Archive for July, 2010

We’re pleased to be included in the Carnival of Personal Finance #267 at Beating Broke this week. Check it out!

This is not financial, legal or tax advice. Our goal is your financial success, but all investments involve risk including the possible loss of principal and results will vary. If you are interested in the Snider Investment Method, please read the Owner's Manual for a complete discussion of risks and benefits. More information can be found on our website or by calling 1-888-6SNIDER. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

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In 2009, roughly 1.5 million Americans filed for bankruptcy. Most of them were middle-class, well-educated homeowners, just like you. Do you know what caused most of those bankruptcies? It wasn’t a fancy adjustable rate mortgage or backlash from the financial crisis. According to a study published in the August 2009 American Journal of Medicine, more than 60% of bankruptcies have their root cause in medical bills.

“Unless you’re a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, you’re one illness away from financial ruin in this country,” says Harvard researcher and lead author Steffie Woolhandler, M.D. Or, as one of my clients, a physician, said to me, “You are just one step away from the banana peel!”

The bottom line is that funding ever-increasing healthcare costs is almost certainly one of your biggest risks – if not the biggest – in retirement. And since we know it is very difficult to take effective action once you are already in financial crisis, it is important that you answer the following questions before you retire.

If you are planning to retire before age 65…

1. Do you have retiree healthcare benefits available through your employer or union? Is it available for just you or you and your dependents?

If you are among the few who have retiree benefits, count your lucky stars. According to a February 2003 Issue Brief by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, only 12% of private U.S. firms offered retiree healthcare benefits. That number is expected to continue shrinking in the future because of rapidly rising costs.

Even if you do have coverage, remember that not all plans are good plans, nor are they necessarily affordable. You also must be aware, as an early retiree, that your employer is not required to continue to offer you coverage and may discontinue the plan at any time.

2. Do you have any pre-existing conditions which would impact your ability to get coverage?

This is an especially important question for those who will access the private insurance market. Individual insurance goes through a medical underwriting process. If you are un-insurable due to a chronic illness or condition, your only option may be the state high risk pool, which is usually very expensive.

3. Have you examined the relative merits of all your options?

For example, someone with retiree coverage may also be eligible for COBRA and private insurance. It is important to look at the benefits available under each policy and their relative costs. What is the lifetime maximum? Are there survivor benefits? What are the out-of-pocket costs?

Another issue to consider is the possibility of a change in health status. If you are not eligible for retiree benefits, COBRA might be a good option, for 18 months, to bridge the gap until you become eligible for Medicare. But if COBRA won’t get you to Medicare eligibility, you might be better off taking private coverage now, assuming you qualify, to hedge the risk of an illness cropping up in the 18 month period that makes you un-insurable.

4. Do you know when and how to enroll in Medicare?

Even if you are eligible for retiree benefits, your company will require you to enroll in Medicare at age 65. At that point, the retiree policy generally becomes second-to-pay. If you receive Social Security benefits prior to age 65, (which we don’t advise), you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A. You must elect whether to enroll in Parts B,C and D.

(ReKimendation: If you haven’t already read our special report on When to Take Social Security and why we recommend delaying until age 70, you can download a free copy from our website.

If you delay Social Security benefits, you will need to contact Social Security some time during the three months prior to your 65th birthday to enroll. You absolutely do not want to miss the initial enrollment window, which begins three months before your 65th birthday, includes the month you turn age 65 and ends three months after that birthday.

5. Have you purchased long-term care insurance?

While a serious illness or injury has the potential to run up medical bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, long-term care has the potential to cost in the millions over a span of ten to twenty years. Hopefully, you have done this much earlier, but if not, provided you are still healthy enough to qualify for a policy, this is a must.

Nearly 40% of those who need long-term care are under the age of 60. Our rule of thumb is all clients, over the age of 40, with under $3.5 million in investable assets must have a long-term care policy. This is non-negotiable. Over $3.5 million, we still believe it is advisable.

(ReKimendation: We offer a free special report on long-term care insurance titled, Long-Term Care Insurance: Frequently Asked Questions, which demystifies the issues surrounding long-term care insurance and gives you guidance on how to start getting this all-important piece of your financial plan in place. If you have any questions about the need for long-term care insurance, this is a good place to start.)

