The Top Five Mistakes Independent School. Teachers Make With Their Finances And What. They Can Do About It.

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1 The Top Five Mistakes Independent School Teachers Make With Their Finances And What They Can Do About It. Published by Wealth Educators International, LLC Copyright 2011 Wealth Educators International LLC

2 Mistake #1 Not Saving Enough For Retirement Admittedly, lack of retirement savings is a problem that is not entirely exclusive to independent school faculty and staff. Most Americans are not saving enough for their retirement. A recent study conducted using data from the Federal Reserve and analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College revealed the median household headed by a person aged 60 to 62 with a 401(k) account has less than onequarter of what is needed in that account to maintain its standard of living in retirement. 1 While this data predominantly deals with 401k (private sector) retirement plans, the lack of retirement funding is even more painful for independent school teachers when one considers the potential upside that is lost when participation is delayed or ignored. 1 Source: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, The Federal Reserve, NY Life Insurance Company 2

3 Most independent schools utilize the 403b defined contribution plan as their retirement plan offered to employees. Like many corporations, most independent schools offer some sort of matching contribution as an enticement to get employees to participant in the plan. Since the recession, many private corporations have cut or even eliminated their matching programs. Those private sector employees that are lucky enough to have a plan that still offers matching contributions might only enjoy a 2-5% match. As the economy rolls along in neutral, bean counters have kept a watchful eye on these matching funds and are eager to place them on the chopping block. This is not the case in the private school arena. Most private institutions begin their matching at 5%. Often there is an escalation program that increases that percentage as a teacher racks up years of service. It is not uncommon for a school to offer 5% during the first year of employment, 8% after 5 years and 12% after 10 years. Lets take a look at how powerful this is. To keep the math simple, lets pretend Sample School offers an 8% match immediately with no increases for tenure. Lets also pretend that Sample Teacher makes $35,000 annual and never gets a raise. And again keeping the 3

4 math simple, let s assume Sample Teacher gets a safe, inflation adjusted return of 6% every year. Forgetting his own annual contributions of 10%, Sample Teacher would have nearly $250,000 from the earnings and contributions from the matching funds alone if he were to contribute for 31 years. If this number is not impressive enough, recall that we made the drastic assumption that Sample Teacher would never receive a raise and that Sample School never rewarded Sample Teacher with higher matching percentages. It adds up: The following chart assumes that Sample Teacher invests 10% of his $35,000 annual income ($3500) and that Sample School matches 8% of his income ($2800.) The matching fund contributions and interest alone compound to nearly a quarter of a million dollars. Year End of Year Amount Yearly Interest On Matching Funds 1 $2, $ $2, $ $3, $ $3, $ $3, $ $3, $

5 Year End of Year Amount Yearly Interest On Matching Funds 7 $3, $ $4, $ $4, $ $4, $ $5, $ $5, $ $5, $ $5, $ $6, $ $6, $ $7, $ $7, $ $7, $ $8, $ $8, $ $9, $ $10, $ $10, $ $11, $ $12, $ $12, $ $13, $ $14, $ $15, $ $16, $ Total $237, $14, With numbers like this, it is simply too costly for a teacher not to maximize their 403b contributions. Even if your particular school s matching program isn t as generous as you would like, the tax breaks of these plans should be an irresistible part of a teacher s financial plan. Sadly, this is often not the case. 5

6 This problem only magnified after the stock market crash (err crashes of 2008.) Many Americans saw years of savings nearly wiped out in a few short months and figured, what s the point? Even worse, many Americans sold at the crash and waited until the market recovered and re entered at that point. It was, for many folks, a classical example of selling at the bottom and buying at the top. Gains made and lost from the dot com boom to the housing bubble: But how then is one supposed to determine the bottom and the top? What, in hindsight, could have been done? Is the recommended strategy of buy and hold simply a complicated game of music chairs? When the music stops 6

