Category: Retirement Planning

The Power of Purpose and Meaning in Life

The following article is shared with written permission from author Lydia Denworth. She is a science writer and author of I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language, an investigation into hearing, sound, brain plasticity and Deaf culture inspired by the discovery that her youngest son was deaf. Her work has appeared in Scientific American MindParentsThe New York Times, The Wall Street JournalNewsweekRedbook and many other publications.  You can visit her website, on Facebook, and Twitter.

The feeling that one’s life has meaning can come from any number of things—from work (paid or unpaid) that feels worthwhile, from cherished relationships, from religious faith or even from regularly appreciating the sunset. While it does not much matter what gives you purpose, it does matter that you find it somewhere. A growing body of research has found that the feeling that one’s life has meaning is associated with a host of positive health outcomes. And now a new study of older adults published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences goes even further by revealing that the sense that one is living a worthwhile life appears to be positively linked to just about every aspect of our lives, not just health. The new study also followed people over time and found that the more worthwhile they found their lives the more positive changes they experienced over the following four years.

“These associations seem quite pervasive, right across a whole spectrum of our experience,” says lead author Andrew Steptoe, a psychologist and epidemiologist at University College London who oversaw the study. “It’s not only related to health but to social functions, psychological and emotional experiences, economic prosperity, things like sleeping well and time spent doing different kinds of activities.”

The paper was part of an ongoing British study of older adults known as the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), which Steptoe directs. The new results are based on data from more than 7300 adults over the age of 50 (the mean age was 67.2).  Every two years or so, participants sit for extensive interviews and a series of medical tests. They were asked to rate how worthwhile they felt their lives to be on a scale of one to ten. The average worthwhile rating was 7.41 though ratings were slightly higher in women than in men (7.46 vs 7.35). Importantly, the results are correlational, meaning they show an association between the worthwhile ratings and other aspects of life, but do not necessarily mean that one causes the other.

Nevertheless, the findings suggest that there is something essential about living a meaningful life. On many levels that’s not surprising. The concept of having a purpose in life dates to the Ancient Greeks at least. Contemporary thinking on the subject stems from the 1940s writings of physician Viktor Frankl, who believed that having a purpose in life helped him survive three years in Auschwitz. After the war, Frankl developed a set of 13 questions as a way to measure purpose in life. 

The ELSA study tested the viability of a similar set of questions that have been incorporated into regular surveys by the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics, its equivalent of the U.S. Census Bureau. Steptoe believes their strong findings speak to the value of assessing quality of life in this way on a national level.

One of the areas that stood out to Steptoe were the findings about people’s social lives. Higher worthwhile ratings were associated with stronger personal relationships (marriage was important but so was regular contact with friends) and with broader social engagement such as involvement in civic organizations, cultural activity and volunteering. People with high ratings were less likely to be lonely. “I’m struck by the consistency of associations between these feelings [of living a meaningful life] and social and cultural activity,” Steptoe says. “On the other hand, the people who had low ratings tended to spend a lot of time alone. They tend to watch television more and do more passive activities.” He believes the message is clear, particularly for older men and women, that it’s important to remain socially engaged, if at all possible. “It’s encouraging oneself to go out and about and continue to participate in society rather than withdraw from it.”

On the health front, those with higher worthwhile ratings had better mental and physical health. That translated into fewer depressive symptoms, less chronic disease, less chronic pain, and less disability. They also had greater upper body strength, walked, were less obesity, and had more favorable biomarker profiles such as white blood cell count, vitamin D, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the good cholesterol). They engaged in more physical activity, ate more fruits and vegetables, slept better and were less likely to smoke. 

It is possible that strong social connections and good health contribute to people’s sense that their lives have meaning. But Steptoe and his colleague Daisy Fancourt also conducted a longitudinal analysis over four years. They found that people who were low in some measures in 2012 but who had higher worthwhile ratings were more likely to see improvements in those measures by 2016. In other words, someone who was physically inactive at baseline but gave high ratings was more likely to have become regularly active later on than someone with lower ratings. 

“I think it’s a two-way process,” says Steptoe. “The sorts of things we do are going to be influencing these judgments of the purpose and worthwhileness of what we do in life. But those things in turn are going to be either stimulating or inhibiting future activities. It’s a virtuous circle.”

Copyright Lydia Denworth 2019.

2017 Medicare Annual Open Enrollment

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment Period (you thought I meant the holidays, didn’t you?) Move over sweater weather, turkey and dressing, and time spent with loved ones. Here we are in the middle of that special time of year when current Medicare enrollees can make changes to their existing coverage for the following year. While the complexities of Medicare have been known to make enrollees feel nuttier than your favorite aunt’s fruitcake, we hope to simplify Open Enrollment for those currently enrolled in Medicare and allow you to ring in 2018 feeling confident in your health care coverage.

