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How an ACT prep course can help you reduce the cost of college

This blog is a companion piece to the third and final installment of my discussion with Steve O’Toole of O’Toole Educational Services on how an ACT prep class can be of benefit. As we discussed in part 1 of our conversation, high schoolers take the ACT test to either enhance their odds at getting into the school of their choice or help to secure scholarships due to their academic track record. I do not claim to have any expertise as a college admissions expert, but I do work with families to help them find colleges that are a financial fit for them. This is where the ACT can be a valuable asset. To understand what an ACT score might be worth in terms of scholarships we need to first understand the different type of college profiles and how they award scholarships. One of the things that surprises many families is when their child achieves a high score on the ACT and doesn’t receive scholarships from every school they apply to. Each school has their own approach to attracting students and criteria for scholarships. There are many sources of scholarship money for prospective college students. First, there are numerous scholarships given by local organizations and these tend to be in smaller amounts. Next, there are scholarships given out through the university via departments or various memorial funds. These can be for large dollars but are usually awarded to a single student or at the most a select few and many come with a specific set of criteria to meet. I call these the “George Anderson memorial scholarships”. These might be awarded to a single student majoring in a specific field and meeting some other criteria. The ACT might help in getting these scholarships, but it has very hard to count on receiving any of these as there are so few recipients. By far the biggest source of scholarship dollars is awarded simply based on your GPA and/or ACT. Many schools even automatically award scholarships based on the student achieving certain thresholds. These scholarships can be worth tens of thousands of dollars a year, are available to many students and you can readily count on receiving them if you meet the criteria. Large state schools These are big public schools with enrollments in excess of 20,000 students. This group has a diverse approach to awarding scholarships. As I live in Minnesota, I will use regional schools as my examples. This category would include the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin – Madison, University of Iowa and Iowa State from neighboring states. Minnesota and Wisconsin don’t really play in the merit aid space except for the one off “George Anderson” scholarships mentioned above. On the other hand, Iowa State is generous with automatic merit aid awards ranging from 6 to 11 thousand per year. Thresholds based on GPA and ACT start as low 3.3 and/or a 24. The University of Iowa also has automatic merit aid but the threshold is much higher, requiring close to a 30 ACT and a higher GPA. Smaller state schools Schools in this group include the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, St. Cloud State, University of Minnesota – Duluth and Mankato, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, Whitewater, Stout to name a few. Many of these schools do offer automatic scholarships in addition. The general range for qualifying for these scholarships is a 3.5 GPA and 25 ACT. These schools have a lower cost of attendance than their larger school counterparts. As a result, the scholarships they offer are in lower amounts than the big schools. Here you might be looking at an award of maybe $2500 per year but the starting price for the school might be closer to $20,000. Liberal Arts private schools Schools in this category include the University of St. Thomas, Carleton, Gustavus Adolphus, St. Olaf, Lawrence University in Wisconsin amongst many others. These schools can also be a mixed bag when it comes to offering merit aid. Some are very stingy while others can be very generous. There are no published automatic thresholds for these private schools and they will tell you that they review each students application on its individual merits but at some of these schools an ACT score of 22 can be worth $20,000 per year and higher scores can be worth an additional $15,000. Elite schools This category goes beyond just Ivy League schools and includes well known schools such as Duke, Notre Dame and even certain state public schools like the University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, and University of Virginia. This is the category that results in the most confusion with families. These schools are very expensive and attract the best of the best students. Many families think that their brilliant student will get huge offers at these schools, but the truth is the exact opposite. These schools are in very high demand and every student is an academic rock star so they don’t have to offer much for scholarships. That is not to say these schools don’t make funds available for students. If you have a financial need these schools will be the most generous of any of the categories and some will meet 100% of your financial need with grants. How has the test optional movement impacted this? Prior to Covid there was a small subset of schools that had gone test optional. This means that the school doesn’t require the submission of an ACT test score to be a factor in either admissions or for scholarships. Covid resulted in mass cancellations of ACT tests across the country so many more colleges hopped on the test optional bandwagon for the 2021 admissions cycle. If you have a school on your list that is test optional the ACT score should be treated as one of the assets in your tool kit. If you have a score that is below the university average, then it might be in your best interest to not report it and rely on your GPA instead. Test optional schools will still award scholarships solely based on your GPA. Here is an example of how this worked out this past year: GPA: 3.7 ACT: did not report School A: 24 ACT and 3.0 GPA was $12,000; 26 ACT and 3.5 GPA was $13,000; 28 ACT and 3.7 GPA was $14,000 School B: 3.5 GPA was $6,000; 24 ACT and 3.3 GPA was $8,000; 26 ACT and 3.5 GPA was $9,500; 28 ACT and 3.7 GPA was $11,000 At school A the offer was a $14,000 scholarship based on the GPA even though the ACT did not meet that requirement. School B offered $9,500 even though the GPA alone would have qualified for a higher amount. Covid has thrown many unknowns into this process. Admissions for the fall of 2021 ushered in a new wave of test optional schools and scholarships based on GPA. It remains to be seen how this will work for the fall of 2022 admissions. Will schools stay with the test optional movement or go back to requiring an ACT score for scholarships? Summary Even if the test optional movement continues, it can be a good idea to take the test and see if it can be used as an additional asset. If the score can be used in your favor, then use it to your advantage. If the score isn’t an asset, then don’t use it and rely on hopefully a strong GPA. An ACT score can still be worth tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships. If you have a student that is close to a threshold for receiving merit aid or a larger amount of aid it can be a wise investment to pay for an ACT prep class like O’Toole Educational Services. A one time investment of less than $1000 may pay back over $10,000 per year. If you want help navigating through college financing and how much it is going to cost you to send your student to the schools they are considering contact 7th Street Financial and sign up for our College Planning services where we work with you to find colleges that will be a financial fit based on your budget and what you can expect from aid based on your financial situation and your student’s profile.

Is an ACT Prep Course Right for You?

Every year millions of high school students go through the process of applying for college to continue their education. Some will look at community colleges or tech schools, others will look to attend big state schools, smaller private schools or even elite Ivy league schools. Each of these types of schools comes with their own pros and cons and any one of them might be the best fit for a given student. One of the components of this process each year is the taking of ACT tests. These tests are used by colleges to help them with both their admissions process and doling out academic scholarships. I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Steve O’Toole of O’Toole Educational Services about his ACT prep service. Here are some highlights from the first portion of our conversation. You can see the video here. Does the ACT even matter anymore with schools going test optional? Prior to Covid there was a small movement with some schools deciding to go test optional. This meant that applicants didn’t need to submit a test score as a requirement for the schools to consider in the admissions process. This movement accelerated in 2020 as Covid wreaked havoc with test scheduling and the ability for many students to take the test. As a result, many schools in the last year have dropped the ACT requirement for the 2021 admissions cycle. It remains to be seen how schools will adjust in 2021 and moving forward assuming that groups will be able to gather again for testing. Will the schools that made this change for the past year continue with that policy or go back to wanting to see an ACT score. One other thing to consider is that many schools may have been test optional only for the purposes of admissions but still wanted to see an ACT score for academic based scholarships. An ACT score should be considered one of the items in your toolkit when it comes to college. If you have a good score that will make you look more favorable in terms of admissions and scholarships, then by all means use it to your advantage and include it. If you don’t have a good test score, then don’t include it and rely on your grades and other items on your resume. Is an ACT prep course worth it? Studies have shown that an ACT prep course can help improve an overall score by 3-4 points. A lower score can be improved by even more. A 3-4 point improvement might be the difference between getting admitted into the school you want or not. It might also make the difference in qualifying for an academic scholarship that can save you thousands of dollars a year in tuition. As an example, at Iowa State University, a combination of a 3.30 gpa and a 24 ACT score will score you a $36,000 academic scholarship worth $9,000 per year. If you have a student with the required gpa and an initial ACT score of 22 an increase of just two points can be worth $36,000. Depending upon the review class you sign up for you will likely pay $1,000 or less. That is a pretty good return on investment. There is more coming from my conversation with Steve. Stay tuned for the next segment which will be released next week. If you want to see the entire video you can do so here.

