Book Review: IOUSA

by Gary L. Fisher

iousa-book-cover“We suffer from a fiscal cancer. It is growing within us and if we do not treat it, it could have catastrophic consequences for our country.” – David Walker, Former Comptroller General of the United States.

David Walker made this statement on a 2007 episode of Sixty Minutes. Walker used to be the nation’s #1 accountant. As head of the US Government Accountability Office or GAO, he was charged with “improving transparency, enhancing government performance, and assuring accountability for the benefit of the American people. “ The GAO is the non partisan office charged with telling us how we’re doing fiscally, from a national perspective.

Walker left that role ultimately to proselytize to the nation about the financial illness that was developing in the nation’s fiscal infrastructure. Believing as he did, that if he approached the message from an individual basis he could garner more interest and attention, since many people find GAO pronouncements about as exciting as a story problem.  His appearance on television was part of that process. Unfortunately, his message didn’t create much more action that it did when he was inside the government tent.

When Walker first started his outspoken crusade the federal debt was 8.7 trillion. Today that number has increased to a breathtaking 18 trillion under the Obama Administration. That’s right. The federal debt has more than doubled the amount it took nearly 232 years to build to.* You don’t need to be an economist to know that it simply isn’t a positive trajectory. Rather, it’s “categorically unsustainable”, as Walker said, when it was ‘only’ 8 trillion. The federal debt is the sum of two numbers. The first is $12.92 trillion in public debt, which consists of all the outstanding Treasury bills, notes and bonds held by individuals, corporations, foreign governments and others. By the time you read this that number will have risen precipitously. However, to obtain a real – time number simply go to You can watch the numbers clicking away in a very rapid fashion.

IOUSA is the best book that I’ve ever read which addresses this situation, putting it in to layman’s terms. Authors Addison Wiggin and Kate Incontrera have assembled commentary and insight from Walker among others that helps illustrate the impact on the average person in America. Since it’s 2007 publication date until now, many of the issues discussed appear to be coming to fruition.

One of the key concepts that they illustrate is the idea of the federal debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is the total market value of goods and services produced by labor and property located within a country in a given year. It’s useful to know the debt as it relates to GDP because it is highly indicative of any particular country’s ability to actually pay back the debt owed.  So to put this in to perspective, America’s GDP was 13. 5 trillion in 2007 when the federal debt was a mere 8 trillion. Today the GDP is approximately 17.4 trillion with a debt of 18 trillion.  That means our debt is nearly 95% of our GDP, and it’s predicted to get much worse.  (This quote is from the book. Sadly it was right on target. “US Debt to GDP was 101.5% in 2014 according to and Forbes The US Debt; Why It Will Continue To Rise”, 9/18/2014.”).

The largest components of the debt are*:

Medicare :  923 billion

Social Security : 861 billion

Defense/War: 595 billion

Income Security: 310 billion

Net Interest on Debt: 238 billion

Federal Pensions: 250 billion


What this means to the average American is disturbing.  The current portion of this debt per American citizen is $185,000, or an astounding $732,000 per family!  As Walker is quoted in the book, “The facts aren’t Democrat or Republican, the facts aren’t liberal or conservative. The facts art the facts…our financial condition is worse than advertised and we need to act; we need to act soon because time is working against us”.  Remember that Walker said this before the election of President Obama and the creation of an entirely new government program with the Affordable Care Act, and the increase of the federal debt by another 10 trillion.

The very first director of the Congressional Budget Office was Alice Rivlin. She discussed the current (as of 2007) state of affairs in the book. “ Deficits matter”, says Rivlin.  “Deficits occur when the federal government is spending more than it’s collecting in revenue, and that means it has to borrow money. We are not paying the government’s services we are asking our government to provide. The government then in turn, borrows money and passes the IOU or bill right along to the next generation.

Rivlin went on to say: “Increases in longevity and rising medical care spending are symptons of being a rich country. However, we have to do something about it. Unless we are willing to raise taxes and keep on raising them, or close down the rest of the federal government, we’ve got a very big problem staring us in the face.”

