Protecting Your Clients' Financial Futures: The Impact of Legislative Risk with Becky Swansburg

Becky Swansburg
CEO of Stonewood Financial, Author
March 8, 2023

Are you aware of the largest yet least understood risks facing American savers today? Legislative risk, closely related to tax risk, is a threat that cannot be ignored.

Attention Financial Advisors,

Are you aware of the largest yet least understood risks facing American savers today? Legislative risk, closely related to tax risk, is a threat that cannot be ignored. While tax risk refers to the level of taxation we experience in retirement compared to today, legislative risk is the risk Congress holds when altering rules and regulations that affect our retirement plans.

It's time to take action by gaining a deeper understanding of these risks. In this episode, Lara Galloway is joined by Becky Swansburg, an accomplished author, retirement savings expert, and CEO of Stonewood Financial, to discuss how legislative, tax and longevity risks can affect your portfolio and retirement planning.  

Don't let these risks catch you off guard. Arm yourself with knowledge and prepare for the future of your clients' retirement plans. Tune in to this episode now.

In this episode, you’ll learn:  

  • The knowledge needed to mitigate the effects of legislative risk
  • How to safeguard your clients’ retirement plans from potential disruption due to tax changes
  • Best practices for ensuring your clients’ assets are protected
  • How to assist your clients in diversifying their market risk
  • And much more!

Connect with Becky Swansburg:

About our Guest:  

Becky Swansburg is an accomplished author, retirement savings expert, nationally-recognized speaker and CEO of Stonewood Financial. Prior to joining Stonewood, Becky headed communications for economic development organizations, U.S. congressmen and government agencies. Currently, she trains independent financial advisors across the country on incorporating tax-efficient income planning and new holistic strategies into their practices.

Podcast Transcript

Voiceover: Welcome to the FAST Podcast, Financial Advisor Strategy Talks with Lara Galloway, SVP of Financial Education at White Glove. Lara provides advisors with an opportunity to hear from some of the best minds in the business, follow along to learn quick tips to help you grow your business. From gaining new leads, to keeping current clients engaged and everything in between.

Now onto the show.  

Aric Johnson: Hello, and welcome to the FAST Podcast with your host Lara Galloway from White Glove. Lara, what's going on?

Lara Galloway: Hey Aric, we got another great guest for you today.

Aric Johnson: I know you do. We've already had a lot of laughs before we even hit the record button. I'm so excited. Who'd you bring onto the show?

Lara Galloway: Well, I have the one, the only Becky Swansburg. I am so excited to bring her on because she's an accomplished author, a retirement savings expert, and the CEO of Stonewood Financial. But even more than this, this is what's really cool about Becky. Prior to joining Stonewood, she headed communications for economic development organizations, US [00:01:00] congressmen and government agencies, and she's even worked as the press secretary in the White House.  

So currently she is training some independent financial advisors across the country on incorporating some tax efficient income planning strategies and some new holistic strategies into their practices.

So please join me in welcoming Becky Swansburg. Hey Becky.  

Becky Swansburg: Thanks so much for having me. I'll clarify, I was not the press secretary of the White House. That would've been a big promotion, but I did work in the White House Press office under George W. Bush's administration.  

Lara Galloway: You really should just let that stand.

Becky Swansburg: I'm sure I should just let it stand a solid.  

Lara Galloway: That's right. Awesome. Well, this is so fun! I love talking to you and you know, I fricking love Kentucky, and my Southern roots make it even better just getting to hear your voice every minute. So, I love it. But Becky, the reason I brought you on today is because you and I were having an amazing conversation about some different kinds of risks out there that I'm used to talking with our various guests and our advisors about things like tax [00:02:00] risk or things like longevity risk, but you were introducing me to something totally new that taps into your background and it's called legislative risk.

Can you tell us a little bit about what that is?  

Becky Swansburg: Yeah. Legislative risk, in my opinion, is one of the largest, least understood risks that face American Savers today, and it is very closely related to tax risk. So, when we think about tax risk, we think about the level of taxation that we will experience in retirement versus the level of taxation we experience today.

So, it's really the risk that our taxes are higher in retirement than we think. Legislative risk is closely related and often also has to do with taxation. But it's really the risk that Congress changes the rules, and those changes negatively impact our retirement approach.  