3 Tips Women Over 40 Should Ask An Advisor

In the life of a person, 40 years of age is an especially important milestone. You are starting to think about your financial future and cannot afford to make the same financial mistakes that you made in your 20s. 40 years of age is also a milestone from the perspective of a woman because you may be raising your kids, taking care of your home, looking after aging parents, and managing your career. Indeed, women in their 40s, have no time to look after themselves! As a result, you may not have time to tend to your finances as they demand. That is why a woman in her 40s should consult a financial advisor regarding money and personal finance tips. You can have a look at what kind of financial help to expect from the financial advisor Before going into more detail about personal finance tips that you can ask a financial advisor, you can check out a few data points. AARP data says that only 39% of women are confident they will have enough resources to live a comfortable life for 25 years of retirement compared to 54% of men. That is not good from the viewpoint of a woman. You can take a look at how to be in a financially sound position in your 40s by taking assistance from a financial advisor. Tip 1 - Budget and Debt: Maybe, until now you have not given much thought to your budget. But now time has come to be financially conscious and think seriously about your budget. You can consult with your financial advisor and seek suggestions from the expert regarding what can be your ideal budget strategy in your 40s. Other than budget, the next important financial point, you can consult with your advisor is debt. Be it a long-term mortgage, high-interest rate credit cards, or emergency-basis-taken payday loans; none of it is good for your financial life. So, you can ask your financial advisor about ways to solve your secured and unsecured debt problems like mortgage, credit cards, and student loans. With the help of an expert, you can use several debt repayment ways like refinancing, debt management, etc to solve your debt problems. Thus, in your 40s, you are going to get the best personal finance tips over budget and debt from your financial advisor. These tips may prove to be highly beneficial for you. Tip 2 - Intelligent investments Creating a budget and safely repaying the debts by consulting a financial advisor is a great start but your relationship with the financial advisor does not end here. With the help of the financial advisor, you can make intelligent investment decisions that can help you in post-retirement savings and achieving your financial goals. Maybe, you are already making investments but the financial advisor can help you to make risk-appropriate, and goal-oriented investments. Tip 3 - Retirement taxes and college savings You may think that you are only in your 40s, why do I need to think about taxes in retirement? But, by thinking about it now you can avoid paying huge tax bills while in retirement. You may consult your financial advisor regarding what is the best retirement account for you. Is it 401k or Roth IRA? The difference between 401k and Roth IRA is in a 401k account you contribute pre-tax money. In a Roth IRA, you contribute after-tax money. Your money is going to be taxed when you withdraw your money from the 401k account.You can make a tax-free withdrawal from the Roth IRA account. Remember, it is important to make proper financial decisions in your 40s! So, after discussing with your financial advisor, you can decide what is the right kind of retirement account for you. In the same way, you have to think about the expenses related to your kids' college education now. There is a good chance that once you are in your 40’s, college will be in your child’s near future so you have to think about how to save for their college education now. With the help of your advisor, you can invest in a 529 college savings plan. The big benefit of the 529 college savings plan is you won’t have to pay any taxes on your investment gains if you use the money for qualified college expenses. Thus, with the help of a financial advisor, you can find the right way regarding how to save for your kids’ college education and how to deal with your retirement tax. These are the 3 basic personal finance tips you can ask your financial advisor. Final words, You have to perform a lot of financial tasks in your 40s Whether it is thinking about your kids’ education, planning retirement or managing your investments. Consult a financial advisor to help strike a balance between enjoying today and taking care of your future needs. Author Bio: Catherine Burke is a financial writer for https://www.onlinepaydayloanconsolidation.com/. She provides information on successful cash loans and payday loan consolidation to help people get over a difficult patch. She lives in Kansas and has earned a frame in the matter of payday loans. 7th Street Financial is happy to provide an opportunity for a diverse group of finance bloggers to submit items for publication. All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of 7th St. Financial, unless otherwise specifically cited. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and no representations are made by our firm as to another parties’ informational accuracy or completeness. All information or ideas provided should be discussed in detail with an advisor, accountant or legal counsel prior to implementation. All investing involves risk, including the potential for loss of principal. There is no guarantee that any investment plan or strategy will be successful.

The Reddit Phenomenon – What You Need to Know

Normally I keep my blog posts related to core financial planning topics that can help you better understand the personal finance landscape but every now and then something happens that needs to be addressed. Over the past several weeks we have seen one of those examples, the Reddit short squeeze trade. This post will give an understanding to what happened, what it means to you and discuss if you need to jump into the action. To start, we need to understand what a short squeeze is. 98% of the activity in the stock market is people going long on an investment. When you buy a share of Apple or contribute to your 401k plan you are going long on those assets. You are buying a share at the current price in hopes that the asset price will increase over time providing you a gain on your investment. Shorting an investment is just the opposite concept. You do this when you think a particular stock or fund will decrease in price. This is normally done when someone thinks a particular company is in trouble or if they think a recession or other economic downturn is coming. To do this, an investor borrows a share of stock from their broker and sells it at the current market price but they are required at some point to purchase that share back from the broker. This type of activity is most frequently done by hedge funds and not individual investors. A short squeeze occurs when those that have shorted the stock feel pressure about their position because the price of the stock is heading up and not down like they had hoped. Remember, the person shorting the stock has to buy a share at current prices to make their broker whole. So the more the price goes up the more money the person shorting the stock is at risk of losing. This pressure can lead them to buy and cut their losses. In this most recent scenario, let’s look at what happened with GameStop (ticker GME). GameStop is a company that relies on physical stores to sell video games and related accessories. This was a solid business years ago but like what happened to Blockbuster when Netflix came around things have gone online and many of these games are now downloaded or streamed. GameStop has continued with its existing business model and as a result has seen a steady decline over the past few years in revenue and profits. Revenue is down almost 30% since 2016, net income has gone from $500 million in 2016 to negative in both 2019 and 2020, cash flow has gone from over $500 million in 2016 to a negative $250 million in 2020, and finally, this has led to a decreasing amount of cash on the balance sheet. The stock price has reflected this business downturn going from about $29/share down to $4 in the fall of 2020. This all points to a company that is in a slow death spiral. They have an outdated business model for their industry and declining business performance. This is the type of company frequently targeted by short sellers because unless the company overhauls their business it appears they will continue to slowly decline and eventually go the way of Sears and JCPenney. So selling a stock even at $4 and then buying it back at mere pennies results in a great trade and huge return for that investor. Now, here is what happened that makes this story fascinating. A group in the sub-Reddit community WallStreetBets got together and decided to go against these hedge funds and make some money along the way. This Reddit group is normally thought of as retail investors, in other words, non-professional investors. GameStop actually started ticking up in the fall of 2020 going from $5 to $19 by the end of the year. Then things got crazy. Below is a chart of how the stock has performed since January 11th. In that first week the stock went from $20 to $39, that’s a huge move for any stock in one week with almost a 100% increase. The following week saw the stock increase to $77, another 100% return. Then the week that made this a news story. By closing price: Jan 25th – 76.79 Jan 26th – 147.98 Jan 27th – 347.51 Jan 28th – 193.60 Jan 29th – 325.00 Those are absolutely crazy moves in a single stock in that short of a period of time. The stock actually reached an intraday high of $483 on January 27th. While GameStop had made a somewhat notable personnel move that might bode well for the company, the future prospects for the company did not suddenly improve by 1000%. This was move was not based on the fundamentals of the company. It was solely driven by an artificial demand intended to punish those who had shorted the stock. So how did the short squeeze work on the hedge funds? As the stock price went up some short sellers were forced to cover those borrowed shares and buy them back at current market prices which had gone to almost $500. This is obviously a huge loss as they had borrowed those shares most likely at a price under $20. Melvin Capital was the poster child for this as their hedge fund lost 53% of its value just in the month of January due to its 5.4 million share short position in GameStop. This loss totaled $6.5 billion for the fund. Not all hedge funds got beat up on this though. Senvest got in on the action and actually made $700 million. After the peak Now here is the thing with a bubble like this, it has to burst. Almost as quickly as the rise of the stock price was the collapse. As the price skyrocketed the new people buying in at higher prices were tying up more of their capital. The only way they can make money on their investment was for more new people to come in and agree to buy in at the artificially elevated or even higher price. Once that well runs dry the price starts to fall and it fell fast. Since the mania of the week of Jan 29th the stock has fallen back to $51, a drop of 89%. Who were the winners? Those that started buying the stock last fall as it rose to $20 and were able to get out during the huge push upward are the real big winners here. Even those that bought in on say Jan 25th or 26th and sold within a couple of days made a tidy profit. Lastly, and ironically, those who shorted the stock as it reached its peak did very well as within 10 days later the stock settled into a $50-60 range. Who were the big losers? As mentioned, Melvin Capital is the headliner of this group. Unfortunately, some of these retail investors were left holding the bag as they bought in at the peak, thinking the party would continue, only to see it break up much earlier than they thought. This was the dangerous part of this game. Like a Ponzi scheme, it works only as long as new buyers come in agreeing to pay a higher and higher price but eventually you run out of people to buy at a higher price especially when the stock price isn’t based on anything tied to the company’s performance. When people sold and took their profits the stock price dropped like a rock. Robinhood also falls in this camp. Robinhood is the preferred trading platform for this new wave of retail investors. The problem was they had issues dealing with all of the activity and halted trading of certain stocks when the mania was at its peak freezing out stock holders from getting out of their positions as prices were falling. They took a major PR hit but it remains to be seen if they actually lose investors off their platform. Did this impact me? Probably not. While this story got a lot of attention the companies involved are all fairly small in terms of impact on the overall market. So if you own an S&P 500 fund which is all larger companies there was no impact. If you owned a small or mid cap fund you may have seen a small impact as these funds typically hold hundreds or more individual companies within the fund and the movement of one company won’t have a material impact on the entire fund. Should you get in on future Reddit trades? While GameStop was the highest profile example of the power of the Reddit trade it was not the only example. There were others and will continue to be more. In fact, as I write this today there has been a major move pushing marijuana based stocks higher. To come out on the right side of this requires a good degree of market timing which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. You might catch the upswing and make money or get caught holding the bag when the euphoria wears off. And with the type of price swings we saw in GameStop those losses could be substantial. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming a given stock price will continue to go up as part of a movement. What do you do moving forward? If you have a long term investment plan that helps you reach your goals, stick with it. Don’t get thrown by the white noise these types of trades create in the news or get caught up in the rush of a get rich quick trade. Wealth is built over time, not in a week and these types of stories always have someone who is on the wrong end of things. The news will move on and you won’t hear much about the regular investor who lost $10,000 on GameStop because that doesn’t get anyone’s attention even though to that regular investor that $10,000 means a lot. This has been a fascinating story to follow and there will continue to be other episodes of this but none may quite grab the spotlight like GameStop did. I hope this helps you understand what happened, what the fallout was, and what it means to you. As always if you have any questions about your investments or others of your personal finances reach out to us at info@7thstfinancial.com or click here to schedule time to talk. All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of 7th St. Financial, unless otherwise specifically cited. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and no representations are made by our firm as to another parties’ informational accuracy or completeness. All information or ideas provided should be discussed in detail with an advisor, accountant or legal counsel prior to implementation. All investing involves risk, including the potential for loss of principal. There is no guarantee that any investment plan or strategy will be successful.

