Mutual Funds May be Your Best Option

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane M. Young

Generally the typical investor is better off investing in stock mutual funds than in individual stocks. A mutual fund is an investment vehicle where money from a large number of investors is pooled together and invested by a professional manager or management team.  Mutual fund managers invest this pool of money in accordance with a predefined set of goals and guidelines.

One of the primary benefits of investing in stock mutual funds is the ability to diversify across a large number of different stocks.  With mutual funds, you don’t need a fortune to invest in a broad spectrum of stocks issued by large and small companies from a variety of different industries and geographies.  Diversification with mutual funds reduces risk by providing a buffer against extreme swings in the prices of individual stocks.   You are less likely to lose a lot of money if an individual stock plummets. Unfortunately, you are also less likely to experience a huge gain if an individual stock skyrockets.

Another benefit of stock mutual funds over individual stocks is that less time and knowledge is required to create and monitor a portfolio.  Most individual investors do not have the time, expertise, or resources to select and monitor individual stocks.  Mutual funds hire hundreds of analysts to research and monitor companies, industries and market trends.   It is very difficult for an individual to achieve this level of knowledge and understanding across a broad spectrum of companies.  Mutual fund managers have the resources to easily move in and out of companies and industries as investment factors change.

Most individual investors appreciate the convenience of selecting and monitoring a diversified portfolio of mutual funds over the arduous task of selecting a large number of individual stocks.   Stock mutual funds are a good option for your serious money.  However, if you really want to play the market and invest in individual stocks, use money that you can afford to lose.

For diehard stock investors, there are some advantages to investing in individual stocks.  Many stock mutual funds charge an annual management fee of between .50% and 1% (.25% for index funds).  With individual stocks, there is a cost to buy and sell the stock but there is no annual management fee associated with holding stock.

Another advantage of individual stocks is greater control over when capital gains are recognized within a non- retirement account.  When you own an individual stock, capital gains are not recognized until the stock is sold.   In a high income year, you can delay selling your stock, and recognizing the gain, to a year when it would be more tax efficient.   On the other hand, when you invest in a stock mutual fund you have no control over capital gains on stock sold within the fund.  Capital gains must be paid on sales within the mutual fund, before you actually sell the fund.  Mutual funds are not taxable entities, therefore all gains flow through to the end investor.

Are Your Bonds Safe?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane M. Young

Let’s compare some differences between stocks and bonds.  When you buy a bond you are essentially lending money to a corporation or government entity for a set period of time in exchange for a specified rate of interest.  When you invest in the stock market you assume an ownership position in the company whose stock you are purchasing.  As a result, the value of your investment will fluctuate based on the profit or loss of the underlying company.  With the purchase of a bond the value of your investment hould not fluctuate based on the financial performance of the issuer, assuming it remains solvent.  You will continue to receive interest payments according to the original terms of the agreement until the bond matures.  Upon maturity the amount of your original investment (principal) will be returned to you along with any interest that is due.   As a general rule, stocks are inherently more risky than bonds, therefore investors expect to receive a higher return.

Bonds may appear to be safe but they are not without risk. Currently, there is some risk associated with low interest rates that may not keep up with inflation.  This is especially true with many government bonds. Two additional risks typically associated with bonds include default risk and interest rate risk.

Default risk is the risk that the issuer goes bankrupt and is unable to return your principal.  Most bond issuers are assigned a rating to help investors assess the potential default risk of a bond.   Generally, investors are compensated with higher interest rates when taking a risk on lower rated bonds and receive lower interest rates on higher rated bonds.

Interest rate risk is based on the inverse relationship between interest rates and the value of a bond.  When interest rates increase the value of a bond will decrease and when interest rates decrease the value of a bond will increase. If you hold an individual bond until maturity your entire principal should be returned to you.  You have the control to keep the bond until maturity and avoid a loss.  However, if you need to sell before maturity you may lose some principal. The loss of principal is greater for longer term bonds.  This needs to be weighed against the benefit of a higher interest rate paid on longer term bonds.

Bond mutual funds can provide diversification and reduced default risk because your money is pooled with hundreds of other investors and invested in bonds from a large number of different entities.  If one or two entities within the mutual fund go bankrupt there will be minimal impact on each individual investor.  However, with mutual funds you have less control over interest rate risk.  When interest rates increase, bond fund managers often experience a high rate of withdrawals forcing them to sell bonds at an inopportune time.  This usually results in a loss of principal, the severity of which is greater for longer term bond funds.

Pitfalls in Taking Early Social Security

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

 

You can begin taking Social Security at age 62 but there are some disadvantages to starting before your normal retirement age.   The decision on when to start taking Social Security is dependent on your unique set of circumstances.  Generally, if you plan to keep working, if you can cover your current expenses and if you are reasonably healthy you will be better off taking Social Security on or after your normal retirement age.  Your normal retirement age can be found on your annual statement or by going to www.socialsecurity.gov and searching for normal retirement age.

