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Getting the Facts Straight about Qualified Plan Loans

October 18th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

Are you considering making a large purchase but don’t have the money to do so? Are you in need of emergency cash? Typically, they are many options for people in that situation such as a home loan, a home equity line of credit, personal loans, etc. But what if you do not want to deal with a bank or have a poor credit score? Fortunately, there are a few options, with the most notable being the Qualified Plan Loan. That’s right, you could be able to take a loan from your employer’s retirement plan. In fact, over 75% of Qualified Retirement Plans allow participants to take loans from their accounts.
So now to the big question…is it worth taking a loan from your retirement plan? In short, no. However, it is still important to weigh the options of taking such a loan. Below are the major pros and cons of taking loans from your employer’s retirement plan.

1. Qualified Plan loans offer a low interest rate, which is usually the prime rate plus 1%

2. You are not borrowing from a bank; you are just borrowing from yourself. In other words, the interest that you pay will actually go into your retirement account balance. (However, please note that all loan payments going back into the plan are in after-tax dollars).

3. The loan process is typically very easy and you can get the needed cash in a timely manner. On top of that, payments are simply deducted from your paycheck.

4. Loan minimums can be as low as $500-1,000 and people can borrow up to 50% or $50,000 of their vested balance, whichever is less.

1. Payment options are not as flexible as other loans since the only two options are the minimum payments deducted from your paycheck or to pay the balance in full.

2. You have 90 days to start making payments back into the plan or else the loan will be considered taxable and will trigger a 10% tax penalty (for borrowers under 59 ½). Remember, if you are laid off, you may only have 90 days to pay the remaining balance in full or the loan will become a taxable event and will also trigger the 10% tax penalty (for borrowers under 59 ½)

3. People who borrow from their employer retirement plan may face loan fees, i.e. loan origination fees, loan maintenance fees, etc. And if the loan is particularly small (say $1,000 for an example) you could theoretically be paying 15% just in fees, which will not go back into your plan.

4. Finally, there are major opportunity costs associated with a Qualified Plan Loan. For example, if the borrowed funds in your account can potentially earn an average of 8% a year while your borrowed funds can only earn a theoretical 4.5% with the interest from the loan, you could theoretically be losing money (depending on market conditions).
In the end, a Qualified Plan Loan may not a great idea for those who have other means of getting an affordable loan and in most cases should only be used as a last resort.
So, how can someone get money for large purchases without going to a bank or borrowing from their retirement plan? For starters, people can make it a monthly habit to contribute to an emergency fund and/or a special purchase(s) fund so that they will not have to borrow money in the first place (please read our previous blogs on emergency funds and on general savings tips).
Overall, borrowing can be quite a hassle and could be costly in the long run no matter how you look at it. However, if you develop a plan for making a large purchase or plan ahead of an emergency, funding these events in our lives can be a much smoother and inexpensive process. If you currently do not have a plan, contact Castle Rock Investment Company to help you reach life’s major financial milestones, we will always work in your best interest!
©2016 Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights and comments with us at

Major Move by Merrill Lynch to Comply with Fiduciary Rule

October 11th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

In order to comply with the upcoming Fiduciary Rule, Merrill Lynch decided to discontinue offering commission based IRA accounts to investors starting April 10th of 2017. Specifically, they want to remove a major conflict of interest between them and their clients by only offering fee-based advisory, robo-advisory, and self-directed services for IRA accounts. Merrill Lynch’s decision is expected to have a major ripple effect for not only their clients, but for their advisers and their respective competitors.

So, how does Merrill Lynch’s decision affect their advisers and their competitors?

  1. As of April 10th of 2017, the firm’s 14,000 plus advisers will no longer be able to open new commission based IRA accounts, which is a notable source of their compensation. On top of that, advisors will now have to further prove their value to their clients when their primary form of compensation will be under a fee based model.
  2. Since Merrill Lynch is one the first major wirehouse firms to make this move, it is expected that other wirehouse firms will also follow suit in order to remain competitive in the upcoming Fiduciary focused marketplace.
  3. Merrill Lynch as well as other wirehouse firms will more than likely face other regulatory issues such as having fee-based variable compensation, which will be prohibited under the Fiduciary Rule.
  4. This might lead to certain broker dealers to no longer service IRA accounts due to additional costs of complying.

