The Myth of the Year-End Conversion

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Here we are already in the middle of the third quarter; prime time for starting planning and projections for next year. If you are a member of your company’s investment or benefits committee that may mean you are considering making a provider change for 2018. And, chances are if you are considering making a change, you have an advisor urging you to make a decision now in order to get that change accomplished on January 1, 2018. However, as a former employee of a recordkeeper, let me encourage you to think twice about falling into the myth of the year-end conversion.

Back in the days of paper records and/or massive Excel spreadsheets, there was a necessity to transfer data at the end of a plan or calendar year in order to have a “fresh” start for the next year. That is not necessarily the case any longer. With the seamless, electronic transmission of records and the electronic retention of participant records, there is not the same sense of urgency to have the plan established at the new provider on the first day of the new year. Third party administrators, recordkeepers, and auditors are all more than capable of getting the information they need to perform their job functions from multiple sources. Granted there may be a little additional work required if gathering data from more than one source, but with the level of technology available to them, there should not be an issue.

One could even argue that a January 1 conversion could be the worst time to try to push your plan through a conversion since there is a sizeable number of 401(k) plans that are trying to do just that. Of course, that’s not to say that recordkeepers are not well equipped to handle an influx of new clients, but think about your own business. Isn’t there a great opportunity for mistakes or errors to happen when there is a higher volume of work to be done?

Another point to consider when aiming for a year-end conversion is that more than likely the “blackout period,” the amount of time that your participants will not be able to access their money for distributions including loans, will more than likely fall in or around the holiday season. There may need to be additional education for your employees to ensure they understand their ability to get to their money will be limited during the prime spending season.

Finally, reflect on the amount of additional work that your team who handles your 401(k) plan has at the end of the year. Chances are the same individuals at your company who are responsible for running the 401(k) plan are also preparing profit and loss statements, gathering information for year-end payroll, and handling a variety of other tasks that present themselves as the year draws to a close.

While there is no right or wrong answer to whether or not a year-end conversion is right for your plan, I would encourage you not to fall for the myth that you have to convert the plan on January 1. If you would like to discuss this matter further, please contact me at jamie@grinkmeyerleonard.com or 205-970-9088.

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Three Things You Need to Know When Hiring a 401(k) Adviser

401-k-advisor-image“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” – Alexander the Great

As a Human Resources Professional, C-level executive, or team leader, you depend on those around you to give their best, as you give your best to them. At the start of this new year, maybe it is time to ask yourself if you are demanding that same level of quality from the professionals you hire outside your company walls. That highest level of professionalism is especially important when hiring an adviser to manage your company’s 401(k) plan. With increased scrutiny on fiduciary responsibility and the roles that each professional plays in the management of the plan, here are three things to consider when hiring or evaluating your 401(k) adviser.

  1. Is your adviser focused on 401(k)s?

“Jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind when thinking of a financial adviser who does not focus on one specific area of expertise. While there is nothing to say that an adviser cannot be good at multiple financial disciplines, when it comes to managing 401(k) plans it is imperative that your adviser know enough to stay on top of changing regulations and best practices. Aside from the fiduciary focus, there is also renewed attention on target dates and how they are selected and monitored. Your adviser should understand these rules and be able to document how your plan is addressing them. Additionally, review your adviser’s qualifications and designations looking for industry designations that specifically address their fiduciary knowledge.

  1. Is your adviser on a team or a sole practitioner?

There is not a right or wrong answer to this question, rather something to consider as a best fit for your plan. I work on a team and cannot imagine trying to go it alone and properly manage all of the responsibilities to the plan, the plan committee, and the participants. On my team, I focus on the analytical, detailed, “left-brain” tasks and my partner focuses on educating the plan participants and keeping the message relatable. Additionally, we have found that when working with committees there are times when my style and personality work well with some committee members and times where his is a better fit.

  1. How is your adviser compensated?

This is especially important to know ahead of the April 1, 2017, start date of the new fiduciary rules. It will be more difficult for your adviser to be compensated if he or she is receiving commissions from the investments in the plan. A commission is a fixed amount paid out to an adviser from an investment that is included in the cost of the investment and does not have to be paid separately or approved by the plan sponsor. The other way an adviser is compensated is to charge a fee to the plan. This fee can be in the form of an asset based charge, usually represented as a percentage, or as a flat fee. Typically, the fee is fully disclosed, is not paid by the investments, and can either be paid by the plan sponsor or passed on to participant accounts.

If you are unsure of the answers to any of the questions above, please reach out to me at jamie@grinkmeyerleonard.com or 205.970.9088 and I’ll be happy to get you some answers!