How Long Will My Retirement Savings Last?

This is a featured guest blog from GoodLife Home Loans. The original blog post can be found here. Retirement is one of the most important things you can plan for in life, yet many adult Americans find themselves unprepared as they near the end of their career. Seniors often find themselves wondering how much they need to retire and how long those retirement savings will last. Many feel concerned about whether they’ll be able to cover medical bills and afford day-to-day expenses while keeping up with the cost of living. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how long your retirement savings should last; it depends on a wide variety of factors. Today’s post goes over all the considerations you should keep in mind when contemplating the longevity of your retirement savings, so you can feel financially confident heading into your post-career years. How long will my money last in retirement? According to AARP.org, your retirement savings should last you 30 years—but that’s dependent on a number of variables and will vary from person to person. AARP and many financial planners estimate an individual’s necessary retirement funds and corresponding withdrawal rate by using the four percent rule. This rule of thumb assumes you’ll earn a 4% annual return on your investments and therefore suggests that you can withdraw 4% of your savings account(s) (including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, bank CDs, and so on) in the first year you retire. The next year, you would withdraw that same amount plus an adjustment for inflation. Essentially, if you withdraw 4% and earn 4% back, you should have enough savings to safely last your retirement. Here’s an example: Say you have $1,000,000 in savings and we assume that the average rate of inflation will stay stable at 3%. Your initial 4% withdrawal would be $40,000, the next year would be ($40,000 x 1.03) $41,200 and so on. Take a look at the four percent rule in action below. Bear in mind, however, that this is just a general rule of thumb. There are several factors that could affect whether this method will successfully make your savings last throughout long and vibrant retirement, such as the rate of inflation or one of your investment portfolios taking a hit, since this formula assumes that your account will see an annual return of at least 4%. When it comes to your personal retirement planning, it’s always best to speak with a qualified financial advisor who can analyze your circumstances and offer a strategic savings plan customized to your needs. What factors affect how long my retirement savings will last? Every financial situation is unique, so be sure to run through this list of considerations when estimating how long your money will last in retirement, including the duration of your retirement, which assets you hold, and how you spend money. ● The Age You Choose to Retire You can claim Social Security as early as age 62, but it’s generally wise to wait to claim Social Security until you reach your full retirement age (FRA) or even waiting until age 70. Your FRA depends on the year you were born; for those born in or after 1960, the FRA is 67. According to SSA.gov, you will be penalized for every month you retire early with a reduction of benefits up to 30% for those retiring at age 62. In order to retire at 62, you’d need to have a lot more in savings because the amount of your Social Security benefit will be substantially smaller. A lower monthly income will force you to rely more heavily on the money you’ve saved up, causing your savings to not last as long. Alternatively, if you wait until age 70 to retire, you can accumulate delayed retirement benefits that will increase your Social Security benefit and allow you to dip less into your savings so that they may last longer—ideally between 20-30 years considering the rapidly increasing rate of life expectancy. ● The Type of Retirement Account Which type of retirement account you have—a traditional 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA, or pension—dictates when you have to withdraw from your savings. Congress recently passed the SECURE Act and changed the age at which you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your 401(k) or IRA account at a specific rate calculated by your life expectancy; as of Jan. 1 2020, you must begin taking RMDs at age 72 compared to the previous requirement of 70½. Failure to take RMDs will result in a penalty of 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn. However, there is no such rule for Roth IRAs and pensions, so your savings may last longer in these types of retirement accounts. Additionally, the different assets you have within your portfolio can dramatically impact how long your savings last through retirement. There are many types of investments, some of which are low- or high-yielding with low- or high-risk of market volatility. Depending on your investment strategy and how you allocate funds in retirement, your portfolio may have a higher yield and last much longer. Correspondingly, an aggressive asset allocation could take a serious hit in the event of a market crash, essentially draining your savings, and your portfolio may not have enough time to recover and help fund your retirement. ● The Location Where You Retire Where you choose to retire also has a large role in determining how long your retirement money will last. Some states have a much lower cost of living and allow you to stretch your savings further than if you were to live in a state with high housing costs. GoBankingRates surveyed the entire U.S. and calculated the average cost of living in each state to identify the top 15 places where your retirement savings can last the longest. Look at the map above to see how much more you could save by retiring in a state like Arkansas, where the annual cost of living came in at $30,960 or Mississippi, where you can live on $31,039 in a year—compared to states like California and Hawaii where the same amount of retirement savings would only last you 10-13 years. ● The Taxes You Pay in Retirement Retirees often find themselves relocating to tax-friendlier states if they’re worried about how long their retirement money will last. Some states, for example, do not include Social Security benefits as taxable income while other states assess no income tax at all. It’s also wise to check the tax obligation on your retirement distributions; in most states, you must pay tax on income from a 401(k) or traditional IRA, whereas no income tax is charged on Roth IRAs (as long as you’ve held the account for a minimum of five years and are at least 59½ years old). Even after you’re no longer working, retirement taxes can be a very large expense and may cause you to use your saved money more quickly than if you were to live in a state with lower income, property, capital gains, inheritance, or estate tax rates. ● The Money You Spend While Retired It should come as little surprise that the amount you spend on retirement expenses will weigh heavily on how long your savings last. There are fixed needs such as housing, nutrition, and health care that must be budgeted for, but variable spending can deplete savings more quickly. While it’s important for seniors to enjoy their new-found free time by traveling in retirement or exploring new hobbies at their leisure, they should be sure to have a rainy day fund set aside that can cover any large, unexpected medical costs that Medicare insurance does not adequately cover. ● The Duration of Your Retirement Finally, the answer to questions such as “How long will my money last in retirement and do I have enough?” depends on the duration of your retirement and how many years you will need to support yourself with savings. Your life expectancy can be estimated by your gender and quality of health, but no one can know exactly how far, or for how long, you will need to stretch your savings to enjoy a comfortable life. How can I make my retirement savings last longer? If you’re concerned that your savings won’t support your retirement, you’re not alone—in fact, EBRI.org reports that eight out of 10 people expect to continue working for income after they retire. There are many retirement employment opportunities and methods to earn supplemental income, but this option may be unavailable to seniors with deteriorating health or may seem unattractive to retirees looking forward to enjoying their new free time after working their entire careers. An alternative option that retirees may consider is to supplement their savings with reverse mortgage proceeds. A reverse mortgage allows eligible seniors ages 62 years and older to tap into a portion of their home equity and turn it into loan proceeds that can be used to support a more comfortable retirement. The added stream of revenue from a reverse mortgage can help cover medical bills, home renovations, travel costs, and other day-to-day expenses in retirement so that seniors can preserve their other savings. GoodLife is committed to helping seniors enjoy the Good Life in Retirement, enjoying every moment to the fullest, free of financial hardship. If you would like to learn more and see whether this may be the right solution for your circumstances, contact one of our Reverse Mortgage Specialists who will be happy to answer any questions you have.