What is Open Enrollment?

Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment Period (also referred to as Fall Open Enrollment) extends from October 15th through December 7th and allows enrollees to make changes to their coverage for the coming year.

Changes Allowed During Open Enrollment

The chart below summarizes the coverage changes that are allowed during Open Enrollment. Note that any changes made during Open Enrollment will not become effective until January 1, 2018.

Current Coverage New Coverage
Original Medicare Medicare Advantage
Medicare Advantage Original Medicare
Part D A different Part D plan
Medicare Advantage A different Medicare Advantage plan

If you have been unable to acquire a standalone Part D plan or drug coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan because you did not enroll in drug coverage when you should have, note that during Open Enrollment you can also acquire prescription drug coverage for the first time.

Important: Proceed with caution if you are considering a change from a Medicare Advantage plan to Original Medicare and also plan to enroll in a Medicare Supplement Plan (also referred to as Medigap). Those who enroll in a Medicare Supplement Plan during their initial enrollment period (i.e. within six months of enrolling in Medicare Part B) are allowed to enroll in a Supplement plan without underwriting. However, applying for a Supplement plan after your initial enrollment period has passed could subject you to higher premiums, waiting periods, or a denial of coverage based on pre-existing health conditions.

Reviewing Your Current Coverage

If you have a Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage Plan, you should have received a Plan Annual Notice of Change from your plan provider in September. The Notice details information about your plan for the coming year, such as changes to premiums, coinsurance, or prescriptions drugs covered under the plan’s formulary. You should review the Notice to understand how changes to the plan will affect you. Even if you feel that your current coverage will continue to meet your needs in the coming year, it may still benefit you to research other available plans. You may find that changes made to another plan would result in even better coverage for you.

Researching Other Plans

Prior to your search, gather information pertinent to your health care needs that will assist you in evaluating other plans. Prepare a list of health care providers, preferred hospital, preferred pharmacy, and drugs that you currently take (including specific drug names, dosage, and frequency).

Medicare’s Plan Finder tool will allow you to search for standalone Part D and Medicare Advantage plans (referred to as Medicare Health Plans on the site) with or without drug coverage that are available in your area. You should also input your specific prescription drug information to identify plans that cover the drugs that you take. When reviewing plans, consider factors such as premiums, deductibles, coinsurance costs, and whether or not your health care providers are included in the plan’s network (if searching for Medicare Advantage Plans).

The Plan Finder will also provide each Part D or Medicare Advantage plan’s star rating out of five stars. The ratings are provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and are based on five criteria that include customer service and member experience.

If you identify a plan or plans that may better suit your needs, it is best to contact the plan directly to confirm the information found on the Plan Finder site prior to enrolling. You can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D plan via the Plan Finder web site, or via telephone by calling the plan, or by calling Medicare at 800-Medicare (800-633-4227).

Finding Extra Help

You can visit Medicare.gov for more information or call Medicare’s toll-free help line at 800-Medicare (800-633-4227) for additional information. Each state also has a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) with counselors who are available to provide free, one-on-one assistance to Medicare beneficiaries and their families. Visit www.shiptacenter.org to search for contact information for your state’s SHIP.

Next Steps

If you decide not to make any changes to your coverage, you do not have to take any action and will be automatically re-enrolled in the same coverage for next year. If you do decide to change plans, it is not necessary to contact your Medicare Advantage or Part D plan provider or Medicare to notify them that you are cancelling your existing plan. You will be automatically disenrolled in your current Medicare Advantage or Part D plan before your new coverage becomes effective on January 1st, 2018.

What is Fee-Only, Fee-Based, and Commissions?

An October 2017 article published by Wall Street Journal columnist, Jason Zweig, highlighted the growing confusion around the term “Fee-Only” when referring to how financial advisors are compensated. The article, “Some Fee-Only Advisors Charge Commissions Too,” made note of several concerns:

  • Disciplinary actions by the CFP Board of six allegedly Fee-Only advisors who were receiving commissions
  • A 2013 investigation showing 11% of CFP® advisors at brokerage firms receiving commissions while branding themselves as Fee-Only
  • Discrepancies on firm ADVs versus their official brochure materials about their compensation method
  • Advisory firms branding as Fee-Only, when their advisors may not be

Longview wants to make it very clear. Longview Financial Advisors is a 100% Fee-Only firm. Every Longview advisor is a Fee-Only Advisor. We believe this is the most transparent and objective way of serving our clients with fewer conflicts of interest.

With the confusion around terms, what exactly does Fee-Only and Fee-based mean?

What is Fee-Only?

As Zweig noted in the article, Fee-Only has no “official regulatory or legal definition.” Below are a few definitions offered by several credible organizations and sources.

