“‘Piggybacking’ Switzerland’s Social Security Program” for Monthly Checks of up to $3,204? What?

What's being teased by Infinite Income?

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, June 25, 2018

The Infinite Income newsletter last crossed our paths when they were promising “Trump Bonus Checks,” which was certainly silly, and the ad I’ve been looking at today takes a tack that sounds a little bit familiar — they now say you can “piggyback” on the Swiss social security system and get big ol’ monthly checks.

So is this the same deal as the spurious “Piggybacking Canadian Social Security” ad that we covered a couple years ago? It is from the same publisher, though it’s a different newsletter (that Canadian pitch was for Zach Scheidt’s Lifetime Income Report, this ad is for Mike Burnick’s Infinite Income… though I’d wager they used the same ad copywriter).

Dunno yet… let’s see what they’re selling, and find out if the Thinkolator can provide some answers for you.

Here’s the core of the pitch, from the order form:

“… dozens of folks around the country are already cashing their monthly checks for $3,204… $2,962… $1,279… and more.

“By clicking to this page, you’ve already taken the first step in helping to secure your own independent retirement.

“You’ll no longer have to worry about getting by on the poverty line with only small Social Security payouts…

“You have the chance to live out your ‘golden years’ like you’ve always wanted with your family.”

So what’s the story? Can you really get monthly checks from Switzerland?

Not so fast, buddy, we’re working on the details… the ad even includes a “what’s the catch” section, though the answer isn’t quite the same one I’d give. Here’s what they say:

“The truth is, there is no catch.

“I realize the discovery I’ve presented to you today about collecting from ‘Swiss Social Security’ sounds impossible.

“But the truth is dozens of folks like you across America are already using these checks to supplement a dream retirement.”

But that’s because readers gravitate to the “monthly checks” section of the ad, and the big income numbers… and they gloss over the parts that are more critical to the eventual income from this “piggyback” program. Here are the parts that jump out at me:

“Depending on how much you put in, these payouts are often double… even triple the average U.S. Social Security check.”

That is the biggest and most honest sentence fragment in the ad, I’d say… Depending on how much you put in.

And later, they get clearer still…

“In short, it’s all about investing small amounts of money… and then exponentially growing it through a portfolio of REAL, INCOME-PRODUCING ASSETS… the very same way the financial masterminds behind the “Swiss Social Security Plan” do.

“And that’s what I mean by ‘Piggybacking Swiss Social Security.’ You follow the ‘Swiss Social Security Plan’s’ lead by investing in the same type of assets in your own private account… and use these cash-gushing assets to collect the investment income you need to fund your retirement.”

So yes, the headlines are about monthly checks and “piggybacking” on Switzerland’s social welfare system and about huge income numbers… but in truth, just like the “Piggybacking Canadian Social Security” pitch, this is about investing in dividend-paying stocks, adding more to those investments regularly, and letting the income compound into a big portfolio by the time you retire.

Of course, you get less opportunity to let that income compound if you start when you’re 60, which is also when you’re likely to start getting ads from Infinite Income and when you’re likely to find the idea of those monthly checks enticing… and if you don’t have much to invest or much time to let it compound, the income is nowhere near as dramatic as the ad would like us to believe.

But it is real. Investing in dividend-paying stocks, adding to that investment regularly and increasing your investment as your income grows, and letting your investment compound over a long period of time (using the dividends to buy more shares) is the simplest way to build a large retirement portfolio. It’s not magic, and it takes time and discipline, but it’s real.

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That doesn’t mean that there’s anything magic to “piggybacking” the Swiss system, either. Like many countries, part of the Swiss retirement funds are actively invested — unlike Social Security in the United States, which puts all of its “trust fund” into government bonds (and, frankly, effectively commingles it with the Federal budget to obscure the size of our deficit spending), many other countries invest their “trust fund” or their pension funds in an attempt to increase the size of the portfolio.

And like most institutional investors, part of that investment goes into stocks. So Burnick is just saying that you can buy the same kinds of stocks as the Swiss pension fund investment managers.

And, of course, this is top-secret information from Burnick:

“There is some bad news.

“You see, while I’d love to post this online for everyone to see…

“I’d run the risk of Switzerland’s government getting wind of this…

“And I just can’t let that happen.”

Stop laughing. Come on now, he’s just trying to make a buck… and some of his readers might believe this.

His pitch is not actually about the Swiss government pension fund or the state pension plan… it’s about the private pensions that are offered to folks in Switzerland, and which are managed by any number of fund managers. That’s what they call the “third pillar” of their three pillar system (first is state pension and old age/survivors insurance, essentially just like our Social Security, second is an employer-sponsored pension plan that is compulsory for most Swiss workers, and third is a voluntary, supplemental pension that’s supported by some tax breaks but not required. Kind of like our IRAs or similar retirement accounts.

I don’t know how the Swiss manage their equivalent of the “Social Security Trust Fund”, but employer and private pensions are, of course, managed however those managers want to manage them — they probably mostly hold a mix of stock and equities. The Swiss Government is indirectly a huge holder of stocks around the world, too, thanks to the fact that the Swiss National Bank ginned up a bunch of Francs and spent it buying foreign stocks a few years ago, in a somewhat desperate attempt to keep the Franc from rising in value so much that it hurt their exporters (Nestle, Novartis, etc.)

