Adventures in Financial Planning

If you have been wondering why I have not been blogging this week it is because real life has been keeping me busy. Some weeks there simply is not time to blog. This was one of those weeks.

Many things have distracted me. There is my job, of course, which more than fills the daylight hours. There was my wonderful daughter’s seventeenth birthday, part one of which we celebrated last night. In addition, a sister was in town this week. We got together for dinner in Tyson’s Corner, discussed family news and politics. You cannot put two of my siblings in the same room without politics coming up.

We both shared the same shameful and sick feelings. We were grasping how to articulate them. What comes out are not so much words as an inchoate primal scream. We cannot believe that our Congress has given President Bush permission to torture people and limit the rights of enemy combatants. Congress approved a law so broad that it appears that the president could declare me an enemy combatant and indefinitely detain me. We can only hope these unconstitutional laws are quickly overturned by the courts. It boggles my mind that our Congress could discard the tradition of Habeas Corpus that goes back to the Magna Carta. As if these outrages were not enough, the House of Representatives approved a bill that lets President Bush conduct widespread government eavesdropping. The Senate will likely follow along, after the recess. The congress believes that these actions will show they are tough on terrorists and consequently will help them retain control of Congress. What is does to those of us who are politically awake is make us wet our pants. One diarist on DailyKos put it accurately when he wrote an obituary for our country. I hope after all the wreckage from the last five years that America has finally woken up. We will know in about a month after the midterm elections. In any event, I cannot fully articulate my feelings about these events right now; just express my abject horror, and my disgust at our president and our Congress. I cannot even absolve my own party, which should have filibustered this bill in the Senate, but did not.

While the bizarre and surreal actions in Washington have occupied my forebrain, ordinary life still goes on. I have also been planning for my father’s 80th birthday, which we celebrate next week. My family is still getting to know our cat Arthur Dent better. We spent part of each day is spent coaxing him out of hiding, petting him and giving him tummy rubs. Then there have been the illnesses. Our daughter brought home some nasty cold from school, promptly gave it to me, and I passed it on to my wife. My wife is the only one who still has cold symptoms. Her voice sounds like gravel and she spends much of her waking hours coughing and chugging expectorant. In addition, my side business of installing modifications to phpBB has gotten more active. I have been working with a very assertive client who has been uncovering many hitherto undiscovered bugs in my Digest and Smartfeed modifications and naturally wants me to fix them.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the slow Chinese water torture of implementing our financial plan. I am discovering why I have procrastinated on our family’s financial planning all these years. To put it mildly, it is a pain in the tuckus to implement our financial plan. I can see why many choose to outsource the whole business to a trusted broker. Jerry, my financial planner, says I am in the worst of it right now. He has made things as simple as possible, by doing things like providing many of the forms I need and having one of his employees fill them out. Once this load of work is behind us, he assures us that we are in for a long period of smooth sailing. The hard part is changing course. We may trim our sails once a year during our annual review. I cannot wait to get to that stage because right now I am up to my armpits in forms and phone calls. I am discovering that it will take months to make this course correction.

My wife has two 401-Ks that have sat dormant for the last few years. It should be routine to roll them over into someone else’s plan. Alas, it is anything but. Instead, there is a plethora of confusing and poorly documented hoops to jump through. Each company that manages 401-K or IRAs has its own bizarre procedures for rolling money in and out. Prudential Retirement, for example, holds one of my wife’s 401Ks. They require a spousal notification form. That is fine if only a signature were needed but no, it has to be notarized, which means I have to find a notary and arrange a time when we are both available to have the form notarized. One plan simply requires that I give authorization on the receiving institution’s forms. Another insists on sending us their special forms. They must be returned before they will accept a transfer request from the receiving institution. Setting up receiving accounts is not necessarily straightforward either. Vanguard, for example, requires a minimum investment in each kind of fund (usually $3000). One fund, their Energy Fund, requires a minimum of $25,000. In addition, you must set up a money market account with at least $2500 in it in order to move funds around.

Working through just one of these rollover issues is enough to trigger a migraine. I have discovered that financial institutions are not necessarily anxious to part with your money. They seem to put up lots of hoops just to see if you have the patience to jump through them. The details on how to do these things are not necessarily on their web sites. Therefore, you have to call them on the phone, decipher their financial speak, then call back the receiving institutions, and ask more questions. The whole process feels medieval and is both frustrating and aggravating.

My wife used to work for USAA Insurance. The only way to get a rollover of her 401K going is to access their employee only web site. That requires an ID and PIN. Maybe she knew once upon a time but long ago forgot. So now, we are waiting for snail mail to arrive with a new PIN to get that process going.

Then there are the non-retirement assets to shuffle. Closing two funds with USAA was actually straightforward. I just logged on and pressed a few buttons. Money instantly shuffled into my money market account. Great. I opened my money market checkbook to write a check to the new institution only to discover I had just used the last check. I now have to wait 4-6 business days to get new checks.

Altogether, I have to move five funds in four institutions and place them into eight funds maintained by five institutions. Three of them are retirement accounts, which have to go through a rollover process to avoid withdrawal penalties. Other existing funds, which I was told to keep, required some minor tweaking. Changing contribution and reallocations for my Thrift Savings Plan took only a few minutes and were done conveniently online.

My wife made all this more challenging. She hates anything to do with money management. It required coaxing her to do things she really, really hates, like speak to retirement fund specialists. This is just one of the reasons why I keep the books. She can be challenged just holding to her receipts. Fortunately, she has a process for that now: she stuffs them into her wallet. I typically sort through them once a week or so. So getting her on the phone with those holding her 401Ks and talking through issues like IRA rollovers was challenging. Often I had to initiate the call, conference her in, get her permission to let me talk to them, and then get the answers I needed.

Once our money is shuffled around, other issues loom. Life insurance is one of them. Next year when I turn 50, my term life insurance costs will nearly double to about $800 a year. Jerry says that I need to keep the life insurance through age 60. He has sources that offer much better deals but work only through financial planners. One gave him a quote for about $500 a year for ten years. That is great, because it means I will save at least $3000. Of course, to save the money I have to go through an obtrusive physical examination and then wait 60 days or so. That process needs to start now, because I turn 50 in February.

I am keeping a notebook of things I need to do. The list keeps expanding. It took about three weeks, but we finally returned the papers for our home equity loan to the credit union. Second trustee endorsement statements first had to be added to our homeowner’s insurance. Much, much notarizing was needed. We made one appointment with a notary, but missed one place where we needed a notary’s signature. This required finding another notary while working it around my wife’s illness.

The recommended umbrella insurance policy arrived, but the bill has not, at least not yet. I have not even begun to think about updating our will. Jerry has some lawyers he can recommend. Setting up a special IRA for my wife was straightforward, but required a $2000 initial investment. That money had to come from somewhere. Fortunately, last month was a three-paycheck month.

I figure it will be several more weeks of aggravating phone calls and filling out dense legal forms before we succeed in transferring all our assets. Dotting all the I’s and crossing the T’s with items like life insurance policies and wills will take longer. Once these assets are in place, then I need to set up regular contributions for many funds. I am hoping somewhere around the start of 2007 all this will be behind us and all we need to do is trim those sails once a year. For it will take many margaritas under some palm tree in the Caribbean to make up for this aggravation.

One response to “Adventures in Financial Planning”

  1. That bites having to get all that crap notarized. Usually your bank has a notary for free, but obviously they are only open during business hours. UPS stores usually have a notary on staff. You can hire a mobile notary, but that is much more expensive. Hope you got it all worked out. – scott


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