Tips on Shopping for a Financial Advisor

Published in the Pawtucket Times on February 8, 2021

As a result of living in times of economic uncertainty resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, retirees are worried about how they can protect their hard-earned egg nest from the volatility of the stock market.  It is even now more important to be working with a financial planner who is watching your back and not putting their interest first.   

Just days ago, the Washington, DC-based AARP launched “AARP Interview an Advisor™,” free resource to help investors to assist investors in evaluating a financial advisor. This new financial tool enables older investors to better assess and understand the credentials of financial advisors and how they are compensated. SEC’s ‘Best Interest Fails to Put the Interests of the Investor First AARP says this online resource was created in response to a Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) 2019 ruling that stopped a long-standing federal regulation requiring financial advisors to put their clients’ interest above their own. 

AARP and other critics of the Final Rule say that it fell short of defining exactly what that term means operationally. “The regulation explicitly states that it does not mean that financial advisors provide a fiduciary standard of care. Despite its name, ‘Regulation Best Interest’ does not require that financial advisors put their client’s interest above their own financial interests,” charges AARP.  The nation’s largest aging advocacy group warns that warns that sound financial advice from Fiduciaries won’t happen without a Code of Standard that requires the best interest of the client. AARP Interview an Advisor™ guides users through process of researching potential advisors and provides them with this valuable evaluation tools to help them evaluate their financial planner.     

Last year, AARP conducted a national survey to gauge investors’ awareness and views of the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest ruling and also their understanding of the fees and expenses they pay for investment products and financial advice.  

The survey findings, detailed in the recently released 27-page report, Should Financial Advisors Put Your Interests First, indicated a need to raise the awareness of the SEC’s new regulation and its impact on investing.  It also became very clear to the study’s researchers that investors require more assistance in vetting current and/or future financial advisors to ensure that their financial advisor puts their interests first and more education is needed requiring investment fees and expenses. 

AARP’s survey of 1,577 adults ages 25 and older who have money saved in retirement savings accounts and/or other investment accounts, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago on behalf of AARP between Aug. 22, 2019 and Aug. 26, 2019 (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), found more than 80 percent of American investors were not aware of the SEC ruling.  Upon learning about this regulatory change, four-in-five investors (83 percent) opposed the change. According to AARP’s survey findings, nearly 70 percent of investors have at least two investment accounts.

Among those having multiple accounts, 74 percent do not use the same financial institution to manage all of their accounts. The median amount that investors currently have in savings and investments ranges between $50,000 and $99,999. Additionally, 90 percent of investors either somewhat (52 percent) or completely (38 percent) trust the financial institutions or advisors who manage their investment accounts.  

Despite 68 percent of investors believing that they are somewhat (54 percent) or very (14 percent) knowledgeable about their investments, 41 percent mistakenly believe that they don’t pay any fees or expenses for their investment accounts. 

 Can You Trust Your Financial Planner? 

Yet the survey findings note that 58 percent of investors think financial advisors would choose to increase their earnings by selling their clients higher cost investment products even if similar lower cost products are available. “With millions of American families concerned about the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it is crucial for them to be equipped with the best resources and information when selecting a financial advisor,” said Jean Setzfand, AARP Senior Vice President of Programming, in a Feb. 4, 2020 statement announcing the release of the new Financial Planning tool. “The new SEC regulation states that advisors must act in their client’s ‘best interest,’ but falls short of defining exactly what that term means,” she said. “

AARP Interview an Advisor™” is an online resource that provides guidance and a checklist for investors on how to assess the services and standards of financial advisors. Investors are invited to fill out a short survey that evaluates the potential advisor and compares them on a three-point scale. It also provides investors with advice on how to effectively communicate with a prospective advisor, assess their credentials and better understand how advisors are compensated.The COVID-19 pandemic has put many seniors off track in reaching their financial goal of building a big enough egg-nest to provide financial security in their later years.  Now its even more important for you to have a top-notch financial planner who has your back.

