Myths and Facts about Social Security

 

Myth: Social Security will provide most of the income you need in retirement.

Fact: It’s likely that Social Security will provide a smaller portion of retirement income than you expect.

There’s no doubt about it–Social Security is an important source of retirement income for most Americans. According to the Social Security Administration, more than nine out of ten individuals age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits.

But it may be unwise to rely too heavily on Social Security, because to keep the system solvent, some changes will have to be made to it. The younger and wealthier you are, the more likely these changes will affect you. But whether retirement is years away or just around the corner, keep in mind that Social Security was never meant to be the sole source of income for retirees. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The system is not intended as a substitute for private savings, pension plans, and insurance protection. It is, rather, intended as the foundation upon which these other forms of protection can be soundly built.”

No matter what the future holds for Social Security, focus on saving as much for retirement as possible. You can do so by contributing to tax-deferred vehicles such as IRAs, 401(k)s, and other employer-sponsored plans, and by investing in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. When combined with your future Social Security benefits, your retirement savings and pension benefits can help ensure that you’ll have enough income to see you through retirement.

Myth: Social Security is only a retirement program.

Fact: Social Security also offers disability and survivor’s benefits.

With all the focus on retirement benefits, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Social Security also offers protection against long-term disability. And when you receive retirement or disability benefits, your family members may be eligible to receive benefits, too.

Another valuable source of support for your family is Social Security survivor’s insurance. If you were to die, certain members of your family, including your spouse, children, and dependent parents, may be eligible for monthly survivor’s benefits that can help replace lost income.

For specific information about the benefits you and your family members may receive, visit the SSA’s website at www.socialsecurity.gov, or call 800-772-1213 if you have questions.

Major Sources of Retirement Income

 

Source: Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2016, Social Security Administration

Myth: If you earn money after you retire, you’ll lose your Social Security benefit.

Fact: Money you earn after you retire will only affect your Social Security benefit if you’re under full retirement age.

Once you reach full retirement age, you can earn as much as you want without affecting your Social Security retirement benefit. But if you’re under full retirement age, any income that you earn may affect the amount of benefit you receive:

• If you’re under full retirement age, $1 in benefits will be withheld for every $2 you earn above a certain annual limit. For 2017, that limit is $16,920.
• In the year you reach full retirement age, $1 in benefits will be withheld for every $3 you earn above a certain annual limit until the month you reach full retirement age. If you reach full retirement age in 2017, that limit is $44,880.

Even if your monthly benefit is reduced in the short term due to your earnings, you’ll receive a higher monthly benefit later. That’s because the SSA recalculates your benefit when you reach full retirement age, and omits the months in which your benefit was reduced.

Myth: Social Security benefits are not taxable.

Fact: You may have to pay taxes on your Social Security benefits if you have other income.

If the only income you had during the year was Social Security income, then your benefit generally isn’t taxable. But if you earned income during the year (either from a job or from self-employment) or had substantial investment income, then you might have to pay federal income tax on a portion of your benefit. Up to 85% of your benefit may be taxable, depending on your tax filing status (e.g., single, married filing jointly) and the total amount of income you have.

For more information on this subject, see IRS Publication 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.

What Is Your Full Retirement Age?

If you were born in Your full retirement age is:
1943-1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67

Note: If you were born on January 1 of any year, refer to the previous year to determine your full retirement age.

 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017

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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

Five Questions About Long-Term Care

1. What is long-term care?

Long-term care refers to the ongoing services and support needed by people who have chronic health conditions or disabilities. There are three levels of long-term care:

• Skilled care: Generally round-the-clock care that’s given by professional health care providers such as nurses, therapists, or aides under a doctor’s supervision.

• Intermediate care: Also provided by professional health care providers but on a less frequent basis than skilled care.

• Custodial care: Personal care that’s often given by family caregivers, nurses’ aides, or home health workers who provide assistance with what are called “activities of daily living” such as bathing, eating, and dressing.

Long-term care is not just provided in nursing homes–in fact, the most common type of long-term care is home-based care. Long-term care services may also be provided in a variety of other settings, such as assisted living facilities and adult day care centers.

