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5 Theories Why Americans Don’t Save More

The Atlantic recently published an article in which they outline five compelling theories why Americans don’t save more for the future:

  1. Americans stopped saving when their incomes stopped growing
  2. The poor and middle class went into debt to buy houses
  3. U.S. policies make it easy to not save money
  4. The U.S. is uniquely susceptible to conspicuous consumption
  5. The pressure to keep up with richer neighbors has been greatly exacerbated by rising income inequality

Link to article

It seems to me that all five theories contribute in part to the current situation. However, I disagree with the authors belief that the solution requires more government programs and involvement. Even the author contradicts himself: The lottery hurts the rate people can save and the government’s push for homeownership contributed to the housing crisis.

Recently, I have become quite interested in how our clients and prospects save and in particular the amount they keep set aside for emergencies. Don’t these government programs, such as social security, storm damage, health insurance, unemployment, mortgage forgiveness, student loan forgiveness and multitude of other programs, have an unintended consequence? Are Americans, as a whole, becoming more dependent on the generosity of others and the government? This point is not well addressed in the article.

Should I Pay Down Debt or Invest in the Market?

As individuals approach retirement they often ask themselves what they should do to maximize their income. Specifically, they may wonder if they should pay down their debts (credit cards, auto loans, or a mortgage) or should they invest more in the markets. The answer is often times more complicated than they expect.

Exploring Investments

It’s important for investors to understand what the after-tax cost of borrowing is, especially when a mortgage with interest rate is involved. It’s possible that after-tax returns can be higher than after-tax cost of debt. Borrowers who pay a low interest rate are in a better position to invest. Other factors that determine whether or not someone should invest instead of pay down debt favor the entrepreneur and people who are willing to take risks. An investor with a loan costing them 2% per year may want to keep that debt and instead invest in the market if they think they can get 5%-6%.

Managing Risk

Risk is determined by several factors such as age, income, time frame, market activity and taxes. Most experienced investors are aware that equities can be high risk assets. A leading factor that favors investing is high disposable income, which allows for higher risk tolerance. If we revisit the above example, the investor does run the risk of investing in the market in a bad year. In that case the investor still has to service the debt, but also watch their portfolio decline in value. The higher the interest rate on the loan, the more risk the investor takes that the return on the investments will not beat the interest rate.

Paying Debt & Cash Flow

Even though debt seems like a bad word, it is helpful to a credit score to have a certain amount of debt or credit history. The first priority should be saving up six months worth of monthly expenses as part of an emergency or safety net fund. Once this fund is in place, excess money can be used to pay down debt or invest. The main barometer for deciding between debt and investing is debt-to-income ratio. If the ratio is high, paying debt is usually the wiser choice. Tight cash flow is a red flag that budget cuts will be needed.

 
With low interest rates like we’ve seen, now is a good time to review your situation.

Steps to Take After Leaving a Job to Get Your Financial Life in Order

Leaving a job can be a frightening proposal, even if you’re moving up in the world—navigating retirement plan rollovers, lost and gained benefits, pay and cost-of-living changes, and the other variables can feel quite daunting. Fortunately, if you take a moment and relax, you’ll find that a methodical, thoughtful approach makes it all much easier. Today, we’ll help you navigate your way through the financials of leaving a job without getting stressed about the endeavor.

Figure out what you’re losing and what you’re gaining.

Take a close, hard look at the benefits you’re losing as you leave your job, noting the value of stock options, leave time, child-care, insurance, etc. If you’re moving immediately into a new job, you’ll want to evaluate what you’re gaining the same way, for ease of comparison. A firm understanding of the actual value of what you’re losing or gaining is important.

Look into what you can take with you.

Not every valuable benefit vanishes when you leave a job. You might have several decisions to make about more flexible benefits, such as stock options, which you’ll want to go over with a tax or finance professional—the details around these decisions can get quite complex quite quickly, so don’t let yourself drown alone in the specifics of rolling over your 401k to a new plan or an IRA, keeping or selling stock options, etc.

Negotiate to reimburse losses.

If you’ve noted a loss of value in moving to a new job, that information can be useful for negotiating additional pay, benefits, and one-time expense coverage (for relocation, etc.). Otherwise, look to a financial planning adviser for assistance in finding moves you can make to shrink the gap—you may be able to defray relocation expenses with tax deductions, qualify for new credits, etc.

Undertake a thorough self-audit.

When the dust settles, it’s time to conduct a thorough self-audit and see where your income, benefits, investments, retirement savings, and other financial considerations all stand. Make sure to review plans which, while not directly associated with the job you’re leaving, may interact strangely with your new situation—insurance, investments, estate plans, and the like all need a second look over after a major change such as leaving a job. Take your time, get professional financial planning assistance, and do it right, so you can rest assured that your big change is a move in the right direction.

When Clients Spend Through Their Savings

A reporter from Financial Planning Magazine, recently posed a question to several financial advisors asking:

“What happens when an elderly retired client runs out of money?”

Below is my response, which was included in the article:

 

WATCH WITHDRAWAL RATES

Michael Lecours, an advisor at Ohanesian/Lecours in West Hartford, Conn., says the time to address the issue of running out of money with retirees is when they start increasing withdrawal rates from their savings.

“We can see the writing on the wall five to 10 years away,” Lecours says. “After a conversation, most clients recognize the issue and find ways to reduce their expenses. They make plans to downsize, move in with a family member, or scale back on their lifestyle.”