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3 Key Points in President Obama’s New myRA Plan

State of the Union speeches are generally pretty heavy on talk and light on practical action, and President Barack Obama’s 2014 was no exception. There was the usual backslapping and finger-pointing we’ve all grown to expect over the years from any sitting president. But there was one proposal made by Obama that got Wall Street’s attention: a new retirement savings vehicle for low- and middle-income Americans dubbed “myRA.”

From Obama’s State of the Union speech:

“Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today, most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks. That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: myRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg.”

President Obama went on to say that savers would have “no risk” of losing what they put in, which will make the plan palatable for Americans who lack the stomach for equity investment.

The plans for myRA are still somewhat nebulous, but here are three key points you should take away:

#1: myRA is essentially a Roth IRA invested in long-term bonds

According to the White House’s fact sheet, the myRA accounts will be offered within a Roth IRA vehicle, though unlike current Roth IRAs, this product will be offered via employers, and employees will be given the ability to have a portion of their checks automatically deducted and deposited. Currently, Roth IRAs are offered by banks, brokerage houses and other financial institutions.

The assets on offer will be “like savings bonds,” backed by the U.S. government. There is no indication at this time whether equities or other riskier assets will be allowed, though given the explicit government guarantees, it’s unlikely.

#2: myRA appears to be largely riskless for employers

Offering a 401k plan is expensive, cumbersome and carries certain fiduciary risks for employers — this is why most small businesses don’t offer them. Only 68% of American workers have access to a retirement plan, and only 54% actually participate.

The Obama administration has been accused of being hostile to business and of being insensitive to regulatory burden. From what is available so far, it does not appear that myRA will be a burden for employers.

#3: myRA is not exactly “riskless.”

If the account is essentially a bond ladder within a Roth IRA, then it is safe to say that there is no principal risk. But remember, as with all bond investments, there is the risk of lost purchasing power due to inflation. It remains to be seen what kinds of yields are offered, but it is hard to imagine the federal government paying more to American savers than it does to its existing bondholders.

At time of writing, the 10-year Treasury yields 3.62%. The current rate of inflation is 1.2%, though the Fed would like to see it closer to 2%. Subtracting the Fed’s policy objective inflation rate from the current yield gets you a real, inflation-adjusted yield of 1.62%. And over the course of a lifetime, inflation might prove to be a lot higher than that.

It certainly has during the past 100 years; the average inflation rate has been about 3.2%.

Bottom Line

A cynic might say that the U.S. government is trying to fleece its citizens into financing its chronic budget deficits. Hey, what can I say, there is probably some truth to that sentiment … but I believe that President Obama is sincere in wanting to help Americans save for their golden years.

Any savings, even at a low rate of return, are better than no savings at all. And given the long-term funding needs of Social Security, every little bit helps.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is the chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. Check out his new premium service, Macro Trend Investor, which includes a free copy of his e-book, The New Megatrend Investor: The Ultimate Buy-and-Hold Strategy That Will Make You Rich. This article first appeared on InvestorPlace.

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only, as of the date hereof, and is subject to change without notice. This material may not be suitable for all investors and is not intended to be an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities nor is it intended to be investment advice. You should speak to a financial advisor before attempting to implement any of the strategies discussed in this material. There is risk in any investment in traded securities, and all investment strategies discussed in this material have the possibility of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The author of the material or a related party will often have an interest in the securities discussed. Please see Full Disclaimer for a full disclaimer.

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How to Get Your Retirement Planning in Order

January tends to be an eventful month for investors engaged in retirement planning. In addition to the usual New Year’s resolutions to save more and live more frugally, January is a great month to rebalance your portfolio and to make your annual IRA or Roth IRA contribution.

I recently touched on IRA contributions and portfolio rebalancing in “A Portfolio To-Do List for January.” Now, I’m going to take this retirement planning conversation to the next level: I’m going to give you a pair of steps to help you organize your investments across your retirement accounts to lower your overall tax bill and avoid some potential tax landmines.

