You've Earned It, Don't Lose It: Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make When You Retireby Suze Orman
It's Your Money. What Happens To It Will Directly Affect The Quality Of Your Life.
"You don't want to become a story in one of my books, and you don't have to," says financial advisor Suze Orman, who goes beyond the usual financial primer to describe how to safeguard your financial future, illustrated with stories of ordinary, real-life people who faced
It's Your Money. What Happens To It Will Directly Affect The Quality Of Your Life.
"You don't want to become a story in one of my books, and you don't have to," says financial advisor Suze Orman, who goes beyond the usual financial primer to describe how to safeguard your financial future, illustrated with stories of ordinary, real-life people who faced misfortune because of naiveté, procrastination, or misinformation. So that you can avoid making similar mistakes and so you an better protect the money you have earned and saved, Orman gives you this easy-to-understand guide to eight vital areas essential for your security and well-being. With simplicity and clarity, complete with resource lists and glossary, she covers:
- Choosing and assessing financial advisors.
- Trusts, wills, gifts, joint tenancy: Which is right for you?
- Early retirement: What to do and how to avoid penalties when receiving your retirement money.
- Joint and survivor benefits: Making sure you protect those you love.
- Long-term care insurance: How to choose the right policy and what you should pay for it.
- Estate taxes and probate costs: How to avoid them.
- Durable power of attorney: How it works and why you should have one.
- Minimizing expenses and maximizing income: getting the most for your health-care money; getting the most for your life.
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Read an Excerpt
Investment Advice: The
Guardian Angel Syndrome
I have no money left! How can that be? I gave them my money to invest, not lose!
When my husband died in 1974 I received $10,000 from his GI insurance policy. I know it wasn't much, but I took this money and some money I borrowed from my younger sister and made a down payment on a small house in Kensington, California, for my son John and me.
Four years later, when I turned sixty, I finally retired from my job as a library assistant. Shortly afterward, I received a small inheritance from my older sister's estate. When the money arrived, I decided to invest it because the temptation to spend it would have been too great. I decided to go to a large, well-known brokerage firm with a local office in Berkeley. I thought of them because I saw their ad in the newspaper. It pictured a young, blond woman standing in an office doorway. The caption under her picture read GUARDIAN ANGEL in big letters. And under that it quoted, "I have a lot of retired folks for clients who give me more than just money to invest. They give me their trust." So when I arrived at that company, I asked for a woman broker just like the one in the ad. That's when I met Patti.
Patti was totally convincing. She had such a winning way about her. She was so gracious and welcoming.Never the least bit insulting. She insisted she would tell me everything I needed to know and would take care of everything. She was reassuring on every level.
Patti explained that she and her partner monitored the stocks of some fifty companies and knew exactly where and when to invest and when to pull out. They were on top of things all the time. Additionally, she said that she got a yearly return of 40 percent to 45 percent on her personal investments and, even though I couldn't expect as high a return, I could get about 20 percent to 25 percent. Well, CDs were up to 14 percent at the time. So I thought that maybe I could make this much.
The only stipulation I had for Patti was that she keep my money safe and sound, so I wouldn't lose it. We agreed, and she then gave me blank account forms for my son and me to sign as joint tenants in case of my death. The account was officially opened, and because I trusted Patti, I left everything in her hands and didn't pay much attention to it after that. I felt like I had a daughter looking after me.
In 1981 my son John considered a career move to Los Angeles. After some discussion, we decided to sell the house because I just didn't want to live there by myself. It was a little too remote in the Berkeley hills, and since I didn't drive ... besides, the house had tripled in value. We finally sold it in October 1982 and received $160,000. This was more money than I had ever seen in my life. Once Patti invested it for me, it would give me substantially more income to live on. And, being a retired library assistant, I could really use the additional income. All I had was Social Security, a small pension, and my investment with Patti.
As a temporary measure after the house was sold, I set myself up in a small rental apartment in Santa Cruz. It took some time to get used to such a small place, but I really thought it would only be temporary. It never occurred to me that all the mail I was receiving from Patti's office meant there might be something wrong. I assumed it meant she was working on my behalf.
Anita came to me through the encouragement of one of her friends, who thought something was indeed wrong. Anita confessed that she was having trouble understanding her statements, but Patti would send handwritten notes adding up everything for her. It wasn't until Anita's friend, Ellen, noticed that the figures on the notes didn't coincide with the numbers on the statements that Anita was encouraged to call Patti for an explanation. She was told not to worry, that there was so much activity that the statements were never up to the minute. Even when Anita asked for a list of her investments, Patti's excuses for not sending it were believable. This went on for months. Even though Anita was somewhat annoyed, she never suspected anything was really wrong. She said she always trusted Patti to take care of her.
