lt-am.com Printed on June 14, 2021
INVESTMENTS IN TRANSITION: OPTIONS FOR OLD RETIREMENT PLANS
It happens to most of us. You change jobs and, say, five years later you change jobs again. As you progress through your working years, a breadcrumb trail of old retirement plans begins to accumulate. What options are available for these accounts as you transition?
In general, four choices present themselves:
1) Leave your funds in the old plans (though not all plans permit this).
2) Roll assets into the 401(k) of a new employer.
3) Roll your assets into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
4) Take the distribution as cash.
For simplicity sake, we’ll gloss over the fourth option and assume that the purpose of these funds is to save them for retirement. To receive the funds as a cash distribution requires that taxes be paid on the entire amount and, if under age sixty, an additional 10% penalty be paid on the balance. This would clearly defeat the purpose.
What, then, is the best remaining option?
Without analyzing a specific circumstance, the proper answer is that “one of the other three” might be your best route. While all could be viable depending on the situation, some generalizations can be made.
Understand that this is written from the point of view of someone with “a dog in the hunt” because Liberty Tree Asset Management makes revenue off rollover IRA accounts. With that gladly disclaimed, I will assert that rolling your old retirement plan into an IRA is going to be the best decision in most cases. The reasons for this are severalfold, but much of it comes down to fees.
Like most things, 401(k) plans tend to benefit from economies of scale. As a plan has more participants and/or more dollars invested, the total fees per participant tend to drop as expenses are spread across more individuals. The inverse is true, as well, with smaller plans averaging higher fees. That said, I focus here on the “small plan” category for 401(k) accounts as the majority of us participate in plans which have total investments of under $100,000,000.
As Investopedia reports on a survey published by BrightScope/ICI in 2020, (https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/061913/hidden-fees-401ks.asp) the average total fees for small plans “were between 1.5% and 2% per year, with plenty of plans with less than $50 million in assets paying more than 2% a year in fees.”
If measured by company size, as opposed to the size of the retirement plan, fees break down similarly. The 401(k) Averages Book (20th Edition) (https://www.401ksource.com/) reports that companies with two hundred to five hundred employees pay average total fees of 1.51% per year, and the costs increase sharply for smaller companies. Participants of plans with under fifty employees pay fees that average over 2% per year.
This comes as a surprise to many retirement investors in employer plans. In fact, despite the high fees that are common, 37% of those surveyed by TD Ameritrade (https://www.amtd.com/news-and-stories/press-releases/press-release-details/2018/Three-Quarters-of-Americans-Are-in-the-Dark-When-it-Comes-to-401k-Fees/default.aspx0 in 2018 believed that they paid NO fees.
Though 401(k) plans are required to publish their fees, finding them in complex plan literature is often beyond most participants. Many retirement plan savers interpret the lack of clearly disclosed fees as an overall lack of fees, so it is understandable to start with the mindset of not wanting to leave “free” investing.
Clients that have never worked with an experienced Financial Advisor may feel some initial sticker shock by quoted rates. In reality, the services offered by a firm like Liberty Tree Asset Management are often cheaper than the fees involved in leaving money in an old 401(k) (or in rolling retirement plans to a new employer plan as you change jobs). Of course, this is not true in every case. A skilled advisor should be able to help with a comparison of fees and should discuss what options are in your best interest.
While plan expenses are often the primary consideration, there are other factors to include in such a decision.
I can only speak for my company and what we offer, but I believe that the client receives a significant increase in service when working with us compared to what is offered by most 401(k) plans. Every employer-sponsored plan has someone that is hypothetically administering the investments, yet most plan participants have never met this person/firm.
In addition to providing service, as part of consolidating old retirement plans into a single IRA a Financial Advisor should be able to provide a cohesive investment strategy. Consider the opposite. For anyone with multiple old retirement plans, it becomes difficult to keep track of what each one is invested in. How can you be sure that these orphaned accounts are not allocated into funds that are pointed in completely different, counterproductive directions?
