5 Factors More Important Than Rate of Return
Key Points – 5 Factors More Important Than Rate of Return
- The Rules About Sequence of Return Risk Change the Closer You Get to Retirement
- Taxes and Health Care Are Likely Your Two Largest Expenses in Retirement
- Inflation, Interest Rates, and Economic Health Are Out of Our Control, But We Can Plan for Them
- There Are Two Different Ways to Look at Time When It Comes to Retirement
- Your Needs, Wants, and Wishes
- 21 Minutes to Read | 38 Minutes to Listen
When it comes to building your retirement plan, a lot of people think your rate of return is the No. 1 thing to keep in mind. While it is important, your investments aren’t the main factor when it comes to your plan. Dean Barber and Bud Kasper will review five factors that are more important than your rate of return on this episode of America’s Wealth Management Show.
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What Are the Most Important Factors of Retirement Planning?
Bud Kasper: Dean, how are you doing today?
Dean Barber: Amazing.
Bud Kasper: All right, we’ve got a great show planned.
Dean Barber: No doubt about it. So, most people think that the rate of return on your investment is the holy grail and that it’s the most important thing. We’re going to throw a little bit of cold water on that today. It’s not that the rate of return isn’t important because it obviously is. But there are other things when you are thinking about putting your retirement plan together that I think are more important.
In no particular order, here are the five factors that we’re going to talk about that should be considered prior to thinking about the rate of return.
- Inflation, Interest Rates, and Economic Health
- A Life Plan with Goals for Retirement
We’re going discuss each one of those things in detail. Hopefully, people can get a sense of why these things should come before you start considering rate of return. If you think about it, you could have a very bumpy ride to retirement if your only objective on investing is rate of return.
Now, if you’re a younger person and you’ve got 15, 20, 25 years of a time horizon, we can reorder some of these things and we can put investing at the top of the heat. But as you get close to retirement and then get into retirement, the rate of return becomes a less critical factor. So, let’s start with risk as our first factor that is more important than rate of return.
As you approach retirement, you need to pay a much closer attention to the amount of risk that is in your portfolio than the rate of return. We can prove that by putting together a retirement plan for someone. We can show them that if they have a 100% of their money in stocks that it reduces their probability of success to do the things that they want to do in retirement. That’s because there’s more risk, more drawdown.
Bud Kasper: You’re right, Dean. The most important thing for people to focus on is that these five factors have nothing to do with investments. There are other things out there that have the potential to create retirement success that aren’t necessarily driven on the investments. Or more importantly, a product.
Product salespeople are coming out of the windows as fast as they can right now. This is their opportunity with the market being depressed to say, “See, I told you so. You need to have that guarantee. You’re going to have a lifetime of income,” and all this stuff. But they never talk about inflation or the factors. If you got a 4% return, that’s great. But then put in your inflation factor and tell me how you’re going to live on that for the next 10, 20, 30 years.
Dean Barber: Exactly. What Bud is talking about goes to the level of risk. There are ways to control the level of risk as opposed to buying an annuity or some sort of a financial product that’s going to give you some sort of a guaranteed income or whatever. Because the fees on those things are so high.
Bud Kasper: But people don’t know that.
Controlling Risk in Your Portfolio
Dean Barber: It’s all internal. They’re disclosed, whether the person takes the time to read that or not. Let’s talk about how people can control risk in their portfolio. I think you look at it in a different way. To construct the plan properly, you need to know the rate of return that your money needs to achieve on average over time to accomplish your objectives. We need to identify what that is. We call it your PRI, your Personal Return Index.
Then, we can determine how to achieve that return with the highest probability and with the least amount of risk. Because as you enter retirement, you want to make sure that you’re reducing that risk. You want to avoid the big drawdowns in your portfolio because a big drawdown in your portfolio can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy for you to run out of money.
Bud Kasper: Right. Because nothing, and I mean nothing, in a plan is static. That includes investments. If you need to make adjustments for risk, then by gosh, do it. Understand what you’re trying to accomplish for yourself and where your comfort level is. Even though the rate of return is important on the investments, how about your taxes? Because the taxes that you save don’t need to be supported by the return on the investments. Taxes are next on our list of five factors more important than rate of return. We’ll talk about them more shortly.
