The Importance of a Safe Withdrawal Rate

Now that tax season is behind us (thanks to the whole Lange staff for another great year), we are working on a newsletter that will direct you to some outstanding resources designed to help you with your financial planning. If you are not currently receiving our newsletter, sign up for the e-newsletter on

One area that we think deserves special attention, especially since most portfolios have dropped in value, is a review of the sustainable withdrawal rate during retirement.  A good plan is critical to ensure that you don’t outlive your money.

With that in mind, Jim invited Paul Merriman to be his guest on his radio show, The Lange Money Hour, on April 22nd.  Paul is the author of “Live It Up Without Outliving Your Money” and founder of Merriman, an investment advisory firm based in Seattle that manages over $1 billion in assets.

Both Jim and Paul agree that many variables come into play when trying to determine a safe withdrawal rate.  You have to consider the client’s portfolio, age, risk-tolerance, other sources of income and current market conditions.  An excellent article on the subject can be found on Paul’s website On the right hand side of the home page – under articles – click on ‘Retirement: When Your Portfolio Starts Paying You.’

Jim and Paul also discussed what they consider to be the number one mistake that most investors make.  Jim believes the number one investment mistake is letting your emotions guide you (instead of logic.)  Paul believes the biggest investment mistake is trusting in the wrong people.  For instance, many investors act on financial advice solely from their co-workers or relatives.  Paul says that you can’t even trust Wall Street – believe the academics instead – they have the research to back up their claims.

It was another show filled with great advice — thanks to Paul for taking the time to join us.  If you missed the show, look for the complete audio on the week of April 27th.

Encouraging Economic News

The Lange team just received Tom Gau’s latest quarterly newsletter and, as always, it is filled with wonderful information. Tom is not only a CPA and a CFP, he is also a renowned educator. In fact, Jim Lange is headed to Chicago at the end of this week to participate in Tom’s 2-day educational boot-camp.  Unlike many other advisors, Tom has a number of encouraging things to say about the current economic situation.  Since we could all use some good news, we wanted to share — with Tom’s permission — some of the highlights of his 1st Quarter 2009 Update.

While there seems to be no end of frustrating economic news, Tom points out that we are finally starting to see some positive signs.  For starters, March’s three-week stock rally was brought on by unexpected good news from banks.  Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase all announced that they were profitable during the first two months of the year.  In addition, home sales rose unexpectedly in February, many companies are reducing costs and improving processes and strategies, and the U.S. and foreign governments have implemented programs to support the world economy.

Tom also notes that while the current recession has been painful in many ways, it should be regarded as part of a normal business cycle.  Business progress is never conducted in an orderly fashion.  Typically, recessions pave the way for business revivals, revivals develop into booms, booms breed crises and crises very often turn into recessions.  This is the way the business cycle has worked for generations and there is no reason to expect otherwise now.

That leads us to the big question – are we in a recession or, as some analysts suggest, a depression?  According to Tom, most economists believe that a recession becomes a depression when it stretches out for 36 months.  Therefore, we have until January 2011 before we get to that point.  On top of that, a replay of the Great Depression (1930-1941) is very unlikely thanks to many safeguards now in place that did not exist during the Depression – including deposit insurance and unemployment insurance.  It is also helpful to note that unemployment in 1933 jumped to 25% (we are currently at 8.5%).

To help bring the recession to an end before it has a chance to turn into a depression, Tom’s suggestion is to stop saving now.  That may seem like an odd piece of advice coming from a financial professional, but if an economic recovery is to actually take hold, consumers around the world will need to start spending instead of saving.

One more great piece of advice from Tom – to survive in this market, rely on logic and not your emotions.  In a chaotic market like this one, it is very easy for investors to fall into one of three traps:  searching for a miracle stock that will recoup all of their losses, making trades based on the latest news reports instead of long-term trends and being so paralyzed with fear that they don’t do anything at all.

A bit of common sense can help you avoid these traps – as can a bit of professional help. It is always important before making any financial move to seek the advice of a financial professional.  If you think the Lange team can be of service, please call the office at 1-800-387-1129.

Last Minute Tax Tips

Big thanks to Lange team member Steve Kohman for being a part of our radio show The Lange Money Hour: Where Smart Money Talks on Wednesday night, April 8th on KQV am 1410. Steve is so dedicated to his clients that we had trouble prying him away from the office to do the show.

We’re glad that Steve finally agreed because his tax advice was excellent. He’s a technical machine – answering questions off the top of his head with no notes!

So is it too late to do something about your 2008 tax return?  Not according to Jim and Steve. For starters, you can still fund an IRA for 2008.  Individuals can contribute up to $5,000 — $6,000 if you’re 50 or older.

Steve also pointed out that many tax deductible medical expenses are overlooked.  Double-check to make sure you haven’t forgotten long-term care insurance premiums, prescription expenses, Medicare insurance premiums, prescribed weight-loss programs, therapy and even miscellaneous improvements to your house (adding a wheelchair ramp, for instance).

The tax code can be tricky to navigate. This year, there are several new developments, including The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. First-time home buyers will have until December 1, 2009 to claim a new refundable tax credit for a qualifying home purchase.  There are certain restrictions, so make sure you check with your tax professional.

The Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 allows retirees to suspend their Required Minimum Distribution for 2009.  Jim and Steve believe this has created an ideal opportunity for seniors to make a Roth IRA conversion.

What should you do if you realize you’ve made a mistake on your return?  Simply file an amended return.  To make it even easier, you have three years to take care of the paperwork.

If you think you could work night and day on your return and still not get it done by April 15th, you can always file an extension. It’s important to note, though, that it’s an extension to file – not an extension to pay.  Uncle Sam still wants you to estimate your taxes and, if you miscalculate, you could be subject to a penalty and interest.

We don’t know what came over Jim and Steve, but they offered listeners who are PA residents a free tax extension!   The Lange team is offering to take care of all of the paperwork and will even deliver your return hand-stamped. Then, after April 15th (and some much needed R&R), one of the accountants will meet with you and take a closer look at your return. If you’re interested, call the office at 800-387-1129.

Jim and Steve also covered various strategies for Roth IRA conversions, ideas for 2009 tax planning, what documents your tax professional really wants you to bring to the office and which one of them has already finished his personal tax return and which one hasn’t.

If you missed any part of the show, a rebroadcast is set for Sunday, April 12th from 9-10 a.m. ET and the audio will be available on early next week.

The next show is set for Wednesday, April 22nd from 7-8 p.m. ET with special guest, author and money manager, Paul Merriman. Paul promises to make his prediction on when the economy will recover and explain the common mistakes that investors make.