Taking Social Security early will result in a reduced benefit.  Your benefits will be reduced based on the number of months you receive Social Security before your normal retirement age.    For example if your normal retirement age is 66, the approximate reduction in benefits at age 62 is 25%, at 63 is 20%, at 64 is 13.3% and at 65 is 6.7%.  If you were born after 1960 and you start taking benefits at age 62 your maximum reduction in benefits will be around 30%.

On the other hand, if you decide to take Social Security after your normal retirement age, you may receive a larger benefit.  Do not wait to take your Social Security beyond age 70 because there is no additional increase in the benefit after 70.  Taking Social Security after your normal retirement age is generally most beneficial for those who expect to live beyond their average life expectancy.  If you plan to keep working, taking Social Security early may be especially tricky.  If you take benefits before your normal retirement age and earn over a certain level, the Social Security Administration withholds part of your benefit.   In 2012 Social Security will withhold $1 in benefits for every $2 of earnings above $14,640 and $1 in benefits for every $3 of earnings above $38,880.  However, all is not lost, after you reach full retirement age your benefit is recalculated to give you credit for the benefits that were withheld as a result of earning above the exempt amount. 

Another potential downfall to taking Social Security early, especially if you are working or have other forms of income, is paying federal income tax on your benefit.  If you wait to take Social Security at your normal retirement age, your income may be lower and a smaller portion of your benefit may be taxable.  If you file a joint return and you have combined income (adjusted gross income, plus ½ of Social Security and tax exempt interest) of between $32,000 and $44,000 you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefit.  If your combined income is over $44,000 you may have to pay taxes on up to 85% of your benefit. 

The decision on when to take Social Security can be very complicated and these are just a few of the many factors that should be taken into consideration.

 

 

 

Financial Guidance for Widows in Transition

 
A workshop from the heart for women who are widowed

or anticipate becoming a widow in the future . . .

or those with a widowed friend or family member

 Friday, August 3, 2012 from 9:30am – 11:30am 

at Bethany Lutheran Church

4500 E. Hampton Avenue

Cherry Hills Village, 80113

OR 

  Friday, August 3, 2012 from 2:00 – 4:00 PM
 
at First Lutheran Church

1515 N. Cascade Avenue

Colorado Springs, 80907

 There is no charge to attendees, but advance registration is required.
Call 1-800-579-9496 or email Bob.kuehner@lfsrm.org

 Join us for a special presentation by Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, award winning author and speaker. She presents practical information in an engaging and entertaining manner, along with issues of the heart. The workshop is open to all . . . although it’s especially designed for women. So, bring your gal friends for an enjoyable morning out together.

   Kathleen’s world changed forever when her husband died. From personal grief experiences, her life purpose evolved-helping widows to feel more secure, enlightened and empowered about their financial matters. She is passionate about assisting her “widowed sisters” take control of their financial future.

 Dr. Rehl is a leading authority on the subject of widows and their financial issues. She is frequently invited to give presentations across the country on this topic.

 She and her book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows, have been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, AARP Bulletin, U.S. News & World Report, Consumer Reports, Investment News, Bottom Line and many others. The guidebook has received 10 national and international awards.

 To devote more time to writing and speaking, Kathleen closed her practice to new clients some time ago. She was previously named as one of the country’s 100 Great Financial Planners by Mutual Funds Magazine.

 Please be our guest for this educational and enlightening workshop!

 This event is a sponsored gift to the community from
 Jane M. Young, CFP with Pinnacle Financial Concepts, Inc.
   

 (719)260-9800

www.MoneyWiseWidow.com

 
   
 

Financial Words of Wisdom from Widows for Widows

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA


I have met with numerous widows over the last few years to get a better understanding of what they are experiencing and to learn how I can best support and assist them.   Below I have shared some of the most meaningful and consistent messages and comments I heard from these brave women.  I hope this is helpful to both men and women who have recently lost a spouse and family members of someone who has recently lost a spouse.