It’s Times Like These When Equity Exposure Really Matters
Dean Barber: Yeah, the tax piece of it is a whole different discussion. Here’s a quick example about risk using the S&P 500. People will ask what the S&P 500 did and why they shouldn’t just own it. I think a lot of people do this because it’s what the industry teaches you to do.
However, we can go through time and time again and show that if all you had is the S&P 500 that you could run into some trouble. Let’s say that you’re taking a distribution every year of 5% or 6% out of your portfolio and you run into a year like this year where the S&P at one point was down 20%. It’s now down about 15% on the year, and you’re taking 6% out. Suddenly, it’s not 6% anymore. It’s more than 6%.
Looking Back at the Dot-Com Bubble and Great Recession
If that lasts for a long time like it did back in the early 2000s with the Dot-Com Bubble or if you have a more protracted and deeper decline like you had during the Great Recession, that 6% might then be 10%, 11%, 12%. And that’s when those withdrawals are just too steep, even with the S&P 500. That’s why when you get too much equity exposure and you’re focused strictly on matching that return, you can destroy what you think is something that’s going to get you what you need for retirement.
Bud Kasper: Absolutely. When we’re in difficult times like this, understand what the forces are behind the scenes that are going to be altering that in the future. That includes what the Federal Reserve is going to do, how the market’s going to react to it, unemployment, and inflation is obviously a huge one with that. We’ll be talking about inflation more later as well as one of the five factors more important than rate of return.
Dean Barber: Yeah. And this is a good time to mention that you can learn more about how risk, taxes, inflation, interest rates need to be factored into retirement planning by using our financial planning tool.
It’s the same financial planning tool that we use with our clients, and it allows you to start seeing what you need to do to accomplish everything you want to accomplish in retirement. You can start building your plan from the comfort of your own home and see what your Goldilocks portfolio looks like.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about taxes and how they’re another factor that’s more important than rate of return. If you live in the United States and either have money or make money, taxes are going to be a fact of your life.
What people don’t understand, though, is that with a good forward looking tax planning strategy, you can reduce the amount of taxes that you pay over your lifetime. Notice that I didn’t say in a given year, but over your lifetime. That’s why we CPAs that sit alongside our CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professionals Financial Planners and clients to create the financial plan. Then, the CPA focuses on creating the tax plan to see how much they can reduce their tax burden over time.
This is a very dynamic planning scenario. It’s not one and done type of deal. It’s something that changes and evolves as time goes on and as the government changes the rules on taxes. But it is something that people can control. You need to start thinking about tax planning at least 10 years before retirement because tax allocation is as critical, if not more critical than asset allocation.
Bud Kasper: Right. And when we meet with people for the first time, 90% of the time we come back to taxes in that discussion. Everybody starts by talking about the market and how to allocate their money, but eventually we come back to the five factors more important than the rate of return. That includes taxes because it’s important to determine how to mitigate as much of Uncle Sam out of your life, especially when you’re retired.
The Two Largest Expenses in Retirement
Dean Barber: Well, the two largest expenses that most retirees have are healthcare and taxes.
Bud Kasper: No, it’s not. It’s my wife and my daughter.
Dean Barber: You’re not retired yet, Bud.
Bud Kasper: I won’t be.
Dean Barber: Well. Yeah. You only have one daughter, though. I have three.
Bud Kasper: God bless you.
Controlling Your Taxes
Dean Barber: Yeah. Anyway, for people heading into retirement, taxes and health care are usually your two biggest expenses. Now, how can you control your healthcare expenses? Well, staying healthy, eating right, and exercising is all part of it. But you can also control your taxes through the decisions you make. Almost any decision that you make from a financial perspective will show up at some point on your tax return. Working alongside a CFP® professional and a CPA to create your retirement plan and then distribution plan is where the tax savings really comes in.
It’s the mixing and matching of income from Social Security, taxable accounts, tax-deferred accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s, and then tax-free accounts like Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s. It’s the combination of how and when you take the distributions from those different buckets that will impact your ability to pay less taxes with the same amount of income.
