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So, the unemployment rate fell to 4.9% for January. Obama supporters are in full gloat mode. Who can blame them? We haven’t seen an unemployment rate this low since February 2008.

There’s just one problem…

What often goes unreported is the labor participation rate. It’s been declining (actually, it’s been slightly increasing the last few months but is still well below what it was when Bush was in office). As of yesterday, the labor participation rate, which according the BLS is, “the percentage of the population that is either employed or unemployed (that is, either working or actively seeking work).” What does that mean exactly?

Well, let’s say we have a town of 1,000 people. Let’s say that 350 people in the town aren’t working because they are either retired or are stay-at-home parents. That means the town’s labor force is 650 people. The math looks like this:

1,000 population – 350 people who aren’t in the labor force = 650 people in the labor force

Now let’s say of the 650 people in the labor force, 600 have jobs. That means 50 of them are unemployed. Our unemployment rate would be 7.7%:

50 unemployed ÷ 650 labor force = 7.7% unemployment rate

Now let’s say six months pass and the only change is that 20 of the previously unemployed people either decided to officially retire or simply decided they no longer needed a job. The labor force would drop to 630 people. If the number of employed people stayed the same at 600, the number of unemployed would drop to 30. The new unemployment rate would be 4.8%:

30 unemployed ÷ 630 labor force = 4.8% unemployment rate

Nothing really changed except how the people were counted. Now keep that in mind as we look at the following table I put together using numbers from the BLS. I dug up the employment numbers for January 2009 (Bush’s last month in office) and plugged them into a spreadsheet along with yesterday’s employment numbers. Then I adjusted the numbers to reflect the difference in the labor participation rate. What I found was interesting.

Basically, what we can take from the above graphic is this:

The only difference between President Obama’s numbers and President Bush’s numbers is the change in the labor participation rate.

I have yet to find an insurance person who compares an equity-indexed annuity or insurance policy to the S&P 500 Total Return Index, which includes dividends.

One of the reasons could stem from the fact that the S&P 500 Index Price Return (Ticker: ^GSPC on Yahoo!) is what the insurance company uses when determining the amount to credit the policy each month or year. We won’t get into why insurance companies don’t credit based on total returns.

The other reason I can come up with as to why they don’t is that their products look much better when compared to the price index rather than the total return index.

I came across an article Sunday morning about an Indexed Universal Life (IUL) policy. This particular policy had a floor of 2% and a cap of 11.25%. A 2% floor means that the account value will always get credited at least 2%, no matter how badly the market performs. As you can probably guess, an 11.25% cap means that annual gains are capped at 11.25%, no matter how well the market performs. The index used to judge the amount credited to the account is the S&P 500 price return.

Two things can be seen from the graphic I put together, which looks at 10-year holding periods. The returns you see are average annual rates of return over the 10-year period. The math equation for the 1926 – 1935 time period looks like this (NOTE: the list of numbers you see below are the annual price returns for the S&P expressed as factors):

[(1.0572 x 1.3091 x 1.3788 x 0.8809 x 0.7152 x 0.5293 x 0.8485 x 1.4659 x 0.9406 x 1.4137)1/10 – 1]

A couple of things are made clear by the following graphic I put together:

1. It’s definitely to the insurance company’s advantage to credit based on the price index.

2. It’s also obvious why insurance salespeople like to compare their products to the price index (it makes their products look much better).

One thing that also needs to be pointed out is that although the credits are “after all fees and expenses,” that’s not entirely accurate. A better way to say it would be, “after all fees and expenses on the investment account of the policy.” In other words, when a person sends a check to the insurance company, not all of their money goes to work for them in the investment account.

I hope the last few posts about insurance products has been helpful. I am not an insurance expert (heck, a big bulk of insurance salespeople are only familiar with a few of the products they sell), but I would think long and hard before I used the Bank on Yourself strategy or bought an equity-indexed annuity or indexed-universal life policy.

Here is the scenario:

You’re either retired or getting close to retirement. Not to be rude, but you are “prime meat” for advisors. They love your demographic because it usually means a nice lump sum for them to work with.

You either get invitations in the mail or someone calls you to invite you to a “free” dinner. All you have to do is listen to a financial consultant’s (investment advisor, insurance salesman, etc.) presentation.

Before you decide to go, let me share a few tips with you.

1. Understand that the advisor is trying to SELL you something. Whether it’s his or her services or some kind of product or idea, the intent is to get clients.

2. Once you understand number 1, you would be wise to be skeptical of EVERYTHING they say.

3. If they are talking about some kind of insurance product (IUL, equity-indexed annuity, variable annuity, etc.), they’ll usually start off by trying to scare the audience with talk about how risky or volatile the “stock market” is, which is true. It is “risky”, but most retirees don’t have 100% of their assets in the stock market. If the salesperson starts throwing around numbers, BEWARE!

The S&P 500 Index that is quoted in the media is a price index. That means it does not include dividends. So, although a price index is a decent barometer, it is not good for
comparing investments because a person who invested in a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund that tracked the S&P 500 Index would receive dividends as part of their return. So, it is misleading on the part of the salesperson to use the S&P 500 Index price return when drawing a comparison to what they have to offer.

