What the SECURE Act Could Mean for Retirement Plans

If passed, it would change some long-established retirement account rules.

If you follow national news, you may have heard of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. Although the SECURE Act has yet to clear the Senate, it saw broad, bipartisan support in the House of Representatives

This legislation could make Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) a more attractive component of retirement strategies and create a path for more annuities to be offered in retirement plans – which could mean a lifetime income stream for retirees. However, it would also change the withdrawal rules on inherited “stretch IRAs,” which may impact retirement and estate strategies, nationwide.

Let’s dive in and take a closer look at the SECURE Act.

The SECURE Act’s potential consequences. Currently, traditional IRA owners must take annual withdrawals from their IRAs after age 70½. Once reaching that age, they can no longer contribute to these accounts. These mandatory age-linked withdrawals can make saving especially difficult for an older worker. However, if the SECURE Act passes the Senate and is signed into law, that cutoff will vanish, allowing people of any age to keep making contributions to traditional IRAs, provided they continue to earn income.

(A traditional IRA differs from a Roth IRA, which allows contributions at any age as long as your income is below a certain level: at present, less than $122,000 for single-filer households and less than $193,000 for married joint filers.)

If the SECURE Act becomes law, you won’t have to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from a traditional IRA until age 72. You could actually take an RMD from your traditional IRA and contribute to it in the same year after reaching age 70½.

The SECURE Act would also effectively close the door on “stretch” IRAs. Currently, non-spouse beneficiaries of IRAs and retirement plans may elect to “stretch” the required withdrawals from an inherited IRA or retirement plan – that is, instead of withdrawing the whole account balance at once, they can take gradual withdrawals over a period of time or even their entire lifetime. This strategy may help them manage the taxes linked to the inherited assets. If the SECURE Act becomes law, it would set a 10-year deadline for such asset distributions.

What’s next? The SECURE Act has now reached the Senate. This means it could move into committee for debate or it could end up attached to the next budget bill, as a way to circumvent further delays. Regardless, if the SECURE Act becomes law, it could change retirement goals for many, making this a great time to talk to a financial professional.

1 – financial-planning.com/articles/house-votes-to-ease-rules-for-rias-correct-trump-tax-law [5/23/19]
2 – irs.gov/retirement-plans/amount-of-roth-ira-contributions-that-you-can-make-for-2019 [6/18/19]
3 – congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1994 [6/17/19]
4 – shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/house-passes-secure-act-to-ease-401k-compliance-and-promote-savings.aspx [5/23/19]

Should you… take your money and run?  


Based on Federal Reserve Policy and geopolitical risks a stock market crash may be virtually unavoidable. The recent 10 percent declines are a sign that the party is likely over. I think the February correction was a foreshock — and stocks could lose more than 20 to 25 percent of their value by year’s end or sooner.

All this volatility with the VIX [Cboe volatility index] having doubled is very, very disturbing. I am more than concerned with the trade wars and Syria and Trump’s rhetoric toward Russia is an additional source of anxiety.

In a tweet Wednesday, Trump wrote “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'” But on Thursday, he tweeted that a U.S. missile strike on Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons may not be imminent.

Rising interest rates will inevitably put the economy under pressure. Fed rate hike cycles historically lead to recessions and deep market declines. This time is no different because the market is very overvalued.

John Hussman, president of Hussman Investment Trust, who describes himself as an economist and a philanthropist is concerned the stock market shows signs of unraveling on the back of the tech sector’s stumble. Hussman’s claim to fame includes forecasting the market collapses of 2000 and 2007-2008. In his most recent call, he argued that measured “from their highs of early-2018, we presently estimate that the completion of the current cycle will result in market losses on the order of -64% for the S&P 500 index, -57% for the Nasdaq-100 Index, -68% for the Russell 2000 index, and nearly -69% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.”