2. Why is it important to plan for long-term care?

No one expects to need long-term care, but it’s important to plan for it nonetheless. Here are two important reasons why:

The odds of needing long-term care are high:

• Approximately 70% of people will need long-term care at some point during their lifetimes after reaching age 65*

• Approximately 8% of people between ages 40 and 50 will have a disability that may require long-term care services*

The cost of long-term care can be expensive:

For many, the cost of long-term care can be expensive, absorbing income and depleting savings. Some of the average costs in the United States for long-term care* include:

• $6,235 per month, or $74,820 per year for a semi-private room in a nursing home

• $6,965 per month, or $83,580 per year for a private room in a nursing home

• $3,293 per month for a one-bedroom unit in an assisted living facility

• $21 per hour for a home health aide

*U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, December 1, 2016

3. Doesn’t Medicare pay for long-term care?

Many people mistakenly believe that Medicare, the federal health insurance program for older Americans, will pay for long-term care. But Medicare provides only limited coverage for long-term care services such as skilled nursing care or physical therapy. And although Medicare provides some home health care benefits, it doesn’t cover custodial care, the type of care older individuals most often need.

Medicaid, which is often confused with Medicare, is the joint federal-state program that two-thirds of nursing home residents currently rely on to pay some of their long-term care expenses. But to qualify for Medicaid, you must have limited income and assets, and although Medicaid generally covers nursing home care, it provides only limited coverage for home health care in certain states.

4. Can’t I pay for care out of pocket?

The major advantage to using income, savings, investments, and assets (such as your home) to pay for long-term care is that you have the most control over where and how you receive care. But because the cost of long-term care is high, you may have trouble affording extended care if you need it.

5. Should I buy long-term care insurance?

Like other types of insurance, long-term care insurance protects you against a specific financial risk–in this case, the chance that long-term care will cost more than you can afford. In exchange for your premium payments, the insurance company promises to cover part of your future long-term care costs. Long-term care insurance can help you preserve your assets and guarantee that you’ll have access to a range of care options. However, it can be expensive, so before you purchase a policy, make sure you can afford the premiums both now and in the future.

The cost of a long-term care policy depends primarily on your age (in general, the younger you are when you purchase a policy, the lower your premium will be), but it also depends on the benefits you choose. If you decide to purchase long-term care insurance, here are some of the key features to consider:

• Benefit amount: The daily benefit amount is the maximum your policy will pay for your care each day, and generally ranges from $50 to $350 or more.

• Benefit period: The length of time your policy will pay benefits (e.g., 2 years, 4 years, lifetime).

• Elimination period: The number of days you must pay for your own care before the policy begins paying benefits (e.g., 20 days, 90 days).

• Types of facilities included: Many policies cover care in a variety of settings including your own home, assisted living facilities, adult day care centers, and nursing homes.

• Inflation protection: With inflation protection, your benefit will increase by a certain percentage each year. It’s an optional feature available at additional cost, but having it will enable your coverage to keep pace with rising prices.

Your insurance agent or a financial professional can help you compare long-term care insurance policies and answer any questions you may have.

Deductions for Long-Term Care Insurance Premiums: 2016 & 2017

Age 2016 Limit 2017 Limit
40 or under $390 $410
41-50 $730 $770
51-60 $1,460 $1,530
61-70 $3,900 $4,090
70+ $4,870 $5,110

 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017
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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

Why I Don’t Want to Buy Life Insurance

If you’re like most people, it’s not that you don’t appreciate the value of life insurance. In fact, many people believe they need more coverage. You probably wouldn’t mind owning additional life insurance. It’s just that you don’t want to buy it. Thinking about buying life insurance, talking about buying life insurance, discussing the reasons for buying life insurance–all of this makes many people feel uncomfortable. Here are just some of the reasons why you may be putting off buying the life insurance you know you need.

I don’t have enough time

You’ll get around to buying life insurance, but not today. With all the things you’ve got to do, buying life insurance can come off as a low priority–just one more thing you ought to do. Plus, the whole idea of discussing life insurance isn’t a whole lot of fun. Who wouldn’t rather take the dogs for a walk on the beach, attend a child’s softball game, or spend those precious few hours of free time in the evening visiting with friends?