  • Avoid making major decisions during the first year.  I think I heard this from everyone I spoke with and it is very wise advice.
  • Be obsessively selfish, after the loss of a spouse it is especially important to focus on you and physically take care of yourself.  Later, once you are feeling better you can help others.
  • Grief is very sneaky, one moment you feel fine then it sneaks up on you.  Expect some irrational behavior.
  • Be easy on yourself, it is normal for grief to last three years.  The fog will begin to clear after the first year but things will still be fuzzy for up to three years.  This can be difficult because friends and family expect you to heal more quickly than is realistic.  Everyone grieves differently but three years is very normal.
  • During the first year you feel like you’re operating in a fog, it is easy to forget key dates.  You frequently feel lost and confused and forget how to do things.
  • Grief can consume hours and hours of your day.  It’s hard to focus and get things done.  There is very little energy to learn new things.  It’s normal to feel apathetic.
  • The loss of a spouse is a huge tragedy in your life.  Everyone else seems so focused on themselves. Try not to get upset at others who go on with their own lives as if nothing has happened.  They are busy and they don’t want to open themselves to the pain.
  • It’s very important to take the time to select a trusted team of professionals.  Your team should include an attorney, financial planner and an accountant, if your financial planner does not prepare taxes.
  • Being a new widow can be very scary, it is scary to be alone.  You have a tremendous need for encouragement and acknowledgement that you are making progress.  Try to spend time with positive and supportive friends and family.
  • It’s hard to shift from making plans and setting goals together to making plans and setting goals on your own.  You don’t have to do everything the way you had planned with your spouse.  You need to set your own course and reach for new hopes and dreams.

 

Learn More About Long Term Care Insurance at Our Next Fireside Chat on July 11th

Please join us for lunch, at Pinnacle, for our next Fireside Chat on July 11th at 11:30.  We will discuss Long Term Care Insurance.  As always this is purely educational and free of charge.  Please call Judy at 719-260-9800 to RSVP.  Please let us know if there are any topics that you would like us to discuss at future Fireside Chats.

Should I Invest in Variable Annuities?

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

Due to the high costs, lack of flexibility, complexity and unfavorable tax treatment variable annuities are not beneficial for most investors.  Traditional retirement accounts and Roth IRAs meet the tax deferral needs for most investors.  In some instances a variable annuity may be attractive to a high income investor who has maximized all of his traditional retirement options and needs additional opportunities for tax deferral of investment gains.  This is especially true for an investor who is currently in a very high tax bracket and expects to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement.

Generally, money in retirement accounts should not be invested in variable annuities.  The investor is already receiving the benefits of tax deferral.

A variable annuity may also be an option for someone who is willing to buy an insurance policy to buffer the risk of losing money in the stock market.  For most investors, due to the long term growth in the stock market, this guarantee comes at too high a price.  However, some investors are willing to pay additional fees in exchange for the peace of mind that a guaranteed withdrawal benefit can provide.  A word of warning, guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefits (GMWB) can be very complex and have some significant restrictions.  Do your homework, make sure you understand the product you are buying and read the contract carefully.

According to a study conducted by David M. Blanchett – the probability of a retiree actually needing income from a GMWB annuity vs. the income that could be generated from a taxable portfolio with the same value is about 3.4% for males, 5.4% for females and 7.1% for couples. The net cost is about 6.5% for males, 6.1% for females and 7.4% for couples.

Join us for a Fireside Chat on Annuities vs. Mutual Funds on May 16th

Please join us for lunch and an interactive discussion on annuities vs. mutual funds at Pinnacle Financial Concepts, Inc. on May 16th. Our Fireside Chat will run from 11:30 to 1:00. Please call 260-9800 to RSVP. There is no charge and our Fireside chats are always purely educational!!!

10 Financial Planning Tips to Start 2012

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

 

1. Dream – Take a few minutes to look at the big picture and think about what you want from life. How do you want to live, what do you want to do and how do you want to spend your time. Successful businesses have vision statements and strategic plans. Create your own personal vision statement and strategic plan.

2. Set Goals – What are your goals for the coming year? Start by brainstorming – fill a page by listing all the goals that come to mind. Think about different facets of your life such as family, career, education, finance, health and so forth. Review your list and prioritize three or four goals to focus on in the coming year.

3. Evaluate Your Current Situation – What did you spend and what did you earn last year? What was necessary and what was discretionary? Did you spend in a purposeful manner and do your expenses support your goals and strategic plan. How much did you save or invest in a retirement plan? Can you increase this in 2012? If you are like most of us, a category is needed for “I have no clue”.

4. Track Spending and Address Problem Areas – If you aren’t sure where you spent all that discretionary cash, track your expenses for a month or two. It can be very enlightening – Yikes! Identify a few problem areas where you can cut spending and really place some focus. Identify the actions you will take to cut spending in these areas. Set weekly limits and come up with creative alternatives to save you money.

5. Evaluate Your Career – Are you doing what you really want? Are you being paid what you are worth? Have you become too comfortable that you are settling for safe and familiar? Could you earn more or work in a more rewarding position if you took the time to look? Are you current in your field or do you need to take some refresher courses? Do you know what it will take to get a promotion or a better job? In this volatile job market you need to keep your skills current, to nurture your network and to maintain a current resume.

