When it comes to investing, we all want to think that it's within the realm of the human mind to spot the trends and buy at the lows and sell near the highs. We can't, of course -- even most professional asset managers rarely beat the market. But what if we could? Passport to huge wealth, right?
Well, in the "What's Up, Bro?" segment of this Motley Fool Answers podcast, co-hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp open their podcast with a fascinating study on the mathematics of the somewhat psychic investor, and it turns out that they wouldn't do nearly as well as you might expect. They also discuss a disturbing trend in student debt -- the total amount that the over-60 demographic owes has grown faster than any other group. And they look at the most common reasons why people underprioritize saving for retirement.
A full transcript follows the video.
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This video was recorded on Feb. 11, 2019.
Alison Southwick: What's up, Bro?
Robert Brokamp: I've got three things for you, Alison. First of all, No. 1, the surprisingly small benefits of successful market timing. Now we regularly tell our members they shouldn't try to market time. We occasionally cite studies...
Southwick: We did it like two episodes ago.
Brokamp: ... but that won't stop us from reminding you again, especially when a new study comes out. And this one is courtesy of investment management firm Albert Bridge Capital based in London.
Here's the setup. Imagine you're 25 years old and you're going to invest $1,000 into the stock market every year for the next 30 years. And you are so good that you pick the absolute best day to invest in each and every year. Now they estimate that the odds of that happening are one in 1,240 followed by 69 zeros. In other words, not very likely, but hey, you are that good. So if you had done this for the past 30 years, you've reached age 55. Investing that thousand dollars every year you would have $155,000. Not bad, but what if you were the complete opposite? What if instead you invested on the very worst day every year for the last 30 years? How much would you have? You invested $30,000. Would you have $50,000? Would you have $75,000? You would actually have $122,000.
Southwick: So it's a difference of about $30,000?
Brokamp: A difference of about $30,000 comparing the best to the worst. Of course, having that extra $30,000 would be better. But still, the person who did the absolute worst market timing every single year still turned $30,000 into $122,000. Pretty good.
No. 2. Over 60 and crushed by student loan debt. That's the headline from a recent Wall Street Journal article with some pretty astonishing stats. The 60-and-older crowd owes $86 billion in student loans. It's either debt they took on for their kids or they went back to school themselves. Especially during the Great Recession people thought, "I lost my job. I'm going to go back to school." But that's up 161% from 2010. It's the biggest increase of any age group.
And because many are struggling to pay this debt, the federal government is actually taking some it from their benefits. In 2015, 40,000 people, age 65 or older, had their Social Security or tax refunds garnished because they were defaulting on student loan debt, and that's up 362% from the previous decade. The total debt owned by the 60-and-older crowd [and that includes credit cards, auto loans, and things like that] is up 84% since 2010.
I always have mixed feelings about stuff like this. These types of articles usually bring in individual stories. You see the individual stories and you can't help but think, "Man, you made some bad decisions." They talked about a guy who after his restaurant failed in New York City, he went to the New York Institute of Art and still owes $30,000 a decade later. He is now 66 years old. He only lives off Social Security and because of all this he has limited his food budget to $7 a day. Then they told a story of another guy who's 65 and retired a year ago. He still owns student loans, but also $40,000 in credit card debt.
Whenever I hear these stories, I think, "I don't know why you thought you should retire." Maybe they have health issues. They didn't say that in the article and if you have health issues I have great sympathy for that. But I do wonder why sometimes these people decide to retire in these circumstances.
On the other hand, it does tell other stories of people with all this debt. One guy said, "It was hard to say no to my daughter. She got her heart set on a school and she worked hard to get there." I totally understand that. I feel a lot of sympathy for that.
I bring this up, particularly now, because this is the time of year when millions of kids and their families are finding out which schools they're going to get accepted to, the Brokamp family included.
Southwick: You guys, too, yeah!
Brokamp: So we've got a couple of weeks to wait all this out. But basically we're all making decisions that could affect our finances for decades. So please do all you can to get a college degree with as little debt as possible. The classic rule of thumb is to borrow no more than what you can reasonably expect to earn in your first year of college. The other lesson of this is if you have any debt, work as hard as you can to have it paid off before you retire.
