pleasure always to be with you.
JA: I want to talk about this blog that you wrote, about that there are fewer stocks to pick so the stock picking game is getting a little bit more challenging. When I first read that title, I was like, “I got some questions for Larry.” So let’s talk about it and then I’m going to show how stupid I am. (laughs)
AC: That’ll take about 30 seconds. (laughs)
JA: Yeah. It doesn’t take long with Larry. (laughs) Just my intelligence level goes down to about a zero. But Jason Zweig wrote something and you kind of commented on his article.
LS: Yeah. So Zweig writes that he’s observing something, a phenomenon that hasn’t been much discussed, but those in our industry are well aware of, the number of publicly traded securities on listed exchanges has literally collapsed. With the biggest impact probably being, first from the bursting of the Internet bubble, so lots of those Internet dot com type companies disappeared, had raised capital in a bubble, and couldn’t survive. But the second big impact came in the 2008 financial crisis, as a result of the Dodd-Frank bill, which dramatically increased the amount of regulatory red tape, which discourages small companies from going public. And that created this problem back 20 years ago. There were over 7,000 stocks and Zweig pointed out today there is something like 3,600.
It’s interesting, because we still have something called the Wilshire 5000, but we don’t have 5000 stocks anymore. (laughs) Which is kind of interesting? So Zweig makes the observation, supported by quoting some pretty well-known investment managers, that if you have a fewer group of stocks, then that smaller pool doesn’t allow you to differentiate as much from the market. And these larger companies are much more closely followed than, say, the smallest companies, which are no longer listed. So hopefully, the theory is that in these smaller companies, the active managers can outperform, but that opportunity is gone. And the combination of those two things led him to conclude that active management is getting harder and harder. So that’s basically the premise of the article. And then he had one other point, which is small companies are disappearing, and historically the biggest returns have been to the tiniest companies, then that small cap premium should shrink. So those are the two key observations.
JA: So when I first kind of glanced over this, I’m thinking, there were over 7,000 stocks. Now it’s 3600. So it’s like, if there are fewer stocks, there’s still capital flowing into the overall markets. Correct?
LS: Absolutely. And obviously the value of the equity markets is much larger, so that’s not an issue. But you can only outperform if you own a different pool of stocks than the market does, and weight them differently. So let’s imagine a world where there are only 10 stocks. It would be much harder to outperform than if you had say 10,000 because you could own the few that really outperform and overweight them. But you can’t do it if there are only 10 stocks, so that’s the idea. As the pool shrinks, the opportunity to outperform, logically, should shrink. And if it’s shrinking because the tiniest companies are the ones that are disappearing, in theory, if you believe that markets are not efficient, there’s less information available, everyone knows everything there is to know about Google or G.E., but not many people know about the smallest, say, hundred companies. But if they’re disappearing, you don’t have that opportunity. So that’s the theory. Whether it matches reality is another story.
JA: Yeah, because here’s what my thought process is, and this is where I’m probably going to look like an idiot. If I’ve got 3,600 stocks versus 7,000 to choose from, and there’s a lot of capital still flowing into the overall stock market, there are more and more people getting out of active management, more or less going into index type funds. And so they’re buying all of the companies in the overall markets, and there are fewer stocks and the money is still going in. So if I’m looking at supply and demand, isn’t that making certain companies higher prices that maybe shouldn’t be a higher price, just because of the valuation, because of supply and demand, there’s fewer stocks but still a lot more capital going in?
LS: Not necessarily, because those companies that aren’t public are still raising capital. It’s just that they are getting that capital in the private equity markets from venture capital firms, as one example, leveraged buyouts, etc. And it just means that the private equity firms are the ones investing in them, instead of the public markets. The fact that the U.S. number of stocks is shrinking does not mean that the amount of money invested in equities is shrinking.
JA: Right. Well, I’m thinking that the amount of money that is going into equities is actually increasing, isn’t it?
LS: Yeah. There’s no question that that’s happened because the valuations are, obviously we now have a stock market worth in excess I think of $6 trillion. Obviously 20 years ago it was a lot less.
JA: And so when we look at valuations, I guess it depends on the valuation that you look at. Help our listeners understand, because we hear markets are at all time highs, all time highs, and then you look at PE (price-earning) ratios that are very high. But there are other variables that I think people are missing when they just hear snippets like this.
LS: Yeah. Well, first of all, valuations in the U.S. are higher than they have been historically. By some measures, by quite a bit. And one thing we know is, if you pay a higher price for the same dollar of earnings or cash flow, by definition you must get a lower return, and there is a direct relationship, historically, between valuations and future returns, with the correlation being negative – meaning, the higher the valuation, the lower the future returns. But that doesn’t mean higher valuations are a signal that stocks are overvalued. There are many good reasons why stocks are now higher priced, very logically, than say they were 30-40 years ago, or even longer back in time. Here’s a few of them: If you look at the data going back, we now after the 1880s, the historical average PE ratio measured by what’s called the Shiller CAPE 10. So you take an average of 10 years of earnings, so it’s called the Cyclically Adjusted Price-Earnings ratio, that’s where the CAPE comes from. Cyclically Adjusted Price-Earnings ratio and the “10” is because it’s taking a 10-year average, is roughly 17, around that number. But I think, Joe, you and I can agree, that for a variety of reasons, investing in U.S. stocks is a hell of a lot less risky than it was, say, 130 years ago. We didn’t have a Federal Reserve then, you didn’t have a SEC, the volatility of the economy was dramatically higher. So if you have less volatility of the real growth in the economy, that makes equity investing far less risky.
