Expert advice for these uncertain times

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Elliot Raphaelson

Readers have been asking about market volatility, capital preservation, and planning for a long-term secure retirement. I approached several experts I respect in various financial disciplines to ask their advice.

Stan Haithcock, annuity expert: “Stay rational and grounded when looking for safe money solutions. In a low-interest world, annuity salespeople will tell you what you want to hear to get the sale.

“If the U.S. 10-year-Treasury is around 2 percent, then some indexed annuity agent CANNOT return 6 or 7 percent yield. What they are selling is an income rider, which can be used for income only. Upfront bonuses offered by annuity companies are not free money; there are charges and fees attached.

“Annuities have their place for principal protection, lifetime income needs and legacy planning. Annuities are contracts, and should only be considered for their contractual guarantees. They are not too good to be true, but they can be pretty darn good if fully understood for their benefits and limitations.”

Visit Haithcock’s website (StanTheAnnuityMan.com), where you can obtain his well-written annuity booklets.

Make a plan, stick with it

Larry Swedroe, best-selling author: “In order to develop and maintain a prosperous long-term retirement plan, I recommend a three-prong approach.

“Step One: Develop a realistic retirement plan, consistent with your asset base, sources of income and desired lifestyle. Don’t hesitate to use a competent financial planner to assist you.

“Step Two: Use a passive approach, investing in diversified mutual funds and exchange-traded funds with low annual costs rather than active funds with higher costs.

“Step Three: Maintain discipline to ‘stay the course.’ Don’t stray from your plan because of market volatility. Have the flexibility to change your plan when your personal situation changes. Rebalance regularly, at least once a year, to ensure that your portfolio remains consistent with your plan.”

Swedroe’s latest book is The Incredible Shrinking Alpha: And What You Can Do to Escape Its Clutches (Buckingham).

Jonathan Clements, personal finance columnist: “Nobody knows how financial markets will perform in 2016, so focus on five financial advantages that we all possess:

“First, human capital, which is our income-earning ability. The more income we earn, the less dependent we are on the financial markets.

“Second, we know how we reacted to earlier market declines, and we can use that to guide how much risk we take today. Third, we know when we’ll need cash from our portfolio, and we can make sure we get that money out of risky investments and into safe investments well before the deadline arrives.

“Fourth, if we’re living off our portfolio and the market declines, we can always limit the damage by cutting back spending.

“Fifth, if you don’t want to depend on stocks and bonds, get off the market rollercoaster and lock in a healthy stream of lifetime income by delaying Social Security and using part of your savings to purchase plain-vanilla immediate-fixed annuities that pay lifetime income.”

Invest for the long term

Robert Johnson, president and CEO, the American College of Financial Services: “Stock market returns have been considerably lower during periods of rising interest rates than during periods of falling interest rates.

“In my book Invest with the Fed (McGraw-Hill), I found that, from 1966 through 2013, the S&P 500 returned on average 15.2 percent annually when rates were falling, but only 5.9 percent when rates were rising. I’d counsel investors to expect lower returns on stocks in 2016.

“The best way to build true wealth is to invest in the stock market over the long term. Over the past 90 years, stocks on average have returned over 10 percent compounded annually. To put this into perspective, 39 of the last 50 years have seen the S&P 500 index have a positive return. The old adage, ‘Time in the market is more important than timing the market,’ is definitely true.

“If you are approaching retirement, it is prudent to lighten your stock-market exposure. People near retirement simply can’t afford a big market decline. Known as ‘sequence of returns’ risk, a major decline close to retirement date can have a huge impact on your financial health.”

Elliot Raphaelson welcomes your questions and comments at elliotraph@gmail.com.

© 2016 Elliot Raphaelson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.