Emotion often drives our financial decisions, even when logic should.
When we go to the grocery store, we seldom shop on logic alone. We may not even buy on price. We buy one type of yogurt over another because of brand loyalty, or because one brand has more appealing packaging than another. We buy five bananas because they are on sale for 29 cents this week – the bargain is right there; why not seize the opportunity? We pick up that gourmet ice cream that everyone gets – if everyone buys it, it must be a winner.
As casual and arbitrary as these decisions may be, they are remarkably like the decisions many investors make in the financial markets.
A degree of emotion also factors into many of our financial choices. There is even a discipline devoted to how our emotions affect our financial decisions: behavioral finance. Examples of emotionally driven financial behaviors are all around us, especially in the investment markets.
Behavior #1: Believing future performance relates to past performance. In truth, there is no relation. If an investment yields 8-10% for six consecutive years, that does not mean it will yield 8-10% next year. Still, we may be lulled into expecting such performance – how can you go wrong with such a “rock solid” investment? In behavioral finance, this is called recency bias. Bullish investors tend to harbor it, and it may lead to irrational exuberance.1
Similarly, investors adjust risk tolerance in light of past performance. If their portfolio returned spectacularly last year, they may be tempted to accept more risk this year. If they took major losses in the equity markets last year, they may become very risk-averse and get out of equities. Both behaviors assume the future will be like the past, when the future is really unknown.1
Behavior #2: Investing on familiarity. Familiarity bias encourages you to make investment or consumer choices that are “friendly” and comfortable to you, even when they may be illogical. You go with what you know, without investigating what you don’t know or looking at other options. Another example of familiarity bias is when you invest in a company or a sector largely because you are attracted to or familiar with its “story” – its history, its reputation.2
Behavior #3: Ignoring negative trends. This is known as the ostrich effect. We can ignore the reality of a correction or a bear market; we can ignore the fact that our credit card debt is increasing. Studies suggest that investors check in on their portfolios with less frequency during market slumps – they would rather not know the degree of damage.3
Behavior #4: Wanting decisions to pay off now. Patience tends to be a virtue in both equity investing and real estate investing, but we may suffer from hyperbolic discounting – a bias in which we want a quick payoff today rather than an even larger one that might result someday if we buy and hold.3
Behavior #5: Falling for a decoy. When given a third consumer choice, instead of two consumer choices, we may choose a different product than we originally would, and perhaps make a choice we would not have otherwise considered. Once, an ad in The Economist offered three kinds of subscriptions: $59 for online only, $159 for print only, and $159 for online + print. The $159 print-only option was an illustration of the decoy effect – the choice existed seemingly just to make the $159 online + print option look like a better deal.3
Behavior #6: Seeing patterns where none exist. This is called the clustering illusion. You see it in casinos where a slot machine pays out twice an hour, and people line up to play that “lucky” machine, which has, in fact, just paid out randomly. Some investors fall prey to it in the markets.3
Behavior #7: Following the herd. The more consumers or investors that subscribe to a particular belief, the greater the chance of other consumers or investors to join the herd, or “jump on the bandwagon,” for good or bad. This is the bandwagon effect.3
Behavior #8: Buying the amount of something that we are marketed. In our minds, we believe that there is an optimal amount of something per purchase. This is called unit bias, and when marketing suggests the ideal amount should be larger, we buy more of that product or service.3
There are dozens of biases we may harbor, temporarily or regularly, all subjects of study in the discipline of behavioral finance. Recognizing them may help us to become a better consumer, and even a better investor.
This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.
Citations.1 - marketwatch.com/story/a-financial-plan-to-help-you-simplify-and-succeed-2016-09-23 [9/23/16]2 - abcnews.go.com/Business/stock-stories-fairy-tales/story?id=42529959 [10/3/16]3 - businessinsider.com/cognitive-biases-2015-10 [10/29/15]
Why aren’t they rising? Are they the new normal?