Ultimately, that’s the core message of IOUSA. While politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to kick the proverbial can down the street, future generations of bright-eyed young people, retirees, and the elderly face a future of rising taxes, diminished or vanished services, and extended waits for promised benefits. The Social Security statements that people have recently started receiving stipulate clearly that under current trend lines, they will only be able to pay a percentage of promised benefits by 2033. That’s most unfortunate news for millions who have been paying in to the system for decades.

Thomas Jefferson said “No generation can contract debts greater than may be paid over the course of its own existence.” While that sounds great, it’s fundamentally untrue. Our nation is in fact passing along this legacy of debt to future generations (as well as current ones). As for Jefferson, his public proclamations aside, he lived a lavish lifestyle, funded almost exclusively by debt. He died broke. His estate had to be sold off for pennies on the dollar. His grandson, Jefferson Randolph, paid on the remaining debt for most of his life. Luckily, we can’t experience that same thing today. When one passes on now, their debt passes on with them. However, on a national level, IOUSA makes it clear that we are following Jefferson’s example of letting our grasp exceed our reach fiscally. The ramifications of which may be manifest for years to come, unless and until some real action is taken by our political representatives. Until then, bracing for a future of lowered benefit expectations and higher taxes just might be a prudent financial course of action.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only, do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial, and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. 

Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advice offered through Oak Point Financial Group, a registered investment advisor. Oak Point Financial Group and MyRetirementMentor are separate entities from LPL Financial. 


The Risks of Retirement

What Are the Challenges You Face? Knowing Them Helps You Prepare for a Happy Retirement

by Gary L. Fisher

Old Man Boomer with SS Chair.png

In the wake of the bubble bursting in 2000, many American companies stepped back and took a long, hard look at the structure of their pension obligations. For the first time in a very long time, the real risks of making long-term promises to employees in the face of plummeting asset values, increasing competition, and volatile markets became quite real, as many companies were either careening towards bankruptcy or already in the throes of a meltdown. Others feared that they might be next.

As a result, many firms chose to move the obligation (and risk) for retirement planning away from the rms and on to the backs of employees. is was a seismic shift, as retirement planning had always been referred to as a ‘three legged stool’, consisting of pensions, social security, and personal savings and investments.

When the next bubble hit in 2009, it only exacerbated the problem. Personal savings fell, and even more firms faced bankruptcy, went out of business, or laid people off.  Millions lost their homes, their jobs, and their pensions. The shift to defined contribution plans, instead of defined benefit plans, had finally reached critical mass. Many people started to understand fully that, if they were to retire as their parents and grandparents had, they would have to figure it out on their own.

The primary issue is one of education and understanding. What should we focus on when it comes to retirement planning? Just as important, what are the risks we face when doing so? An article in The Harvard Business Review, “The Crisis In Retirement Planning (Harvard Business Review, July – August 2014), summed it up nicely when it stated, “Our approach to saving is all wrong: We need to think about monthly income, not net worth.” This statement comes from the article’s author, Robert C. Merton, Nobel Prize winner.

My 23 years of practicing in the retirement planning arena had long ago convinced me that monthly income is indeed the critical factor in retirement success. I would also say that personal health and fitness, both mental and physical, is the second half of the retirement happiness equation.

However, having adequate monthly income is often the precursor to health and well-being. In fact, the American Psychological Association’s “Stress In America” survey results for 2014, shows that 72% of adults report feeling stressed about money at least some of the time, and 22% say that they experience ‘extreme stress’ about money. Top reported triggers include: paying for unexpected expenses, paying for essentials, and saving for retirement. (American Psychological Association, February 4, 2015; American Psychological Association Survey Shows Money Stress Weighing on Americans’ Health Nationwide).

