I don’t need to tell you that taxes suck

Finally was able to get everything together for the taxes in 2019. We use a CPA because of some complications, though its fast closing in on the time when I plan on taking back over doing our own taxes (I did them up till about 2011).

Well, we got the info back, I reviewed them, and the end result was….. we owed about $2,400 to the Fed (and $500 to our state). Plus penalties. Ouch.

I thought we’d prepaid enough to make sure this wasn’t an issue, but apparently not. We’ll have to take some money out of savings to pay for it. This way, we won’t be selling stocks during the current down market. That is why you have spare funds in place.

I can kick myself a bit, but in the end, the next step should be to evaluate your current tax withholdings for 2020 and make sure they are taking enough out. Low and behold, after running the numbers – we were about $2,800 low in withholding, based on what I see coming for the year.

Back to the federal/state W-4 form, where we determine withholdings, make a few adjustments which will reduce our available income a little over $200/month, and we should be set for taxes at the end of 2020. Better to take action at the beginning of the year than to try and find money at the end of the year.

I tend to try and get our taxes to $0, or have us owe a little money. I know some people like to get a nice refund, but I’d rather not give the government and interest free loan. I can use the money better.

Hopefully, your tax situation is better than mine!

Mr. 39 Months

Financial Advisor meeting #5 – Final Sad Trombone & comment on Financial Samurai

I’ve included several posts about our recent meetings with a financial advisor

Well, our advisor had some major family health issues with a loved one (cancer), so needless to say, it took a while to get our final report. We got it yesterday, in the form of a large, 3-ring binder, full of lots of data, analysis and recommendations. There was analysis of cash flow, net worth and draw down for several scenarios:

  1. Base scenario of both of us continuing to work for 4 more years, till I hit 60 and Mrs. 39 Months hits 62
  2. Scenario where we pull out more than the minimum from our 401K from 60-70 in order to reduce our RMDs
  3. Scenario where we I leave my current job, and get a much lower paying job that I love that earns $40K a year, and work at it till I hit 67
  4. Scenario where we have a major health issue requiring long-term health care when I hit 80
  5. Scenario where we retire the July (my FI date)

The analysis was very comprehensive. It was also very disheartening. In the first three scenarios, they all ended up pretty close to the same, we end up running out of money when we are 94/96 (i.e. three years before my target “death” date of 97/99). The major health and my July 2020 scenarios pretty much had us running out of money in the mid-80s. Since Mrs. 39 Months family has lots of her Aunts living into their 90s and 100s, that doesn’t seem like a good bet for us.

So why the difference? What has the advisor’s numbers coming in so much under my original planning? I’ve identified some callouts:

  • Original vs. Adjusted Budget: My original budget had us spending $72K/year, but after going deep into conversation with Mrs. 39 Months, this was revised up to $78K/year. Only $6K, but it does add up
  • Social Security & cost-of-living adjustments: I used the reports that came from social security to estimate our payments, but the reports assume you continue to work till you hit your retirement age (67 for us). Stopping at 60/62 reduces it, and stopping in July 2020 would reduce it even more. In addition, the advisor assumed a Social Security increase of 2% a year (below his inflation rate, see below), so the money will slowly be losing it purchasing power. I just assumed a straight line that would match inflation. Seeing the current state of social security in the US, I can’t say I disagree with the advisor
  • Inflation: My original planning just took inflation out of the picture. I used historical investment returns post-inflation (i.e. the returns I used had historical inflation already taken out). The advisor used a 3.25% inflation rate and a 6% for medical. I can’t really argue with the assumptions –  they do appear somewhat logical to me.
  • Return of investments: This is where I have real issues with the advisor. Based on our asset allocation (about 60% stocks, 40% bonds/savings) he came back with an estimated return over 40 years of 5.3% (i.e. only 2% above inflation). Since the average stock return from 1926 – 2018 is almost 10%, I found that too low. I’ve asked him to do another scenario with a 7.2% return (more in line with a 60/40 split)
  • Lifestyle spending: I have asked him to drop some of our lifestyle spending (travel, dining out, etc.) by 35% starting at age 75. I just don’t think we’ll be traveling or partying as much in our 80s and 90s.

