On Episode 2 of Make It Last with Victor Medina, we discuss how to create wealth in your 50s, and the new Department of Labor “fiduciary” rule.
Does this rule protect investors as much as the reports suggest? How can you make sure that you’re advisor works in your best interests instead of their own?
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Welcome to Make it Last, helping you keep your legal ducks in a row and your nest egg secure with your host Victor Medina, an estate planning and elder law attorney and certified financial planner.
Hey folks, welcome back, it’s Make it Last with Victor Medina and if you’re joining us live it is 7:30 in the morning on Saturday, and I hope you have your cup of coffee because I have my cup of coffee, and I’m excited that you’re back listening to today’s show! Now we’ve got a great show for your today. We’re going to have it in three different segments. The first show is going to talk about the five ways to build your wealth in your 50s, and then we’re going to spend the next two segments talking about a new rule meant to protect consumers dealing with their retirement investments. It’s what we call the DOL fiduciary rule.
Before we get started today though, I do want to share a little personal story. We had a changeover in my law firm. You guys know that I run the Medina Law Group, and just recently we had somebody say that they didn’t want to work with us any longer, and that’s fine. It happens from time to time. But this person was a very valuable and loved member of our team. So the question really became like how was it going to affect me? And I was sharing this information with a few friends of mine, who are always lawyers running a firm, and they said that’s awful, I can’t believe that that happened, and he must be really, really upset. And the most striking thing occurred which is that I didn’t really feel upset. I didn’t really label it as something that was awful, and I think that I owe a lot of that to some meditation practice that I’ve been doing recently.
So, if you guys are finding that you are really stressed or you are really getting yourself wrapped around a topic or something in your mind that you’re re‑living over and over again, I have got to tell you I have found the most relief looking at a meditation practice, part of which was started by reading a fantastic book called Ten Percent Happier by Dan Harris. Now if you guys don’t know this book, it is written by a correspondent on ABC News. If you watch ABC Morning and Weekend, Dan Harris is on there. He handles the news and he is part of one of the hosts there. But he had a mental breakdown a number of years ago due to a number of things that were going on. But he was feeling incredibly stressed and he had a panic attack on the air. And that led him on a discovery of meditation practices trying to get him re‑framed, and now he’s gone ahead and written this book. I encourage you to read the book and, in fact, if you really are in to this and listening to stuff, he put together a great audio book as well. So he’s reading his own book, and you can find that on audible. But if you listen to the book, it takes you through that journey and it leaves you with some practical steps to implementing meditation in your life. Now, I’m the furthest thing from a hippie dippy kind of guy. It’s not my way. But the practical tools that he leaves you with really gets you to a point in time where spending a few minutes doing this is pretty helpful. There are a number of people that you know that do this practice. In fact, he runs another podcast on his Ten Percent Happier explaining artists like Jewel and Russell Simmons. And the people who are over in Afghanistan, they did experiments with some of those frontline fighters and the benefits of meditation are incredible. So, you might want to read that book, Ten Percent Happier, and then my favorite, a guided meditation of his is called Head Space. Anyway, it’s worked for me and I certainly recommend it for you too, and that is an uncompensated promotional recommendation from your host. Go check that out.
So, our first segment today, we’re going to be talking about five ways to build your wealth in your 50s, and folks if you have not begun to save for retirement by the time you are 50 years old it could be that you are really facing the prospect of a retirement that you don’ know what’s going to happen there. It’s going to be uncertain. So we’re going to share with you about five tips to do that. Now, for people who are in their 50s, and you’ve just gotten through, if you’ve got any kids, getting through college. So a lot of your money could have been going towards paying for raising for your children and supporting them through school, and now that you’re in your 50s, you’re facing your retirement and it’s time to build up some wealth.