Don’t Let Additional Taxes Sneak Up on You
Bud Kasper: When I meet with people for the first time, we start talking about additional taxes that a lot of people are unaware of. A lot of people don’t realize that Social Security can become taxable and don’t know the formula or how to plan around it to reduce taxes.
A lot of people also don’t understand that Medicare is impacted by the amount of income that you have. Is there a way that we can reduce that? There is planning that can keep you in the lowest part of Medicare taxation. But things like that are unknowns for too many people because they’re excited about preparing for and being in retirement but haven’t looked at these five factors that are more important than rate of return to understand the financial impact that it has on them every year they’re retired.
Tax Savings Can Come in Even More Handy When You’re Retiring in a Recession
Dean Barber: I just recorded our next Modern Wealth Management Educational Series webinar the other day with Drew Jones, who is one of our CFP® professionals. Its theme is Retiring During a Recession, and will be released on Wednesday, August 10. Along we retiring during a recession, we discuss how proper financial planning can help act as a ballast to your portfolio during uncertain economic times. Drew gave an example of tax planning. And in the example, we showed tax savings over a retiree’s lifetime of $359,000.
That’s $359,000 that you don’t have to send off to the government and that you get to keep for yourself. That’s more money that you can spend and more things that you can do for your family. It can also allow you to take on even less risk in the market. And this wasn’t an example using an individual with a huge amount of money. We did an example highlighting an average couple in their early to mid 60s that had saved around $1 million dollars combined in their 401(k)s. They had a little bit in some Roth IRAs and a little bit in some taxable accounts.
A lot of people in that scenario think there’s nothing else they can do. But the truth is that there is so much that can be done. If you can start working with a financial professional five to 10 years prior to your retirement, that can make a huge difference in the amount of taxes that you’re going to pay during your retirement years.
Don’t Let Uncle Sam Get His Hands on More of Your Money
Bud Kasper: It’ll build up your confidence entering retirement. You can say that you’ve covered all your bases and couldn’t have done a better job. The tax savings number is almost always a surprising number to people. And we show them what the ultimate savings would be over the rest of their life. If you want to have a motivation for why you should do this and learn about this, remember that it can be legacy money. If you want to leave something to your children, let’s do it with Uncle Sam’s money that would be taken otherwise if you weren’t smart enough to do it.
Dean Barber: The way I look at it is that it’s your money. If you follow the rules, you can keep more of it. You just need to know what the rule book says. Unfortunately, we’ve got a tax code that is uber complex.
Studying Tax Planning with America’s IRA Expert
That’s why Bud and I study six days a year in full day sessions with our friend Ed Slott, who’s considered to be America’s IRA expert. We learn something at every one of those sessions, and then are tested on the content that we take in during those sessions. It’s very serious.
We apply it to the financial planning process because we know that if we can reduce the amount of taxes that a person needs to pay, that takes some pressure off the investments, especially in an uncertain economic time, recessionary times, high inflation times. You need to keep more of your own money. It’s a great deal.
Bud Kasper: A lot of people probably don’t know what a private letter ruling is. We study these with Ed. These are circumstances where people are challenging the IRS to get the best benefit for themselves because the government wants to reach in and take more of their money away. But from our perspective as planners, we need to know about these as well so we can avoid a problem and know if it’s possible to reverse one that went against one of our clients.
Consulting Financial Professionals to Keep Up with the Complicated Tax Code
Dean Barber: Exactly. It’s interesting because some people just made bonehead mistakes. Now, they’re trying to go in and get the IRS to give them a do over. In those cases, the IRS is like, “No, you didn’t follow the rules in the first place.”
Bud Kasper: That’s right.
Dean Barber: And when you talk about tax planning, this isn’t some use of offshore accounts or anything esoteric or anything like that. It’s basically following the rules. To have an effective tax plan, you first need to create the financial plan, which we’re going to get into a little bit more here in a few minutes. But if you don’t have that financial plan created and your CPA doesn’t know all the resources that you have and everything that you’re trying to accomplish, they can’t put together the proper tax plan.
3. Inflation, Interest Rates, and Economic Health
As we continue to talk about five factors more important than rate of return, let’s discuss inflation, interest rates, and economic health. This is kind of three points in one, but they’re all crucial factors in your overall plan. Let’s tackle inflation first because we call it the silent killer.
