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Annuity Basics for Beginners

Annuity Basics for Beginners

An annuity is a contract between you, the purchaser or owner, and an insurance company, the annuity issuer. In its simplest form, you pay money to an annuity issuer, and the issuer pays out the principal and earnings back to you or to a named beneficiary. Life insurance companies first developed annuities to provide income to individuals during their retirement years.

One of the attractive aspects of an annuity is that its earnings are tax deferred until you begin to receive payments back from the annuity issuer. In this respect, an annuity is similar to a qualified retirement plan. Over a long period of time, your investment in an annuity can grow substantially larger than if you had invested money in a comparable taxable investment. Like a qualified retirement plan, a 10 percent tax penalty may be imposed if you begin withdrawals from an annuity before age 59½. Unlike a qualified retirement plan, contributions to an annuity are not tax deductible, and taxes are paid only on the earnings when distributed.

Four parties to an annuity contract

There are four parties to an annuity contract: the annuity issuer, the owner, the annuitant, and the beneficiary. The annuity issuer is the company that issues the annuity. The owner is the individual or other entity who buys the annuity from the annuity issuer and makes the contributions to the annuity. The annuitant is the individual whose life will be used as the measuring life for determining the timing and amount of distribution benefits that will be paid out. The owner and the annuitant are usually the same person but do not have to be. Finally, the beneficiary is the person who receives a death benefit from the annuity at the death of the annuitant.

Two distinct phases to an annuity

There are two distinct phases to an annuity: (1) the accumulation (or investment) phase and (2) the distribution phase.

The accumulation (or investment) phase is the time period when you add money to the annuity. When using this option, you’ll have purchased a deferred annuity. You can purchase the annuity in one lump sum, or you make investments periodically, over time.

The distribution phase is when you begin receiving distributions from the annuity. You have two general options for receiving distributions from your annuity. Under the first option, you can withdraw some or all of the money in the annuity in lump sums.

The second option provides you with a guaranteed income stream from the annuity for your entire lifetime or for a specific period of time. Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. This option can be elected at any time on your deferred annuity. Or, if you want to invest in an annuity and start receiving payments within the first year, you’ll purchase what is known as an immediate annuity.

Joint and Survivor Annuity

You can also elect to receive the annuity payments over both your lifetime and the lifetime of another person. This option is known as a joint and survivor annuity. Under a joint and survivor annuity, the annuity issuer promises to pay you an amount of money on a periodic basis. The amount you receive for each payment period will depend on how much money you have in the annuity. Also, it depends how earnings are credited to your account, and the age at which you begin the annuitization phase. The length of the distribution period will also affect how much you receive. If you are age 65 and elect to receive annuity distributions over your entire lifetime, the amount you will receive with each payment will be less than if you had elected to receive annuity distributions over five years.

When is an annuity appropriate?

It is important to understand that annuities can be an excellent tool if you use them properly. Annuities are not right for everyone.

Annuity contributions are not tax deductible. That’s why most experts advise funding other retirement plans first. However, if you have already contributed the maximum allowable amount to other available retirement plans, an annuity can be an excellent choice. There is no limit to how much you can invest in an annuity. As with other retirement plans, the funds are allowed to grow tax deferred until you begin taking distributions.

The big picture

Annuities are designed to be very-long-term investment vehicles. In most cases, you’ll pay a penalty for early withdrawals. If you take a lump-sum distribution of your annuity funds within the first few years after purchasing your annuity, you may be subject to surrender charges imposed by the issuer. As long as you’re sure you won’t need the money until at least age 59½, an annuity is worth considering. If your needs are more short term, you should explore other options. Contact us today for your complimentary consultation and let us help you!

Disclosure:The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Six Keys to More Successful Investing

Six Keys to More Successful Investing

A successful investor maximizes gain and minimizes loss. Here are six basic principles that may help you invest more successfully.

Long-term compounding can help your nest egg grow

It’s the “rolling snowball” effect. Put simply, compounding pays you earnings on your reinvested earnings. The longer you leave your money at work for you, the more exciting the numbers get. For example, imagine an investment of $10,000 at an annual rate of return of 8 percent. In 20 years, assuming no withdrawals, your $10,000 investment would grow to $46,610. In 25 years, it would grow to $68,485, a 47 percent gain over the 20-year figure. After 30 years, your account would total $100,627.

