In a recent study 73% of Americans rank their finances as the No. 1 stress in life. Younger generations are even more stressed out than older generations with the majority of Gen Z’ers (82%) and millennials (81%) saying finances are at least somewhat stressful.1
Have you ever tried to use a GPS without entering an address? Try typing “I don’t know where I want to go” – the result will be “No results found on Google Maps.” Apparently, a GPS requires a destination before it will give you directions.
Many young adults today feel directionless and therefore, stressed out. Children used to follow in the footsteps of their parents, often joining a family trade or business. Maybe it was not always what they wanted to do, but at least they had a road map to success. In today’s world, slogans like “you do you,” “be true to yourself,” and “live your best life” make up the air young people breathe. This mindset often leads young people to miss God’s plans for their lives.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
This lack of direction combined with a widespread deficiency in financial literacy can pose a threat to young people’s financial futures, and it’s only natural they should struggle. Without a basic understanding of how to build healthy financial habits, we can’t take steps to success. Without a compelling vision for why we want to build those habits, we simply won’t take steps to success.
The good news is that we don’t need our whole life mapped out to be successful⎯we just need to spend some time working on our “how” and “why.”
Learning How to Manage Your Finances
If you are a student or early in your career, you can prepare to accomplish future goals by practicing great financial hygiene. Just like brushing your teeth helps prevent cavities, practicing financial hygiene helps you avoid unmanageable credit card debt and other situations that might derail you on your financial journey.
Start by getting educated. Learn how to manage debt, save, invest, compare options in employer benefit and retirement plans, and weigh tradeoffs in financial decisions. Biblically-based financial books such as Ron Blue’s Master Your Money can help! Then build self-awareness by keeping track of your spending and debt habits. Finally, make a spending plan that includes regular saving and giving. You can start small just to form the habit and increase dollar amounts as you earn more.
Watch out for get-rich-quick schemes that promise effort-free rewards and instead look for reliable resources. Replace the latest financial fad with money principles in the Bible that have stood the test of time and culture. These principles involve your heart as well as your bank account, challenging you to cultivate habits of generosity, stewardship, and long-term thinking.
Understanding Your “Why”
We are not only creatures of habit but also creatures of purpose. Goals with a solid “why” behind them provide motivation and direction to a financial plan. Many young people, however, struggle with goal setting. They often base their goals on impulsive desires and comparison on social media, or else fail to make time for goal setting because the next thing in a busy schedule seems more important than some far-off goal like “retirement.”
The most satisfying goals take time and are rooted in values. Instead of offering short-term gain, values-based goals bring your behavior into alignment with the kind of person you want to be.
To understand what you value, try turning off your phone and writing down what you’d want people to say at your funeral. While that might sound morbid, it can help you figure out what is most important to you. Once you know what you value, work backward from that and set smaller goals that will help you become the kind of person you want to be. Spend time in prayer and with trusted advisors to help identify your values and find your path.
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22
As you go through this process, realize that it is okay to set goals, unset them, and reset them. When reflecting on his financial journey in a survey about the financial habits of young people, one twenty-something observed: “It was only when I realized that goals can and must be flexible, as we are not machines, that I began finding freedom and discipline.”
Sitting on your hands won’t get you anywhere, but rigidly pursuing a goal just because you set it five years ago may very well get you somewhere you no longer want to go.
Don’t go it Alone
As you take ownership of your finances, never hesitate to reach out to a qualified professional. Many financial professionals and banks offer Money 101 sessions to fill any knowledge gaps. Helpful apps such as FaithFi can provide the information, community, and coaching to help you set a foundation for wise stewardship.
Whatever you do, avoid the path of fear and inaction. The opportunity to build wealth for Kingdom purposes has never been greater for those with a clear “why”, an understanding of Biblical stewardship, and the support of wise council.
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? Luke 14:28
With the cost of education on the rise and student debt looming large in the public conversation, it’s only natural that families would be looking for ways to save a bit of money while securing an academic future for the next generation. One well-known but underutilized option, the 529 college savings plan, has recently become even more attractive thanks to recent legislative changes.