We’ll see how this works out with the changes, but overall, I have to say I’m a little disappointed in the results, though not in the process. I believe the advisor is being very conservative in a lot of his assumptions – which appears to be the opposite of the FI community. Let’s face it, we are all very optimistic go-getters!

This sort of falls in line with news that the FI community found out about recently from the Financial Samurai blog last week. He wrote that he was planning to go back to work after 7+ years of early retirement. In his post, he listed his reasons (I invite you to read the posting) and I’m sure many of the readers could see his points (though his budget is way out of line with mine, since he lives in San Francisco). If you read closely, I think a lot of his reasons are non-financial. He just misses being around folks, the comradery, etc. It goes back to all the warnings that run through a lot of our community postings – you need to retire “to” something, rather than “from” something.

So, since I enjoy many of the aspects of my work, I am not too “bummed” about the potential of having to work longer in order to achieve “Fat FIRE.” We will see where the journey goes.

.

Mr. 39 Months

Excellent Post at the Retirement Manifesto on your beginning of the year financial moves

Pretty much parallels what I do each year in the first day or two. Excellent checklist!

Retirement Manifesto: A step-by-step guide-to-your-annual-financial-update

Steps:

  • Update Net Worth Statement
  • Update investments/capture current asset allocation
  • Determine portfolio rebalancing actions
  • If retired, update your bucket strategy (how much in cash bucket, how much in 5-8 year bucket, how much in long-term bucket)
  • Update your spending from the previous year
  • Determine your spending goals/limits for the new year
https://www.theretirementmanifesto.com/a-step-by-step-guide-to-your-annual-financial-update/

WOW! Just WOW! Investment update for Jan 2020

I think I speak for everyone when I say – Wow.

The year 2019 will go down as one of the best years for most people in terms of their investments. The S&P 500 (everyone’s standard for judging US stock performance) went from $2,607.39 to $3,235.14 (Jan 1 to Jan 1) – a 24.0% increase. Tack on the 1.77% dividend yield and you were seriously kicking butt, as long as you just left it in the market in an Index Fund! Hopefully the readers here didn’t panic in Dec 2018 and sell their stocks.

I’ve been an index investor for most of my investing life. Whenever I have dabbled in individual stock pickings, I mostly got my head handed to me. So here I stay. My allocations tend to be broader than just your typical “dump it all into the S&P 500”

Retirement Accounts: Remember, my allocation for these is:

  • 30% Bond Index Fund
  • 17.5% S&P500 Index Fund
  • 17.5% International Index Fund
  • 17.5% Small Cap Index Fund
  • 17.5% REIT Index Fund

My company 401K/Deferred account doesn’t have a REIT option, so I’m 25% for the other 4 categories.

I set up my father’s inherited IRA to see how it would perform if it was concentrated on creating income (i.e. dividends). My allocation for that was:

Dividend Income Account: Allocation:

  • 25% Dividend Stocks
  • 25% REITs
  • 50% Bond Index Funds

Finally, my “fun money” post-tax account is primarily setup for value investing, with a mix of USAA and Vanguard index accounts.

Value Account: Allocation

  • 12% PAWZ ETF (it invests in pet related companies, a vanity play on my part)
  • 44% USAA Market Index (my brokerage is USAA)
  • 44% in Vanguard Value Index fund

So how did they perform for the year?  Here are all my portfolio items (not weighted)