If you plan to retire at 65 or older…

1. Again, are you or your spouse eligible for retiree benefits through your employer?

Make sure you review the cost and benefits. The employer plan will be second-to-pay after Medicare. If it is a good plan, which not all of them are, it may make sense to use your employer sponsored plan as a Medicare supplement. Otherwise, you will want to purchase a Medicare Supplement policy separately during the open enrollment period.

(ReKimendation: If you are approaching 65 and find all this Medicare, healthcare, Obamacare jargon totally befuddling, lean on us. We have two experts on staff: Shelley Seagler specializes in long-term care and Medicare Supplement insurance; Erin Klingbeil is a whiz at life and disability insurance. Give one of them a call. They are happy to help.)

2. Have you purchased Long-Term Care Insurance?

The longer you wait to purchase long-term care, the more expensive it will be and the more likely you are to have a condition which drives up premiums or makes you altogether uninsurable. The ideal age to purchase long-term care is in your 40s. But the next best time is now. When you turn 65, there is a 70% chance you will need at least some some long-term care at some point in your life.

3. Do you understand Medicare enrollment procedures and timelines?

It is important you go through the Medicare enrollment process promptly to avoid a gap in coverage. A gap in coverage may result in higher premiums for the rest of your life. Also, pre-existing conditions, which are not a consideration as long as there is no gap in coverage, enter the equation if you fail to enroll promptly before age 65. Finally, Medicare Supplement insurance, as long as it is purchased in the six months after your 65th birthday, is not subject to underwriting either, but will be if purchased outside the open enrollment period.

4. Do you know where to get help with questions regarding healthcare coverage and strategies for covering the costs?

There are many public resources available. Most state Departments of Insurance have a lot of helpful information available on their web sites, as does the Social Security Administration and Medicare. Private advisors can also help. Possible resources include the Benefits Department of your employer or union, insurance consultants, and retirement planners.

Don’t wait until retirement sneaks up on you to begin looking for answers to these questions. Remember that a large percentage of Americans are forced to retire earlier than they had planned. So do your homework and, if you need help, this is one time when it is OK to cheat. Ask for help from a qualified source.

(ReKimendation: Insurance is one of the foundational pieces of a solid financial plan. It is important at every age, but never more so than in retirement when you don’t have a paycheck to hedge some of the risk. Because of that, we cover insurance (health, life, disability and long-term care) and how its role changes at various ages in all of our core financial planning courses within the KiM-B-A program: My First Financial Plan, Pulling Yourself Up By the Bra Straps: Financial Empowerment for Women, and Step-by-Step Retirement Planning. It is just one more thing they should have taught you about money, but didn’t. We do.)

In your experience, what other questions might be added to this list? How much thought have you given to these questions? Any experience with your parents or grandparents you can pass on? Email any thoughts or comments to me at kim@kimsnider.com.

This is not financial, legal or tax advice. Our goal is your financial success, but all investments involve risk including the possible loss of principal and results will vary. If you are interested in the Snider Investment Method, please read the Owner's Manual for a complete discussion of risks and benefits. More information can be found on our website or by calling 1-888-6SNIDER. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Reading: Five Healthcare Questions You Must Answer Before You Retire

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We’re pleased to be included in the Carnival of Personal Finance this week. Check it out!

This is not financial, legal or tax advice. Our goal is your financial success, but all investments involve risk including the possible loss of principal and results will vary. If you are interested in the Snider Investment Method, please read the Owner's Manual for a complete discussion of risks and benefits. More information can be found on our website or by calling 1-888-6SNIDER. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

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A few years back, my husband and I were on our way to the airport. We were flying to Phoenix for my grandmother’s 85th-birthday celebration. We had the radio on in the car, listening to an investment show on the radio (not mine, obviously).

“Hi. My name is Ron. I am a first time caller.”

“Hi, Ron. What can I help you with?”

“I was laid off from my employer during the latest downsizing. I was wondering whether to leave my 401(k) where it is or roll it into an IRA?”

The host was emphatic. The caller should not leave his 401(k) with his former employer. Period.