2020 Personal Finance: A Year in Review

I think I can safely say that most of us are happy to see 2020 in our rearview mirror. Between the onset of Covid, a crashing economy that led to many people losing jobs, personal lives being turned upside down with kids taking classes from home, parents working from home, sports canceled, political/social upheaval, and the elimination or scaling down of many of the things that bring us joy (travel, eating out, being with friends, etc..) it will not go down as a fondly remembered time. But when things seem at their worst there is always an opportunity to reflect and learn lessons that can be valuable to us in the future and 2020 certainly provided us with many of those. As a financial planner, I would like to take this time to reflect back on the year and see what 2020 taught us about personal finance and what you can use moving forward. 1. Focus on financial fundamentals If you have read my previous posts you may know that I put a big emphasis on financial fundamentals. I like to think of your finances as a pyramid and each level of that pyramid represents a different area of your finances. The concept is that you can’t build a solid structure without having a strong base. In the case of your finances that base is the financial fundamentals which consist of your budget, debt management, and emergency savings. Unfortunately, this year saw a big spike in people losing jobs, being temporarily furloughed, seeing reduced hours, or taking a big income hit due to the Covid impact. Having strong financial fundamentals will help you stay afloat during hard times. Budget: If you are aware of where your money is being spent you are in a better position to react quickly and cut costs in certain areas helping you stretch your dollar during a period of reduced income. Debt management: The major drag with debt is that it comes with mandatory monthly payments. When your income takes a hit this means less income for living expenses because you are still having to make those fixed debt payments. I am not here to say all debt is bad and you should never have any. The key is to keep your debt manageable so that if you have reduced income you still have money left for living expenses. Emergency savings: This is having the 3-6 month of living expenses rule of thumb you always hear about. And you hear about it because it is a really good rule. This protects you from job loss or reduced income. Likely you will still cut back on certain expenses but you can use these savings to still pay for your necessities and not lose sleep at night about keeping a roof over head or food on the table. In general, having sound financial fundamentals keeps you in the position of saying “that sucks”, because you know you may have to cut back or cancel some plans in bad times instead of saying “oh sh*t, now what do I do?” That is not a position any of us want to be in. 2. Have a long term investment strategy While we have been living with some periodic volatile markets over recent history, 2020 presented with the biggest drop in the markets we have encountered since the financial crisis. Fortunately, this drop didn’t last very long and the markets came back with a vengeance and ended the year at all-time highs. For those of you looking at your investments for a long term goal like retirement, 2020 reinforced that the best thing to do is hang in there even when things get dicey and stick to your plan. The long term returns of the market have a very good track record. You might take a short term hit every now and then but over the long haul you will come out ahead. Those that stayed the course were rewarded with a tremendous rally and even a positive return on the year while those that panicked and sold likely missed out on a good portion of the recovery waiting for things to feel safe again. Now, I am not here to advocate that everyone should be all in no matter what. You need to have a portfolio that is constructed to contain the appropriate amount of risk for you and your circumstances. 3. Don’t try to time the market This one is closely related to the previous point. Financial planners give a lot of advice in a lot of different areas but we are pretty consistent with talking about long term investment strategies. We don’t recommend you check your 401k balance on a daily basis because the up and down swings will be too stressful for many people. The key is to make sure that over time you are making the progress you need to reach your goals. Many people though get caught up in the moment and either buy or sell their investments in an attempt to protect against further losses or take advantage of cheap asset prices. As a financial planner, I pay more attention to the workings of the economy and the markets than the average person but none of us know which day will see things turn a certain direction. That is why we advocate patience and to ride out the good and bad as history is your favor for good results. 2020 saw 8 of the 9 single biggest daily gains in the history of the Dow Jones and 8 of the 10 largest single day losses. In every one of these cases, the market moved at least 1,000 points to the good or bad. All but 2 of these 16 days occurred between February 24 and March 26th, a window of just 24 trading days. Had you lost hope after an almost 3,000 point loss on March 16th and gotten out of the market you would have missed out on the 1,050 point gain the following day. While that certainly didn’t get you back to even it was a 5% gain that you would have missed. If you could have guessed right on a daily basis over the course of that month you would have made a fortune but had you guessed wrong you would have lost one too. 4. Be flexible When I create a financial plan for a client that plan reflects data, analysis and recommendations for that specific moment in time. While the initial financial plan is an important document as it provides guidance it is just as important, if not more so, to provide ongoing analysis and recommendations as clients continue through their lives and deal with all the changes that occur as time passes by. The financial plan needs to be thought of as a living document that will change along with the changes in a client’s life. 2020 presented us with change on many fronts. Whether it was how we worked, how we schooled, ate, visited with family. You name it, life was different. Our finances were different too. As a result of Covid related restrictions and lockdowns, we didn’t have as many options for spending money. Instead, we were able to pivot and invest in our health with home gym equipment, make overdue home improvements or set aside money for other long term goals. People’s long term goals may also have changed as a result of what they lived through in 2020. Maybe you decided to live closer to family, came to the conclusion life is too short and want to retire earlier, travel more in the future, or deemed that some other goal is now more important. Your plan and goals are subject to change and that is okay. You just need to know it will have an impact and you will need to adjust accordingly. 5. Be opportunistic This goes hand in hand with being flexible. When hard times hit opportunities are often created. In February and March our markets were in free fall. To help prop up the economy the Fed lowered interest rates. This created multiple opportunities. With lower interest rates, it made financing a new home or refinancing an existing home more attractive. As people were looking to move out of urban areas and into suburbs it resulted in sharply rising home prices in the now in-demand suburban areas and falling prices where people were leaving. For those who have thought about downtown living, it created an opportunity to sell high and buy an urban home at a discounted price. Maybe you were thinking this was a move you would make five years from now but the opportunity was too good to pass up. With the markets dropping by thousands of points at a time it created an opportunity for those that stayed calm and had the strength to buy when things looked dire. They were rewarded with a massive rebound. I previously mentioned not trying to time the market. Being opportunistic is not about trying to find the date when those assets were at their cheapest, that is market timing. Being opportunistic is about identifying an asset you feel is undervalued and you are comfortable getting in at that price. The price may go down further from there and you are okay with knowing in the long run you made a good deal. While I don’t like to promote the purchase of individual stocks, companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple which were well positioned to survive the pandemic and whose business wasn’t really hurt by it either saw their value drop by as much as 40%. By mid-June, some of these stocks were at new all-time highs. Those who had the foresight to invest in companies like Zoom, Peloton and other work from home/stay at home companies saw values go up by over 300% in the year. Again, this is not about waiting for Apple to drop 40% before your pounce. You might have looked at Apple dropping 25% and thinking to yourself this is a good price to buy this stock because I am sure it will bounce back. With many of our usual outlets for discretionary spending limited we were able to find other uses for that money. Whether it was shoring up emergency savings, paying down debt, propping up your kids' college fund, adding an extra percent or two to your 401k fund there was a way to make positive strides towards financial goals. I am not calling for taking advantage of other's misfortune here but simply being on the lookout for opportunities that arise when a situation results in either bargain priced assets or a chance for you to make bigger contributions to your own financial goals. 2020 sucked, but if we take the time to reflect we can learn some of our most valuable life lessons coming out of dark times including your financial life. Let’s hope 2021 provides a smoother ride. I’ll be okay taking a year off from learning hard lessons. The foregoing content reflects the opinions of 7th St. Financial, Inc. and is subject to change at any time without notice. Content provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be used or construed as investment advice or a recommendation regarding the purchase or sale of any security. There is no guarantee that the statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. Indices are not available for direct investment. Any investor who attempts to mimic the performance of an index would incur fees and expenses which would reduce returns. All investing involves risk, including the potential for loss of principal. There is no guarantee that any investment plan or strategy will be successful.

What Rate of Return Should Your Portofilo Deliver?