Lara Galloway: You mean like they just did, right?

Becky Swansburg: So, if you all remember in this secure act, they inherited IRAs, the taxation of inherited IRAs. [00:03:00] So while tax risk is really about the level of taxation, legislative risk is about what is taxed, when it's taxed, and what level it's taxed at.  

Lara Galloway: Okay, that's deep and you know, that’s going to affect everybody in their retirement. And all of the other risks that we talk about, tax risk or longevity risks, these all are very equally assigned to anybody. And so is legislative risk. This is something I think is so interesting when you explained it, but can you tell me like, who is at risk, what kind of people should be most worried about this risk?  

Becky Swansburg: Yeah, so if a saver has saved all of the majority of their retirement assets in tax deferred vehicles like 401ks and IRAs, and 403 Bs or TSPs like we have when I was in government, they are most exposed to legislative and tax risk.

Now, that's not a small group. That is most US savers across the country are exposed to these risks, and it's just because of these tax-deferred retirement vehicles. [00:04:00] We have made a bet that taxes will be lower in the future than they are today. So, if taxes end up being the same or higher, we're on the wrong side of that.

Lara Galloway: You know, that's tough because my whole life I've been hearing tax deferred, tax deferred. You got to put your stuff, if you're doing it right, you're putting some stuff in these tax deferred vehicles. So, this is a big problem, right?  

Becky Swansburg: I really feel like tax deferred savings was in a way created for an outdated generation.

If you think about the greatest generation, they were children of the Depression. When they retired, it was a short retirement, and it was really about watching your pennies and making sure you didn't run out of money. They didn't travel, they didn't go out to eat. When I look at today's baby boomers and all the generations that follow, myself included, none of us want to live a tight, small retirement.

We want retirement to be the reward that we've earned for years of hard work and good savings. But what that means is that our income needs [00:05:00] are not going to be dramatically lower in retirement than they are while we're working. And if we can't get our income needs dramatically lower. It's silly to think that our tax bracket and taxation level will be lower.

That doesn't even account for new stuff Congress will cook up. That's new taxes and new levels of taxation. So, okay, when is the most acute timing for this risk? Like when is it at what stage?  

Lara Galloway: You know, you just mentioned several different generations. We're all savers, we're all going to be retiring at some point.

So, what stage does this risk most?  

Becky Swansburg: You know, I think this risk is acute across your savings career, but it becomes particularly pronounced as you start to make that transition from saving assets to spending assets in retirement. Because suddenly as you're approaching retirement, you have this asset in front of you that's your nest egg, that's your savings.

And now you're thinking, how do I make it last throughout retirement? So, a lot of savers have very careful retirement income plans in place. [00:06:00] But what we forget is if your retirement income plan is assuming 20% taxes and suddenly Congress passes a new law and you're paying 26% in taxes, well, you have 6% less income then that you can spend on yourself because you're sending it to the IRS in Washington.

So, this tax risk and legislative risk really can undermine a very carefully constructed income plan.

Lara Galloway: You're talking about this and there are ways to mitigate it. Like first is awareness, right? Here we must be aware of this risk, and then there are tools and such that you guys work on at Stonewood and help advisors use, but I have to ask this question because basically we're suggesting this, we're talking about this because this is something financial advisors should be talking about with their clients.  

Becky Swansburg: Absolutely.  

Lara Galloway: What I think is kind of the elephant in the room is we're talking politics now, so how is that going to happen?

Is that what [00:07:00] you're asking Becky? Is for these financial advisors to kind off that political hornet's nest and start talking about stuff that's going to get them in trouble with maybe being on the different side or taking the wrong take with a political statement to their client?

Becky Swansburg: No, we are not asking advisors to offer the rebuttal to President Biden, but the first step for advisors out there is to know their clients.

Maybe that's an okay approach, but for most advisors, we don't know where the person sitting across the table for us or attending our seminar or workshop comes from politically. So, the key to task and legislative risk is really about diversification. As a financial professional, we're helping our clients diversify when it comes to market risk, right?