Let’s explore these accounts: what they are, what has changed, and how they may help serve your financial planning goals.
What is a 529 Education Account?
The 529 college savings account program began in the late 80s as a way to help with college costs. It has since expanded to apply to costs related to trade schools, vocational schools, and even tuition at private K-12 schools.
The program is managed on the state level, so the specific rules and guidelines can vary a bit from one location to the next, but the general idea is that a 529 is a tax-advantaged savings account that is used for education expenses.
It is important to realize that you are not required to use your home state’s 529 plan. You can use the 529 from any state, no matter your state of residence or the location of the school you plan to pay for. Additionally, you can choose to manage your own account with a self-directed 529 or work with a financial advisor to build a strategy for the account.
A Tax Advantaged Way to Pay for College
There are many ways to set money aside for college, but 529s offer a few advantages that other types of savings accounts do not.
As of 2023, each individual can contribute up to $18,000 per beneficiary per year without any gift tax considerations. These are considered completed gifts to the beneficiary so annual gifting limits apply.
What’s unique about 529s, however, is you are able to accelerate the funding, up to five years of gifting ($90,000 per person per beneficiary in 2024) all in one year, with no gift tax concerns.
This is especially powerful because some states offer state tax deductions for 529 contributions. Every state is different so it is important to do your homework before selecting a plan. Be sure to speak with your financial and tax advisor about these and other benefits that may apply to your unique situation.
Finally, withdrawals are tax-free as long as they are used on qualifying educational expenses. For college, these expenses include nearly everything, such as tuition, textbooks, and room and board.
In recent years, the eligible expenses have expanded to include trade and vocational schools, private K-12 tuition, and even some international schools. Additionally, you can now use up to $10,000 to repay student loans.
It is important to confirm the expenses you are paying for are qualified education expenses. Keep good records, and consult with your tax professional when in doubt.
What Else Is Unique About a 529 College Savings Plan?
529s can only have one owner and one beneficiary. Normally, but not always, the owner and the beneficiary are different people. Most commonly, a parent owns the account and makes deposits for the benefit of a child.
But anyone who wants to make contributions into a 529 may do so, even if they are not the owner. Regularly, grandparents want to contribute to a grandchild’s 529 and they can do so without needing to set up a separate account.
Once established, both ownership and the beneficiary of a 529 can be changed. For example, a parent can open a college account for one child, then change beneficiaries if that child chooses a different path. A parent can open an account and transfer ownership to the grandparents, or vice versa.
Another interesting recent change now allows for 529 to Roth IRA conversions. There are several stipulations regarding this strategy, but it is important to be aware of as you plan.
All this flexibility also makes them useful tools for estate planning, providing people with more options for passing wealth forward to younger generations.
How Recent Changes to the FAFSA Affect 529s
The Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) provides a thorough review of a student’s financial situation and access to assets in order to calculate their access to financial aid.
Traditionally, all 529 accounts have been viewed as an asset and/or source of income when calculating student aid. However, as of this year, only the college fund owned by a student or their parent counts on a child’s FAFSA form. A 529 owned by a grandparent or other family member does not.
This means a student can still receive need-based aid such as grants and scholarships while benefiting from a family member’s financial assistance. This is a great opportunity for maximizing the value of your education dollars, and it’s one of many potential benefits to setting up this type of college savings fund.
A Certified Kingdom Advisor® can help you with understanding your current finances, saving money, and creating a plan to help you plan for today and tomorrow’s opportunities, all while honoring your values and God’s plan for your personal finances.
Proverbs 19:20-21 (NASB)
Listen to advice and accept discipline,
So that you may be wise the rest of your days.
Many plans are in a person’s heart,
But the advice of the Lord will stand.
God’s word has much to say about how we should live our lives, including how to manage money. If you are like me, you may benefit from the wisdom and experience of others to fully appreciate God’s plan for living your faith through wise stewardship. The growing movement of Biblical financial planning raised thought leaders to help tackle this challenging topic. They provide thoughtful content through blogs, sermons, videos, and books. As a Certified Kingdom Advisor, I often share books from these leaders with the families I serve. The recommended reading varies by age and stage.