To find out what really happened here, I needed more information. I asked Anita to gather everything relating to her account. She returned after a few days with a box of paperwork in hand.
When I looked at her statements I was shocked to discover that Anita had no money left. How was I going to tell her that? We continued sifting through the papers, sorting and dissecting every piece to complete the puzzle. I determined that hundreds of trades had been made in Anita's account. Her broker had been buying optionsone of the most speculative investments anyone can make. Since 90 percent of all people who buy options lose their money, how was it possible that this brokerage firm had allowed Anita to invest in options? All firms have strict financial requirements that clients must meet before entering into risky investments. I knew Anita didn't qualify, so I had her request all the original paperwork she had signed to open up the account. All the figures that gave Anita's net worth were dramatically inflated so she could qualify to buy options. Patti overstated Anita's net worth by $250,000. Since the forms were signed by Anita before the inclusion of these figures, the brokerage firm and Anita had no way of knowing the figures had been fabricated. I began to wonder what else had been falsified.
The main mistake Anita made was that she signed blank papers she did not read or understand. Anita had signed on and checked out, leaving the broker in charge of all her money.
In a case such as this, Anita's only avenue to recoup some of her losses was arbitration. (For information on arbitration, see the Resources section in the back of this book.) From all the money given to Patti to invest, more than three hundred trades were made on Anita's account from 1981 to 1984, an exorbitant number by any standards. Patti had made thousands and thousands of dollars in commissions, and Anita was left with nothing. Even though the arbitration committee ruled in favor of Anita, after paying one third in attorney's fees, as well as other debts she incurred over the time it took to come to settlement, Anita was left with $50,000, a far cry from her original amount. Today an arbitration board can award far more than they gave Anita, because they now tend to award punitive damages.
If Anita's investments had been prudently madeeven if she had simply left her money in a money market fundbecause interest rates were so high then, she would have been $100,000 ahead. Instead of having $50,000 to her name, Anita would have $270,000, generating more than enough interest in income for her to live comfortably. Her old age would have been safe and secure.
What went wrong in Anita's case started long before her husband died. Anita, like many wives of her generation, depended on her husband's knowledge of finances. Even though she had the wherewithal to invest the inheritance from her sister and the profit from the sale of her house, she needed to learn about money, and she needed to be accountable personally for the management of her funds.
Anita's desire to be taken care of lured her into the arms of an unscrupulous broker. To be taken in by an advertising campaign, a warm smile, a reassuring manner, and the hopes of a guardian angel was a deadly mistake. Seek out advisors who come personally recommended by others who use them. When you choose your place of worship, you go to a place that befits your beliefs. You find your doctor through others who have been there. You have even decided on a favorite supermarket because it has the best quality and prices. How do you know these things? Comparison shopping. You've checked them out, or they have been recommended by others. So why would you select someone you know nothing about to invest your money?
Anita's problems were compounded because she feared being judged or made to feel inadequate. She wouldn't dare question a professional, so she never learned how to read the statements or apprise herself of what was happening with her account, even when she received conflicting notices.
Today, at seventy-four, Anita lives on an income of $1,100 per month, with fixed expenses of $900 per month. How is her life different? Anita explains, "To go to the airport, I take four buses and a train. It only costs three to four dollars with my senior discounts, but it takes five hours. A cab costs forty dollars. I do all my shopping in thrift shops. I never go to a department store to buy anything newever."
Here are some simple guidelines to help you avoid the guardian angel syndrome.
There are several steps you will want to take when seeking the best financial advisor. They include preparing for the interview, interviewing and selecting an advisor, opening an account, and monitoring it. If you take the time to prepare in advance, it will be well worth the effort.
PREPARING FOR THE INTERVIEW
Both you and your spouse or significant other should address the following issues:
1. Clarify your goals before you see an advisor. Do you want to travel? Take vacations? Sell your house and buy a mobile home? Buy a new car? Redo your kitchen or replace your roof?. Maybe you want to play golf every day or stay home with your hobbies. Write down all your goals, both immediate and future.
2. What is your emotional attitude toward your money? Imagine yourself investing part of your retirement fund in stocks. As you may know, stocks fluctuate in value. Let's say the stocks you invested in are moving downward. Do you:
a. Anxiously check the newspaper every day for stock values? Does the decline of the stock cause you to lose sleep?
b. Understand that this was a risk you decided to take and you accept the consequences?
It is your job to know the answers to these two questions. It will be your advisor's job to tell you whether you can meet your retirement goals given your expenses, your assets and income, and your emotional makeup.
3. Before starting the interview process, become knowledgeable of current interest rates from banks, CDs, money market funds, and the current five-year CD rate. You can find this information in the business section of the newspaper, at your bank, or from any brokerage firm. You will want to write this information down and take it with you to the interviews for comparison.
