The roadblocks to building generational wealth and how to get around them
Although I’ve spent more than 30 years as a financial planner, I can’t think of a single occasion where I was asked directly, “How can I build wealth?” Ironic, considering that’s the very thing I’m here to help people do. But it’s a loaded question, and it’s not one with an easy answer.
The simplest answer I could provide would be: You have to be an owner. But complications arise when you try to define ownership and how to get there. Here are four prominent ways someone can become an owner.
1. Stocks. When you buy a stock, you’re buying a share of ownership in a public company. This is a form of ownership with risk and (potential) reward attached.
2. Real estate. Buying a home allows you to be an owner in your own shelter and comfort. Thanks to loans, we can buy real estate using other people's money.
3. Old-fashioned mutual participating life insurance. These insurance policies are ownership vehicles that can protect one’s wealth and offer financial security.
4. A great idea. (AKA entrepreneurship) This has worked out well for Bill Gates, Kendra Scott, Jeff Bezos, and Sara Blakely to name a few.
How wonderful would it be if that’s all any of us needed to read? If we could all just run out and start the next Amazon, buy all the blue chip stock we wanted, close on the house of our dreams, and secure our future with a hefty insurance policy?
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy
Unfortunately, the barriers to entry in this country are myriad and vast — entire books have been written on how systemic racism and poverty have prevented people from improving their financial lives, and rather than give short shrift to those issues here, I’ll point you to a couple of my favorite sources.
For now, I’ll wade into the realities I see negatively impacting American families in 2020 — realities we all have to face in the years to come if we want to elevate our fellow countrymen during their hour of need.
Reality #1: Some owners in our economy will survive this pandemic, and it will be incumbent upon us to help those who want to become owners in turn. Only the vaccine will be able to “fix” the damage done to our economy, but there are ways that we can all do our part to help — spending more, tipping well, and hiring where we are capable are the best ways to start.
Reality #2: We have to trust that scientists are hunkering down and looking at absolutely every option to help us figure out how to stop the virus, and prevent this from worsening or reoccurring.
Reality #3: While we hope for the best from our leaders, most politicians seem to have two modes of operation: The first is to do nothing, the second is to overreact when a problem arises. Unfortunately, the benefit of most actions taken by politicians today will not be felt by most Americans for many years (stimulus checks notwithstanding).
No, there is no panacea waiting for us on the other end of the Covid-19 pandemic. In my mind, we have but one solution — to look at the long game. I believe there are a few simple concepts we can explore to alter the dynamic and allow everyone to participate in a market-based economy.
Idea #1: When every American child is given a social security number at birth, they should also be given a certain amount of money in the government C fund. Those dollars would only be redeemable under three instances: for a college education, for the purchase of a home at age 35 or later, or for retirement. This way, every taxpayer will benefit when American companies benefit.
Making it a reality: For years, our government has given family tax credits based on how many children one has. But the result is that we’re often paying Americans to have more children that they can’t realistically support rather than spending the same money to make sure that every American taxpayer is a true participant in the economy — an owner.
Idea #2: Educating our population to compete in a global future is key to our success, both as individuals and as a nation. So why do we tax school teachers' salaries only to redistribute them back into local community educational systems, less all the administrative costs?
Making it a reality: If teachers’ salaries were tax exempt, an educator’s salary would finally become one that a person could raise a family on — maybe even buy a house. (Gasp! The American dream!) We could also do a better job attracting the smartest and most talented people to the profession. The federal government could still control all the standards that the states must follow in order to qualify.
Idea #3: With the cost for higher education a burden to both the younger generation and the parents of that generation, people have begun to delay retirement due to student loan debt. No, the solution isn’t free college for everyone — but why not make public college costs tax deductible? As it stands now, a $100,000 college education paid for with after-tax dollars could very well cost families as much as $180,000. The last thing we need in this country is more young people mired in debt, delaying their retirement for decades.
Making it a reality: Simply put, Americans who are college educated earn significantly more than those who do not possess that secondary degree. Having a government that counts student loan debt as an income source seems counterproductive… isn’t more money flowing into the economy what we need — not less?
The Bottom Line
I’ve never claimed to have all the answers, never with my clients, and never on any of the platforms where I’ve been fortunate enough to speak my mind over the years. While I’m not sure if any of my ideas would work if put into practice, I do know one thing for certain:
We must start asking different questions in order to get different results. The definition of ignorance is doing the same thing again and again, and expecting a different outcome. If we’re going to achieve an economy that can work for everyone, that can help lift Americans out of systemic poverty, and help ensure ownership for everyone who wants it, we have to think radically. Because if the pandemic has highlighted one thing it’s that our tomorrow will look a lot different than today — just how different is up to us.
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