He admits the numbers seem extreme but says they are backed up by what he refers to as the “Iron Law of Valuation.” “The higher the price investors pay for a given set of expected future cash flows, the lower the long-term investment returns they should expect. As a result, it’s precisely when past investment returns look most glorious that future investment returns are likely to be most dismal, and vice versa,” he writes. Check out Prepare for the biggest stock-market selloff in months. According to Hussman’s math, from 2009 to 2018, the S&P 500’s price sales ratio jumped from less than 0.7 to a multiple of 2.4 this year, the highest on record. And it’s not just that particular valuation metric that bothers Hussman. He also detects other signs of weakness.

“At present, our measures of market internals remain unfavorable, partly because of deterioration in interest/credit sensitive sectors, as well as tepid participation (the number of individual stocks participating in various market advances), divergent leadership (for example, a large number of stocks simultaneously hitting 52-week highs and lows), and the divergences we observe in an array of other sectors,” he said.

These trends suggest that investors are becoming less willing to take on risk, a bad sign for equities as stocks generally flourish when market participants are willing to make risky bets.

And he warns that the stock market won’t be able to escape this “danger zone” until it shifts to a less dangerous combination of valuations, internals and overextended conditions.

He provides numerous charts on valuations to back up his theory which can be found on his blog.

“The best time to protect money is while you have it.”  

                                                   ~Tom Penland


vbnThe survey, Paying with Our Health finds, money continues to be the leading cause of stress for Americans. When we think of health, we think about diet and exercise. Both very important, but stress can undo a lot of the good you accomplish from diet and exercise.

Financial worries served as a significant source of stress for 64 percent of adults, ranking higher than three other major sources of stress: work (60 percent), family responsibilities (47 percent), and health concerns (46 percent).

Money is a very important component of establishing a healthy, secure life. When we are financially challenged, it makes sense that our stress level would go up. This is true at any age. Financial stress affects everyone, and to an increasing degree, retirees. You must be prepared for retirement with sufficient income. Yes, I said… income. Income to pay bills and live the life you want to live. Rolling the dice in the stock market, for income you will 100% need, is the wrong way to go about it too! Wall Street does not want you to know this! Risk only adds more stress.

Stress will shorten your life and make it less worth living. Be prepared for the ‘income’ you will need when your paycheck stops. Women are more likely than men to report money as a significant source of stress too. Women need to find out what their guaranteed income options are as early as possible, to avoid stress in retirement. Inflation for retirees can be a silent killer and exacerbate their money worries. We don’t want to feel squeezed, in terms of taking care of our daily needs.

Talk about money stress and health, 20 percent of adults said they have skipped or considered skipping going to the doctor for treatment because of money concerns. Almost one-third of adults with partners report that money is a major source of conflict resulting in intimacy distance.

Some things to think about; live below your means, realize the payments from unnecessary purchases far outlast the pleasure, establish a saving habit, and do not spend money you do not have. Be prepared and if necessary, do not be afraid to seek emotional support from family, friends and even health and wealth coaches. People without any support tend to suffer worse.

To combat money stress, the best thing… is to be prepared; manage your money to reduce stress. Decrease risk, it does not pay like ‘they’ say it does. Realize most of what you think you know about money, investing, and retiring is taught by people selling something. The money world, the financial world is somewhat of a matrix that you need to break out of, to wake up from. Wake up!

Don’t Worry, You Are Going to Get Happier. Ha!

downloadAs we age, things start to go downhill: bad knees, high blood pressure, not being as needed by the world we more recently inhabited, and slowly tallying the friends and acquaintances who have passed from our lives. From that you would assume as we age our happiness decreases. But for most of us that is not true!

Most of us wonder about how to be happy, and also what life will look like as we age? Our cycle of life is such that, for most people, are pretty happy when we are young, for lots of reasons. But then we slog and grind our way through our 30s to our 50s, dealing with unrealized goals and avoiding uncomfortable truths about ourselves. But as we approach 60 all indications are that we get happier, become more satisfied. I am 63, and have dealt with life’s realities, like everyone. Oh, and I accept them. Ha! Maybe that is what they mean when they say “we get wiser as we age”. Giving up control over things we cannot control, came to me late in life. But, I now find that comforting and have more peace.

imagesIt turns out that at that time in our lives, we start to shed a lot of our illusions and disappointments and start appreciating what we have and where we want to make a difference — literally forgetting about the Joneses or the regrets of a musical, or artistic career never pursued. Instead we turn our eyes to those most important to us, like family, friends, and others in our circle of loved ones.