This simple hypothetical example also assumes that no taxes are paid along the way, so all money stays invested. That would be the case in a tax-deferred individual retirement account or qualified retirement plan. The compounded earnings of deferred tax dollars are the main reason experts recommend fully funding all tax-advantaged retirement accounts and plans available to you.

You should review your portfolio on a regular basis. However, the point is that money left alone in an investment offers the potential of a significant return over time. With time on your side, you don’t have to go for investment “home runs” in order to be successful.

Endure short-term pain for long-term gain

Riding out market volatility sounds simple, doesn’t it? But what if you’ve invested $10,000 in the stock market and the price of the stock drops like a stone one day? On paper, you’ve lost a bundle, offsetting the value of compounding you’re trying to achieve. It’s tough to stand pat.

There’s no denying it–the financial marketplace can be volatile. Still, it’s important to remember two things. First, the longer you stay with a diversified portfolio of investments, the more likely you are to reduce your risk. Thus, you can improve your opportunities for gain. Though past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, the long-term direction of the stock market has historically been up. Take your time horizon into account when establishing your investment game plan. For assets you’ll use soon, you may not have the time to wait out the market. You should consider investments designed to protect your principal. Conversely, think long-term for goals that are many years away.

Second, during any given period of market or economic turmoil, some asset categories and some individual investments historically have been less volatile than others. Bond price swings, for example, have generally been less dramatic than stock prices. Though diversification alone cannot guarantee a profit or ensure against the possibility of loss. You can minimize your risk somewhat by diversifying your holdings among various classes of assets. As well as different types of assets within each class.

Spread your wealth through asset allocation

Asset allocation is the process by which you spread your dollars over several categories of investments, usually referred to as asset classes. These classes include:

  • stocks
  • bonds
  • cash
  • cash alternatives
  • real estate
  • precious metals
  • collectibles
  • and in some cases, insurance products.

You’ll also see the term “asset classes” used to refer to subcategories, such as aggressive growth stocks, long-term growth stocks, international stocks, government bonds (U.S., state, and local), high-quality corporate bonds, low-quality corporate bonds, and tax-free municipal bonds. A basic asset allocation would likely include at least stocks, bonds (or mutual funds of stocks and bonds), and cash or cash alternatives.

There are two main reasons why asset allocation is important. First, the mix of asset classes you own is a large factor. Some say the biggest factor by far–in determining your overall investment portfolio performance. In other words, the basic decision about how to divide your money between stocks, bonds, and cash is probably more important than your subsequent decisions over exactly which companies to invest in, for example.

Second, by dividing your investment dollars among asset classes that do not respond to the same market forces in the same way at the same time, you can help minimize the effects of market volatility while maximizing your chances of return in the long term. Ideally, if your investments in one class are performing poorly, assets in another class may be doing better. Any gains in the latter can help offset the losses in the former and help minimize their overall impact on your portfolio.

Consider liquidity in your investment choices

Liquidity refers to how quickly you can convert an investment into cash without loss of principal (your initial investment). Generally speaking, the sooner you’ll need your money, the wiser it is to keep it in investments with comparatively less volatile price movements. You want to avoid a situation, for example, where you need to write a tuition check next Tuesday, but the money is tied up in an investment whose price is currently down.

Therefore, your liquidity needs should affect your investment choices. If you’ll need the money within the next one to three years, you may want to consider certificates of deposit or a savings account. These are insured by the FDIC, or short-term bonds or a money market account. Neither insured or guaranteed by the FDIC or any other governmental agency. Your rate of return will likely be lower than that possible with more volatile investments such as stocks, but you’ll breathe easier knowing that the principal you invested is relatively safe and quickly available, without concern over market conditions on a given day.

Dollar cost averaging: investing consistently and often

Dollar cost averaging is a method of accumulating shares of stock or a mutual fund by purchasing a fixed dollar amount of these securities at regularly scheduled intervals over an extended time. When the price is high, your fixed-dollar investment buys less. When prices are low, the same dollar investment will buy more shares. A regular, fixed-dollar investment should result in a lower average price per share than you would get buying a fixed number of shares at each investment interval.