Nonetheless, buying life insurance is really an important task that should be addressed. Life insurance can help ensure that your family will have enough money to meet their financial obligations in the event of your death.

The subject is boring and morbid

If you really don’t like to think about death, you’re not alone. Death is an unpleasant subject, and life insurance raises issues of our own mortality. Some people say that the very thought of starting the life insurance buying process makes them feel stressed out. There’s no great appeal to contemplating our own mortality. It’s a subject we’d rather ignore than address. The result can be inertia or denial.

It doesn’t have to be that way. People who do act on their life insurance needs tend to focus on the positive aspects: the idea of meeting their responsibilities to provide for, and care for, their loved ones. They think of it as contingency planning, protecting their families against the uncertainties of life. They also recognize that life insurance is really about life and love, about helping to ensure a positive quality of life for their spouse and children if they die prematurely.

I don’t know where to start

If you don’t have a clue about which type of policy is right for you, or how much life insurance you need, join the club. Few of us truly understand life insurance: why we need it, what type of policy is best, how much we need, when and how benefits are paid, how benefits may be taxed, and more. That’s okay. It’s not your job to know everything about life insurance. That’s the job of an insurance professional.

Thinking you need to have all of the answers about which type of life insurance is best for you is sort of like needing surgery and thinking you need to know which type of scalpel to use. That’s the surgeon’s job. In the same respect, the right insurance professional can guide you through the process of selecting the policy that best suits your needs, budget, and objectives, and can answer your questions.

Life insurance isn’t a high priority compared with the other expenses I have

For many under-insured people, it’s not so much that they don’t want the life insurance they need; it’s just difficult to find the extra dollars to pay for it.

Buying life insurance you can’t afford benefits no one. If it causes your family hardship or requires you to make choices that seem incongruous (“Gee kids, I’d love to take you on vacation, but our life insurance premium is due”), you’ll eventually discontinue the policy. Then you lose, and your family loses.

That’s why it’s important to purchase a policy that meets your needs and your budget. Fortunately, there are many types of life insurance available. These include term life insurance policies and various types of permanent (cash value) life insurance policies. Term policies provide life insurance protection for a specific period of time. If you die during the coverage period, your beneficiary receives the policy’s death benefit. If you live to the end of the term, the policy simply terminates, unless it automatically renews for a new period.

Permanent insurance policies offer protection for your entire life, regardless of future health changes, provided you pay the premium to keep the policy in force. As you pay your premiums, a portion of each payment goes toward building up the policy’s cash value, which may be accessed through loans or withdrawals. (Keep in mind, though, that loans and withdrawals will reduce the cash value and the death benefit, and could cause the policy to lapse, which may result in a tax liability if the policy terminates before the death of the insured). The cash value continues to grow–tax deferred–as long as the policy is in force.

Several different types of permanent life insurance are available, including:

• Whole life insurance
• Universal life insurance
• Variable life
• Variable universal life

Note: Variable life and variable universal life insurance policies are offered by prospectus, which you can obtain from your financial professional or the insurance company. The prospectus contains detailed information about investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. You should read the prospectus and consider this information carefully before purchasing a variable life or variable universal life insurance policy. There are contract limitations, fees, and charges associated with variable life and variable universal life insurance, which can include mortality and expense risk charges, sales and surrender charges, investment management fees, administrative fees, and charges for optional benefits. Variable life and variable universal life insurance is not guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency; they are not deposits of, nor are they guaranteed or endorsed by, any bank or savings association. The investment return and principal value of the investment options will fluctuate. Your cash value, and perhaps the death benefit, will be determined by the performance of the chosen investment options and is not guaranteed. Withdrawals may be subject to surrender charges and
are taxable if you withdraw more than your basis in the policy.

The bottom line

It’s easy to understand why people tend to put off purchasing the life insurance they know they need. But look at it this way: buying life insurance is one way you can help secure your family’s financial future. And what could be better than knowing your loved ones will be protected, even if you’re no longer around to take care of them?

