Friday, October 28, 2011

A Retirement Plan in the House

I have to wonder what people sometimes think, Boomers in particular. Confidence is down but spending is up. The recession isn't really a recession but for many it seems like one.The media talks of millions of homeowners looking for mortgage relief, being foreclosed or worse, are feeling the crush of owning a home adversely impact their retirement plans. And yet, some people are still planning a future with their house as part of the process.

Could be a sign of the times and then again, it might be the progression of where we would be in our retirement plan. If the results of the latest Associated poll are any indication, we have reached a pivotal point in retirement planning. Should I stay or should I go?

A great many retired couples have told me over the years that the biggest mistake they may have made was selling the family home. They have opted for a dream instead and chased it with their new found retirement freedom. But many failed to take into consideration that a place is more than just a shelter. It can be proximity to children and grandchildren, services such as health care facilities or other seniors and often, in communities that are growing with younger cohorts. And almost equally as many have found the size of the house they own in their pre-retirement years is simply too large to accommodate - or worse, afford.

Should it be a surprise that we begin making post-work plans in midlife? Or is the surprise the decision we make? According to the recent Associated poll, three out of ten midlife retirement planners are suggesting that they will look elsewhere when they do retire. And according to the poll, they are resigned to sell the family home for less than what they had thought it was worth a decade ago.

But that is understandable for two reasons: those out-sized estimates of property worth have been adjusted to fit a lackluster economy and there is a greater chance that the equity they may have calculated has shrunk due to refinancing. Folks in the midwest are more likely to stay put, more so than their east coast neighbors.

The poll also suggests according to Barbara Corcoran: "more than four in 10 want a smaller home, 30% would like a different climate, 25% will look for a more affordable home, and 15% will pack up our bags for the sole purpose of moving closer to family." And when they do move these people dream of a one-level home with enough room to accommodate the occasional visitor, close to medical facilities and not in-city. And those that stay put waste almost no time converting their children's rooms into something more focused on their evolving interests.

Oddly, the question of taxes didn't come up in the poll, something of major interest to older people planning on a fixed income lifestyle. A larger home requires upkeep and maintenance that might not configure into a retired income. And the thought of a second home was not amongst the wishes this group had either. In fact, only about 12% want to feel the sea breeze in their graying hair.

The question is: how much of a role should your home play in your retirement plan? Many people have factored in the equity in their plans - or at least they used to - and the mistake made by these folks is twofold. One, you need to live somewhere and two, unless you own your home and have considered the chance that you might reverse the mortgage at some point. this equity is nothing but paper dreams.

A harsh reality but more true than not. If you are factoring in your home as part of an estate, then no doubt you have made all of the considerations, tax and otherwise, surrounding that decision. But if the home will become unmanageable (how hard is the upkeep now?), then looking for the opportunity to sell it, no matter how much you might "love" the house, the location, the neighbors, should be weighed.

As retirees approach that magical time when you either cutback or stop working altogether, the best advice woud be to begin to stage the sale of the property now while your income is less fixed. If you don't sell, you will have a slightly improved place. If it does sell, it will help you get the price, or closer to the price you might think it is worth.

Paul Petillo is a fellow Boomer

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On Socially Responsible Investing

Turns out, Boomers are very interested in this sort of investing. On Financial Impact Factor Radio we had Ron Robins, an MBA, founder and analyst for Investing for the Soul to discuss socially responsible investing. Dave K, Dave Ng and myself were curious about what even after decades continues to be a niche investment for many people. The main problem as Mr. Robins pointed out was the lack of recommendation by the financial services industry, even as the need and ultimately the performance of these investments has grown, and the low exposure in 401(k) plans (about 30% of the plans offer them).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Five Ways to a Booming Retirement

A previous post, The Five W's of Retirement Planning, addressed the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “why” of retirement planning. While choosing when and how to retire is a personal decision, this post offers some approaches to answer the “what” to do when it comes to defining your retirement question.


If you’re retired, or are considering it, tailoring your post-professional plans is probably your primary focus.

Some other retirement websites suggest golfing, knitting or clipping coupons; but there are other ways to utilize your newfound freedom from the 9-5 to redefine retirement. In case you are in need of some inspiration, here are 5 ways to retire the cliché of retirement:           

1)      Become Techie – Retirees 65 and older are the fastest growing demographic of social network users, so if you’re not yet part of the technological revolution, now’s the time to get on board. With the perpetual introduction of new phones, computers and websites, consider taking a computer class at your local community college or find a design school online and learn to create a blog, check email, design a website or follow grandkids on Facebook and Twitter.

2)      Become a Foodie – Always loved food, but never had the time to cook? Learn to make delicious meals that will impress your spouse, family or friends at one of the best culinary schools in Dallas, New York City or close to home. There are full-time culinary schools that offer bachelors, masters or individual classes. There are also schools that focus solely on baking and pastries.