Take a look at the following graphic I took from a book I received recently. This book was published in 2015, so I’m not sure why they stopped at 2012 (I will note that 2013 and 2014 were both up years as you’ll see in a later graphic). He also has the wrong return for 2012. It should be 13.41%, not 10.20%. You can click on the graphic to see a larger version:

That table is based on the S&P 500 Price Return Index. Yes, the author does mention that the table does not include dividends, but I question his motive for not including them. The next graphic will show you why:

NOTE: Does not include fees or taxes.

Obviously, leaving dividends out of the equation highly favors whatever product it is getting compared to. That’s why you should be prepared to ask the following question:

“Are the returns you are talking about real returns that include dividends?”

If the answer is “No” or “I don’t know”, you need to get up and walk out. They are being dishonest and purposely misleading the audience.

4. Ask about surrender periods and charges. Some strategies using insurance have long surrender periods of 7 to 15 years. A surrender period is a time period in which you must pay a fee in order to terminate your policy. The amount declines over the years.

5. Be wary of bonuses. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If a company is going to give you a 10% – 25% bonus, it’s coming from somewhere.

6. If it’s complicated, forget about it. Retirement planning doesn’t have to be complicated. The vast array of products (most of them unnecessary) is what complicates things. Insurance products are among the most complicated because there are so many of them and each company has its own spin, which makes them difficult to compare.

7. Ask them point blank how much they will make off your transaction. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask. It’s your money. If they say, “The insurance company pays me,” leave. That’s not the question you asked. If they avoid answering the question, don’t do business with them.

8. No matter how good the deal sounds, NEVER sign or agree to anything during that presentation. Instead, get as much information as you can and leave. Then, once you are home, read all the information and ask any questions you may have. I would even suggest you get a second or third opinion. Find a fee-only advisor through NAPFA.org and go see them. Expect to spend \$250 – \$500, but that’s a lot less than you could lose if you make bad decision.

Sadly, most of the people reading this blog post probably already know this stuff. Here’s to hoping this information reaches those who can use it.

I agreed to look at another book about retirement. Last night, the book’s author emailed me and thanked me for agreeing to give his book a look. He included a link to a YouTube video he put together that explains his strategy.

What I found is his strategy is similar to Pamela Yellen’s Bank on Yourself strategy. UH-OH…haha. What’s different is he uses Indexed Universal Life Insurance. I AM NOT an insurance expert. I won’t discuss the intricacies of the policy. What I do want to discuss is how the interest is credited to the account holder (about 5:42 into the video). NOTE: Notice that he uses the average return of 8.12% (I get 8.13% when I calculate it), and not the average annual rate of return, which is 7.98%.

So the way this particular policy works is it will credit the policy holder’s account a maximum of 13% and a minimum of 0%. So, if the market returns 10%, you get 10%. If the market returns -10%, you get 0 (you won’t lose money except for inflation). If the market returns 20%, you get 13%. Pretty straight forward.

What I found interesting is the index they use in order to calculate the annual credit.

If you look, you’ll see a column titled “Actual S&P 500 Growth %”. This column represents the PRICE return of the S&P 500 Index, NOT the TOTAL RETURN. His numbers look like this:

Now, what would the account look like if the insurance company used the S&P 500 Total Return Index? Let’s see:

That’s quite a difference.

It’s important to point out that the insurance company is only using the S&P 500 as a guide for crediting the interest that goes into the account. The problem I have with this is that’s not how it is often sold to the buyer. It’s usually sold as a “What if you could get the return of the stock market without the risk?”

My point in all of this is just to make you aware of the way interest on most of these policies is calculated. They aren’t using the entire index. That’s important to know.

I’ll review the book once I receive it and have read it. Stay tuned…

If you want a good chuckle, watch this video:

First off, this insurance policy DID NOT have an annual return of 9.94%! It was more like 6%. It’s fine if you want to add hypotheticals in order to draw comparisons to other investments, but you can’t claim that those numbers represent YOUR return. They do not. How it is legal for them to make this claim is beyond me.

That’s not all…

Pay particular attention to the part where Paul Nick addresses “what if you invested in the stock market instead…” (10:17 in the video).

NOTE: He mentions a few times in the video that he’s “bringing some truth to the matter…” Gag!

He simply takes the annual price returns for the S&P 500 Index and plugs them into his spreadsheet and claims that’s what an investor would have received. HE CONVENIENTLY LEFT OUT DIVIDENDS! On top of that, he THEN adds a bogus 1% management fee (who pays 1% for an index fund) AND he taxes annual returns at 25%. His ending balance before the fees and taxes was \$223,442. Take a wild guess what that number would have been had he been honest and used the S&P 500 Index Total Return?

\$749,628!!!!!!

That’s over \$500,000 more than Paul shows in his example.

As you can see from the following graphic, DIVIDENDS MATTER!

I find it funny that he mentions dividends when showing how the insurance cash value balance grew, but left dividends completely out of the equation when he talked about the S&P 500 Index.

Here’s the deal: I know very little about the Bank on Yourself strategy. It could be the best thing since sliced bread (I doubt it). What I do know is that if the people behind it have to lie—and cling to their lies when confronted—in order to make their strategy look better, I don’t want any part of their strategy.

This is great. It’s free, but they would appreciate a donation. The work they are doing is important.

Join me in going through their series, Economics 101.