6. Maintain an Emergency Fund – Start or maintain an emergency fund equal to at least four months of expenses, including the current month. This should be completely liquid in a checking, savings or money market account.

7. Pay Off Debt – Establish a plan to pay off all of your credit card debt. Once this is paid off establish a plan to start paying off personal debt and student loans.

8. Save 10-15% of your income (take advantage of employee Benefits) – You need to save at least 10-15% of your income to provide a buffer against tough financial times and to invest for retirement. At a very minimum, you need to contribute up to the amount your employer will match. Additionally, be sure to take advantage of flex benefits or employee stock purchase plans that may be offered by your employer.

9. Maintain a Well Diversified Portfolio – Maintain a well-diversified portfolio that provides you with the best return for your risk tolerance, your investment goals and your investment time horizon. Be sure to re-balance your portfolio on an annual basis. Avoid over reacting to short term swings in the market with money that is invested for the long term.

10. Don’t Pay Too Much Income Tax – Avoid paying too much income tax. Get organized and keep good records to be sure you are maximizing your deductions. Make tax wise investment decisions, harvest tax losses and maximize the use of tax deferred investment vehicles. Donate unwanted items to charity – be sure to document your donations with a receipt.

10 Tips for Financial Success

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Jane M. Young CFP, EA

1. Set Goals –
Review your personal values, develop a personal strategic plan, establish specific goals for the next three years and identify action steps for the coming year.

2. Understand Your Current Situation –
Review your actual expenses over the last year and develop a budget or a cash flow plan for the next 12 months. Compare your expenses and your income to better understand your cash flow situation. Are you’re spending habits aligned with your goals? Can or should you be saving more?

3. Have sufficient Liquidity –
Maintain an emergency fund equal to at least four months of expenses in a fully liquid account. Additionally, I recommend having a secondary emergency fund equal to another three months of expenses in semi-liquid investments. Increase your liquidity if you have above average volatility in your life due to job instability, rental properties or other risk factors.

4. Always save at least 10% of your income –
Regardless of whether you are saving to fund your emergency fund or retirement you should always pay yourself first by saving at least 10% of your income. Most of us need to be saving closer to 15% to meet our retirement needs.

5. Pay-off Credit Cards and Consumer Debt –
Learn the difference between bad debt (credit cards) and good debt (fixed-rate home mortgage). Avoid the bad debt and take advantage of the leveraging power of good debt.

6. Take Advantage of the Leveraging Power of Owning Your Home –
Once you have established an emergency fund and have paid off your bad debt start saving for a down payment to purchase your own home.

7. Fully Fund Your Retirement Accounts be a tax smart investor –
Participate in tax advantaged retirement programs for which you qualify. Maximize your Roth IRA and 401k contribution take full advantage of any company match on your 401k. If you are self-employed consider a SEP or Simple plan. Always select investment vehicles that provide the most beneficial tax solution while meeting your investment objectives.

8. Be an Investor, Not a Trader. Don’t time the market and don’t let emotions drive your investment decisions –
Investing in the stock market is a long term endeavor, forecasting the short-term movement of the stock market is fruitless. Avoid emotional reactions to headlines and short-term events. Don’t overreact to sensationalistic journalists or chase the latest investment trends. You can establish a defensive position by maintaining a well diversified portfolio custom tailored to your unique situation. Slow and steady wins the race!
“Far more money has been lost by investors in preparing for corrections, or anticipating corrections, than has been lost in the corrections themselves.”  -Peter Lynch, author and former mutual fund manager with Fidelity Investments

9. Don’t Invest in anything you don’t understand and be aware of high fees and penalties –
If it sounds too good to be true and you just can’t get your head around it, don’t invest in it! If you want to invest in complicated products, read the fine print. Be aware of commissions, fees and surrender charges. Be especially wary of products with a contingent deferred sales charge. There is no free lunch, if you are being promised above market returns there is probably a catch. Keep in mind that contracts are written to protect the insurance or investment company not the investor.

10. Diversify, Diversify, Diversify – rebalance annually –
It is impossible to predict fluctuations in the market or to select the next great stock. However, you can hedge your bets by maintaining a well diversified portfolio. Establish an asset allocation that is aligned with your goals, investment timeframe and risk tolerance. You should have a good mix of fixed income and equity based investments. Your equity investments should be spread over a wide variety of large, small, domestic and international companies and industries. Re-balance your portfolio on an annual basis to stay diversified and weed out any underperforming investments.

New Normal

By Bert Whitehead, MBA, JD

A number of clients have expressed alarm at the recent clamor of commentators who have been predicting a cataclysmic economic change worldwide. These pundits claim that we are facing an economic “New Normal” and express concern that the ‘old’ economic rules on which we rely no longer operate.