Name Symbol Capital Gain % Dividend % Total Return
TRowe Price S&P 500 PREIX 28.5% 1.8% 30.2%
Extended Equity Market Index PEXMX 22.0% 1.0% 23.0%
International Equity Index PIEQX 17.7% 2.6% 20.3%
Real Estate TRREX 3.7% 2.5% 6.2%
US Bond Enhanced Index PBDIX 5.2% 2.9% 8.1%
Vanguard Bond Index Fund VBTLX 5.7% 5.24% 11.0%
Vanguard 500 Index Fund VFIAX 28.8% 1.85% 30.7%
Vanguard REIT Index Fund VGSLX 24.5% 3.31% 27.8%
Vanguard Small-Cap Index Fund VSMAX 25.5% 1.38% 26.9%
Vanguard Int’l Index Fund VGTSX 17.7% 2.98% 20.7%
Vanguad Welesley Income Fund VWINX 11.8% 0.95% 12.8%
Eagle Small Cap growth   18.7% 0.00% 18.7%
Vanguard 500 Index Fund   28.8% 1.74% 30.6%
Vanguard Total International Index   17.7% 2.08% 19.8%
Vanguard total bond Mkt   5.7% 2.52% 8.3%
Eagle Small Cap growth   18.7% 0.00% 18.7%
Vanguard 500 Index Fund   28.8% 1.74% 30.6%
Vanguard Total International Index   17.7% 2.08% 19.8%
Lord Abbot Total Return   6.2% 2.71% 8.9%
Chevron Corp CVX 10.8% 3.9% 14.7%
Cisco CSCO 10.7% 2.9% 13.6%
Healthcare Realty Trust HR 17.3% 3.6% 20.9%
Ishares Preferred PFF 9.8% 4.9% 14.7%
Realty Income Corp O 16.8% 3.7% 20.5%
Service Properties TR SVC 1.9% 8.8% 10.7%
UMH Properties Inc UMH 32.9% 4.6% 37.4%
Verizon VZ 9.2% 3.9% 13.2%
Vanguard Total Bond Index VBTLX 5.7% 2.5% 8.3%
Vanguard Int-term Bond index VBILX 7.2% 2.5% 9.7%
USAA Extended Market Index USMIX 24.0% 1.3% 25.2%
Vanguard Value Index VVIAX 22.5% 2.6% 25.1%

As you can see, no real negative items in the bunch. While the bonds and REITs didn’t light the world on fire, the other stocks really jumped off. The bonds and REITs  will help balance the portfolio out when the stocks have a correction (and we all know a correction is long overdue here).

Overall, I was up 20.1% for the year, which definitely exceeded my expectations. Even with all the bonds and REITs, the overall performance was excellent.

Mr. 39 Months

Roth Conversion for 2019

For some who have been following, you will remember that I did a Roth conversion of $100K at the end of 2018, and it screwed me up a bit. It basically pushed me into a tax bracket where I could not do our annual contribution of $7K each to our Roth IRA. So I managed to switch $100K to Roth, but lost out on the ability to put the normal $14K into it. Sad face, and a kick on me for not knowing what I was doing, here.

Fast forward to the end of 2019,, and I’m studiously looking at the income levels of Mrs. 39 Months and myself, and it looks like we’ll be about $45K under the limit for contributing to our Roth 401K for 2019. So today, I took the opportunity to shift $40K in my Vanguard IRA to my Vanguard Roth IRA. Note that this is a taxable event. Going from an IRA that I contributed in pre-tax and moving it to Roth, where it is supposedly post-tax and non-taxable in the future means having to pay the government their taxes.

Luckily I have other money set aside to pay the taxes on this item. If I didn’t, then I’d have to take out more from the IRA to pay the taxes, and potentially pay a penalty on that money being withdrawn before I hit 59-1/2. It’s a real accounting nightmare, so better to pay the taxes from another account (like a savings account) rather than going through the hassle.

So now we currently have more in our Roth IRAs than in our normal IRAs. The 401Ks we have continue to grow, but both of these are Roth 401Ks, so in essence we should continue to enhance our future tax-free investments.

Its kinda sad that retirement is such a complicated numbers game, but for those of us in the FIRE community, its part of the fun – finding new ways to squirrel away more money and better prepare for the good life.

Mr. 39 Months

Returns

As many of you have been following, Mrs. 39 Months and I have been seeing a financial advisor for the last 2 months, reviewing our finances and getting a second opinion on when we’ll have reached FI. There has been some give & take on expenses, investments, inflation rates, etc. Overall, I’ve been pleased, especially as it has helped get Mrs. 39 Months and myself on the same page.

