If you plan to hold yours to maturity, the fluctuation in their market values need not be worrisome.
Are tough times ahead for the bond market? Some investors think so. U.S. monetary policy is tightening, with the Federal Reserve planning gradual increases for the key interest rate.
A rising interest rate environment presents a challenge to the bond market, but it does not necessarily imply some kind of doomsday for bondholders. Blanket advice to “get out of bonds” is imprudent, because it really all depends on what you intend to do with the debt investments you hold and how long you intend to hold them.
Rising interest rates affect the market values of bonds. Repeat: the market values. Market values should not be confused with face values.
To illustrate, say you invest $5,000 in a 30-year Treasury with a 1% yield. That means that every year for the next 30 years, that Treasury note will pay out $50 to you.
Then, interest rates on 30-year notes start climbing. Three years later, they reach 2%, and you have a problem if you want to sell your 30-year Treasury. The problem is that no one will buy it for $5,000. Why pay $5,000 for a 30-year Treasury with a 1% yield when you can invest the same $5,000 in a brand new one set up to yield 2%?
Bond yields and bond prices move in opposite directions, and in order for your $5,000 30-year note to yield 2%, its price (read: market value) has to drop to $2,500. The market value of your bond has fallen below its face value, and if you sell it, you will take a loss.1
Rising interest rates do not affect the face values of bonds. So, if you hold onto that 30-year Treasury until its maturity date, you will get your $5,000 principal back at that point, plus $50 per year in interest along the way.
There is a potential downside to holding onto that bond, however, and it may be measured in opportunity cost. Yes, you are avoiding a loss and redeeming your security for its face value. The thing is, you could, potentially, have put your money into another investment with a better yield – a yield that could have kept up with or surpassed the rate of inflation.
This is why some investors favor a laddered bond strategy. They take the interest their bonds pay out and use that money (and other funds) to buy newly issued bonds at higher interest rates, so they can benefit from the upside of a rising interest rate climate. Lower-yielding bonds in their portfolio are gradually replaced by higher-yielding bonds over time. Through this strategy, they can plan to manage interest rate risk and cash flow.
When interest rates fall, the market value of older, higher-yielding bonds rises. Interest rates do not have very far to fall right now, but this is a detail to remember for the future.
A fear of higher interest rates does not necessarily imperil bonds or bond funds. As a recent example, one bond market benchmark – the Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Fund – rose 13% in the 12 months ending in November 2016.2
In the long run, we may see interest rates normalize. Bond investors planning to reinvest their money in newly issued bonds with higher yields can potentially take advantage of such a development.
Regardless of whether interest rates rise, plateau, or fall, remember that their movement does not affect a bond’s total return over its term.
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 - thebalance.com/the-difference-between-coupon-and-yield-to-maturity-417080 [6/3/16]2 - forbes.com/sites/robertberger/2016/11/30/how-rising-interest-rates-affect-bonds/ [11/30/16]
A plan for sustaining the business you have built after your death.
Business owners are builders. They spend their lives building firms to provide goods and services to their clients, and those firms provide them with a living. But nothing can tear down that lifetime of work faster than the death of a business owner, or the death of a business partner. Often, much of the value of a business dies with the owner.
Small business owners face two major succession questions. First, can the business heirs keep the company afloat when the owner dies, or at least avoid surrendering it at a “fire sale” price?
The executor of a deceased business owner’s estate can elect to continue the company, but must find someone willing to run it. That may not be easy. Some heirs or business partners may want to keep things going; others may want to cash out. This discord can potentially sink a firm, because if the business continues, any partners wanting out will want to be fairly compensated. If sufficient cash isn’t on hand to do that, liquidation may be the only option.
Selling the business means finding a buyer. Any potential buyer will be negotiating with an advantage, for the business will become less valuable with each passing day following the owner’s death.
Now to the second major succession question: how can an owner keep employees confident that the business, and their jobs, will continue after he or she is gone?
Surviving business partners may need to be reassured as well. If one partner dies, the remaining partners may find themselves in business with the deceased partner's heirs, who may have different goals for the company. If the heirs want to sell their inherited ownership interest, is there enough cash on hand to buy it?
These questions can throw the value & continuation of a business into doubt. If left unanswered, they could make creditors more likely to call in loans, and make retaining key employees harder.
Cross-purchase buy-sell agreements are designed to answer these questions. Often funded by life insurance, these agreements are essentially deals struck between owners, partners, or key employees of a business, permitting the sale of their ownership share to another person.1
How do they work? In the classic cross-purchase buyout agreement, each business partner takes out a life insurance policy on the other partners within the company, naming himself or herself as the beneficiary of those policies. If one partner passes away, then one or more beneficiaries can use the life insurance proceeds to buy the deceased partner’s ownership interest. This way, partners or key persons can continue to work and operate the business seamlessly, and the deceased partner’s heirs receive a fair, agreed-upon price for the ownership interest.1
Thanks to the buy-sell agreement, both heirs and partners know that the business is positioned to continue. In addition, greater productivity and loyalty may be seen from any key employees made part of the agreement, who see ownership in their future.