7 (when retirement arrives) you hope you have a chair (hope the market is at a peak rather than a valley)? There are two strategies that can assist an investor in navigating the market ups and downs. The first strategy dollar cost averaging is well known and somewhat well practiced. It simply suggests that a person consistently invest the same amount of money every month or quarter. This ensures a person will buy more of an asset when the market is down, and less of an asset when the market is up. When people enroll in automatic payroll deductions for their retirement accounts, dollar cost averaging becomes easy. The second strategy, not nearly as well known and not nearly as practiced, is called rebalancing. Had this technique been employed by more Americans during the bull market of the late 90s and the bull market of the mid 2000 s (what many argue was the same bull market) a great deal of wealth would have been preserved. The practice of rebalancing and precisely how it works is beyond the scope of this report. However, you are interested in learning how it works, please visit 7

8 and click on the resources link for more information. Mistake #2: Not Having An Estate Plan. In preparing this special report, I conducted a completely unscientific study. Through my friends, contacts and past experiences, I found that about 60% of married, private school teachers with minor children have no estate plan at all. That means the estates of these married couples would clunk through whatever procedure their particular state has laid out. Once this process is finished, a teacher may observe, from the afterlife, that their assets have been divided in a way far removed from their wishes. For unmarried couples with children it will inevitably be worse as the state might not recognize your significant other as the rightful guardian of the children and the rightful heir to your assets. Single parents will suffer the same fate. There are two common excuses for not having an estate plan (aside from the old when I get around to it. ) The first is that the individual believes their 8

9 estate isn t large enough to demand a complicated estate plan. Under the constraints of a monthly budget, it is easy to feel one s estate to be of feeble size. However, when life insurance proceeds are totaled and depreciable assets are sold, many heirs will find themselves the owners of a rather hefty estate. Don t live under the illusion that your nest egg isn t large enough. It is growing every day and an estate plan is a crucial part in ensuring that nest egg is protected. Most estate plans needn t be complicated. What s more, the size of the estate is of no matter when children are concerned and when certain health care directives must be met. The second excuse is that estate taxes will not be an issue given the generous exemptions offered at the federal level. While many Americans will fly under this tax radar, people must remember that A terrific website to determine the estate taxes (and other taxes) of your state is certain states have their own estate taxes; taxes that may trigger even if a federal tax does not. 9

10 For most individuals, an estate plan would have four basic parts: At a minimum, these include: (1) Simple will (2) Living will (3) Healthcare power of attorney (4) a Revocable living trust. When someone passes away, his or her estate goes through a legal process called probate. This process allows your creditors (if any) to get in line and demand payment before your assets are distributed to your heirs. Should an individual (or corporation) believe they are entitled to some or all of your estate, they may present their case before the court. A simple will is a legal document that directs the courts as to how your assets are divided upon your death. It is authenticated during probate, and the court does its best to follow the wishes you outlined in your will. Without such a document, the division of assets follows a government established set of rules, which are not always favorable to you, depending on your state. If you are unmarried but have children, most likely the states pre-established rules will not be in line with your wishes. 10

11 If you have minor children, your will should have some sort of minors trust provision which clearly directs how your children are to receive your money. Many parents desire to have a clause in their will that releases money to their children over a period of time (commonly referred to as the sprinkle provision. ) You could, for instance, have funds released when your child is 21, 25, 30, 35 and so forth. A minors trust provision also assigns a trustee to handle these funds for your kids. A living will is a document that provides direction as to how you want to be treated if you become incapacitated. Failure to create such a document puts unfair pressure on family members to determine your medical treatment. What s more, without this document, it can be unclear as to who actually has the final say over your health. You may want your significant other to make all healthcare decisions, but in your state, that power is granted to your parents. 11

12 A health care power of attorney is a document that gives someone the authority to handle your finances (and other affairs) should you become incapacitated. While a living will is concerned primarily with your health, a health care power of attorney is concerned with your financial affairs. Failure to have this document puts your finances into gridlock since the only person who can make decisions (you) is mentally unable to do so. Finally a Revocable Living Trust provides an easy transfer of assets from you to your heirs. Contrary to popular belief, it does not help you shelter your money from taxes. It simply avoids probate, which can be a costly and lengthy process since it involves the court system. A revocable living trust bypasses probate making the entire process easier (and cheaper) on your heirs. Another misnomer is that a revocable living trust negates the necessity for a will. You always need a will to direct guardianship of your children. Plus a will covers any assets that could not be put into a revocable living trust. A Revocable Living Trust is not necessary for most basic estate plans. However, in recent years, their popularity has increased while their costs have declined. Often much of the costs are incurred by actually transferring assets into the trust. For instance, to put a piece of real estate into a trust requires a 12