In November 2012, the interest rate on a 30-year home loan averaged just 3.31%. That was an all-time low. Simultaneously, the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged just 2.63% interest and the rate on the adjustable 5/1-year loan fell to 2.74%.1,2
Nearly four years after Freddie Mac reported those numbers, mortgage rates are back near those levels. The 30-year FRM has averaged less than 4% interest all year, declining from a high of 3.97% in Freddie’s January 7 Primary Mortgage Market Survey down to the vicinity of 3.5%, in its September 15 PMMS findings.3
Are ultra-low mortgage rates here to stay? They could be. When the Federal Reserve raised the benchmark interest rate in December 2015, analysts thought mortgages would gradually become more expensive. That hasn’t happened. An overseas economic development helped to keep them in check. After voters in the United Kingdom approved the Brexit in June, U.S. investors raced to buy Treasuries. Their yields hit record lows as prices jumped, thanks to demand.4
While the yield on the 10-year Treasury quickly rebounded, the Brexit caused Freddie Mac’s analysts to revise their view of where rates were headed. In July, they forecast that rates on conventional home loans would stay at 3.6% or lower for the rest of 2016, and average around 4% in 2017. Kiplinger analysts predict that the average interest rate on the 30-year FRM will be no higher than 3.7% at the end of 2017.4,5
Mortgage rates tend to move in relation to expectations about Federal Reserve policy. You may see rates move north appreciably when the Fed hikes, but they could fall again thereafter. In fact, that was exactly what happened in the first half of 2016.6
The Fed’s dot-plot forecast of near-term interest rates posits that the federal funds rate will be under 5% for the balance of this decade. With the central bank setting those kinds of expectations, there is an excellent chance that you may see relatively low mortgage rates for the next few years. (Historically, interest rates on conventional mortgages have averaged around 8%.)6,7
Citations.1 - realtormag.realtor.org/daily-news/2016/07/15/mortgage-rates-stay-near-record-low [7/15/16]2 - freddiemac.com/pmms/archive.html?year=2012 [9/19/16]3 - freddiemac.com/pmms/archive.html?year=2016 [9/12/16]4 - washingtonpost.com/news/where-we-live/wp/2016/07/14/mortgage-rates-remain-low-and-look-to-stay-that-way-for-a-while/ [7/14/16]5 - kiplinger.com/article/business/T019-C000-S010-interest-rate-forecast.html [9/16/16]6 - cnbc.com/2016/09/12/mortgage-rates-finally-break-higher-what-you-should-watch.html [9/12/16]7 - businessinsider.com/fed-dot-plot-june-2016-2016-6 [6/15/16]
Key lessons for retirement savers.
You learn lessons as you invest in pursuit of long-run goals. Some of these lessons are conveyed and reinforced when you begin saving for retirement, and others you glean along the way.
First & foremost, you learn to shut out much of the “noise.” News outlets take the temperature of global markets five days a week (and even on the weekends), and fundamental indicators serve as barometers of the economy each month. The longer you invest, the more you learn to ride through the turbulence caused by all the breaking news alerts and short-term statistical variations. While the day trader sells or buys in reaction to immediate economic or market news, the buy-and-hold investor waits for selloffs, corrections and bear markets to pass.
You learn how much volatility you can stomach. Volatility (also known as market risk) is measured in shorthand as the standard deviation for the S&P 500. Across 1926-2014, the yearly total return for the S&P averaged 10.2%. If you want to be very casual about it, you could simply say that stocks go up about 10% a year – but that discounts some pronounced volatility. The S&P had a standard deviation of 20.2 from its mean total return in this time frame, which means that if you add or subtract 20.2 from 10.2, you get the range of the index’s yearly total return that could be expected 67% of the time. So in any given year from 1926-2014, there was a 67% chance that the yearly total return of the S&P might vary from +30.4% to -10.0%. Some investors dislike putting up with that kind of volatility, others more or less embrace it.1
You learn why liquidity matters. The older you get, the more you appreciate being able to quickly access your money. A family emergency might require you to tap into your investment accounts. An early retirement might prompt you to withdraw from retirement funds sooner than you anticipate. If you have a fair amount of your savings in illiquid investments, you have a problem – those dollars are “locked up” and you cannot access those assets without paying penalties. In a similar vein, there are some investments that are harder to sell than others.