We're not saying, hey, invest a hundred percent in Google stock and don't worry about anything else. Just like many advisors are helping their clients diversify when it comes to income risk with annuities and other fixed income strategies. We have to help them diversify when it comes to tax and legislative risk.

So, the [00:08:00] message isn't stop what you're doing that's wrong, cash everything out and put it in something new. It's about making sure that a client is diversified. When it comes to the tax status of their assets and the asset class that they're using, so that potential changes in the future they're protected if taxes end up being higher or Congress passes new laws impacting 401ks and IRAs.

So, if an advisor says to me, how do I talk about legislative risk without being political? It's really not about whether Republicans or Democrats win the next election. Sometimes it can feel that way, like, oh, if we just get a good Republican president and they won't raise taxes.

But legislative risk is all about the unpredictability of Washington, that they have all these tax proposals that are kind of on the shelf and we're never sure which one they're going to pull down, stick into a bill, and so legislative risk really has to do with the two year election cycle of US politics, because the reality is every two [00:09:00] years we have new government in America because every two years we elect new federal leaders.

And what that means is that in essence, every two years, our clients' retirement savings approach is up for election, it's up for vote, and we don't know what's going to happen. That wouldn't be a problem if retirement were about one to two to four years in the future. But retirement is a long-term planning opportunity.

So, think about for an average saver, getting ready to retire at age 65. They're going through dozens and dozens of these election cycles. We have to make sure some of their assets are protected for whatever the future can bring. Because I can guarantee you this, we cannot predict the future of politics.

Lara Galloway: Yeah, that sounds like a safe guarantee.

That's a really important point that we're not trying to tell them to have a totally different strategy, but just having an eye towards legislative risk and I'm sure advisors are doing this somewhat intuitively, thinking about how whatever's happening in Washington is going to be impacting [00:10:00] whatever they've got in the portfolio for their clients.

But being able to even talk about that with your clients and show them that you're aware and you're paying attention, I think is super important. And I think it helps lots of advisors have great success at seminars and workshops with this tax message. Taxes right now are really converting in terms of generating leads and having a saver raise their hand and say, yes, I need to meet with you and learn more.

Becky Swansburg: The key though is then what do we do with that desire to address taxes in a retirement approach? And I think a lot of traditional retirement savings advice around taxes has come with a very micro view, and this micro view is really looking at, okay, this year in 2023, what are we going to do about your taxes in retirement to minimize them?

I really want to challenge advisors to help their clients take a macro approach to taxes in retirement, which is all about reducing lifetime taxes. It's really saying, what is your potential [00:11:00] retirement tax bill going to be based on the way you've saved today? And then with some adjustments in tax diversification, can we lower that retirement tax bill so that you have more money to keep and end up spending less, uh, on the IRS and all of its good priorities in Washington.

Lara Galloway: I love that and I really appreciate you mentioned that this is kind of something that is very relevant for our advisors at White Glove who are doing presentations, in workshops and seminars, webinars, whatever they're doing. But also, in those client meetings.  

Becky Swansburg: And I love that you guys are not just telling people you need to talk about this.

You're not just raising that awareness. You're not just coaching your advisor saying this is how we talk about legislator. But you guys have actually created a product and a roadmap that figured out exactly how to go from talking about taxes and retirement workshops from the attendees that are there in or estate planning workshop or a social security workshop, talking from that point.

And then you [00:12:00] have a way to pivot them into that client appointment that says, if you come to this appointment, here are some tools that we're going to use to help look at what your taxes would be like with the way you've got everything invested today versus here's what could happen if we made some changes.

Lara Galloway: Right. So, I'd love if you could just touch on what that looks like, because I think just having a visual image in our minds of what it is we're talking about when we're saying how we could provide a tool for advisors to help them have that conversation would be great.

Becky Swansburg: Yeah. When people ask me, why don't more savers take this macro approach to taxes in retirement?

I think it's because it’s hard to quantify the cost of tax deferral. It's very easy to know the savings of cost deferral. Every year I get a write off on my taxes, you know, I contribute to AIRA. But how do we help savers understand this tax bill that because of tax deferred savings is building up for the future?

And that's what we created some software to do for a given client [00:13:00] based on some assumptions that the advisor and the client make together. Where are all the potential places where they could pay taxes in retirement? And then what's that final bill going to be? If taxes stay the same. Or if Congress comes in and changes the rules and taxes are actually higher in the future than they are today.

