Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Social Security, If Not Now-When?

Social Security benefits are a component in the retirement planning of most Americans. However, those benefits pose questions for both younger and older employees. Younger employees are faced with the long term viability of the system (see our previous posting of “Social Security, Medicare, and You”. Older employees are faced with the question of how, and when, to start taking their benefit.
Social Security benefits are a function of age, length of working career, and earnings level. Therefore, we urge you to contact the Social Security Administration to determine your specific benefits. Our discussion here will be more general in nature and cover only the Old Age & Survivor Insurance (OASI) benefit.
Full Retirement Age (FRA)
Full retirement age is the age at which one is eligible to draw 100% of Social Security benefit earned. Retiring earlier than FRA reduces the amount received; retiring later increases the amount of benefit. Once benefits are begun, the amount is constant, subject only to cost of living adjustments (COLAs); that adjustment amount is tied to inflation. Full retirement age for benefits is shown in the following table:
Full Retirement Age

Year of Birth
Age Required for Full Benefits
1954 or Earlier
66 years
66 years + 2 months
66 years + 4 months
66 years + 6 months
66 years + 8 months
66 years + 10 months
1960 and Later
67 years

The earliest age at which one can begin drawing benefits is 62. However, for those born in or before 1955, starting Social Security before FRA reduces the in full benefit by 6.25% per year. For those individuals born in 1960 or later, the reduction is 6.0% per year. Waiting until after FRA to begin drawing benefits increases the benefit by 8% per year until age 70. There are no further benefit increases after age 70.
Cost of living adjustments for Social Security are tied to inflation. In 2017, benefits increased by 0.3%. There have been years in which benefits did not increase; however, the average cost of living adjustment for 1985-2017 has been 2.6%.
Age 62 or Later?
When should one begin drawing Social Security benefits? Should one draw a lesser amount for a longer period of time (longer life expectancy) or a greater amount for a shorter period of time (shorter life expectancy)? That’s a complex question with many variables. What is one’s current financial situation (i.e. does one need the money)? What’s the long term prognosis for life expectancy (current health, heredity, etc.)? How can a couple plan benefits to maximize lifetime income received? There is a “breakeven” point which can be calculated. Consider the following example:
John Smith is entitled to $1500 monthly benefit at his FRA of age  66. If he chooses to begin benefits at age 62, his FRA amount will be reduced by 25% (i.e. 6.25% for 4 years) resulting in a benefit payment of $1125 per month. If he waits until FRA and begins  drawing $1500 per month, he will forgo the $1125 per month that he could have been receiving or $54,000 ($1125 x 48 months =   $54,000). If he begins benefits at age 66, that forgone amount will be recovered at $375 per month ($1500 benefit at 66 vs. $1125 at 62) which will require 144 months ($54,000 ÷ $375 = 144 or 12 years). Therefore, John’s breakeven age is 78. If he dies before   age 78, he made the correct decision to take benefits at age 62; if he lives past age 78, delaying until FRA would have been more  advantageous.
Obviously, life expectancy is a key component here. In previous postings we have referenced mortality tables. For the above example, the probability of a male at age 62 living to at least age 76 is 73%. There is a 60% probability he will live to age 80, and a 21% probability of living to age 90.
To compound the problem, beginning Social Security benefits prior to FRA and continuing to earn income has consequences. There is an annual earnings amount allowed ($16,920 in 2017); for each $2 earned above that amount, Social Security benefits are reduced by $1. That restriction no longer applies if one draws benefits at FRA. There are special rules that may apply here, so individual circumstances must be considered.
The Bottom Line
Social Security benefits are a key component in retirement planning. How and when those benefits are begun can have a significant impact on long term financial well-being. We at Paragon Financial Advisors can assist our clients in planning for their future. Please call us to discuss your specific circumstances.  Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, TX.  We offer financial planning and investment management services to our clients.



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Social Security, Medicare, and You