According to APA CEO and Executive Vice President Norman B. Anderson, PhD speaking about the study: “Regardless of the economic climate, money and finances have remained the top stressor since our survey began in 2007. Furthermore, this year’s survey shows that stress related to financial issues could have a significant impact on Americans’ health and well-being. Indeed, stress about money and finances has a significant impact on many Americans’ lives. Some are putting their health care needs on hold because of financial concerns. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans say that they have either considered skipping (9 percent) or skipped (12 percent) going to the doctor when they needed health care because of financial concerns. Stress about money also impacts relationships: Almost a third of adults with partners (31 percent) report that money is a major source of coflict in their relationship. So, solving these retirement income challenges is crucial, if we are to have any expectation of a long, healthy, and happy retirement. There are seven key risks that retirement income planners have to take in to account if we are to properly prepare.

Seven 7 Risks Table.png

Each of these risks are real for each of us to varying degrees. e manner in which you approach solving them, and properly planning for adequate monthly income, can make all the difference when it comes time to make work optional in your life. Structuring a retirement income plan can have many moving parts, so it’s crucial that you have a thoughtful plan in place that takes each one of these risks in to account.

Let us help you navigate this mine field and create a plan that makes sense for you and your goals. For a complimentary consultation to review what you are doing to prepare for an appropriate retirement income, call us at:

to set an appointment.•






The Sunscreen Song

The Sunscreen Song

by Gary Fisher

It was known as ‘The Sunscreen Song’. A hit song in 1999. by Baz Luhrman , it offered sage advice to the ‘Class of 1999’. The tune went to #10 in the states, and was #1 in the UK. To this day it stands as one of the most unusually catchy songs of a generation. The lyrics are the key, and they present a dramatic, yet understated line of thinking for the last class of the 20th century.

As I move through my 50th year on earth, and work with clients yet to know the joys of hitting the half century mark, and many who have long since passed that point, I am reminded of the song and it’s advice, and how spot on it was. In fact, I recently ran across a similarly conceived set of instructions purportedly written by 60 year olds. The comments essentially dovetail with the Sunscreen song which I found to be rather intriguing.

Quality advice can be particularly valuable when it comes to envisioning a life that includes business and personal success, raising a family, taking care of ailing parents, fluffy kitties, happy dogs, yourself, your spouse, and then planning for something called ‘retirement’ which might span 20, 30, and even 40 years.

So if you are near a computer, or you have the song on your ipod load it up and take a listen. You may find it moving, or fun, but its hard to imagine it won’t resonate.

Among the gems of advice are:

  • Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worry is as effective as trying to solve an algebra problem by chewing gum.
  • Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, and don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
  • Don’t waste time on jealously. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end it’s only with yourself.
  • Floss.
  • Stretch.
  • Don’t feel guilty if you don’t’ know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know, didn’t know what they wanted to do at 22, and some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.
  • Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss those when they’re gone.
  • Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance, and so are everybody else’s.
  • Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.
  • The older you get the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
  • Travel.
  • Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund or a wealthy spouse, but you never know when either will run out.
  • And of course….wear sunscreen!

And…in my opinion…here are some recommendations from the ‘Over 60’ crowd:

  • Eat and exercise like a diabetic heart patient with a stroke, and you’ll never actually become one.
  • Pay your bills and ‘stay the hell’ out of debt.
  • The joints you damage today will get their revenge later.
  • Stuff is just stuff. Don’t hold on to material objects. Hold on to time and relationships.
  • The most important person in your life is the one who agreed to share their life with you. Treat them as such.
  • No matter how long or how short you live, you’ll wish you took better care of your body when you were young.
  • A true friend will come running at 2am. Everyone else are just acquaintances.
  • Don’t take life so seriously. Even if things seem dark and hopeless, try to laugh at how ridiculous life is.

When it comes time for you to wrap up one phase of your life, and move in to the retirement phase you’ll find that this advice will be particularly resonant.

The formula for my Happy Retirement “Sunscreen” is based on countless studies, personal observation of nearly a quarter of a century in practice working with clients, and the words of those same clients it seems clear that your happiness in this phase of life will include four critical components:

  1. How healthy you are physically and mentally.
  2. The fun you have with your hobbies and most importantly, your passions.
  3. The depth and quality of your personal relationships.
  4. The level of contribution to others you are able and willing to make.
  5. The monthly income you have that facilitates the previous four points.