Inflation never causes a person to go broke, but it will cause people to live like they’re broke. If you haven’t properly planned for inflation in your retirement plan, you could be in for a very rude awakening. Over the last 10 to 15 years, Bud, the other CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professionals at Modern Wealth Management, and I have had multiple people come in for the first time with a shell of a plan done.
Factoring Inflation into Your Financial Plan
As an example, one of those people might say, “I can spend $60,000 a year and inflate that by 2% a year. I’m good to go.” Well, that doesn’t work. You’re not just spending $60,000 a year or whatever it may be. Some of that is going for healthcare. Some of that’s going for meals, entertainment, and travel. And some of it might be going to a mortgage. You spend money on all those things, and they all inflate at different rates.
It’s critical that you apply different inflation rates to each one of those pieces when you build your plan. And that needs to be updated at least once a year to say. Let’s say that last year you said you were spending X on health care. What is your budget for health care this year? Have you received increases in your health care premiums? Have your Medicare premiums gone up or did your Medicare supplement premium go up? We put in like a 6.5% inflation rate for healthcare expenses.
With more of the basic things, though, we inflate them at 4%. If you have a mortgage that you go into retirement with, there’s no inflation on it. The only thing that could inflate there are your taxes and insurance on your house. But all those things need to be taken into consideration to have an accurate plan.
Bud Kasper: Absolutely. There are so many people that have that deer-in-the-headlights look when they realize the amount of taxes that they pay, especially when they start factoring the cost of health care. It is one of the major things that puts a lot of pressure on retirees if they aren’t prepared to have that funded in some way, whether it’s through their savings or whatever the case may be.
Again, Beware of the Financial Salespeople
Rarely do I ever meet with someone for the first time who has ever had a plan done. That’s a little sad from that perspective. And all too often if they have started a plan, it’s like I was talking about earlier where they’ve worked with a financial salesperson.
Dean Barber: That’s just investment management.
Bud Kasper: That’s exactly right. They haven’t looked at these factors that are more important than rate of return. Unfortunately, people are so singular in our industry, whether it’s annuities or investments only. You need to be intelligent about this and understand the comprehensive nature of what retirement is about.
Dean Barber: It’s sad that there are so many people that consider themselves to be financial advisors, but they don’t do financial planning. Even some CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professionals are like that. They have the credential, but they’re just doing investment management. There’s a big difference between someone that only does investment management and someone who does the comprehensive planning.
What Does Your Money Need to Do to Accomplish Your Objectives?
I don’t believe you can even discuss the investment strategy until you first completed the comprehensive plan. Why is that? Because you have no idea what your money needs to do for you to accomplish your objectives.
Bud Kasper: So many people ask me, “When are we going to talk about the investments?”
Dean Barber: At the end.
Bud Kasper: That’s right. At the end. We need to formulate where all expenses are going to be paid and how we can mitigate some expenses and where we can’t. Then, we come up with a plan to determine what we are going to use to support this.
Retirement Planning Is Like Building a New House
Dean Barber: Right. Think about this as if you were building a new house. The first thing you need to do is start with the architect. The architect draws up the plans for the home. Then, you review those plans and might say, “Let’s make this room a little bit bigger. Let’s put an entryway over here or make the ceilings a little bit higher.” You’re constructing what you think is that dream house with your architect. You don’t start with a builder. You can’t even talk to a builder until you’ve worked with architect.
Bud Kasper: Right.
Dean Barber: When you’re talking about the investments, it’s like trying to talk to the builder before you’ve had the architect put the plans together. The builder is not going to be able to build the house that you want. So, the financial plan is your architect. Your CFP® professional should be putting that plan together just like an architect would put together the plans of a home.
Bud Kasper: That’s a perfect analogy. Comprehensive financial planning is a necessity. In many cases, I think people are starting to understand that there is an area of finance that they are deficient in. There’s no shame in seeking professional help. We want to help you in those areas because these are critical times. You need to understand how to maximize your results.
A Couple of Retirement Risks That Are Out of Your Control … But You Can Still Plan for Them
Dean Barber: As we mentioned, inflation is a big one. So are economic health and interest rates. Obviously, you can’t control economic health and what the Fed does with interest rates. But economic health and what the Fed does with interest rates still has a direct impact on the risk of your portfolio.