Should you misgauge your need for liquidity, you can end up selling at the wrong time as a consequence. It hurts to let go of an investment when the expected gain is high and the P/E ratio is low.
You learn the merits of rebalancing your portfolio. To the neophyte investor, rebalancing when the market is hot may seem illogical. If your portfolio is disproportionately weighted in equities, is that a problem? It could be.
Across a sustained bull market, it is common to see your level of risk rise parallel to your return. When equities return more than other asset classes, they end up representing an increasingly large percentage of your portfolio’s total assets. Correspondingly, your cash allocation shrinks as well.
The closer you get to retirement, the less risk you will likely want to assume. Even if you are strongly committed to growth investing, approaching retirement while taking on more risk than you feel comfortable with is problematic, as is approaching retirement with an inadequate cash position. Rebalancing a portfolio restores the original asset allocation, realigning it with your long-term risk tolerance and investment strategy. It may seem counterproductive to sell “winners” and buy “losers” as an effect of rebalancing, but as you do so, remember that you are also saying goodbye to some assets that may have peaked while saying hello to others that you may be buying at the right time.
You learn not to get too attached to certain types of investments. Sometimes an investor will succumb to familiarity bias, which is the rejection of diversification for familiar investments. Why does he or she have 13% of the portfolio invested in just two Dow components? The investor just likes what those firms stand for, or has worked for them. The inherent problem is that the performance of those companies exerts a measurable influence on the overall portfolio performance.
Sometimes you see people invest heavily in sectors that include their own industry or career field. An investor works for an oil company, so he or she gets heavily into the energy sector. When energy companies go through a rough patch, that investor’s portfolio may be in for a rough ride. Correspondingly, that investor has less capacity to tolerate stock market risk than a faculty surgeon at a university hospital, a federal prosecutor, or someone else whose career field or industry will be less buffeted by the winds of economic change.
You learn to be patient. Even if you prefer a tactical asset allocation strategy over the standard buy-and-hold approach, time teaches you how quickly the markets rebound from downturns and why you should stay invested even through systemic shocks. The pursuit of your long-term financial objectives should not falter – your future and your quality of life may depend on realizing them.
Citations.1 - fc.standardandpoors.com/sites/client/generic/axa/axa4/Article.vm?topic=5991&siteContent=8088 [6/4/15]
Working a little (or a lot) after 60 may become the norm.
Do we really want to retire at 65? Not according to the latest annual retirement survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies which gauges the outlook of American workers. It found that 51% of us plan to work part-time once retired. Moreover, 64% of workers 60 and older wanted to work at least a little after 65 and 18% had no intention of retiring.1
Are financial needs shaping these responses? Not entirely. While 61% of all those polled in the Transamerica survey cited income and employer-sponsored health benefits as major reasons to stay employed in the “third act” of life, 34% of respondents said they wanted to keep working because they enjoy their occupation or like the social and mental engagement of the workplace.1
It seems “retirement” and “work” are no longer mutually exclusive. Not all of us have sufficiently large retirement nest eggs, so we strive to stay employed – to let our savings compound a little more, and to leave us with fewer years of retirement to fund.
We want to keep working into our mid-sixties because of two other realities as well. If you are a baby boomer and you retire before age 66 (or 67, in the case of those born 1960 and later), your monthly Social Security benefits will be smaller than if you had worked until full retirement age. Additionally, we can qualify for Medicare at age 65.2,3
We are sometimes cautioned that working too much in retirement may result in our Social Security benefits being taxed – but is there really such a thing as “too much” retirement income?
Income aside, there is another question we all face as retirement approaches.