So the first tip we have to you is if you work in a job that carries with it a bonus, back in the day that bonus was used to help you fund some fun activities, okay? It might have helped you buy a home. You might have used it to help pay for college. But now we’re going to need this to put into your savings. So the concept around this is called burst savers. So there was a sort of an experiment run as a survey by a company called Hearts and Wallets, and they found that the most successful burst savers essentially socked away any income above their norm, like bonuses and raises and commissions or something like that, and then they put them away immediately and it helped put a lot of momentum behind their savings. So you might want to think about putting anything above maybe 15 percent out of your earnings away when you start to do that. The first step is, is take those big lump sums and put them away and live as though they don’t exist.
The second recommendation is that if you’re over 50 actually some of the retirement savings law work towards your favor. When you’re over 50 you can start making catch-up contributions to your retirement plans. Now, if you have a company-sponsored plan like a 401k you can actually put away an additional $6,000.00. So there’s about $18,000.00 that you can put away that is tax deferred, but you can add to that $6,000.00 if it’s part of a 401k. Now if you don’t have a 401k and what you have is an IRA, well then what you can do is you can save an additional thousand dollars. Now we call those catch-up contributions. And it’s important to do that now because if you’re still working in your 50s and if you have a company-sponsored plan, you might be nearing the height of your earnings. Well, this is a great time to defer some of that to lower your taxes, and then if you’ve put it away in a tax deferred – remember tax deferred doesn’t mean tax avoided ‑ so later when we use those retirement funds and we can go ahead and bring them out when you’re in a lower tax bracket, okay? So the second step or tip is to remember your age and go ahead make those contributions – those catch-up contributions – over 50.
Now, if you already have money socked away in a 401k it might be tempting to use that money to help pay for college costs, but resist the temptation. When J.P. Morgan ran the numbers on this, if you put away 8 percent of your savings basically starting with $30,000.00 salary from age 25, you’ll have a million three by the time you turn 65. And people understand those numbers already. It’s been shared around a lot. But if you just take a $10,000.00 loan when you’re 33 years old to buy a home and you take a $10,000.00 at 50 for college, and then take another $10,000.00 distribution early when you are 62, the amount that’s saved drops to under a million dollars. You lose about $400,000.00 of savings by accessing your 401k early. Thus is the power of compounding interest. So we want to resist the temptation to go ahead and borrow that money early. If you have your kids going to college, you’re going to want to really resist the urge to take on the student loans.
Our fourth tip is really go easy on those student loans. It may be difficult to say no to your child which is probably one of the reasons why these college-plus loans, these parent loan balances, have doubled over the last 10 years. But taking out those loans which carry a 6.4 percent rate can be risky. So a good rule of thumb is don’t borrow more than you can repay within 10 years or by retirement, whichever comes first. We want to limit the increase in debt as you face retirement.
And my favorite tip is my last tip. I saved it for last and it is: You really want to understand your investment fees. There are surveys out there that says that some 60 percent of investors have no idea how their advisors are being paid or, worse yet, they believe the advice is free. Come on folks, we’ve been around long enough to know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you think that you’re not paying your advisor, your advisor is getting paid some way. They’ve got families too. They got to put a roof over their heads. The company has to put a building in place. So you know that they’re getting paid somehow. And where is it coming from? Well, it’s coming from your investments. And so it can be difficult to figure this out because if you own annuities, specifically variable annuities, there are a ton of fees that are baked into that in a way that makes it very difficult for you to really understand where they’re being accumulated. But that number can climb to almost – I don’t know – about 3 or 4 percent on an annual basis.
You also want to look at the investments themselves. If you invested in mutual funds, those mutual funds have expense ratios. And, thankfully, those are things that you can look up. If you go to Morning Star and put in the fun ticker symbol they will go ahead and give you the fund expense issue which should tell you a little bit about how much is coming out annually. Now if you’re working with an advisor, you want to ask the advisor for this information. You want them to be transparent about what they’re sharing. And the truth of it is if they won’t give it to you I think you should be shopping for a different advisor. So, dig into your investment fees because if you just affect the amount of fees by 1 percent per year, you will increase, over the course of 10 years, your return by nearly 20 percent. I illustrate this all the time in my seminars.