130 years ago, we’d have a severe recession or a depression every few years it seemed. We haven’t had more than, say, two really bad ones in the last 50. I think we can also agree that accounting standards are much stronger today, so investors have better information, more protection against them. All those things argue for higher valuations because you’re taking less risk. But we’re not done yet here. Another factor why people should be willing to pay a higher price for the same dollar of earnings is that companies are paying far future dividends than they ever did, retaining the cash, which can be used either grow the company faster, because you have more capital to deploy, or you could buy back your stocks, shrinking the pool of shares, and that drives up the price. If you simply make an adjustment for that, you should be willing to pay, I’ve estimated, about one PE higher. And two other things we have to cover. One is that there was a major accounting change, I think it was in 2001. It’s called FASB 141 and 143 I think are the numbers – or maybe it’s 142 and 144. But the rule was, 20-30 years ago, I’m a technology company, I acquire this startup, I pay $100 million for it. And it has no hard assets, so I put it on my books. I get $100 million of value, and I write that down. That’s goodwill over the next, say, 30 years. However, in 2001, after the tech bubble blew up, the accounting standards boards began requiring companies to do at least an annual test of their valuation. And if the value was no longer there, you had to write it down immediately, instead of over 30 years. So while you have exactly the same cash flows going on, if a company wrote something off over 30 years, or whether they write it off immediately, the earnings are much lower today. And someone calculated that was worth 4 in the price-earnings ratio.
In other words, earnings on a comparable basis are so much lower. But the cash flows are the same, and that’s really what you’re buying. One is just an accounting number. And the last thing I’ll mention is, it’s much cheaper for investors to invest today. ETF, mutual fund costs are a lot lower, transactions costs in the forms of commission and bid-offer spreads are much lower, and that means you get to keep more of the gross returns that stocks provide, which means you should be willing to pay a higher price to get that higher share of the returns. When you add all those things up, I come to the conclusion that, yes, stocks are more highly valued, but by no means should anyone be saying that we are dramatically overvalued. And people have been saying this, Jeremy Grantham, John Hussman, and many others, for the last four years. And the markets, at least so far, have proved them dead wrong. Doesn’t mean markets can’t crash. But I don’t believe a crash will occur because the stocks are overvalued. It would be because some risk shows up.
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24:04 – Larry Swedroe: What About Company Buy Backs?
JA: We’re talking to Larry Swedroe. Larry, a lot of what you said makes sense, except for one thing where it could potentially blow up with – I don’t know what the numbers are, I’m sure you do – with company buybacks. So a lot of companies are buy backing their stock. So there’s pros and cons of that isn’t there? I guess, on the doom and gloom side, they’re saying they have a lot of cash. The cost of capital is cheap with interest rates as low as they are. So they might lend or borrow money to buy their own stock to boost the price. So then the top executive teams get their bonuses. Is there a con to buying the stock back or what?
LS: Well, the way to think about it is, companies who have “excess cash,” meaning cash that they don’t want to employ, investing in the business because they can’t find investments that would achieve their required rate of return, their cost of capital. So now they have two choices. They could pay a dividend out to shareholders, or they could buy back their stock. If they believe their stock is cheap, they might do that. And if you’re an investor, like you or I, and we hold our equities mostly in our taxable accounts, I greatly prefer them to buy their shares back, because I don’t have to pay any tax on any dividend which the government forces me to pay. The stock price goes up, but I don’t have to sell. And even if I want to sell because they need the cash, like a dividend would provide, a dividend, you’re taxed on the entire amount. If I sell, let’s say you got a 2% dividend, if I sell 2% of my shares to get the same dollars, I only pay a tax, not on the full 2%, but on the portion that’s a gain. And likely at those lower long-term capital gains rates. So it’s much more efficient. Which is why so many companies today have figured out it’s much better to buy their stock back then to pay a dividend. Anybody, any investor can create a self-dividend. You don’t need the company to give you the cash. You just sell a number of shares equal to the dividend you want, and you end up with exactly the same total dollars invested in the company either way.
JA: But you know what the problem with that is, is that people think a dividend is a coupon payment.