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) is the country’s leading professional organization of Fee-Only advisors. NAPFA offers this definition:

Fee-Only financial advisor is one who is compensated solely by the client with neither the advisor nor any related party receiving compensation that is contingent on the purchase or sale of a financial product. Neither Members nor Affiliates may receive commissions, rebates, awards, finder’s fees, bonuses or other forms of compensation from others as a result of a client’s implementation of the individual’s planning recommendations. “Fee-offset” arrangements, 12b-1 fees, insurance rebates or renewals and wrap fee arrangements that are transaction based are examples of compensation arrangements that do not meet the NAPFA definition of Fee-Only practice.

The CFP Board, governing body for the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification, offers this:

A certificant may describe his or her practice as “fee-only” if, and only if, all of the certificant’s compensation from all of his or her client work comes exclusively from the clients in the form of fixed, flat, hourly, percentage or performance-based fees.

Finally, Forbes contributor, David John Marotta, provides this:

Fee-only financial planners are registered investment advisors with a fiduciary responsibility to act in their clients’ best interest. They do not accept any fees or compensation based on product sales. Fee-only advisors have fewer inherent conflicts of interest, and they generally provide more comprehensive advice.

In a nutshell, a Fee-Only advisor does not sell products. They do not receive commission. There are no trails, kickbacks, referral fees, rewards, lockup periods, or surrender charges of any kind. No compensation is received from mutual fund companies or insurance companies. A Fee-Only financial advisor’s or firm’s compensation is derived directly from their clients. 100%. That’s it.

Furthermore, Fee-Only financial planning goes hand-in-hand with being a fiduciary. A fiduciary standard, when applied to a financial advisor, says the advisor has a legal duty to act in good faith and trust, placing your best interest above that of the advisor or their firm. The advisor is ethically and legally bound to act in this manner. You, as a client, must be made aware of any conflicts of interest that arise.

What is Fee-Based?

The term Fee-Based has muddied the compensation waters, and it is often time used by brokerage and insurance firms. The term sounds very similar to Fee-Only so it’s no wonder consumers are confused by the terminology, but there is a very real difference in Fee-Based vs. Fee-Only.

Fee-Based advisors can receive commissions, and those commissions are often referred to as “fees.” The commissions often come from sales of financial products, such as life insurance, annuities, and load based mutual funds. This creates an inherent conflict of interest. For example, is the product being offered to you the best fit for your financial need? Fee-Based advisors must be transparent in how those fees are received and are still required to act as fiduciaries.

What are Commissions?

A commission is a charge when purchasing an investment or selling a product, such as a mutual fund or annuity. A mutual fund commission is usually referred to as a load, and the load may be assessed when the buy is made (front-end load), when the security is sold (back-end load), or while the security is being held (level-pay load). For example, if buying 100 shares of a mutual fund at a price of $50 with a 4% front-end load fee, the investor would pay 4% of the $5,000 total cost, or $200, to the broker/advisor.

Receiving commissions does not prevent an advisor from acting as a fiduciary, but brokers only have to meet a suitability standard. This means the investment or product only needs to be suitable for the client’s financial need. The advisor only has to reasonably believe that the product meets the need; it does not have to meet the fiduciary standard thus creating an inherent conflict of interest between the broker and client.

In conclusion, there are advisors who fall under each of these three compensation models that act in a fiduciary manner. Unfortunately, there are advisors under each model that also do not honor the fiduciary standard. It’s up to you as the consumer to ask the questions about how your advisor is compensated.

 

Social Security Changes: How Do They Affect You?

In the previous two blog posts, Jeff Cedarholm shared his view on the changing investment landscape. Today’s post is focused on the changing landscape of Social Security. The expected lower market returns over the next 5-10 years and the changes to Social Security will make financial planning as important as it has ever been.  These changes don’t just affect those already receiving Social Security benefits; they affect anyone who will qualify for Social Security at some point in the future.

So what is new with Social Security and what does it mean for you?

By now, you’ve probably heard the concern over the sustainability of Social Security for the long term. It has been a subject well discussed and documented, especially over the last several years. In the summary of the 2015 annual trustees report for Social Security and Medicare programs1, the public is warned that given the current trajectory, Social Security reserves will run out in 2034. Based on this report, there are currently enough reserves that the interest earned on those reserves will continue to cover the difference between the employment tax that is brought in each year and the amount of benefits paid out each year until 2019. At that time, the reserves will have to be used toward the deficit. That is, until they run out in 2034. Once the reserves are gone, it is estimated that employment tax income will be sufficient to cover around 75% of expenses. After years of kicking the proverbial can down the road, the government decided in 2015 to take action to begin to improve the long term outlook for the Social Security program.