Retirement Planning Step #1: Simplify, Simplify

If you’re like me (and most investors), your investment dollars are spread across several retirement accounts. You probably have a current 401k that you are contributing to, and perhaps a rollover IRA or two from previous jobs. You might also have a Roth IRA, and you probably have at least one taxable brokerage account that you own personally or jointly with your spouse.

My first recommendation is that you consolidate accounts. This won’t make any difference to your taxes, per se, but it will make your tax planning easier in that you will have fewer accounts to manage. The easier you make your tax planning, the more effective you will be.

So, if you have multiple legacy 401k plans from old jobs, either consolidate them into your current 401k plan, or better, roll them into an IRA. A rollover IRA will generally have better flexibility and a wider selection of investment options than a 401k, and it is a more flexible tool for estate planning (your heirs can generally postpone taxation longer with an IRA).

Retirement Planning Step #2: Organize Your Baskets

Once you have your accounts consolidated, it’s time to decide which investments go where.

I regularly see investors segment their investments by perceived risk, putting safer, more conservative investments in their IRA and putting riskier assets in their taxable accounts with the thinking that IRA dollars are more precious and should therefore be treated more carefully. While I understand this thinking, it’s very bad retirement planning.

With no further ado, here are the steps to building a properly tax-managed portfolio:

  1. Sketch out your asset allocation. This will include standard investments, such as stocks, bonds and real estate, and perhaps alternative investments or even hedge funds and other private partnerships if you are an accredited investor.
  2. Rank each of the asset classes in your allocation by the amount of taxable income you expect them to generate. For example, stock index funds that you intend to hold for over a year have virtually no expected taxable income beyond dividends and capital gains distributions — which are taxed at a favorable rate. MLP distributions are often considered a return of capital and are thus non-taxable in the year they are paid. A fund with high portfolio turnover will generate a lot of taxable gains, as would options strategies or high-yield bonds. And capital gains on certain alternative investments — particularly coins or artwork — are taxed at a higher “collectibles” rate of 28%, though you would only generate taxable income if you sold them.
  3. Implement your allocation. “Fill up” your IRA accounts with the least-tax efficient investments first, saving the most-tax efficient for the taxable brokerage accounts.

As you’d expect when talking about retirement planning across millions of Americans, every investor’s allocation is going to look a little different. But in practice, most will look something along the lines of this:

In your IRA accounts (including Roth IRAs):

  1. Bonds
  2. High-yield bonds
  3. High-turnover, actively managed mutual funds, ETFs, or accredited investor products
  4. Collectibles you may want to sell within the next few years
  5. Real estate investment trusts (see below).

Outside of your IRA:

  1. Index stock funds and ETFs
  2. Master limited partnerships
  3. Collectibles you intend to hold indefinitely
  4. Investment real estate properties (income is often “tax-free” return of capital, and capital gains can be avoided via 1031 exchanges)

One gray area is real estate investment trusts. Like MLPs and investment real estate, REIT payouts often benefit from tax deferral as “return of capital.” Yet any portion of the dividend that is not covered as return of capital (or a long-term capital gains distribution) is considered ordinary income and is taxed at your marginal tax rather than at the qualified dividend tax rate.

How do you address this in your portfolio? If you have room in your IRA, then that is where I would recommend including REITs. But I would stuff the IRA full of the other asset classes I listed first.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is the chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management. Check out his new premium service, Macro Trend Investor, which includes a free copy of his e-book, The New Megatrend Investor: The Ultimate Buy-and-Hold Strategy That Will Make You Rich. This article first appeared on InvestorPlace.

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only, as of the date hereof, and is subject to change without notice. This material may not be suitable for all investors and is not intended to be an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities nor is it intended to be investment advice. You should speak to a financial advisor before attempting to implement any of the strategies discussed in this material. There is risk in any investment in traded securities, and all investment strategies discussed in this material have the possibility of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The author of the material or a related party will often have an interest in the securities discussed. Please see Full Disclaimer for a full disclaimer.

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