A Quick Guide to Understanding Fiduciary Definitions

fiduciary-duty-imageAs it stands today, the Department of  Labor’s (DOL) Fiduciary Conflicts of Interest Rule is set to take effect on April 10, 2017. As with most new rules or regulations, there are a lot rumors and speculation surrounding how the rule will be applied and who will be impacted. If you are a plan sponsor of a qualified retirement plan, like a 401(k), then now is the time to educate yourself as to who is working with the plan and how his or her role will be impacted by this rule. Here are the definitions of some commonly used terms that are associated with the rule.

Glossary of Terms: DOL Fiduciary Rule

Best Interest Contract Exemption
This provision of the DOL rule requires an advisor to enter into a written agreement with a client before advising him or her and receiving commission-based compensation. The agreement should confirm the advisor will act in the client’s best interest and disclose any conflicts of interest that may exist.

Commissions/Trails
This type of compensation pays a percentage of a product sold on each transaction. Trails are a form of recurring commission that pays a stated percentage annually for a sale made in the past.

Department of Labor (DOL)
The United States DOL oversees services and advice provided to retirement accounts, and it is one of the agencies responsible for enforcing ERISA. The DOL has proposed this revised fiduciary rule with the goal of expanding protection for clients’ retirement assets.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)
ERISA regulates and protects retirement assets by establishing rules that plan fiduciaries must follow.

Fees
In fee-based accounts, advisors charge a management fee based on the amount of assets. The opposite form of compensation would be transaction based, such as commissions.

In qualified retirement plans, advisors charge a fee for services provided. The fee may be based on a percentage of plan assets or a flat fee.

Fiduciary
ERISA defines “fiduciary” as anyone who exercises discretionary authority or control over a retirement plan’s assets or provides investment advice to a plan. Fiduciaries are held to a higher standard of accountability than are brokers, and they are required by law to act in the best interest of their clients. The DOL rule seeks to expand the definition of fiduciary to anyone providing advice on retirement plans.

Suitability
A suitability standard requires advisors to reasonably believe their recommendation will meet a client’s needs, given the client’s financial situation and risk tolerance. This standard is not as strict as a fiduciary standard.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or confused by what is involved, you are not alone and we are here to help. Please contact me at jamie@grinkmeyerleonard.com or 205.970.9088 to learn more.

The Best Gift You Can Give to Your Company

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It’s official…the holiday shopping spree is in full swing. Hopefully, you made it through Black Friday with all of your limbs and hair and through Cyber Monday with enough money left in your account to pay this month’s bills! All the holiday shopping made me stop and think, “What is the best gift that you can give someone?” Respect, time, money all came to mind. With those things in mind, over the next three weeks I want to look at ways to use your benefit plan, specifically the 401(k) or Profit Sharing Plan, to help give those gifts to your company, your employees, and yourself.

Whether you are a C-suite level executive assessing where to best spend your company’s resources or a Human Resource Professional thinking about how to make the most of your resources to benefit the company, one thing is certain – ultimately the company you own, manage, or work for needs to thrive. I would argue that one of the best ways to ensure the growing or continued success of the company is to hire the most talented workers and to retain them by showing that you respect them and want to contribute to the success of their retirement futures.

The gift of time that offering a 401(k) plan can offer to your company comes by adding valuable time worked to the workforce. To explain, I believe there is a significant difference between an employee that has to work and one that wants to work. If, through your retirement benefit plan, you can add hours to the employees that want to work by reducing the hours of have-to-works by allowing those employees to retire on time, then I believe that you are giving a great gift to the company as a whole.

Offering a 401(k) plan can also help reduce corporate taxes, thus helping the company to save money. The most common way to reduce your company’s tax liability is through offering a match or profit sharing arrangement. With either a match or profit sharing agreement, the amount the company contributes is tax deductible. Another lesser known way to reduce your business taxes is to pay for the expenses related to the plan such as the cost of the third-party administrator, recordkeeper, and/or financial advisor. Most commonly these fees are automatically deducted from participant accounts, but recordkeepers are becoming more flexible with the ways fees are collected.

These gifts of respect, time, and money can be given to your company with a well designed 401(k) plan. If you do not think these goals are being achieved by your current plan, please call me at 205.970.9088 or email me at jamie@grinkmeyerleonard.com and I will get to work for you today on developing a plan that works for you and your company.