And I'll be honest I think most experts, myself included, see that we are in a rising tax environment. Again, not because of Republicans or Democrats being in control in Washington, but more because honestly, we have a 3.1 TR or 30. Trillion dollar deficit. We would love it if it were only 3.1 trillion, but no, it is $31 trillion of federal debt that our nation is carrying.

But what I think a lot of people don't realize is that in many ways, the government's hands are tied with how they can bring down that debt. Because our government spending is large, not just on things that Congress is voting on every year, but it's on all these social safety net programs, Medicare, [00:14:00] Medicaid, social security.

These are good programs, but they are programs where the demographics in America are trying to put more pressure on these programs. And those programs are a large piece of what's driving this federal debt. So, how could our government reduce the debt? Well, by finding new tax revenue.

And one of the things I think is interesting, Lara, I know we were talking about this before, so many of the proposals that we've seen on generating new tax revenue over the last 24 months, a lot of them have been focused on retirement savings vehicles. And if your listeners followed the build back better bill Debate, the most bees ever put into one piece of legislation, back in 2021, the House Democrats introduced this build back better legislation that was kind all the priorities of the Biden administration, green energy tax credits and universal Pre-k [00:15:00] expanded healthcare access, transportation and infrastructure. You name it, it was a 3.5 trillion spending bill.

But of course, to offset that new spending, the bill also included 2.9 trillion of new taxes. And I was really shocked to see how many of those original tax proposals that were introduced were focused on IRAs, 401ks, and even Roth accounts. And the one that stuck out in my mind as the newest kind of iteration of where Congress may be going when it comes to taxes and retirement accounts was there was a provision in there that said, okay, every saver, they add up all of their retirement assets, 401ks, IRAs, pensions, Roths, you added and if the total value of your retirement assets exceeds a level that Congress gets to set, then that saver would have a new required minimum distribution applicable at any age each year equal to 50% of the excess [00:16:00] above that limit.

And so basically it was Congress coming in and saying, Hey, at some point we, the government have decided you've saved too much for retirement.

It's greedy for you to get any tax benefits and we want your taxes on it. And that was a big shift. This is not good news. And you know, it's funny that when the bill finally passed, the provisions as the Inflation reduction Act last year, most of those retirement focused provisions were not included.

But if there's one thing I know from Washington, every tax proposal just goes back up on the shelf for future use. So we really have to see the debate over the last 24 months it's like a game of poker and they tip their hand a little bit to us and now we know where they're going.

Lara Galloway: Yeah. I mean, everything you're saying, we've been taught tax deferred is such a great option. We've taught save, save, save, save, save. Do the best you can. You've got to save so much for retirement. But if you do too well, there's a punishment. There's a penalty. No punishment. And it's really a change.

Becky Swansburg: I was taught growing up that the most [00:17:00] responsible thing you could do is save for retirement. I got my paycheck. I could have spent it all, but I didn't. I put some of it aside for the future. This is really a change where Congress is now saying to us at some point, retirement savings is no longer responsible.

It's greedy, and we want to penalize it in the tax code. And it's easy to kind of think, Hey, we dodged a bullet. Those provisions were not in the final bill, but I think most of the advisors that we work with and you work with, we don't want to make our clients hope every time Congress meets that they can keep dodging these bullets.

We just want to help get some of their assets out of the line of fire. And that's what tax diversification does. How do we just take some assets, get them out of the line of fire so we don't have to worry about the crazy things Congress cooks up next.  

Lara Galloway: Well, I think it's going to be there. I can hear from some of our workshop hosts being able to use that line.

Like, let's make sure you didn't save too much for retirement, or how do you know if you save too much for retirement? Why am I asking that question? What could that possibly mean? Right? And then that being a really great [00:18:00] way to lead into that conversation about how we've got some tools to be able to take a look at your portfolio or your existing assets and see if we need to switch things around to help mitigate some of that risk.

Becky Swansburg: I'll share one of my favorite frameworks for talking about this in a workshop or a seminar setting is this, I love asking the audience, “how many of you own a small business or have a friend or family member that's a small business owner?” Because most people will raise their hand, right?