LS: Yep. Well, it’s not, (Joe and Al laugh) because the price of the stock drops by the amount of the dividend. And we know from all of the research, in fact, Vanguard just wrote a paper which basically agreed with everything I’ve written over the last five years, when I’ve been pounding the table, trying to educate people, that dividend strategies, not that they are necessarily bad, except from a tax standpoint. But they don’t add any value. You don’t get better returns by buying high dividend stocks, or dividend growth companies, meaning the companies are raising their dividends. What really matters is how much exposure these companies have to the factors that we know determine returns, such as value, size, momentum, etc. It’s not the dividend. That was decided 50 years ago in a paper and never been questioned since by two professors, Modigliani and Miller, who said dividend policies should be irrelevant to the stock price, because investors, as I just explained to you, can create their own self-dividend and the price drops by the amount of the dividend. It’s exactly what Vanguard wrote in their paper.
JA: So what Larry is talking about is that if the stock price is at $10 a share and they give a dollar dividend, the next day the stock price goes to $9 a share.
LS: Well, the reason that people have some confusion is the stock price is not likely to drop exactly by a dollar because there’s noise. It could be that there was also some news on the stock. So maybe it only dropped to $9.10, so the market went way up, and it would have gone up anyway, and measuring that. So it’s very hard to look at that. So the way to test the idea is to see if two stocks that have the same, for example, price-earnings ratio, one pays a dividend and the other doesn’t, do they have the same returns in the long term? And the answer is, no matter how you measure it, the answer is yes. But the common sense simple logic, which defies the reality that investors, many at least, don’t seem to understand, is that if a company is trading at $100, or let’s say $10 a share, and has a dollar of cash and now it pays out that dollar, clearly the company is worth $1 less, because it has $1 fewer assets. Any person in their right mind should understand that. And yet I’ve debated this with people who want to argue that somehow there’s, what I call, the magic pants. You could take a dollar out of one pocket and spend it. But your stock price hasn’t gone. Somehow that’s magic pants that don’t drop the value.
AC: They think they’re getting their cake and eating it too, and that’s it’s very hard for them to understand. You’re right.
JA: Are you still writing for Seeking Alpha? I would see those lines of you just blowing people up left and right on this whole dividend strategy.
LS: I don’t write for them but I do write for ETF.com, so I’ve continued. In fact, that just wrote up a piece going through Vanguard’s own findings which make the same case that I’ve made. And the problem with dividend-focused strategies is, or at least one of them is, taxes, as we touched on, they’re more inefficient. Number 2 is since 60% of all companies in the US don’t pay dividends, you’ve already eliminated 60% of the universe, which means you’re clearly not as diversified. And that means you’re a less efficient portfolio. You’re taking all of that extra risk by excluding the 40% of the stocks that don’t pay a dividend.
JA: Great stuff Larry. Thank you so much for joining us. I know that you’re a little under the weather, and hopefully, we can get you back on real soon.
LS: Thanks. Take care.
JA: All right buddy. That’s Larry Swedroe, folks.
If all this talk of stock picking, valuations, company buy backs, dividends, and strategy have your head spinning and you’re wondering what you should be doing with your portfolio, you’re in the same boat as I am! Anyway, visit YourMoneyYourWealth.com and sign up for free financial assessment with a Certified Financial Planner. Find out if you’re on track for retirement. How much money will you need? What are Social Security strategies available to you? How much income can you get from your portfolio? Make sure your retirement strategy is aligned with your retirement goals. Sign up for a free two-meeting assessment with a Certified Financial Planner at YourMoneyYourWealth.com
It’s time now for Big Al’s List: Every week, Big Al Clopine scours the media to find the best tips, do’s and don’ts, mistakes, myths and advice to improve your overall financial picture – in handy bullet-point format. This week, 4 Ways to Reduce RMD Taxes
31:50 – Big Al’s List: 4 Ways to Reduce RMD Taxes (Ed Slott, Investment News)
AC: So when you’re age 70 and a half, you are required to pull money out of your IRAs and your 401(k)s, and it’s mandated by a table, and most you would use the standard table. There are a couple of different tables if you’ve got a younger spouse for example. But most of you are going to be withdrawing almost 4% of your portfolio in year one, and then it goes up from there after. And a lot of folks, Joe, don’t really like this rule, because they get to 70 and a half, they’ve got other income sources, and they’re required to pull money out of their IRA and it blows them up into higher tax brackets.
JA: What do you think. Going off topic here, well not off topic, but off your list. The odds of the IRS changing the table for RMDs?
AC: Oh, because we’re living longer? I’d say not very likely because they want their tax money.
JA: I would say that they would increase it versus decrease it.
AC: Well, they should decrease it is what they should do because we’re living longer. But yeah, no, I don’t think they will. You think they might even increase it?
JA: Yeah, I’m thinking they would want to accelerate that money to come out even faster.
AC: Yeah they might, but then they get a problem of people running through their money before their life expectancy.
JA: You’ve got a barbell problem. Because you’ve got people on one side that have millions, and then you’ve got people on the other side that have dollars.
AC: Right, and it doesn’t matter what the rule is.
JA: it doesn’t matter what their RMD is, they’re already extending way above the RMD. So the others, that they’re not spending the RMD…. So I guess it means testing RMD’s coming soon.