One of the big “bones of contention” between myself and the advisor has been the subject of investment returns. We’re already being somewhat conservative on inflation (setting it at 3.25%, and 6% for medical inflation). Then the advisor is using very low (in my opinion) estimates on investment returns for the next 40 years. Here is what he is using before inflation is taken out (i.e. the real returns will be lower than this):

Asset Class Total
Large Cap Growth Equity 5.03%
Large Cap Value Equity 6.08%
Mid Cap Equity 6.07%
Small Cap Equity 7.24%
US REITS 6.34%
International Equity 7.60%
Emerging Markets Equity 7.27%
Long Term Bonds 3.40%
Intermediate Term Bonds 3.69%
Short Term Bonds 3.48%
High Yield Bonds 6.07%
International Bonds 2.73%
Cash 2.68%

Thus, after inflation of 3.25%, you can only expect to get around 2.5% – 2.75% after investing in the S&P 500. What the…? Based on my current allocation strategy, this would give me a 5.75% return per year. Minus the 3.25% inflation, I’m looking at a 2.5% return. That is going to make it very difficult to make it to 99, even if I don’t retire early!

Historically, since 1930, here are some of the returns, based on market watch report

  • S&P 500: 9.7% (4.7% more than the advisor is using)
  • Large-Cap value: 11.2% (5.1% more than the advisor using)
  • Small Cap: 12.70% (5.5% more than the advisor is using)
  • Small Cap Value: 14.40% (7.2% more than advisor is using)

If you go from 1925, the returns from the CRSP report shows the following

  • US Stocks: 9.8%
  • International stocks: 7.8%
  • Bonds: 5.1%
  • T-Bills: 3.7%
  • Inflation: 2.9%

I actually found a good site, the portfolio visualizer, which shows the returns each year, for a wide variety of asset classes, all the way back to 1972 (almost 50 years of data). While I would like to go back to the mid-1960s (right before the 1968 market, when it started to tank), this is good stuff. It has the inflation rates as well, so you really can dig into the numbers and do some analysis.

Based on this information, my average return for my allocation would be 15.1% vs. a 3.9% inflation, so 11.2% returns. Much better than 2.5%! Much better chance of lasting to 99!

 Still, we have had a tremendous run over the last 40 years of stocks. In the early 80s, the Reagan revolution and the Volker defeat of inflation launched a tremendous stock market surge that we have been living with for our adult lives. Most folks don’t remember how much “in the doldrums” the market was from 1968 – 1981. Now we have several knowleadgeable people saying those heady days of returns may be in for a pause of several decades.

Even Jack Bogle, the Vanguard mastermind, was predicting lower returns back in 2018 before he died. He estimated returns of around 4% annually for growth and 2% for dividend (total of 6%). He based this on expected economic growth and the historic P/E ratio versus current levels. He also estimated bond returns of 3.1% annually.

Since returns play such a vital role in all our plans to achieve FI, its critical that we look at them with an experienced eye, and make good estimates for our lives going forward.

What returns estimates are you using?

Mr. 39 Months

Net Worth Jan 1, 2019

OK, a lot of folks have done postings on their net worth (and how much it took a hit in 2018). I figure I’d join the crew and open up the windows to the folks outside. I know this is a topic of some controversy within the FI community, as some folk’s post their net worth, and some folks are loathe to do it. I believe that the more information folks have, the better they can judge my writings and decisions versus their own.

Like many others, I’ve posted my net worth on Rockstar Finance. So here goes.

Real Assets Value Jan 1, 2018 Value
House $279,809 $289,171
Mrs. 39 Months Car $3,650 $3,981
Mr.39 Months Car $5,251 $4,353
Sub-Total $294,781 $297,505
Liquid Assets Value Value
Family Checking $8,428 $4,014
Family Savings $11,963 $3,673
Mr. 39 Month’s Roth IRA $135,025 $178,199
Mr. 39 Month’s IRA $298,748 $234,647
Mr. 39 Month’s 401K $55,467 $61,732
Mr. 39 Month’s Deferred Savings $56,566 $105,889
Mr. 39 Month’s Checking/Savings $9,249 $8,925
USAA Brokerage Account $53,481 $22,526
Pop’s stretch IRA $135,205 $127,882
Mrs. 39 Month’s Checking/Savings $119,658 $119,658
Mrs. 39 Month’s IRA $162,001 $104,627
Mrs. 39 Month’s Roth IRA $89,448 $135,481
Sub-Total $1,135,238 $1,107,253
Debits Value Value
Home Loan $0 $0
Credit Card bill -$1,288 -$3,240
Auto Loan $0 $0
Sub-Total -$1,288 -$3,240
Net Worth $1,428,730 $1,401,518