The millennial or Gen Z believer seeking wise stewardship and generosity: God and Money- How We Discovered True Riches at Harvard Business School by John Cortines and Gregory Baumer
Cortines and Baumer exhibit wisdom and understanding beyond their years as they share their lessons from studying generosity during their time at Harvard. Their lessons on creating a “lifestyle cap” and giving the rest are specifically powerful for young believers who want to use generosity to fight the power of greed.
The couple in their 30s, 40s, or 50s who cannot find space for saving and giving: Satisfied by Jeff Manion
Manion is a devoted pastor and magnificent communicator. His personal testimony and storytelling help make the Biblical principle of contentment feel relatable and relevant in today’s world.
The boomer struggling with how to transfer wealth to the next generation wisely: Splitting Heirs by Ron Blue
Ron Blue is considered one of the great thought leaders in the Biblical Finance movement. All his books are worth your time, but this one is a must-read for anyone considering how to allocate assets in their will or trust.
If you’ve considered buying a home in the past year, you’ve undoubtedly discovered that the housing market is in a less-than-ideal state, to put it mildly. Prices are up, interest rates are high, and many families are being priced out of the market for homes they might have easily purchased just a few years ago.
What happened? And, more importantly, what guidance can we offer for people in the difficult position of planning their finances over the coming months?
Home Affordability is Getting Worse
Between 2009 to 2021, homebuyers enjoyed low interest rates even as home prices crept upward. With the Fed’s recent rate hikes, that scenario has changed – with dramatic results.
A home that cost $300,000 in 2020 might now be on the market for $400,000 or more, and mortgage rates have more than doubled in the past three years. Monthly mortgage payments have doubled, but median income has only risen by about 10%, creating a significant gap in affordability.
Interest rates are one explanation for the housing situation, but they’re not the only factor. At other times throughout history, rising interest rates have been coupled with an increased supply of housing that led to an overall cooling of prices.
That’s what we saw after the 2008 crisis: foreclosures and new construction created enough inventory to drive prices down. We’re not seeing that happening yet.
The housing inventory in the nation, has been in steady decline, with more young people coming into home ownership, more investment properties being converted to rentals, and fewer Baby Boomers willing to give up their homes without another to move into.
This means, according to numbers from FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data), that real estate inventory is half of what we’d consider normal. With low supply, growing demand, and interest rates pricing people out of loans, it’s no wonder prices are staying high.
Don’t Sacrifice Your Financial Security…
Buying a home is a long-term commitment. It takes 5 to 7 years for a home’s value to rise enough to offset the transaction costs of selling it. During that time, you’ll need to handle its maintenance and upkeep costs. You’ll also be responsible for many expenses renters don’t face, from repairs to insurance and property taxes.
It’s always worth waiting for the right opportunity to buy a home you’ll be happy with rather than settling for something you don’t like or buying something you cannot truly afford.
…But Don’t Give Up Hope, Either
One of the greatest risks during a housing price boom is that buyers will stretch beyond their financial limits and take on too much debt. Proverbs 22:7 reminds us The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. Buying a home usually involves the largest debt we will take in our lives, so there is no better time to head this warning about debt. Generally speaking, a home’s purchase price should be equal to no more than three years of your household income. Your total debt payments should make up less than 45% of your gross monthly income. When your debt-to-income ratio skews higher, you risk not being able to save for retirement or answer God’s prompting to joyfully give to neighbors in need. And, unfortunately, the current market means that many would-be homeowners are unable to buy their first homes right now.
However, “right now” doesn’t mean “ever.”
Construction companies are working at record speeds to build new homes to increase the real estate inventory. Developers and city planners are working to find more room for housing in more crowded urban areas. And as efforts to combat inflation and raise wages across the country continue, we may begin to see some relief.
It’s hard to predict what the immediate future of real estate and the economy might be. But it’s safe to say the situation will not be dire forever. And in the meantime, you have a chance to review your personal finances and begin making some changes that will put you in a better position.