The sale can happen rather quickly; estate issues can be settled more expediently. Heirs will get a fair, pre-determined price for the ownership interest, and won't be selling under duress.
These agreements do have some disadvantages. Participants have to trust and verify that each partner keeps his or her insurance policy in force. This isn't as simple as making sure premiums are paid. Usually the policies are owned personally, not by the firm. If a partner suffers a bankruptcy, federal or state exemptions may not protect all of its cash value from creditors. Sometimes a participant will mistakenly buy an insurance policy on her or his own life and make the other participants beneficiaries; under those conditions, the insurance payout resulting from his or her death will likely be taxed.2,3
As the number of partners involved in a buy-sell agreement increases, the number of policies grows exponentially – as does the cost of the agreement. Two partners? Two policies. Three partners? Six policies. (When three partners are involved in a cross-purchase buyout agreement, Partner A needs to buy coverage for Partner B and Partner C, etc.) Speaking of cost, an older or less healthy partner will pay much more for the agreement than a younger, healthier partner, as life insurance is a necessary component.2,3
Before you make a decision about how you’ll protect the future of your business, it may be wise to speak to a qualified professional who can help you research this option as well as others.
1 - nerdwallet.com/blog/insurance/life-insurance-small-business-partners/ [1/20/16]
2 - insure.com/life-insurance/bankruptcy.html [11/13/15]
3 - insurancenewsnet.com/innarticle/how-to-keep-a-buy-sell-agreement-from-derailing [5/21/15]
SBOs are taking a new look at old-school defined benefit plans.
Contrary to popular belief, classic pension plans have not disappeared. Corporations have mostly jettisoned them, but highly profitable small businesses are giving them a second look. Why are small business owners deciding to adopt old-school, employer-funded retirement plans?
The tax breaks attached to a defined benefit plan may be substantial. In fact, if these plans are funded with insurance contracts or guaranteed insurance products, plan contributions made by the owner become tax-deductible for the business.1
There is no cap on how much you can save. IRAs, 401(k)s, and SEPs all have annual contribution limits. Traditional employer-funded pension plans do not. Business owners have the potential to accumulate millions for the future through such a vehicle.
For the record, the IRS does limit the yearly retirement income that a participant in a defined benefit plan may receive. In 2017, the pension benefit resulting from such a plan may not exceed a) $215,000 or b) 100% of the participant’s average compensation across his or her three highest-paid consecutive years of service.2
If you are earning well into six figures and you are 45 or older, you may have entered the “sweet spot” when it comes to defined benefit plans. You will presumably be in your peak earning years, and yet you may need to accelerate retirement savings. A defined benefit plan offers you the possibility to do just that.
What are the downsides? Cost and complexity. Actuaries have to be involved (and paid) when you have one of these plans; you need an actuary to perform regular and annual calculations and valuations to see that the plan is being properly funded. In addition, the pension benefits need to be insured through the federal government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), and in exchange for that service, the business must pay the PBGC annual premiums.2,3
An actuary must determine the annual employer contribution amount needed to fund the plan (typically adjusted yearly in light of investment performance) and the actuarial formula used to make contributions per worker. The business must fund the plan annually, regardless of how well it is doing.4
What businesses are bad candidates for defined benefit plans? If you have a small firm with ten or more employees, or if most of your employees are older or high-salaried, these plans may be a poor choice. That is because the employer contributions could be very expensive, even if you opt for vesting.1,3,4
What businesses are good candidates? Accounting, consulting, and medical practices are often good fits for these plans; seeing how many baby boomers have elected to continue working as consultants, you may see interest rising in them during the coming years.1,3,4
1 - investopedia.com/terms/1/412i.asp [12/20/16]
2 - irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/retirement-topics-defined-benefit-plan-benefit-limits [10/28/16]
3 - cfo.com/retirement-plans/2016/03/weighty-new-conundrum-pension-plan-sponsors/ [3/31/16]
4 - us.axa.com/axa-products/retirement-planning/articles/understanding-defined-benefit-plans.html [10/16]
How can you plan to do it? What kind of financial commitment will it take?
How many of us will retire with $1 million or more in savings? More of us ought to – in fact, more of us may need to, given inflation and the rising cost of health care.
Sadly, few pre-retirees have accumulated that much. A 2015 Government Accountability Office analysis found that the average American aged 55-64 had just $104,000 in retirement money. A 2016 GoBankingRates survey determined that only 13% of Americans had retirement savings of $300,000 or more.1,2
A $100,000 or $300,000 retirement fund might be acceptable if our retirements lasted less than a decade, as was the case for some of our parents. As many of us may live into our eighties and nineties, we may need $1 million or more in savings to avoid financial despair in our old age.
The earlier you begin saving, the more you can take advantage of compound interest. A 25-year-old who directs $405 a month into a tax-advantaged retirement account yielding an average of 7% annually will wind up with $1 million at age 65. Perhaps $405 a month sounds like a lot to devote to this objective, but it only gets harder if you wait. At the same rate of return, a 30-year-old would need to contribute $585 per month to the same retirement account to generate $1 million by age 65.3
The Census Bureau says that the median household income in this country is $53,657. A 45-year-old couple earning that much annually would need to hoard every cent they made for 19 years (and pay no income tax) to end up with $1 million at age 64, absent of investments. So, investing may come to be an important part of your retirement plan.4
What if you are over 40, what then? You still have a chance to retire with $1 million or more, but you must make a bigger present-day financial commitment to that goal than someone younger.
