And You Don’t Even Know It
The first and biggest “wealth drain” is taxes.
Our tax system is designed to penalize hourly and salaried workers while rewarding entrepreneurs and business owners. Salaried workers pay taxes based on what they gross, while business owners pay taxes based on what they net. To that end, most people think Fortune 500 companies getting something over on little guys. Keep in mind, you don’t have to be a big business to get great tax advantages. Even startups get huge tax benefits. So rather than complain, maybe you should run a business from your kitchen table
To qualify for tax deductions in that business, the IRS says you must intend to make a profit. When that standard is met, you automatically qualify for dozens of tax deductions that you don’t get as an individual. Most losses and startup expenses can be written off against other income from your job (limits apply, so get a good business CPA to work with you). Realize that nobody else (not even your CPA or tax preparer) cares how much you pay in taxes, so it’s your job to understand how the system work and how to use it effectively.
Losing the Chance at Compound Growth
Another set of huge wealth drains are market losses on investment capital that you control. When a stock or a piece of real estate drops significantly in value, it could take years for you to get back to even. And, of course, there are no guarantees that it will come back during your investment lifetime. The less capital you have invested, the less you can benefit from the power of compounding growth.
If the compounding curve of your money is broken by market losses or premature withdrawals, it has a massive effect on your final pool of wealth. For example, if you were offered a job that lasted only 36 days and you had two choices on the pay plan, which one would you take? (A) You could be paid $5,000 per day at the end of every day, for a total of $180,000. (2) Your second option is to be paid one cent starting on Day One, but your pay would double each day — be compounded by 100 percent — and payable at the end of those 36 days.
If you jumped at the $180,000, you missed the power of true compounding of money. If your coworker doing the same job chose the compounding penny, he wouldn’t be a millionaire. After 36 days … he’d be a filthy rich multimillionaire with a final check of $343,597,384. Obviously, your investments won’t experience such rapid (or consistent) compound growth, but do the math —
the power of the compounding curve is strong over time — if you don’t break it with big losses (which you can’t always control) or withdrawals (which you can).
Money Lost in Fees and Interest to Banks and Financial Companies
The next massive wealth drains we face are interest and fees paid to banks or finance companies. Money-lending has been around for thousands of years, and any business model that’s lasted that long is a winner — for the business. But when you’re on the borrowing side of the transaction, it’s a wealth drain, especially if most of your borrowed money is spent on depreciating assets
Now, people will tell you that if you can borrow money cheap and invest it in something that has a higher rate of return than the interest rate you’re paying, then you’re using leverage properly. That can be true, but those attempting such a move should be aware of the caveats. Try this simple exercise: Add up all the money you’ve paid out over your lifetime in monthly payments. Then compare that total to the amount of money you have saved for retirement and see which one’s bigger. (If you’re willing, we’d love to hear about your results in the comments section below.) Then think about how to be a lender, and not a borrower.
Depreciation of Vehicles and Other Large Assets
Another massive wealth drain comes from the depreciation of cars, boats, equipment, appliances and most other large assets we buy. Most people will lose more money on cars during their lifetimes than they’ll ever save for retirement, let alone all the other depreciating assets they’ll buy. But there’s a way to make money on these items.
Think of your financial life as a big pie. Don’t fall for the old magic trick and focus only on what’s happening to your one slice of the pie (i.e., your investment gains or losses). Instead, pay attention to the whole pie and put a stop to your massive wealth drains.
Just a few short years ago, I was staunchly opposed to whole life insurance, because that’s what I was taught by national “gurus” 25 years ago. I wholeheartedly believed (as many people still do) that if you need life insurance, you should buy a term policy, then take the difference in premiums between whole life and term and invest it in mutual funds.
So when a good friend of mine sat me down and tried to show me a whole life insurance plan, I nearly refused to listen. Many of you reading this will feel the same way, and nothing I say will change your minds. That’s fine — you’re entitled to your opinion just as I was entitled to mine.