AC: Yeah, you heard it here from Joe Anderson So I guess, if you have just a little bit in your IRA, you probably don’t really care. But a lot of our listeners have saved a lot of money in their 401(k)s, in their IRAs, in their 403(b)s. And so here are four ways that Ed Slott has come up with to reduce those required minimum distributions. And you’ll know all four of these, we can sort of have further discussion, Joe. But the first one is Qualified Charitable Distributions. QCDs. Because when you are 70 and a half and you’re subject to a required minimum distribution, the IRS says that you can give all the way from, any amount of that RMD, all the way to the total required minimum distribution. You can give it directly to charity all the way up to $100,000. So if your RMD is higher than $100,000, you’re limited to $100,000.
JA: That’s a big IRA. (laughs)
AC: It’d be a big balance, sure. Also, if your required minimum distribution is $30,000, then it’s $30,000. You’re limited to your required minimum distribution. But you’re right, up to $100,000. Now, if you give it directly to charity, so it’s like, well, let’s look at least two alternatives. If you distribute the required minimum distribution, it adds to your income. Then you give it to charity, and then you get a tax deduction for charity, so your taxable income, theoretically, should be the same. So what’s the difference? Which is why I think this partially has not caught on – because people do that quick, simple math and they go…
JA: “I give $30,000, I write $30,000 off, it should be a wash.”
AC: Yes, it should be should be a wash. But there’s a lot of cases where it’s not a wash, Joe, and I’ll give you the most obvious one is if you don’t itemize your deductions. Because of the charitable deduction, it’s an itemized deduction. So right now, you’ve got to have about 13, a little over $13,000 as a married couple to itemize your deductions, and if you don’t have that much, if you give some more to charity, well you don’t even get to deduct it until you get to those levels.
JA: And your itemized deductions would be, let’s say, medical expenses over a 10 or 7.5% threshold of your AGI, it would be interest payments, it would be taxes. Property tax. State taxes. It would be your charitable deduction. Then there would be miscellaneous.
AC: Investment expenses, or if you’re employed, unreimbursed employer expenses, those kinds of things. So if you don’t have enough of those to itemize, you get what’s called the standard deduction. And so, therefore, if you do that extra charity, you’re not going to get any benefit. So that’s an obvious situation. Another one, less obvious, is when you give to charity, like let’s say you get the money out of your IRA and then you give it directly to charity. You’re limited to giving 50% of your income. Well, what happens if your income, at least on your tax return is low because you’ve done a good job converting, Roth conversions, you’ve got money outside of retirement accounts, maybe it’s municipal interest, and others…
JA: Yeah, the income that is taxed at ordinary income rates is low, but your income could be high if you have other sources of income that are tax favored.
AC: Yeah. So let’s say your adjusted gross income is only $20,000, even though you’re living on $100,000, $120,000, just because it’s coming from non-taxable sources. And you want to give $20,000 away to charity. Well, you’re limited to 10% of your adjusted gross income. So in that example, you could only deduct $10,000. The remaining $10,000 would carry forward for five years. So there are cases where you can’t take all that deduction anyway. If you give it directly to charity, from your required minimum distribution, then it doesn’t show up on your tax return. Doesn’t even show up as income. So now your income is zero, in that particular example. So that’s one way. Now less known, Joe, is when you take your required minimum distribution it adds to your adjusted gross income. And a lot of things are tied to that. For example, when your adjusted gross income is above $250,000 as a married couple, $200,000 as single, then you have to pay an extra Medicare surtax. That’s 3.8% on your passive income. Interest dividends, capital gains, rental income, and that sort of thing. And when you’re married and your income is over $300,000, single $250,000, then your itemized deductions and exemptions start getting phased out. So you would get fewer deductions that way. Now if your income is over $100,000 and you have rental properties, then the higher the adjusted gross income, the less you can deduct on those losses. And one of the biggest ones is Social Security. The higher your adjusted gross income, the more of your Social Security is actually taxable. If you can keep that adjusted gross income lower, you pay fewer taxes on your Social Security income. There are actually lots of other things too, but those are some of the main ones. And I think people don’t realize the benefit, because they’re just assuming, “what’s the difference it’s a wash.”
JA: Right. And I don’t think a lot of individuals know that they can give directly from their IRA, don’t take the RMD, and give that RMD directly to charity. I don’t think that’s very well known. And I would say for a lot of individuals, it could save them a ton.
AC: Yeah. And partly it’s not well known because it’s a new law, and when it did come around, this was probably, if I’m not mistaken, I think it was 2012 or 13 where this came into being. It was part of the tax extenders. Each year it would expire, and then the Congress and Senate would decide if they wanted to extend it. And interestingly enough, you would think that they would decide that on January 1st. So you could have a whole year to do it. No. They would decide on December 28th, you can do it. One year they decided after the year was over. So because they were so delinquent they said, “all right, if you do this in January of the following year, we’ll pretend it happened last year.” It’s like, wow, you guys are really efficient on this. Anyway. Now it’s permanent, Joe. it’s absolutely permanent, and it’s available. A lot of people could benefit from it.