 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017

___________________________________________________________________________

* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

10 Years and Counting: Points to Consider as You Approach Retirement

If you’re a decade or so away from retirement, you’ve probably spent at least some time thinking about this major life change. How will you manage the transition? Will you travel, take up a new sport or hobby, or spend more time with friends and family? Should you consider relocating? Will you continue to work in some capacity? Will changes in your income sources affect your standard of living?

When you begin to ponder all the issues surrounding the transition, the process can seem downright daunting. However, thinking about a few key points now, while you still have years ahead, can help you focus your efforts and minimize the anxiety that often accompanies the shift.

Reassess your living expenses

A step you will probably take several times between now and retirement — and maybe several more times thereafter — is thinking about how your living expenses could or should change. For example, while commuting and other work-related costs may decrease, other budget items may rise. Healthcare costs, in particular, may increase as you progress through retirement.

Try to estimate what your monthly expense budget will look like in the first few years after you stop working. And then continue to reassess this budget as your vision of retirement becomes reality.

According to a recent survey, 38% of retirees said their expenses were higher than they expected. Keeping a close eye on your spending in the years leading up to retirement can help you more accurately anticipate your budget during retirement.

Consider all your income sources

First, figure out how much you stand to receive from Social Security. The average annual retirement benefit is about $11,800 for women 65 and older and $15,200 for men in the same age group. The amount you receive will depend on your earnings history and other unique factors. You can elect to receive retirement benefits as early as age 62, however, doing so will result in a reduced benefit for life. If you wait until your full retirement age (66 or 67, depending on your birth date) or later (up to age 70), your benefit will be higher. The longer you wait, the larger it will be.

You can get an estimate of your retirement benefit at the Social Security Administration website, ssa.gov. You can also sign up for a my Social Security account to view your online Social Security statement, which contains a detailed record of your earnings and estimates for retirement, survivor, and disability benefits. Your retirement benefit estimates include amounts at age 62, full retirement age, and age 70. Check your statement carefully and address any errors as soon as possible.

Next, review the accounts you’ve earmarked for retirement income, including any employer benefits. Start with your employer-sponsored plan, and then consider any IRAs and traditional investment accounts you may own. Try to estimate how much they could provide on a monthly basis. If you are married, be sure to include your spouse’s retirement accounts as well. If your employer provides a traditional pension plan, contact the plan administrator for an estimate of that monthly benefit amount as well.

Do you have rental income? Be sure to include that in your calculations. Might you continue to work? Some retirees find that they are able to consult, turn a hobby into an income source, or work part-time. Such income can provide a valuable cushion that helps retirees postpone tapping their investment accounts, giving the assets more time to potentially grow.

Some other ways to generate extra cash during retirement include selling gently used goods (such as furniture or designer accessories), pet sitting, and participating in the sharing economy — e.g., using your car as a taxi service.

Pay off debt, power up your savings

Once you have an idea of what your possible expenses and income look like, it’s time to bring your attention back to the here and now. Draw up a plan to pay off debt and power up your retirement savings before you retire.

Why pay off debt? Entering retirement debt-free — including paying off your mortgage — will put you in a position to modify your monthly expenses in retirement if the need arises. On the other hand, entering retirement with a mortgage, loan, and credit-card balances will put you at the mercy of those monthly payments. You’ll have less of an opportunity to scale back your spending if necessary.

Why power up your savings? In these final few years before retirement, you’re likely to be earning the highest salary of your career. Why not save and invest as much as you can in your employer-sponsored retirement savings plan and/or IRAs? Aim for maximum allowable contributions. And remember, if you’re 50 or older, you can take advantage of catch-up contributions, which enable you to contribute an additional $6,000 to your 401(k) plan and an extra $1,000 to your IRA in 2017.

Manage taxes

As you think about when to tap your various resources for retirement income, remember to consider the tax impact of your strategy. For example, you may want to withdraw money from your taxable accounts first to allow your employer-sponsored plans and IRAs more time to potentially benefit from tax-deferred growth. Keep in mind, however, that generally you are required to begin taking minimum distributions from tax-deferred accounts in the year you turn age 70½, whether or not you actually need the money. (Roth IRAs are an exception to this rule.)