Each year the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds provide a report on the financial status of these programs—current and projected. The information below is from a summary of the 2016 Annual Reports www.ssa.gov, Office of the Chief Actuary, 2016 Trustees Report-Jacob J. Lew, Sec. of the Treasury and Managing Trustee, and Thomas E. Perez, Sec. of Labor, and Trustee).
In general, both programs (as currently scheduled) are facing funding shortfalls. Social Security and Medicare accounted for about 41% of Federal program spending in 2015. Both programs will have cost growth in excess of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth through the mid-2030s. This shortfall is due to: 1) growth in the aging population (baby boomers beginning retirement—about 10,000 per day) eligible for benefits, and 2) fewer employees entering the labor market (because of lower birth rates) to fund the programs. Medicare expenditures per beneficiary are also projected to increase above the growth in per capita GDP over the same time period.
Social Security
Social Security has two separate trust funds to provide benefits for two programs: 1) Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), and 2) Disability Insurance (DI). Although the trust funds are technically separate, the Trustees typically combine the funds to provide the actuarial financial status for the total plan. Funding for plan benefits comes from combined payroll taxes from both employees and employers. Current benefit payments to plan recipients are paid from these payroll taxes and any excess payment is scheduled to be added to a “trust fund” to provide for future benefit payments. In the 2016 report, the Trustees project that combined fund asset reserves will exceed projected benefit costs through 2028; benefit payments will then begin to dip into trust fund reserves. Trustees currently project that those trust funds will be depleted in 2034. When the funds are depleted, projected tax income is sufficient to pay about three-quarters of projected benefits through 2090.
The Medicare program also has two trust funds: 1) Hospital Insurance Trust Fund (Part A), and 2) Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund (Parts B and D). Part A of Medicare helps pay for the cost of hospitalization, home health care following hospital stays, skilled nursing care, and hospice care for the elderly and disabled. Part B of Medicare helps pay for the costs of physicians, outpatient hospitalization, and home health services. Part D subsidizes the cost of drug coverage.
The Trustees project that the Part A trust fund will be depleted in 2028 (two years sooner than projections in the 2015 report). Part A expenditures have been exceeding income received since 2008; at fund depletion in 2028, revenues are projected to pay 87% of Part A costs. Parts B and D are adequately funded because current law allows funding from both general revenues and beneficiary premiums. However, because of an aging population and increasing health care costs, the cost of Parts B and D are expected to grow from 2.1% of GDP in 2015 to about 3.5% of GDP in 2037.  Trustee projections in the 2016 report are that total Medicare expenditures will grow from about 3.6% of GDP in 2015 to 5.6% of GDP in 2040. The costs are projected to increase to about 6.0% of GDP in 2090.
The Bottom Line
Social Security and Medicare benefits are a key component in long range planning for most individuals. The 2016 Trustee Report indicates that changes in these plans will be forthcoming. Please contact us at Paragon Financial Advisors to see how your future plans may be affected.  Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, TX.  We offer financial planning and investment management services to our clients.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Old Age and Retirement

The World Economic Forum produced a white paper entitled “We’ll Live to 100-How Can We Afford It?” (Lead Author, Rachel Wheeler, Project Lead, May 2017) The basic premise of this white paper was the status of world-wide retirement plans and potential problems and reforms necessary to address those problems. The disclaimer in the white paper is that “…views in this White Paper … do not necessarily represent the views of the World Economic Forum or its Members…” In addition, these papers “… describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and further debate.” The report is “… part of the Forum’s Retirement Investment Systems Reform project that has brought together pension experts to assess opportunities for reforms that can be adopted to improve the likelihood of our retirement systems adequately and sustainably supporting future generations.” The paper, in its entirety, can be accessed at  http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_White_Paper_We_Will_Live_to_100.pdf  Our discussion in this posting is done without comment or endorsement of the contents of the white paper. However, in light of the positions taken by some candidates in the 2016 US Presidential election, it behooves us to look at some propositions being espoused in the academic community and conditions that exist in the international community.

Old Age

Life expectancy is increasing. For individuals born in 1947, the median life expectancy is 85 years; for those born in 2007, it is age 103. The increased life expectancy leads to a longer working career. If retirement age remains unchanged and current birth rates continue, the global dependency ratio (the ratio of the workforce to retirees) will decrease from 8:1 today to 4:1 by 2050. The position taken in the Forum’s white paper “…focuses on the sustainability and affordability of our current retirement systems.” Retirement “…system needs to be affordable for today’s workers and sustainable for future generations…"