Just a different point of view; Left Brain, Right Brain


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Does the thought of reading your plan document make your skin crawl or excite you for all of the information it contains at your fingertips?  Would you rather look a diagram of how to build your daughter’s play kitchen or read the written instructions (in all 5 languages thank you)?  Questions like these are often used to help you identify if you are left brain dominant or right brain dominant.  Traditionally, is has been thought that if you identify with loving to read manuals, following the instructions, and diving into the details then you are left brain dominant; whereas if you respond strongly to art and images, want to be left alone to do your own thing, and value the big picture over the details then you are right brain.  Here are some questions that Caleb Bagwell and I answered that will further illustrate the differences in the dominate brains.  Can you guess what we are?

As a birthday present, your friend bought you one of the latest kitchen gadgets on the market – apparently, it can slice, dice, and make juice at the same time. The only problem is, you have no idea how the darn thing works. What do you do?

Jamie: This could go a couple of ways.  The first thing that I’d do is get online and look-up the instruction manual.  If the manual could not be located, it would promptly be returned or thrown out the window!

Caleb: This one is easy, just start pressing buttons! Seriously, the box told me all the stuff that it did and so trial and error will be all I need to figure out the correct combination of buttons or knobs to get things going!

If you could have 3 hours to yourself to go do whatever you liked, what would you do?

Jamie: Well, I have 2 young children, so I would like to think that I would lay out by the pool and read a good book, but since I have a hard time relaxing until the house is clean, I’d probably end up cleaning.

Caleb: Totally depends on the weather.  If it is sunny that I would be outside on a jog or grilling something tasty.  If it is rainy that it is definitely a movie/nap opportunity, with PIZZA.

How would you describe the neatness of your desk?

Jamie: Everything has its place and even though it may not be as neat as I would like, I know my system and how to find things.

Caleb: Perfect Chaos, but really it’s more like LIFO.  Things go in stacks and depending on when I was working on what project tells me how far down the stack to look for it.  Once a coworker cleaned me desk for me and I had anxiety attack! How was I supposed to find anything!

Would you rather draw someone a map or tell them how to get where they are going?

Jamie: Draw a map or rather give them the address so they can plug it into their GSP.

Caleb: Actually I’m pretty bad with direction and worse at drawing.  I would say use your GPS your holding one in your hand!

Before you take a stand on an issue, do you gather all of the facts or go with your gut right away?

Jamie: Definitely gather all of the facts; it is important to me to know why I am making the decision that I am making.

Caleb: Depends on the outcome resulting in my conviction.  If we are taking a stand on whether the crunch wrap supreme or beefy crunch burrito is better I am ready now, but if we are taking a stand that will affect others I would probably want someone who is an expert on the subject to help me with the details.

How quickly can you tell if you like someone?

Jamie: Not very.  I am usually pretty cautious when it comes to forging new relationships.

 Caleb: Seconds.  Seriously but that’s kind of an unfair questions because I tend to like everyone until they prove me wrong.

You may be asking yourself “why this is important in the context of 401(k) plans?”  What it comes down to is that traditionally retirement plan education has appealed to predominately the analytical, left brain by doling out a bunch of numbers and figures that tend to overwhelm, confuse, and, frankly, bore the people who you are trying to appeal to.  We are aiming to change the norm by not ignoring the details and the numbers, but rather by incorporating the emotional, creative right brain to help the left brain process the information.  In fact, recent research has shown that the brain performs better when both sides are involved, especially when completing tasks associated with mathematics (American Psychological Association, April 11, 2014) like determining how much to defer into a 401(k) plan.

That’s right Jamie, I have to remind myself sometimes that many people enjoy the details but the fact is people need to know “Why” they are making decision.  Helping them find the “Why” behind their retirement savings make the processing of the details possible.  They need to understand they are not saving for a number they are saving for trip to Disney with the grandkids!  Spouting out number at a group of your employees is not connecting with them, helping them channel their creativity and  use it to paint their retirement picture bridges that gap.

Jamie Kertis, AIF®, QKAjamie kertis headshot
Retirement Plan Specialist
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
1950 Stonegate Drive / Suite 275 /Birmingham, AL 35242
Office: 205.970.9088 / Toll-Free: 866.695.5162
www.grinkmeyerleonard.com

Contact Jamie

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Busy women fall short in retirement readiness

busywomenI have the great pleasure of working with investment and retirement committees day in and day out that tackle the tough task of managing a retirement plan that will, more than likely, be a main source of retirement income for their valued employees in the future. In most every case, these committees have at least one female who is at the table helping shape the future for her people at work. As a woman, I know that it is second nature to want to take care of other people first; sometimes out of necessity and other times because taking care of other people’s problems allows us the ability to push our own problems further down the line. However, when it comes to preparing for our own retirement futures, putting our own needs at the bottom of the pile can be a big mistake. The fact of the matter is that in households today women make the financial decisions. Need proof? Women make 85 percent of all brand purchases (Stephanie Holland, shecomony) and according to Nielson Consumer 04-02-2013, women’s purchasing power ranges anywhere from $5 trillion to $15 trillion annually. So why are we still delaying putting a plan together for how we are going to live and spend in retirement?   If you would like to discuss how becoming more financially prepared for the future can help you today, please let me know.