It’s really easy to get caught up in our here and now, and divert our eyes from the distant horizon. Let’s face it, we’re all pretty busy doing what we are doing. It’s also easy to wonder what life is all about, and maybe feel like we kinda missed out on what we thought, at the time, would make us happy. What I think we really have done is not see what is most important, and not focused on those things. And that just takes time. But the nice part? As you age, you will probably be happier and more content.

That crossover in life expectations reminds me of what we experience in the financial markets all the time. The former high-flying stock markets bottoms out as earnings expectations eventually catch up with reality… or some off the ‘thing’ like Hawaii is notified of an incoming ballistic missile (on a day the market is open).  Many of the disappointed retirees sell out, and those remaining are satisfied just keeping up with inflation, many without even realizing it.

Our lives are not investments. But expectations matter. The evidence on the midlife valley in life satisfaction is overwhelming. If it doesn’t hit you smack-dab between the eyes, consider yourself lucky. We spend so much time planning our financial lives: saving, working, spending. We do little to plan for life’s inevitable shocks, whether they be in middle age or in retirement. Just knowing about this little talked about reality of life will remind you that you are not unique, and there is a reason for optimism as you emerge from the valley of disappointments of the 40’s and 50’s into the sunshine of the 60’s.

So what all this means it that you can literally plan on being happier as you age, with the understanding that your 30s to your mid-50s may be disappointing in many ways. But you probably won’t care about that once you are through it. You’ve got good things ahead. As I always say, “bolder not older”.

You can HOPE you do not run out of money or…

images (1)… you can KNOW that you will not. Most workers today are retiring without a pension. If you are one of them then you might be worried out running out of money. Turing an investment portfolio into a steady stream of income has gotten harder over the years because of low bond yields, high market volatility, and increased longevity. But it can be done. As a Retirement Income Certified Professional, RICP®- this is the process I use to help people that want more certainty, want to know they will never run out of money.

STEP #1: WE LOOK AT HOW MUCH THEY HAVE SAVED. One source of guaranteed income most of us have is Social Security. If you are married, then you might be able to count on two checks. What other sources of guaranteed income will you have, rental, inheritance, reverse mortgage, etc? Will you be working part-time?

download (1)STEP #2: I CALCULATE WHAT THEY WILL NEED. We do not low ball either. We don’t use general rules of thumb, like you will only need 80% of your working years income. I have not found this to be true, in reality. Not in Southern, CA. We want to detailed, realistic and specific to one’s situation. That is real life.

STEP #3: ARE WE COMING UP SHORT of what is required, whether now or later?

downloadThe difference between the income you need and the income you have is the income that’s missing. In an article titled Psychology of Retirement Satisfaction, it is evidenced that retirees with more certainty about what they have and will have to live on for the rest of their lives are MORE SATISFIED. NOTE: contentment increases with lifelong guarantees but… does not increase based on how much one has at risk in their portfolio. It is less stressful to spend the money earmarked as retirement income than it is to spend down money directly from your portfolio. The only way to use part of your portfolio to replace the secure, lifetime pension you’re missing is by investing in a product designed to give you a steady income. This is where an annuity can be part of a successful income strategy.

STEP #4: WHAT? WHEN? HOW? WHY? WHERE? Once our clients come to understand what having income certainty means, we then set about figuring out what is the best way, best annuity, best company, best time to start income and why. It must be designed specifically for that individual or couple. This involves, INCOME PLANNING which is something different than financial planning. Very few professionals are trained to do this. This looks at year by year, where the income will come from for you to live on for as long as we anticipate you will live. Our clients have found this unbelievably valuable, a retirement game changer and life saver.