JA: Well, it’s permanent until they change it.
AC: Well yeah. I guess permanent is a relative term when it comes to the IRS. Another way to reduce your required minimum distribution, we don’t talk about this too much. But that’s a Qualifying Longevity Annuity Contract, QLAC for short. And this is where you can invest up to $125,000 of your IRA, and it has to be 25% of the total IRA balance or less. And what this does is, basically, it’s an annuity where you don’t get any current income. You get income at a later date. It can be as late as age 8,5 although it could be sooner, and the whole idea is that it’s longevity insurance. Chances are, maybe you’ll need it, maybe not. But the idea is, let’s say you lived to 100 or 110. This will create a lot more income than otherwise just going through your normal income through a required minimum distribution. The QLAC is excluded from the required minimum distribution calculation. So it’s a way to keep that lower.
J: So you take $125,000, you buy this QLAC, qualified longevity annuity contract, and then it pays out, let’s say at age 80, and then it will continue to pay out at a certain dollar figure forever. For your life.
AC: And because a lot of people won’t live to when it starts, the payout is actually pretty good. If you’re one of the ones that make it. So you’re kind of gambling in a sense. But the idea that it’s longevity insurance, is what it is.
JA: You’re basically ensuring that if I have a long life, that there’s going to be a guaranteed income source.
AC: Yeah. Which will be greater than what I could have otherwise done with that $125,000.
JA: Exactly. I mean that’s just with insurance. If you live to 120 you’re glad you did it, if you live to 85, you’re upset you did it.
AC: Right. But you’re gone and you may not worry about it. (laughs)
JA: Who cares, right? Who cares.
Two more ways to reduce RMD taxes are coming up, but speaking of taxes – we’re told that the biggest tax cut ever is on its way, but the President and the GOP remain divided on a number of key policy questions. How might income tax, estate tax, and business tax change? Visit the White Papers section of the Learning Center at YourMoneyYourWealth.com and download the white paper, “Tax Reform: Trump Vs. House GOP” to find out. Are your tax strategies at risk? Get year-end tax-planning tips that can help you stay on track in the midst of uncertainty. Download the Tax Reform white paper to find out more. Visit the White Papers section of the Learning Center at YourMoneyYourWealth.com
42:20 – Big Al’s List Continued
AC: We’re talking about different ways to reduce your required minimum distribution, which a lot of our clients and listeners have, they reach age 70 and a half, they’ve got significant dollars in their IRA, their 401(k)s, and then they have to start pulling money out, whether they want to or not. And this is written by Ed Slott, by the way, in Investment News, his third one is rollovers to company plans, and of course not everyone can take advantage of this, but if you’re still working, and your age 70 and a half, and you’re still working and your company has a 401(k), you’ve got IRA balances. You’re 70 and a half, you’ve got to take the required minimum distribution. But there’s a special rule that if you’re still working, your active 401(k) plan, you don’t have to take required minimum distributions out of that plan.
JA: Yes, the working exemption.
AC: Yeah, as long as you don’t own more than 5% or more of the company. So you can’t just start a company yourself, a little consulting business, and do this you have to be an employee.
JA: Here’s what I heard from Ed Slott. This is very gray. When they look at the 5% ownership rule of an overall organization, how the law is written, it’s based on your required beginning date age. And so they look at your required beginning date. Are you a 5% owner of that company on your required beginning date? If so, then you are not eligible for the exemption of being employed, into a 401(k).
AC: So they look at that every year?
JA: No. Just the first year. So let’s say you’re 73 years old. Then you start your company. Then you roll the money into a Solo 401(k).
AC: Oh, that does sound gray. (laughs)
JA: Right? And he’s saying that it’s very gray and I would never do this, because if it ever gets out of it, he goes, the likelihood of that sticking, but that’s how the law is written.
AC: So what is your required beginning date?
JA: The required beginning date is April 1st the following year you turn 70 and a half.
AC: All right, so I turn 70 and a half this year, and I don’t really have to take my first RMD until April 1st of the following year. But then I’d have to take two required minimum distributions.
JA: Yeah, to satisfy the year that you skipped, but there’s no penalty because the whole reason for this is that if you do not take your required distribution, it’s a 50% tax penalty. So if I don’t take the RMD, let’s say it’s $20,000 requirement, that I have to take out of my retirement account, well then the penalty is 10 grand. And then I’ve got to pull the 10 grand out, pay the penalty out of the account, pay the tax on that, plus the $20,000. It’d blow you up. So the required beginning date is April 1st the following year. And I think why they probably did that, I’m guessing, is that let’s say if you’re continuing to work, and you have other retirement accounts, you have a higher income when you’re 70 and a half, and then you want to retire the next year. I don’t know, maybe you have lower income? I have no idea why the required beginning date would be the year after you turn 70 and a half, and if you wait until the year after 70 and a half, you have to take two? Or maybe you forgot? Do they give you a little leniency the first year?