Jamie Kertis, AIF®, QKAjamie kertis headshot
Retirement Plan Specialist
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
1950 Stonegate Drive / Suite 275 /Birmingham, AL 35242
Office: 205.970.9088 / Toll-Free: 866.695.5162
www.grinkmeyerleonard.com

Contact Jamie

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What is keeping your employees awake at night?

shutterstock_171835172A recent survey finds that 62% of Americans are losing sleep over at least one financial problem, and the most common worry? Retirement savings.

According to a 2015 CreditCards.com report, people are up counting sheep at night concerned about some serious money issues.

  • The most common money fret is saving enough for retirement; two in five Americans say this keeps them up at night at least occasionally. People between the ages of 50 and 64 are the most concerned (50% said they fret about their retirement savings – or lack thereof – in the wee hours).
  • The second-biggest concern is educational expenses. This time, it’s younger adults who are the most troubled. 50% of 18-29 year-olds are losing sleep worrying about how they’re going to pay for educational expenses (much higher than the 31% of the overall population who have this fear). Student loan repayment is a sincere, honest concern for young Americans. Trent Grinkmeyer had a great article recently for parents of young children with ways to save for their college education. It seems as if more parents had saved and prepared 20-25 years ago, there would be a lot more people sleeping well tonight.
  • 29% of Americans are losing sleep because of healthcare/insurance bills, 27% because of their ability to pay the monthly mortgage/rent and 21% because of credit card debt.One thing that all of these concerns have in common is that they can be solved, or at least lessened, with proper planning. Working with a qualified financial advisor to assist your people with financial topics such as budgeting, debt reduction, and retirement readiness, can make the difference between a well-rested, alert workforce and groggy, stressed-out employee population.

 

Source: http://401kspecialistmag.com/401ks-as-a-sleep-aid-retirement-savings-keeping-clients-up-at-night/

 

Jamie Kertis, AIF®, QKAjamie kertis headshot
Retirement Plan Specialist
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
1950 Stonegate Drive / Suite 275 /Birmingham, AL 35242
Office: 205.970.9088 / Toll-Free: 866.695.5162
www.grinkmeyerleonard.com

Contact Jamie

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Reaching Your Hand Into the 401k Cookie Jar

shutterstock_291564959Caleb Bagwell, Education Specialist for Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial, does a wonderful employee education presentation where he compares accounts used for keeping money as cookie jars. For example, your checking account is a blue jar, your savings account is a yellow jar, and your 401(k) account is a green jar. From there he goes on to explain that the investments within those jars are the cookies; sugar cookies are a money market, chocolate chip domestic equity, white chocolate macadamia are internal equities, and so on. (For more Calebism’s check out his blog ) . So what happens when your blue checking account is running low and you need some more cookies ? A significant number of people turn to their green 401(k) jar because, after all, it is your money to begin with. Although, this may seem like a quick and easy fix, it can have long term negative effects on your ability to retire.

Should You Really Be Reaching Into the Jar?

T. Rowe Price recently conducted its eighth annual Parents, Kids, & Money survey and found that 44% of parents said that in the past two years they had used money saved for retirement for a non-emergency expense. Around 17% used the money to pay off debt which could be a semi-sound financial move depending on the interest rate of the debt paid off, but an equal amount, around 17%, said they had used the money to pay for vacation and 16% used the money for their children’s education. Let’s start with vacation. While I am an advocate for work-life balance and think that a well-deserved week away from the office does an employee good, a vacation falls into the category of “if you can’t pay for it, you shouldn’t do it”, especially if it means dipping into your retirement savings. Using your retirement savings to fund a child’s education can also be an inappropriate use of your money. While loan, particularly student loan, has become a four letter word, the truth is that your children have a much longer time span to pay off a student loan, then you have to save for retirement.