Start by checking your heart and the motivation for buying your first home or upgrading to a nicer property. Are you making the best decision for your family, or are you coveting the houses you see on Zillow? There is a good reason the ten commandments included You shall not covet your neighbor’s house… (Exodus 20:17). Our desire to keep up with the Joneses can shift money into the number one position in our hearts.
If this isn’t the right time to commit to a mortgage, it may be worth focusing on other aspects of your finances. Consider taking the year to pay down credit card debt, vehicle payments, and student loans. You could also look for ways to boost your income and trim expenses while watching the housing market for the right opportunity.
A Certified Kingdom Advisor® can help you with understanding your current finances, saving money, and creating a plan to put you in the best position to buy when the real estate market improves, all while honoring your values and God’s plan for your personal finances.
The way you use your wealth impacts the world around you. It’s important to practice good stewardship of your resources and apply biblical principles to wealth management.
That includes being conscientious of how you’re spending your money and giving generously to charitable causes. It can also mean investing wisely and in companies that do good in the world.
Biblically responsible investing (BRI) is a way to earn a return on investments that align with your personal convictions. It’s a way to deploy capital for both financial returns and spiritual returns. And as a movement, it’s gained prominence in the past decade or so, with more and more BRI fund families becoming available for faith-conscious investors to grow their wealth in a way that fits their values.
Values-Based Investing is Older Than You Think
Although BRI has been talked about a lot in recent years, it is not a new concept. In fact, faith-based investors can trace their roots back to the Methodist preacher John Wesley, who delivered an influential sermon in 1759 titled “The Use of Money.”1 In his sermon, he shared this advice: “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
Wesley specified that wealth should be gained through “honest industry…without hurting our neighbor in soul or body.” Because businesses directly impact the lives of other people, such enterprises and their investors should think about more than profit. Financial advisors can help guide you toward funds that will allow your investment dollars to be a tool of societal good whether your priorities are spiritual, ethical, or ecological.
After all, investing is a form of ownership. When you buy stock in a company, you become a minority owner in that business, and you share in its risks and profits. If you were to purchase a company, you would want it to reflect your values and priorities, or at least not work against them. Shouldn’t the same principles apply when investing?
Investing as Good Stewards
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” — 1 Corinthians 10:26
“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians, 10:31
We are all managers of the resources God has entrusted to us. If our earthly riches ultimately belong to God, we should practice good stewardship of those resources by using our money in a way that brings Him glory. It’s at the heart of biblically responsible investing.
BRI is a proactive approach that seeks to maximize returns while maintaining alignment between financial investments and biblical values. To this end, these funds employ a three-pronged investment strategy:
- Avoiding investments that cause harm
- Affirming investments that do good
- Advocating for corporate responsibility through shareholder engagement
BRI mutual funds screen out so-called “sin stocks,” or companies that profit directly from human suffering. These are industries like gambling, alcohol, tobacco, abortion, and pornography. At the same time, the funds seek out companies that are doing good in the world as a way to invest in human flourishing.
Some Christians are surprised to learn that this is an option. Others may be concerned that investing in a biblically conscious way might affect their returns. However, recent research suggests that adopting a faith-based approach to investing does not diminish potential returns. According to Bob Doll, Chief Investment Officer of Crossmark Global, “Over 20 years of investment history shows us that values-based investing does not mean sacrificing performance.”2 Of course, past performance does not guarantee future results.
Biblically Responsible Investing Options at JMA
John Moore Associates has been using BRI mutual fund allocation models with clients for just a few years now, but we are excited about this investment option. There are enough biblically conscious funds to allow us to put together a comprehensive investment strategy using only mutual funds that employ BRI screens. These faith-based portfolios are still broadly diversified but allow individuals to invest with a clear conscience.
In addition to investing with BRI mutual funds, JMA also has individual stock models where we build portfolios of approximately twenty individual stocks that have all been screened for financial value first, with BRI screens applied to the curated list. The goal is to provide a quality investment strategy that could yield a return clients would feel good about, both financially and spiritually.