To view AARP’s Survey of retail investors about advisor-client relationships and fees, go to https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2019/retail-investor-survey-report.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00342.001.pdf.

Study: COVID-19 Changes Way Americans Think About Retirement

Published in RINewsToday on November 23

The raging coronavirus pandemic is changing the fundamental way working adults think, plan and save for their retirement, underscoring the important role Social Security and Medicare play for retirees, according to the 2020 Wells Fargo Retirement study conducted by The Harris Poll in August. The annual research report examines the attitudes and savings of working adults, taking a look this year on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on retirees.

For those workers whose jobs were negatively impacted by COVID-19 over the last eight months, the Wells Fargo study found that planning for retirement has become even more challenging, with many survey respondents expressing “pessimism” about their life in retirement – or worried if they can even retire. 

This year’s Harris Poll conducted 4,590 online interviews, from Aug.3-Aug. 24, including 2,660 working Americans age 18-76 whose employment was not impacted by COVID-19, 725 Americans age 18-76 whose employment was impacted by coronavirus pandemic, 200 high net worth American workers age 18-76, and 1,005 retired Americans, surveying attitudes and behaviors around planning their finances, saving, and investing for retirement.

According to the Wells Fargo study’s findings, 58 percent of workers impacted by the pandemic say they now don’t know if they have enough savings for retirement because of COVID-19, compared to 37 percent of all workers. Moreover, among workers impacted by coronavirus, 70 percent say they are worried about running out of money during their retirement while 61 percent say they are much more afraid of life in retirement, and 61 percent note that pandemic took the joy out of looking forward to retirement.

The study, released Oct. 21, found that COVID-19 has driven some workers even further behind in saving for retirement: Working men reported median retirement savings of $120,000, which compares to $60,000 for working women, say the researchers.  Yet for those impacted by COVID-19, men report median retirement savings of $60,000, which compares to $21,000 for women.

“With individual investors now largely responsible for saving and funding their own retirement, disruptive events and economic downturns can have an outsized impact on their outlook,” said Nate Miles, head of Retirement for Wells Fargo Asset Management in a statement releasing the findings of this study. “Our study shows that even for the most disciplined savers, working Americans are not saving enough for retirement. The good news is that for many of today’s workers, there is still time to save and prepare,” he says.

Taking a Close Look on Retirement Savings

The Wells Fargo study also found that women and younger generations are falling behind, too. Women are less sure if they will be able to save enough for retirement, and appear to be in a more precarious financial situation than men. The study findings indicate that almost half of working women (51 percent) say they are saving enough for retirement, or that they are confident they will have enough savings to live comfortably in retirement (51 percent). Those impacted by COVID-19 have saved less than half for retirement than men and are much more pessimistic about their financial lives. In addition, women impacted by COVID-19 are less likely to have access to an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan (59 percent), and are less likely to participate (77 percent).

According to the researchers, Generation Z workers (born between 1997 to 2012) started saving at an earlier age and are participating in employer-based savings programs at a greater rate than other generations, they are nonetheless worried about their future. Fifty-two percent of Generation Z workers say they don’t know if they’ll be able to save enough to retire because of COVID-19, 50 percent say they are much more afraid of life in retirement due to COVID-19, and 52 percent say the pandemic took the joy out of looking forward to retirement.

Remaining Optimistic

“The study found incredible optimism and resiliency among American workers and retirees, which is remarkable in the current [pandemic] environment,” said Kim Ta, head of Client Service and Advice for Wells Fargo Advisors. “As an industry, we must help more investors make a plan for their future so that optimism becomes a reality in retirement,” she said.

The Wells Fargo study findings showed that despite a challenging economy, many American workers and retirees remain optimistic about their current life, their future. Seventy nine percent of the workers say they are very or somewhat satisfied with their current life, in control of their financial life (79 percent), are able to pay their monthly bills (95 percent).  Eight six percent say they are still able to manage their finances.