AC: I think so many people forgot, they just said, “OK, we’ll give you this one chance.” A little breathing room maybe, that’s just a guess, but anyway, going back to this strategy. You’re 70 and a half, you’re working in a company that has a 401(k), so that 401(k), you don’t have to take a required minimum distribution out of that, but your IRAs or old 401(k)s, you’ve got to take RMDs out of those, so if your plan allows it, you can roll those old plans and IRAs into your current 401(k), and avoid the RMD that way. And you could theoretically, Joe, work the rest of your life and never have to take an RMD.
JA: Right, if you die at the desk. That sounds appealing. (laughs) You want a good way to reduce your RMD? Get a job with a company that’s 5% owner of, that has a 401(k), roll everything in there, it allows you to roll it, and then just work your ass off until you die at the desk. You’ll never have to take an RMD. You’ll be lonely, you’ll be divorced… (laughs)
AC: That’s the topic, four ways to reduce your RMD taxes. That would work.
JA: I’m going to start up a new company. Avoid RMD. (laughs)
AC: What’s the business plan? We’re still working on it.
JA: Here’s what you do. We’re going to find a company that hires 70-year-olds, that have a 401(k) plan.
AC: Maybe you can hire 70-year-olds that can be Wal-Mart greeters.
JA: All right so here’s a question for you, Mr. CPA for 35 years. That’s sort of with the sociology degree, park ranger/engineer/urban planner. (laughs) What constitutes working? So I’m working at Wal-Mart. One day a year. Christmas Eve, I work.
AC: So I don’t have the code in front of m,e but I’ve got a pretty good educated guess, that you would have to be an active participant of that plan, which means 1,000 hours. That’s an educated guess, but I’ve got 95% comp in this.
JA: So you’re saying I cannot be an active participant in the 401(k) plan unless I have 1,000 hours of employment?
AC: You can’t add to it. In other words, you’re not allowed to.
JA: How about if I’m a part-time employee? Half time? Seasonal?
AC: Right. Let me go back a second. So the 1,000 hours is really for the employer contribution, not the employee contribution. Let me kind of think out loud here a second. So maybe you could, potentially, as a part time. In other words, you would have to have worked 1,000 hours to get enrolled in the 401(k) in the first place.
JA: Right. So yeah I got that, but now at 75, I’m going to work 2 days a year.
AC: When you’re 70, you go down to way less than even half-time, which is 1,000 hours a year. You’re not going to get any employer matches, but you’re still in the plan. Maybe that still works. I might amend what I just said. Maybe that would still work. But basically, you have to be an active discipline of that plan. And if that plan allows you – not all plans do, a lot of them do, that will allow you to roll in old plans and IRAs into it.
JA: Well can I be an active participant in a 401(k) plan if I’m not contributing?
AC: No. You’d have to contribute.
JA: So, I have a 401(k) plan at Pure Financial Advisors. Let’s say I’m not contributing to that plan. Am I not an active participant?
AC: I don’t think so.
JA: I think I am. I don’t know why we’re going down this rat’s nest.
AC: The reason I say that is because that’s typically one, that box is checked on your W-2, that you’re an active participant if you contributed.
JA: OK. So let’s say I have a plan, I’m employed by the firm, I work full time. Plus a couple extra hours. And then I don’t contribute to the 401(k) plan. I open up an IRA, contribute to that, take the deduction. You think I can do that?
AC: Yes I do.
JA: I don’t think I can.
AC: I do. I’ve looked that up before. Because if you’re not an active participant in a plan in that year. However, realize, an active participant can be done two ways – one is your own contribution, and two is an employer contribution. I had an employee where the employer put in, it was like a minuscule, it was like five bucks, but they still are an active participant in that plan. It was a carryover from the prior year. And so, therefore, they couldn’t take a deduction for an IRA. Anyway, the last one is Roth conversions. We could spend a whole show on that.
JA: I’m sure we have. We’ve spent thousands of shows on that.
AC: How would a Roth conversion reduce an RMD, Joe?
JA: There is no RMDs on Roth IRAs, so you would take the money from the 401(k) or IRA and then you convert it, you pay the tax. Now it’s in the Roth IRA, that Roth IRA will grow tax-free. So that reduces the RMD in the IRA because there’s less money in the IRA because you converted the money out.
AC: Yes. So you took your hit already. And for folks that retire and they’ve got lower income for a few years until they hit 70 and a half and they have to take the required minimum distributions, they might be able to convert in lower tax brackets. That might make a lot of sense. Let’s say they convert half of their IRA. So their RMD is going to be half of what it would have otherwise been because it’s a lower balance.
JA: Exactly. All right. That’s Big Al’s list for this week. If you have any suggestions for Big Al’s list, you can just email us at Info@purefinancial.com.
AC: I have a good one, but you didn’t want me to do it. 14 Ways Retirees are Making Money. Maybe we’ll do that next week.