STEP #5: THEN WE REVIEW AND ADJUST EACH YEAR. This is as important as putting the right plan in place. Maybe even more so. Life changes, therefore we want and need flexibility. That provides additional peace of mind. In reality, it is peace of mind that most every retiree wants. They want to mentally be able to relax. KNOWING they will have enough money to live on for the rest of their lives provides that in a way that an at risk portfolio subject to marker risk cannot.

If you have questions about the best way to secure your retirement income, we encourage you to give us a call. We will help to educate you, help you to understand the retirement realities in one of our upcoming courses or workshops.


“I Would Never Put My Money in an Annuity”

“The last thing I want to do is lose some of my hard-earned money to the stock market”. And so it goes. People have strong opinions about both. When I do ‘Income Planning’ I make it very clear that the most important requirement for a good retirement plan is that the clients have peace of mind. They should do what they want with their money. After all, they worked for it. Risk it, protect it, a combination of both… Whatever you decide is right for ‘you’.

160202155232-annuity-780x439I have been a financial professional for 35 years and seen it all, what works and what doesn’t. There are many different types of annuities and a lot of unnecessary confusion. But, since their inception in 1995, I have thought that Fixed Index Annuities can play a critical role in many retirement plans. My conviction gets stronger all the time.  I’d like to share some different perspectives that may help you decide.

A Fixed Index Annuity is a contract typically provided by an insurance company to an “annuitant” (often a retiree).  It can be used to mitigate longevity risk, outliving our retirement savings as well as a potentially great growth opportunity that also protects your principal against loss. The public has been deceived about the returns too. I have clients doing better over time by risking less.

The insurance company invests your investment in the annuity in bonds. It also uses premiums paid by annuitants who don’t live a long time to help pay annuitants who do live a long time using what are referred to as “mortality credits.” The payouts you receive come from bond interest, from increases in an underlying market index as well as from a partial return of your own capital, the money you worked for.

One the greatest objection to annuities is the you must give up your principal to get income. This is NOT TRUE for a Fixed Index Annuity. You do not give up any principal to get income, as it is provided via a ‘rider’. You principal will continue to be added to, even after you turn on lifetime income, in any year there are gains in the underlying index. They can earn money when the market goes up and NEVER LOSE when the market goes down. The remaining value of your account is available to you, subject to a predesignated free withdrawal schedule, known in advance.


  • It is a ‘protected’ asset outside of the Wall St (Red Money) bucket
  • I can make money when the market index increases but I never lose if it goes down
  • They don’t lose principal providing a source of money that has not (will not) go down in value because of market loss
  • They provide longevity insurance by GT’ing income for one or both lives
  • Remaining principal, interest, & bonus paid to heirs
  • Liquidity ranges from 7% to 100%
  • Account value credits gains even after income is started
  • Guaranteed income cost is fixed, typically 1%
  • Income continues even if account value goes down to zero

Risk selling advisors sometimes try to make you feel stupid if you consider an annuity. But here are just a few prominent, figures who have owned annuities: Benjamin Franklin(no dummy) assisting the cities of Boston and Philadelphia; Babe Ruth avoiding losses during the great depression, and O. J. Simpson (Hey, I did not say you had to be a good person to own an annuity) protecting his income from lawsuits and creditors. Ben Bernanke (the previous Fed Chairman who knows as much as anyone or more about money, insurance companies and protection as well as Wall St and their risk strategies… in 2006 disclosed that his major financial assets were annuities. —THINK FOR YOURSELF!


Retirement Lifestyle… Have You Thought About…

Have you thought about whether you want to  r  e  l  a  x  or you want to ‘adventure’? There is a myriad of things you can choose to do in retirement. Here are some lifestyles worth thinking about.

romantic holidays… The Beach? Yes, it is nice for vacation, but what about waking up every day to the ocean? Too expensive, you say. There are numerous ex-pat communities in a dozen countries where you can live next to the ocean for less than a bad neighborhood in some cities of the United States, like LA where I live.