The study’s findings indicate that 69 percent of workers and 73 percent of retirees feel in control and/or happy about their financial situation. Ninety two percent of the workers and 91 precent of retirees say they can positively affect their financial situation, and 90 percent of workers and 88 percent of retirees say they can positively affect how their debt situation progresses.

The researchers noted that 83 percent of workers say they could pay for a financial emergency of $1,000 without having to borrow money from friends or family. However, the respondents acknowledged they could improve their financial planning. Slightly more than half — 54 percent of workers and 50 percent of retirees — say they a detailed financial plan, and just 27 percent of workers and 29 percent of retirees have a financial advisor.

The study’s findings indicated that most respondents acknowledged that they could improve their financial planning. Slightly more than half — 54 percent of workers and 50 percent of retirees note they have a detailed financial plan, and just 27 percent of workers and 29 percent of retirees have a financial advisor.

Social Security and Medicare Key to Retiree’s Financial Security

The Wells Fargo study noted that despite an increasing shift to a self-funded retirement, in the midst of the pandemic, nearly all workers and retirees believe that Social Security and Medicare play or will play a significant role in their retirement.  According to the study, 71 percent of workers, 81 percent of those negatively impacted by COVID-19, and 85 percent of retirees say that COVID-19 reinforced how important Social Security and Medicare will be for their retirement. Sixty seven percent of workers say they have no idea what out-of-pocket healthcare costs will be in retirement, say the researchers.

The researchers say that workers expect that Social Security will make up approximately one-third of their monthly budget (30 percent median) in retirement. And even those high-net workers believe that Social Security and Medicare factor significantly into their retirement plans, expecting that the retirement program will cover 20 percent (median) of their monthly expenses.

The majority of the study’s respondents expressed concerns that the programs will not be available when they need them and worry that the government won’t protect them.  Specifically, 76 percent of workers are concerned Social Security will be raided to pay down government debt and 72 percent of workers are afraid that Social Security won’t be available when they retire.

The Wells Fargo study also found that 90 percent of workers would feel betrayed if the money they paid into Social Security is lost and not available when they retire and that 45 percent of workers are optimistic that Congress will make changes to secure the future of Social Security.

Opposition Builds Against Elimination of Social Security’s Payroll Tax

Published in the Pawtucket Times on September 28, 2020

With the looming 2020 presidential elections, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) announces its first ever Presidential endorsement, throwing its support to the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris campaign. The Washington, DC-based aging advocacy group, founded by James Roosevelt, Jr., the son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is credited with founding Social Security, fears for the retirement program’s future survival under a second Trump term. NCPSSM’s endorsement breaks the National Committee’s 38-year tradition of steering clear of Presidential campaigns in order to focus its resources on House and Senate races.

NCPSSM support of Biden follows the endorsements of other aging advocacy groups including AARP, Social Security Works, Alliance for Retired Americans, Medicare for All, American Federation of Government Employees and National Treasury Employees Union.

“During the past four years, we’ve seen this president pay lip service to seniors’ needs while actively undermining their best interests, the latest example being his reckless pledge to terminate the payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare,” says NCPSSM’s president and CEO Max Richtman. “As the pandemic has worsened, we have seen an abject failure to protect nursing home residents and workers, who represent 40 percent of all COVID deaths. Never in our organization’s history have we seen such a consistent level of threats to the health and retirement security of America’s seniors,” he added, noting that the most effective way to protect the solvency of Social Security is to elect Joe Biden as president,” he said.

Adds, James Roosevelt, Jr., Vice-Chairman of the National Committee’s advisory board, “By enacting Social Security, my grandfather, President Franklin Roosevelt, gave workers the promise of dignity and financial security in retirement. Thirty years later, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, providing older Americans with affordable, accessible health insurance. There’s a reason Social Security and Medicare have been around for 85 and 55 years, respectively. Americans value and depend on them. My father and grandfather would be outraged that President Trump and his allies want to dismantle both programs. I am 100 percent behind the National Committee’s decision to endorse Joe Biden, the candidate who can be trusted to protect seniors’ earned benefits from any attempts to undermine or privatize them.”

