Highlights From Ed Slott’s Spring 2017 Elite IRA Advisor Conference

Mike Branch is a member of Ed Slott's Master Elite IRA Advisor GroupI have been a member of the Ed Slott Elite IRA Group for nearly a decade. One of the benefits of membership is that twice a year I get to geek out on the latest rules and regulations regarding IRAs and retirement plans with over 400 financial advisors from around the country.

This is also one of the best opportunities in the industry to meet with other like-minded advisors to learn how to help our clients make the most of their retirement assets, and take a deep dive into the estate and financial planning strategies that benefit them most.

This spring’s conference in Kansas City, Missouri, did not disappoint. In the future I may do a more detailed blog post on one or more of the topics below. In the meantime, follow along as I share some of the highlights of the spring conference.

How Cupid’s Arrow May Save Your Retirement Plan


Over $23 trillion sits in various types of retirement accounts across America, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Even that figure may be low. Since 2011 – when that figure was calculated — markets have increased and retirement savers have contributed even more to their plans, adding thousands of dollars to the average person’s retirement plan balance.

No doubt, trillions more sit in bank accounts, brokerage accounts, mutual funds and other types of “non-qualified” investment accounts.

But if you thought your most important retirement asset was some sort of financial account, you would be wrong.

Shred it!



Last week Focus Financial hosted its second annual Shred-It event at Insight Brewing in NE Minneapolis.

Each year clients bring their sensitive documents to be destroyed in a secure way. Then we celebrate over a beer and burger from Simply Steve’s Food Truck. Tim Mahoney provided live entertainment to warm up the crowd on a cold and wet Thursday night.

In case you missed it, here’s a brief list of what you can safely discard and when:



Shred Immediately

  • ATM receipts
  • Paid credit card statements
  • Paid utility bills
  • Credit offers
  • Cancelled checks (that are not tax-related)
  • Expired warranties

Up to 1 Year

  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • Paid, undisputed medical bills

After 7 Years

  • Tax-related receipts
  • Tax-related cancelled checks W-2s
  • Records for tax deductions taken

It Depends…

  • Auto titles: Keep as long as you own the vehicle
  • Home deeds: Keep as long as you own the property
  • Disputed medical bills: Keep until the issue is resolved
  • Home improvement receipts: Keep until you sell your home and pay any capital gains taxes

Keep Forever

  • Birth certificates
  • Social Security Cards
  • Marriage or Divorce Decrees
  • Citizenship Papers
  • Adoption Paper
  • Death Certificates
  • Tax Returns

For more info on protecting sensitive, private information, go to FTC.gov.

8 Things Figure Skating Taught Me About Financial Success

Gracie Gold's Performance

2016 US Figure Skating National Champion, Gracie Gold  warming up at the Excel Center, St. Paul, MN.

Recently, my family and I had the opportunity to attend the US National Figure Skating Championships at the Excel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. While my kids stalked skating celebs hoping for an autograph or selfie, my wife and I enjoyed watching the best skaters in the country vie for the title of US National Champion.

To be the best in any sport requires a mind-boggling amount of talent, discipline and focus. Figure skating is no exception.

Becoming a champion figure skater may not be on your bucket list, but I am guessing that goals like comfortable retirement or sending your kids to college are.

Below I list eight things that I learned about achieving financial success from watching some of the country’s most successful figure skaters.

Planning and goal setting are everything. Competing at the highest levels takes years of setting high goals and developing a plan to reach them. Even my little 10-year old star on ice meets with her coach to set goals for the year and develop a detailed plan to meet them.

Your financial goals require the same skillset.

Retiring at age 62 with 95% of your current income or paying for half your kids college expenses requires a lot of planning over a long period of time. Meeting on a regular basis to review progress towards your goals and making adjustments to your strategy is key to staying on track and reaching your goals.

The great ones make mistakes, but they move on. If you have ever watched figure skating you’ve no doubt seen your favorite skater jump for the stars only to come crashing down to Earth half a second later.

With the exception of 17-year old Polina Edmunds, every one of the top female skaters made mistakes in their short program including Gracie Gold who singled a triple jump.

At the end of her short program, Gold knew she made a serious mistake, but she never lost sight of the big picture. Undeterred, Gracie Gold went on to become the US National Champion two days later.

You will make mistakes as well.

An IRA required distribution is missed. Stock options weren’t sold when they were in the money. You jumped out of the market when you should have stayed in.

Like a double axel that isn’t fully rotated, financial mistakes happen. You need to leave the past behind you and keep moving toward your goals.

The best never give up. 26-year old Adam Rippon won the senior men’s national title. However, like many high performers he sometimes suffers from periods of self-doubt and occasional setbacks. In a Twitter post after the event, Rippon credits a strong team for pushing him to do his best and encouraging him to not give up.

You will suffer setbacks and self-doubt as well. The athletic scholarship that was a done deal may come undone. Or the market may take your IRA for a wild ride just as you are about to retire.

Even if the full-ride scholarship doesn’t come through or you retire a few years later than you wished, the goal of a college education with minimal debt or a financially secure retirement can still be reached.

Stay focused and never give up.

Great skaters overcome challenges. Mirai Nagasu came to St. Paul in 2008 and at the age of 15 became the youngest woman since Tara Lipinksi to win the national championship. This year her skating boot ripped on impact during one of her jumps in her short skate. During the free skate she was forced to skate with a boot that was literally patched together with duct tape.

In January your health insurance premiums jumped higher than Nathan Chen in a quadruple lutz. Last year you were prepared to max out your retirement plan, but not for being laid off for the year. Instead of paying down your mortgage, you were faced with unexpected home repairs.

What challenges you will face, anyone could guess. But you will face them.

To reach your financial goals, overcoming life challenges is part of the deal.

