If there's one thing I've learned this election season - besides, keep the TV turned off as much as possible until mid-November, unless you're watching "Sons of Guns" - it's that I totally want to meet Mitt Romney's team of retirement advisors.
While this week's focus (and tonight's big spotlight) goes to the other team and their aspirations for reascension to power - I noted to no one in particular Wednesday night how Bill Clinton now looks eerily like Dick Van Dyke - a Washington Post article from the weekend got me to thinking about the extremely talented team that Romney worked with as he worked his way out working with Bain Capital.
From what the article explains, in great detail, Romney's people helped set up what could only be described as the bomb-diggity of IRAs, carefully executed, extremely competent and totally legal, to every copper-colored cent.
It's a model to anyone who works with IRAs or hopes to inspire their clients with the opportunity for life-long retirement income though ... if you can pull off the magic that Romney's guys did, I need your number on my speed-dial. Right now.
Simply put, in his move out of Bain - the private equity firm we've all heard about, but can be best described as a major financial force that helped establish national brands including Sports Authority and Staples - Romney's retirement investments were placed in an IRA that is currently estimated to be worth nearly $90 million.
It was no ordinary IRA, the Post discovered: extrapolating from that single year of tax records and then talking to the folks with Bain, plus plenty of financial experts, they figured out that this was the Manhattan Project of IRAs. See if any of this sounds like the kind of arrangments you can make for your clients, and if so, give yourself a medal:
- A severance package that positioned Romney as though he was still a managing partner for a decade, allowing a lower tax rate than regular retirement income - known as the "carried interest" arrangement. There's also a 2 percent management fee on some purchases made after he left in 1999.
- A well-executed Simplified Employee Pension IRA, providing $30,000 a year in employer contributions, which lots and lots of Bain employees used to buy stock in the many of the companies they'd helped over the years.
- The opportunity to purchase what were at first low-valued and inexpensive A-shares, used as a virtual economic construction tool with the company's various funding ventures, versus Bain's more expensive stock. Some of those A-shares, such as those tied to a medical equipment company, absolutely exploded in value. Some went nowhere. Such is the nature of the market.
- The results are now managed by a blind trust, outside of the Romneys' control, and their campaign spokesperson is adamant that the candidate has paid all the taxes required on all of their holdings.
The Bain guys, and their boss, were smart people, and a lot of those investments paid off very nicely. Whether or not the regular working-Joe IRA was designed for individuals to amass $100 million in tax-free-but-eventually-taxable retirement savings is another issue.
"He looks for every tax angle to a degree that is unbecoming for someone who would be the executive in command of the administrative apparatus that enforces the tax law," tax lawyer Lee Sheppard told the Post.
Others note that the strategies, while perhaps mind-blowing to the general public and complex even for seasoned advisors, were all legal avenues and, what's more, might influence voters - maybe not the middle-class ones, mind you - of the considerable financial intellect and heft of this particular candidate. Bain's investment strategies, during Romney's time as leader, often generated a 50-percent-or-higher annual rate of return.
"There is nothing magical about it," former Bain tax lawyer Jack Levin told the Post. "There is nothing in the tax law that prohibits an IRA from earning as much as the sponsor's investment acumen allows him or her to earn."