4. How do you find a financial advisor? What firms should you go to? You can ask friends or relatives whose opinions you respect if they know of and can recommend anyone. Or you can call the human resources department where you worked and ask if they have the name of an advisor whom other retirees use and are happy with. The Institute of Certified Financial Planners in Denver has a list of certified financial planners in your area. The International Association of Financial Planners or the Investment Counsel Association of America can also give you the name of an advisor in your area. These will be independent registered investment advisors (see Resources). You can also call those brokerage firms whose names you recognize from TV or newspaper advertisements and interview brokers with the guidelines we provide.
5. If you call a brokerage firm you have selected on your own, as Anita did, make sure the firm you deal with is a member of the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) as well as the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). Ask to speak with the office manager. Tell the manager that you are retired and want an advisor who has been in the industry at least ten years and specializes in retirement planning. This way you know they have dealt with different economic environments and should understand your needs. Apply the criteria of length of service and specialization to any personal recommendations you receive as well. Do not just walk into a brokerage firm and ask for a broker. If you do, you may be assigned to the new kid on the block with little or no experience.
6. You will need to bring the following financial information to the interview: recent tax returns, Social Security estimates, an idea of monthly expenses, and any sources of present and future income with accompanying statements that show where your money is located.
If you do not know your Social Security estimate, call 800-772-1213 and ask for the questionnaire "Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement." It will take four to six weeks to receive your estimate after you return the questionnaire, so start early. The form in Chapter Six, "Early Retirement," will help you calculate your monthly expenses.
Now you are prepared to go out and interview financial advisors. These interviews should be at no cost to you.
THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
Interview at least one person at three different firms, including any of the recommendations you may have received. Apply these guidelines at each interview. Even personal recommendations need to meet the following standards.
1. If you are a couple, both partners should be present for the interview. It is important that both individuals feel comfortable with the advisor ultimately selected. This is especially important for women, since statistics reveal they generally outlive their male counterparts.
2. Check whether the advisor has a title after his or her name. If you use someone from a major brokerage firm, the titles, in ascending order of importance, of associate vice presidentinvestments, vice presidentinvestments, senior vice presidentinvestments, or first vice presidentinvestments indicate the advisor's earning power and how long he or she has been in the business. Titles such as account executive, financial advisor, or financial consultant/planner indicate the new kids on the block and show that a certain production level has not yet been achieved for the firm. Look for at least an associate vice presidentinvestments credential. Titles can be found on business cards. Remember, it is only one of the criteria to look for. Whether the individual is with a major firm or not, there are other things to consider:
3. Is he or she a certified financial planner? If so, it will say so on his or her business card, or you may see a certificate in that person's office, or ask directly. This indicates two years of study, extensive tests, and a minimum of thirty hours of continuing education each year to keep up to date. This designation is highly desirable.
4. Ask how long he or she has been with this firm. It should be a minimum of ten years. If not, ask how many prior companies the person has worked for. Look for an answer of no more than two. Then ask how long he or she stayed at each. An answer of no less than five years at the most recent firm is preferable. This is a powerful clue to stability. If the person has been at many firms for brief durations, it is probably best to find someone else.
5. Meet the advisor in his or her office. Observe the surroundings. Is the person organized? Take note of personal appearance.
6. The financial advisor should ask about your goals during the interview process. If they don't ask, they may care more about what they can get from you (commissions) than what they can do for you (investments). During the interview, be sure to disclose all your financial information: your goals and requirements, taxes, monthly expenses, Social Security, and other sources of income. Make your emotional attitude toward money perfectly clear. Accurate planning requires complete information and assessment.
7. Ask the advisors you are interviewing how they make their money. For your general information, there are three ways a broker/financial advisor makes money: commission only; fee plus commission; or fee only. Fee-only financial planners can charge dearly for an original plan (some work on an hourly basis). However, they are generally more impartial and likely to give better advice. Fee-plus-commission-basis planners charge a small up-front fee for the plan and receive commissions on the investments made. A commission-only advisor makes money only when he or she sells or buys on your account.
Understand those commission rates. Generally they are consistent from one full-service brokerage firm to another. You can ask your advisor-to-be if there is a discount commission available from the firm. Sometimes they are willing to discount, especially for large quantities of stock. Remember, when commissions are involved, planners can steer you toward high-commission investments that will be beneficial to them but not necessarily to you, which is why I favor fee-only planners or the following.
8. A popular alternative is the registered investment advisor (RIA). When such advisors manage your money, they receive a fixed percentage of the portfolio as their fee. This can be 1/4 percent to 2 percent of the amount of money they have under management for you. Fees should be paid on a quarterly basis and are not to be taken up front.