So, those are our top tips for building your wealth in your 50s. When we come back from the break we’re going to discuss the DOL fiduciary rule, how it’s meant to protect consumers, whether it will protect consumers, and what you can do about it. So stay tuned and we’ll be back with the DOL fiduciary rule.
Welcome back to Make it Last with Victor Medina. On our today’s timely topics we’re going to talk about the DOL fiduciary rule: What is it? Will it work to help protect consumers? And what’s the status of that now with the new administration change? Now, before we get into the fiduciary rule and describing what it is, we should set the scene, talking a little bit about what it was like out in the wild, wild west of investing in the past. Now in the past, we used to have brokers, stockbrokers, and what would happen with them is they would call you on the phone and pitch you a particular stock and say you’ve got to buy this now because we predict this will double in its value, and so they would sell you on buying this particular stock, and they were called brokers because they would own the stock, and they would broker the sale, and they would make a commission essentially on the difference between what they bought it for and what they sold it for. And the way the stock brokerage system worked is they would make a commission whether the stock went up or down because they are a broker and they make their commissions on the percentages no matter what.
Now those brokers still exist. In fact, they are part of broker dealers, and so if you look up these large investment companies, these household names, they are broker dealer organizations holding on to shares of stocks that are sold to you. Now they may not cold-call you the way that they do in the past, but brokers who work for them are there essentially making sure that they make some commissions in between what they bought it for and what they sold it for. So, brokers still exist, but we also added agents. Now, what ended up happening is that the insurance companies figured out that they could sell you an investment and make a commission on that. So if they were insurance agents, you think to yourself well, who is that an agent of? Does it mean that they’re my agent; they’re there to protect me? No. The answer is that they are the agent of the insurance company. So their job essentially is to make sure that they are representing the insurance industry’s best interest.
So what do we do with this? We take a look around and say geez, who is out there looking for me, and it turns out that there are some regulators that put in place some laws that help protect. So there is the SEC, there in FINRA. The insurance companies are regulated at a state level, and what they do is the they put some bare minimum protections in place. And the protections they put in place is something called a suitability standard.
Now a suitability standard is essentially that the investment must be suitable for you. Now suitable for you is a far cry from being in your best interest. And most people don’t understand the difference. So one of the ways that we use to illustrate the difference between somebody that looks out for your best interest and somebody that’s just held to a suitability standard is I like to describe the difference between a butcher and a dietician, okay? So if you go to the butcher and you say what should I eat? The butcher essentially is going to recommend great cuts of meat for you. And the reason why they’re going to do that is they get paid on the product. So if they recommend anything other than meat they don’t get paid. Now the meat could be suitable for you. They’re not going to sell you bad meat, right? So it is definitely something that might be suitable but it may not be in your best interest. So if you went to a dietician and you said well, what should I eat? The dietician said meat is not bad but you might want to take a look at a salad every once in a while, and by the way, you want your servings of fruit. That’s a good idea. You want to hydrate. Now the dietician does not get paid whether you buy meat, salad, or something else. They get paid based on the advice that they are giving you and you pay them directly for that. The dietician is looking out for your best interest. The butcher wants to sell you meat. And it’s the same way when you’re talking to people who are insurance agents and/or brokers working for broker dealers. But it can get very confusing because all of the way that they approach this advice with you is to make it seem as they are looking out for your best interest. They’re wearing nice suits, dressed well. They talk about these fantastic investments, tell you how great they are. But that’s not the same thing as being committed to your best interests. And we call that a fiduciary standard. And that fiduciary concept means they have to put their best interests of yours.