Although we believe this is an excellent move by Merrill Lynch, we believe that wirehouse firms such as Merrill will still face regulatory issues as they may have to forgo recommending certain investments to clients as well as having to develop a truly uniform method of compensation from their IRA accounts.

©2016 Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights and comments with us at

Water Cooler Wisdom: Third Quarter 2016

October 5th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

The Presidential Election and What to Know

Despite the pleasant performance in the stock market for 2016, investors are becoming more doubtful about the global economy as a whole in regards to how “pleasant” future growth will be. On top of that, The U.S is having one of the most interesting presidential elections in history. With both of the leading candidates making big promises to the public, how will these proposed actions affect the economy as a whole? But perhaps the biggest question and misconception that U.S investors have is “How does the President affect the economy?”

For our response, we want to point out 3 big myths about how the President affects the economy

            1. Capital Markets perform better when Republicans are in the White House:  

Although many consider the Republican party as the “pro-business” party, if you look at the returns of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1897, the markets do not give a hoot about who is president.

2. Major pieces of legislation get passed once the new President assumes office:

With the exceptions of the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank, The United States rarely makes major policy changes in one major swoop, rather in small increments.

3. The President has as much of an impact on the economy as consumers and businesses:

     Although the media places major scrutiny on the President over the U.S Economy, government spending only accounts for 17.7% of total GDP, while the remaining 82.4% comes from consumer spending, private investments, and foreign trade.

So… will this presidential election completely change the way we invest? More than likely no. However, it is important to note the U.S GDP is expected grow between 1.5 to 2% over the next decade. This is primarily due the recent and projected dismal growth in the U.S labor force along with over $30 trillion in private wealth being transferred to younger generations. In other words, it is more crucial to observe how Millennials begin to take charge of the U.S Economy rather than who becomes president.

Attached are slides that provide more detail regarding presidential elections and major leading economic indicators.

©2016 Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights and comments with us at


Who is Trying to Stop the Fiduciary Rule?

September 29th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

On September 21rst, US District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree over saw a preliminary injunction hearing involving Market Synergy Group (“Market Synergy”) and the Department of Labor (“The DOL”). Market Synergy is an independent marketing organization (“IMO”) that represents 20,000 independent insurance agents and claims that the new DOL fiduciary rule will create irreparable harm to these agents. Specifically, they believe that independent agents selling Fixed Indexed Annuities (“FIAs”) should not be required to comply with the new rule.

One of Market Synergy’s primary claims is that IMOs are not considered “Financial Institutions”, a requirement to be subject to the rule, and therefore are not required to comply. They also claim that the DOL lacks the authority to regulate FIAs.

In our opinion, even if Market Synergy and other IMOs are not considered “financial institutions”, they are still selling FIAs that are primarily purchased via individual retirement accounts and, therefore, should be subject to the new rule. On top of that, FIAs typically pay notable commissions to agents, regardless if they are independent or not. In other words, these agents still need to prove that selling a FIA is in the retirement investors’ best interest.

Secondly, although states technically regulate insurance products, Judge Crabtree pressed Market Synergy, asking, “Couldn’t the federal government step in to regulate fixed indexed annuities if the states were doing a bad job regulating fixed indexed annuities?” Market Synergy agreed that if the DOL found that the states’ regulations were “woefully inadequate”, federal agencies, such as the DOL, could further regulate such products. Market Synergy essentially shot itself in the foot by agreeing to that statement.

Although Judge Crabtree is skeptical about Market Synergy’s claims, he is also skeptical whether or not the DOL has a strong claim that IMOs and their independent agents are subject to the new fiduciary regulation. In other words, there is still a possibility that an injunction will be placed on the DOL which will allow these agents to sell high commission products to retirement investors.

What are your thoughts on the case?