JA: We did 4, it took two segments. 14 would carry over for 4 weeks.
AC: First one is dog walking.
JA: Oh god. (laughs)
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
52:00 – Can You Retire at 60 When You’re 43 and Have No Savings?
JA: “I have zero savings right now. The market crash and a family crisis eliminated my 457 plan a few years back. I then opened my own business with savings I had left, but the business is now closed with nothing to show for. I do have a new job making $100,000 a year as a starting salary. How much will I need to save at this point moving forward, to retire comfortably? Is it too late? I’m 43 years old. I’m married. She makes about $30,000 and I have four kids. Most of what I have prepared, but the plan went to crap. I do not want to work past age 60. What can I do to get back on track?”
AC: Oh boy. So we got 17 years. Well, let me just tell you a stat I just saw, by I think it was either Fidelity or Vanguard, I can’t remember, where they suggested that you save to live comfortably, to live the lifestyle you want to live in retirement, you save between 15 and 18% of your salary for 30 years. He’s got 17. So it’s going to be much higher than that. So I’m the I’m going to say 50%. Yeah, probably, at least. We’d have to do the math. But of course, comfortable, what does that mean? I guess that means different things to different people. Some people think of when they think of retirement, “That’s when I want to spend some money and go on trips and do the things that I didn’t otherwise do.” That sounds pricey. That’s an expensive comfortable. Or another way is comfortable is, “we’re living a decent lifestyle. I just want to come close to that. One that would be cheaper.”
JA: Doesn’t want to work past 60. You’re 40. And you’ve got nothing. You’ve got four kids. They probably need to go to school.
AC: Yeah. So if you can’t save 50% or 70% of your income, you’re working to 70. Because you’re starting at 43 with nothing. Or you just have a different lifestyle than what you thought. Or, there’s always another choice here, Joe, which is maybe you stop working at 60, but you work part time until you hit 70. And then you take your Social Security, take your RMDs at that point.
JA: Here’s the problem. I think if more people know what they should be saving, they would. And then, of course, there are people that can’t save. They’re living paycheck to paycheck. And they’ll have to figure some other plan out.
AC: But a lot of times we’ll talk to 50-year-olds that don’t have a penny saved. “Well, what about me?” And the answer is the same. You save as much as you can, you change your lifestyle now because if you don’t, you’re going to be forced to retirement anyway. And by changing, by lowering your lifestyle, you save a lot more, you get into that mental discipline. As you get raises, then you just keep trying to save the majority of that, and then maybe you do have to work till 70. Maybe you can work till 65, but you’re probably not retiring young like you wanted to at one point.
JA: Met a couple. Hypothetically. He’s 63, she’s 45. They went to, hypothetically, a class I taught.
AC: Wow, this is becoming a very detailed hypothetical story
JA: Yes. So they sat down and I was like, “what brings you in? How can I help you?” And they’re like, “well, we were looking at retiring in a couple of years.” And she’s like, “I thought I could probably retire with my husband.” There’s a big age gap there. Almost 20 years. So she’s like, I was going to work maybe another 5 years, if that, and he was going to work maybe another 5 total.” And so then they were going to be done. Then he goes, “then we went to your stupid class, and found out there’s no way.” They had no idea.
AC: Well, I’d rather find out before than after.
JA: Right. And it’s not like they didn’t have assets or that they didn’t save. But it’s like, you’re 45, you’re going to retire 50? You’re female, you’re in good shape, you’ve probably got a 40-year retirement. You’ve got 15, 17 years until Social Security kicks in for you, and you’re not going to be working for those 17 years? There are Social Security benefits are going to be a little bit less. They were rolling this stuff in their head, they’re like, “yeah, you brought a lot of really good points that we never really thought of. We have $1.5 million equity in our homes, so we thought we were on easy street.” Not so much.
AC: All hypothetical. (laughs)
JA: It was. It was a dream. It was a dream I had. They were very nice people that I dreamt about that had a problem that I’m sure other people might have that live in Southern California. (laughs)
AC: But you can understand the mentality. So I’ve married a younger guy. I want to enjoy our retirement.
JA: You’re marrying a what?
AC: I’m being her now.
JA: But she’s 45.
AC: I’ve said it wrong. I married an older guy.
JA: OK. (laughs)
AC: Yes, thank you. Slight slip. I married an older guy. I want to enjoy retirement while we can still travel, and do all these things we’ve dreamed about. What’s wrong with that?
JA: Nothin’. (laughs) I get it, I get the dream, I get what you’re doing here. I understand. They’re like, “yeah, we like to travel, we like to drink good wine.” Well, you’re not going to travel and you’re going to drink Two Buck Chuck.
AC: Yeah, we when we go to Paris, we fly first class, because you can’t sit in coach because you can’t sleep in those seats. And then we get picked up at the airport by a chauffeur. (laughs)
JA: We like the finer things. I want to keep those finer things. It’s like, now you’ve got to realize what you need to do. But if I’m committed to that lifestyle, well you’ll figure it out if you have the means. And there’s a lot of you that have the means, that are making several hundred thousand, but you’re addicted to that income. That’s what’s scary. Is that you’ll see income increases, so you start out h$100,000, then it goes to one 105, 110 120. Guess what? As that income increases, guess what happens you’re spending? It definitely goes up.