As investors, many of us watch to see how the stock market is doing on some sort of regular basis. We have seen the big market collapses of the dot com bubble, financial crisis and more recently this spring due to Covid. We have seen massive market recoveries in recent history such as 2009 and this summer/fall as the economy tries to recover from Covid shutdowns. As financial advisors, we often speak to clients about their investments with projections in the 6-8% range. The truth is only three times since 1930 has the annual rate of return actually been in that range for a given year. A look at the chart below shows that actual returns tend to be much more volatile than that. So what should you be looking for as a proper rate of return for your portfolio? How many of you have heard someone you know saying they made a killing on a particular stock and found yourself feeling a little jealous that you weren’t in on that action as you can’t help but think this person just fast tracked their retirement by five years. This might make you think that if you’re not getting 35% plus in returns you’re missing out. The truth, as with most matters in personal finance, is that it depends on your situation. The ‘market’ may be up 15% in a given year and you may find yourself looking at your own returns and it is only up 10%. Should you be upset about this? Maybe, maybe not. If you are 26 and invested fully in a growth portfolio you may want to look at things. For the rest of us, remember to get that 15% return you would have to be 100% invested in that particular index. In this case, if we are talking about the S&P 500, you would need 100% of your investments in the IVV ETF (iShares Core S&P 500 fund) for example. Now don’t get me wrong. This is a good fund (or another S&P 500 index fund) and absolutely has a place as one of your core holdings, but I don’t think anyone would ever feel comfortable having every penny they have invested in a single fund even if that was a fairly diverse fund. The moment you add another fund into the mix you will get away from that specific 15% market return. Say you add an International fund as 20% of your portfolio and that space doesn’t perform as well this year and is only up 5%. Now your portfolio has an overall return of 13%. Again, should we be upset because our portfolio didn’t match ‘market’ returns? Now say we make 30% of your portfolio bond/fixed income holdings and they return just 3%. Now our overall portfolio return drops to 9.4%. We are nowhere close to the 15% ‘market’ return. Time to be upset yet? Before you react, take a look at the thought that went into creating your portfolio. First, was an analysis done to determine your risk tolerance? As an advisor, we should work with our clients to determine this so we know the mental comfort level you have to ride out the ups and downs of the market (again, see chart above). Was analysis done to determine your risk capacity? We need to understand how long to expose your investments to risk before you need the funds. The longer you can leave them invested the more risk you can take because you have time on your side for any losses to recover. But, if you need the funds in a few years then the mindset switches more to preservation than focused on growth. The combination of these two items will help determine the proper allocation of your portfolio and how much risk you can take on (i.e. stocks vs fixed income). You might match market returns but if you lose sleep every time the market goes down 1% in a day then being 100% invested in that index is probably not a good thing for you. Next, is your portfolio well diversified? In our example above we talked about having your entire portfolio in one S&P 500 index fund. Again, no one is going to advocate being all in on a single fund. We want to spread our investments around to different sectors and segments of the overall market. As a result, we add in some mid and small cap funds, throw in some International and Emerging Markets. Maybe you even dedicate a little chunk to a dedicated area (tech, healthcare, ESG, etc..). We do this to cover our bases. In our example, the S&P 500 was up 15% and International was only up 5%. But how would you have felt in 2016 when the S&P returned 9.5% but the small caps returned 18.2% and small value returned 24.6%? Bet you wished you would have been invested in something other than just large cap that year. Nobody really knows what exact date a particular segment of the market will take off or when it will cool down so by being in a little bit of everything at all times you are always participating in what is working, and on the flipside, what isn’t as hot. This works to smooth out the average portfolio return. The fact is that once you construct your portfolio to be diversified and have the proper allocation there is no way you can compare your rate of return to a single market index. You’re just not comparing apples to apples at that point. Instead, try thinking of your returns in a different way. Instead of comparing your rate of return to a certain benchmark try tracking the progress you are making towards your goals. As an advisor, I never work with a client and have a stated goal of returning 12% on investments. Instead, the goal the client might really care about is to retire at a certain age. When I meet with a client we review how we are tracking towards that goal, what possible challenges could prevent them from achieving that goal, and are there any changes we need to make to the plan. Over time we track the progress towards achieving this goal and make sure we are heading in the right direction and course correct if we are not. For example, if the client is at age 48 and we show a 70% chance of success in achieving that goal, assuming a 6% average return in a portfolio that is 60% equities and 40% fixed income, it would appear we have some work to do here to meet our goal. To increase our chance of success we may need to bump up the portion of the portfolio that is in equities to say 70% which will increase our chances of having higher overall returns. Maybe we can see if they can increase the amount they are saving for retirement. Maybe the answer is a combination of the two. There are a lot of different levers we can pull to get to that goal. The best solution will depend on what makes sense given the client's specific situation and comfort level. As time moves on, let’s say at age 58, they now are at a 97% chance of achieving their goal. Obviously, the client is in a very good position now and there is no reason to take unnecessary risks that might result in missing a goal we are so close to achieving. Here, we might be perfectly happy with that 6% return even if the market returns 20%. Why? Because the risk to get the extra return isn’t worth the downside of screwing up obtaining their goal. Sure, maybe we could have added an extra $50,000 in returns by having 75% of the portfolio in equities but if the market took a downturn that year we would have increased losses and now retirement at age 64 could be a challenge. The bottom line is there is no magic number you should be tracking against for your portfolio returns. Don’t worry about your brother, co-worker, or friends and what they are doing. As we mentioned earlier, they may mention a specific move they made that gets you doubting yourself but you don’t know how many times a similar move went against them or how they are tracking towards their long term goals. Your portfolio needs to do what you need it to do to meet your goals. There is an obvious emphasis on focusing on you here. If you are on track to achieve what you want to financially out of life that is all that really matters. You can go to bed and rest easy dreaming of the life you want. Thanks for reading and hopefully you found this informational. As always, I love to hear any thoughts or questions you might have. Please email info@7thstfinancial.com and let me know what is on your mind.

10 Things You Need To Know About FAFSA

It is October which means the beginning of the financial aid season for college bound students. The FAFSA, short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the first step in the process for financial aid. The FAFSA form became available for families to fill out on October 1 and must be filled out in order to be considered for financial aid. Each year the US Department of Education doles out almost $30 billion in grants and another $100 billion in loans. Here are 10 things you need to know about the FAFSA. 1. The goal of the FAFSA is to determine your EFC (Expected Family Contribution). The output of the FAFSA is your EFC which is the amount the US Dept. of Education calculates you should be able to contribute towards the cost of college for your family in the upcoming school year. This does not mean you have to pay that much towards the cost of college just that this will be the number used to determine your eligibility for various forms of need-based aid. Here is how it works. Say your EFC comes back at $30,000. This amount will be the same for each school. School one has a cost of attendance (COA) of $28,000. Since the formula indicates you should have the resources to pay the full amount and will not be a candidate for need based aid. But at school two, which has a COA of $55,000, you have a demonstrated need of $25,000 which leaves you as a candidate for need based aid. 2. The FAFSA information is shared with individual schools so they can prepare your financial award package. On the online FAFSA form, there is a section where you can provide the code of the various schools you want the FAFSA information to be sent. The Dept. of Education will share this data with those schools allowing them to prepare a financial award package specific for you. 3. The primary drivers of the EFC calculation are income and certain assets. Both the parents and the student’s data is taken into consideration. For most people, their income will the primary driver. Retirement funds and home equity are not considered which for most people are their two largest assets. Non-retirement investment accounts, vacation or rental properties, and the value of a business are considered though. In general, assets in the parent’s name are considered at a rate of 5.6% while those belonging to the student are considered at 20%. So the general rule of thumb is that an advantage to have assets in the parent’s name than the child’s. 4. In the case of divorced parents, the only parent who needs to report income and assets is the custodial parent. Even if the non-custodial parent provides more than 50% of the financial support and/or claims the child as a dependent for taxes, only the custodial parent needs to report data for the FAFSA. In addition, if the custodial parent has remarried, it is still only the custodial parent who needs to report data and not the step parent. 5. 529 plans are treated as an asset of whoever is listed as the account owner. In most cases, these belong to the parents and are assessed at the 5.6% rate. If a 529 plan is owned by a grandparent it is not counted as an asset on the FAFSA but once funds are taken out and used for the student then that will be treated as income for the student and will be assessed at 20%. 6. When filling out the FAFSA you will use the income reported on your prior, prior year tax return. This can be a bit confusing but here is how it works. If you are applying for financial aid for the 2021-22 school year you will use the data from your 2019 tax return so at the time the aid will be received it will be based on the prior, prior year. If you file the form this fall the 2019 return will be your most recent return. 7. During the process of filling out the online form you will have the option to use a data retrieval tool to get your IRS tax return information. This will greatly reduce the amount of time required to fill out the form. You can expect the process to take 1-2 hours depending upon the complexity of your information if you use data retrieval. 8. You may need to file a separate form depending upon the schools you are interested in applying to. FAFSA is widely used by most public schools but many private schools use a form called CSS that has a slightly different formula it uses and some of the assets that are not considered by FAFSA will be considered on the CSS. 9. You will need to refile the FAFSA every year you want financial aid. This is not something you do prior to your freshman year and have the totals carry over each subsequent year. Your financial details will vary year by year so might your ability to qualify for needs based aid. 10. Everyone should be urged to fill out the form regardless of whether you think you are a need based candidate or not. The FAFSA is the basis for determining other types of aid as well including some non-need based aid. For instance, to qualify for the Unsubsidized Federal Direct Loan you will need to have filled out the FAFSA and this is a loan that is available to everyone regardless of your financial situation. So even if you are sure you won’t get grants that is no reason to not fill out the form. If you are unsure of how to complete the form or have questions please reach out to info@7thstfinancial to get the guidance you need. Make sure you have the correct information so you are in position to get financial aid you have coming to you.

