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SFeb 6, 2008

There Is No Cure for Nest-Egg Anxiety

Scott Burns

Q. I retired at age 60 with a package. That was 13 months ago. As the package dwindles, I wonder if I should go back to work. Ugh! I have about $ 900,000.  It is about 21 percent in fixed-income, 73 percent in equities and 6 percent in cash. Recently, I converted $40,000 from the IRA to a Roth IRA because I didn't have any income to report in 2007. My financial adviser suggested investing about $50,000 in a REIT.

I owe about $32,000 on my home and recently purchased a car, financing only $12,000. I have no other debt. I guess I am in pretty good shape, but I worry constantly. I keep thinking.... come on 62! Never before in my life have I wanted to be older. Should I be doing something else such as pay my house off, or the car I just purchased?



I recently read a list of top-performing mutual funds. None of my money is invested in any of these funds. I thought financial advisers could purchase any type of funds.
---S.G., by email from Dallas

A. There is no cure for Nest-Egg Anxiety. It is part of the retirement package. We all worry when we’re no longer working because we’re depending on things even further from our control than our jobs. The best way to tame the anxiety is to focus on what your resources can do for you and whether you are living within your resources.

With financial assets of $900,000,  you’ve got a sustainable retirement income of about $36,000 a year plus your eventual Social Security benefit. You’ll also benefit from deferring taking Social Security benefits until your full retirement age rather than taking them at age 62. For 2008 you should make decisions guided by your tax bracket, knowing you can have gross income of  $41,500 as a single person without exceeding the 15 percent tax bracket.

If your $900,000 nest egg includes some money in a regular taxable account, it would be a good idea to use that money and up to $40,000 from your deferred accounts to pay off the mortgage. The car loan, however, should be kept because it probably represents the depreciation you can expect in the next two or three years.

I think the REITs idea is a good one, particularly after the drubbing they took last year. Dividend yields are attractive again. A small REIT commitment will work to increase the overall yield from your portfolio.

It’s nice if an adviser has you in a fund that makes the unrelenting but ever-changing lists of Great Funds to Buy This Morning, but no one should ever count on it. The best way to evaluate your adviser is to make a list of the funds you hold and check their long-term performance and their annual expenses with a reporting source like Morningstar. If the expenses are average or less and the returns are average or better, you’re probably getting reasonable care. If the expenses are higher than average and the returns are lower than average, you need to think about changing advisers or becoming a self-directed investor.

Q. I am thinking of splitting my wife's 401K between Vanguard's Balanced Index Fund and its Wellington Fund. Would that be redundant since both funds hold at least five of the same companies in their top 10 holdings?
---J.E.L., by email

A. Many funds share multiple stocks in their top 10 holdings. This happens because virtually every fund that holds domestic large-cap stocks will have a major position in some of the largest-capitalization stocks in the market. It’s difficult NOT to own large positions in mega stocks like GE, Exxon, Microsoft, AT&T, Citigroup, or Bank of America.  In the end, it comes down to which fund owned more Exxon than Citigroup or some other combination of very large stocks that moved in different directions.

I’m a devoted indexer, but in this case I’d choose Vanguard Wellington rather than split the investment. Wellington fund has beaten Balanced Index by a substantial margin over the last three, five, and 10 years and has an index fund-like expense ratio of only 0.30 percent.

Filed Under: Financial Planning, Q&A (from print)