AC: Has that happened to you.
JA: Of course not. (laughs) I wish I was making more money, Al.
AC: (laughs) Well, I’ll be honest. It’s happened to me. Or more appropriately, it’s happened to us as a couple. I’ll say it that way. We just got back from going to Paris and Greece, and we got to Paris.
JA: Did you have a chauffeur?
AC: We get to the airport and there’s a guy holding up a sign. “Ann and Alan.” We go, “Oh boy, this sounds expensive.” So we get in this Mercedes van. And then we drive into town. Our travel agent set it up. I wasn’t paying that close of attention apparently because I don’t care that much about that kind of thing. Anyway, it cost $193 to go from the airport to our hotel. 200 bucks for a nice Mercedes and a guy with a sign.
JA: Was it like 400 miles?
AC: No. I mean, it took a half an hour. Well, actually it was rush hour, took an hour. Should take a half an hour. But then I found out later from going place to place in taxis. They said, “Oh yeah, we have a set fee. You can only charge $50 to take people to the airport.” So I said, “OK, that’s what we’re doing to get back to the airport, we’re arriving in a taxi.”
JA: This is bad, I don’t even know I’m bringing this up but I am. It was my birthday a few years ago. My cousin Roy – that’s his fake name.
AC: (laughs) What is it really, Ray?
JA: No, it’s Roy, I screwed up already. (laughs)
AC: Hope you’re not listening, Roy.
JA: Comes to San Diego. He lives in Wisconsin. And so comes to see me in San Diego for my birthday. And he lives in, let’s say, not a metropolis. And he sells bikes. Doesn’t make a lot of money. Bicycles. And fixes them and things like that. So health insurance is probably not top on his priority list. So we go play golf. There was a bunch of us. We get done playing golf, then we go have a couple of beers. We’re downtown San Diego. And then we’re all leaving, I’m paying the tab. It’s my birthday, I don’t know why I’m paying the tab, but I’m paying the tab.
AC: (laughs) You usually pay the tab, come to think of it.
JA: I know, I’m a nice guy. And my cousin Roy is on the ground. A little blood on the back of his head. I guess he was going to leap frog a friend or piggyback, and the friend moved, and he fell and he hit his head on the concrete. This is actually the day before my birthday. So I get outside, and all of a sudden everyone’s kind of looking at him, and then he’s kind like blacked out a little bit. So my buddy Mikey Martin, who’s a rescue swimmer for the United States Navy, goes, “Joe, wow, I think we got to call an ambulance.” And I was like, “ooh, that sounds expensive.” I was like, “I think he’ll be all right. Let’s get him back into the bar. Let’s put a little – maybe a tequila in front of him. He’ll be all right.” Nope, of course, the ambulance comes. Fire trucks come. And he was alright, he was fine, he just knocked his head a little bit. So we’re in the ambulance, and I’m like, “what am I going to do now?” I was thinking, “can I put him on my insurance? Should I call my brother?” It was awful. So I spent the night in the hospital as he was getting examined. On my birthday.
AC: Without health insurance.
JA: Yes. That was great. It was good times good times. So yeah, when you said, “ooh, that sounds expensive.” That’s exactly what I said. Because I know I’m going to have to pay for it. I mean, that’s not cheap. Ambulance, $500. A fire truck came. $1,000. Blocking off traffic, $800.
AC: Hospital night, $10,000.
JA: Yeah. He had a bump, and his fingers were a little tingly so that’s what scared the doctor. So I had to stay there to keep him awake. “Hey, don’t fall asleep, you might have a concussion.” So anyway.
AC: So don’t spend your money on chauffeurs or ambulances.
JA: Right. And don’t hang out with cousin Roy. (laughs) All right, that’s it for us folks for Big Al Clopine, I’m Joe Anderson. Show’s called Your Money, Your Wealth. We’ll see you next week.
So, to recap today’s show: We’re at the end of Q2, so now is a good time to make sure your financial house is in order. QCDs, QLACs, rollovers to your company plan and Roth conversions can all reduce taxes on your RMDs. And, if you want to retire early, and have nothing saved, plan to save as much as possible between now and then, and plan makes some serious lifestyle changes too. For a start, whenever possible, avoid those chauffeurs and ambulances.
Special thanks to our guest, Larry Swedroe for telling us what fewer stocks in the stock market really means. Search for Larry at ETF.com to learn more, and don’t forget to click Special Offer at YourMoneyYourWealth.com to get your free copy of Larry Swedroe’s book, “Playing the Winner’s Game: Think, Act and Invest Like Warren Buffett.”
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, this show is about you! If there’s something you’d like to hear on Your Money, Your Wealth, just email email@example.com. 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.