Jordan Curtis doesn’t sugarcoat his clients’ retirement options. That’s why when they confer with the Mountain America Credit Union advisor, he looks over their pensions, liquid savings, long-term budgets and Social Security potential, stress testing the entire portfolio against both growth and inflation. One of the most common errors he sees from clients is assuming their costs won’t change as they grow older. Curtis has to illustrate the opposite.

“I’ll ask them to remember what gasoline cost in the 1980s,” he says. “They tell me, 50 cents or 70 cents a gallon. I’ll remind them today it’s about $3, and got as high as $4.”

That roughly six-fold increase happened over 30 years, he notes, so he encourages clients to look ahead to the next 30 years with similar increases.

Triaging his clients financial matters, then, is crucial for Curtis, particularly as he works mostly with blue-collar workers who have investable assets of $250,000 to $750,000.

Some hail from large corporations in the nearby Salt Lake City area, while others are federal employees. All want assurances they can retire comfortably. But Curtis isn’t there to make them feel better, he says, but rather to feel prepared. “I’m doing them a huge disservice if I tell them they’re ready when they’re not,” says the advisor from Mountain America Credit Union, which uses LPL as its third-party marketer.

To analyze their financial plans, he starts by looking at their Social Security options, hoping clients haven’t filed before they’ve walked through his door. If they’re still on the fence, Curtis tries to stop them. Often, though, they are fearful that Social Security is going bankrupt and, consequently, have already filed.

If they have filed, and still don’t appear to have enough income even with benefits, he’ll often suggest a part-time job during their first five years of retirement. “They can save from their income and Social Security,” he says. “A lot of times a bad situation can be fixed, by working three to five years, and dropping their budget $500 to $1,000 a month.”

Indeed, budgets are another area that Curtis examines closely. While most advisors would cheer for a client who keeps strict accounting of their expenditures, budgets with very little wiggle room worry him. Investors who can cover basic costs, such as food, health care and energy bills—but little else—are a concern, as those sectors are most affected by inflation. As those costs inevitably rise over time, clients have little ability to move funds from one expense line to another.

“Someone with a lot of room can cut things out if they need to,” he says. “Their budgets are going to get tighter and tighter as time goes on.”

Finally, Curtis hits a client’s financial plan with a worst-case scenario outcome, starting with 6% growth and 4% inflation, then pushing the portfolio into a 5% growth and 5% inflationary projection to see if retirement plan stands up to “pessimistic numbers,” he says. If they do? He knows they’re in great shape.

That outcome is where about 30% of his clients end up. Another 30% are in poor shape, with triaging a necessity, and the remaining 40% are dependent, he says, on the financial decisions they make going forward. To Curtis, he sees his job as reading their numbers and then helping them put the pieces together so their retirement works.

“I’m solving problems for people who didn’t know they had problems that needed to be solved,” he says.

Lauren Barack is a contributor to Bank Investment Consultant.


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