Their conclusions? Drastic changes are needed in our lives and investments to accommodate the “New Normal!”

Usually they question the viability of the U.S. dollar and offer the possibility that China, or perhaps a block of other nations, are somehow positioned to ‘take over’ the U.S. because they hold so many U.S. bonds. Another variation of this calamity centers on the recent collapse of the real estate market, the precipitous drop in the stock market, and extraordinarily low interest rates. Taken together, these developments presage the end of American prosperity for our children and ourselves.

Of course these apocalyptic pronouncements are more effective if they are tied to some political viewpoint, the more extreme the better. More often than not, far right political viewpoints proclaim that doomsday is the certain result of left-wing politics. Leftist views generally emphasize the inevitable revolution that suppression of the masses will cause.

(Note to “Investment Advice” file: Never let your politics drive your investments!)

It’s time to confront these ridiculous assertions. Yes, it is true that the investment and economic travails of the past decade have been severe and have impacted many people worldwide. Some of these changes have not occurred before during many of our lifetimes. It is enticing to point the finger of blame and shame at our financial, economic, investment and political leadership. But that is not the whole story
The power of momentum in democratic economies is easily underestimated. Although dramatic from time to time, the impact of severe financial shifts must be kept in proportion and viewed within a broader historical perspective. We need to recognize that most extreme economic shifts are self-correcting.

Even with unemployment at over 9%, over 90% of our citizens are employed. Real estate crashes, weather-related disasters, stock market crashes, low interest rates, etc. have all happened before. Indeed the damage done by seismic economic shifts during the Great Depression, the severe stagflation in the 1970’s, and the collapse of S. & L.’s in the 1980’s were all worse than we have seen today…and all of these are relatively minor when compared to the disruption of the financial markets in the 19th century. And whatever happened to the “New Economy” theory that gave rise to the ‘dot-com’ frenzy of the 1990’s?

It is folly to fret about how much of our debt is owned by the China (interestingly, Japan owns nearly as much U.S. debt as China, even though that fact is not usually noted). What can the Chinese do with our debt? They can’t dump it on the White House lawn and demand to be paid off with gold. They can’t go on the world markets and exchange dollars for Euros or Yen, or even buy gold. Any of these moves would be self-defeating because dumping huge amounts of money in any market would decrease the value of their remaining dollars. Actually, their only realistic option is to spend it in the U.S.!

There is a concern that the U.S. dollar is at a “tipping point” and will soon lose its status as the world’s reserve currency. But no other currency is in a position to take its place. The Euro’s stability is much too questionable. The Yuan doesn’t have a long enough history to be relied upon, especially when a dictatorial government can arbitrarily determine its value. Neither these nor other ‘respectable’ currencies such as the Yen, the British Pound, the Swiss Franc, etc. have enough depth to support a global economy.

Those who espouse extreme economic outcomes are invariably selling something. Usually it is their newsletter or book, or some strategy to beat the market, or gold itself. The most eminent economists in the world have never been able to predict any economic cycle with a meaningful consensus. Why should you believe the extreme voices of charlatans who use their advanced marketing techniques to dupe the fearful?

What can you do? I suggest that you sit back and follow sensible advice. The Functional Asset Allocation model, which is used by nearly 200 fee-only members of ACA (Alliance of Cambridge Advisors), focuses on the basics.

Consider this…there are only three possible economic scenarios: we can have inflation, deflation, or prosperity. It is a waste of time to try to determine which is coming next. The prudent approach is to be prepared for all three possibilities. As the ancient wisdom of the Torah exhorts: “Invest a third in land, a third in business, and a third in reserves!”

Today, that translates into a balanced portfolio of real estate, equities (i.e. stocks in companies), and cash and bond reserves. Trying to market-time and pick the next ‘hot investment’ is foolhardy. If you allow the vagaries of global economics, i.e. exogenous factors, to be the focus of your attention, you risk making decisions based on emotion rather than rational thought. In truth, it is the ‘endogenous factors’ in your life that determine your financial future.

As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” Instead of dithering about what will happen in the Mideast, or where interest rates are headed, or when will real estate level off, look at the things in your life that make a difference. Are you saving at least 10% of your gross income? Are you living within your means? Do you have enough liquidity to ride out a financial setback? Do you have a long-term fixed rate mortgage to protect you from inflation? Do you have government bonds to weather another bout of deflation.

Obsessing about the various complexities and possible outcomes in today’s global economy inevitably leads to rash and unwise leaps. Keep an eye on the issues within your reach! It is the key to a confident journey and a serene financial future.

I appreciate the editorial review contributed by Chip Simon, CFP®, an ACA colleague in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Year End Financial Planning Tips

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Roth Conversion –
The income limitations on converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA have been eliminated and taxes due on a Roth conversion, processed in 2010, can be paid in 2011 and 2012.