We’ve seen that happened this year when the Fed funds rate going from a 0.25% to 2.5-2.75%. And they’re going to continue to hike that up. That has put traditional bonds at risk. Even though bonds are a stay safe investment over long periods, they can be hurt in value when you have a rapidly rising interest rate environment. That’s what we’ve seen happen this year. So, interest rates, inflation, and economic health—all those things come into play and are more important than rate of return.
That brings us to our fourth factor that is more important than rate of return, and that’s time. You can look at time in two ways. You can say, “How much time do I have until I retire? or How much time do I have to let my wealth accumulate?” The other way to look at time is, “How much time do I have after I stop working until I pass on?”
For example, someone might say their dad passed at 80 and think that will be about the same for them. My granddad did that. When he retired, I asked him how he was going to live. He said his dad lived to 76 and figured he had enough money to live to 76. I asked him how he knew that’s when he was going to die, and that was his reasoning. Well, he wound up living until he was 86. The last 10 years of his life, he had to move in with my mom because he didn’t have enough money to support himself.
Planning for a Longer Life Expectancy
So, when we do a plan, we’re planning for a longer life expectancy. More time puts more stress on the plan itself. If you can live to 95 or 100 and your plan says you’ve can have enough money to do that, that’s great. But if you do live a shorter time despite having that longer life expectancy factored into your plan, you’re just going to leave more money to your beneficiaries or to your surviving spouse. That obviously helps them after you’re gone.
But if you say, you’re going to die at a certain point and don’t have the goal of leaving a big legacy, suddenly you might find yourself in your later years without the resources that you need to live. So, time is a crucial part of the overall plan.
Bud Kasper: Many times, we see people that are going to have a longer retirement than they had an accumulation period to get them to retirement and that surprises the dickens on them. And Dean is right. We always stretch that life expectancy out. Why? Because that means we got to get a better result.
Dean Barber: That’s right. And what it does is it makes the planning that we do more conservative. It’s just a more conservative way to look at it.
5. A Life Plan with Goals for Retirement
Before we go over our fifth factor that’s more important than rate of return when building your financial plan, let’s review the first four factors. First, we discussed risk. Second was taxes. Then, we went over inflation, interest rates, economic health. And then we just talked about time.
But I think even more critical than time is our fifth factor that’s more important than rate of return, and that’s having a life plan with goals for retirement. Don’t just think about your retirement in numbers. It’s about what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.
What’s Important to You?
In our Guided Retirement System, we go through a meeting with people called a prioritization exercise. During that prioritization exercise, we coach couples and individuals to try to discover what the most important things are in their lives and what they want life to be like over the next 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 years. What’s most important to you?
A lot of times, the husband will look at the wife or vice versa and say, “I didn’t know that was that important to you.” It’s prioritizing the things in your life that you want to accomplish. That is your reason to get up in the morning and do the things that you want to do for the reasons that are important to you. It’s not because you need a paycheck. That’s what I call financial independence.
Once you have that prioritization exercise—that life plan—put together, then you can come back and start putting numbers to that. Then, measure the resources that you have. That’s when the financial plan really begins to come together.
There’s an Art and Science to Financial Planning
But if it’s just, “Hey, I want to retire. I need $6,000 a month to spend.” Great. OK. That’s back to the envelope math. That’s it? Just $6,000 a month or whatever it is? There’s got to be more to it. That’s where the art of financial planning comes in. There’s an art part of it, and there’s a science part of it.
The art of it is really connecting with your CFP® professional so that they understand what’s important to you so that when they’re looking at your financial plan, underlying investments, your tax planning, and all of that. They’re thinking about you and what’s important in your life. You don’t become a number that way.
Needs, Wants, and Wishes
Bud Kasper: When we start the financial planning process, we divide it up into three factors: needs, wants, and wishes. The needs are the things that are essential to everyday life. That’s the way you live. It’s your existence.
Then the wants are, “I want to go on a vacation. I want to do that at least once a year, twice a year.” Whatever the personalization of the plan is represented in that as well.
