When Should You Take Social Security Benefits?

Many people assume they must begin receiving Social Security benefits as soon as they reach their normal retirement age, but taking benefits is never mandatory. Should you take Social Security early, on time or later?

First, remember normal retirement age is 65 for those born in 1937 or earlier and goes up for those born in 1938 or later; it’s 67 if you were born after 1959.

Regardless of your normal retirement age, you may begin taking benefits as early as age 62. However, your benefits will be reduced by a certain percentage for each month before your normal retirement age that you receive benefits.

You can also defer Social Security benefits until after your normal retirement age, in which case they will be increased by a certain percentage for each month past your normal retirement age that you delay benefits, up to age 70.

So, should you start collecting benefits as early as age 62, wait until normal retirement age, or delay as late as age 70?

Things to Consider

One major factor to consider is your life expectancy. Social Security calculates payments so that if you start early, the smaller payments you collect over a longer time equal the larger payments over a shorter period of time you would have received had you started at normal retirement age or as late as age 70. However, all these payments are based on your normal life expectancy. If you live longer, delaying benefits will result in greater monthly payments and a potentially higher lifetime total.

You may also want to consider whether you actually need the benefits or will save and invest them. Your personal tax situation could also be a factor.

A financial advisor can help you determine when it is best to take Social Security benefits. Or call (800) 772-1213 for the location of a Social Security Administration office near you, where advice is available free of charge.

June 2009

How to Find a Financial Advisor Who Meets Your Needs

Many investors don’t have the expertise to make all their own investment decisions, and therefore they want a reliable financial advisor. While nothing can guarantee a financial advisor’s reliability, there are some things you can look for.

Investigate your advisor’s background. The website of the Financial Industry Regulatory Agency, www.finra.org, will tell you which states many advisors are registered in, along with exams passed, licenses held and employment history.

Learn how the advisor makes decisions. Performance is important, but so is the decision-making process.

Evaluate the advisor’s track record. While different clients will have different investment goals, you can ask how the advisor’s other clients performed relative to their benchmarks.

Understand how the advisor is paid. Different advisers are paid differently: Some receive a commission on the securities they sell, and others charge fees, either flat, hourly or based on a percentage of assets under management.
Be sure you understand and are comfortable with the fee structure.

Get it in writing. Ask for a formal written description of the services the advisor will provide for you and the fees you will pay.

Understand fiduciary responsibility vs. suitability. All advisors are required to sell you “suitable” products, but advisors who also take an oath of fiduciary responsibility are legally bound to act in your best interest. Be sure you are comfortable with your choice.

June 2009

Absolute Return: a New Strategy for a New World

As the U.S. recession enters its 17th month, stocks and bonds continue to offer little solace for weary investors – forcing them to consider alternative options.

Stocks fell a staggering 37% in 2008, and no asset class or region was immune.

In light of these circumstances, outperforming one’s benchmark – which used to be the hallmark of good performance for a traditional mutual fund – doesn’t mean much.

As a result, many investors are turning to an investment strategy that has long been used by institutional investors, but is relatively new to the retail market: the absolute return strategy, which seeks to produce positive absolute returns regardless of the direction of the markets.

Absolute return strategies can have different objectives. Many seek an absolute return target (such as 10% per year) or a range (such as 5% to 15% per year). Others seek a return above the rate of inflation or a cash rate, such as U.S. Treasuries.1

In seeking to achieve these goals, absolute return strategies typically invest in short-term cash. They can stay fully invested in cash, which may be helpful in a year like 2008. Or, as opportunities arise, they can take positions in securities spanning many asset classes – from stocks and bonds to alternatives. Unlike many traditional mutual funds, they may invest not just “long” (which means buying stocks) but also “short” (which means selling borrowed stock, then buying the stock back later when their price has, ideally, fallen).

Many such strategies are available.

Your financial advisor, who is familiar with your individual circumstances and goals, can help you determine if an investment product that uses an absolute return strategy is right for you.

  1. These examples are hypothetical and are not meant to represent the performance of any particular product.

Is Gold a Good Investment in Today’s Economy?

Investors have long considered gold a “safe haven” in times of economic, geopolitical and financial instability – conditions that are present today. The world economy has slowed dramatically. There are political skirmishes around the world. And the financial markets have plummeted.

Inflation and currency devaluation also tend to be good for gold, and those conditions are also present today. When the U.S. Federal Reserve Board (the Fed) is concerned about the economy (as it has been recently), it lowers interest rates and sells U.S. government securities, which inflates the U.S. money supply and creates excess “liquidity” in the money markets. That liquidity tends to lead to inflation, which is good for gold. It also tends to dilute, and thus lower the value, of the U.S. dollar – and gold prices normally rise with a fall in the U.S. dollar.

Not surprisingly, gold prices are high today.

The question is, could they stay high? Many investors think the Fed will stop at nothing to boost the economy, which could be bad for inflation and the U.S. dollar but good for gold.

On the other hand, the Fed is likely wary of going too far, which could create its own problems. And even if it wants to continue, at some point the Fed will exhaust the tools at its disposal. This would decrease the money supply and could lower the price of gold.

It’s something to discuss with your financial advisor., who can help you determine if gold is a good investment option for you, and if so, how you might invest in it.