Overall, net worth dipped about 1.9% for 2018, and this after pumping in around $87K of money during the year. Needless to say, it wasn’t a “banner year.” However, it’s the first dip in my Net Worth since the 2008 crash, so a good ten year run. Since my growth plans are based on my long term growth rate of 6% (what I’ve averaged over the last 22 years, including the 2000 and 2008 stock dips), I’m still in the ballpark.

Key lessons learned for Net Worth in 2018?

  • Real estate not really jumping up in my area (Southern NJ). My value hasn’t moved much since 2009.
  • Cars have depreciated a lot – but they continue to run well (regular maintenance) so no need to replace anytime soon. Slowly saving up for new ones at some point of time in the future.
  • Roth IRA conversions altered the makeup of my retirement accounts. Will probably due one more $50K conversion, and then let it ride from there. Used money from investment account to pay taxes, so it dipped a lot there.
  • Put aside 25% of paycheck and 100% of bonus to deferred account, so that jumped up significantly over Jan 1, 2018. No taxes paid until I leave work (when it gets paid out as a lump sum). This will end up being a good portion of my year 1 & 2 of FIRE money
  • Credit card bill was from one of our Pet’s emergency medical costs (ouch!). We have the money to pay it off, so no big thing

Overall, while our Net Worth took a slight dip, we will continue with the plan. I believe we are still on track to retire in 18 Months (if we want), or we could retire now if we felt confident in US Social Security.

How did your Net Worth go in 2018?

Other FI Bloggers and their net worth

Mr. 39 Months

Just Like a YoYo

Wow, you go away for a week and the market goes nuts. Down an unprecedented 600 points the day before Christmas? Up 1,000 points the day after Christmas? What is going on?

In my opinion, the market is still unsure of where the economy is going to go in 2019, and there are a lot of scared people running out of the market right now, trying to find safety. This is forcing mutual funds to sell at a prodigious rate, often times having to sell their winners in order to generate sufficient funds. It’s almost a self-perpetuating drop, as each new drop pulls the next group after it. The overall drop was around 20% from the market high, which brought us into “bear” territory. Time to panic and sell?

The problem is, as was just demonstrated with today’s 1,000 point jump, you not only have to get out before it drops and you have to get back in before it starts going back up again! Or you can do what so many good investors do, and don’t worry about it.

Stick to your plan. Invest regularly. Dollar Cost Average. Diversify. Take advantage when folks panic and sell at bargain basement prices to pick up some deals. The mutual funds that folks have shed will be there, ready to jump back up again shortly.

In a previous posting, I talked about the P/E ratio. The P/E ratio had dropped down on Dec 24th to 18.03 – still higher than its mean of 15.73. This was back below its Jan 2014 number. Still higher than its mean though, so we could have more to go before we get back to an average market.

I still have over 18 months to go before I hit my FIRE date. The typical market downturn is 12-24 months, which is why they tell you to have 1-2 years in savings bucket, to weather that storm. So I intend to stay with the plan, and keep investing.

How about you?

Other Bloggers on the topic:

Mr. 39 Months

Well I screwed up…..

 In working through my “Power of Zero” philosophy and plan, which included doing a Roth IRA conversion from my IRAs to Roth (in the hopes of keeping my taxes low to non-existent in retirement) I failed to take into account hitting the limits on who can pay into a Roth.