So far so good. I completely agree. You want to roll your 401(k), 403(b) or SIMPLE over to an Individual Retirement Plan (IRA) – either Roth or Traditional – as soon as you leave your employer.

Ron said, “I’ve always heard that. Can you tell me why that is?”

The host then explained that you are in danger of losing your 401(k) if your former employer goes out of business. The radio show host gave the right answer, but then he gave the wrong reason!

Your employer – current or former – is not the custodian of your 401(k) account. The employer doesn’t hold the money – a third party does. So the concern isn’t that you will lose your 401(k) if former employer goes bankrupt. All of your contributions and vested employer contributions are safe.

So you may be thinking to yourself, but what if the bank, brokerage or insurance company who has custody of my 401(k) money goes under – like Bear Stearns and Lehman did?

Rest easy. The money you have invested in your employer sponsored retirement plan, or any brokerage account for that matter, is held in completely separate sub-accounts. It cannot be co-mingled with other funds, it is shielded from creditors and the custodian can’t use your money to pay its bills or debt under any circumstances.

In the off chance your plan custodian did go under, your company, which is called the plan sponsor, will either transfer the plan to another custodian, or more likely, the custodian will be taken over and your company will become a client of that new company.

So if bankruptcy isn’t the issue, why is it so important to roll your 401(k) or 403(b) to an IRA when you leave your employer?

The primary benefit of the IRA, over the 401(k), 403(b) or SIMPLE, is that you have more investment alternatives in an IRA. In a 401(k), unless you are lucky enough to have a self-directed brokerage window, you are probably limited to the mutual funds offered by your plan administrator. In an IRA, you can buy and sell the entire universe of investment alternatives – including all stocks, bonds, mutual funds, options, real estate, and even privately held companies.

While that is the most important reason to roll your 401(k) over into an IRA when you leave, there are others.

If invested properly, your fees will probably be lower in an IRA than a 401(k). Fees are very important for three reasons: 1) reducing fees is risk free return – it may be the only free lunch in investing; 2) reducing fees leaves more money in your pocket to compound over time; and 3) studies show the one thing most correlated with performance, over time, is not the fund manager, the sector, the asset class or the historical performance, but low fees.

As a general rule, fees are inversely correlated to portfolio performance – the higher the fees, the worse the performance. The lower the fees, the better the performance – which is, of course, a very practical reason why you should learn to be your own money manager.

(NOTE: Snider Advisors offers a free online course, called “How to Turn Your 401(k) Into a Million Dollar Nestegg.” The nine part course is designed to arm you with the knowledge and step-by-step instructions needed to make the most out of your employer-sponsored defined contribution plan. The goal is to give your plan the highest probability, while you have it, of someday being able to produce sufficient income for you to live comfortably in retirement.)

Another reason to move from a 401(k) to IRA, is easier access to your money, although I’m not sure this is such a good thing. If you want to rob your retirement account, you don’t have to ask for permission, nor is there any bureaucratic paperwork. You have a thousand miles of rope to hang yourself with.

There are estate planning benefits as well. While the rules have changed in recent years, allowing 401(k) plans to be stretched by your beneficiaries, it is still up to each individual plan sponsor to write that into the plan document. Some have and some haven’t. An IRA custodian that doesn’t allow for a stretch after your death is, in my experience, rare. Finally, you can split IRAs between multiple beneficiaries and IRAs are easier to allocate when you have non-spousal heirs.

A transfer of your 401(k), 403(b) or SIMPLE to an IRA is a non-taxable event, so long as you do it properly. There should be no taxes, fees, or penalties.

While you are employed, you have to max out your employer sponsored retirement plan if you can. At a minimum, you should contribute enough to get the full employer match, if there is one. But if there is a silver lining to losing your job, being able to self-direct your retirement funds is one.

Bottom line: Whenever you leave an employer – either voluntarily or not – get that money rolled over to an IRA as soon as you can. Never leave your 401(k) with your old employer, and even worse, never ever roll your old 401(k) money into your new employer’s plan, when you are lucky enough to find a new job.