If you decide to work in retirement while receiving Social Security, understand that income you earn may result in taxable benefits. IRS Publication 915 offers a worksheet to help you determine whether any portion of your Social Security benefit is taxable. If leaving a financial legacy is a goal, you’ll also want to consider how estate taxes and income taxes for your heirs figure into your overall decisions.

Managing retirement income to result in the best possible tax scenario can be extremely complicated. Qualified tax and financial professionals can provide valuable insight and guidance.

Account for health care

The Employee Benefit Research Institute reported that the average 65-year-old married couple, with average prescription drug expenses, would need $221,000 in savings to have at least a 75% chance of meeting their insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health-care costs in retirement in 2016. This figure illustrates why health care should get special attention as you plan the transition to retirement.

As you age, the portion of your budget consumed by health-related costs (including both medical and dental) will likely increase. Although original Medicare will cover a portion of your costs, you’ll still have deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. Unless you’re prepared to pay for these costs out of pocket, you may want to purchase a supplemental Medigap insurance policy. Medigap policies are sold by private health insurers and are standardized and regulated by both state and federal law. These plans cover certain specified services, but offer different combinations of coverage. Some cover all or part of your Medicare deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance costs.

Another option is Medicare Advantage (also known as Medicare Part C), which allows Medicare beneficiaries to receive health care through managed care plans and private fee-for-service plans. To enroll in Medicare Advantage, you must be covered under both Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. For more information, visit medicare.gov.

Also think about what would happen if you or your spouse needed home care, nursing home care, or other forms of long-term assistance, which Medicare and Medigap will not cover. Long-term care costs vary substantially depending on where you live and can be extremely expensive. For this reason, people often consider buying long-term care insurance. Policy premiums may be tax deductible, based on a number of different factors. If you have a family history of debilitating illness such as Alzheimer’s, have substantial assets you’d like to protect, or want to leave assets to heirs, a long-term care policy may be worth considering.

Ease the transition

These are just some of the factors to consider as you prepare to transition into retirement. Breaking the bigger picture into smaller categories and using the years ahead to plan accordingly may help make the process a little easier.

 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017

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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

Handling Market Volatility

Conventional wisdom says that what goes up must come down. But even if you view market volatility as a normal occurrence, it can be tough to handle when your money is at stake. Though there’s no foolproof way to handle the ups and downs of the stock market, the following common-sense tips can help.

Don’t put your eggs all in one basket

Diversifying your investment portfolio is one of the key tools for trying to manage market volatility. Because asset classes often perform differently under different market conditions, spreading your assets across a variety of investments such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives has the potential to help reduce your overall risk. Ideally, a decline in one type of asset will be balanced out by a gain in another, though diversification can’t eliminate the possibility of market loss.

One way to diversify your portfolio is through asset allocation. Asset allocation involves identifying the asset classes that are appropriate for you and allocating a certain percentage of your investment dollars to each class (e.g., 70% to stocks, 20% to bonds, 10% to cash alternatives). A worksheet or an interactive tool may suggest a model or sample allocation based on your investment objectives, risk tolerance level, and investment time horizon, but that shouldn’t be a substitute for expert advice.

Focus on the forest, not on the trees

As the market goes up and down, it’s easy to become too focused on day-to-day returns. Instead, keep your eyes on your long-term investing goals and your overall portfolio. Although only you can decide how much investment risk you can handle, if you still have
years to invest, don’t overestimate the effect of short-term price fluctuations on your portfolio.

Look before you leap

When the market goes down and investment losses pile up, you may be tempted to pull out of the stock market altogether and look for less volatile investments. The modest returns that typically accompany low-risk investments may seem attractive when more risky investments are posting negative returns.

But before you leap into a different investment strategy, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. How you choose to invest your money should be consistent with your goals and time horizon.