Trump’s Changing Policy Positions on Social Security

On Oct. 4, 2016, at vice presidential debate at Longwood University, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine noted that in 2000, Donald Trump wrote a chapter in a book, The America We Deserve, calling Social Security a” Ponzi scheme” [an investment fraud] and stating that “privatization [of the program] would be good for all of us. ”

One month before Trump formally announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, with a campaign rally and speech at Trump Tower in New York City, he tweeted, “I am going to save Social Security without any cuts. I know where to get the money from. Nobody else does.”

As a presidential candidate, Trump continued calling for protecting Social Security, long regarded as one of the most successful and popular social programs ever enacted by Congress. During a June political rally in 2016, Trump claimed, “We’re going to save your Social Security without killing it like so many people want to do” and throughout the 2016 presidential campaign repeatedly promised “not to touch” seniors’ earned benefits and to “protect your Social Security and your Medicare.”

Once in the Oval Office, Trump’s views changed. Congress was forced to block his proposed budget cuts and rule changes that would hurt Social Security beneficiaries, says Richtman.

“Trump has betrayed older Americans through his bungled response to the COVID pandemic and by blatantly breaking his promises to protect senior’s cherished social insurance programs. He has proposed more than $1 trillion in cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He has vowed to eliminate the payroll taxes that fund seniors’ retirement and health benefits if re-elected to a second term. He has urged the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which improved Medicare benefits and solvency. In short, the President has listened to advisors who want to dismantle the country’s most effective social safety net programs” says NCPSSM’s top official.

A Stark Warning

On August 8, Trump has signed an Executive Order, Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster, to authorize a payroll tax holiday/deferral to give American taxpayers extra cash as they deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The president’s action allows employers to stop deducting the 6.2 percent employee payroll contribution toward Social Security for the rest of the year.

An Aug. 28 IRS memo noted that employers who participate in the payroll tax holiday will then have to pay back the taxes starting in 2021. Simply put, more money will take out paychecks from Jan. 1 to April 30 in 2021 to repay the taxes owed.

Richtman warns, don’t count on payroll tax forgiveness. “Unless Congress passes legislation to address this, the workers will ow every cent of that payroll tax deferral in 2021, and employers would have to deduct more from their paychecks starting January to repay it,” her says.

NCPSSM, Democratic lawmakers, and Social Security advocacy groups don’t see Trump’s elimination of the Social Security payroll taxes as an effective economic stimulus especially to unemployed workers. This action could effectively defund the Social Security and Medicare programs could ultimately bankrupt these programs.

In the letter released on Sept. 23 , Nancy A. LeaMond, AARP’s Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer said “As AARP raised in letters to Congress back in March and President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin in August, we believe suspending, reducing, or eliminating contributions to Social Security will interfere with the program’s long-term funding stream… This deferral, along with the President’s recent statements on the permanent elimination of the Social Security payroll tax contribution, are engendering uncertainty among older Americans and the general public about Social Security and its ability to pay promised benefits. As such, AARP supports the resolution of Congressional disapproval.”

Trump counters NCPSSM, AARP and others condemning his Executive Order. He claims that eliminating the Social Security tax would not impact the solvency of Social Security, because the money would be shifted from the government’s general fund. Both continuing his payroll tax cut and shifting funds would require Congressional action. That, also, would require an act of Congress.

With this first time political endorsement, NCPSSM hopes to see a Democratic administration take over the White House to strengthen and expand Social Security, not weaken it by eliminating the program’s payroll taxes. “After nearly four decades of fighting to protect American seniors, the National Committee has determined that many older Americans cannot afford – let alone survive – another four years of President Trump. By endorsing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris today, we will work tirelessly to help voters of all ages understand that Trump’s promises are empty. He offers seniors a one-way ticket to nowhere. Americans deserve a President who will protect and strengthen the federal government’s commitment to older Americans.”

This article was updated on Sept. 24.