The best resource for information on faith-based investing is a financial advisor who holds both CFP® (CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™) and a CKA® (Certified Kingdom Advisor) certifications. This ensures a balance of fiduciary duty and biblical wisdom.
1 – Wesley, J. (1759) The Use of Money. Reprinted by Discipleship Ministries. [link= https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/the-use-of-money-by-john-wesley]
2 – Doll, B. (2021) The Tall Tale of the Trade-Off, Crossmark Global Investments. [link=https://www.crossmarkglobal.com/2021/12]
Now that Tax Day has come and gone, you may be eager to avoid thinking about the topic for a while. If you faced any unexpected tax bills or a lower return than you anticipated, you may still be reeling from the surprise. But as tempting as it may be to put off tax planning for the future, being proactive today is the best way to minimize stress and uncertainty in the coming year.
While your most recent tax filing is still fresh in your mind, we recommend taking the time to schedule a debrief with your CPA. People don’t often think to meet with their CPA outside of tax season, but the spring and summer are a great time to schedule this sit-down as it’s their quietest time of year. This meeting is an opportunity to review last year’s taxes as historians, reviewing them to see what you can learn and apply to your financial strategy this year. An hour with your CPA can save you hundreds, or more, on next year’s taxes. It can also provide a foundation for a proactive financial strategy.
Below, we’ll touch on a few tips and strategies you may wish to discuss with your CPA. The best tax strategy for your needs will vary depending on your circumstances, so you’ll want to discuss your unique situation with both your CPA and financial planner to come up with the best strategy for this year.
Understand Key Financial Thresholds and Break Points
Break points are specific thresholds or limits associated with deductions, credits, retirement plan contributions, Medicare premiums, and so forth. In some cases, exceeding a threshold by even $1 can cost thousands in taxes. Being aware of thresholds you’ve crossed last year will help you avoid the same problem in the upcoming year.
There may also be opportunities to maximize your deductions in areas you didn’t fully utilize last year. If you’re not brushing up against your thresholds, you may be leaving money on the table. Your CPA can help you identify these opportunities and help you adjust or prepare for next year’s filing.
Look for Wise Opportunities to Decrease Taxable Income
One of the primary ways to minimize your tax bill is to reduce taxable income. If last year’s taxes were higher than you anticipated, now may be the time to look at opportunities for reducing your income this year.
For example, you might choose to put more money aside into a health savings account (HSA), increase your charitable donations, or review your retirement account contributions. Your CPA can also help you identify which deductions you can take advantage of in order to maximize your tax savings.
Consider Whether You’re a Good Candidate for Increasing Income
Federal tax rates are currently low, but they won’t stay that way forever. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is expected to sunset in 2026. It’s too early to say for certain what future administrations may do, but it’s wise to plan for a tax increase within the next few years. Your financial circumstances could also be poised to change in the future due to selling a business, a pension plan going into effect, Social Security payments starting, and other new income streams that could affect your total tax liability in coming years.
You may want to plan around that eventual tax increase by strategically increasing your income now, such as through a Roth IRA conversion. Being proactive about this allows you to make a plan for spacing out your income rather than potentially being hit with a huge tax bill.
Taxes Are Symptomatic of God’s Provision
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” — Matthew 22:21
Paying taxes is rarely fun. But it’s also a good problem to have. After all, people only pay taxes when they receive something good. The more you receive, the greater the share you’ll need to pay.
If we believe that our wealth is, ultimately, provided by God, then taxes are a sign that God has provided more to us. They are a sign of abundance and provision. Framed in that way, tax season stops being a time of resentment and becomes instead a moment of contentment, gratitude, and contemplation.
That said, there is no point in over-paying for your taxes. As our founder, John Moore, is fond of saying, “Pay every dime that you owe, and not a penny more.” A wise financial strategy worked out with your CPA and financial planner can put you in the best position to balance your blessings and what you owe against your long-term financial goals.
We recommend individuals work with a financial advisor who holds both CFP® (CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™) and a CKA® (Certified Kingdom Advisor) certifications. This ensures a balance of fiduciary duty and biblical wisdom. Together with your accountant they can discuss tax strategies and financial plans that put you in the best place for the new year.