© 2016 Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights with us at or via phone at 303-719-7523

State Farm and Edward Jones React to the Fiduciary Rule

September 28th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

With April 10th, 2017 quickly approaching, a large number of investment firms and insurance agencies are scrambling to comply with the DOL fiduciary regulation. However, some firms believe they have found a solution to the upcoming rule. Knowing that their representatives cannot put their clients’ interest first, State Farm and Edward Jones have announced plans to prevent their employees from selling mutual funds when the new fiduciary rule takes effect next April.

So how will they be able to do this without significantly reducing their revenue? State Farm plans to only sell and service their mutual funds, variable products, and tax-qualified bank deposit products by a self-directed call center, as opposed to having their agents sell the products directly. In other words, State Farm still wants their customers to purchase these products while being able to avoid liability if the product turns out not being in a customer’s best interest.

Edward Jones’s solution involves curtailing retirement savers’ access to mutual funds in commission based accounts and lowering their investment minimums. Basically, Edward Jones is planning to shift completely into the fee only side of compensation for retirement accounts and allow more investors to move their money to them.

Although it will be interesting to see how State Farm’s self-directed call center will play out, at least they have a strategy to deal with the upcoming rule. As for Edward Jones, going completely towards the fee-only side for retirement accounts is a good move as they are eliminating a major conflict of interest for recommending certain products.

Although there are a number of firms still trying to strategize to comply with the DOL rule, we are still waiting to hear plans of other advisers that sell investments that may not be in their clients’ best interest. However, we will attempt to keep you posted as more firms finalize their strategies.

© 2016 Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights with us at or via phone at 303-719-7523

The DOL Rule and Why Brokers and Insurance Agents Should be Concerned

September 7th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

Are you currently a Registered Representative or an Insurance agent? If so, you will want to keep reading!

As you may know, the Department of Labor will have new regulations in effect on April 10, 2017, which will change how Brokers and Insurance agents conduct business with retirement investors.

For starters, when dealing with retirement investors, the broker or insurance agent cannot receive variable compensation. This means that someone receiving commissions, asset based fees, 12b-1 fees, etc. must create a uniform method of compensation.

Additionally, any investment recommendations must be in the retirement investor’s best interest, meaning that the agent or broker must have a thorough understanding of the client’s overall financial picture and cannot just rely on FINRA’s suitability standards.

Finally, if you still want to receive variable forms of compensation, you must be able to comply with something called the Best Interest Contract Exemption, aka the “BICE.” And, in order to truly comply, you have to be certain that recommending a product that will pay you variable compensation is in the retirement investor’s best interest.

The major caveat with complying with the BICE is that even though the client is fully aware of how you are compensated, if he or she believes the product is not their best interest, he or she can file a lawsuit against you. In other words, you can still sell commission based products, but don’t expect the BICE to bail you out if you are sued!

So, who is considered to be a retirement investor? To make this simple, do you sell or make investment recommendations for the following accounts?

  • ERISA governed Retirement Plans (with less than $50 million)
  • Non-ERISA Retirement Plans (e.g., Keogh, Solo Plans)
  • IRAs
  • Health Savings Accounts, Archer MSAs, and Coverdell ESAs

If you fall into one of these categories, you will want to seek advice on where to go from here! If you reside in the Greater Denver Area, Castle Rock Investment Company and The Law Offices of Ed Frado, LLC are hosting an event to educate Brokers and Insurance Agents on the details of the new DOL regulation on September 20th at Maggiano’s in the Denver Tech Center. If you would like to register, click here

We hope to see you at the event!

© Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights with us at or via phone at 303-719-7523

Complimentary Seminar – Solutions For You to Comply with the DOL Fiduciary Rules

August 26th, 2016

Do you advise on 401(k) plans?

Please join Castle Rock Investment Company and the Law Office of Ed Frado, LLC on September 20, 2016 for a lunch seminar at Maggiano’s Little Italy (DTC).

We will educate you about the new DOL rules, their impact on you, and solutions that are available to you to comply. You will also meet advisers that focus exclusively on serving retirement plans and how they plan to grow in this new fiduciary world through acquisition and strategic partnerships.