13 new deed and in many cases, special permission from the lender. For this reason, people opt to leave certain assets out of a trust. To put together a proper estate plan more attorneys are offering flat rate estate planning packages. For $500-$1000, all your estate planning documents can be compiled. Estate plans usually remain static until your life situation changes (divorce, kids, more kids) so this fee will be, for the most part, a one-time expense. Mistake #3 Not Having Enough Life Insurance: Most independent schools have a life insurance component to their benefits package. However many times this life insurance piece is a perk added onto a health insurance package. These perk policies offer every participant, regardless of income or family size, the same flat coverage amount, usually around $50,000. There are schools that offer more generous policies; however my research reveals these generous policies only pay out 1.5 to 2 times a teacher s current annual salary. 13

14 Unless you are a single teacher with no spouse or dependents this is simply not enough life insurance. Even if you are a single, childless, teacher, if a spouse and children lie in your near future, it still may be worth purchasing additional insurance now. There are two reasons for this. First the older you get the more expensive life insurance gets. There are even pop years, depending on your classification (e.g.: male non smoker) where the premiums jump sharply from one year to another. Second is the concern that you get a serious illness before you purchase a policy. Once that illness is on your medical record, your classification will change (despite the fact that you recovered from it.) You may find your new classification makes purchasing a policy too expensive. Even worse, a company could deny you coverage altogether. In the private sector many benefits packages offer supplemental plans whereby an individual can purchase additional life insurance through the company s group plan. (On occasion, these supplemental plans can even avoid the need for a physical and can be a cost effective way to increase your insurance coverage.) 14

15 However, many independent school plans do not offer the opportunity to purchase supplemental insurance. You must therefore purchase this insurance on your own. At minimum, a person with dependents should take their annual salary and divide it by 5% to determine the amount of coverage they need. A person with a $50,000 annual salary then, would need coverage of $1,000,000. (The 5% comes from the assumption that you could safely earn 5% on the million-dollar benefit, replacing forever the salary of $50,000 per year.) At minimum, a person with dependents should take their annual salary and divide it by 5% to Again, at minimum, the policy should be a 20-year level premium term policy. This means the policy would last for 20 years and determine the amount of coverage they need. the premiums would not go up for those 20 years. A term policy simply lasts only for the stated term in this case 20 years and after the term expires, so does the policy. 15

16 If you are a boarding school teacher who has the perk of living for free in campus housing, your life insurance needs might be even greater. Failure to factor in the cost of free housing is a common mistake teachers make when calculating life insurance needs. Often free housing is only extended until the end of the school year when the teacher of the family passes away. In some cases, on campus housing is only available for three months after death. Many boarding schools are located in the Northeast, where real estate is considerably higher than the national average. Moving out of campus housing and into local housing can be an expensive switch an expense that must be calculated in a life insurance benefit. An acceptable rule of thumb is to add to the policy the current cost of the average home in the area you live in. If the median home price in your area is $320,000 then add that amount to the coverage that you need. While home prices will tend to creep up with inflation (present markets of course excluded) this additional coverage will bring your family close enough should you lose campus housing privileges. If you work in person with a life insurance agent, you will no doubt hear a well-polished pitch on the merits of whole life insurance. This type of 16

17 insurance covers you for your whole life. As long as you make the payments, the coverage is there. These policies also build up a cash value, which you can borrow against when you need funds. Most teachers should start with a term policy and then investigate (with extensive research) about the merits of whole life. Despite what most financial advisors claim; the merits do exist. Whole life insurance can be used to help replace your mortgage, pay for a car, and assist in many other interesting areas of your financial life. A detailed examination of the benefits of a whole life policy is beyond the scope of this report, however for my free report on Creative Uses For Whole Life Insurance please visit my website and visit the resources section. One final secret about life insurance companies is that they usually adjust prices six months before your next birthday. So in order to get the rate of a 35 year old, you must lock down the policy a half year before your 35 th birthday. People often discover this fact only after it is too late. 17