Financial Planning 101 - Portfolio Diversification

In my last entry, we began discussing the topic of portfolio risk management, specifically discussing portfolio allocation or the amount of risk within a portfolio. In this installment, we will continue the risk management discussion but the focus here will be on portfolio diversification. Many people are familiar with the term diversified portfolio but for those of you who aren’t it is basically the concept of spreading your investments around. For those of you who have been around long enough to remember the classic case is Enron, which was a huge and very successful energy company in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The problem with Enron was that they committed fraud with their accounting and the profits they were reporting were non-existent. The employees of Enron received their pension all in Enron stock so when the fraud was exposed, the company filed for bankruptcy and the stock went to zero. All of the employees lost their pension which was all tied to Enron stock. While Enron might be an extreme example, it certainly highlights the risk of having a concentrated position in any single asset. There is more to diversification though then just making sure you invest in more than one company. The goal of having a diversified portfolio is that no one event leaves you’re a major portion of your portfolio at risk. Now the truth is you can’t diversify away all risk. There are some things that happen that are on such a scale that they impact everything. The financial crisis is a prime example of this as it took down the value of every major asset class. Natural disasters, wars, and other acts of God are examples of other things where it is hard to diversify away risk. As an investor, you must understand that things change within the economy, world politics, consumer tastes, and technological advancements that can impact the fortunes of a company, an entire industry, or even a country. The key goal with diversification is to not have one of these changes put too much of your investment portfolio at risk. Below are the different ways you want to try and diversify your portfolio to help manage these risks as they occur. Security diversification This is basically the Enron scenario I laid out above. Any single company can experience a significant downturn due to poor management decisions, financial mismanagement, scandal, or one of the other reasons listed above. Blockbuster Video is another good example of this. We all used to go to Blockbuster to rent our videos but then along came a little upstart called Netflix which changed the way we consumed this content. Blockbuster failed to adjust to this new technology and consumer tastes and now has one remaining store while Netflix is worth over $200 billion. A study by the University of Michigan concluded that it takes 25-50 individual holdings to have a diversified portfolio. In addition to spreading out your investments between multiple companies the other rule is to try and not have any single holding be more than 5% of your total portfolio. This can be a challenge for those that work for a company where the 401k match is company stock, offer an employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) that allows workers to purchase the stock at a reduced price or receive company stock as part of their total compensation. In these cases check your company rules on when they allow you to sell the stock. These rules were put into place as a result of the Enron scandal. Be aware of how concentrated you are getting and do the best you can to keep this in check. Sector diversification The S&P 500 is made up of 11 unique sectors. Think of these as different areas of business. The five biggest sectors are Technology, Health Care, Consumer Discretionary, Communication Services, and Financials. Each sector contains companies that are related by the broad type of business they conduct. For instance, the Consumer Discretionary sector includes Amazon, Home Depot, McDonald’s, Nike, and Starbucks. These companies would most likely take a hit in a recession as people would likely look to spend less money on home improvement, eating out and new clothing but would tend to do well if the economy is going strong. Another sector such as Technology or Consumer Staples might still perform fine in a recession as they are less reliant on individuals having discretionary income. Industry diversification This is just a deeper dive into the sector diversification. Say for example you have investments in Facebook, Twitter, and Snap. These are all part of the much broader Technology sector but largely all play specifically in the social media space. The risk here is that something could come along that could change the outlook of all social media companies. For instance, in the past couple of years, Congress has had several issues with various social media companies. If they were to pass a law that hindered their business models the stock prices of all social media companies could take a hit. This new law though may not have any impact on other tech companies like Apple, Salesforce, Nvidia and Adobe that don’t have a social media component. Capitalization diversification Companies that you can invest in come in all sizes. While they are big enough companies to have issued stock and be listed on a public market they run a vast range in their market size (number of shares x stock price). Within the S&P 500 alone which is home to ‘large’ companies, Apple currently has a market cap of over $2 trillion while Macy’s comes in at roughly $1.5 billion which is less than 1% the size of Apple. Different forces can be beneficial or harmful to companies of different sizes. Coronavirus, which was generally hard on all companies has widely been viewed as being much harder on smaller companies in general than large companies. On the other hand, Congress could pass a tax law that could target large companies by having them pay a higher corporate tax rate. The market has classifications of mega cap, large cap, mid cap, and small cap. Spreading your investments out between the various market cap classifications is key to having a diversified portfolio. Geographic diversification This concept involves spreading your investments across different geographies around the world. Different countries will go through economic ups and downs at different times. The common geographic classifications are domestic, international, and emerging markets. In the early to mid-2000s the US stock market was returning an average of 14% from 2003-2007 but Emerging Markets returned an average of 37% over that same time. Spreading your investments around and not just being focused on US investments only would have let you participate in those explosive Emerging Markets returns. Now had you thought you needed to go all-in on this Emerging Markets trend you would have been rudely greeted with a 53% loss in 2008 which was the worst performing segment of that year. Investment style diversification Another way companies are classified is where they are in their lifecycle. The common designations here are growth and value. Growth companies (current examples include Amazon, Google and Facebook) tend to be earlier in the lifecycle and are experiencing rapid growth in sales and/or income. Value companies (think Coca Cola, McDonald's, and Verizon) tend to be more well established and with more stable revenue and income or can be companies that have experienced a downturn and whose stock can be purchased at a relative bargain. Growth companies have enjoyed superior investment performance since the mid-2010s, but in the early 2000s value stocks outperformed growth by a good margin. Bonds In the last post, I talked about how mixing in bonds or other fixed income assets help an advisor with portfolio allocation. Well, there is also diversification within fixed income investments. Fixed income assets come in different maturity lengths. Bonds or Treasury securities, for example, can range from 1 to 30 years before they mature. Longer term debt pays higher interest rates but is more vulnerable to changes in interest rates. Another way to diversify your fixed income holdings is by credit quality. Many fixed income instruments are debt that has been issued and you are receiving interest payments and then eventually your principal. The higher the credit quality of the debtor the lower interest rates you will receive. Lower quality debtors need to pay a higher rate of interest but are more susceptible to default if there is an economic downturn. Summary A well diversified portfolio will have a little bit of everything. This may keep the portfolio returns from achieving the peak numbers one could reach if they were in the hot segment of the moment but that would require being invested 100% in that segment of the market and we have just discussed the risks of doing that. This approach will tend to smooth out your returns as even if part of your portfolio is encountering issues you should have plenty of other areas doing just fine. Most of us achieve this diversification by investing in mutual funds or ETFs in our investment accounts. For example, an S&P 500 index fund alone will give you access to a pretty well diversified portfolio all by itself. This gives you access to a wide variety of companies, sectors, industries and many of these large companies have an international presence. In addition, most of us have access to an international fund in a 401k account to help get better access to non-US based companies. Some plans may have access to a total market fund which would have holdings in all categories. Diversification along with allocation goes a long way to managing the risks of your investment portfolio. Hopefully, you found this informative and helpful. If you are wondering if your investments are properly aligned to manage risk and would like help I would love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out to info@7thstfinancial.com or schedule a conversation here.