Everyone knows someone that's a small business owner. I said, “okay, imagine I'm a partner in your business and I own 25% at the end of this year, when you take profit out of the company, you know that you're going to owe me 25% of the profit. I own 25% of the company. So, I'd like to say to them, what would you do if next year I came to you and said this year I'd like 30% of the profit.

You'd probably tell me to go kick rocks. Right? You'd say, I'm sorry, you don't own 30% of the company. I'm not giving you 30% of the profit, but the IRS is a silent partner in our 401ks, in our IRA. [00:19:00] And that silent partner can change its ownership stake at any time. And I always think it's crazy that something I would never accept in my business and professional life, letting an outside partner change their ownership stake of my hard-earned career.

We allow in our retirement approaches all the time. That's a great metaphor to do whatever they want.

Lara Galloway: Great metaphor. Well, you've talked me into it. It sounds really smart to think about these things and I hope this is another thing too, a lot of our advisors are doing these workshops fairly regularly and they're talking about this stuff a lot, but I feel like you're giving some great new framework, a great new mindset to share from that I think could be really helpful to kind of freshen up the content again.  

Becky Swansburg: Yeah. Well, I just said one of the greatest things we can do in educating savers is helping them understand that the tax code is written in pencil. Right?

You know, retirement is one of those unique [00:20:00] areas when we look at these retirement savings accounts that are tax deferred. When you save money for retirement, you're saving it under a different set of rules, then you're going to access it once you're retired, right? Because Congress has that eraser, and they just keep changing the rules.

And again, it's not about telling clients you shouldn't have any tax deferred funds. You know, I've got IRA money, I’ve got TSP money. It's about making sure that just as all of your retirement isn't in Google stock, not all of your retirement assets be in these tax deferred vehicles.

Diversification. We always know that's key, but understanding why and how these tax codes can change and really impact us is such a great framework.

Lara Galloway: I would love for you to just share because again, I know talking with you that you do have some tools that you guys make available to advisors to kind of help that conversation when they are maybe hosting a workshop or having a meeting and wanting to move into that next step.

Could you give me just a little [00:21:00] preview of it?  

Becky Swansburg: Yeah. So, we kind of help advisors tell the tax risk and the legislative risk story through seminar content and workshop content. We have brochures that are great for use with client meetings, and then we have some, it's funny, I say client analysis software.

This is not detailed planning software to the penny of taxes. What our software is aimed to do is open conversations. We want to be sales story software, so the goal of our software is to have these aha moments with your clients where they said, wow, I had no idea that I might have a $450,000 retirement tax bill coming, but that if I took some steps to diversify, I could limit that to a hundred thousand dollars.

It's really about helping them figure out what of their taxes are mandatory that they're going to have to pay just based on the way they've saved in the past. And then what are those optional taxes that we're projecting they're going to pay in the future that we can help them limit?  

Lara Galloway: I love it. That sounds like a [00:22:00] simple tool and a smart application, and I think that would be helpful.

So, before I let you go, I would love for you to tell me two things. Number one, I would love to hear a little bit about your definition of success. This is something I always ask our guests about and you're welcome to answer that in terms of running a successful practice or running a successful workshop or whatever you want to do, or just something about life, I'd love to hear.

Becky Swansburg: That's a great question. My definition of success is interesting. I always think success is never an internal metric. It can only be measured by the way people externally are reacting to you. So, I could right now say to you, I'm the most successful podcast guest you have ever had. But it will not be true unless everyone listening gets excited, has new ideas, and can grow their practice with those ideas.

So, I think so much of our success is the way that the people we're helping are then able to show us that they are living happier, more successful retirements, that they're referring people to [00:23:00] us because we've built a level of trust and a level of success with them. If you think of your life, you know the people that you want to bring other people into that circle with you.

This is crazy. I had to have some extensive dental work done and the dentist was so good that I said to her, should I leave you a Google review? What's the way that I can help other people have this same great experience of getting eight crowns in their mouth? That's what we want to do.

Yeah, that was a lot. These are fake temporary teeth. I don't know if your listeners can't hear it, but anyone watching the video can see it. But that's what I think success is about. It's about do we have clients where we have opened their eyes and given them an experience and helped them feel more confident that they want to bring other people into this circle?

