Your Personal Finance Questions, Answered: How Much Magic Can a Managed Account Manage?

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At the Motley Fool Answers podcast, we can tell a lot about what's on our listeners' minds by looking into the mailbag, and no surprise, right now, the topic of interest is starting to be taxes. So, for this episode, hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp recruit a special guest to help answer their queries: Megan Brinsfield, head of financial planning for Motley Fool Wealth Management. Taxes, though, are not the only subject of concern this month, but as a CFP and CPA, she's more than qualified to advise our listeners about retirement accounts, 529s, and more.

In this segment, they address a couple who want to retire before their financial advisor thinks they're ready. But at the firm he sent them to, which offers separately managed accounts, they found another advisor who says he can keep the pair financially secure into their 90s.

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A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Jan. 30, 2018.

Alison Southwick: The next question comes from John. "I am 61 and my wife is 57. I was laid off from a high-tech company a few months ago and decided to retire a few years earlier than I had planned. My wife was working as well, but decided that if I got to start sleeping every day, so should she. We have about $850,000 in our combined 401(k)s and Roth IRAs. We have a small pension and an annuity which will generate about $18,000 in annual income, but our annual expenses are about $80,000. I know from the guidance you guys give that we are a bit light in our savings to be able to comfortably retire, but we would still like to try to make it work. We've been working with a CFP for a number of years who's also concerned that we may not make it without taking some other action, like going back to work -- a four-letter word -- or selling and downsizing our house which is already paid off. Our CFP recommended that we work with a firm that offers separately managed accounts, SMAs, to come up with a plan that will meet our needs while minimizing risk. We gave the SMA rep our financial information and he came back with a proposed plan that shows us not running out of money until I'm 97. We were pleasantly surprised by the plan, but not so pleasant about their fees -- 1.8%. In general, what do you think about SMAs and who, if anybody should use them? What about the 1.8% fee, and are there any red flags in the story we should be aware of?"

Megan Brinsfield: John, it sounds like your CFP was, "Maybe someone else can help you get to where you need to go."

Robert Brokamp: That was one of my red flags.

Brinsfield: I think if your CFP is telling you you're going to have trouble making it and recommends that you try someone else until you get the answer you want, that might be a red flag.

Southwick: I don't like that diagnosis. I'm going to see another doctor.

Brinsfield: Right.

Southwick: Have we tried essential oils? What about that? I think we have lots of ideas.

Brokamp: Maybe acupuncture on your 401(k).

Brinsfield: Aside from that, John, I think you're right to look at the fees and compare that to what you're receiving in return, so 1.8% could be a lot or it could be a little, depending on what kind of help you're getting. If it's just for asset management, yeah, that sounds like a lot. If it's for asset management plus maybe some financial planning -- depending on the complexity -- I know he provided a lot of information, but there could be more to the situation and that might be more reasonable.

Also, 1.8% might not be the total fee, once you start looking at the underlying fees for the investments, themselves, inside this account. SMA is just a term for someone to manage my investments for me, so there are plenty of providers, out there, that charge less than 1.8%. Sneeze, sneeze. Motley Fool Wealth Management...

Southwick: A sister company of The Motley Fool!

Brinsfield: Our fees are significantly less than that but, again, depending on what you're getting, it could be reasonable or not. I think one thing to keep in mind is that typically when advisors run reports like this that say you're going to have money through age X -- in this case 97 -- a lot of times they're using an average rate of return every year, and we know that the market does not return average every single year, so you're not taking into account that market volatility.

I'm somewhat skeptical about that analysis, in general. I think what would make sense is to maybe embrace some other alternatives. Maybe part-time work. The gap between their needs and what they would be getting in guaranteed income sources isn't that great. For two people maybe working part-time, each making $30,000 or so is maybe reasonable.

The other thing to keep in mind is that it sounds like they've assessed their current budget. They're both under 65, so not eligible for Medicare. If you're not working, you're going to have to buy health insurance on your own...

Southwick: That's so expensive.

Brinsfield: ... and that might not be included in the budget that they've set out. I'd definitely echo that fellow CFP's concerns about their immediate plans for retirement. It might be that once they start collecting Social Security, that there's more certainty in their plan; but between now and that Social Security age is really where they have to do some hard thinking.

Brokamp: I would strongly recommend that they reconsider completely retiring. Even working, as you say, part-time would be a big help. And just consider. If you're looking at paying the CFP for whatever the CFP is doing and the 1.8% on top of that, you're paying a lot of money to get professional advice, and just from what I see here, I think your CFP is right in that you are a little light, and I wouldn't pay 1.8% to the other person because I'm not sure I believe in their analysis. I don't know everything about your situation, but it's a little risky.

Brinsfield: I think you also have to consider the source. It's like, "I want your business, so I want to show you a good result." You always have to consider who's giving you good advice and bad advice. If this CFP doesn't have the ability to manage your money, he doesn't really have skin in the game in terms of a potential fee. Just based on very surface-level facts, that sounds like maybe a more trustworthy source.

In general, this is the downside of being a CFP. Sometimes you have to deliver bad news to people, but it's better that they hear it from a trustworthy source than just googling.

Megan Brinsfield is an employee of Motley Fool Wealth Management, a separate, sister company of The Motley Fool, LLC. The views of Megan Brinsfield and Motley Fool Wealth Management are not the views of The Motley Fool, LLC and should not be taken as such. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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