Q. I am a 26-year-old man, looking into starting a Roth IRA. I have been investing in my government 457 plan for the past three years but am unhappy that I will be taxed on my gains at retirement. I am one of the few people left in the world who will receive a pension and regular pay increases. When I retire, this will make my retirement tax bracket higher than what it is now. I am thinking of starting a Roth IRA to avoid higher taxes later.
Can you give me any advice on what is a fair fee for a Roth IRA account? I would have a managed account. Most companies charge 1.6 percent to 1.9 percent for the management of your mutual funds. My insurance company wants to charge an additional 3 percent for having the account through its name brand. I don't feel this is a good investment strategy. ---C.W., by email from Buffalo, NY
A. A Roth IRA, like a traditional IRA, SEP or other retirement account, is just a legal wrapper for a pool of assets. So it isn't appropriate to talk about what the right fee on the account should be. The amount you pay in fees should relate to what you pay for management of the assets themselves plus how much you might pay in additional fees for contractual guarantees from an insurance company.
In my view the 1.6 percent to 1.9 percent range you mention is simply too high. It may be "normal," but that doesn't make it right or good for you. I suggest that you consider filling your Roth IRA account with low-cost no-load mutual funds. At firms like Fidelity and T. Rowe Price you can get funds with annual expenses well under 1 percent a year.
Go to Vanguard and you can get your money managed for still less. Vanguard Wellington (Ticker: VWELX), a moderate allocation (or balanced) managed fund, has beaten 95 percent of its competitors over the last 15 years, according to Morningstar data, yet its annual expense ratio is only 0.27 percent. Similarly, Vanguard Wellesley (Ticker: VWINX) has beaten 99 percent of its competitors over the last 15 years, yet its annual expense ratio is only 0.33 percent. That's very clear evidence that paying up for management does little for you, but lots for your manager.
The insurance products you are considering probably come in at just over 3 percent a year. That's fairly typical for a variable annuity contract with "living benefits" provisions. There is no reason on earth for you or anyone else to subject hard-earned money to such high fees.
When you are talking about investing for 50 years, managers come and go, as do the firms for which they work. The best long-term investment strategy is cost reduction.
Q. I am a retired Texas teacher who will also be eligible for Social Security benefits. But because I retired from a school district that did not withhold Social Security, my payments will be reduced because of the WEP rule. I plan to begin receiving my Social Security benefits when I turn 62. I also have a fixed annuity, and I plan to begin a five-year distribution plan when I turn 61. Since my Teacher Retirement System income distributions reduce my Social Security payments, will those fixed annuity distributions further reduce my Social Security payments? ---R.E. – Austin
A. Talk about adding insult to injury. While the annuity income won’t reduce your Social Security benefits directly, they may be reduced beyond what the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) does if the combination of your remaining Social Security benefits and income from other sources triggers the taxation of a portion of your Social Security benefits. Here's an example. Suppose you are single, have Social Security benefits of $10,000 a year after the WEP, and your other sources of income add another $40,000 a year to your income. Then the first $20,000 of other income would not trigger any Social Security benefit taxation. The next $10,000 of income, however, would cause $5,000 of Social Security benefits to be added to your taxable income. You would have to pay federal income taxes on that $5,000.