18 Mistake #4: Not Having An Efficient Debt Payoff Plan Most Americans have debt. It could be their student loans, their child s student loans (which they have agreed to assist with), a mortgage, a second mortgage, a car loan or two, and credit card debt. While individuals are making a concerted effort to pay their debts off, they are often going about it in a way that makes the process unnecessarily long. Most experts agree that a debt reduction plan should make use of a technique nick named The Snowball. This simple strategy simply states that all debts should receive the minimum required payment and one debt should receive all the additional cash. When this one debt is wiped out, a second debt takes its place, and all the monies that went to the previous debt now go to this new one. As more debts are eliminated, your funds snowball, so payments get larger and larger and your debt reduces at a faster rate. The disagreement among experts falls on which debt to pay off first. Should it be the smallest debt or the debt with the highest interest rate? 18

19 Mathematically, paying off the highest interest rate first will save you the most money. However, if you have a few small debts, you may want to consider eliminating those first, even if they carry modest interest rates. There is an emotional side to personal finance that cannot be ignored. The victory of wiping out a debt, however small, only propels a person to tackle the next debt. Sometimes when an individual attacks a larger debt, the psychological motivation is not strong enough to make the plan last. Start with those smaller debts and then use that additional cash to reduce the larger loans. A typical credit card payoff schedule:

20 Just $25 makes an incredible difference: Before a snowball even begins however, you should take the time to move debts to the lowest interest rates first. Refinancing, consolidating or transferring credit card balances to the card with the lowest interest rate can be a risk free way to speed up debt pay down plan. One step that should not be done is to pay off unsecured debt with secured debt (for instance paying off credit cards with a home equity line.) Many individuals make this mistake in hopes to turn their non-deductible interest deductible, but it places an asset your home at unnecessary risk. 20

21 A common source of additional cash for private school teachers is W-2 withholdings. My research reveals that far too many teachers are consistently getting large refunds of $3000+ per year. This is money that should be applied to debt pay down throughout the year, since The form used to adjust withholdings is form W-4 and can be obtained at any time for the business office at your school. the IRS, sadly, does not pay any interest (they do however require it when you fail to withhold enough.) Mistake #5 Not Being Honest About Paying For Your Kids College Education Teachers, especially private school teachers, place a high amount of importance on education. Many private school teachers themselves have enjoyed private school education in secondary school, college and even graduate school. Often their parents or grandparents contributed to some or all of this education. It is not surprising then, that independent school teachers want to continue 21

22 this tradition by sending their children to the best schools they can get into. This is a noble, admirable goal. It does, however have a serious and expensive problem. The College Board annually computes the rise in the cost of tuition. Since the late 50 s, college tuition has increased at a rate nearly double the annual inflation rate. 2 The ability to save for college gets geometrically more difficult for parents as time goes by. Even if their employer has annual automatic Consumer Price Index (CPI) salary increases, those increases simply aren t enough. Year College Inflation General Inflation Rate Ratio % 4.49% % 6.72% % 3.67% % 4.30% % 3.96% % 2.37% % 3.18% % 4.15% % 2.99% Source: The College Board 22

23 The problem gets even worse as parents, in that quest to continue the family tradition of paying for the next generation s education, tries to bridge the gap with debt. While education funding is abundant, cheap, and tax deductible in most cases, it is nonetheless a debt and it must be paid back. In my travels speaking at over 60 colleges per year for the last 7 years, I have come across an alarming number of undergraduate students who have borrowed so much money that their career choice will not offer a salary large enough to support their monthly debt payments. One wheel literally spins too fast for the other, and the lifestyle they aimed to achieve with a college degree has been derailed before it even began. Even if parents encourage student loan debt with the promise to assist with the payments, the problem is the same. You are purchasing an investment an education that may not return more than what you put in. 23

24 If this weren t enough, the problem compounds further when parents, chained to this goal of bankrolling the best education their kids can earn, sacrifice their own retirement savings in order to help their children. Remember: there is such thing as an educational loan but there is no such thing as a retirement loan. What s more, there are many options to obtain an undergraduate or graduate degree. One can take night classes, get There is no scholarship for old age. scholarships and grants, take online courses, or complete part of their degree at a more affordable community college. With retirement, there are no such alternatives. Either you have saved enough for the lifestyle you envisioned, or you haven t. There is little assistance for those with a shortfall. This could very well be the toughest financial pill for private school teachers to swallow. The long established traditions and the extreme respect for higher education puts tremendous pressure on those in the independent school realm to make this aspect of their financial plan work. The hard truth is that making it work may not be the smartest financial move. It could 24