This is not financial, legal or tax advice. Our goal is your financial success, but all investments involve risk including the possible loss of principal and results will vary. If you are interested in the Snider Investment Method, please read the Owner's Manual for a complete discussion of risks and benefits. More information can be found on our website or by calling 1-888-6SNIDER. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

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We’re pleased to be included in the Carnival of Personal Finance this week. Check it out!

This is not financial, legal or tax advice. Our goal is your financial success, but all investments involve risk including the possible loss of principal and results will vary. If you are interested in the Snider Investment Method, please read the Owner's Manual for a complete discussion of risks and benefits. More information can be found on our website or by calling 1-888-6SNIDER. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

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A man is lying in his hospital bed, surrounded by friends and family, reflecting on his recent near death experience. “I always thought it’d be the ulcer that killed me. I did everything the doctors told me. I drank the cream, ate the butter, drank the milk. And now I have a heart attack!” This was a scene from the critically-acclaimed original series on AMC, called “Mad Men”, set on Madison Avenue in 1960.

It is also a scene playing itself out in the portfolios of millions of Americans. Like Don Draper’s boss in Mad Men, many of us are fighting the wrong dragon – and killing ourselves in the process.

During my various speaking engagements, I often ask my audience, “When thinking about your investments, what worries you most?” One of the first answers I hear is almost always, “Losing money!”

Capital preservation is our ulcer. Inflation is our heart attack.

Think about the average Baby Boomer – someone born around 1952. For many of you, that won’t be too tough. You are the average Baby Boomer. Assuming your parents were 25 when you were born, your parents would have been born right around 1927. How do you think that shaped the messages you got about money, and in particular, about investing? How do those messages affect you today?

The dominant financial experience in the lives of most of our parents, and certainly our parents’ parents, was the Stock Market Crash and ensuing Great Depression. As a result, Baby Boomers were imprinted with certain ideas about money, almost from birth: Don’t put your money at risk, pay off your home, stock market losses are evil.

It is not just investors who are indoctrinated with this belief system. The ranks of financial advisors, financial journalists, and government regulators are populated by this same demographic cohort, with the same belief system, stemming from the same seminal event.

As a result, as we accumulate assets, we become focused – obsessed in some cases – on avoiding capital losses. So, as we age, we start to gravitate toward fixed income securities like bonds. If capital preservation is the ulcer, fixed income portfolios paying 5% or 6% are the cream.

“How so,” you ask?

The first thing you have to understand is the basic fact from which all your investment decisions must follow. Assuming your objective is to someday be able to quit working for a paycheck and live off the proceeds of your portfolio, your life expectancy is the primary determinant of your investment strategy.

Let me repeat that: Your life expectancy is the primary determinant of your investment strategy.

The average retirement age for all Americans retiring in 2007 was 62. So let’s consider the case of the average couple retiring this year. The joint life expectancy of a 62-year-old non-smoking couple is 92 years. That is 30 years in retirement.

This is the good news-bad news joke. We are living longer, but that longevity is also one of our greatest risks.

In 1988, I was fresh out of college and I made $18,000 a year. I was single. I had my own one bedroom apartment in a reasonably nice apartment complex. I had a new Ford Probe Turbo, on which I made monthly payments. I paid my insurance and gas. I could afford to eat out, go out at night with friends and take a couple of vacations a year. I could do all that on $18,000 a year. Granted, I didn’t save anything, but my lifestyle was pretty comfortable.

Let’s imagine one of my grade school teachers who retired in 1977 with a fixed pension of $20,000 a year. They were probably able to live pretty comfortably too – for awhile. After all, the median income in 1977 was $13,572. In 1977, a gallon of regular gas cost $0.62. You could buy a Porsche 924 for $9395! The median price for a new home was $54,200.

But fast forward thirty years. It’s now 2007. Now how well do you think my grade school teacher was doing on that same $20,000 a year pension? Even with a Social Security check and a paid for house, I can promise you, her monthly income doesn’t go far enough.

So here is where our inherited belief system clashes with our reality. The cost of living rises, in the United States, an average of 3.5% per year. That does not take into account health care, which is rising at least twice that rate.