Please click here to register. We look forward to seeing you in September!

Fund Families sued by their own employees over their retirement plans??

August 24th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

Over the past two years, a number of investment firms have been sued by their employees over their 401(k) plans. That’s right! Investment firms have been sued over their own in-house retirement plans! Why? In most cases, these firms would only provide proprietary funds to their employees at a full or slightly reduced cost. In fact, here are just a few of the recent cases from the past two years:

1. Transamerica
2. Fidelity Investments
3. Ameriprise
4. New York Life
5. Great West (Empower)
6. MFS Investment Management
7. Waddell and Reed
8. Allianz Global Investors
9. MassMutual
10. Neuberger Berman
11. Putnam Investments
12. BB&T
13. Edward Jones
14. Morgan Stanley
15. American Century

Why do these investment firms offer their own funds to their employees without significantly lower fees? First, they do not want to convey to their employees that there are potentially superior investment opportunities outside of the company. For instance, Fidelity might not want to offer an outside fund that could be cheaper and possibly better performing than a comparable Fidelity fund. Additionally, since these plans tend to be very significant in size, reducing investment fees for their own employees could be problematic, since it could potentially increase fees for their retail investors to absorb the cost.

Is there a solution to this dilemma? Yes, there actually is! For the investment firms that are currently offering their proprietary funds to their employees without reduced expenses, these firms should consider offering outside funds to their employees. This could potentially result in lower expenses for the employees. Furthermore, this could remove the target off their backs from ERISA once the DOL regulation becomes effective in April of 2017. Of course, this is a lot easier said than done because it requires investment firms to expose their weak spots in their investment line ups, which could also potentially leak out to their retail investors. Also, a retirement plan was never meant to make the employer money, it is supposed to be a generous benefit for its employees.

With the new DOL regulation coming in April 2017, 2016 has proven that broker dealers and investment advisors are not the only target, but the fund families have also been dealing with quite the roller coaster themselves. And, as retirement investors, we should be glad that the investment business is starting to clean up its act for good and will in return make the industry more beneficial for everyone.

© Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights with us at or via phone at 303-719-7523

Active Versus Passive Investment Strategy…Which is Best?

August 10th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

Investors have been debating if it is better to have an active investment strategy or a passive one. On one side, investors claim that being active will allow them to capture the best investment opportunities and optimally manage risk. On the other side, investors claim that going passive will help them secure long-term returns while being able to diversify unnecessary risk. Is one side more accurate than the other? We can’t really say. However, we can say that there is one thing that plays a very significant role in this argument…fees!

How do fees affect investment returns? First, let’s review the three common places fees show up in our investments, particularly mutual funds: Sales-loads, management fees, and 12b-1 fees.

How do these fees affect overall investment performance? Recently, Standard and Poor’s conducted research on how fees affect active managers’ performance against their benchmarks and came out with some noteworthy results. For U.S equity funds,       70% – 92% of active funds in their respective categories underperformed their benchmarks[1] over five years, net of fees. In other words, the vast majority of actively managed U.S equity funds underperformed U.S equity index funds over the course of five years[2] after fees. However, only 30-65% of actively managed fixed-income funds in their categories (excluding long term government, high-yield, and emerging markets) have underperformed their benchmarks after fees. International equity funds have also experienced a smaller percentage of their funds underperforming after fees, ranging from 47%-79% in their categories.

So, what does this mean for those who invest in mutual funds? Although there could be a case made that going active in fixed-income has benefited investors, being passive (investing in market index funds) has been more rewarding to investors over the course of five years. Will this trend continue? We don’t know. However, we do know this: index funds have posted better long-term performance than active funds due to having fewer fees and by mimicking the market, rather than trying to beat it.

© Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights with us at or via phone at 303-719-7523

[1] Note that the benchmarks in this study are indexes made by Standard and Poor’s, this writing only mentions returns after fees with retail mutual funds, not institutional mutual funds. Here is the study that we are referencing:

[2] Index funds are not the benchmarks themselves, rather they attempt to mimic them.