Remember, just as with any investment strategy, dollar cost averaging can’t guarantee you a profit or protect you against a loss if the market is declining. To maximize the potential effects of dollar cost averaging, you should also assess your ability to keep investing even when the market is down.

An alternative to dollar cost averaging would be trying to “time the market,”. This is an effort to predict how the price of the shares will fluctuate in the months ahead so you can make your full investment at the absolute lowest point. However, market timing is generally unprofitable guesswork. The discipline of regular investing is a much more manageable strategy, and it has the added benefit of automating the process.

Buy and hold, don’t buy and forget

Unless you plan to rely on luck, your portfolio’s long-term success will depend on periodically reviewing it. Maybe your uncle’s hot stock tip has frozen over. Maybe economic conditions have changed the prospects for a particular investment, or an entire asset class.

Even if nothing bad at all happens, your various investments will likely appreciate at different rates,. This will alter your asset allocation without. You need to review your portfolio periodically to see if you need to return to your original allocation. To rebalance your portfolio, you would buy more of the asset class that’s lower than desired. This would be possibly using some of the proceeds of the asset class that is now larger than you intended.

Another reason for periodic portfolio review: your circumstances change over time. Your asset allocation will need to reflect those changes. For example, as you get closer to retirement, you might decide to increase your allocation to less volatile investments, or those that can provide a steady stream of income.

We can make sure your investments are on the right track

Contact us today and set up a complimentary consultation with one of our advisors. They can review your current investments and make sure you are setting yourself up for a successful future.

Disclosure:The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Buying a Home

Buying a Home

There’s no doubt about it–owning a home is an exciting prospect. After all, you’ve always dreamed of having a place that you could truly call your own. But buying a home can be stressful, especially when you’re buying one for the first time. Fortunately, knowing what to expect can make it a lot easier.

How much can you afford?

According to a general rule of thumb, you can afford a house that costs two and a half times your annual salary. But determining how much you can afford to spend on a house is not quite so simple. Since most people finance their home purchases, buying a house usually means getting a mortgage. So, the amount you can afford to spend on a house is often tied to figuring out how large a mortgage you can afford. To figure this out, you’ll need to take into account your gross monthly income, housing expenses, and any long-term debt. Try using one of the many real estate and personal finance websites to help you with the calculations.

Mortgage prequalification vs. preapproval

Once you have an idea of how much of a mortgage you can afford, you’ll want to shop around and compare the mortgage rates and terms that various lenders offer. When you find the right lender, find out how you can prequalify or get preapproval for a loan. Prequalifying gives you the lender’s estimate of how much you can borrow and in many cases can be done over the phone, usually at no cost. Prequalification does not guarantee that the lender will grant you a loan, but it can give you a rough idea of where you stand. If you’re really serious about buying, however, you’ll probably want to get preapproved for a loan. Preapproval is when the lender, after verifying your income and performing a credit check, lets you know exactly how much you can borrow. This involves completing an application, revealing your financial information, and paying a fee.

It’s important to note that the mortgage you qualify for or are approved for is not always what you can actually afford. Before signing any loan paperwork, take an honest look at your lifestyle, standard of living, and spending habits to make sure that your mortgage payment won’t be beyond your means.

Should you use a real estate agent or broker?

A knowledgeable real estate agent or buyer’s broker can guide you through the process of buying a home and make the process much easier. This assistance can be especially helpful to a first-time home buyer. In particular, an agent or broker can:

  • Help you determine your housing needs
  • Show you properties and neighborhoods in your price range
  • Suggest sources and techniques for financing
  • Prepare and present an offer to purchase
  • Act as an intermediary in negotiations
  • Recommend professionals whose services you may need (e.g., lawyers, mortgage brokers, title professionals, inspectors)
  • Provide insight into neighborhoods and market activity
  • Disclose positive and negative aspects of properties you’re considering

Keep in mind that if you enlist the services of an agent or broker, you’ll want to find out how he or she is being compensated (i.e., flat fee or commission based on a percentage of the sale price). Many states require the agent or broker to disclose this information to you up front and in writing.