In order to put money away into a Roth, you have to have a Modified-Adjusted Gross Income(MAGI) less than $135K for singles, and $199K for married couples. Note that it starts phasing out at $120K and $189K. Modified Adjusted Gross Income is before you put in your deductions ($12K and $24K in the US). If you are over these limits, you cannot put money into a Roth IRA. You can put it into a regular IRA, but you can’t deduct the income for tax purposes (so what good is that?)

In this case, I converted over $100K from regular IRA to Roth, and combined with our regular income for the year, its going to push us over $200K. Thus, I am going to have to “claw back” $13K of my Roth contributions for 2018. Uggh!

I have heard that you can invest that into a regular IRA, and then at a later date (since you have already paid the taxes on it) convert it to a Roth with no tax implications. I’m not sure about that, but I am going to investigate it. I’ll let you know at a later date.

So for 2019, if I do a Roth IRA conversion, its only going to be for about $50K, so I can make sure that I stay under the amount. Don’t mess up like I did!

Mr. 39 Months

Budgeting for the next year – when do to it/how to do it?

Typically it is around the middle of December when I start looking at my budget for the next year. By then, I’ve got 11 months of spending under my belt and I have a pretty good idea of what my spend has been. From that, I hope to be able to predict my spending for the following year.

I start off with a short review of the current years financial goals vs. where its looks like I will end up. In this case, while my investments have not done that well (thank you market), I still was able to save over 50% of my salary – the first time I’ve ever done that much! In addition, we remain debt free, and I am 12 months closer to FI. We did dip into our savings account somewhat this year, due to some medical bills (sucks to get into your mid-50s), so our savings account isn’t where I believe it should be.

From there, I try and set my budgetary goals for 2019

  1. Continue to budget to have excess funds for the year (i.e. don’t depend on debt)
  2. Put away more for medical (got caught short this year)
  3. Continue to try and keep my savings rate in the mid-to-high 40% range
  4. Continue to fully fund Charitable spending at the rate I did last year ($400/month)

With that in mind, here is a comparison of my monthly spend for 2018, and my budget for 2019.

Revenue Base 2018 Month Jan-19
$4,543.10 $4,456.42
$0.04 $0.04
Total Revenues $4,543.14 $4,456.46
Expense
Home
Property Taxes ($515.43) ($515.43)
PSE&G ($208.42) ($208.42)
Verizon ($279.15) ($279.15)
Water Bill ($33.55) ($33.55)
Life Insurance ($43.95) ($43.95)
Home/Auto Insurance ($219.79) ($219.79)
Investments ($333.33) $0.00
Groceries ($454.03) ($454.03)
Medical ($334.70) ($334.70)
Roth IRAs ($1,166.67) ($1,166.67)
Savings ($100.00) ($100.00)
Charity ($400.00) ($400.00)
Dining Out ($160.26) ($100.00)
Home Repair ($277.93) ($150.00)
Other ($57.91) ($50.00)
Total Expense ($4,585.12) ($4,055.69)
Operating Revenue ($41.98) $400.77

You will notice a significant chunk of funds being leftover at the end of the month. This is a little misleading, as I get paid every 2 weeks, so every 6 months, I get an extra paycheck. Thus, on a real monthly basis, I’ll be a little in the black until that 6th month. My intention is to dump that extra paycheck into savings to get it back where is used to be.

You’ll also notice that my take home pay actually went down about $100/month. That is because I didn’t take enough out in taxes and didn’t realize it until over halfway through 2018. I’ve corrected it, but the result is $100 less a month in income.

I also have a personal account which I pay myself $1100/month. I use this for paying for my lunch & travel food, gas, hobbies. Etc. I follow the same method to do that one, and plan on coming in each month “in the black”.

Some of the categories may seem outside the norm for FI people (groceries, dining out,etc.) but we intend to live some of life for now. Also, you can see that property taxes are pretty expensive in NJ – and my $6K a year is actually quite low for the state (its typically 2-3 times that).

With this in line, I can now go to my banks and investment sites and set up automatic transfers. I typically track my budget monthly, and make adjustments every 3-6 months, based on how I am doing.

Other articles on budgeting

What are you doing to plan for 2019?

Mr. 39 Months