As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, 2022 was a big year for interest rate hikes. All told, the Federal Reserve raised borrowing rates seven times last year, ending with interest rates higher than they’ve been since 2007. The purpose of these interest rates is to slow economic growth and reduce inflation.
There is an expected but welcome side effect to those rate increases: rates of return on savings, money market, and treasury bonds tend to rise. We’re seeing that now. Safe, short-term investments that yielded less than 1% before 2022 jumped now to 4% or higher in some instances, providing a higher rate on savings than we’ve seen since 2008.
If you can grow your money by 4% in a safe, risk-free vehicle like a savings account, why would you want to take a risk on the stock market? Isn’t a guaranteed return better than risking a loss?
Well, not necessarily. Before you write off investing in the current market, it’s worth considering your options in the context of your goals.
What Does the Bible Say About Playing It Safe?
In the “Parable of the Talents,” as told in Matthew 25:14–30 Jesus makes a case for growth over fear. Christian author Eric Metaxas observes, “Jesus abundantly praises the servants who risked what they were given, and unequivocally condemns the servant who has played it safe. But why? For one thing, Jesus is saying that to play it safe is not to play it safe at all. There is no safe option and if you pretend there is, you are deceived and a liar. Either you deem God to be a grace-shedding God or you condemn Him as a hard taskmaster.” We are not called to be fearful and hide our resources, but to work toward growth. Taking calculated investment risks where appropriate and in service to a strategic plan will bring you closer to your goals than always choosing to play it safe.
Bull and Bear Markets
Historically, market fluctuations have been cyclical, with peaks and troughs. Some recovery periods are longer than others, but the pattern established throughout history has been one of overall growth. In fact, on average, the peaks have shown over 150% growth from the bottom of the valley:
While we can never time a bottom, markets have always bounced back quickly and often before economic data or sentiment improve. Avoiding investments today – or, worse, pulling funds out of stock investments – could mean missing that profitable recovery period. With a possibility of 150% or more in return on long-term investments, that 4% risk-free growth doesn’t seem nearly as attractive.
Stocks Can Still Provide a Better Long-Term Rate of Return
Risk is inherent to the nature of the stock market. Even in up markets, investments can carry some measure of risk. However, the trend has been one of reliable recovery and long-term growth.
The question of where to put your money is best decided by your investment strategy and timeline. Short-term savings goals, like saving up for a vacation or new car, might take a year or two to reach. In that scenario, a risk-free option is appropriate.
Long-term investment goals, such as retirement savings and generational wealth management, are much better suited to market investment. When there is less need for liquidity, you can keep funds in investments that carry greater risk and a higher possible return. In the long term, this type of investment can create substantially more wealth to better help you serve your financial goals.
Risk Tolerance and Fear
After a few uncertain and tumultuous years, it’s understandable to be experiencing some fatigue. With interest rates higher than they’ve been in recent memory, the urge to avoid risk and cash in on an easy 4% gain might be quite tempting. But it’s important not to fall into the grip of emotional decision-making. Recency bias and a fear of loss can cloud your judgment, cutting you off from valuable opportunities.
It can pay to move against the current of what others are doing. When others are greedy, prices can rise and increase the risk of overpaying for an asset. But when others are fearful, there can sometimes be significant opportunities for investments.
If you’re feeling some uncertainty with the market or need help with figuring out your financial goals, working with a certified financial planner can help. Certified Kingdom Advisors can help you focus on biblical principles in regards to money, better understand your options and help you cut through the noise of fear and uncertainty so that, together, you can craft a plan that makes sense for your needs. At John Moore Associates we stand ready to serve.
They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes. I’d be tempted to add one more truth to that list: Whenever there is an economic downturn, annuity sales rise.
Annuity sales for 2022 broke $300 billion, shattering the previous record set during the 2008 recession. The timing of these purchases is not coincidental. The fact is that annuities are aggressively marketed to investors during these times, and many people are swayed by the promise of safe, risk-free investment or guaranteed income stream in retirement.
Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with annuities. For the right person under the right circumstance, they can be a powerful tool. But I do take issue with the way annuities are sometimes marketed. It seems all too often that frightened, uncertain investors are urged to act on fear rather than a measured and principled financial strategy. And when that happens, it’s rarely the investor who profits.
What Is an Annuity?
In simple terms, an annuity protects against outliving your income. They are sold by insurance companies and can be considered as the other side of the coin to life insurance: one protects against dying too early, the other against living too long.
There are several types of annuities. You pay money into them, either in one lump-sum investment or in regular payments over time. That money is then invested, and you receive a monthly payment for the agreed-upon lifetime of the annuity, similar to a pension plan.
The rate of return may be fixed, meaning it stays the same regardless of what’s happening in the market. Or it may be variable, meaning the return is tied to market performance.
Annuities offer a contractual, predictable monthly income that can become a pillar of retirement. But as attractive as this is, it can come at a cost.
The Downside to Annuities
Annuities are considered illiquid investments, particularly in the early years of a contract, meaning once you put money into them there is no way to take it out without facing penalties. Some annuities also come with annual fees and other internal expenses. Other annuities do not have these fees, but will instead see a limited rate of return compared to other investments.
For example: An annuity might be sold with a guaranteed 2% annual return. In a down market when an investor is worried about losing money, that guarantee is attractive. When the market recovers by 20%, you still only receive that 2%. The remaining 18% becomes profit that goes directly into the pocket of the insurance company.
From that perspective, it becomes clear why annuities are such a popular product to sell to people in times of uncertainty. The insurance company can capitalize on the fear of investors, offering small, guaranteed returns or protection against losses, and then ultimately profit greatly when the market recovers. The insurance company is using your money to buy low and benefit from the recovery of the market.
Investing Without Fear
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
– 2 Timothy 1:7
There are situations where annuities are an excellent vehicle for retirement savings. For example, if you have maxed out your tax-advantaged investments, like your 401(k) and IRAs but have additional money you wish to set aside in a tax-deferred account, an annuity can be a great option. But many people end up buying annuities from a place of fear rather than strategy.
The reason that annuities become so popular during down markets is that they represent safety and the assurance of a guaranteed income. In times of fear, this security is very appealing. But an annuity is a long-term investment, and making decisions about the future based on short-term emotions rarely leads to the best outcome. The long-term earning potential and value over the lifetime of the investment must be considered.
Additionally, annuities are complicated, and it can be hard to know exactly what you’re getting if you aren’t examining the terms very closely. A product sold as “safe money” can still carry some risk, and we’ve often met with clients who are unaware of those risks or have limited understanding of exactly how their annuity works.
If you are uncertain about your investment strategy or have worries about where the market may lead, it’s best to meet with a financial advisor of shared values who will take the time to look holistically at your finances and develop a plan. We recommend using a Certified Kingdom Advisors whenever possible.
It may be that an annuity is a good tool for your needs. It may be that other types of investments are best for your retirement planning and other savings goals. Whatever your situation, your financial decisions should not be fear-based or driven by short-term emotions. You deserve reasoned, principled counsel that aligns with your goals and values.
Americans are living through the most significant generational shift in our nation’s history as boomers age (those born 1946 – 1964) and millennials (born 1981-1995) take over as the dominant generation. Millennials are already the largest generation in the US and the most represented age group in the workforce. They are growing in economic experience and accumulating wealth. In addition to saving from earnings, millennials are beneficiaries of the largest wealth transfer ever, as an estimated $60 trillion will transfer in the coming decades. In short, millennials are tasked with the greatest stewardship responsibility in human history. How do they prepare? Through the acquisition of experience, knowledge, and wisdom.
Forget the mistake. Remember the Lesson.