Choosing the right home

Before you begin looking at houses, decide in advance the features that you want your home to have. Knowing what you want ahead of time will make the search for your dream home much easier. Here are some things to consider:

  • Price of home and potential for appreciation
  • Location or neighborhood
  • Quality of construction, age, and condition of the property
  • Style of home and lot size
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Quality of local schools
  • Crime level of the area
  • Property taxes
  • Proximity to shopping, schools, and work

Making the offer

Once you find a house, you’ll want to make an offer. Most home sale offers and counteroffers are made through an intermediary, such as a real estate agent. All terms and conditions of the offer, no matter how minute, should be put in writing to avoid future problems. Typically, your attorney or real estate agent will prepare an offer to purchase for you to sign. You’ll also include a nominal down payment, such as $500. If the seller accepts the offer to purchase, he or she will sign the contract, which will then become a binding agreement between you and the seller. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have your attorney review any offer to purchase before you sign.

Other details

Once the seller has accepted your offer, you, your real estate agent, or the mortgage lender will get busy completing procedures and documents necessary to finalize the purchase. These include finalizing the mortgage loan, appraising the house, surveying the property, and getting homeowners insurance. Typically, you would have made your offer contingent upon the satisfactory completion of a home inspection, so now’s the time to get this done as well.

The closing

The closing meeting, also known as a title closing or settlement, can be a tedious process–but when it’s over, the house is yours! To make sure the closing goes smoothly, some or all of the following people should be present: the seller and/or the seller’s attorney, your attorney, the closing agent (a real estate attorney or the representative of a title company or mortgage lender), and both your real estate agent and the seller’s.

At the closing, you’ll be required to sign the following paperwork:

  • Promissory note: This spells out the amount and repayment terms of your mortgage loan.
  • Mortgage: This gives the lender a lien against the property.
  • Truth-in-lending disclosure: This tells you exactly how much you will pay over the life of your mortgage, including the total amount of interest you’ll pay.
  • HUD-1 settlement statement: This details the cash flows among the buyer, seller, lender, and other parties to the transaction. It also lists the amounts of all closing costs and who is responsible for paying these.

In addition, you’ll need to provide proof that you have insured the property. You’ll also be required to pay certain costs and fees associated with obtaining the mortgage and closing the real estate transaction. On average, these total between 3 and 7 percent of your mortgage amount, so be sure to bring along your checkbook.

Are you thinking of purchasing a home?

If you are thinking of purchasing a home, speak with one of our financial advisors today for a complimentary consultation. We can help you make the best real estate investment that fits your current and future needs. Contact us today!

Disclosure: The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Creating an Investment Portfolio

Creating an Investment Portfolio

You identified your goals and done some basic research. You understand the difference between a stock and a bond. But how do you actually go about creating an investment portfolio? What specific investments are right for you? What resources are out there to help you with investment decisions? Do you need a financial professional to help you get started?

A good investment portfolio will spread your risk

It is an almost universally accepted concept that most portfolios should include a mix of investments. This includes stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investment vehicles. A portfolio should also be balanced. That is, the portfolio should contain investments with varying levels and types of risk to help minimize the overall impact if one of the portfolio holdings declines significantly.

Many investors make the mistake of putting all their “eggs in one basket”. For example, if you invest in one stock, and that stock goes through the roof, a fortune can be made. On the other hand, that stock can lose all its value, resulting in a total loss of your investment. Spreading your investment over multiple asset classes should help reduce your risk of losing your entire investment.

Asset allocation: How many eggs in which baskets?

Asset allocation is one of the first steps in creating a diversified investment portfolio. You will decide how your investment dollars should be allocated among broad investment classes. Asset allocation includes stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives. Rather than focusing on individual investments, asset allocation approaches diversification from a more general viewpoint.

For example, what percentage of your portfolio should be in stocks? The underlying principle is that different classes of investments have shown different rates of return and levels of price volatility over time. Also, since different asset classes often respond differently to the same news, your stocks may go down while your bonds go up, or vice versa. Though neither diversification nor asset allocation can guarantee a profit or ensure against a potential loss, diversifying your investments over various asset classes can help you try to minimize volatility and maximize potential return.