Now, I’m very familiar with the fiduciary standard not just because it’s the way that we practice our financial services in my business but remember I was a lawyer first. A lawyer’s entire existence is built on looking out for clients’ best interest. We don’t know how to do anything another way. In fact, there are great stories about lawyers that end up abandoning their cars that are getting flooded because they have to make it to court on time, and when you tell that story to non‑lawyers it seems like an incredible act. You know, that’s a very expensive car, couldn’t you just be late? But every lawyer sits there and nods because they understand that when you take on the responsibility of a client, you own their problems and you own the responsibility for making sure that you look out for their best interest. So this fiduciary standard, it’s commonplace to attorneys, and it is very rare in the financial services world.
So what ended up happening in the Obama administration is they wanted to adjust these consumer protections to increase them. There are a couple problems. As I mentioned before, the regulating agency for securities is the Securities Exchange Commission, the SEC, and to a lesser extent FINRA. Well, that requires law passage, and that makes it very difficult to change those especially if you don’t have a cooperative congress. The other problem is that the insurance agents are not governed or regulated on a federal level. They are regulated on a state level. So how could this administration further protect consumers from a financial industry that was looking to take advantage of them? Well, they found their way, and their way was to go into the Department of Labor. Because the majority of people who have savings have savings that are in 401ks or retirement vehicles, and those are governed under ERISA. ERISA is a federal law that is under the auspices of the Department of Labor. So within the Department of Labor, they could enact regulations that would allow them to protect consumers and it didn’t require congressional approval. So they drafted these regulations that imposed a fiduciary standard and they were proposed to go into effect in April. Now there’s a new administration in place and we’re going to talk about some of the delays that have occurred because of the new administration re‑examining them. But it’s important to spend some time thinking about or talking about what these regulations govern.
They cover investment advice related to your retirement accounts, specifically your 401ks and recommendations to maybe rollover your 401k. It just covers your retirement account. It doesn’t cover other investment accounts. And when we come back on the second segment of this, we’ll talk about how to really insulate yourself and protect you. But we want to really kind of zero in on the fact that this is going to address your retirement accounts because that was the extent of the power within the regulations. Now as I said before many financial advisors are held only to the suitability standard. So they can consider how much they are going to get paid when they recommend investments, and whether it’s a kickback arrangement with a mutual fund or high commissions on a really poorly designed annuity. This type of financial conflict of interest explains a lot of puzzling product purchases – you know, why investors are buying actively managed funds when they could use low fees or passively managed funds. They are buying them because investment advisors are recommending them. And it’s the wild, wild west because anyone, ANYONE who just touches the financial world can use the phrase financial advisor and you don’t know the difference.
As I mentioned before, we’ve had a changeover in the administration. Everyone is well aware of that. But one of the rules or executive orders that came out was a review of this DOL fiduciary rule meant to protect consumers. They were looking to delay it and it could have been delayed up to 180 days. Incidentally, the Office of Management and Budget explained that a 180‑day delay by the Labor Department that was initially proposed would have reduced investor gains by $441 million in the first year and $2.7 billion over a decade. When they came out with it, it turns out that it was about a 60‑day delay which brought its inaction into June 9 of this year but another year after that for full compliance. We’ll talk about some of those transition rules. Well it turns out that when they ran the numbers on that, the 60‑day delay is still going to hurt investors and it’s going to reduce gains in the first year by $147 million and over $890 million over the course of a decade, nearly a billion dollars lost by this 60‑day delay that was meant to protect the consumers. And when we come back, we’re going to discuss the No. 1 way to make sure that your financial advisor is working to line your pockets instead of their own. Stay tuned. We’ll be back soon.
Welcome back folks. It’s Victor Medina. It’s the Make it Last show, and when we took a break we were talking about this new DOL fiduciary rule and how it’s impacting investors, and I had promised you that we were going to talk about what the new limitations were on that. And we’re going to spend our last segment here helping you put together a set of tips and ways of protecting yourself against this really proliferation by the financial services industry about just making money on you and not looking out for your best interests. Now this DOL fiduciary rule is there to protect the retirement accounts but it has some limitations. I want to go over those with you quickly before we talk about how to find a great advisor and how to test for a fiduciary.