How much control will we have over our retirement transition? In the Transamerica survey, 41% of respondents saw themselves making a gradual entry into retirement, shifting from full-time employment to part-time employment or another kind of work in their sixties.1
Is that thinking realistic? It may or may not be. A recent Gallup survey of retirees found that 67% had left the workforce before age 65; just 18% had managed to work longer. Recent research from the Employee Benefit Retirement Institute fielded roughly the same results: 14% of retirees kept working after 65 and about half had been forced to stop working earlier than they planned due to layoffs, health issues or eldercare responsibilities.3
If you do want to make a gradual retirement transition, what might help you do it? First of all, work on maintaining your health. The second priority: maintain and enhance your skill set, so that your prospects for employment in your sixties are not reduced by separation from the latest technologies. Keep networking. Think about Plan B: if you are unable to continue working in your chosen career even part-time, what prospects might you have for creating income through financial decisions, self-employment or in other lines of work? How can you reduce your monthly expenses?
Easing out of work & into retirement may be the new normal. Pessimistic analysts contend that many baby boomers will not be able to keep working past 65, no matter their aspirations. They may be wrong – just as this active, ambitious generation has changed America, it may also change the definition of retirement.
1 - forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2015/05/05/why-the-new-retirement-involves-working-past-65/ [5/5/15]
2 - ssa.gov/retire2/agereduction.htm [6/11/15]
3 - money.usnews.com/money/blogs/planning-to-retire/2015/05/22/how-to-pick-the-optimal-retirement-age [5/22/15]
When should you review it? What should you review?
An estate plan has three objectives. The first goal is to preserve your accumulated wealth. The second goal is to express who will receive your assets after your death. The third goal is to state who will make medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you cannot.
Over time, your feelings about these objectives may change. You may want to name a new executor or health care agent. You may rethink how you want your wealth distributed.
This is why it is so vital to review your estate plan. Over ten or twenty years, your health, wealth, and outlook on life may change profoundly. The key is to recognize the life events that may call for an update.
Have you just married or divorced? If so, your estate plan will absolutely need revision. For that matter, some, or all, of your will may now be legally invalid. (Some state laws strike down existing wills when a person is married or divorced.) If your children or grandchildren marry or divorce, that also calls for an estate plan review.1
Has there been a loss or serious illness within your family? If so, your named executor or health care agent may have to be changed. If one family member has now become physically or financially dependent on you, that too may be an occasion for a second look at the plan.
Has your net worth risen or declined substantially since the plan was first implemented? If you have become much wealthier in the past five or ten years (or much less wealthy), that circumstance may have altered your vision of how you want your assets distributed at your death. Maybe you want to give more (or less) to charity or your heirs. A large inheritance can also prompt you to rethink your wealth protection and wealth transfer strategy.
Have you changed your mind about what your wealth should accomplish? Today, you may view your wealth differently than you did when you were younger. New purposes may have emerged for it – new roles that it can play. Following through on those thoughts may lead you to reconsider aspects of your estate plan.
Have your executors or trustees changed their mind about their roles? If they are no longer interested in shouldering those responsibilities, no longer alive, or no longer of sound mind or reputable character, it is revision time.
Have you retired, moved to another state, or bought or sold real estate? All of these events call for an estate plan check-up.
The first step in revising an estate plan is to update essential documents. Not just your will or your trust, but also your financial power of attorney and health care proxy. Review all the names: your executor; your trustee; your health care agent. Changes in your personal (and even your business) relationships may call for alterations to those choices.
The second step is to review your risk management. Does language in your will need revision? Does a trust created years ago need to be modified or replaced? Do new estate planning vehicles need to enter the picture in order to help you adequately transfer wealth, counter estate taxes, or endow charities?
What about your life insurance? Do beneficiary forms of life insurance policies need updating? Is corporate-owned life insurance coverage you once counted on now absent? Will policy payouts be sufficient enough to help your loved ones address financial issues after your death?
The third step is to make sure your assets are in sync with your plan. For example, if you have a revocable trust, have you transferred ownership of all the assets that are supposed to go into it? Have you acquired new assets that need to be “poured in?”
If you are married and it appears certain that your estate will be taxed, you may want to own some assets and have your spouse own others. Yes, the federal estate tax exemption is portable, so any unused estate tax and gift tax exemption is allowed to pass to a surviving spouse. At the state level, though, there are different rules. So if all assets are in your spouse’s name and your home state levies an estate tax, that scenario may mean higher estate taxes for your heirs than if those assets were alternately owned by either you or your spouse.2
Even if nothing major happens in your life, review your plan every five years or so. While your life may be uneventful over five years, tax law, the financial markets, and business climates may change significantly. Those kinds of shifts can impact your estate planning strategy.