1… A Golf Community? If one or both of you enjoy golf, it can be less expensive to live in one of the many golf communities, especially those created for retirees than to pay for golf everyday. These retirement oriented communities also have a lot of things to do, even if one of you do not want to golf.

Man using laptop computer in classroom… The Joys of a College Town? They give great access to libraries, sporting events, speakers, concerts, theater and all at a lower cost for seniors. Also many schools have special course offerings for those seniors that want to keep their brain active by learning.

Staying Put? There is no rule that says you must do anything, make any big changes. Do not be coerced into a lifestyle you ‘think’ you need to live because of all the glitzy marketing. It can be wonderful and numerous retirees enjoy the slower, ‘do what I want when I want’ while remaining right where they have been comfortable for many years.

shutterstock_257430472… Volunteering? The opportunities to find satisfaction volunteering are almost limitless. What are you interested in? What are you passionate about? What causes would you like to see forwarded and supported? The socialization that is inherent with volunteering cannot be overlooked either.

… Another Career?
Whether full-time or part-time, you now have the flexibility to ‘work’ at something you will enjoy. It does not need to be all about the amount of money you earn either. Many people find additional security too, by earning some ‘more’ money after retiring from their working career. What about consulting?

… Being an Entrepreneur? Did you know that more than five million 55 and uppers are business owners and self-employed. Retirement can be a chance to be your own boss, doing something you are motivated to do. According to the SBA, 55-64 year olds are the fastest growing group of self-employed.

… Pinching Your Pennies? I have several clients that make it a hobby, they have fun seeing how much they can save. They do it by doing things for themselves that they used to pay to have done. You can find DIY videos on almost everything. Example: I own a’95 Ford Bronco. The heater core started leaking. Two estimates were $700-$800 for the repair. I looked online and found the repair fairly simple. By following the video instructions, I saved $650. The video said it would take 30 minutes but it took me an hour. But when retired we have more time. Coupon cutting, discount shopping and being frugal can be a hobby too. A side benefit is that it is a way to decrease the effects of inflation too!

… Making the Dream Come True. Many have thought about writing, painting, drawing, crafting, carpentering, playing a musical instrument. You get the idea. The things we have collectively thought ‘may’ be fun, interesting and rewarding to do are limitless. Try some of them!

AW-Lifestyle… Gardening and keeping animals? Gardening, whether ornamental, for healthy eating or both can be very satisfying. Two side benefits are fresh produce and it requires exercise. You need to keep moving. This is a good way to do it. Animals whether livestock, pets or both can add motivation and joy to daily retirement live. Hey, studies show we live longer when we have a reason to do so.

There are so, so very many things, you can do in retirement, many of which you have likely never thought about. Think about it! Google. Research. Get excited! Get motivated!



dfWhen I am asked whether the market is going up or down tomorrow I always answer the same way, “Yes, I just don’t know which.” With the recent 30th anniversary of Black Monday, the single worst day in Wall Street history, it is a good time to ask, “Are you ready for the next Black Monday, or whatever day of the week that black day is?” The Dow fell 22.6%, the equivalent of a 5,000-point free fall at current levels, in one day. We have short memories. The average investor isn’t worried, are you? Cam you handle a 22% one day drop or a protracted 53% drop like 2007-2009?

There’s reason to be skittish. The current run-up is the second longest and strongest on record. Stocks are expensive by historical standards. And you never know what outside event could trigger a scary market drop. Have you ever heard the old Wall Street adage, bull markets die of fright, not old age.

reMany people have become complacent because this bull market has gone on for so long, but the risk of giving back some or a lot of recent gains is quite high. That’s especially true for 55 and uppers, near or in retirement. So how can you protect yourself? You must avoid the standard advice to “stay the course”. It is time for you to be driving in the slow lane, financially speaking. Caution is the word. Even mild stock-market losses or an extended period of below-average returns can inflict serious damage if they come 5 years before or early in your retirement. If you need to sell investments to cover your living expenses, you’ll lock in those losses. And since you’ll have a smaller balance left in your portfolio, you’ll gain less when stock prices eventually recover. Cautious, steady growth in your investment portfolio is critical to ensuring your money will last your lifetime.