So how would you follow the Swiss, if you so wished? They are essentially closet indexers at the Swiss National Bank, which is focused on monetary policy, not investment returns. They own a little bit of hundreds of companies (they own a third of a percent of Apple, for example), and all of their largest holdings are also the largest components of the S&P 500.

But the point is really not to mimic the Swiss, who are unlikely to be posting long-term investment returns that are different than any other pension fund managers — that’s just an attention-getting gimmick from a newsletter promoter.

The point is that if you invest in strong, steady dividend-paying stocks, and do so consistently with a contribution every month or week or whatever, that’s how you build and compound a large portfolio. That’s mostly a matter of discipline, not of stock picking — as long as you choose either a dozen strong large cap companies in diverse businesses, or a low-cost index fund that invests widely across large companies (or even a dividend growth focused index fund), the odds are good that the returns will be very impressive over a lifetime.

But the “over a lifetime” bit is the important thing. These ads all mix stories of $3,000 monthly checks with a pitch that you can start with just $100… and that might be true, but it’s only true if you also invest another $100 each month, increasing that invested amount over the years as your income grows, and if you can wait 20 or 30 years to start pulling in those checks. If you start today and put in $100 a month, for example, then if you get a combined 8% return on average over those years you should have a total of more than $18,000 after ten years… which isn’t bad, though it does not, of course, throw off monthly income of $4,000. If you can go for 20 years, that number becomes $60,000 and it’s starting to get more interesting… after 30 years, it’s over $150,000, still from just adding $100 a month every month along the way and letting those investments compound in value.

You might be able to do better than that, of course, if you can save more… or if you can average better than 8% a year — which is certainly possible, though hard to predict or count on. And, of course, $150,000 isn’t likely to seem like as much money in 30 years as it does today — if we the Fed’s inflation rate of 2% and stay there for those three decades (which is very unlikely, probably inflation will go up and down in big swings as it generally has in the past), then that $150,000 would actually have the buying power of $82,000 today.

The biggest way to impact those numbers is to start as young as possible or to invest as much as possible, and, of course to avoid frittering away a lot of the money in speculative gambles or paying high fees to managers.

You don’t need the Swiss for that, but, depending on where you are in life, you might need a time machine. There’s no magic, there’s no secret check you can enroll to receive, there’s just investments you can make and the return on those investments.

Sad, but true. So I’ll leave you with roughly the same thoughts I shared when I looked at those Trump Bonus Checks a few months ago…

I don’t expect that Burnick is actually promising massive returns to his actual subscribers — he’s been around for a long time and is probably more rational than that, but Agora and other publishers hire aggressive copywriters who try to force you into action, and for that they tiptoe along the edge of “promising” the ridiculous… with hopes that once you sign up, you’ll like the newsletter enough that you’ll forget the absurd “free income” promises you felt like they were making.

The average dividend yield for a “blue chip” type of dividend growth company is in the 2-3% range right now, so you do often have to choose between “compounding power” and future growth and a high current level of income, but a combination of both is a rational way to get some decent income and some decent growth without taking as much risk as high-flying growth stock investors might enjoy.

And, of course, you don’t have to count on a newsletter or the luck and skill of stock selection if you don’t want to research and identify individual stocks — the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG), for example, has an expense ratio of only 0.08% and will get you a current yield of about 1.9% by owning little chunks of Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, PepsiCo, 3M and a few dozen other well-known companies who increase their dividend each year. If you bought that ETF when it was launched about 12 years ago, you’d be sitting on a return of 172% even if you just took the dividends in cash and didn’t reinvest them, handily beating the S&P 500 over that time period (the S&P returned 112%). Over some shorter timer periods the S&P has beaten the VIG ETF, of course, particularly when large high-growth stocks like Amazon and Netflix and Facebook have led the market (they don’t pay dividends), but in the long haul companies that are able to increase their dividends each year are among the safest bets in the market.

Or if you’re looking at higher yields (which will also come with greater risk of interest-rate sensitivity — meaning they might fall in price, at least temporarily, if interest rates rise), then sectors like utilities and real estate and telecom and energy infrastructure also offer up plenty of relatively high current yields (the closed-end fund Reaves Utility Income (UTG) is often teased, for example, and yields 3.5% by owning telecom and utility stocks, or Vanguard Real Estate (VNQ) yields just under 5% owning REITs, and the Alerian MLP ETF (AMLP) that owns pipelines and gas processing stocks, among others, yields over 6%). I don’t own any of those currently, mostly because I prefer to research and identify individual stocks that interest me, but if you’re not looking for a time-consuming hobby there’s not much reason to invest in individual stocks over ETFs or low-cost mutual funds.

Disclosure: I own shares of Apple, mentioned above. I do not own any other stock mentioned, and will not trade in any covered stock for at least three days, per Stock Gumshoe’s trading rules.

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