I am of the firm belief you can learn something from every situation, from every event you attend. With this in mind, I decided, after years of avoidance, it was time again to check out what happens behind the closed doors of the free dinner invitations.
The older you get the more of these invitations you get. (They put you on a list.) The first one that arrived in the mail was for the traditional investment seminar, followed the next day by an invitation to a health treatment and another for funeral planning.
Mrs. Accountant and I pinched our noses and signed up for all three. In each seminar we learned something. I will share that knowledge with you here.
And the pleasant surprise was one thing I learned was actually important and useful!
Free Investment Dinner
Many of you are familiar with the investment dinner. They offer you a nice dinner at a local supper club and work to convince you their Fixed Index Annuity (FIA) is the right choice for you.
One thing I learned is that they improved on their earlier slick presentations. It was easy for me to see how easily the non-savvy in finances were so easily seduced.
The charts used made it look like the FIA performed in a similar way to the actual stock market. But you know the old adage: Figures don’t lie but liars figure.
For the uninitiated, a quick review of what an FIA is. The FIA is designed to provide “some” of the stock market return, usually based on the S&P 500, without any risk of loss, in the form of a fixed annuity. In other words, when the market is down you break even and when the market is up you get a percentage of the gain.
So what is the problem with the FIA? Well, they cap the upside and often times you don’t get the full market gain. If the stock market climbs 20% one year, your gain may be capped at 10%. Or, if the market is up 10%, you may only get 60% of the gain, or a 6% return.
Yes, you do not see your account value decline in a down market, but you also miss out on any gain above the cap. In the end, the FIA often has returns that are stuck in the low to mid single digits while the S&P 500 averages somewhere around 10% per year over time.
Depending on the FIA product, you lose out on 40% or more of the market gain all for the comfort of not having a down year. That is a huge fee in my humble opinion. (This assumes you actually get 6% from the FIA during a period of average market returns. Your loss could be much higher.)
Of course, I am oversimplifying the FIA. Different products have different features that lead to different results.
For full disclosure, I was there when FIAs were born. I had a life insurance licence for 20 or so years. I rarely used it. But I did play around with FIAs back when Columbus was crossing the Atlantic. LifeUSA started it and Allianz bought them out. I started with LifeUSA. Now a lot of life insurance companies are in on the action.
Why I learned to hate the FIA so quickly came down to the marketing literature and the fine print in the actual policy. The insurance company didn’t lie, but you may recall the adage above.
From a previous post on scams, you know I am big on reading the fine print. Well, reading the fine print broke this accountant of the FIA habit before it began. Yeah, they pay a lot in commission to the agent, assuming you don’t have a soul. My ethical standards told me I could not offer these products, so I didn’t.
Let’s review a few good reasons for life insurance products, including annuities, before I share the “new” thing I learned that made me fall out of my chair.
Here are a few possible reasons to have an annuity or cash-value life insurance:
• Buy-Sell Agreement (maybe)
• Key Person Insurance (maybe)
• NIMCRUT (a very complex charitable trust where an annuity is required to make the “NIM” part of the NIMCRUT work)
• Medicaid-Compliant Annuity (for people that need to protect assets from Medicare when they did not plan properly soon enough (future post coming on this))
• People with a medium liquid net worth and need an annuity stream (I’d suggest looking at low-commission immediate annuities in such a case)
Now for the “new” thing I learned.
As is typical with the complimentary dinner invitations, a lot of scare tactics are used. “The bond market is not safe!” we were told. And the typical stock market fears were front and center. They never mentioned Treasury bills were ~5.5% at the time of the seminar. This guaranteed investment (T-bills) was currently out performing all their FIAs. Figures don’t lie but…
Then my greatest fear came true.
Are you familiar with the mega backdoor Roth? Here is the Reader’s Digest version:
There are two levels to your work retirement account, usually the 401(k). You have a maximum limit you can deduct from your wage or salary, the employee contribution, and then there is the profit-sharing level which is much higher.
In 2023 the employee contribution limit is $22,500 ($7,500 more if you are age 50 or older). The employee can place this money into a traditional retirement account inside the 401(k) where the salary deferral is deductible, or into a Roth product where there is no deduct, but gains are tax-free. In any case, the $22,500 is a hard limit. No more can be withheld for placement in either the traditional or Roth investments.
There is also a second level, the annual limit per individual, sometimes called the profit-sharing limit. For 2023 this contribution limit is $66,000.
The employee and employer’s contribution cannot exceed the profit-sharing limit. However! You can withhold the difference between your contribution limit, including the employer’s contribution, and the profit-sharing limit. It looks like this:
• $22,500 employee contribution + $7,500 employer match (as an estimate) = $30,000
• $66,000 annual limit for individual – the $30,000 from above = $36,000
You can withhold from your wages or salary up to $36,000 additional in the example above. These monies are not deductible and are treated as a nondeductible traditional retirement investment. Gains are deferred only and taxed when distributed later.
This is where the backdoor Roth gets all its power. If your employer offers in-service transfers, remember that term, you can immediately transfer the non deductible money out of your account into a traditional IRA and convert it to a Roth. (There a few more rules to follow.) It’s a lot of horsing around, but worth its weight in gold since it allows so much to go into a Roth IRA every year.
Armed with this knowledge, it is time to watch the wheels fall off at our seminar.
The presenter starting asking who has a 401(k) with the ability to do in-service transfers. I knew instantly what was happening.
You see, they hijacked the backdoor Roth strategy to sell even more FIAs!
The in-service transfer is not limited to just excess, nondeductible, monies in your 401(k). You can move all the 401(k) money.