Insert the Bipartisan Budget Act of 20152 passed in November 2015. This act includes language that changes three filing strategies for Social Security, lowering future costs for the program, and reducing potential future benefits for many. While this certainly should not be considered a cure-all for the Social Security program, and the actual long term effects are still unknown, this is an indication that the government is looking at ways to lower future liabilities and improve the sustainability of the program. Let’s take a closer look at the changes:

  1. File-and-Suspend: This filing strategy allows a spouse to file for benefits at his/her full retirement age, which is currently 66, so that the spouse can obtain a spousal benefit. The taxpayer would then suspend his/her benefits, allowing for deferral until age 70. The taxpayer’s Social Security benefit would grow by 8% for each year of deferral between full retirement age and 70.

Let’s look at an example:

Assume that Sam and Sally are both 66. Sam has a higher benefit.  In order to maximize their benefits, Sam could file for his benefit, giving Sally the opportunity to file for her spousal benefit (half of Sam’s benefit), and then Sam could suspend his benefit, deferring it until age 70. This could result in Sam’s benefit at age 66 of $1800/month increasing to $2376/month at age 70. Using this strategy, Sally could receive $900/month in benefits based on Sam’s record versus her benefit of $750/mo. Using this strategy, they would be able to receive more benefit than they would have if Sally had just claimed her benefit and Sam had postponed his benefit or had taken it at full retirement age.

With the changes in the law, the file-and-suspend strategy can no longer be used after April 30, 2016. Instead, a taxpayer must file and receive benefits in order for the spousal benefit to be available.

  • Restricted Application: Filing a restricted application allows a taxpayer who has reached full retirement age to file for spousal benefits without filing for his/her own benefits. The taxpayer can then delay his/her benefits to age 70, allowing for an increase of 8% a year.

Let’s look at an example:

Tom is 68 and Jane is 66. Tom began taking his Social Security benefit of $1600/month at age 66. Jane could file a restricted application at age 66 to claim spousal benefits of $800/month and allow her benefit to continue to grow until she reaches age 70. If her benefit was $1900/month, she would begin receiving a benefit of $2,508/month at 70 after receiving $800/month for 4 years.

The restricted application strategy is still available for anyone who turned 62 by December 31st, 2015. Anyone who is 62 or older after December 31st, 2015 will be limited to the deemed filing rule, which states that you are applying for any benefits for which you qualify. This means that an individual cannot restrict their benefits to allow for growth, but instead would receive the higher of his/her personal benefit or the spousal benefit at the time of filing.

  • Lump-sum payout of suspended benefits: Before the 2015 Budget Act took effect, an individual who chose to file and suspend could request a lump sum payout of all of the suspended benefits instead of opting for the 8% increase in benefit between full retirement age and age 70. This do-over might prove to be a good option for someone who, after deciding to delay benefits, found out that he/she had an illness or other factor that may shorten their life or require a large sum of money. 

Taxpayers can still unsuspend benefits. The taxpayer’s benefit will be increased for the higher rate applicable for delaying past their full retirement age. However, the taxpayer no longer has the option to choose to receive the lump sum payout of the benefits accrued between full retirement age and the unsuspension age.

Let’s look at an example:

Sam decides to postpone his benefit and uses the file and suspend strategy. At age 68, he is told he has an illness that will shorten his life considerably and result in additional medical expenses of $15,000/year. Before the Budget Act of 2015, Sam could have received the accrual of his benefits between ages 66 and 68, an amount of $43,200, and started his Social Security payment, which would have been the payment he qualified for at age 66 – $1800/mo. That lump sum could be used to help pay for his increased expenses. Now, if Sam unsuspends his benefits at 68, he will be limited to just receiving his monthly Social Security benefit. The benefit will be indexed for the 2 years of deferral. So a payment of $1800/month at age 66 would now be $2088/month, but there would not be a lump sum payout.

(Please note this reinstatement of benefits is for the full time between age 66 and 68 because Sam chose to file and suspend. Simply delaying benefits without using the file and suspend strategy would have resulted in only 6 months of a retroactive benefit.)

Your view of this law change will likely depend upon your age. The closer you are to your Social Security full retirement age, the larger the pill may be to swallow. For those who are 50 or younger, the change may seem more attractive because the current forecast for reserve funds isn’t great enough to cover 100% of your projected Social Security payment at normal retirement age anyway. Regardless of your age and your view, it does affect you in some way.  As of now, there are still opportunities for those between the ages of 62-66 to be grandfathered in under the old law for the restricted application and file-and-suspend strategies. Those under 62 should focus on ways to maximize benefits under the new law. One of the easiest ways to do this is to plan on postponing benefits until age 70. Doing this still results in an 8%/year increase in benefits.

This is an area where we help clients. We are currently in the process of reviewing options and possible recommendation changes for our clients who are 62 and older and are not currently receiving Social Security benefits.

1 The 2015 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds. House Document 114-51. 22 July 2015. https://www.ssa.gov/oact/tr/2015/tr2015.pdf2Bipartisan Act of 2015. Pub. L. 114-74. 2 Nov. 2015. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1314


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