Ultimately, how do you choose the mix that’s right for you? Countless resources are available to assist you, including interactive tools and sample allocation models. Most of these take into account a number of variables in suggesting an asset allocation strategy. Some of those factors are objective. This would include your age, your financial resources, your time frame for investing, and your investment objectives. Others are more subjective. Such as your tolerance for risk or your outlook on the economy. A financial professional can help you tailor an allocation mix to your needs.

More on diversification

Diversification isn’t limited to asset allocation either. Even within an investment class, different investments may offer different levels of volatility and potential return. For example, with the stock portion of your portfolio, you might choose to balance higher-volatility stocks with those that have historically been more stable. A quick reminder though, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Most mutual funds invest in dozens to hundreds of securities, including stocks, bonds, or other investment vehicles. Purchasing shares in a mutual fund reduces your exposure to any one security. In addition to instant diversification, if the fund is actively managed, you get the benefit of a professional money manager making investment decisions on your behalf.

Note: Before investing in a mutual fund, carefully consider its investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses, which are outlined in the prospectus that is available from the fund. Obtain and read a fund’s prospectus carefully before investing.

Choose investments that match your tolerance for risk

Your tolerance for risk is affected by several factors. This includes your objectives and goals, timeline(s) for using this money, life stage, personality, knowledge, other financial resources, and investment experience. You’ll want to choose a mix of investments that has the potential to provide the highest possible return at the level of risk you feel comfortable with on an ongoing basis.

For that reason, an investment professional will normally ask you questions so that he or she can gauge your risk tolerance and then tailor a portfolio to your risk profile.

Investment professionals and advisors

A wealth of investment information is available if you want to do your own research before making investment decisions. However, many people aren’t comfortable sifting through balance sheets, profit-and-loss statements, and performance reports. Others just don’t have the time, energy, or desire to do the kind of thorough analysis that marks a smart investor.

For these people, an investment advisor or professional can be invaluable. Investment advisors and professionals generally fall into three groups: stockbrokers, professional money managers, and financial planners. In choosing a financial professional, consider his or her legal responsibilities in selecting securities for you.

Also, consider how the individual or firm is compensated for its services and whether an individual’s qualifications and experience are well suited to your needs. Ask friends, family and coworkers if they can recommend professionals whom they have used and worked with well. Ask for references, and check with local and federal regulatory agencies to find out whether there have been any customer complaints or disciplinary actions against an individual in the past. Consider how well an individual listens to your goals, objectives and concerns.

Stockbrokers

Stockbrokers work for brokerage houses, generally on commission. Though any investment recommendations they make are required by the SEC to be suitable for you as an investor, a broker may or may not be able to put together an overall financial plan for you, depending on his or her training and accreditation. Verify that an individual broker has the requisite skill and knowledge to assist you in your investment decisions.

Professional money managers

Professional money managers were once available only for extremely high net-worth individuals. But that has changed a bit now that competition for investment dollars has grown so much, due in part to the proliferation of discount brokers on the Internet. Now, many professional money managers have considerably lowered their initial investment requirements in an effort to attract more clients.

A professional money manager designs an investment portfolio tailored to the client’s investment objectives. Fees are usually based on a sliding scale as a percentage of assets under management. The more in the account, the lower the percentage you are charged. Management fees and expenses can vary widely among managers and all fees and charges should be fully disclosed.

Financial planners

A financial planner can help you set financial goals and develop and help implement an appropriate financial plan that manages all aspects of your financial picture, including investing, retirement planning, estate planning, and protection planning. Ideally, a financial planner looks at your finances as an interrelated whole. Anyone can call himself or herself a financial planner without being educated or licensed in the area, you should choose a financial planner carefully. Make sure you understand the kind of services the planner will provide you and what his or her qualifications are.

Looking to build your wealth and investments?

Building a nest egg and a strong financial portfolio through rental property, real estate, or other investments is complex. Call us today and set up a complimentary consultation with one of our certified financial advisors. Our trusted professionals can help you make the right decisions and guide you every step of the way.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Sterling Group United recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Fixed vs. Variable Annuities

Fixed vs. Variable Annuities

Annuity products have grown more sophisticated over the years to meet the demands of today’s more sophisticated investors. Just as mutual funds grew in popularity as an alternative to certificates of deposit, the variable annuity was developed as an alternative to the fixed annuity. Variable annuities offer potentially higher returns than fixed annuities. Of course, there is a risk of loss as well. So, deciding which annuity product to invest in often comes down to deciding how much risk you are willing to take.

