The best retirement investment options

By Lew Nason

Insurance Pro Shop


If you could design your ultimate retirement savings vehicle, what benefits or features would you like it to have? Let your imagination go wild.

When are you going to stop listening to all of the hype?

When are you going to take the time to learn what it really takes to significantly increase your life insurance and annuity leads, appointments, sales and income — in the short term and long term?

Starting today, help your clients, friends, family, neighbors and prospects to live debt free and truly wealthy by applying the strategies below.

The best retirement investment options

I hope you’ll agree that saving for your family’s financial security and your retirement is critical. And it all starts with paying yourself first. The reality is that it doesn’t really matter where you save your money. What matters most is that you start saving today. Time and compounding interest is what makes your money grow.

However, once you start saving, you can help yourself achieve financial freedom and generate more spendable income in retirement by selecting investment vehicles offering more than just the promise of higher investment returns.

What would your ultimate retirement savings vehicle look like?

If you could design your ultimate retirement savings vehicle, what benefits or features would you like it to have? Let your imagination go wild.
  • Would you want to receive an income tax deduction for the money you put into the plan that's similar to the deduction you get for many of the current qualified retirement plans?

  • Would you want to be able to put in as much money as you can without regards to how much money you make, with no limits or caps?

  • Would you like to have the money inside the plan accumulate tax deferred? You don’t pay any income taxes or capital gains taxes on the account while your money is building.

  • Would you like to be able to generate a tax-free income during your retirement?

  • Would you like to be able to access all of the money tax-free before retirement and without the early withdrawal penalties associated with traditional qualified retirement plans?

  • Would you like to have a minimum interest rate guarantee each year?

  • How about an opportunity for the higher stock market type returns?

  • What if you could lock in those higher stock market type returns each year and with no risk to your investment principle? (No stock market losses.)

  • If you become disabled, would you like for someone to keep putting money into the retirement plan for you?

  • If you die, would you like for someone to pay your family what you meant to save during your lifetime?
Here are what I would consider to be the best choices for investment vehicles: a 401(k) with matching contributions, tax-free municipal bonds, Roth IRAs and something you may not of heard of — investment grade life insurance.
401(k) with matching contributions

In most cases, you’ll want to take full advantage of your company’s 401(k) plan if they offer any sort of matching contributions. It’s free money, so you’ll generally want contribute to your 401(k) only up to the amount that your company matches.

Why only up to the amount the company matches? Remember, in an earlier article we discussed the problems with tax deductible qualified retirement plans and the exorbitant income taxes you’ll pay in your retirement years. So, you’ll want to contribute the amount necessary to receive all of the free money your company offers and then stop right there.

Exceptions: If your company only offers their company stock inside of the 401(k) and all of your contributions plus the matching contributions are required to be invested into company stock, then you may want to pass on the opportunity.

Consider: If your company has a financial problem like Enron, then not only could you lose your job, you could lose the nest egg that you’ll need to survive until you find another job. Investing most of your retirement savings in one company isn't prudent. If your company collapses, both your paycheck and your retirement savings could evaporate.

Tax-free municipal bonds

Many people today believe that tax-free municipal bonds are an exceptional retirement income vehicle. Regional and local agencies, towns, and cities issue municipal bonds. Most municipal bonds have lower interest rates than comparably rated corporate bonds and treasury securities. The minimum amount required for investment in municipal bonds is generally $5,000. Municipal bonds are sometimes issued at a discount to compensate investors for the additional risk that these bonds may have due to the financial difficulties of some local governments.

The most important feature of municipal bonds is their tax-exempt feature. Due to subsequent judgments based on the 1819 McCullough v. Maryland ruling, the federal, state and local governments don't possess the power to tax each other. Consequently, municipal bonds can't be subject to federal tax.

Additionally, income from state and local municipal bonds can't be taxed if purchased within the geographic area. For example, Georgia residents don't pay state taxes on Georgia bonds. However, residents of Florida are subject to state income taxes on their Georgia bonds.

Drawbacks of tax-free municipal bonds

While municipal bonds do offer a tax-free income that is very attractive, there are several hidden drawbacks:
  • Investors (before and after retirement) who generate substantial income from municipal bonds could be subject to paying the alternative minimum tax because the interest from those bonds is one of the indicators used to calculate who pays the tax. If you start investing heavily in municipals, you'll need to keep a sharp eye out to make sure you don't hit the AMT, because as soon as you do, you lose all of the tax-free advantage of municipal bonds.
  • Because the interest rates are lower on municipal bonds, there is also the risk of having your investment not keep up with inflation and taxes.

  • Most retirees are unaware that while you generally won’t pay income taxes directly on municipal bond income (except if you hit the AMT) you do have to report the municipal bond income on your income tax return, and it can cause up to 85 percent of your Social Security income to become taxable.

  • There is also credit risk, the possibility that a municipal bond issuer's credit rating may be downgraded or that it will default in payment of principal and interest on its bonds. Lower-quality issues typically offer higher yields than those considered investment grade, but also involve more risk.

  • There is also the problem of interest rate risk. As interest rates increase, you could see the value of your municipal bond portfolio decline.

  • The final problem is that municipal bonds are attachable by creditors.
Because of the many hidden drawbacks of municipal bonds, you have to be very careful when using them. In most investment portfolios, only the use of a very limited amount makes any sense.