Because this circle is a place where you find confidence and success going forward.  

Lara Galloway: Wow. That's great. I bet a lot of people hearing this are going to adopt that as maybe their success metric too. [00:24:00] That's really helpful.  

Becky Swansburg: I will say my very favorite thing here at Stonewood is when we hear from advisors that said, Hey, I hosted this workshop and I got all these clients in the office, and for the first time I just had this complete story where I was able to take them from being interested in taxes in retirement, to understanding how it impacts them to fixing the problem. And that now we have mitigated tax and legislative risk for that client. That client's going to be my client for life and quite honestly, nice Google Review and a referral.

Lara Galloway: Absolutely. Yeah, and let's be honest, if we fix taxes for them, we've also fixed taxes for their heirs. So, we have cleaved that second generation of our client to our practice as. Well, I love it and I think you've made a really great call for people to understand a call to action, why they should be talking about this.

You've got some great tools about how they can talk about it. And ways that they can really make a complicated idea very simple for their clients and show a very quick way for [00:25:00] them to make some changes that are going to save them a lot of risk. And I'd love for you to tell our people listening how they could find out more.

Becky Swansburg: Absolutely. So, you can find us anytime at stonewoodfinancial.com. We've got all sorts of resources there. We've got links where you can request a sample of some of our reports, see how they work with you, talk with a member of our team. I will add this in. 2023 is a key year if you're not already talking taxes in your practice to incorporate it.

And I say that not just because that's what my company does, but if you remember 2017, the Trump tax cuts went into effect. Those all expire in 2025, which means in 2026, all our clients' individual income tax brackets, they're reverting to their older higher rates. So, as we're trying to help clients with tax diversification, they can do so today at a discount, but there is a very quickly shrinking window to get this conversation started.

So, it’s not [00:26:00] just about working with Stonewood and working with White Glove, but really this is the key time in the next couple years to be growing your practice with tax diversification.  

Lara Galloway: Wow. And everyone likes a little more successful, thriving practice. Who could say no to that?

You can't. I don't know how they could. You've been a fountain of information today. I really appreciate everything you've shared. Guys, we will make the links available that Becky talked about on our website with the show notes, so you can look for that there. Becky, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the FAST Podcast today.

Becky Swansburg: Oh, it's been so much fun. Thanks for having me.

Aric Johnson: Becky, this has been fantastic. As a small business owner, that analogy that you gave about your business partner coming to you and you know, 25%, they want to increase it to 30%. First thing that ran through my head is if I have a business partner that does absolutely nothing to grow, my business isn't getting 25% and then they come and ask for 30%, it's going to get ugly.

So, that really hit home with me, so I appreciate that. Again, I'm just echoing what Lara said. Thank you so much for being on the show. [00:27:00] Lara, again, you're the host of the most with bringing on amazing guests. If people want to get plugged in with what you do and your network, how do they get ahold of you?

Lara Galloway: Well, they can always find me at whiteglove.com or email at info@whiteglove.com.

Aric Johnson: Perfect. And our last thank you, of course, will always go to your listening audience. Thank you so much for tuning in and listening to the FAST Podcast with Lara Galloway. If you have not subscribed to the podcast yet, please click the subscribe now button below this way when Lara comes out with a new podcast, it'll show up directly on your listening device, and we humbly ask you to share this podcast, read it, and leave a review as this actually does help others find the show.  

Again, thank you so much for listening today. For everyone at White Glove, this is Aric Johnson reminding you to live your best day, every day and we’ll see you next time.

Voiceover: Thank you for listening to the FAST Podcast, Financial Advisor Strategy Talks with Lara Galloway, your go-to source designed to help you grow your business. Have questions about the topics covered during the show? Visit our website at www.whiteglove.com or email us [00:28:00] at info@whiteglove.com.

Don't forget to click the follow button to be notified when new episodes become available. The information covered and posted represents the views and opinions of the guests and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of White Glove. The content has been made available for informational and educational purposes only.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional investing advice. Always seek the advice of your financial advisor or other qualified financial services provider with any questions you may have regarding your investment planning.

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