These people do not participate in commissions and are in the unique position of being on the same side of the fence as you. The more money they make for you, the more money they make for themselves. Let's say your RIA is charging you 1 percent to manage your portfolio, which is worth $200,000. The advisor should collect those fees on a quarterly basis based on the value of your portfolio at that time. Let's look at this example for the first year: During the first quarter, the portfolio is worth $200,000 (you are just starting out). The advisor receives $500, or 1/4 percent of $200,000. By the second quarter, the portfolio is now worth $250,000. He or she receives $625. The third quarter sees a major decline, to $100,000. The advisor will receive only $250. At the end of the fourth quarter your portfolio is back up to $150,000, so the advisor gets $375. Added together, this amounts to $1,750 in fees based on the performance and value of the portfolio at each quarter. If you had given the advisor his or her annual fee up front$2,000 based on the initial portfolio valueyou would have overpaid by $250 in the first year.
Most RIAs do not partake in commissions, but that does not mean there is no cost to you to buy or sell these investments. Because of this, you want an advisor who will hold your funds at a discount brokerage house such as Charles Schwab or Fidelity, so it will cost you less. It also benefits the advisor to do so because if you spend a lot of money on commissions, there will be less in your account to base his or her fees on. RIAs also tend to purchase investments that are commission-free, such as no-load mutual funds, for the same reason. When they purchase stocks at a discount brokerage house, the cost can be 75 percent to 90 percent less than what a full-service firm charges. Your RIA can hold an account at a full-service firm and have made a deal to receive a discounted rate. Make sure to ask. Many RIAs require a minimum amount to open an account, starting at $50,000 to $100,000, with the majority around $250,000.
Wrap Accounts. For purposes of paying commissions, beware of what is referred to as a wrap account. This is when you go to a full-service brokerage firm and your broker suggests that you put your account under management with a registered investment advisor. The RIA makes the decisions about what to buy and sell and calls the broker to make the trade. Under these circumstances you may not be charged commissions, but the 2 percent to 3 percent annual fee you are charged will include the commissions. If you use common sense, you can secure a registered investment advisor directly and eliminate the middleman.
The contract with an RIA. Read the contract carefully. It should include the fee payment schedule. Remember, we recommend quarterly payments. Make sure you have the right to fire your advisor anytime you want. If you ever become unhappy with his or her performance, you can simply change your advisor and the funds can remain at the same discount brokerage firm. The RIA can also terminate the contract. Make certain, however, that the fees are prorated under these circumstances. You don't want to pay for services you don't continue to receive. Does the contract state when the termination goes into effect? It should not take more than thirty days to sever your relationship with your advisor.
Your statements with an RIA. Never make a check payable to an RIA, or any advisor, for that matter. Make sure your funds are placed in a firm where the RIA has the right to instruct what to sell and buy, but never to withdraw funds. You should receive a minimum of quarterly updates from your RIA along with monthly statements from the brokerage firm.
As we continue, the following information pertains to any and all financial advisors you may interview, including registered investment advisors.
9. The interview process may take one or two meetings before you make a determination. At the first meeting, the advisor gathers information. The second meeting is usually a presentation of a portfolio for you. Some advisors will be able to do both at one meeting.
Once the advisor has shown you what he or she can do with your money, there should also be an explanation of how this portfolio will meet your retirement goals and match your money/emotion ratio. Compare the return the advisor says he or she can make for you with the rates of the five-year CD (remember, you wrote this information down). Is there a difference? If not, you may be better off investing in a five-year CD yourselfno risk, no commissions. If it is more than 4 percent higher, you need to question the safety of the investments being offered. Ask the advisor what the chances are of losing any of your investment. If you don't feel comfortable with the advisor's answers, this is not the advisor for you. Look for someone else. If everything seems right, ask to have all the information regarding the return and safety of the investments in writing on company stationery.
10. Now that you have interviewed using the process we discussed, you must verify all the information the advisor, broker, or financial planner gives you for accuracy and to make sure they are not hiding any information they do not want you to know, such as disciplinary actions or criminal investigations. To obtain verification, you can call:
NASD/Public Disclosure Program Tel.: 800-289-9999
Call for a form. There is a $30 charge for a report.
11. Always read documents firstin their entiretybefore signing them. Don't be rushed. Take the documents home to read. Do you and your spouse or significant other understand the investments the advisor recommends? Jot down points that need clarification and ask questions about anything you don't understand.
OPENING AN ACCOUNT
Once you understand what is going to be done with your money, and have chosen a particular advisor, it is time to open an investment account. The following guidelines will prevent you from making the same mistakes as Anita:
Excerpted from You've Earned It, Don't Lose It by Suze Orman with Linda Mead. Copyright © 1998 by Suze Orman. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Suze Orman, America's most recognized expert on personal finance, is also the author of Women & Money; The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke; The Laws of Money, The Lessons of Life; The Road to Wealth; The Courage to Be Rich; and The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom.
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