Interestingly the advice to the graduating class of ‘99, the wisdom of the 60 + crowd, all blend in to one neat package that serves as a nifty guide to what we should all focus on as we make our plans for the BEST of our life. Heed it well!


Making the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life

by Gary L. Fisher

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For decades since it was invented, since retirement became a ‘thing’, it’s been perceived as a winding down and a wrapping up. That isn’t necessarily the case any longer. Thinking of the future, anticipating the good things to come are the very essence of a positive mental outlook. Social psychologists tell us that optimism, and enthusiasm both come from a forward thinking bias. Remember back when you couldn’t wait to turn 16 so you could get a license? 18 meant graduation and adulthood. 21 meant legal drinking! Then it gets a little hazy after that. 30 feels pretty mature. 40 is when the ‘getting old’ jokes start, and by 50….you can feel the rains coming as the saying goes. Then it’s wait for Social Security eligibility, and then Medicare eligibility. Not exactly the stuff of wild eyed anticipation and goosebumps!

The new reality is that being north of 50, 60, or even 70 can mean a time of maximum contribution . I know it was for my mom. We lost her super early and totally unexpectedly at age 71. But let me tell you one thing…she had never been more important to us. To our lives, our day to day comings and goings. She had never been any more vital, enthusiastic, and energetic. She was fully engaged in her life, and her family’s lives. She used every minute of the day. She was looking forward to my nephews 5th birthday, Tracy and my 20th wedding anniversary, and her and my dads 50th anniversary, as well as 50th birthday parties for Tracy and I. She worked for Tracy, she worked in our office, and she took care of my in-laws, neighbors, and extended family. She was continuing to make the rest of her life the BEST of her life.

This mentality is a choice! It’s there for the taking! You’ll read about some of the risks we face in achieving this in this issue of The Mentor, and some of the pathways to success. We call it ‘Finding Your Beach’, and it’s synonymous with making the rest of your life the best of your life. It’s not magic. It’s not alchemy. It just takes a great attitude, a dream, and a plan. That’s what we’re here to help you achieve. As your retirement mentor we offer strategies, and tactics to help you and your family reach your beach. Its our mission. It’s our passion. It’s what we do every day. And we do it very well! Let us help you make the rest the best!

Finding Your Beach

The Journey Starts with That Important First Step

by Gary L. Fisher


‘Find Your Beach’ is a metaphor that I use liberally to define both the journey and the destination to what we call ‘retirement’. It’s not about stopping your life and remaining in stasis. Rather, it’s about transitioning your life from one state of mind and being, to another. It’s about new beginnings, not endings. It’s about new challenges, not the ending of all challenges. It’s about conquering new goals, exploring new frontiers, and seeking adventure and fulfillment.

The destination can be an actual beach, or whatever you picture yourself doing in retirement, whether it’s spending all of your time with your grandchildren, fishing off a dock in Northern Michigan, or seeing the world. So the first step is setting a goal: getting clear about what you want to achieve. Most important of all is knowing about why you want it. Then you need a path that is designed to lead you there.

Think about it: No ship sets sail without a plotted course, no jet takes off without filing a flight plan, no football team takes the field without a game plan, and no family or business should contemplate a successful journey without some sort of focused, holistic, and comprehensive strategy. My role is to help people create such a plan and then help guide them through the realization of that plan, year after year, until you find YOUR beach. I approach all of my client relationships with the idea that we are in it together…and we’re in it for the long haul.

People can be confused, intimidated, or even annoyed by trying to figure out just what exactly it means to work with a Financial Advisor and address such a broad topic as ‘your financial life’. After all…it sounds like a big job…and it is, but that shouldn’t scare you. In fact, I hope it inspires you! Conceptually, it’s pretty easy to visualize, and in the end, the results can be orders of magnitude more valuable than the effort and energy that went in to it’s creation.

Creating a road map for your financial game plan can be one of the most exciting, and empowering things you’ll ever do. Some of our clients say it provides them with a sense of accomplishment second to none. It’s no wonder…how would you feel if you no longer were alone in planning for your retirement, long term care, or managing your investments on a day-to-day basis?