You must make a mental shift and allocate your retirement savings as three buckets. The first bucket should hold enough cash and short-term investments for emergencies. The second bucket, provides minimum living expenses via guarantees (Social Security, pensions, annuities, etc. and the third bucket can be utilized for longer term growth. The middle, guaranteed bucket is the salvation. That provides certainty instead of hope. A side benefit is that studies from Towers Watson and others show that retirees who have sufficient guaranteed income tend to be happier and feel they have a higher standard of living than those who rely on savings alone.

401(K) BECOMES A 201(K). NOW WHAT?

Warren Buffet has been quoted as saying, “My 2 top rules for investing are, #1- Never Lose and #2- Never forget rule #1.” Retirees who watched in horror as their account balances plunged along with the stock market in 2008-2009 had to face a bitter challenge: how to generate enough income to pay their bills for the rest of their lives with the assets, the money they had left. Retirement in all about income.

The tired, stale but widely accepted rule of thumb retirees they could take 4% of their assets per year and increase the amount for inflation by 3% each year and their money would last 30 years. Not! In some cases, you could be 50% or more off.

ikThen they suggest, depending on the extent of your losses, you may want to freeze your withdrawals at current levels, skipping the annual inflation adjustment until the market rebounds. Or, if you suffered significant losses of 30% or more, you may want to restart your 4% withdrawal schedule based on the new, lower balance. But that can take a big bite out of your income. Say you started with a $1-million retirement stash and had been withdrawing more than $40,000 a year. If your savings shriveled to $700,000, you’d now have to get by on just $28,000 a year. This is a ticking time bomb that will blow up.

There is, however, another way to stretch your income and increase your annual withdrawals to 8% or more of your savings. And you can still be assured you won’t outlive your money. A study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Financial Institutions Center found that you could create a stream of secure lifetime income for 25% to 40% by using an immediate annuity. What I don’t like though is with an immediate annuity, you give up control of the money. And although you get the maximum monthly income with a single-life annuity, it stops paying out when you die. If you die prematurely, you forfeit a chunk of your initial investment (which is then returned to the investment pool to pay the benefits of other annuity holders). Therefore, a Fixed Indexed Annuity is likely better for most retirees. You do not give up your money, or the future growth and you still can provide a guaranteed lifetime steam of income.

lklHow much to invest in an annuity strategy for income can best be determined by working backwards to figure out the appropriate amount to allocate to an annuity strategy.  First, add up your regular expenses and then subtract any guaranteed income you already receive, such as a pension and Social Security benefits. If there’s a gap, consider filling it with an annuity. Getting lifetime income illustrations to review from a non-biased retirement income planner can be very helpful to determine how much future guaranteed income you will need. Remember, once retired you do not have time to wait for the market to get your money back. You are likely to need some before that.

I look at only companies that are B+ or higher. For an extra layer of protection, it can be an added measure of security to diversify among companies, none to exceed the $250,000 limit covered by California’s guaranty association, which protects investors if an insurer becomes insolvent. (Some states have higher protection limits; see http://www.nolhga.com for links to each state.)

Securing a guaranteed stream of income for the rest of your life may bring peace of mind, but it does not guarantee that you will maintain your future buying power unless properly planned and possibly laddered in some form. Getting the extra money when you’re older is much more important than having the extra cash early in retirement. To me, it fits with the logic of annuities — that you’re worried about living a long time and running through the rest of your savings. An annuity is an insurance contract, and it should be about future guarantees and certainty.

Although most retirees like the idea of guaranteed income, many balk at the idea of giving up control of their money with an immediate annuity. As a result, an increasing number of retirees have been turning to another type of insurance product, called a Fixed Index Annuity, that allows you to earn money based on the increase of a market index but never lose as a result of a declining market. They provide much more flexibility in addition to the income certainty they provide. They also provide guaranteed compounding for income even if the market goes down.