Any journey begins with a single step. Those words are particularly applicable to the retirement planning process. Unless we inherit wealth, most of us begin the retirement savings journey with a very modest sum.
Although the terms “saving” and “investing” are often used interchangeably, these words have different meanings. “Saving” refers to setting aside money, which may or may not earn interest. “Investing” refers to exchanging dollars for ownership shares in companies (stocks or equities) that an investor expects to increase in value. Thus, the stockholder is vested in the company. Stocks may also yield shareholder dividends along the way.
Beyond stocks, individuals can invest in bonds issued by an entity. Bonds function as loans for investors or loans to companies or municipalities. Assuming everything goes as planned (bonds occasionally fail to pay off), bondholders receive their principle back when the bond matures.
In addition to stocks and bonds, individuals can deposit funds into an interest-earning bank account. We recommend that to the families we serve to include stocks, bonds, and cash in their journey toward retirement. How much money should be allocated to each asset class? With market performance deviating from historical trends, stocks tend to be more volatile than bonds on an annual basis. Over the years, stocks have also delivered a higher return on investment compared to other asset classes.
Bonds tend to be less volatile than stocks on an annual basis. However, bonds have historically yielded lower returns than stocks. Again, recent history has fluctuated from the “norm”.
Cash or money market accounts are not subject to volatility but deliver nearly zero return on investment. The asset classes described above reflect generalized trends and do not guarantee future performance.
Individuals new to the stock market commonly select mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), or individual positions. Based on minimum deposit requirements, most new investors start with mutual funds. As ETFs have lower fees, investors should consider these types of investments when their savings reach the threshold eligible for ETF products.
Unfortunately, individuals often fail to consider tax diversification. After-tax accounts mean that taxes have already been paid taxes on invested funds. Employees eligible for 401k or 403b plans can choose to have their employer withhold money from their paycheck. Most of the time these accounts are tax-deferred, and individuals pay taxes on the initial principle and earnings growth at the time of withdrawal. Individuals who qualify for a Roth IRA pay taxes on the funds deposited in the account, but earnings grow tax-free.
This can be a lot of information at times to digest and many people often do not know where to begin. Start with knowing you need to build a cash emergency fund. This is three to six months expenses. Next fund your retirement plan at work up to the match available. Then from there, build your tax diversification by funding a Roth IRA. From there determine how to allocate your contributions based on asset classes and volatility. Finally, evaluate your plan on a quarterly basis and adjust as needed.
Joseph A. Clark is a Certified Financial Planner and Managing Partner of The Financial Enhancement Group, and an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Contact Joe at yourlifeafterwork.com or 800-928-4001. Securities offered through World Equity Group, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services can be provided by the Financial Enhancement Group (FEG) or World Equity Group. FEG and World Equity Group are separately owned and operated. World Equity Group, Inc. does not provide tax advice. For tax advice consult with a qualified tax professional.