Thankfully, my friend showed me how a properly designed whole life insurance policy works. I soon realized that the gurus in my early years and the gurus of today were correct — based on the information they’d been given. The problem was their information was incomplete.
Whenever I hear a financial consultant (or anyone, for that matter) talk about less expensive premiums for term, I know they really don’t understand how this animal of properly designed whole life insurance really works.
With a properly designed whole life insurance policy, you get:
1. Principal protection guarantees of your money.Your cash value isn’t subject to market losses, as it is with mutual funds and other programs. When the stock market tanks again (and it’s never a question of if but when), you won’t lose a dime.
2. Guaranteed growth of your money every year. This will be interest-rate-driven based on the economy, but your account will move forward every year regardless of what the market does. This is compound tax-free growth and not the “average rate of return” you get with mutual funds. To be fair, in our current low-interest-rate environment, the growth rates are only in the 2 percent to 4 percent range but as you study further you start to realize the real wealth is not in the growth rate even when rates go higher.
Many financial advisers will tell you that your money would do better in a good mutual fund. But remember: When someone shows you an “average rate of return,” they can start taking that average from any time that benefits their example. This is not compounded growth but rather a factor of timing as to when you enter and exit the market. The stock market has wild swings; if that is acceptable to you, you should have much of your money in stocks. If not, maybe it’s time to consider a different way to think about investing. (Remember the period from March 2000 to October 2002, when the Nasdaq lost 78 percent of its value? It’s been 14 years since the dot-com bubble started to pop, and the tech-heavy index still hasn’t quite recovered to that level. If you like guarantees and stability then you have no business putting most of your money in the stock market.)
3. Dividends paid to policy owners are not taxable. Dividends aren’t guaranteed, but many reputable life insurance companies have been in business for more than 100 years and they’ve paid out dividends every year. The amount of that dividend will depend on several factors, but it boils down to how much profit the insurance carrier made. When properly paid to the policy owner, those dividends are not taxable.
4. A high starting cash value amount, based on what you contribute to the policy. Whole life policies that aren’t properly designed will have very little cash value in the early years.
But a properly structured life insurance policy will have high cash value percentages, even in its first year, and they increase every year. This becomes an important fact when you realize that access to your cash will help you grow wealth systematically regardless of market conditions
5. Access to your cash value at any age, at any time, for any reason — without taxes or penalty. This is a huge benefit of whole life policies compared to 401(k)s and IRAs, which impose multiple obstacles if you want to access your cash before retirement, and penalize you if the funds you borrow from them are not paid back by a certain time and at a certain interest rate. No such obstacles exist with a whole-life policy. So leave your cash in the policy if you wish, or borrow it back out and use it, the choice is yours.
6. The ability to use your account’s cash value to recapture lost depreciation on major purchases and interest and fees paid to banks. If you treat this pool of money inside the life policy like your own personal bank, you can loan it out to yourself and others to create wealth. (More on this in future articles, but suffice it to say for now that banking has been around in some fashion for thousands of years. Any business model that lasts that long is worth understanding and using to your advantage.)
7. Guaranteed insurance. Once the policy is in place, your insurance is guaranteed for the rest of your life. Many people assume they’ll be able to buy new insurance at any point in their life. But nothing is further from the truth — especially for those who’ve been diagnosed with chronic or terminal diseases. If you become seriously ill, don’t expect to be able to buy a new policy.
With many whole-life policies, you can add an “accelerated death benefit rider” for little to no cost, which will give you access to a large portion of your death benefit during your lifetime if you have a terminal or chronic illness. I just had a colleague with a client who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, and was sent a check from his insurer for more than 70 percent of the eventual death benefit. He’ll be able to enjoy his remaining time without worrying how he will pay his bills.
8. The ability to combine your life policy with the worlds of real estate, private lending and auto financing to accelerate your wealth, both inside and outside of the policy. Just remember that any funds inside the policy are tax-free for life.
