A woman in her mid-50s recently shared a story that, unfortunately, repeats itself far too often. She and her husband had built retirement savings over the years, but not to a level that would be sufficient to meet their needs. As a result, her husband began searching for ways to accelerate the growth rate of the savings they did have.
He attended investment networking meetings, where he met an investor who told him that with as little as $50,000, he could double that money each year for the next five years. Apparently, the investor had developed a way to trade “futures and options” that was “the best thing since sliced bread.”
The husband entrusted more than $100,000 of their hard-earned retirement savings to this investor. For a brief period, everything seemed to go well, with the investment growing by 25 percent in just four weeks. Then things began to unravel, until virtually their entire investment was wiped out. What can the couple do at this point? It’s unfortunate, but their primary recourse is legal, which will be costly, and won’t guarantee a recovery of lost funds.
Diligence over haste
It’s easy to understand why someone approaching retirement with less in savings than they need might fall prey to investment scams. But trying to accelerate one’s rate of return well above sustainable levels is a recipe for disaster.
Scripture warns us about the risks associated with trying to get rich quick. In Proverbs 13:11, we read, “Wealth won quickly dwindles away, but gathered little by little, it grows.”
Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent end in profit, but those of the hasty end in loss.” In other words, if it sounds too good to be true ... you know the rest.
Seeking good counsel
What are steps you can take to avoid making the same mistake this couple made?
First, even if you realize your savings won’t be sufficient for your retirement needs, recognize that trying to make up the difference by artificially boosting your rate of return is fraught with danger.
Look for other solutions, such as setting aside more in savings, and looking for ways to lower the cost of retirement. This may include depending on family more than had been originally considered.
Second, seek solid counsel. Start by seeking God’s counsel through prayer and the reading of Scripture and Church teaching. Counsel should also be sought from one’s spouse. In this case, the wife’s unease regarding the advice given from the investment adviser should have been enough to give her husband pause.
Third, choose your professional advisers carefully. In addition to appropriate professional licenses, certifications and investment philosophy, it’s important that trust be established. Trust is developed in many ways, including personal knowledge, referrals from friends and family, reputation, longevity in the profession, and size and stability of the advising organization.
Know your investments
Finally, it’s important that you know and understand your investments. In this case, the couple’s funds were invested in more “exotic” investments that weren’t clearly understood, and that should have been a major red flag that their adviser relationship was also a problem. Good advisers want you to understand how your money is being invested.
Growing sufficient wealth for your retirement years is a function of saving consistently and investing prudently over a long period of time. There aren’t any shortcuts.
Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.