Fixed annuities provide certain guarantees

When you purchase a fixed annuity, the issuer guarantees that you will earn a minimum interest rate during the accumulation phase and that your premium payments will be returned to you. If you annuitize the contract (i.e., take a lifetime or other distribution payout option), the issuer guarantees the periodic benefit amount you will receive during the distribution phase. (Guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.) The interest rates earned during the accumulation phase will reflect current fixed income rates, changing periodically. During the distribution phase, the payment is based on the prevailing interest rates at the start of the distribution phase, and then remains constant. This fixed payment may lose purchasing power over time due to inflation. Consequently, many investors are hesitant to lock in a fixed annuity payout rate.

Variable annuities provide growth opportunities instead of guarantees

When you purchase a variable annuity, the annuity issuer offers you a choice of investment options in what are known as subaccounts. The issuer may offer many different types of asset classes such as stock, bond, and money market funds. The issuer of a variable annuity does not guarantee or project any rate of return on the underlying investment portfolio. Instead, the return on your annuity investment depends entirely on the performance of the investments that you select. Your return may be greater than or less than that of a fixed annuity. However, if you die before you begin receiving annuity distributions, your heirs will receive at least as much as the total of your premium payments, regardless of the annuity value.

If you elect to annuitize and receive periodic distributions from your variable annuity, you can choose to receive either a fixed payout (like with a fixed annuity as previously discussed), a variable payout, or a combination of the two. If you select a variable payout, then the amount of each payment will depend on the performance of your investment portfolio. If the portfolio increases in value, then your payments will increase as well. Most annuity issuers offer a third option that allows you to lock in a minimum fixed payment every month, with the possibility of an additional variable payment based on the performance of your investment portfolio. By allowing your principal to remain in investment accounts during the distribution phase, you have the continued opportunity to benefit from rates of return that are higher than what would have been received with a fixed annuity. But remember, you also run the risk that your payout could be lower if your investment choices do not perform well.

Which is better?

First, make sure that an annuity is appropriate for you. Annuities are long-term savings vehicles used primarily for retirement. There are many advantages to annuities, but there are drawbacks, too. These include a 10 percent tax penalty on earnings distributed before age 59½, and the fact that all earnings are taxed at ordinary rather than capital gains rates. If an annuity is right for you, then the choice between fixed and variable annuities will depend on your situation and preferences.

Usually, choosing between the two comes down to your risk tolerance and the amount of control you want over investment decisions. With a fixed annuity, there is little risk. You know what you’re going to get out of the annuity. However, the growth potential of a fixed annuity is limited. A variable annuity, on the other hand, has a much greater potential for growth (although with this growth potential, there is a greater potential for loss). You also have the opportunity to make the investment decisions that will impact the growth of your annuity. How much risk you can comfortably accept, and your ability to manage your investment, will help you choose between a fixed and a variable annuity.

Still have questions?

If you still have questions on the differences between fixed and variable annuities, contact us today and set up a consultation and let us help you create a financial investment plan that works for you.

Note: Annuity withdrawals and distributions prior to age 59½ may be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty unless an exception applies.


Note: Variable annuities are long-term investments suitable for retirement funding and are subject to market fluctuations and investment risk, including the possibility of loss of principal. Variable annuities contain fees and charges including, but not limited to, mortality and expense risk charges, sales and surrender (early withdrawal) charges, administrative fees, and charges for optional benefits and riders.


Note: Variable annuities are sold by prospectus. You should consider the investment objectives, risk, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the variable annuity, can be obtained from the insurance company issuing the variable annuity, or from your financial professional. You should read the prospectus carefully before you invest.

Investing for Major Financial Goals

Investing for Major Financial Goals

Go out into your yard and dig a big hole. Every month, throw $50 into it, but don’t take any money out until you’re ready to buy a house, send your child to college, or retire. It sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s what investing without setting clear-cut goals is like. If you’re lucky, you may end up with enough money to meet your needs, but you have no way to know for sure.