In an IRA, you also gain the flexibility to invest from a nearly endless world of funds. In remaining in a 401(k) plan, whether it is leaving the balance in an old plan or rolling funds to a new one—you are limited to the choice list of that plan. These funds tend to have “a few funds for everyone” and don’t provide the investment flexibility that open architecture can.
While there can be special cases, in general clients should have a single IRA which they roll qualified retirement plans to as they change jobs. The fees of this account should be transparent and should be equal-to-or-cheaper than the available alternatives. Finally, the investments should be allocated in a way that complements not only your goals and comfort with risk, but also the investments in your new retirement plan.
To grow assets over time, naturally fees should be kept low. Where fees are paid, some sort of service should be provided to justify the fee be it prompt customer service, active assistance with investments, cohesive financial planning beyond retirement accounts or, ideally, a combination of all of these. Fees for a service are one thing, but don’t fall into the trap of paying hidden fees to avoid the cost of a financial advisor.
Anthony (Tony) Sueck
Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP)™
Because it will launch as part of our new website, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the appropriate content for this first blog post. There are numerous things that I would like to write about in the coming weeks and months—including deeper dives into some of the things that I intend to discuss in brief today. In the end, I felt it was appropriate to define exactly what ideals are behind Liberty Tree Asset Management (“LTAM”).
It turns out that, in many cases, I define the vision for the business by what I don’t want this company to become.
I describe Liberty Tree Asset Management as a “boutique” Financial Services firm. Having been in the finance business for over fifteen years, I have encountered many Financial Advisors that have thousands of clients but barely maintain a relationship with any of them. That business model is in volume. We will never become one of those. The goal also is not to become a mega-firm that manages a massive amount of money. In my experience, these firms tend to allocate most of their attention and resources to a few wealthy clients at the expense of the majority.
Many firms offer “financial planning”, but experience tells me that it is too often a thinly veiled sales tool. When I first started in this business in 2005, I learned from a veteran retirement planner. It did not take me very long to realize that the end result of all of his “plans” lead to somebody needing to buy life insurance Not only was there always a product sale involved, but most of the time it wasn’t good advice. That was a very formative experience for me. I have never believed in such a self-serving approach and I’ve always resented the bad name that such individuals give our industry.
Regarding investment management, many firms do things the “easy way”. This includes cookie cutter portfolios by third parties. In my view, this tends to allow the “local agent” to have a disassociation. In practice, advisors who sub out their investment work don’t have their “hands on the wheel” and have no idea what is happening in these portfolios at any given time. If something goes wrong, they would say that it is the fault of the third-party fund firm and not the agent who selected and hired them. I disagree.
This all begs the question, then. What is the vision for Liberty Tree Asset Management?
To start, I would answer that in the way that I imagine most small business owners would: I seek to offer a service of value and enjoy the time that I spend doing it. The reward for me is in interacting with client households in a one-on-one environment, building relationships with my long-time clients and perspective new clients, and knowing that the advice and roadmap which I provide should help each household to further their financial goals.
My relationship with prospective clients begins, in most cases, with a detailed financial plan. When established, this is periodically updated and provides a game plan for the financial future of the household. Done right, financial planning is not for everyone as it is a very time-intense process for new clients who must provide a litany of data and then commit to a series of meetings in which to develop an action plan. To offset, once the analysis is completed, I have interacted with very few prospective clients who do not consider the plan development to have been time well spent.
Once a financial plan is established, most clients require some form of investment advice. Liberty Tree Asset Management offers a full suite of customized investment solutions. This includes what I view as two future, long-term asset management trends: a move toward international investing and toward sustainable and ethical investing. Whereas the last major trend in investment allocation was toward maximum diversification, households today are increasingly interested in knowing exactly what they own and feeling good about it. Nobody can claim to have the “best” investments, but I do seek to create educated investors.