Required Minimum Distribution –
A required minimum distribution on your IRA and 401k/403b is required every year once you attain 70 ½.

Maximize your retirement contributions –
Be sure to maximize your retirement plan contributions for 2010. Below are the maximum contributions for your 401k and IRA contributions for 2010. You have until April 15th to contribute to your IRA.

401k – $16,500 plus a $5,500 catch-up provision if you are over 50
IRA – $5,000 plus a $1,000 catch-up provision if you are over 50 (income limits apply)
Simple – $11,500 plus a $2,500 catch-up provision if you are over 50

Adjust retirement contributions for 2011 –
There is no change to 401k and IRA contribution limits between 2010 and 2011. However, if you have turned 50 you can make a catch-up contribution. A change in your income may also impact your ability to contribute to an IRA.

Harvest Tax Losses –
If you have been thinking about selling some poor performing stocks or mutual funds, do so before the end of the year to take advantage of tax losses in 2010. However, if capital gains rates increase in 2011 it may be more advantageous to offset gains in 2011.

Charity Contributions –
Go through your closets and garage before the end of the year and donate any unwanted items to get a nice deduction on your tax return. When you drop off your items be sure to get a receipt. When making a charitable contribution, consider donating appreciated stock rather than cash.

Take advantage of the annual gift allowance –
In 2010 you can gift up to $13,000 per person without paying gift tax or impacting your estate tax exemption.

Make 529 Contributions –
Contributions made to the Colorado 529 plan are deductible on your state tax return. Money can be contributed into the Colorado 529 plan for tuition that is payable in 2011.

Review your expenses and draft a new budget –
Everyone should review their expenses and revise their budget at least once a year. December is a good time of year to review historical spending habits and make adjustments to your budget for the coming year. It is difficult to establish saving goals without a good understanding of what is available after your non-discretionary expenses.

Set financial goals for 2011 –
I recommend setting new personal and financial goals at the beginning of every year. Think of it as personal strategic planning. Set some long term goals for 3-5 years then identify some action plans for the next twelve months.

Adjust tax withholdings for 2011 –
Adjust your tax withholdings or estimated taxes for anticipated changes in income and deductions in 2011.

Organize 2010 tax documents –
Year end is a good time to create a folder for all of the 2010 tax documents you will be receiving and to start organizing your expenses and receipts. You will have everything thing in one place when it comes time to complete your tax return.

Make adjustments for changes in family circumstances – birth, death, marriage, dependents, and retirement –
Major changes in your life circumstances may result in numerous changes in your financial situation. For example a birth, marriage, or death will probably necessitate a change in your will and beneficiary designations. It also may impact your income tax withholdings. The birth of a child may result in significant tax benefits. With the birth of a child you also may want to consider starting a college fund and a change in life or disability insurance.

Spend FSA accounts –
With many companies, flexible savings accounts cannot be carried over into the next year so be sure to spend the money in your FSA account this year, before you lose it.

Consider the impact of possible changes in the tax law –
If the Bush tax cuts are not extended, there is a possibility that the capital gains rate will increase from 15% to 20%, that tax rates will increase, and that some tax deductions will disappear. These possibilities need to be considered in making your year end financial decisions.

Attend a Financial Fireside Chat with Jane and Linda on December 2nd to discuss “Year End Financial Planning Tips and Money Saving Ideas for the Holidays”

 

You and a guest are invited to a Financial Fireside Chat with Jane and Linda at our office, from 7:30 – 9:00 am on Thursday, December 2nd to discuss “Year End Financial Planning Tips and Money Saving Ideas for the Holidays.”

A Financial Fireside chat is an informal discussion over coffee and donuts, where our clients and guests can learn about various financial topics in a casual non-threatening environment. This is free of charge and purely educational. There will be absolutely no sales of products or services during this session. We will provide plenty of time for informal discussion.

The Fireside Chat will be held at the Pinnacle Financial Concepts, Inc. offices at 7025 Tall Oak Drive, Suite 210. Please RSVP with Judy at 260-9800.

We are looking forward to seeing you on Thursday, December 2nd to learn about and discuss some great year end financial planning ideas.

A Money Moment with Jane – A Few Financial Planning Suggestions for the Fall

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By Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

 

  • Required Minimum Distributions were not required for 2009.  However, if you are at least 70½ you will be required to take a distribution in 2010.

 

  • If you are planning to convert some of your regular IRA to a Roth IRA, do so in 2010 to spread the taxes over 2011 and 2112.

 

  • Have you maximized your Roth IRA and 401k contribution?  The 2010 contribution limit for the Roth is $5,000 plus a $1,000 catch-up provision if you are 50 or older.  The 2010 contribution limit for 401k plans is $16,500 plus a $5,500 catch-up provision if you are 50 or older.