1 - 360financialliteracy.org/Topics/Retirement-Planning/Estate-Planning-Basics/How-often-do-I-need-to-review-my-estate-plan [8/4/16]
2 - time.com/money/4187332/estate-planning-checkup-items-review/ [1/20/16]
If you are between 40 & 60, beware of these financial blunders & assumptions.
Between the ages of 40 and 60, many people increase their commitment to investing and retirement saving. At the same time, many fall prey to some common money blunders and harbor financial assumptions that may be inaccurate.
These errors and suppositions are worth examining, as you do not want to succumb to them. See if you notice any of these behaviors or assumptions creeping into your financial life.
Do you think you need to invest with more risk? If you are behind on retirement saving, you may find yourself wishing for a “silver bullet” investment or wishing you could allocate more of your portfolio to today’s hottest sectors or asset classes so you can catch up. This impulse could backfire. The closer you get to retirement age, the fewer years you have to recoup investment losses. As you age, the argument for diversification and dialing down risk in your portfolio gets stronger and stronger. In the long run, the consistency of your retirement saving effort should help your nest egg grow more than any other factor.
Are you only focusing on building wealth rather than protecting it? Many people begin investing in their twenties or thirties with the idea of making money and a tendency to play the market in one direction – up. As taxes lurk and markets suffer occasional downturns, moving from mere investing to an actual strategy is crucial. At this point, you need to play defense as well as offense.
Have you made saving for retirement a secondary priority? It should be a top priority, even if it becomes secondary for a while due to fate or bad luck. Some families put saving for college first, saving for mom and dad’s retirement second. Remember that college students can apply for financial aid, but retirees cannot. Building college savings ahead of your own retirement savings may leave your young adult children well-funded for the near future, but they may end up taking you in later in life if you outlive your money.
Has paying off your home loan taken precedence over paying off other debts? Owning your home free and clear is a great goal, but if that is what being debt-free means to you, you may end up saddled with crippling consumer debt on the way toward that long-term objective. In June 2015, the average American household carried more than $15,000 in credit card debt alone. It is usually better to attack credit card debt first, thereby freeing up money you can use to invest, save for retirement, build a rainy day fund – and yes, pay the mortgage.1
Have you taken a loan from your workplace retirement plan? Hopefully not, for this is a bad idea for several reasons. One, you are drawing down your retirement savings – invested assets that would otherwise have the capability to grow and compound. Two, you will probably repay the loan via deductions from your paycheck, cutting into your take-home pay. Three, you will probably have to repay the full amount within five years – a term that may not be long as you would like. Four, if you are fired or quit the entire loan amount will likely have to be paid back within 90 days. Five, if you cannot pay the entire amount back and you are younger than 59½, the IRS will characterize the unsettled portion of the loan as a premature distribution from a qualified retirement plan – fully taxable income subject to early withdrawal penalties.2
Do you assume that your peak earning years are straight ahead? Conventional wisdom says that your yearly earnings reach a peak sometime in your mid-fifties or late fifties, but this is not always the case. Those who work in physically rigorous occupations may see their earnings plateau after age 50 – or even age 40. In addition, some industries are shrinking and offer middle-aged workers much less job security than other career fields.
Is your emergency fund now too small? It should be growing gradually to suit your household, and your household may need much greater cash reserves today in a crisis than it once did. If you have no real emergency fund, do what you can now to build one so you don’t have to turn to some predatory lender for expensive money.
Insurance could also give your household some financial stability in an emergency. Disability insurance can help you out if you find yourself unable to work. Life insurance – all the way from a simple final expense policy to a permanent policy that builds cash value – offers another form of financial support in trying times.
Watch out for these mid-life money errors & assumptions. Some are all too casually made. A review of your investment and retirement savings effort may help you recognize or steer clear of them.
1 - nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household/ [6/25/15]
2 - tinyurl.com/oalk4fx [9/14/14]