Each new generation lacks experience as they begin to accumulate income and assets. The millennials are no different. They know there was a global financial crisis in 2008 but may not have heard of Lehman Brothers, Countrywide, Bear Stearns, or Wachovia. Most did not own real estate or see their home equity disappear during the financial crisis. They were too young to participate in the frantic stock market day trading and speculation that defined the tech bubble. This new generation of investors will make its own financial mistakes and learn the associated lessons. We already see examples in the boom and bust of cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and “meme stocks.” Millennial investors will need to learn their own hard lessons as the generations before them, thereby learning through experience.
“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”
– Peter Drucker
In addition to learning through experience, we require knowledge to be wise stewards. Knowledge in finance includes understanding rules, regulations, tools, and strategies. Anyone can gain financial knowledge through internet research, reading books, or attending courses. The challenge today is not where or how to obtain information but how to discern what is true and relevant in a sea of endless content.
“Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise.” – Charles Spurgeon
Wisdom complements knowledge by applying principles and purpose to the information we gather. When the great Biblical finance teacher, Ron Blue, speaks on knowledge vs. wisdom he holds a copy of the Wall Street Journal as a symbol of knowledge and the Bible as the symbol of wisdom. The combination is powerful. Anyone with worldly knowledge can build wealth. God’s word reminds us that wealth can be a tool for good or sin, depending on how we use it. “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:26 NIV). We gain wisdom from the stories and principles of the Bible that remind us of who we serve in our role as stewards and what he wants for us.
What is your role in the great wealth transfer? If you stand to inherit, are you preparing yourself by accruing experience, knowledge, and wisdom? Maybe you are building wealth and intending to leave a legacy. If so, how are you preparing the next generation of stewards? Are you sharing your experiences and knowledge? Are you guiding your heirs to the wisdom of God’s word? We all have a role to play in this process to ensure we honor His will.
Various studies have found that generosity can lead to a happy and healthier life, but perhaps the best reason to strive to be a generous person is because “God loves a cheerful giver”
(2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV). Increasing your generosity financially is easier when you have a giving plan based on sound principles. Frequently individuals have a plan for saving, investing, or spending, but it’s rare to find someone with an intentional giving plan. Why is this the case? While many may have the best of intentions they simply fail to integrate giving into their financial plan. Thankfully, a few simple principles can help any individual or family meet their giving goals and move from an attitude of scarcity to a life of generosity. We call these principles the P’s of Giving, which are adopted from Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley.
Priority: For most families, giving is something you do with the leftovers. Generous people make giving a priority. They are willing to give first, save second, and spend the rest. Giving your “first fruits” is not a new concept. God shared this principle with Moses after delivering the Ten Commandments, which makes me think it deserves our attention! Are you giving before or after you spend?
Percentage: Consider measuring your giving by a percentage rather than total dollars. I often meet individuals giving the same amount as they did 20 years ago. Their income has grown, but they increased their standard of living rather than their standard of giving. Not sure how much to give? Consider our 10+1 rule. Strive to donate 10% of your income and 1% of your assets each year. This formula reflects the teaching which says to “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Proverbs 3:9 NIV). In this verse, “wealth” represents your assets, and “all your crops” represents your income. What percentage of your income and assets would you like to give?
Progressive: We cannot always meet our giving goals today. However, by progressively increasing our giving percentage, we can get closer over time. A consistent increase in your giving allows you to financially “sneak up” on yourself. Before you know it, you give more than you ever thought possible. I once heard a testimony from a couple who started giving 10% of their income when they married. They grew that percentage over time and now give over 90% of their income while living on less than 10%. How much more will you give next year?
Prompted: Never let your plan get in the way of generosity’s emotional and inspirational components. Leave room in your giving plan for unexpected giving opportunities that touch your heart. These inspired gifts can take many forms. Some individuals and families enjoy giving to friends or strangers in need rather than qualified charities. Jesus and his disciples received support from wealthy women responding to a need they could never have foreseen. Can you imagine what joy these generous women experienced through their giving? Whatever the reason and whatever the amount, leave space to give as you are inspired. What causes have you recently felt prompted to support?
Any time is a great time (but especially at the beginning of a new year) to evaluate your current situation, goals, and giving plan for 2023, using the P’s of Giving as your guide. By developing a giving strategy, you will find new opportunities to experience the joy of generosity.