Winning takes a variety of skills. Adam Rippon, the men’s champion, summed up the sport of figure skating pretty well when he said, “It’s not a jump competition. It’s not a choreography competition. And it’s not a spin competition. It’s a little bit of everything”.

Your retirement plan requires a little bit of everything as well: investing, tax planning, social security, managing college expenses, budgeting, insurance, etc.

Financial planning. It’s not an investment competition. It’s not a tax competition. It’s not a budgeting competition. It’s a little bit of everything.

Dorothy Hamill and Sarah Branch

Dorothy Hamill and Sarah Branch. Photo Credit: Danielle Dee

Great skaters give back. My daughters and their friends fearlessly pursued skating greats like Michelle Kwan, Dorothy Hamill, and Scott Hamilton asking them for an autograph and maybe even a picture. All of them were generous and gracious with their time and willingness to share.

Charlie White, the 2014 Olympic Gold Medalist in Ice Dance, noticed my daughter looking his way, autograph book in hand, and with a wink and a nod he indicated for her to come over. He even switched chairs with his co-announcer at the Ice Desk momentarily so that she could snap a quick photo of the two of them together.

I think if she was a couple years older she would have completely melted.

I quickly scanned the crowd for his Olympic partner, Meryl Davis, but sadly a wink and a nod was not in the cards for me.

You are generous with your resources as well. This doesn’t have to change in retirement.

Include a charity as beneficiary on a portion of your IRA. Gift some shares of highly appreciated stock to your church. Volunteer a few hours of your time.

Realizing your retirement goals provides you with opportunities to share and give back in ways that you couldn’t when you were working.

You may not start your own foundation like Scott Hamilton Cares or Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation, but even small acts of kindness can make a big difference in the lives of others.

Figure skaters make sacrifices and hard choices. All athletes do. So do most people who reach their financial goals.

Fund an IRA in March or pay for a tropical vacation?

Borrow heavily to attend an exclusive Ivy League college or graduate debt free from a state college?

Eat out at a fancy restaurant once a month or make an extra mortgage payment once a year?

The sacrifices and choices you make will define the goals you reach.

Success is never guaranteed. After her performance in the women’s short program, Gracie Gold said “just because you go big and work hard” doesn’t mean you will win.

Markets can decline at the worst possible time. An illness can derail your savings plan. Kids sometimes drop out of college.

You can do all the right things and still your goals can be elusive.

Bottom line – there are no guarantees – in skating or in life.

Your goals may not be as ambitious as a gold medal in a national championship, but they are no less important. You, your family and the community around you are counting on your success.

Follow the example of these successful athletes and you will reach your financial goals like a champ.

Why Living in the Moment is Critical to Your Retirement Plan

photo-1441716844725-09cedc13a4e7On a recent Saturday morning I ran along a wooded trail near where I live that leads to a set of soccer fields. As I rounded the corner and came out of the woods I saw kids playing soccer in their little green and white jerseys. Parents and grandparents were lined up on the sidelines cheering them on, their morning lattes in hand.

I felt like had stepped into a time warp that took me back to the days when my girls used to play soccer on those same fields.

Those were good times and great memories.

As a financial planner I am always thinking ahead, living in the future. I plan retirements for other people as I daydream about my own. I often think things like “When the kids are older…” “After the kids are in college…” Or my personal favorite, “Someday when I retire, I would like to…” You can fill in the blanks.

I am sure you have had similar thoughts. Or yours may go like this: “When the market gets better…” “After I pay off these bills…” “As soon as my pension kicks in…”

While planning for the future is important, don’t let it get in the way of getting the most out of your life today. Unless you live a full and fulfilled life before you retire, it’s unlikely that you will do so after you retire. That’s why living in the moment is critical to your retirement plan.

Live a life of no regrets. In her book, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware writes about the most common regrets people have at the end of life. I won’t give away all 5 here, but #2 on the list: “I wish I didn’t work so hard”.

I try to be extra mindful of this one. Before I got married and started a family, I worked all the time. Nights, weekends, holidays, it didn’t matter. For that time of my life, it made sense to put in the hours. Today, things are different. (Thankfully!)

As focused as I am on my long-term goals, I try to remember to live in the moment and make the most of today. What is the point of a confident retirement, if it means sacrificing two or three decades of your life up to then?

That’s why you won’t see me in the office when my kids are out of school. It’s also why I limit my late appointments to just a couple per week, and I am very selective about the new clients I take on.

If you are not doing so already, start a new hobby or develop an existing one. Join a small group at your church. Find a way to serve your community that gives you a sense of purpose. Heck, just go for a bike ride with your kids or take your dog for a walk on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Use it or lose it. According to an article on CNBC.com the average American worker uses only 77% of their paid time off. In fact, unused vacation time is at a 40-year high. While some people may be able to roll unused vacation time over to the next year, the average worker loses 1.6 vacation days per year.

That doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up. Think of it this way. If you spend just 3 extra minutes per day at the copy machine, that adds up to over 1.6 workdays per year spent staring at the walls making copies. Since paid vacation is part of your total compensation, losing paid vacation days is the equivalent of working for free.

If you want to spend 1.6 vacation days making copies, go ahead. Me? I’d rather be at the lake.

Live in the moment. Living in the future is a habit I have developed that isn’t always healthy. I need to remind myself to live in the moment and make the most of today.

To get the most out of your life in retirement, you need to do the same. When I create retirement plans for clients I recommend they save up to 20% of their income for their future goals. The other 80% is spent on day-to-day life.

I think that balance makes sense in other ways as well.

Set aside a percentage of your income to meet your long-term goals and spend the other 80% of your time, money and other resources living for today.

At the end of life it’s not the things you did, but the things you wish you had done that you are most likely to regret. Don’t spend life in retirement wishing you had done more living before retirement.