If you hold a portfolio which returns 6% a year, for example, your real rate of return, or the return left after inflation, is only 2.5%. This is not enough to sustain any reasonable standard of living over a period which will likely span 30 years of retirement.

(ReKimmendation: To see the effect first hand that inflation will have on your standard of living in retirement, use our free My Financial Plan web app to model various what-if scenarios.)

The only way to sustain a reasonable standard of living over that long of a time period is to earn a real rate of return significantly higher than that paid by so-called “safe” investments. In short, your long-term standard of living is directly correlated to the percentage of your assets you place in what has traditionally been thought of as the riskier asset classes, like stocks.

And therein lies the conundrum. In order to live comfortably, you must do the thing that you fear, which is put your capital at risk – because profit is the reward for risk. Without risk, there is no risk premium. And you must earn the risk premium in order to be able to live when you no longer have a paycheck.

That is the bad news. Here is the good news. In spite of what you may think, in spite of what your gut might tell you, and in spite of the belief system passed on to you by your parents, there is, effectively, very little risk in the stock market for the long-term investor holding a reasonably diversified portfolio. Market risk only exists in the short term.

I am 47. For planning purposes, I assume I will live to the age of 102. In other words, I must build my portfolio to do its job for 55 years. If I plan to hold an equity-based portfolio for that long, what risk do I have? Not much.

Will I experience temporary declines in my portfolio value? Of course. Markets are cyclical. They go up and down – sometimes a lot. But at the end of 55 years, how likely is it that my investment will not have grown at a rate that exceeds the total return on bonds? As my grandmother used to say, “Nothing is impossible, just highly improbable.”

Therefore, your choices are really quite simple. In order that you not run out of money, or at least purchasing power, you must commit a substantial portion of your assets to an equity-based investment strategy and keep them there for the long term – through the ups and downs – all of the panic buying and selling. The only way to make the required return is to always be in the stock market. Not market timing. Not stock picking. Holding a portfolio of quality companies over your entire lifetime and that of your spouse.

For most of you, that is not easy. It will never be easy. It goes against programming imparted to you almost at birth. But you have to do it anyway. To do otherwise is to guarantee a heart attack by treating the ulcer.

(ReKimmendation: If you are looking for a structured, systematic, sensible way to commit those funds to an equity-based portfolio, let me recommend the KiM-B-A course, Investing for Retirement: the Snider Investment Method. When bundled together with Step-by-Step Retirement Planning or Pulling Yourself Up By the Bra Straps: Financial Empowerment for Women by a Woman Who Has Done It, it offers a comprehensive plan and methodology for achieving your most important financial objectives.)

This is not financial, legal or tax advice. Our goal is your financial success, but all investments involve risk including the possible loss of principal and results will vary. If you are interested in the Snider Investment Method, please read the Owner's Manual for a complete discussion of risks and benefits. More information can be found on our website or by calling 1-888-6SNIDER. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Reading: Protect against inflation or preserve capital?

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We’re pleased to be chosen as an Editor’s Pick in the Carnival of Personal Finance this week. Check it out!

This is not financial, legal or tax advice. Our goal is your financial success, but all investments involve risk including the possible loss of principal and results will vary. If you are interested in the Snider Investment Method, please read the Owner's Manual for a complete discussion of risks and benefits. More information can be found on our website or by calling 1-888-6SNIDER. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

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A new type of mutual fund was introduced in late 2007, by the fund industry, called managed-payout funds. The goal of these funds is to give retirees a steady stream of income. At the time, they were touted as being an easy way for investors to get regular income payouts, professional money management and relatively low fees. Early players in the managed-payout fund arena were Fidelity, Vanguard, John Hancock, and Charles Schwab.

These funds demonstrate something known as the “sequencing of return problem” for retirees. If a retiree experiences losses early in their retirement, principal is quickly depleted and the amount of time until the retirement portfolio runs out of money is reduced.

Like the new retiree, these funds were decimated by the stock market plunge of 2008 – 2009. Just a few years after their inception, many of these funds were unable to meet their obligations to retirees and were basically returning principal.