And No. 3 is why people do and don't save for retirement. We all know that the average person hasn't been doing a good-enough job, so what are the other priorities of these non-savers or under-savers?
A recent survey might have some answers. It was conducted by AARP along with the Ad Council Saving for Retirement Campaign and examined the habits and aspirations of moderate income-working adults ages 40 to 59. Some of the key results.
Only 47% identified retirement as among their top three financial priorities. Obviously they have something else that they think is more important. When asked to identify their No. 1 priority, what was it? Paying down debt. Again, the debt is causing trouble.
When non-savers and under-savers were asked what's preventing them from saving more, the No. 1 response was I did not have enough left over after basic expenses, and the second most common was unexpected expenses came up, which brings us back to previous episodes and the emergency fund. What happens if you don't have an emergency fund is you can't save for retirement or you go into debt, because you have to turn to credit cards. Getting an emergency fund is important there.
Now when respondents were asked what helped them save for retirement [these are people who are doing a good job], the most common response was I increased my contribution rate to my employer-sponsored retirement plan so that I could take full advantage of the company match. And study after study has shown that the match has a big influence on saving behavior.
So if you are an employer, you work in an HR department, you own a company and you want to help your employees save more, if you boost the match or even stretch it [you give the same amount of money, but instead of saying you only have to contribute 6% to get that full match, if you move it up to 8-10%, people will start to save more].
Southwick: And there's no benefit to a company offering a 401(k) match, right? They only do it as an added benefit.
Brokamp: It's just for an added benefit. Some research from a recent survey by the Callan Group, which is a benefits consulting group, showed that last year about 78% of companies were boosting their match, and they expect it to continue this year, too. That's good news.
The second most common response to the question about what helped people save for retirement was, "I got a raise, bonus, or extra income and put all or some of it into my retirement savings account." That reminds us of a story [of a] listener [that] David G. sent us earlier last year. Folks may remember. He was the guy who was in the military and he learned very early on that whenever he got a raise, he put half of it toward saving more to retirement. He was allowed to spend the other half. By the time he reached age 55, he had a savings rate of 42% and he's on solid ground.
And then the last bit from this survey is it asked adults what the greater likelihood is in your life that you will save enough for retirement or something else? For example, what's more likely? That you'll save enough for retirement or you'll run a marathon? 30% said it's more likely they'll run a marathon. 30% said it's more likely they'll get a personal robot assistant than be able to save enough for retirement.
Southwick: You're not going to be able to afford a personal robot assistant.
Brokamp: I know. 40% said it's more likely an astronaut will walk on Mars than they'll save enough. 37% said it's more likely that disco will come back in style...
Southwick: Why does everybody beat up on disco? It's fun!
Brokamp: It's the best!
Southwick: It's fun music, people! Just leave it alone!
Brokamp: And my favorite is 28% said it's more likely that Bigfoot will be confirmed real than they will be able to save enough to retire.
Southwick: What percent believes in Bigfoot?
Brokamp: 28% believe there's a greater chance that they'll find a Bigfoot than they have a chance of retiring comfortably.
Southwick: Oh, that's sad!
Brokamp: It is sad! Now I'm a person who has a kid who's obsessed with Bigfoot, so I certainly hope they discover a Sasquatch before I pass away.
Southwick: Really? Why do you care about this Samsquance?
Brokamp: [laughs] I don't know. I just love the stuff. The bottom line is we don't know if there's a Bigfoot, but I do know this. If you save as much as you can, you may not to be able to retire when you want and exactly how you want, but you will increase the chances that you'll be able to retire eventually.
A year ago, I mentioned the study from the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled, The Power of Working Longer. It found that those who delay retirement from age 62 to age 70 can increase their retirement income by 40% to as much as 100% just by delaying. But part of that is because you have more years to save. So the more you save now, no matter how much it is, the more you'll be able to boost your income and/ or move up your retirement date. And that, Alison, is what's up.