The process starts with a simple and complimentary consultation where we determine if you need help, if we should work together, and if so, at which level of service. Then, we start plotting your course. At subsequent meetings, we formally implement your plan, and thereafter, we meet to review and make course corrections as needed.

It’s simple, and it’s easy to get started. Ancient wisdom says that ‘the journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step’. When you, or someone you care about are ready to take that first step I’ll be ready to lend a hand.

If you are ready to take that important first step, please give me a call! 810.603.9100

Book Review: While America Aged

 by Gary L. Fisher

while-america-aged-imageRalph Nader coined the phrase ‘unsafe at any speed’ in his scathing indictment of the Corvair. If he had written a book about the General Motors business model of the time, he might have called it ‘Unsustainable at Any Speed’. The Ron Lowenstein’s book “While America Aged’, in my view, is one of those rare gems that not only explains a controversial subject in a terrific storytelling format, and in my opinion, it also happens to have the weight of being prescient and accurate.

I first read this book back in 2008, and it made an incredible impact on my thinking in how I viewed the trajectory of our nation at the time. In conjunction with other personal research, I made significant changes in my client’s portfolios, and my own personal financial life, that turned out to be extremely valuable.

Growing up in the birthplace of General Motors, and living nestled between the automotive enclaves of Flint and Detroit as I do now, the fate of the auto industry has always been a top-of- mind issue for me, as it impacts my life daily. In fact, 100 years of my family story has involved General Motors. Dating back to my Great-Grandfather John Pyne, who worked at the original Buick Motor Division and GM plant, under founder Billy Durant, and Buick leader ,Walter Chrysler, through my grandfathers, grandmothers, dad, and even my mom, who worked for a firm whose #1 client was GM.

Lowenstein’s book isn’t all, or even mostly about the auto industry. Rather, it is broken into three parts, exploring the impact of legacy costs on the public and private sectors. It’s a chilling tale of greed, selfishness, and outright stupidity that has, and will likely continue to impact all Americans for generations to come. It’s a book that predicts, in 2007, events that were to happen all to soon in 2009, and prognosticating the realities of over-promising and under-delivering on pension and health care legacies. These are issues that are now becoming frequent headlines as it becomes clear that the foolish and short-sighted decisions of the past predicted to likely undermine the innocent recipients of that legacy in the future.

There really isn’t one villain in this story, and even fewer heroes. Rather, as Lee Iacocca said in a Chrysler boardroom during the 80’s Chrysler bailout, blame lays on “the three of us”, meaning corporations, unions, and government. In my opinion, the book very clearly explains this in an extraordinarily balanced and fair manner. It essentially confirms my own beliefs as to how we got into this mess, and it goes a long way to explaining what it will likely take to extract ourselves going forward.

Lowenstein reinforces the reality that when it comes to retirement in the 21st century, there is simply no substitute for self-sufficiency, holistic retirement income, and financial planning. Hoping for bailouts, government intervention, and paternalistic unions and corporations to come to the rescue just might be a bigger fantasy story than the latest Star Wars installment. One sure take-away from “While America Aged” is that taking control of your own financial future has never been smarter, more urgent, or more crucial in pursuit of a sustainable and prosperous retirement.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Securities offered through LPL Financial ember FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Oak Point Financial Group, a registered investment advisor. Oak Point Financial Group and My Retirement Mentor are separate entities from LPL Financial.

Billy Durant

The Man Who Invented the Future

by Gary L. Fisher

Billy Durant.pngWhen I was a freshman in college, I was given the assignment to write about the most famous person from my hometown. I etched out a profile of a man, who, ultimately, really didn’t fit the bill. In fact, he wasn’t famous—at least not any longer—and certainly not in 1983, when I was writing my essay. In truth he hadn’t been famous for a very long time. Indeed, he has been largely forgotten, even in his own hometown of Flint, Michigan.