Roth IRAs

The Roth IRA is a type of individual retirement account in which contributions are made with after-tax (non-deductible) dollars. If certain requirements are met, then the earnings accumulate tax-free, and no federal income tax is levied when qualifying distributions are taken from the plan. A Roth IRA allows for tax-free withdrawals as long as the contributions remain in the account for a minimum of five years and the account holder meets one of the following criteria: age 59½, death, disability or first-time home purchase.

As with all IRAs, there are restrictions on your eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA based on your income level and filing status. You can stay current with these rules and regulations with IRS Publication 590. Note, if you are eligible to contribute to an IRA in a given year, then you have until the following April 15 to make a contribution. The current contribution limit is $5,000 per individual if you are under age 50 and the amount you can contribute phases out at higher incomes. The rules for the Roth IRA are changing every year, so I won’t go into the details in this article.

Roth IRAs offer some very distinct advantages over most other qualified retirement plans (401K, 403B, SEP, etc.) and municipal bonds.
  • The biggest advantage is the tax-free income they provide during retirement. Consider, if you were to put the maximum contribution into a Roth IRA and a tax-deductible qualified retirement plan, you would be depositing the same amount each year, into each plan. If you receive the same rate of return on both accounts, then won’t you have the same amount of money in each account when you retire? If you then withdraw the same amount out each year from both accounts, the Roth IRA will provide you with more spendable income, because you won’t have to pay taxes on that income.
  • Unlike the Traditional IRA, there isno required minimum distribution at age 70½.

  • Another advantage of Roth IRAs is that unlike tax-free municipal bonds and the taxable income from a qualified retirement plan, the Roth IRA’s income is not reported on your income tax returns to determine the taxability of you Social Security income.

  • Also unlike tax-free municipal bonds, the tax-free income from a Roth IRA does not trigger the alternative minimum tax calculation.

  • Roth IRAs, like most qualified retirement plans, are generally not attachable by creditors.
Drawbacks of A Roth IRA

  • There is a cap each year as to what you can put into a Roth IRA and for the higher wage earner, the eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA phases out. (See IRS Publication 590)

  • There is a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if you with withdraw the accumulated interest prior to age 59½. (You can generally withdraw the investment principal as long as you’ve had a Roth IRA longer than five years.)
One of the main concerns I have with Roth IRAs is whether sometime in the future the federal government will lower the Social Security retirement income for the people who have accumulated a lot of money using qualified retirement plans. I think the federal government will be forced to find ways to lower Social Security income payments.

Investment grade life insurance

Most people think of life insurance in terms of death benefit protection. However, because you can over-fund today's cash-value life insurance policies, they also provide vehicles for meeting other goals, such as saving for retirement and college education, paying estate taxes and providing liquidity. Life insurance now has some very competitive returns and is treated uniquely by the IRS. Life insurance offers the added bonus that most goals can be achieved on a tax-free or tax-deferred basis. In effect, life insurance is one of the few remaining tax shelters available.

Life insurance is the investment the wealthy have used for decades to accumulate, protect, provide liquidity and pass on their safe money. We are talking about the investment money that a wealthy family needs and uses to cover their daily living expenses. It’s the money that they can’t afford to put at risk. A recent survey by the Spectrum Group found that 84 percent of ultra-wealthy people own life insurance.

Investment grade life insurance offers some very distinct advantages over most other investments, even Roth IRAs and municipal bonds.
  • Like the Roth IRA, your money grows tax deferred, and you can receive a tax-free retirement income.

  • Also, like the Roth IRA, there is no required minimum distribution at age 70½. The income you receive is not reported on your income tax returns to determine the taxability of you Social Security Income and it does not trigger the alternative minimum tax calculation.
  • Unlike the Roth IRA, there is no cap each year as to what you can put into cash value life insurance. You can simply increase the death benefit to accommodate more cash.

  • And, unlike the Roth IRA, for the higher wage earners, there is no phase-out of eligibility as there is with a Roth IRA.

  • Unlike the Roth IRA, you can access the your money tax-free prior to age 59½. There is also no 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if you withdraw the accumulated interest prior to age 59½.

  • Life insurance cash values do not count against you when applying for college financial aide for your children.

  • Life insurance is generally not attachable by creditors, and has the added advantage of bypassing probate.
Drawbacks of investment grade life insurance
  • Because of the commissions, expenses and surrender charges, there is very little usable cash value in the first three to fi ve years of the policy. You should generally use investment grade life insurance only if you can leave the money there a minimum of 10 years. (15 years is preferable.)

  • You are buying a life insurance death benefit, so there is a charge for the death benefit each year. However, considering that most people need and are paying for life insurance anyway, this is a great way for you to get the life insurance you need at the lowest cost possible.

  • Unlike other investments, your ability to purchase life insurance depends on your overall health. In many cases, even if you have a health problem, investment grade life insurance may actually work better for you.

  • With any product you buy, there are good ones and bad ones. Life insurance is no exception. Later on, I’ll give you a list of what I consider the preferred companies for investment grade life insurance.
Investment grade life insurance works well in most circumstances and exceptionally well for those families who need and are already paying for life insurance.

We’ll discuss investment grade life insurance and its uses in greater detail in later articles.

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