The Most Important Element of Your Financial Plan: Why Flexibility is Crucial to Meeting Long Term Goals (Part I)
Because so much of life doesn't work out exactly to plan, it would seem obvious that flexibility should be fundamental to a wealth plan. This is especially so in the financial arena, since many factors that may make the difference between hitting your financial goals or not are beyond your control.
In this two-part article, we will examine the important factors for which your wealth plan must provide flexibility. Let's examine the first two factors here:
1. Changes in Income/Cash Flow
With the federal government cutting reimbursements, private insurers following suit and inflation still causing overhead costs to rise, income and cash flow are important factors to consider in any physician's wealth plan. Add in the increasing numbers of doctors who are employed by hospitals – where the income will be dictated by the hospital or health system – and this clearly becomes the most important factor where flexibility is required. Fact is, most doctors cannot accurately predict their income in future years right now, so flexibility has to be part of the plan.
How do you incorporate income/cash flow flexibility into a wealth plan? By living below your means and prioritizing saving each month, quarter and year. These two elements may combine to position you to weather any temporary or even long-term hits to income/cash flow.
Another important tactic here is to implement savings vehicles that allow for uneven funding/investments. As an example, in the qualified retirement plan (QRP) arena, this might mean using defined contribution plans that allow flexibility in contributions each year – as opposed to a defined benefit plan which can require a certain level of funding or cause under funding penalties. Even more relevant would be to utilize "hybrid" or fringe benefit plans that may allow much higher contributions than defined contribution plans when income is high but can actually be skipped entirely in years where income wanes.
Another example here would be in the asset class of permanent life insurance; one that has the benefit of tax-deferred growth and top asset protection in many states. Here, funding flexibility would favor a "universal life" type policy, where, as above, funding is flexible year-to-year, over a "whole life" type policy, where funding must occur each year.
2. Changes in Tax Rates
Right behind the number one factor of cash flow/income, the number two planning element that one should build flexibility around is taxes. Since 2013, many physicians pay a top marginal tax rate of over 50 percent, when federal and state incomes taxes, as well as self-employment taxes are considered. This doesn't include capital gains taxes, dividend taxes or local property or sales taxes.
Still, we are at the fourth lowest federal income tax regime (measure by the highest bracket) since the income tax was implemented nearly 100 years ago and the second lowest capital gains tax rates since the 1940s when that tax was enacted. See the charts below, which show the top marginal federal income tax rate and federal capital gains tax rate in effect for each decade on the "0 year" (i.e., 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, etc.). These charts do not show state income or capital gains rates.
Examining these charts, it seems quite possible that we could see tax rates continue to rise even more. If they even return to mean rates of the 20th century, we will experience a sharp increase in tax rates. Thus, it makes sense to build in flexibility for this possibility.
At our firm, we approach this through a process of "tax diversification." While most firms focus only on asset class diversification in the context of investing, we believe it is crucial to layer on top of this focus a concentration to diversify a client's wealth to tax rate exposure.
As an example, we might look at a client's qualified retirement plan assets as those that are subject to future income tax increases, since, to get access to QRP funds; you have to pay ordinary income taxes. Further, most personally-owned assets are subject to future capital gains tax increases; from securities to real estate to closely held business interests to commodities or artwork. As capital gains tax rates increase, the value of these assets decline, at least in terms of how they might assist you in retirement.
Applying a "diversification" approach, we find that most physicians are inadequately invested in asset classes or structures that are immune to future income or capital gains tax increases. Whether these options are in the form of cash value life insurance, tax-free municipal bonds, ROTH IRAs or others, they should be part of every doctor's wealth plan. Bottom line, you need to have flexibility against the possibility that tax rates increase, especially if those increases are significant.
Because risk and uncertainty are prevalent over the long term, flexibility is a crucial element of a conservative, yet creative, wealth plan. In this article, we looked at two key elements around which any plan should build flexibility; changes in income and fluid tax rates. In part II of this article, we will examine three additional elements; changes in the "market," in liability, and in health.
SPECIAL OFFERS: For a free hardcopy of For Doctors Only: A Guide to Working Less & Building More, please call (877) 656-4362. If you would like a shorter free Kindle, iBooks, or Nook ebook download of our "highlights" version, you can download it at (http://www.fordoctorsonlyhighlights.com)
OJM Group, LLC. ("OJM") is an SEC registered investment adviser with its principal place of business in the State of Ohio. OJM and its representatives are in compliance with the current notice filing and registration requirements imposed upon registered investment advisers by those states in which OJM maintains clients. OJM may only transact business in those states in which it is registered, or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from registration requirements. For information pertaining to the registration status of OJM, please contact OJM or refer to the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure web site (www.adviserinfo.sec.gov).
For additional information about OJM, including fees and services, send for our disclosure brochure as set forth on Form ADV using the contact information herein. Please read the disclosure statement carefully before you invest or send money.
This article contains general information that is not suitable for everyone. The information contained herein should not be construed as personalized legal or tax advice. There is no guarantee that the views and opinions expressed in this article will be appropriate for your particular circumstances. Tax law changes frequently, accordingly information presented herein is subject to change without notice. You should seek professional tax and legal advice before implementing any strategy discussed herein.
CIRCULAR 230 DISCLOSURE: IN COMPLIANCE WITH TREASURY DEPARTMENT REQUIREMENTS, WE INFORM YOU THAT ANY FEDERAL TAX ADVICE CONTAINED IN THIS ARTICLE IS NOT INTENDED, AND CANNOT BE USED, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (A) AVOIDING PENALTIES UNDER THE INTERNAL REVENUE CODE OR (B) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANY OTHER PARTY ANY TRANSACTION OR MATTER SET FORTH HEREIN.
© Copyright ASC COMMUNICATIONS 2012. Interested in LINKING to or REPRINTING this content? View our policies by clicking here.
To receive the latest hospital and health system business and legal news and analysis from Becker's Hospital Review, sign-up for the free Becker's Hospital Review E-weekly by clicking here.
New from Becker's ASC Review