 

  • This is a good time to do some tax planning to make sure your withholdings or estimates are adequate to cover the taxes you will owe in April. 

 

  • Do you have any underperforming stocks or mutual funds that should be sold to take advantage of a tax loss in 2010?

 

  • Now is the time to go through your home for items to be donated to charity.  These can provide a nice deduction on your 2010 tax return.

 

  • Start planning for Christmas now and save money by working to a plan. 

 

A Money Moment with Jane – What Are You Spending Today?

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By Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

The first step to any solid financial plan is understanding your current situation. How much money is remaining after paying your non-discretionary expenses? If you don’t know, then you need to review your expenses over the last few months to better understand your spending habits. How much do you spend on non-discretionary items and how much do you spend on discretionary items. Are you happy with how you are spending your money? Are you saving as much as you could? Are you spending too much on frivolous items? Do your spending habits align with your goals? Have you set some financial goals?

Are You Paying Too Much for Financial Planning and Advice? by Jane Bryant Quinn

Here is a great piece by Jane Bryant Quinn.
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Are You Paying Too Much for Financial Planning and Advice?
By Jane Bryant Quinn | Sep 21, 2010 | 5 Comments

How much are you paying for the financial-planning advice you get? Some investors don’t know. Others think they know but don’t. “Fee-only” planners and registered investment advisors state their fees up front. “Fee-based” advisors appear to do the same but might be charging you in other ways. Brokerage house advisory accounts charge the most and can entangle you in costs you didn’t expect.

In short, a stated fee isn’t always what it seems. For that matter, neither is an advisor. I recommend fee-only planners but I’ve found some who are so new to the business or so limited in their skills that I wouldn’t go near them.

So how do you go about assessing what you’re paying for advice and what the potential conflicts or trouble spots might be? Here’s a rundown:

Fee-only advice. This is my choice, always. These advisors give you a price list up front, for work by the hour, by the task, or for ongoing management of your money. They don’t take sales commissions, so they’re not primed to push products. They sell only their planning and investment expertise.

Within this world, however, there’s a lot of variation.

A fee-only planner, with a CFP designation (for Certified Financial Planner) helps you establish your priorities and goals, create budgets, set savings targets, test your insurance safety net, establish retirement savings accounts, project future retirement income, plan for taxes, and make basic investment decisions. By “basic,” I mean simple asset allocation and picking no-load (no sales charge) mutual funds. That’s all that most families need. You can find some of these fee-only planners through the Garrett Planning Network, the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors, or the Financial Planning Association (when you search the FPA site, click on “How Planners Charge” and check the box for “fee-only”).

But some of these advisors — especially people who have been in business for only three or four years — might not have the knowledge or experience to analyze your investments in depth. Those with a brokerage-house background are familiar with securities, but others are still learning. They might be qualified to advise on mutual funds but not individual stocks and bonds. They might be taking clients before they’ve finished their CFP.

On average, you’ll find more experienced planners through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. Some NAPFA members deal only with people of higher wealth. Others take middle-class clients, too (see what their websites say).

Even planners with good paper qualifications might not serve you well if they don’t understand your life experience. For example, young planners who don’t own homes are not the best guide through mortgage decisions. Someone in his or her mid-30s will think more aggressively about investments than someone in late middle age. If you’re approaching retirement, you want a planner who can feel the same, cold wind of uncertainty that you do.

Fee-only planners typically charge 1 percent on accounts up to $1 million or so, and less on larger amounts. But fees have been going up, says Tom Orecchio of Modera Wealth Management and former president of NAPFA. Some firms charge 1.5 percent or more for the first $500,000.

“Advisors say they’re working harder, for less money, than at any time in their career,” Orecchio says. Accounts under management have declined in value, clients need more handholding, and more new products are coming to market that need evaluating. So they’re charging people more.

Normally, a percentage fee applies only to money that the planner has directly under management. A few planners assess the fee on your total net worth, including your 401(k) and home equity. “That’s for comprehensive financial planning,” says John Sestina of John E. Sestina and Co. “We advise on everything, including whether to refinance a mortgage and how to allocate a 401(k).” He charges $5,000 for accounts up to $1 million (that’s 0.05 percent, at the top) and larger fees for larger accounts. For younger clients, he offers “financial planning lite”– $1,000 for full planning and investment services on accounts of any size, but only two or three meetings a year.

Fee-based advice. Here, you have wolves in sheep’s clothing. It sounds as if they also give fee-only advice. In fact, they sell products and earn commissions. You might pay fees for some products and commissions for others. The size of the fees might depend on what else you buy. “Fee offset” means that the fee is deducted from the commission you pay. Commissions aren’t always visible, so it’s easy to pay more than you realize.