9. Death benefits. In addition to all the benefits you can make use of while you’re still here, at heart, this investment is still a life insurance policy, so when you eventually die, there will be a sum of money left behind to your beneficiaries — tax-free.
There’s a reason family dynasties have been using life insurance for generations to grow and protect their wealth. Even when subject to estate limits, these death payouts go a long way toward promoting the tax-free, inter-generational transfer of wealth.
Of course, insurance company policies and riders will vary by state due to state regulations and depending on the actual insurance carrier. But you won’t find another type of account or investment that has all these benefits in one investment — not 401(k)s, IRAs, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, precious metals, real estate, nor any other account.
Many have heard of an IRA but do they really know what it is or how the different types work? An IRA is an Individual Retirement Account. IRA’s are a way for you to save for retirement; something like a savings account but with limits on deposits, tax deferral, and restrictions & penalties on accessing the funds. Also, an IRA is an account and not an investment. The money is in the account and applied to different investments depending upon your choice of investment. Typical investments are stocks, bonds, mutual funds and/or other assets depending upon the type of IRA you opened.
Here is a breakdown of different IRA’s:
- Traditional IRA – Generally, you pay taxes on the money (what you put in) when you begin your withdrawals; the money you initially put in is therefore tax deferred. The thought process on this is when you begin your withdrawals (currently mandatory at age 70-1/2 but can start as early as age 59-1/2 penalty free) your income will be less so your tax bracket is lower therefore you will owe less in taxes than if you paid them as you earned the money. With the advent of the 401k many people that leave their employer with a 401k then move the money into a Traditional IRA account.
There are annual limits on how much money you can contribute to a Traditional IRA based upon your income and age. As an example, currently in 2016, if you are under age 50 you contribute $5,500 annually. If you currently contribute through an employer plan consult a tax advisor before contributing to your IRA as it many impact your tax deductions allowed.
You can request an early withdrawal from your account however it will be taxed and you will pay a penalty (currently 10%) if it is requested before age 59-1/2.
- Roth IRA – With a Roth IRA you pay the taxes on the money going into the account and then your future withdrawals, including earnings, are tax free. However, the account must be open for at least five (5) years and the distributions begin after age 59-1/2. There are allowances for penalty free withdrawals such as for a first time home buyer. Also, other withdrawals can be made tax-free; however, you might still have to pay a penalty. Always consult a tax advisor before making a withdrawal.
- SEP IRA – Generally just referred to as a SEP this is a Simplified Employee Pension IRA. The SEP IRA is used by business owners with one or more employee’s, those that are self-employed or have freelance income for a simplified method to save and contribute to the employee’s and their own retirement. A SEP IRA is opened for each individual and contributions are made to the IRA by the employer. The SEP IRA follows the same rules as a Traditional IRA.
- SIMPLE IRA – This is also for small business owners/employers and provides a simplified method for them to contribute to their and their employee’s retirement. SIMPLE stands for Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees. This differs from the SEP IRA. Here employees may chose to make salary reduction contributions and the employer then makes matching or non-elective contributions. Each employee has their own SIMPLE IRA set up and contributions are made directly to that account.
- Self-Directed IRA – This is similar to the Traditional IRA. However, the big difference is that you have control of the investments. To open a Self-Directed IRA you must contact one of several companies out there that act as the custodian for your account. You work through the custodian on where you want the money invested. There are many more options for investing using this type of IRA. Some options are real estate, tax lien certificates, precious metals and so much more. However, there are strict rules on the self-directed IRA so be sure to do your research. For example: No loaning of money to yourself, your spouse or any family member in your direct linear family chain.
If you are interested in knowing more about IRA options you can check out information available on Roth Conversions and a Perpetual Pension that I have available for you. Also, there are two great videos from Frontline and 60 minutes for you to watch.