In 2020, Liberty Tree Asset Management is a “one-man shop”; a single Financial Advisor who left a larger practice to strike out on his own. It used to be a staple of the industry, but I don’t believe that a solo practice is the right business model for an increasingly complex industry. Expect the Liberty Tree staff to grow over time while always maintaining that “small business” feel. As that happens, I hope that our services offered will improve and expand.
Finally, said succinctly, my goal is to democratize financial planning and investment management in my own little corner of the world. I’ve worked both for very wealthy clients and for households who started with a negative net worth. Whatever their financial situation, I am more interested in where clients want to go than where their starting point is.
Launching a new investment practice is sort of like building a diversified investment portfolio. For a sustainable long-term business, I seek a client base with a variety of ages, experiences, incomes, assets, and goals. What is of most interest to me is to service households that are attentive, optimistic, and who seek to improve their financial future through saving, planning, and investing.
If you’re that kind of person, then Liberty Tree Asset Management may be the firm for you.
Financial Advisor, RICP™
KEEP YOUR SAVINGS RESOLUTIONS IN 2021
With only a few days left in 2020, it is the time of year where many people chose to commit to a life changing goal. If you’ve made one, have you resolved to work out more? Read more? Or, like many Americans, are your New Year’s resolutions fiscal in nature?
According to an Inc.com survey (https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/10-top-new-years-resolutions-for-success-happiness-in-2019.html) conducted in 2019, the goal of “saving more money” was not only in the top ten most common New Year’s resolutions; it was also among the goals which households most frequently failed in achieving.
With that in mind, take a moment to review some strategies for 2021 to improve household savings and, more generally, your financial future.
DEFINE GOALS – AND DIVIDE THEM INTO SMALLER ONES
Goals that are so lofty as to not be realistic are, naturally, the most common to fail. Goals that are too modest may be easy to achieve but accomplish very little. In finance, it is best to have a larger goal in mind which can be divided into smaller goals. It is also advisable to have goals that are clearly defined. To save an extra $6,000 in cash by the end of the year is much stronger than to have a goal to “save more”.
The desire to build an emergency fund provides a perfect example of these principals. While the size of a proper emergency fund should vary based on factors such as the likelihood of a job layoff, the most common target is to build up an account that is the equivalent of six months of expenses.
Because this can create such a large goal as to be daunting, I always encourage clients to divide targets into a series of smaller goals. While accumulating one month of your expenses in escrow may not be enough to properly ward off an emergency, it is dramatically better than zero. Also, recognize that financial goals don’t have to be as binary as “pass” or “fail”. Make gradual progress and be encouraged as you reach the smaller checkpoints; even if it is taking you longer than projected to reach the broader goal.
SAVE IN A SEPARATE ACCOUNT (AND INSTITUTION)
It might sound pointlessly evident, but a key way to save money is to actually save it. Many saving goals unravel over time because money “saved” one month remains intermingled in cash flow as the next month begins. The easy way ensures that this doesn’t happen is to regularly segregate money being saved from other assets.
For households that have struggled to save in the past, one suggestion that often helps—especially when saving an emergency fund—is to create a literal division between accounts so the money at least feels less accessible. There are variations of this concept, but the basic idea is to hold money that is supposed to be accumulating at a separate institution. Create an extra step to access the money, such as having to go down to your local credit union to make a withdrawal. Money that doesn’t feel accessible is less likely to be spent.
Like successfully starting a diet on New Year’s Day isn’t about suddenly starving yourself, managing your spending isn’t about removing all of the things that bring enjoyment from your budget. Both fiscal and caloric diets are about discipline, cutting out things that you know are bad for you, and saving your “treats” for after you’ve reached your goals.
In fact, I never try to put clients “on a budget”, per say. Along with some clear goals, what most households need is to sequence their spending. I break this down into a general three-tiered hierarchy:
1) Core expenses
2) Goal spending
3) Fun money
We will discuss this process in more detail in a future column. In short, monthly expenses should be budgeted for and withdrawn as soon as possible after payday. With modern banking, much of this can be automated.
With nearly as much priority, money for savings goals should be set aside. It may sound overly complex, but I like to develop this as “minimum” goals and broader targets. Minimum goals should be set aside the day you get paid.