Challenges to Retirement Systems
The primary causes of retirement systems problems, according to white paper authors, are increasing life expectancy and a declining birth rate. The authors identify five additional factors affecting global retirement systems:
  1. Lack of access to pensions- Many workers (especially the self-employed) don’t have access to pension plans or savings products. Over 50% of global workers work in the informal or unorganized sectors of the economy. Forty-eight percent (48%) of retirement age people don’t receive a pension.
  2. Low investment returns- Long term investment returns over the last 10 years have been significantly lower than historical averages. Equities have returned 3-5% below averages; bonds, 1-3% below. These lower returns have exacerbated pension plan shortfalls and reduced individual retirement savings balances.
  3. Personal responsibility for pension plan management- Defined benefit plans have been decreasing in number while the number of defined contribution plans has been increasing. Defined contribution plans now account for over 50% of global retirement assets. The investment risk has thus been shifted from the employer to the employee.
  4. Low levels of financial literacy- While investment risk has been shifted to the individual, the ability of those individuals to make sound investment decisions appears to be lacking. Most people are not able to correctly answer questions on basic financial concepts.
  5. Inadequate savings- Individual savings in all countries are well below the 10-15% level necessary to fund a reasonable retirement income.
The Retirement Savings Gap
Historically, retirement income has come from three sources: 1) governmental sources (Social Security, etc.), 2) employer pension plans, and 3) individual savings. According to the authors of the white paper, the world-wide retirement savings gap in 2015 is estimated to be approximately $70 trillion with the largest shortfall being in the US. Of that gap, 75% is in the government and public pension obligation, 1% in unfunded corporate pension plans, and 24% in lack of personal savings. This gap is predicated on a 70% income replacement in retirement.
The Findings
The authors of the white paper espoused three key areas to address overall financial security:
  • Provide a “safety net” pension for all persons
  • Improve access to effective, efficient retirement plans
  • Increase personal savings initiatives
The authors of the paper state:
“Poverty protection for the elderly should be the minimum requirement for any government pension system. It should be the responsibility of the government to provide a pension income for all citizens that acts at a “safety net” and prevents those who miss out on other forms of pension provision from dropping below the poverty line.”
“In countries where there are challenges to establish employer-based or individual pension schemes, introducing universal pension benefits may be the only way to significantly reduce poverty among the elderly.”
“Technology can make saving automatic by deducting contributions directly from employees’ pay before it reaches their personal accounts.” “Governments can make it compulsory for all employers to automatically enroll new employees into a retirement savings account and to contribute on their behalf.” (italics added)
Principles for Change
Authors of the white paper identified four principles that they felt should be addressed in retirement plan provisions.
Principle 1: The work force is changing. Occupations that are most sought after today didn’t exist 10 years ago. In addition, about 65% of today’s primary school children will work in jobs that don’t yet exist. The number of workers over age 65 is increasing; it has more than doubled since 1995. The number of employers for whom a person works over his/her career is increasing. That requires “re-tooling” work skills and portability of job benefits.
Principle 2: There is a gender imbalance. Retirement balances for women are 30-40% below those for men. Longer periods out of the workforce and lower salaries in general contribute to the lower retirement account balances. In addition, the longer life expectancy of women means those reduced assets need to cover a longer period of time. Unisex life expectancy tables and valuing work performed outside the workplace for retirement benefits could help alleviate this disparity.
Principle 3: Shared risks could reduce individual burdens. Collective defined contribution systems (as employed in some countries, such as Canada) could help with the burden on individuals for their retirement savings, account management, life expectancy, etc. Pooled money and risks could be based on “target” benefits. An example of such a plan, as presented by the authors, is shown below.

Defined Benefit Plan

Collective Defined Contribution Plan

Defined Contribution Plan
Pooled assets across all accounts
Pooled assets or notional accounts
Individual accounts
Predominantly employer contributions
Combination employer and individual contributions
Combination employer and individual contributions
Trustees determine investment policy and investments
Trustees determine investment policy and investments
Individual makes investment decisions
Trustees takes investment risk
Investment risk pooled
Individual takes investment risk
Trustees takes longevity risk
Longevity risk pooled
No longevity protection
Guaranteed pension
Target pension, not guaranteed
No target or guaranteed pension

Principle 4: All financial needs should be considered. People who save early for retirement will have much larger retirement savings than those who start later. However, retirement savings may not be a priority for younger employees. Therefore, the authors contend, the full financial picture (assets and debts) should be considered for financial need.

The Bottom Line

When one reads the World Economic Forum white paper and analyzes its recommendations, it is obvious that items presented are significantly different than what we have in the US today. However, as we examine our current public benefit systems (Social Security), it is also obvious that some changes must be made. Prudent financial planning means looking at alternatives and trying to plan for what “might happen.” Visit us at Paragon Financial Advisors to review your individual circumstances. Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, TX.  We offer financial planning and investment management services to our clients.



Monday, September 18, 2017

Equifax Data Breach – How Should I Respond?

You’ve probably heard by now that Equifax, one of the four major credit reporting agencies, experienced a security breach resulting in the exposure of the personal information of 143 million Americans between May and July of this year.
While Paragon does not have a relationship with Equifax, we feel that it is important to reach out and let you know how you can protect yourself.
What Happened?
Equifax reported that hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases, driver’s license numbers. They also stole the credit card numbers of around 209,000 people. Thus, your personal information may have been compromised.
What can I do to protect my information?
Rather than going to the Equifax website to assess whether your personal information may have been compromised as suggested by some, we recommend you presume it has been compromised and take the following proactive steps:
  1. Change the passwords to all your online accounts, particularly the accounts at your financial institutions.
  2. Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, Transunion by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Federal law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company.
  3. Consider putting a freeze on your credit with each credit reporting agency, particularly if you identify suspicious activity on your credit report. Freezing your credit is the only way to prevent those with your personal information from opening new accounts in your name. A credit freeze limits who can see your credit report information.
How do I initiate a credit freeze?