For instance, putting a larger percentage of your investment dollars into vehicles that offer asset preservation and liquidity (the opportunity to easily access your funds) may be the right strategy for you if your investment goals are short term and you’ll need the money soon, or if you’re growing close to reaching a long-term goal such as retirement. But if you still have years to invest, keep in mind that stocks have historically outperformed stable-value investments over time, although past performance is no guarantee of future results. If you move most or all of your  investment dollars into conservative investments, you’ve not only locked in any losses you might have, but you’ve also sacrificed the potential for higher returns. Investments seeking to achieve higher rates of return also involve a higher degree of risk.

Look for the silver lining

A down market, like every cloud, has a silver lining. The silver lining of a down market is the opportunity to buy shares of stock at lower prices. One of the ways you can do this is by using dollar-cost averaging. With dollar-cost averaging, you don’t try to “time the market” by buying shares at the moment when the price is lowest. In fact, you don’t worry about price at all. Instead, you invest a specific amount of money at regular intervals over time. When the price is higher, your investment dollars buy fewer shares of an investment, but when the price is lower, the same dollar amount will buy you more shares. A workplace savings plan, such as a 401(k) plan in which the same amount is deducted from each paycheck and invested through the plan, is one of the cost well-known examples of dollar cost averaging in action.

For example, let’s say that you decided to invest $300 each month. As the illustration shows, your regular monthly investment of $300 bought more shares when the price was low and fewer shares when the price was high:

Although dollar-cost averaging can’t guarantee you a profit or avoid a loss, a regular fixed dollar investment may result in a lower average price per share over time, assuming you continue to invest through all types of market conditions.

(This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the performance of any particular investment. Actual results will vary.)

Making dollar-cost averaging work for you

• Get started as soon as possible. The longer you have to ride out the ups and downs of the market, the more opportunity you have to build a sizable investment account over time.
• Stick with it. Dollar-cost averaging is a long-term investment strategy. Make sure you have the financial resources and the discipline to invest continuously through all types of market
conditions, regardless of price fluctuations.
• Take advantage of automatic deductions. Having your investment contributions deducted and invested automatically makes the process easy and convenient.

Don’t stick your head in the sand

While focusing too much on short-term gains or losses is unwise, so is ignoring your investments. You should check your portfolio at least once a year–more frequently if the market is particularly volatile or when there have been significant changes in your life. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring it back in line with your investment goals and risk tolerance. Rebalancing involves selling some investments in order to buy others. Investors should keep in mind that selling investments could result in a tax liability. Don’t hesitate to get expert help if you need it to decide which investment options are right for you.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

As the market recovers from a down cycle, elation quickly sets in. If the upswing lasts long enough, it’s easy to believe that investing in the stock market is a sure thing. But, of course, it never is. As many investors have learned the hard way, becoming overly optimistic about investing during the good times can be as detrimental as worrying too much during the bad times. The right approach during all kinds of markets is to be realistic. Have a plan, stick with it, and strike a comfortable balance between risk and return.

 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017

__________________________________________________________________________
* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

Pay Down Debt or Save for Retirement?

You can use a variety of strategies to pay off debt, many of which can cut not only the amount of time it will take to pay off the debt but also the total interest paid. But like many people, you may be torn between paying off debt and the need to save for retirement. Both are important; both can help give you a more secure future. If you’re not sure you can afford to tackle both at the same time, which should you choose?

There’s no one answer that’s right for everyone, but here are some of the factors you should consider when making your decision.

Rate of investment return versus interest rate on debt

Probably the most common way to decide whether to pay off debt or to make investments is to consider whether you could earn a higher after-tax rate of return by investing than the after-tax interest rate you pay on the debt. For example, say you have a credit card with a $10,000 balance on which you pay nondeductible interest of 18%. By getting rid of those interest payments, you’re effectively getting an 18% return on your money. That means your money would generally need to earn an after-tax return greater than 18% to make investing a smarter choice than paying off debt. That’s a pretty tough challenge even for professional investors.

And bear in mind that investment returns are anything but guaranteed. In general, the higher the rate of return, the greater the risk. If you make investments rather than pay off debt and your investments incur losses, you may still have debts to pay, but you won’t have had the benefit of any gains. By contrast, the return that comes from eliminating high-interest-rate debt is a sure thing.