For the wishes, if things really work out and you can accumulate more wealth than what you started with, now you might change that vacation to a European vacation. You might stay for two weeks instead of one. As CFP® professionals we need to help identify these things for these people and recharacterize them in terms of priorities. We make sure that they meet the needs first, then the wants, and the wishes hopefully will come true as well. That’s planning.
Dean Barber: That’s the heart of the prioritization exercise. And it’s a good conversation. I usually think about it this way. When people are working, most people will identify themselves with their profession. They lose sight of who they are and the things that are most important in their life.
There’s a real paradigm shift that takes place when you go from work to retirement or from work to not working, however you want to consider it. There’s a lot of self-discovery that needs to happen to make that transition smoothly. For a lot of people, it becomes a very uneasy time because It’s uncertain. They don’t know what to expect in that retirement timeframe.
Bud Kasper: Yeah. I’ve even had conversations with clients where we have what I’ll call an extended plan. Sometimes things are going so well for the couple that they want to start extending their planning to their children. That extended planning could represent some additional income for their children or a special trip with their children.
Again, it’s relating back to the needs, wants, and wishes. But it has the ability to go past that point to something that they really never thought they could do until they started living through the process and seeing the rewards associated with that.
Dean Barber: I love that because that is the heart of really getting to the planning process. I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure to work with a couple with one of our CFP® professionals and our tax team. In this situation, we began planning for this couple years ago. They’re both in their 70s now. They started talking about their legacy and what they wanted to leave behind for their two daughters, sons-in-law, and grandkids.
Leaving a Living Legacy
I asked in, “Are there things that you would do for your kids now that you could watch them enjoy? At the same time, you could experience the sacrifice that you’ve made over your lifetime and see how it impacts their lives? Or do you want to wait until you’re gone?” They looked at me and said, “Can we do that now and not have it interrupt our ability to live the way that we want to live?” And I said, “Well, let’s build it out. What do you want to do?”
So, we created a gifting program for the kids and the grandkids. It allowed one of the daughters and her husband to buy a property down on Table Rock Lake. It allowed the other daughter and her husband to build a new home. So, now I’m meeting with them and they’re telling me, “We’re going down to the lake this weekend, Dean. We’re going to go spend the weekend with our kids and grandkids.” They’re making amazing memories and getting to witness the sacrifice that they made over their lifetime because they had done a good job of saving. They’re getting to witness what that’s doing and how it’s benefiting their kids and their grandkids while they’re alive.
Bud Kasper: And from a grandparents’ perspective, one of the things you want to do is to put a core underneath those grandkids. What does that mean? College education, many times. If grandma and grandpa can fund part or all of that because of the success they’re having in their plan, that makes grandma and grandpa feel well. They just added a success factor to their grandchildren’s future.
Dean Barber: Right. It creates much more of a living legacy.
Bud Kasper: Yeah. I like that.
Getting Clarity from Your Financial Plan
Dean Barber: A lot of times, families won’t even have these discussions. It’s like the discussion about mom and dad’s wealth is taboo. You can’t talk about it. Then, they pass away and they’re like, “Why did they not do more? They had all this money that they could have done something with. Why didn’t they do it?” Because they didn’t ever have a plan. They had never had the clarity of what they could do.
Bud Kasper: And that’s why we produce America’s Wealth Management Show. We want to give you the gift of education. And that’s what we’re providing you with these five factors that are more important than the rate of return.
Dean Barber: That’s right. You can start building your plan right now with the same financial planning tool that we use with our own clients. You can use it from the comfort of your own home by clicking the “Start Planning” button below.
While our financial planning tool has the ability to give you clarity and confidence leading up to and through retirement, the software it is designed to used by financial professionals. It is very, very detailed. Therefore, if you need assistance in building out that plan, you can schedule a 20-minute “ask anything” session or a complimentary consultation with one of our CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professionals. We’ll do a screen sharing meeting with you or meet with you in person to help you get your plan built.
We hope that you’ve learned something from America’s Wealth Management Show. We’ll be back with you next week, same time, same place. Everybody stay healthy and stay safe.
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The views expressed represent the opinion of Modern Wealth Management an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Information provided is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute investment, tax, or legal advice. Modern Wealth Management does not accept any liability for the use of the information discussed. Consult with a qualified financial, legal, or tax professional prior to taking any action.