Financial Planning 101 - Managing Portfolio Allocation

Welcome to the latest blog from 7th Street Financial where I discuss various topics related to personal finance with the goal of providing insight you can use for yourself or at the very least get you thinking about certain topics and how they might impact you. In this first of two installments on the topic, I will discuss risk management within your investment portfolio. The two primary key concepts covered here will be Risk Tolerance and Risk Capacity. These two items combined help us determine the proper allocation of one’s portfolio. The second installment will cover the risk elements that drive to having proper diversification within the portfolio. One of the primary tenants of investing is risk vs. reward. In order for us to get larger returns on our investments we need to take larger risks. Historically, the larger share of your investments that are in equities the better your long term return. Equities though tend to be more risky than fixed income investments from the perspective that they are more prone to sharp declines. This risk of holding equities smooths out over the long term as short term ups and down tend to result in a long term upward trajectory. The following two charts show year by year returns for the S&P 500 which highlights that there is occasional downside risk while most years are positive and the second chart is the historical long term trend which reflects long term growth. Managing the risk of short term declines can be critical depending upon where you are at in your investing lifecycle. Many of us are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of Risk Tolerance which is basically a measure of how much risk are you comfortable having in your portfolio. As an advisor, I use a series of questions that I pose to clients to determine their appetite for incurring risk. These questions are geared to help an advisor understand how comfortable someone is with investments, their mindset with investing, and how you would react to several potential investment return scenarios. For example, a question might be “if the stock market is down 25%, what would you do?” and the options would be something like 1. Buy more; 2. Stay the course; 3. Sell some of the investments; 4. Sell all of the investments. The person who sees this as an opportunity to buy more is demonstrating a high risk tolerance where the person inclined to sell is not. This is something that needs be continually monitored. Life experiences and situations may change the way an investor feels about risk. It is one thing to answer a theoretical situation on paper but it is another to see you IRA drop by 30%. People have a tendency to be slightly more conservative in real life than on paper. The goal with this series of questions is to have the information needed to construct a portfolio for the investor that they can be comfortable with. One key to know as the investor is that the most important thing is to just be truthful in your responses. Advisors shouldn’t care if you profile out as more conservative or aggressive. There is no right or wrong on that scale. The advisor should just want to do what is right for you. If an advisor pressures you into a portfolio you are not comfortable with that is a warning sign you and the advisor are probably not a good fit. The last thing I want is for a client to be losing sleep at night because they can’t handle the ups and downs of a turbulent market. Risk tolerance is a measure of an investor’s ability psychological ability to handle risk. There are no neat categories that groups of people fit in. Younger investors can be just as conservative with risk as older investors and vice versa. In addition to Risk Tolerance, advisors also consider a lesser known concept known as Risk Capacity. This is a measure of the amount of risk an investor can take on to achieve their goals and may or may not line up with your Risk Tolerance. Also, you may have different Risk Capacities for different financial goals. The basic measurement of one’s Risk Capacity is time. The longer you have before you need the money for a given goal the higher your Risk Capacity is and as your time horizon shortens before you need money the lower your Risk Capacity becomes. For example, when you are age 30 and saving for retirement you have a very high Risk Capacity as you have potentially 30 plus years to grow your investments and plenty of time to ride out any ups and downs in your returns. Compare that to when you are three years away from retirement and you no longer have time to recover from a major market downturn which results in you having a very low Risk Capacity. As I stated earlier, you might have different Risk Capacities for different financial goals. I found myself in this position this past year. Take a couple who is 50 years old planning to retire at age 62 with a 16 year old child. Since they have 12 years to go to retirement they still have a fairy high risk capacity in terms of retirement but if they have been saving for their child to go to college they have a very low risk capacity for those funds as they would have almost no time to recover from a market downturn. As a result, I left my retirement funds alone but moved the funds in our 529 plan to a much more conservative investment in 2019 when we were two years out from needing the funds. At that point I was less concerned with trying to get substantial growth than protecting what we had already saved and was willing to take a much lower return in exchange. When Covid-19 hit my retirement funds certainly took a hit but they have time to recover but our 529 plan just took a minor dip which, thankfully, was not enough to alter our plans. Events like Covid-19, the Financial Crisis of 2008 are why we make these moves to get more conservative as our time horizon gets closer. Next, what do you do if your risk capacity and risk tolerance are at odds with each other? Take the situation I discussed above with our college savings. My risk tolerance is fairly high but our risk capacity was low due to our short time horizon. When it comes to risk management with your investments choose the more conservative option in a case like this so even though risk tolerance is high the low risk capacity wins out. The same holds true in the case of a low risk tolerance and high risk capacity. This might happen if there is a 30 year old who has decades to save for retirement but gets nervous when there is volatility in the market. Even though there is plenty of time to recover from any downturns I don’t want the client to be uncomfortable watching the daily ups and downs if that makes them uncomfortable. A slightly more conservative portfolio makes sense in this case. The combination of Risk Tolerance and Risk Capacity drives the proper allocation in an investor’s portfolio. You are probably familiar with people talking about a 70/30 or 60/40 mix or something similar. That is in reference to the allocation of equity versus fixed income holdings in a portfolio with a 70/30 meaning 70% of the portfolio is in equities and 30% in fixed income. The higher the equity holdings the riskier the portfolio. So, let’s put everything together and walk through a couple of examples. Say we have our 30 year old and their retirement savings. They have moderate risk tolerance and high rick capacity at this stage of their life which might put them in a 70/30 portfolio for now. As they get within 10 years of retirement they can start to gradually become more conservative. By the time they hit retirement a 50/50 portfolio may be appropriate. This is similar to the approach I took with the 529 plan I mentioned earlier. When our daughter was born the portfolio was nearly 100% equities. Since the entire life of the investment is only 18 years we moved through the stages much quicker. By age 10, the portfolio mix was closer to 70/30, by age 13 it was closer to 60/40 and at age 16 it was 40/60. Remember that as an investor there is no right or wrong answer for where you land on the spectrum. Over the long term a higher equity allocation historically has resulted in higher returns but that may not be worth the mental anxiety or the risk of short term downturns for you. If your allocation isn’t the same as your family, friends or that is okay. You need your portfolio to work for you and your goals which are unique to you. That wraps up this first installment on portfolio risk management. I hope you found this informative and maybe learned something you can use for yourself. Look for the next installment portfolio risk management where I will cover diversification. If you have any questions about where you should be from an allocation standpoint and if your portfolio is properly matched feel free to reach out to info@7thstfinancial.com or visit our website at www.7thstfinancial.com to schedule a no cost 30 minute discussion on your situation. 7th St. Financial Inc. (“7th St. Financial”) is a registered investment adviser offering advisory services in the State of Minnesota and in other jurisdictions where exempted. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. The presence of this website on the Internet shall not be directly or indirectly interpreted as a solicitation of investment advisory services to persons of another jurisdiction unless otherwise permitted by statute. Follow-up or individualized responses to consumers in a particular state by 7th St. Financial in the rendering of personalized investment advice for compensation shall not be made without our first complying with jurisdiction requirements or pursuant an applicable state exemption. All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of 7th St. Financial, unless otherwise specifically cited. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and no representations are made by our firm as to another parties’ informational accuracy or completeness. All information or ideas provided should be discussed in detail with an advisor, accountant or legal counsel prior to implementation. All investing involves risk, including the potential for loss of principal. There is no guarantee that any investment plan or strategy will be successful.