Now one of the limitations as I said is that it only covers your retirement account, and it covers the recommendation to rollover 401ks with the investment advice that comes related to that but it doesn’t cover your non-retirement account. I know that everybody listening here says well, it’s all my retirement account. I mean, I don’t care which bucket it’s in. Call it a traditional IRA or 401k. Everything that I’ve saved, this is my savings for my retirement. It’s all one set of retirement funds. But the law doesn’t treat it that way. You can have a brokerage account that are after tax savings, basically those things that are your non-IRA assets, and the rule does not cover any of the advice that is meant to – you know, that covers those accounts. So what does that mean? Well, these terrible variable annuity products that are out there, well they can be sold to you in those accounts without any limitations other than the suitability standards. This new best interest requirement doesn’t apply to that. Now, I’ve mentioned before that I’ve written another book and if you go onto Amazon you can find it. It’s called Make it Last: Ensuring your Next Egg is Around as Long as You Are. There’s a chapter in there called Variable Annuities: The Scourge of the Earth. And when I was submitting that to the editor they said are you sure you want to use this subtitle for that chapter? I said no, I wanted to use one that was much stronger but I didn’t think you’d let me use it, and they agreed and said no, we’re not going to use that other one. So we’ll use this one.
But the variable annuities that get sold are so loaded with fees on top, the fees that are imbedded in the investments, there is almost no way to demonstrate that those products are really in a client’s best interest. But they can still sell them to you inside of these brokerage accounts because the DOL fiduciary rule does not cover those accounts. So that’s one limitation.
The second limitation is that there is a best interest contract exemption. Now that’s very flowery language and it’s hard to decipher what that really means. But when you dig into it, it means that the financial services company that is selling you these products inside of your retirement account can still sell you something that pays a high commission. But they have to sign a contract saying that it is in your best interest. Now what does that mean? Well it really means that there is more paperwork to go on the bottom. And what they’re doing is they’re covering their tracks by papering this in a way that still allows them to sell you these high commission products and then it would be up to you to go figure out whether or not you have a case.
So, where are you going to find your protection? You’re going to find your protection essentially in some form of a class action lawsuit. Because the law says you might be able to sell these things but we’re going to hold you to this standard if somebody goes to complain later. Well what are the chances that you’re going to complain? The truth of the matter is that over the last 8 years or so there has been such a robust market that people haven’t been paying attention to the fees that are imbedded in their investments because everything seems to be growing but people don’t know how much more they could have grown if they had been in a better set of investments. No one has taken the time to do that because everyone’s making money. But, if you had somebody who was really looking out for your best interests, they would have put you in something that maximizes your return and isn’t bogged down by these commissions and other imbedded fees. So, it’s important to pay attention because if you stay with a non-fiduciary based company, right, if that’s not part of their explanation to you that you are at their best interest, they can still recommend these products and then cover it with this best interest contract exemption.
So, what can you do to protect yourself? I mentioned that we have got a couple of tips including one top tip now. The top tip is to work with a fiduciary advisor but more importantly get that commitment in writing. As I mentioned, most of the largest household names, the things with mountains as their logos and really strong animals as their logos, those are all broker dealers. And those people have the ability to sell you something that pays a different commission and most of them are not going to be looking out for your best interests. So, one of the first things you should do is find an independent registered investment advisor or an RIA. Now the reason why we think it’s important is that at an independent level they don’t have allegiances back to a large company. They don’t have to worry about sort of serving the masters that are paying for their office, and their stationary, and the pens that they use. All of that has to get paid for somehow and it’s siphoned off of the investors. You want to be able to pay for your advice and pay directly for that. So charging a fee for assets under management or a retainer fee on an annual basis ensures that those people are looking out for your best interest because investment advisors, RIAs, if they are true RIAs, are people that are held to a fiduciary standard, just like a lawyer is, and just like a CPA is. These are people that have to put your best interest ahead of their own. And so we recommend an independent RIA. And, of course, it’s not going to at all surprise you to learn that the investment company that we run is a fiduciary standard company because that’s the right way to treat clients is to look out for their best interests.
