Have Limited Savings? A Financial Planner May Not Be Necessary
June 24, 2015

Have Limited Savings? A Financial Planner May Not Be Necessary

Q. I am writing because I may need to make a change in my financial planning. I currently have a financial planner that charges 1.5 percent. My portfolio is a little less than $200.000.

My yearly income from Social Security and a pension is $45,000. I believe that I don’t have enough in my retirement to pay 1.5 percent in charges. I, however, am not a savvy investor. I’m also very conservative. I will be 65 years old soon and know that I need to make my money last. I also know that a savings account and CDs are too conservative. But do I need a financial planner? Should I leave my $200,000 with an advisor? Or should I move it to a different kind of investment? I do make regular withdrawals. But recently I have tried to take less from the account. I retired early, at age 54, and lived on the IRA and my pension until I started collecting my Social Security.

My home is about 10 years old and is worth about 165,000, I still owe about $65,000 on it and refinanced in a couple of years ago to a 30 year loan to make my payments cheaper. The payment is now less than $400 a month. —J.D., by email

A. Let’s start with a realistic look at what your $200,000 in savings can do for you. At a regular withdrawal rate of 4 to 5 percent, it could add $8,000 to $10,000 to your Social Security and pension income of $45,000. That’s a nice amount. But it isn’t a game changer. Whether the withdrawal rate is 4 or 5 percent, you’d make a bigger impact on your cash flow by paying off the existing mortgage. You’d still have a cushion of $135,000.

Financial planning is not magic, so you can’t rely on it to do anything magical. The basic issue we all face is to control our spending so that it is less than our income. It’s really that simple. So spending some time with your checkbook and credit card statements would be a good start on financial planning. More important, if you don’t do that, everything else is meaningless.

And, by the way, financial planning and asset management isn’t the same thing. Most of the people who introduce themselves as financial planners are really salespeople for financial products that manage assets.

Investing in Admiral shares of Vanguard Balanced Index fund would reduce your investment expenses to 0.09 percent. This saves 1.41 percent a year in fees for you while putting your money in a fund that has generally been in the top 30 percent of comparable funds over time periods out to 15 years. It’s unlikely that any advisor you find will provide advice that would lead to better results.

Q. Please check or correct my thinking. I have $800,000 in a 401(k) account. I also have $800,000 in a brokerage account. Both are 95 percent invested in a mixture of stocks and mutual funds (large, mid, small, growth, international, etc.).

In two years I will retire with a pension of $60,000 a year. I will not get any Social Security. I look at the pension as the "fixed" income portion of my portfolio. That’s why I hold more equity in my other investments because of the pension. Am I crazy to think this way? If yes, I need to start reallocating now. ? —M.W., ?Dallas, Texas?

A. Your pension is similar to a fixed income holding and some allowance should be made for it as a portfolio equivalent fixed income asset. But it should not be treated as a one-for-one substitute, largely because it is income only, not a liquid asset.

A more fruitful way to think about it is situational. How much of your basic cost of living (with related income taxes) does your pension cover? If you can cover most of your food, shelter, clothing, transportation and medical expenses with your pension, very little of your standard of living is at risk when stocks go up and down. This allows you to take more risk, if you are inclined to do that.

To see this clearly, consider the other extreme— someone with no sources of guaranteed income. That would mean they are 100 percent dependent on their accumulated savings. So more of their standard of living would be at risk in the market. Because of that, they would need to be more conservative with their money.

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