An employer’s match may change the equation

If your employer matches a portion of your workplace retirement account contributions, that can make the debt versus savings decision more difficult. Let’s say your company matches 50% of your contributions up to 6% of your salary. That means that you’re earning a 50% return on that portion of your retirement account contributions.

If surpassing an 18% return from paying off debt is a challenge, getting a 50% return on your money simply through investing is even tougher. The old saying about a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush applies here. Assuming you conform to your plan’s
requirements and your company meets its plan obligations, you know in advance what your return from the match will be; very few investments can offer the same degree of certainty. That’s why many financial experts argue that saving at least enough to get any employer match for your contributions may make more sense than focusing on debt.

And don’t forget the tax benefits of contributions to a workplace savings plan. By contributing pretax dollars to your plan account, you’re deferring anywhere from 10% to 39.6% in taxes, depending on your federal tax rate. You’re able to put money that would ordinarily go toward taxes to work immediately.

Your choice doesn’t have to be all or nothing

The decision about whether to save for retirement or pay off debt can sometimes be affected by the type of debt you have. For example, if you itemize deductions, the interest you pay on a mortgage is generally deductible on your federal tax return. Let’s
say you’re paying 6% on your mortgage and 18% on your credit card debt, and your employer matches 50% of your retirement account contributions. You might consider directing some of your available resources to paying off the credit card debt and some
toward your retirement account in order to get the full company match, and continuing to pay the tax-deductible mortgage interest.

There’s another good reason to explore ways to address both goals. Time is your best ally when saving for retirement. If you say to yourself, “I’ll wait to start saving until my debts are completely paid off,” you run the risk that you’ll never get to that point, because your good intentions about paying off your debt may falter at some point. Putting off saving also reduces the number of years you have left to save for retirement.

It might also be easier to address both goals if you can cut your interest payments by refinancing that debt. For example, you might be able to consolidate multiple credit card payments by rolling them over to a new credit card or a debt consolidation loan that has a lower interest rate.

Bear in mind that even if you decide to focus on retirement savings, you should make sure that you’re able to make at least the monthly minimum payments owed on your debt. Failure to make those minimum payments can result in penalties and increased interest rates; those will only make your debt situation worse.

Other considerations

When deciding whether to pay down debt or to save for retirement, make sure you take into account the following factors:

• Having retirement plan contributions automatically deducted from your paycheck eliminates the temptation to spend that money on things that might make your debt dilemma even worse. If you decide to prioritize paying down debt, make sure you put in place a mechanism that automatically directs money toward the debt–for example, having money deducted automatically from your checking account–so you won’t be tempted to skip or reduce payments.

• Do you have an emergency fund or other resources that you can tap in case you lose your job or have a medical emergency? Remember that if your workplace savings plan allows loans, contributing to the plan not only means you’re helping to provide for a more secure retirement but also building savings that could potentially be used as a last resort in an emergency. Some employer-sponsored retirement plans also allow hardship withdrawals in certain situations–for example, payments necessary to prevent an eviction from or foreclosure of your principal residence–if you have no other resources tot tap.(However, remember that the amount of any hardship withdrawal becomes taxable income, and if you aren’t at least age 59½, you also may owe a 10% premature distribution tax on that money.)

• If you do need to borrow from your plan, make sure you compare the cost of using that money with other financing options, such as loans from banks, credit unions, friends, or family. Although interest rates on plan loans may be favorable, the amount you can borrow is limited, and you generally must repay the loan within five years. In addition, some plans require you to repay the loan immediately if you leave your job. Your retirement earnings will also suffer as a result of removing funds from a tax-deferred investment.

• If you focus on retirement savings rather than paying down debt, make sure you’re invested so that your return has a chance of exceeding the interest you owe on that debt. While your investments should be appropriate for your risk tolerance, if you invest too conservatively, the rate of return may not be high enough to offset the interest rate you’ll continue to pay. Regardless of your choice, perhaps the most important decision you can make is to take action and get started now. The sooner you decide on a plan for both your debt and your need for retirement savings, the sooner you’ll start to make progress toward achieving both goals.

 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017
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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.