Contact each of the credit reporting agencies separately to request a credit freeze.
Equifax 1-800-685-1111 | www.freeze.equifax.com
Experian | 1-888-397-3742www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
TransUnion | 1-888-909-8872www.transunion.com/securityfreeze
Innovis | 1-800-540-2505 | www.innovis.com/personal/securityFreeze

Please note that each agency charges a fee to initiate a credit freeze (approximately $10 per agency).
Can I still get a credit card or a loan after initiating a credit freeze?
Yes, but you will need to notify the credit agencies to lift the freeze before you ask the lender to approve you for credit.

If you have any additional concerns or questions, please feel free to contact us directly.  Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, TX.  We offer financial planning and investment management services to our clients.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey has come—but hasn’t gone. This storm is one the Gulf Coast will remember for a long time. A sudden strengthening category 4 hurricane trapped between high pressure areas dumping a year’s worth of rain in several days is not something one plans for. However, it happened and we’re left with the cleanup.

Priority One--Are You and Your Family OK?

Our primary concern is for our family and loved ones. Loss of “things” is not easy, but loss of life is irreplaceable. We encourage our clients to let us know if they have suffered loss and how we might help. The recovery process is arduous; let us help you if we can.


Insurance agents are going to be overwhelmed with claims in the coming days. There are some things you can do to make their (and your) life a little easier:
  • Make only the repairs necessary to prevent further damage. The adjuster will need to see the full extent of the damage. TAKE PICTURES.
  • Save all receipts—replacement housing, food costs, transportation, expenses for daily living. You may be eligible to receive an advance from your insurance company.
  • Make a list of all damages as soon as possible. Document to the best of your ability.
  • File your claim as quickly as possible. Document all interactions with insurance companies, FEMA, or anyone else with whom you discuss the damage.
Homeowner’s insurance coverage usually does not cover damage from rising water; though your first contact should be with your insurance company. For rising water, the National Flood Insurance Program provides basic coverage for building property and contents. For claims not covered by insurance, check for disaster assistance as President Trump has declared much of the Gulf Coast as a disaster area. To research and apply for aid, go to https://www.disasterassistance.gov/

For small business owners, the U.S. Small Business Administration has low interest disaster loans for small businesses in declared disaster areas. (https://www.sba.gov/loans-grants/see-what-sba-offers/sba-loan-programs/disaster-loans)

A home equity line of credit may provide assistance if established before the damage was done. Check with your friendly banker.


People living in a disaster area may be allowed to delay tax filings and payments without penalty. Be sure and keep records of all costs relating to the disaster as these may be claimed as a casualty loss on tax returns.

No question that there are trying days ahead for many Gulf Coast residents. Let us at Paragon Financial Advisors know if we can help.  Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, TX.  We offer financial planning and investment management services to our clients.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Are We There Yet?

It is no secret that returns in the capital markets (stocks and bonds) have been volatile (and below historical averages) for the past few years. Some market “experts” are predicting that those lower returns will be the “new normal” for some years to come. If that prediction is correct, individuals must save more to maintain their desired standard of living in retirement.

We are presenting below a “savings checkpoint” table for determining whether your current savings amount is “on schedule” to fund retirement at your current standard of living. The table is a function of current age and income level. This table is based on J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s proprietary model with their capital market assumptions and an 80% confidence level.1  Several additional assumptions are involved:
  • The assumed annual gross savings rate going forward is 10% (about twice the current US average savings rate).
  • Pre-retirement investments earn 6.0% per year.
  • Post-retirement investments earn 5.0% per year.
  • Inflation is 2.25% per year.
  • Retirement age is 65 for the primary wage earner; age 62 for the spouse.
  • Retirement will last 30 years.
You can use the factors in the table below to determine if your accumulated savings is sufficient:


The income levels across the top are gross income (before taxes and savings). Go to the intersection of age and income level to determine the appropriate factor. For example, a 40 year old person earning $100,000 per year has a factor of 2.3. Multiply your current salary times that factor to determine the amount you should have saved today or $230,000 in this case (2.3 x $100,000). Savings are assumed to continue at 10% per year until retirement.

Are we there yet? Please visit us at Paragon Financial Advisors to determine whether your savings level is sufficient to provide the retirement lifestyle you desire. We can help you plan for your future financial goals. Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, TX.  We offer financial planning and investment management services to our clients.


1The J.P. Morgan model uses household income replacement rates from an inflation-adjusted analysis of Consumer Expenditure Survey (BLS) data (2011-2014). Social Security benefits are assumed using modified scaled earnings in 2017 for a single wage earner at age 65 and a spousal benefit at age 62 reduced by Medicare Part B premiums.