Fun money represents the remaining cash flow. If a balance persists, this can be set aside to further larger goals the day before you get paid again. In fact, “fun money” can be a misleading term because much of it can be saved as well—especially if the household realizes how “fun” reaching saving goals can be.
CREATE A NET WORTH STATEMENT
For long-term success with financial goals (and with most other things), it is necessary to create accountability. This can best be established by creating and periodically updating a net worth statement. A household calculates its net worth by tallying the total of all assets and then subtracting its liabilities.
Don’t be concerned about whatever value you start with. Due to student and vehicle loans, the first time I ever created a net worth statement for myself it was negative. What is important is to see progress over time as assets accumulate and debts reduce.
Update your net worth statement at least once a year. If things move in the wrong direction, there should be an obvious explanation. In most years, forward progress will be made, and you’ll feel rewarded by being able to quantify it. At Liberty Tree Asset Management, we offer a complimentary tool to our clients that can be used for budgeting and tracking net worth progress over time.
If you have struggled with saving in the past but, in 2021, would like to turn it around, one further suggestion is to seek professional help. You may be surprised how affordable it is to have a relationship with someone who plays the role of a financial Coach. A good Financial Planner can help you establish goals and create accountability through periodic checkups. Plus, there is synergy in working with someone who has an interest in seeing your net worth climb over time.
At Liberty Tree Asset Management, except in unique situations we provide a complimentary financial analysis to prospective clients. Keep this in mind as you reflect on your New Year’s resolution to save more.
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Securities offered through Securities America, Inc., Member FINRA / SIPC. Advisory services offered through Securities America Advisors, Inc. Liberty Tree Asset Management and the Securities America companies are separate entities. This site is published for residents of the United States and is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any security or product that may be referenced herein. Persons mentioned on this website may only offer services and transact business and/or respond to inquiries in states or jurisdictions in which they have been properly registered or are exempt from registration. Not all products and services referenced on this site are available in every state, jurisdiction, or from every person listed.
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Liberty Tree Asset Management finds its direction through a few core principals. We seek to democratize investment knowledge as the most satisfied clients tend to be educated and informed to the extent which they desire. We do not believe in requiring clients to have “account minimums” or a certain net worth. Our business is designed to provide customized financial planning and investment work to every household as we believe that, through prudent analysis and saving, any client can achieve their personal financial goals. While we seek to grow our business, we will only do so to the extent that it will always maintain that “small business” feel and intend to honor customer relationships above all else.
ANTHONY (TONY) SUECK, RICP™
Anthony Sueck began working in the financial services industry in 2005. With over fifteen years of experience in financial analysis and investment management, he specializes in detailed financial planning that goes far beyond what most firms will offer.
Tony holds the distinguished Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP)™ designation which focuses on retirement income planning (including the development of Social Security strategies).
Tony obtained an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree from Iowa Western Community college. He is currently enrolled at the University of Maryland (Global Campus) and anticipates graduating in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in Finance and a minor in Economics.
He married his wonderful wife Michelle in 2015. They currently have one child, a son named Marty. The household enjoys watching football in the winter and spending time with family.
Liberty Tree Asset Management was founded in 2020 with a specific vision of creating a “new” kind of financial firm. We begin with the commonsense approach that most households can achieve their goals with a little bit of discipline and the right guidance. Further, we always seek to be cognizant of the fact that “wealth” can mean different things to different households and we seek client relationships that go beyond dollar signs.
Our analysis approach begins with needs-based financial planning; a process which helps to establish a financial roadmap for our clients. It also provides a series of benchmarks on which our clients can grade success.
To construct a proper, comprehensive financial plan can be a time-intensive process for new clients. Given this, our ideal client would be motivated to take steps to improve their financial standing. We believe that the first step in doing so should be to enter a partnership with a Financial Advisor.
Liberty Tree Asset Management is proudly based in Omaha, Nebraska, but accepts clients from all fifty states.