That’s right. A lifetime of working and saving and investing, destroyed over a free dinner, all because your employer’s 401(k) allows in-service transfers. Great for smart people using the mega backdoor Roth, a disaster for people getting sold at a $20 dinner.
That is what I learned at the first seminar. The promoters are grabbing more money than ever, putting hard working people’s retirement plans at risk. And they are using more tools to get more of your money.
The lesson learned the first night was massive. The damage potential is hurricane sized. The mega backdoor Roth is a wonderful strategy. Shifting your entire retirement account to an FIA is almost alway the worst idea you can have. You have been warned.
Now for shorter descriptions of the lessons learned in the next two seminars.
National Wellness Centers
The second seminar Mrs. Accountant and I attended was offered by National Wellness Centers.
Before the seminar began there were red flags everywhere.
First, I did a bit of research before attending. National Wellness Centers has an office in Scottsdale, Arizona. I am unaware of any other locations.
Their website had serious functionality issues. Very concerning when it comes to a medical establishment I am trusting with my health.
As we waited for the seminar to begin they ran a slide show. One celebrity after another graced the screen with a quote on how they loved the treatments. Mel Gibson, Tony Robbins, and Fox News were front and center. Not exactly comforting.
When the seminar started they showed a Fox News interview of Tony Robbins touting the product and his book. It felt like a product placement and that Tony was paid to say what he said. I have no proof of this, but it felt that way. I’m sure Tony sold a lot of books.
National Wellness Centers was selling a stem-cell treatment for a variety of pain issues. We were later informed the cost for most people would be between $5,500 to $16,000, with some paying more.
We were promised a doctor would review our file, but the seminar presenters would administer the treatment in our home. The presenters were two guys that might have been nurses or nurse practitioners. I say this because a comment was made on how doctors don’t do the hard work; the nurse practitioners do.
I don’t know about you, but if someone I don’t know asks to come to my house to inject me with something to ease the pain, it feels more like a drug pusher than a medical treatment.
There were more statements that bothered me (red flags). It seems National Wellness Centers product is not FDA approved, but the FDA allows the stem-cell therapy for about 80 diseases. My research showed that the FDA has approved stem-cell therapy for one indication and it is also allowed in several products. Not sure this is a blatant lie or a misunderstanding on my part.
One fact that did not stand up is the comment on prescriptions in the US. It was stated that the US has 4.8% of the world population, but consumes 80% of the pharmaceutical prescriptions. This is 100% wrong! The US has about 4% of the world population and consumes around 8% of prescriptions.
As you can imagine, I was not interested in a home visit. I would consider medical tourism before I allowed these guys or National Wellness Centers inject me with anything.
The lesson learned here? You MUST check with your regular doctor before allowing a stranger to inject you with something you are not 100% certain what it is. It blows my mind how easily people will open their wallet to what is likely a scam and health risk. No guarantee was ever given. But the cost was nothing to look past.
Funeral Planning Seminar
We finish with a happy ending. The last seminar Mrs. Accountant and I attended was professional, informative, and there was zero sales push. They didn’t even allow you to set an appointment at any time or even while walking out the door. They provided an info sheet with contact information. It was up to you if you wanted to call them later.
And I learned a lot of new valuable things!
First, the invitation was a mail blast to everyone in my rural and small town area. There was a delicious homestyle chicken dinner. It was also the biggest group of the three seminars at about 60 or so.
The first half of the seminar an estate attorney presented. He provided basic info and then let the group guide the discussion with questions. State laws often rule the day with estate planning so I will not go into details. What I will share is that when I updated my personal estate plan recently I misheard from my attorney how many assets can be left outside the plan and still be okay. It’s a long story I will not bore you with, but this seminar saved my bacon. I encourage you to have an estate plan and listen closely to your attorney. (My first lesson learned.)
The remained of the seminar was two ladies from a local funeral home discussing funeral costs, planning, funding, and more.
I was impressed!
They did not hard-sell anything. They didn’t even sell. Period. Yes, they mentions a variety of costs, depending on the type of funeral you wanted, but that wasn’t the best part. (I plan on interviewing these ladies to get the skinny on funeral planning tools. They covered some in the seminar, but I want to verify before publishing.)
The biggest thing I learned is all the services a funeral home can provide. This is something that never crossed my mind! Yes, funeral homes provide serious services you might never realize they do.
The two ladies strongly encouraged us to call the funeral home first, any funeral home, not just them, when someone dies that you are responsible for funeral arrangement. Why? Because funeral homes can make the process smooth. Since it is a very emotional and distressing time of life, having someone experienced in dealing with these situations is a huge benefit.
Now for the biggest thing I learned from all three seminars.
Most funeral homes around the US, and even the world, are connected through an industry organization. If you are traveling and a family member dies, call the funeral home back home!!! They will arrange to get your loved one from there to home. You don’t have to worry about any of it. And because funeral homes have agreements, they can transport your loved one home cheaper than you can on your own.
I think that is big. I always wondered what I’d do if one of the kids or Mrs. Accountant died while we were traveling. Well, the local funeral home explained they has a client (can I say that?) who died in Jamaica. They got the loved one back to the US and home. The family didn’t have to do anything. It was the lowest cost option and reduced stress while the family was allowed to grieve as they returned home.
I don’t know about you, but this is important info to have. We should have a discussion in the comments on who was aware of this or if anyone has stories where this really helped during a trying time.
So there you have it. Three seminars. Two swings and a miss before connecting. I learned something from each situation. That happens a lot when you keep an open mind.
And I am better prepared for questionable offers and when the stressful day when a loved one dies.
Not bad for a dinner education.