“The plight of managed payout funds dramatizes boldly, what can happen to investors if they experience a serious market downturn early on, when they are starting to draw down their payments in retirement,” said Dan Culloton, a fund analyst at Morningstar.1

The Sequencing of Return Problem

When you are in growth mode, sequence of returns doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether a portfolio experiences weak or strong returns early on, the ending market value will be the same.

Let’s look at an example:

Assume we have two portfolios, X and Y. Each starts with $500,000. Neither is taking withdrawals. Portfolio X experiences early losses. Portfolio Y experiences early gains. As you can see from the chart below, there is no difference in the ending value.

This is not the case once you begin taking distributions. As you can see from the chart below, Portfolio X experiences losses early on and runs out of money in less than 20 years. Portfolio Y has strong early returns and is still going strong at age 100.

Even though both averaged 6.5% return, the difference in the two outcomes is massive!

This demonstrates a tragic flaw in a traditional capital appreciation portfolio when your investment objective is income replacement. There is just too much dependence on luck. You are basically betting on a random sequence of numbers over 30 years and the consequences, if your bet doesn’t pay off, can be catastrophic.

How cash flow solves the sequencing of return problem

Capital appreciation is when you buy something in hopes it will go up in price. When it does, you sell it for more than you paid for it, and the profit is called capital appreciation.

Cash flow is money that comes to you while you still own the asset. Examples of cash flow would be rent, royalties, interest, dividends, and option premiums. The key characteristic of cash flow is that you do not have to sell the asset in order to make money.

Another important characteristic of cash flow investments is cash flow is typically tied to the amount invested rather than the market value. Take a bond, for example. The yield is a percentage of the face value. A $1000 bond paying 6% will pay $60 in cash flow whether the bond is worth $900 or $1100.

Imagine your monthly expenses are $9000 a month and your portfolio generates $12,000 a month in cash flow. So long as the $12,000 is not connected to the market value of the portfolio, the sequencing of return problem goes away. Your portfolio withdrawals would be unaffected by the sequence of return because there is no need to sell assets when the market is down.

That reverse compounding that occurs when assets are liquidated at a loss to raise cash, is what creates the sequencing of returns problem. Take away the need to sell and you remove the biggest flaw in current retirement income models. Cash flow is the blindingly obvious solution to the sequencing of returns problem, among others.

(If you would like to learn more about cash flow versus capital appreciation, and the other problems cash flow may be able to solve, as part of a retirement portfolio, I would recommend the free special report at Snider Advisors.com, titled “How to Not Just Survive, but Thrive, in Turbulent Financial Markets.”)

Square pegs in round holes

When planning for retirement, be aware that you are seeking solutions to a relatively new problem. It is only in the last ten to fifteen years that academics have seriously begun working on the problems created by our need to self-fund what is likely to be thirty years in retirement.

In 1935, when Social Security was first created, the life expectancy at birth of American men was about 58 years. Today, the life expectancy in the United States, according to the CIA World Book, is 78.24 years and continues to climb. It has only been since the late 1980s that IRAs and 401(k)s became commonplace. And as late as 2002, when I first started lecturing on the topic, most people had never heard of the 4% maximum sustainable rate of withdrawal.

The financial services industry has a tendency to try to shove square pegs in round holes. The incentives of the compensation system pervasive in the industry just don’t reward fresh thinking. Old ways die hard, especially when they are lucrative.

You live in a Desperate Housewives world. Leave It To Beaver solutions to retirement planning are far too dependent on luck. To solve today’s most pressing retirement issues, you are going to have to think and act different than your parents and grandparents did. And that is likely going to mean thinking for yourself.

SOURCE:

1. Funds Featuring Managed Payouts Off To Rocky Start. (2009, February 11). InvestmentNews. Retrieved from http://www.investmentnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090201/REG/302019983/1030/MUTUALFUNDS.

No statement in this article should be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell a security or to provide investment advice unless specifically stated as such. All investments involve risk including possible loss of principal.

This is not financial, legal or tax advice. Our goal is your financial success, but all investments involve risk including the possible loss of principal and results will vary. If you are interested in the Snider Investment Method, please read the Owner's Manual for a complete discussion of risks and benefits. More information can be found on our website or by calling 1-888-6SNIDER. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Reading: The role of luck in a financially secure retirement

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