3)      Fly Solo – Of course, you don’t have to actually fly alone, but learning to fly (a plane) is not for the faint of heart. Take private flight lessons for a few hours in your area, or find a certification course; if you really do want to fly solo, a certification takes at least 60 hours in the cockpit, depending on the state.

4)      Get Schooled – Hablas Español? Parlez-vous français? Like the saying goes, it’s never too late to learn! Language learning software programs, like Rosetta Stone or Fluenz, allow you to practice fluency at your computer on your own schedule. Additionally, they offer a variety of different languages, so you could be speaking Mandarin in no time!

5)      Road Trip! – Yes, edifying one’s self later in life is certainly important. But, if you’ve had enough of academia, and you’re itching to boohit the open road, then purchase or rent an RV or Motorhome and tell the grandkids you’re coming to visit. Consider driving down the Pacific coast of California on Highway 1, the Atlantic coast between New York and Florida or across the country on US-50. Note that some RVs also convert into Campers, if your road trip leads you into the wilderness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An Important Show about Long-Term Care Insurance

On Monday's Financial Impact Factor Radio we had a guest of interest to all Boomers. Jesse Slome of American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance joined us to teach us about LTCI. This is a multi-faceted topic that has long-range implication for the near retiree and their retirement planning strategies as well as someone who is already retired. Jesse was nice enough to stop by and explain many of the nuances of this product and offer some helpful tips on what to look for when buying long-term care insurance, where to purchase it and when.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Don't be Tempted to Borrow from Your 401(k)

Under the current laws governing tax-deferred retirement plans such as a 401(k), withdrawing money has consequences. I have mentioned many of them here over the years, not the least of which is the early withdrawal penalty, the payment of taxes on those tax deferred investments and of course the loss of retirement money. Yet, those penalties haven’t stopped many of the people who have found it difficult to make their monthly budget work.
Of course, I am assuming a monthly budget. Without some anchor in reality, not having a budgetcan lead to rash decisions withut considering the far-reaching impact. Without a monthly budget, you will have no idea what could be cut to maintain some level of financial stability when times get rough. It is also safe to assume that if you do not have some sort of monthly accounting of your finances, you probably don’t have an emergency account. Both of these would have served the households with troubled income streams.
Two Georgia Congressmen think that those 401(k) plans might be able to help. Their idea: Hardship Outlays to protect Mortgagee Equity (HOME) Act. Introduced last week, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) and U.S. Representative Tom Graves (R-Georgia) want their proposal considered as a way to keep homeowners in their homes. The concept, somewhat like throwing you a lifeline of your own making and designed to rescue you from poverty in the future offers a short-term fix in the near-term. They believe that if you have been a diligent saver, adding to your 401(k) religiously over the years, you shouldn’t be punished for needing the money now as opposed to later.
Rep. Graves is convinced that the housing crisis is the reason the economy has not recovered. Calling up his decades in the real estate business, he suggests: “This bill will help Americans who risk foreclosure use their own resources to make their mortgage payment on time without being penalized by the federal government.” If his assessment of who may need this money now – 23% of those who have mortgages are underwater but not necessarily facing foreclosure – the government should step out of the way and allow these folks to withdraw that money without penalty.
They are proposing that there be a lifetime cap on these withdrawals of $50,000 or one-half of the present value of one’s 401(k) account (whichever is smaller), so long as those funds are used for that purpose within 120 days of withdrawal. This is not the first bill of its kind.
Since the Great Recession began, Congress has struggled with what to do with corner of the financial world. A similar bill was introduced in 2009 and never debated on the Senate floor.
Numerous homeowners should not be in the homes they own in the first place. They may have obtained these residences with fraudulent applications, been unable to afford those homes during what would be considered a normal buying environment and failed to restructure their loans or worse, keep with the terms of their bankruptcy decisions. Because tax-deferred retirement accounts are not considered in these proceedings, some mortgage holders may have been in a position to financially right their own ship. But because of the penalties associated with tapping those accounts, they simply chose not to.
The HOME Act will allow wealthier homeowners to save their residences without penalty, while the rest of us, those that underfunded their retirement accounts or couldn’t wait for Congress to act, have already drained those accounts, paid the penalties and taxes and tried to move on. This effort woud do little to help those currently in the foreclosure vortex or who have been spat out by the continued downturn in housing.
No matter who you are, this last ditch effort is not the way to go. Reducing future retirement payouts (compounding and time suggest that $50,000 in retirement savings would provide only about $290 a month in retirement – a projected shortfall of over $1200) would set the average wage-earner, hardship or no, back decades in support of keeping the house. Few of these folks, given the opportunity and the consequence of this decision will consider the long-range impact of that decision. And if it gets Congressional approval, it will push the real problem further down the road.
On the surface, it might seem like the right thing to do. But beneath the veneer of a tax and penalty holiday the problems this money promises far outweigh the immediate salve it may provide. There are solutions, none of them pleasant.
If you are seeing the problem on the horizon, don’t wait until the day of reckoning. Contact your lender before you run into problems. If the problem has arrived, keep in mind, as devastating as it seems, it is not the end. While temporary may well last several years, longer if you successfully pursue a bankruptcy, protecting your future, a time when this will all be an unhappy bump in life’s road will be worth the sacrifice.
True, protecting your credit is important. Just keep in mind, it wasn’t as important when you bought the house as it is to you now. This too will pass.
The bottom line: those 401(k) provisions were established decades ago when the thinking was to make it painful to withdraw your money all the while giving you the illusion that if need be, you could tap it. Now provision, recent or past will stop you if you have made up your mind. But for those who see this as an exit strategy for a bad decision, this Act will add to the problem.
I know it’s old school but it is worth repeating: get a budget (and figure worse case scenario, not current spending habits to allow a downturn picture to standout), attempt to negotiate before the problem strikes (ironically, most job losses are not a surprise) and divide this time and the future into two separate lifetimes. Borrowing – or in this case, stealing from the future is not a good short-term remedy. It is a bandaid on a gapping wound.
Paul Petillo is the managing editor of and a fellow Boomer.
Paul's latest book "ReBuilding Wealth in a Paycheck to Paycheck World" is available at Smashwords