Financial Planning 101 - Mega Backdoor Roth Conversions

Want to hear about a way to make the largest contribution to a Roth plan on an annual basis regardless of your income? Welcome to the latest in the Financial Planning 101 series where I cover various topics related to personal finance and try to educate you about how these items could be relevant to you. I have been focusing lately on all things Roth including the basics of Roth plans and the different types of Roth conversions. The last installment was on Backdoor Roth conversions. Today’s topic is the Mega Backdoor Roth Conversion. The Basics Most workplace retirement plans today are defined contribution plans. This means that the plan allows for certain contributions but has no guaranteed return or payout on the back end. In other words, the employee takes on the risk of return. Compare that to a defined benefit plan (think pension plan) where it is the payout that is guaranteed and the employer has to figure out how much to contribute to meet their obligation. Under a defined contribution plan there is a maximum of $57,000 that can be contributed to the plan during the year. This amount covers all contributions including the employee and employer contributions. Very few employees will ever hit this cap based on their normal contributions. Even someone making $300,000 may max out their 401k contributions of $26,000 (assuming age 50 or over), add in a 5% employee match of $15,000 and that still leaves $16,000 remaining before hitting that cap. Some plans allow for additional after-tax contributions to be made into the plan beyond the $26,000 maximum for 401k as long as you are under the overall $57,000 cap. And that is where the Mega Backdoor Roth comes into play. The Conversion These additional contributions aren’t part of a Roth even though they are after-tax contributions. Usually, these additional contributions will still be part of your 401k plan but will be segregated and identified as after-tax. To make the conversion you would select a rollover of just these after-tax funds directly to a Roth account. Ideally, you would do this on an annual basis if possible. To do this you would need a Roth account already established with an outside financial institution. Alternatively, you can wait until you leave the company and roll over the funds then. Tax Handling Unlike other Roth conversions where you recognize the amount being converted as income and have to pay income taxes on that amount, this type of conversion is handled much differently. Since the amount being converted is already after-tax contributions the amount being converted is not recognized as income and therefore no additional taxes are owed. Once the funds are in the Roth account they are treated the same as any other funds in a Roth. That means tax-free growth and tax-free distributions later on assuming you meet the criteria for qualified distributions. Since the contributions are made after-tax, they retain Roth like status even while not being in a Roth account. The earnings on these contributions are a different story though. The earnings will be treated like 401k earnings and will be taxed at the time of conversion. That is why ideally you can make the conversions prior to leaving the job so the contributions won’t have time to accumulate much in gains. Remember, that once the funds are converted to a Roth all gains are tax-free. The Benefits 1. Allows high income earners a chance to make Roth contributions despite being above the income limits. 2. Being able to make these after-tax contributions is preferable to investing funds in a taxable brokerage account. A taxable account has both after-tax contributions and the gains are taxed as well. With these after-tax contributions, the gains will be tax-free once in the Roth account. The Limitations Much like the traditional Backdoor Roth Conversion discussed in my previous post, there are some big caveats with this type of conversion that can make this a difficult option for many to participate in. 1. You need to have the financial means to make this high level of contributions. Before doing non-Roth after-tax contributions you would need to first max out your annual 401k contributions. I would also recommend making contributions to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA before choosing this option. It can be difficult for many people to have additional funds for retirement savings once they have maxed out these other accounts. 2. Your 401k plan must allow for these after-tax contributions to be made and not many plans do (43% according to a 2017 survey). This is the biggest impediment to most people being able to take advantage of this because without this provision in your workplace plan it is a deal breaker. To see if your plan allows these contributions you will need to look at the Summary Plan Description (SPD) for your employer’s plan. 3. To get the maximum benefit from this you will want to be able to make in-service distributions so that you can do the rollovers on whatever time schedule you please. Again, this is not an option that many plans offer and you will need to refer to your SPD to see what your plan allows. If in-service distributions are not offered in your plan then you can still do the conversion when you leave that employer. Conclusion The Mega Backdoor Roth Conversion is not something that many people can take advantage of, but for those that can, it can be another powerful tool in your financial planning toolkit. Max out your other retirement contributions first and if you have the remaining capacity to set aside retirement savings check with your employers SPD to see if they allow for extra after-tax contributions. That puts a wrap on my series on Roth related items. I hope you found this series informative as Roths are an under utilized yet extremely beneficial investing option for many people. The next installments will focus on other areas of investing. As always, if you have any questions about your finances and you want to understand if any given topic is appropriate for you please reach out to info@7thstfinancial.com to have a free discussion regarding your situation. 7th St. Financial Inc. (“7th St. Financial”) is a registered investment adviser offering advisory services in the State of Minnesota and in other jurisdictions where exempted. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. The presence of this website on the Internet shall not be directly or indirectly interpreted as a solicitation of investment advisory services to persons of another jurisdiction unless otherwise permitted by statute. Follow-up or individualized responses to consumers in a particular state by 7th St. Financial in the rendering of personalized investment advice for compensation shall not be made without our first complying with jurisdiction requirements or pursuant an applicable state exemption. All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of 7th St. Financial, unless otherwise specifically cited. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and no representations are made by our firm as to another parties’ informational accuracy or completeness. All information or ideas provided should be discussed in detail with an advisor, accountant or legal counsel prior to implementation. All investing involves risk, including the potential for loss of principal. There is no guarantee that any investment plan or strategy will be successful.

Financial Planning 101 - Backdoor Roth Conversions

In my previous post, I wrote about Roth conversions. The focus there was on the traditional type of conversion where an investor moves funds from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Today, I will discuss a different type of Roth conversion called the backdoor Roth conversion. The traditional Roth conversion is suitable and even advisable for a large number of people. The backdoor conversion serves a more narrow audience but can still be a very powerful tool for those in position to take advantage of it. If you try and google a backdoor Roth conversion you will find varying definitions and descriptions. Some will refer to the ‘backdoor’ component as simply converting traditional IRA funds to a Roth which is really just a straight forward Roth conversion that is available to everyone. The backdoor Roth conversion I will discuss here is a way for high income investors to bypass the income limits on making annual Roth conversions. In my post on Roth IRAs, we discussed the annual limit of contributions of $6,000 for people under age 50 as long as their income is under certain limits, currently $206,000 at the highest, depending upon tax filing status. So while traditional Roth conversions are usually made in bulk sums they don’t address the ability to make annual contributions to a Roth plan for high earners. That’s where the backdoor Roth conversion comes into play. Why would someone want to do this? While contributing to a Roth in high earning years may not seem to make much sense due to the high taxes you will have paid on the money contributed, think about what your other options are for investments. Assuming you have maxed out your 401k first, where else do you go? A Roth is a better option than a taxable account which has after tax contributions and capital gains taxes on the back end. I also prefer a Roth to any of the tax sheltered insurance related options such as forms of permanent life insurance and annuities. Here is how it works. Assume your family AGI puts you over the $206,000 threshold for being able to make contributions to a Roth plan. You probably also make too much to make a tax deductible contribution to a traditional IRA. But, you can always make a non-tax deductible to an IRA regardless of your income. So step one is to make that non-deductible IRA contribution. Note, this will be after tax money. Step two, convert this non-deductible IRA amount to your Roth account. So, what are the benefits? This allows a high earner to make annual Roth contributions. No tax owed on the conversion since it was taxed before entering the IRA. Enjoy tax free growth on the converted amount. Provides tax flexibility by allowing a high earner to have not just tax deferred income in retirement. Sounds great, let’s do it! To quote the great Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.” There are some major strings tied to the backdoor conversion you need to be aware of before trying one and they are significant. Annual limit on the contribution limit. IRA contributions are limited to $6,000 per year for people under age 50 and $7,000 for those 50 and above. So, for a high earner this can be a somewhat complicated process to go through for a $6,000 contribution. But, that tax free growth can be worth it. Pro-rata rule. This is the big one and can frankly make this a non-starter for some people. The pro-rata rule states that when making a Roth conversion you must make the conversion in the same ratio as what you have in pre-tax vs after-tax money in your IRA. For example, let’s say you have $54,000 in an IRA from a 401k rollover. You now have added you $6,000 after tax contribution and try to do a $6,000 Roth conversion. That leaves you with an IRA balance of $60,000 (90% of which is pre-tax and 10% after tax). The pro-rata rule prohibits you from cherry picking that specific after tax $6,000 for conversion. Instead, your $6,000 conversion is going to be made up of $5,400 pre-tax and just $600 of that after tax contribution. Since 10% of your IRA balance is made up of after tax contributions you are limited to 10% of the converted amount to be after tax. This can be a deal breaker for those that already have large established IRA balances as you will have to recognize the income and pay taxes on the non after tax amount and may only be able to convert a small potion of your after tax contribution. Taxes owed on gains. If there is a lag between the time the after tax contribution is made and the conversion takes place, the principal that was contributed may have gains associated with it. These gains will be considered ordinary income when converted along with their principal. So who should be trying to take advantage of the backdoor Roth conversion? This conversion makes sense for people meeting the following criteria: High income earners Maxed out their 401k and still have funds to invest No previous IRA balance The limitations due to the smaller amounts that are converted and the specific criteria needed to be met for the conversion to be beneficial make this an option that a limited number of people can take advantage of. While the backdoor conversion may not be quite as powerful a tool as traditional Roth conversions due to these limitations, it is still an option for high earners that allows access to annual Roth contributions they would otherwise be prohibited from making and there can be significant value in that. That wraps up our overview of backdoor Roth conversions. I hope you found this informative and helpful for your understanding of personal finances. As always, if you are wondering if this makes sense for you and your specific circumstances please reach out to me at info@7thstfinancial.com or check out our website at www.7thstfinancial.com and provide your contact information. Thank you for reading and I hope you check out our next topic which will be on one final type of Roth conversion, the Mega Backdoor Roth Conversion. 7th St. Financial Inc. (“7th St. Financial”) is a registered investment adviser offering advisory services in the State of Minnesota and in other jurisdictions where exempted.  Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. The presence of this website on the Internet shall not be directly or indirectly interpreted as a solicitation of investment advisory services to persons of another jurisdiction unless otherwise permitted by statute. Follow-up or individualized responses to consumers in a particular state by 7th St. Financial in the rendering of personalized investment advice for compensation shall not be made without our first complying with jurisdiction requirements or pursuant an applicable state exemption. All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of 7th St. Financial, unless otherwise specifically cited.  Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and no representations are made by our firm as to another parties’ informational accuracy or completeness.  All information or ideas provided should be discussed in detail with an advisor, accountant or legal counsel prior to implementation. All investing involves risk, including the potential for loss of principal. There is no guarantee that any investment plan or strategy will be successful.