Now, in addition to an RIA, if you are working with someone who is a certified financial planner the CFP designation carries with it a commitment that you will look out for your client’s best interest in the advice that you give them. This one is a little trickier because the advice you give has to be a fiduciary standard, but the product that you recommend doesn’t necessarily need that with the CFP designation. So, we want a combination of both of those things: a CFP designation as well as the RIA, and I think working together you can get a little further into making sure that your investment advisor is in fact looking out for your best interest.
Now how can you test for a fiduciary? I think there is four things that you ought to do. The first is, and you might want to grab a pen and paper for this one, is require that they sign a document vowing to be a fiduciary under a law. There are fiduciary oaths that if you do a web search on you’ll be able to download this, and you can present it to your advisor and say: Would you sign this? If they balk at all, I think you should walk away. Walk away. Because if they’re not willing to pledge to be a fiduciary, if their company doesn’t permit them to do that, that’s a clear indication that they won’t be doing it in the future.
The second step is require that they sign an agreement to never sell you a proprietary product. So, a proprietary product is something that has been designed solely to be sold by the large company. The large company is recommending a particular fund because that’s something that is only available to them and what do you think? Do you think they’re making more money on that? Clearly they are. Clearly they are. So we want to make sure that they don’t sell a proprietary product.
We also want to make sure that they don’t share in any fees with something like a mutual fund. So, we are running out of time. I can’t go into the 12(b)(1) charges that are usually imbedded in mutual funds, but that’s a way of fee splitting or revenue sharing with the advisor and you want a commitment that says they’re not going to do that. When we make recommendations on the funds that we participate in they never pay us a commission. They never pay us anything for recommending that. And I’m not giving you any advice here about whether or not that’s a good investment or a bad investment, but we just know coming in that that’s the right way to treat a client to look out for their best interest. Say look it, just pay us for our advice but we’re not going to take any kickbacks along the way.
Two more quick recommendations; the first is require them to disclose every fee charged to you. So in the portfolio reporting you get on a quarterly basis you want their list of the investment advisor fees, the mutual fund fees, any commissions that they’ve received. You want that all laid out so that you can really see what you’re getting.
And the fourth and final tip is require to the sign-on with a custodian that will sign a monthly statement of all your holdings. You want to be able to crosscheck the information so that you know exactly what you’re in, if they’re doing what they say they are going to do, and that will help really protect you as an investor. We want to be looking at a document bound to be a fiduciary and an agreement not to sell a propriety product, to disclose all the fees. Those are the best ways to test for a fiduciary and you really deserve to be working with somebody that puts your best interests ahead of their own, puts your best interests at the forefront, works tirelessly to make sure that they’re looking out for your best interest. So if you want more information about what it’s like to deal with a best-interest fiduciary, you can give a call over to our office. We’re at 609‑476‑9269. You can email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re on a mission to stay involved in our clients’ lives and ensure dignity and independence in their retirement. That’s what we’re all about. But it’ll give you a flavor of what it’s like to work with somebody like that.
So, that’s it for today on Make it Last. Coming up in future episodes we’re going to have interviews with people in assisted living. We’re going to be talking about trust versus wills and all of that coming up on future episodes. If you are interested in downloading prior episodes you can go to www.makeitlastradio.com and subscribe to that on iTunes or on your own personal pod catcher and look at all of our prior episodes.
The foregoing content reflects the opinions of Medina Law Group LLC and Private Client Capital Group LLC 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 or legal advice or a recommendation regarding the purchase or sale of any security or to follow any legal strategy. There is no guaranty that the strategies, statements, opinions, or forecast provided herein will prove to be correct. Past performance is not a guaranty 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 guaranty that any investment plan or strategy will be successful. We recommend that you consult with a professional dedicated to your needs.