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On the Radio with Author Mike Egan

Monday on Financial Impact Factor Radio, we had Mike Egan, author of "Your Stronger Financial Future: The Eight Essential Strategies for Making Profitable Investments". This book takes the time to rearrange your thinking about the world of finance around us and in doing so, arrange it so that we can systematically confront fear and presumption and get on with our plans for retirement.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Laws of the Cartoon World

Remember Saturday mornings, cartoon, pajamas and a bowl of cereal. We entered into a world of animation that had rules in play we knew only existed there. Boomers may have forgotten those laws and have grown up thinking that was then, this is now. But perhaps...
It all seems so otherworldly these days. As if everything that seems familiar isn’t and the laws the govern rational – and often irrational behavior no longer apply. Markets are up then down and then post the worst third quarter in recent memory – and we’re not sure what that means. Does it indicate something wicked this way comes or perhaps the end of the episode? So I turned to some laws that explain the world of finance, retirement and just getting-by in a world gone wacky.
Cartoon Law I.
“Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation.” We basically have two things to focus on: our future and what will happen next. We are continually being told to invest, max-out that 401(k), do everything you can now, pain equals pleasure which has replaced risk equals reward. That is until we chance to look down. And you know what happens next.
Cartoon Law II.
“Any body in motion will tend to remain in motion until solid matter intervenes suddenly.” Our retirement goals have experienced this law firsthand.  Hitting the cartoon telephone pole at full speed is, as this Law II suggests, the only way to stop forward motion with any success. There is the comic slide down the pole immediately following the impact which can only mean two things: we will sit as the cartoon stars whirl around our collective heads, trying to regain our reason for moving forward. Once our heads are cleared, Law II is waiting with the next pole a little further down the road.
Cartoon Law III.
“Any body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation conforming to its perimeter.” If you follow the markets, any markets, no matter how much information you think you have, now matter how timely it seems to be, the person in front of you will create their own cookie-cutter hole, exit, leaving you to get ahead of the problem that no one, including you is sure is a problem.  So instead of leaving by the door, they exit through a wall, evidently not a solid enough surface to allow Cartoon Law II to come into play.  We are at the mercy of speculators it seems who apparently have little regard for laws of supply and demand but understand two things: your predictable behavior and the ability of cartoon physics to protect them.
Cartoon Law IV.
“The time required for an object to fall twenty stories is greater than or equal to the time it takes for whoever knocked it off the ledge to spiral down twenty flights to attempt to capture it unbroken.” This is my favorite axiom of all.  Who among us has not seen the Federal Reserve try and do this?  We are watching this occur as we speak as Fed chairman Ben Bernanke races down the stairs with his latest effort in Operation Twist. Only Cartoon Law IV is a waste of time.  The priceless nature of the economy, the object hurtling through global space in this instance, falls victim to the inevitable comic result: it might be too big to fail but the attempt to catch it will prove unsuccessful as well.
Cartoon Law V.
“All principles of gravity are negated by fear.” I offer last quarter’s frenetic trading as proof that investors can spin their feet so quickly that they do not touch the ground while any news good or bad propels most of them straight up a flag pole. These days many average investors are left scratching their heads as they realize that just the sound of the unknown can change the direction of the market dramatically.
Cartoon Law VI.
“As speed increases, objects can be in several places at once.” You know this one as the cloud of dust and debris brawl, to be witnessed as the candidates begin their battle for the White House.  With the economy hanging in the balance or at least by their telling of the tale, the next year should provide numerous occasions of spinning and throttling as no candidate so far can pinpoint where the nation is right now and offer a plan of where we should be.
Cartoon Law VII.
“Certain bodies can pass through solid walls painted to resemble tunnel entrances; others cannot.” This inconsistency has played itself out to great effect in housing.  The folks who stand at the helm of the economy have painted an imaginary tunnel and allowed millions of Americans to pass through but when those that needed help the most attempted to follow, the surface was once again solid. This trick surface has left many wondering why something cohesive can’t be done. Housing may never recover if recovery is gauged by where it was. Yet so many people are wondering why the supposedly smart financial people who aided and abetted in this financial crime won’t simply understand that they have an option – and it isn’t achieved by raising ATM or debit card fees.