However, to me he was famous. Or, at least he should have been famous, by all normal laws of fame and glory. This particular individual had had a massive impact on my life, and on the lives of millions of people around the world. Yet, few knew his name. He was a super salesman—maybe the best that ever lived. He was a marketer extraordinaire, perhaps the most prolific in industrial history. He was a genius with organizational development, a master talent scout, and most of all, he was a brilliant alchemist, turning wood and steel into dollars and cents, and neighborhoods, and roads, and largely creating the 21st century in a myriad of ways.

He was responsible in full, or in part, for inventing, developing, or creating from whole cloth: Buick, Chevrolet, Frigidaire, GMAC, GMC , Pontiac, Cadillac , DELCO, AC Spark Plug, and other companies too numerous to name. He mentored Charles Stewart Mott, Walter Chrysler, Charles Nash, Charles Kettering, Albert Champion, David Buick, Louis Chevrolet, among many others.

This man, known in fact as “THE MAN” in his day, envisioned a world that was largely science fiction back then. Iconic industrialist J.P. Morgan called him an ‘unstable visionary’, others called him ‘crazy’, but all who knew him well, eventually called him a genius.

The Man” was William C. “Billy” Durant. The most famous man no one has ever heard of. In fairness, many more today have heard of him than in 1983. My Freshman Comp teacher responded to my essay with a ‘Billy Who?’ notation, when I told him of my planned work.

How he wound up so anonymous is an enduring mystery, as his achievements are prolific. Durant was the first to use vertical integration in manufacturing, invented North America’s first franchise dealer network for automobile sales, and built the world’s largest sales team in recorded history. Moreover, (and contrary to popular belief), he was the first to use the assembly line for mass production in his carriage business (Henry Ford’s hired consultants put the assembly line into motion first in Ford plants).

According to the legendary management guru, Peter Drucker, the company Billy Durant crafted out of thin air, General Motors, imposed a productivity might that was the primary reason that the allies were able to crush both Hitler, and Hirohito. The union movement, white collar management, automobile sales, and the plethora of automobile-related engineering and design careers—their histories and growth are linked to his entrepreneurial machine (Durant referred to GM always as ‘his baby’). General Motors was created with a deft blend of labor, management, bureaucracy and entrepreneurialism, and in many ways, helped to sculpt the vaunted American middle class.

His creations fueled the American Century, transforming our lives in ways we scarcely appreciate today. He was strong enough to stare down J.P. Morgan (the actual man, not just the company), and Henry Ford, provide guidance to Pierre DuPont, counsel President Hoover about how to avoid a Great Depression (Hoover didn’t listen), rub shoulders with kings and queens, princes and presidents, while still being humble enough to play checkers with elevator operators.

He saw things that didn’t exist and brought them into reality. He once told an interviewer during a time when horses and buggies were still being used:

“Most of us will live to see this whole country covered with a network of motor highways built from point to point as the bird flies, the hills cut down, the dales bridged over, the obstacles removed. Highway intersections will be built over or under the through lanes and the present dangers of motor travel, one after another will be eliminated.”

He was loved by his workers (labor strife was rare in his plants), his colleagues, and his friends (thousands of which he made wealthy beyond their wildest dreams). Despite his mercurial and sometimes self –focused behavior, no one doubted that he ultimately had their best interests at heart in the end. And so he did, having been ousted not once, but twice, from the helm at GM by a cabal of bankers and backstabbers. He went bankrupt during the Great Depression trying to guarantee investments made in his companies, and while legions of his friends were rich, he died broke.

In the end, despite his massive economic set backs, he had new goals and new dreams, and in his 80’s was planning a chain of bowling alleys, thinking that families would flock to them (he was right), and years before Ray Kroc got the smart idea to team with a couple of brothers named McDonald, Billy envisioned a chain of fast food restaurants with ‘good food served fast through a window” to accommodate the legions of automobile shoppers he had helped to create. When asked by his wife Catherine why he couldn’t ‘just rest’, he replied “We are not given enough time, Mama.”

His spirit can be embodied in his own words, words of advice given to others in the face of difficult circumstances. It’s sage counsel for anyone chasing a dream, building a business, or trying to save a city.

“My advice to you and all others is to keep working…Forget mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you’re trying to do now-and do it.”  –Billy Durant