But They Are My Cookies to Begin With!

shutterstock_111436112.jpgOne of the most common arguments I hear as a reason to take loan from your 401(k) account is that is it you are paying yourself back rather than a financial institution. However, there are several reasons why this argument leads to a slippery slope. The first, and main reason, is you are paying yourself back with after-tax money and that money will be taxed again when you take it out in retirement as a distribution from your 401(k) account! To explain, If you are in the 25% tax bracket, earning $1 only gives you $0.75 toward repaying the loan, and that $0.75 will be taxed again when you retire and withdraw if from your plan. The second factor to consider is opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the alternative that is given up when a choice is made; in regards to your 401(k) that cost is the potential market gain that you are missing out on while your money is out of the plan. A third reason to consider about taking out a 401(k) loan is that you have potentially handcuffed yourself to your current employer. The full balance of a loan becomes due when you terminate employment and if you cannot repay the total amount, then whatever you cannot pay back becomes a taxable distribution that is also subject to a 10% penalty if you are under age 59 1/2. First consider the fact that the term for most 401(k) loans is 5 years. Then consider that according to a 2015 study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that of the jobs that workers began when they were 18 to 24 years of age, 69% of those jobs ended in less than a year and 93% ended in fewer than 5 years and among jobs started by 40 to 48 year olds, 32% ended in less than a year and 69% ended in fewer than 5 years. Consider those 2 facts together and it is reasonable to think that the majority of employees who take out a 401(k) loan will not be at their employer long enough to be pay it back in full.

Just Say No

While the idea of dipping into your retirement savings to take care of a today need may be as tempting as biting into a warm chocolate chip cookie, in most cases it is best to just say no! Once you say no once to compromising your retirement savings, it will get easier and from there you can start to address the underlying reason why you probably needed the loan in the first place, the lack of sufficient savings. The T Rowe survey mentioned earlier also found that 72% of parents don’t have enough savings to cover at least 3 months of living expenses and 49% said they didn’t have an emergency account at all. We have some great resources that speak to the importance of budgeting and would be happy to help your employees start the process of setting and following a budget.

Cookies and 401(k) loans are tempting because they are usually easily accessible and have a certain level of immediate gratification. Let us at Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial help you find a better way to tame the temptation.

jamie kertis headshotJamie Kertis, AIF®, QKA
Retirement Plan Specialist
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
1950 Stonegate Drive / Suite 275 /Birmingham, AL 35242
Office: 205.970.9088 / Toll-Free: 866.695.5162
www.grinkmeyerleonard.com

Contact Jamie

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March 15th – A Scary Day to Open the Mailbox

March 15th – A Scary Day to Open the Mailbox

Highly Compensated Employees Receiving Taxable Refunds
and Why This Type of Refund is NOT a Good Thing for Employees or Employers

mailboxToday, some of you may go to your mailbox and find a check waiting for you. This check may be anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars. And on any other day, but today, you would probably be thrilled to find such a surprise awaiting you in a mass of otherwise junk mail. However today, March 15th, is the deadline to make 401(k) compliance testing refunds to avoid a 10% excise tax (to your employer); therefore, if you receive a check today (or in the next few days) from the company that recordkeeps your company’s 401(k) plan , then you have just received a 401(k) refund.

A 401(k) refund occurs when your company’s 401(k) plan fails its annual discrimination testing; the amount that is refunded is the amount that was needed to be taken out of the 401(k) account of each affected highly compensated employee in order to bring the test into a passing range. If you are an HCE that receives a refund, then you will also receive a 1099-R and you must report the amount as taxable income in the year in which the refund was received.

hce 1.pngThere are several annoying implications of receiving money out of your retirement plan. The first is that money that you intended to be set aside as tax deferred is now taxable at a time that is more than likely earlier than you would have liked. The second is the potential impact to your overall retirement plan in that any money that comes out of the plan early is lessening that which you had saved for retirement. Finally, we have found that there is a compounding negative impact on your desire to want to continue to participate in your company’s retirement plan when refunds are received in multiple years.

hce2.pngReady for the silver lining in this article? There are options that are available to retirement plans to correct the issue of refunds. Most of them involve examining the plan design to determine if there could be any modifications that would improve the likelihood of the plan passing testing. A Safe Harbor plan design would allow the plan to receive an automatic pass of the compliance tests that cause refunds. Adding an automatic enrollment option could give an immediate boost to participation numbers which could give added support to the testing calculations. Implementing a comprehensive education plan could bolster both participation and deferral percentages. These are just a few of the designs and your plan would have to be reviewed in detail to determine if one of these or potentially another solution would be right.

Need a better way to keep retirement contributions in your 401(k) plan? Want to improve your company’s plan for the HCE’s so you can attract and retain them? Contact me to discuss.   jamie@grinkmeyerleonard.com or 205-970-9088.

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Jamie Kertis, AIF®, QKA / Retirement Plan Specialist
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
1950 Stonegate Drive / Suite 275 / Birmingham, AL 35242
Office: 205.970.9088 / Toll-Free: 866.695.5162 / Fax: 866.774.9029
Jamie@grinkmeyerleonard.com / www.grinkmeyerleonard.com /  Find us on Facebook  / Follow my blog