How do you set goals?

The first step in investing is defining your dreams for the future. If you are married or in a long-term relationship, spend some time together discussing your joint and individual goals. It’s best to be as specific as possible. For instance, you may know you want to retire, but when? If you want to send your child to college, does that mean an Ivy League school or the community college down the street?

You’ll end up with a list of goals. Some of these goals will be long term (you have more than 15 years to plan), some will be short term (5 years or less to plan), and some will be intermediate (between 5 and 15 years to plan). You can then decide how much money you’ll need to accumulate and which investments can best help you meet your goals.

Looking forward to retirement

After a hard day at the office, do you ask, “Is it time to retire yet?” Retirement may seem a long way off, but it’s never too early to start planning–especially if you want your retirement to be a secure one. The sooner you start, the more ability you have to let time do some of the work of making your money grow.

Let’s say that your goal is to retire at age 65 with $500,000 in your retirement fund. At age 25 you decide to begin contributing $250 per month to your company’s 401(k) plan. If your investment earns 6 percent per year, compounded monthly, you would have more than $500,000 in your 401(k) account when you retire. (This is a hypothetical example, of course, and does not represent the results of any specific investment.)

But what would happen if you left things to chance instead? Let’s say you wait until you’re 35 to begin investing. Assuming you contributed the same amount to your 401(k) and the rate of return on your investment dollars was the same, you would end up with only about half the amount in the first example. Though it’s never too late to start working toward your goals, as you can see, early decisions can have enormous consequences later on.

Some other points to keep in mind as you’re planning your retirement saving and investing strategy:

  • Plan for a long life. Average life expectancies in this country have been increasing for many years. and many people live even longer than those averages.
  • Think about how much time you have until retirement, then invest accordingly. For instance, if retirement is a long way off and you can handle some risk, you might choose to put a larger percentage of your money in stock (equity) investments that, though more volatile, offer a higher potential for long-term return than do more conservative investments. Conversely, if you’re nearing retirement, a greater portion of your nest egg might be devoted to investments focused on income and preservation of your capital.
  • Consider how inflation will affect your retirement savings. When determining how much you’ll need to save for retirement, don’t forget that the higher the cost of living, the lower your real rate of return on your investment dollars.

Facing the truth about college savings

Whether you’re saving for a child’s education or planning to return to school yourself, paying tuition costs definitely requires forethought–and the sooner the better. With college costs typically rising faster than the rate of inflation, getting an early start and understanding how to use tax advantages and investment strategy to make the most of your savings can make an enormous difference in reducing or eliminating any post-graduation debt burden. The more time you have before you need the money, the more you’re able to take advantage of compounding to build a substantial college fund. With a longer investment time frame and a tolerance for some risk, you might also be willing to put some of your money into investments that offer the potential for growth.

Consider these tips as well:

  • Estimate how much it will cost to send your child to college and plan accordingly. Estimates of the average future cost of tuition at two-year and four-year public and private colleges and universities are widely available.
  • Research financial aid packages that can help offset part of the cost of college. Although there’s no guarantee your child will receive financial aid, at least you’ll know what kind of help is available should you need it.
  • Look into state-sponsored tuition plans that put your money into investments tailored to your financial needs and time frame. For instance, most of your dollars may be allocated to growth investments initially; later, as your child approaches college, more conservative investments can help conserve principal.
  • Think about how you might resolve conflicts between goals. For instance, if you need to save for your child’s education and your own retirement at the same time, how will you do it?

Investing for something big

At some point, you’ll probably want to buy a home, a car, maybe even that yacht that you’ve always wanted. Although they’re hardly impulse items, large purchases often have a shorter time frame than other financial goals; one to five years is common.

Because you don’t have much time to invest, you’ll have to budget your investment dollars wisely. Rather than choosing growth investments, you may want to put your money into less volatile, highly liquid investments that have some potential for growth, but that offer you quick and easy access to your money should you need it.

Are you ready to set your financial goals?

If you’re looking for a team of financial advisors and investment advisors you can trust to help you reach your goals, contact the experts at Sterling Group today