Simplify Financial Clutter

Financial Planning

Simplify Financial Clutter

We help a couple nearing retirement pare down investment accounts.

Rebecca and Ron Sacra have two careers, two pensions, two houses, two grandkids -- and ten investment accounts. Rebecca, a teacher, and Ron, a fire-department lieutenant, have about $650,000 in retirement plans, mutual funds, a few stocks and a variable annuity.

Moreover, the Ashburn, Va., couple put $50,000 a year into various pots. But Rebecca says she and Ron don't know whether the investments as a whole make sense. "We started out with zero 20 years ago," Rebecca says with pride, "but I would like to know what kind of return we're getting and if we are really diversified."

Rebecca is curious because Ron will retire in September and she plans to teach three more years, at which point they will both be 61. They expect pensions and Social Security to pay for the basics, but they want to be sure their investments can last at least 30 years in retirement.

Big spreadsheet

Some investors say yes to every sales pitch or try fad after financial fad. Ron and Rebecca did neither, but they still list 34 funds on a spreadsheet. Rebecca's school district changed retirement-program providers, so she now has two 403(b) plans. Ron and Rebecca both have Roth IRAs, and Rebecca owns a traditional IRA from pre-Roth days. Ron has a 457 retirement plan. They each have taxable stock and mutual fund accounts. The only move Rebecca regrets was buying the variable annuity, which has shrunk from $45,000 to $34,000 since 1997. That's a candidate for elimination when she turns 591Ú2 and can exit without a tax penalty.


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The Sacras should aim to cut back to 10 to 15 funds. But they shouldn't trim too hastily. Like all two-investor couples, they should first study their holdings as a unit, says Michael Garry, of Yardley Wealth Management, in Newtown, Pa. That could mean getting a portfolio "x-ray" at to check for diversification or consulting a financial planner.


Once you are ready to take 401(k) distributions or roll a lump sum into an IRA, you're in charge. If you know where your assets overlap and in which areas your holdings are light or heavy, you can trim and consolidate intelligently.

The Sacras have investments in a Scottrade brokerage account, as well as in Fidelity, Franklin Templeton, T. Rowe Price and USAA funds. Rebecca's 403(b) money now goes to USAA, whose funds have been lagging, she says, so she is transferring what she can to Fidelity. Ron cannot switch from his 457, but he has most of his money in three fine T. Rowe Price funds: Capital Appreciation, Mid-Cap Growth and Personal Strategy Income. No reason to move.

Ron and Rebecca, it turns out, aren't as disorganized as they fear. They have 85% of their investments in stocks. That's fair, given their pensions. They have 21% in foreign stocks, which is right on. Their stocks are well diversified, and the average expense ratio of their fund holdings is 0.84%. The portfolio is up 12% over the past year. It's an unwieldy package, but it works.

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