25 actually backfire. The reason is that many financial aid offices punish diligent college savers when it comes to allocating financial aid. Colleges and universities believe that a parent who has significant savings for their child doesn t need as much aid as a parent who has saved nothing. If your current financial plan is rich with money in 529 Saving money in a child s name can actually hurt your child s chances for financial aid. plans or Coverdell ESAs, you may be looking at a smaller financial aid package. This is especially true if those plans are in your child s name. If your own retirement savings have been neglected in order to fund these college accounts, a serious adjustment is in order. Consider funneling money into investments whose primary purpose is not education funding, but offers the opportunity to pay for college. Imagine two financially identical couples, Bill and Sally and Jeff and Karen. Bill and Sally, desiring to pay for the entire college education of their two twin children, begin funding a 529 plan for each child the day they are born. They contribute $500 per month to each child s 529 plan. 25

26 Jeff and Karen, whose twins were born on the same day, instead purchase $250,000 investment property that simply breaks even every month. Jeff and Karen put $500 a month into a reserve account to fund property repairs and they pay another $500 a month extra towards the mortgage. Eighteen years go by and Bill and Sally have saved an impressive $197,000 for each child. ($500 per month at 6% for 18 years.) Seeing this impressive sum, the colleges their children enroll in see no need to offer financial assistance. Those colleges, 18 years from now, will charge $350,000 per kid for a four-year undergraduate degree. Despite Bill and Sally s diligent efforts they are still short. What s more, should one of their twins enlist in the military, or receive a generous scholarship; they are stuck with a college savings account that can only be used to fund college. (There are some ways around this but none ideal.) Indeed they could use both accounts for one child, but this can cause an unwanted rift in family finances. Jeff and Karen, on the other hand, now have an investment property that is completely paid off. For the past year and a half, the property has been throwing off $2000 a month in positive cash flow and has a large reserve account for repairs. Keeping pace with inflation, the property is now worth 26

27 $500,000. Owned solely by Jeff and Karen, it still affects their chances at a large financial aid package, but the damage is far less than that suffered by Bill and Sally. Should their kids not get enough grants and scholarships to cover tuition their kids can borrow money to pay for school. Upon graduation, Jeff and Karen can assist their children with payments to the tune of $2000 per month. If one or both of their children decide, not to attend school or they get a generous scholarship, then Jeff and Karen have a nice cash flowing property for their retirement. The advice then is two fold. First determine, realistically, what your commitment will be to your children. The quickest way to reach the definition of realistic is to first square away your own financial life (eliminate credit card debt, max out retirement accounts, and purchase adequate life insurance) before you spend a dime on your kids. Whatever is left over is what 27

28 you can realistically provide to your children. That brings us to the second part of the advice and that is consider allocating this leftover money to an investment that offers some For a mortgage pay down calculator, please visit: sort of flexibility. This could be an investment property, a second retirement account if your tax situation allows, or perhaps a more aggressive debt pay down of an existing home mortgage. A college education is, at base, an investment. Like all investments, there is a risk that it will not return the reward you had hoped for. But unlike most investments, there are ways to alter a college investment, before, during and after its purchase to maximize the return and minimize the risk. Conclusion: I hope you have found the information in this special report helpful. For the past seven years I have traveled the globe educating teachers and students about personal finance. With the current, troubling, uncertainty in our economy, the need for financial education, for both teachers and students, has never been more important. 28

29 If you are interested in bringing a financial education workshop, complete with one on one education sessions, to your school, please visit Our workshops help prepare students and their parents for college, increase faculty and staff retention, and help communicate the financial benefits offered by your school. Neither my company, Wealth Educators International, LLC or myself, have any affiliations with any financial firm and receive no commissions or kickbacks for the seminars we conduct. We would welcome the chance to change the financial lives of the students, faculty and staff at your school. To Your Prosperity, Peter G. Bielagus Wealth Educators International Wealth Educators International, is a New Hampshire based financial education company. Founded by Peter Bielagus, a former fee only financial advisor, the firm specializes in the financial education of students, teacher and members of the military. Bielagus now travels the world delivering speeches, conducting seminars and one on one educational sessions. The author of two books, and a private school alumni, he can be reached at 29

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