At age 45, you will need to save around $1,317 per month in a tax-advantaged retirement account yielding 10% annually to have $1 million in 20 years. If the account returns just 6% annually, then you would need to direct approximately $2,164 a month into it.4
What if you start trying to build that $1 million retirement fund at age 50? If your retirement account earns a solid 10% per year, you would still need to put around $2,413 a month into it; at a 6% yearly return, the target contribution becomes about $3,439 a month.4
This math may be startling, but it is also hard to argue with. If you are between age 55-65 and have about $100,000 in retirement savings, you may be hard-pressed to adequately finance your future. There are three basic ways to respond to this dilemma. You can choose to live on Social Security, plus the principal and yield from your retirement fund, and risk running out of money within several years (or sooner). Alternately, you can cut your expenses way down – share housing, share or forgo a car, etc., which could preserve more of your money. Or, you could try to work longer, giving your invested retirement savings a chance for additional growth, and explore ways to create new income streams.
How long will a million-dollar retirement fund last? If it is completely uninvested, you could draw down about $35,000 a year from it for 28 years. The upside here is that your invested retirement assets could grow and compound notably during your “second act” to help offset the ongoing withdrawals. The downside is that you will have to contend with inflation and, potentially, major healthcare expenses, which could reduce your savings faster than you anticipate.
So, while $1 million may sound like a huge amount of money to amass for retirement, it really is not – certainly not for a retirement beginning twenty or thirty years from now. Having $2 million or $3 million on hand would be preferable.
1 - investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/011216/average-retirement-savings-age-2016.asp [12/8/16]
2 - time.com/money/4258451/retirement-savings-survey/ [3/14/16]
3 - interest.com/retirement-planning/news/how-to-save-1-million-for-retirement/ [12/12/16]
4 - reviewjournal.com/business/money/how-realistically-save-1-million-retirement [5/20/16]
A look at this easy-to-administer retirement program.
Do you want a simple retirement plan? A plan you can implement easily as an independent contractor or small business owner, without a lot of paperwork? A SIMPLE IRA may be the answer.
A SIMPLE IRA plan gives you a tax break, while giving you and your employees a way to build retirement savings. True to its name, it requires no annual filing of Form 5500 with the IRS, which is typical for many other types of small business retirement plans. SIMPLE IRA plans are often set up using IRS Forms 5304-SIMPLE or 5305-SIMPLE.1
If you work solo, a SIMPLE plan could really help your retirement saving effort. Frustrated at the annual ceiling on Roth or traditional IRA contributions that lets you save only a few thousand dollars a year? Well, you can direct up to $12,500 per year into a SIMPLE IRA, $15,500 if you are 50 or older.1
SIMPLE IRA contributions are made with pre-tax dollars, so they are 100% deductible. Just like other IRAs, a SIMPLE IRA allows tax-deferred growth of invested assets.2
How does a SIMPLE IRA plan work when you have employees? Each one of your employees gets their own IRA as part of the plan, with the same high annual contribution limits noted above. As an employer, you must contribute to their IRAs each year in one of two ways (and you must inform them which approach you will take for the coming calendar year):
*You can elect to match their contributions, dollar-for-dollar, to a limit of 3% of their annual salaries. (If you like, you can set this limit as low as 1%, but you can only lower the limit from the standard 3% in two years out of any five-year period.) 1,2
*Or, you can just make a non-elective contribution of 2% of each employee’s salary to each employee’s plan. If you choose this option, you must make these 2% contributions whether or not the employee makes any plan contributions.1,2
Employee contributions to a SIMPLE IRA are always 100% vested, and employees are free to make their own investment decisions. As the accounts are IRAs, the money saved and invested may be held in a variety of investment vehicles offered by particular plan vendors.1
What does an employee have to do to be eligible for the plan? Each employee must meet two simple compensation tests. One, will that employee receive at least $5,000 in compensation from your business this year? Two, did he or she receive $5,000 or more in compensation from your business during any of the two prior years? If both those tests are met, that employee can participate in a SIMPLE IRA plan.1
Do SIMPLE IRAs have any shortcomings? Yes, they do; no small business retirement plan is perfect. An employer must always make contributions to a SIMPLE IRA, year-in and year-out. Plan participant loans are also prohibited from SIMPLE IRAs, which is not the case with many other retirement plan accounts. That said, there is much more to like about SIMPLE IRAs than there is to dislike.2
Why not make things SIMPLE? Look into a SIMPLE IRA plan for your business, your employees, and yourself. Sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations all have them – for great reasons.
Citations.1 - irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/who-can-participate-in-a-simple-ira-plan [3/15/16]2 - irs.gov/retirement-plans/choosing-a-retirement-plan-simple-ira-plan [7/28/16]
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.
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]