Cartoon Law VIII.
“Cartoon cats have more than the traditional nine lives.” They become like water snapping back to whatever they were prior to their mishap, even assuming the shape of the container if they happen to find themselves in one.   Seems that we alone know this to be true and no matter how many times the economy can be “decimated, spliced, splayed, accordion-pleated, spindled, or disassembled, it cannot be destroyed.” It becomes the equivalent of a cartoon mulligan. Someone please tell those in Washington. They think that what the economy needs is simple: more self-regulation and perhaps a little agency consolidation, a trillion dollar cut in spending here and an entitlement cutback there. We’ve seen it before and it gives us hope. We know that after the economy regains its shape, these set-backs (weak dollar, global slowdowns, market volatility and commodity speculation) will prove there are lessons we haven’t really learned and why should we have. We are pretty confident as a group that we will have another life to do it over again. At  least we hope that this cartoon law is real.
Cartoon Law IX.
“Necessity plus Will provokes spontaneous generation.” This opens the door to the “controversial pocket theory” which  “suggests objects can be drawn from unseen recesses of a character’s costume, or from a storehouse immediately off-screen” or can be borrowed directly from what you will owe at some point in the future.  And then, as if by magic, this future they tell us will just show up as if it “merely defers the question of how any absolutely apt object is instantaneously available”. Of course, you do need to believe in magic and if magic is the suspension of disbelief, saving will help – a lot.
Cartoon Law X
“For every vengeance there is an equal and opposite re-vengeance.” This is the one law of animated cartoon motion that also applies to the physical world at large. The bottom line is that we are not to blame. Each time I talk to an expert on my radio show we are told is our behavior that is the reason we are in the mess we are in. Every nuance we have is examined and studied and plans for re-vengeance are hatched. It has become us versus them. Instead of financial products getting simpler and more easy to understand, they ultimately become more nuanced, more layered with possibilities and as they get less expensive, they don’t become less expensive. It seems that all we want is to fall on the right side of cartoon law.
These laws were borrowed liberally from “Elementary Education” by Mark O’Donnell (Knopf (1985) in the hope that when you encounter these situations, you may fall on the right side of cartoon law.
Paul Petillo is the Managing Editor or and a fellow Boomer.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This Show was for Boomers: On the radio with Steve Cooperstein

On Monday, we had Steve Cooperstein on the Financial Impact Factor Radio show with Paul Petillo, managing editor of and a fellow Boomer. Steve's recent book was the topic for today's show: “Implications of the Perceptions of Post Retirement Risk for the Life Insurance Industry: Inside Track Marketing Opportunity, But Requiring Focused Retooling”.

It may have been written for advisors and academics and the insurance industry, but in doing so it offers us some interesting insights into how these folks think about us: the end user. Did I mention that Steve is an actuary?

 We talked to him about annuities and Long Term Care Insurance, the impact both of these products have on all age groups, what is wrong with them and how they can be improved. We solved a great deal in the hour we had together!


Monday, October 3, 2011

New Book for Boomers and Their Kids

ReBuilding Wealth in a Paycheck to Paycheck World

I have been writing for BoomersRetirement for quite some time. And while I tend to address the concerns of this older demographic - being one myself - I don't want you to think we can do so and ignore those around us.

Yes, we need to be focused. But personal finance has become intra-personal with our kids (and their decisions) often impacting our decisions. So we owe it ourselves to make sure that we educate them in the basics. I wrote the first version of this book seven years ago and my how things have changed - even as they stayed the same. Someone once told me that if everyone had read it, we wouldn't be in as deep of a financial mess as we are in now.

So I updated it for 2011 and published my fifth book - this time with Smashwords! And a special offer to readers of this blog, ReBuilding Wealth in a Paycheck-to-Paycheck World by Paul Petillo is available for a limited time (until 10.29.11) when you can use this coupon code to get the ebook for half price or $1.50. The code for the coupon is UJ76Q This ebook is available across all platforms including iPad and iPhone, Amazon and Sony.

So download it for yourself. Give it to your kids. Tell anyone you know how important this is.