Q. My husband's financial adviser has made a suggestion for action. We can't decide if it's a good idea. My husband is 70, retired, and drawing from his account.
The account includes 39,427 shares of Franklin income fund class A, 4,351 shares of SunAmerica Focused Balanced Strategy A; and 4,138 shares of SunAmerica Focused Balanced Strategy B.
We do not have a happy history of good advice from this adviser. Under his management, the account has lost almost 80 percent of its value over the last 8 or so years. The value of the account is about $150,000.
Should we take the adviser's advice? ---S.J.M., by email
A. In fairness, you should remember that some portion of that decline is due to withdrawals. Your adviser is proposing is to move from three balanced funds (mixtures of stocks and bonds) to two equity funds. The portion of your total portfolio in fixed-income will be smaller than it is today. So you’ll have more risk.
Yes, the change might help recover losses faster. But it also means more ups and downs. It means that your regular withdrawals may have a larger negative effect on future growth--- because they may occur when values are down.
The selections, all load funds, indicate that your adviser's primary source of income is commissions. This limits his choices to funds with sales loads and tends to increase what you pay in annual expenses. This is the burden of commission-based advice.
The SunAmerica funds are the same fund, but you have paid for them in two ways, as front-load A shares and deferred-load B shares. The A shares cost 1.68 percent a year. The B shares cost 2.33 percent a year. The average expense ratio of funds in this category is 1.36 percent a year, according to Morningstar data. The Advisor could have put you in American Funds Balanced A shares. Your expenses would have been 0.58 percent a year. He would have earned a commission and served you, rather than putting his firm first. That’s why you don’t need this adviser.
A person in your situation should visit a no-load firm such as Fidelity or Charles Schwab. There, you will have a chance at reducing your investment expenses and improving your investment results.
You could also move your account to Vanguard and reduce expenses dramatically. As I have pointed out many times, its Balanced Index fund, Admiral shares (ticker: VBINX), has provided a better return than at least 75 percent of all competing moderate allocation funds. It has annual expenses, with a $100,000 minimum investment, of only 0.07 percent.
That's a tiny fraction of what you are now paying for commission-driven advice.
Q. What are the pros and cons of I Savings bonds, TIPS, and TIPS funds? ---K.S., by email
A. I Savings Bonds come in denominations as small as $50. All income is accumulated, tax-deferred, until you redeem the bonds. This makes them a very convenient investment. Sadly, individuals are now limited to $5,000 a year in purchases of these bonds. Fortunately, you can have both an electronic account and a paper securities account, so you can actually invest $10,000 a year. You can learn all the particulars by visiting the Treasury website.
Bonds purchased in the last 6 month period (November 1 to April 31) are earning 0.70 percent plus the trailing inflation rate. The new rate for bonds purchased between May 1 and October 31 is zero percent. That’s not very attractive since you’ll be stuck with that rate, plus inflation, for the life of the bond.
TIPS, whether purchased as individual securities or as holdings in a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund, are best held in a tax-deferred retirement plan because they create "phantom income"--- the inflation adjustment on the value of the bond is deemed taxable income even though you don't receive it in cash. While the value of these securities fluctuates with the market, these securities usually offer a higher premium over inflation than I Savings Bonds. Also, there is no limit on the amount you may purchase. According to Bloomberg.com, for instance, the recent premium over inflation was 2.35 percent on 20-year TIPS.