Brokerage house advisory accounts. You pay fees here, too. The broker provides an investment plan, developed and monitored by the firm’s advisory team. You get periodic reports. Small investors, with $25,000 to $50,000, might be charged in the area of 2 percent a year. These accounts don’t include packaged products such as variable annuities or unit trusts. Your broker might sell them to you on the side, earning a commission on the trade.

Skip these expensive advisory accounts if you’re a long-term investor who holds mutual funds and a few stocks. You’re much better off in a regular brokerage account that doesn’t charge fees–or, for that matter, with a fee-only planner.

Regarding conflicts of interest, I’m always careful about the commissioned-sales world because of its fondness for selling high-cost products. But the fee-only world has potential conflicts, too. Planners who charge on an hourly basis might stretch out the time it takes to complete your job. Planners who work on retainer might pay less attention to your account, because they’ve got the money anyway. Planners who charge a percentage of assets have an incentive to hold on to your money — for example, by recommending that you keep your mortgage rather than paying it off.

Always evaluate the advice, in terms of your advisor’s interest as well as your own. Advice isn’t always worth what you pay for it. You might do better by paying less.

Take Control of Your Life with a Personal Strategic Plan

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Jane M. Young, CFP,EA

At least once a year we need to step back from our daily routine to look at our lives from a broader perspective. We get so bogged down with daily responsibilities we lose track of where we are, and where we want to go. Take the time to do some personal strategic planning. Start by looking at what you are actually spending and saving. How much do you spend in a typical month, how much is necessary spending and how much is discretionary? How do your expenses compare to your income? How do your expenses and your savings line up with your goals?

Maybe you haven’t thought about your long range goals for awhile. I challenge you to make a list of 30–50 goals that you would like to accomplish over the next five years. I know… that’s a lot! Think of this as a brainstorming exercise. Don’t evaluate the importance of a goal, just write down what comes to mind. If you are having difficulty thinking of 30–50 goals, try thinking of goals in the following categories: friends and family, health, career, social and entertainment, money and finance, spiritual, education, and community. Once you have created your list, prioritize your goals by importance and timeframe. Develop an action plan for your high priority goals.

Now go back and review your expenses. Are your spending and saving habits congruent with your long term goals? Use the information you have pulled together to develop a spending and savings plan that supports your personal strategic plan. Once you have a clear picture of where you are and where you want to go, you can take control of your life.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

The Possibility of Becoming a Widow Should be Part of Every Married Woman’s Financial Plan

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

I know this is a subject we don’t want to think about but the reality is most wives will out live their husbands. We plot and we plan all kinds of cash flow scenarios for couples to live happily ever after until they fall gently asleep in each others arms at age 100. That would be nice but life isn’t quite so predictable. Therefore as a wife, you should plan to out live your husband. This includes being ready to handle all of the arrangements and paperwork that must be handled upon death as well as long term planning for your financial needs. Below is a list of issues that should be addressed before you become a widow.

 • Select an Estate Planning Attorney who you trust and are comfortable with to draft a will and help you through the process of settling your husband’s estate.
• Draft a will and a Health Power of Attorney.
• Discuss end of life plans with each other.
• Review the beneficiary designations on IRAs, 401ks, and life insurance policies.
• Organize your financial papers so you know what you have, where you have it and who your contact is.
• Take an active role in managing your finances.
• If you are uncomfortable with finances, take some classes and read some books to educate yourself.
• If you choose to work with a Financial Planner take the time to select someone who you trust and feel comfortable with – especially when you are alone. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors provides some good guidelines on selecting a financial planner at www.Napfa.org.
• Run some retirement planning scenarios as a widow – will you have enough money to cover your expenses if you husband predeceases you? Are you still entitled to his pension or will you receive a decreased payout?
• Does your cash flow fall short of what you need? Consider buying some term life insurance? Consider adjusting your work situation to save more money?
• What happens if one of you needs long term care? Can you cover the expense or should you consider long term care insurance?
• What happens to your health insurance when your husband dies? How much time do you have to secure health insurance in your name?   Are you entitled to Cobra?
• Establish credit in your name, get your own credit card.
• Do you have adequate emergency reserves to cover funeral expenses and several months of expenses?

The loss of a spouse is extremely difficult. Most widows feel like they are in fog for the first year. The last thing on your mind will be money but some issues will need to be addressed. Make it easier on yourself and plan ahead.

What You Should Be Doing Now!

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

1. Start by re-evaluating your monthly expenses to determine how much money you need for necessary expenses. Then determine how much you have remaining after you cover these expenses.

2. During difficult economic times, like the present, most people should maintain an emergency fund of at least 6 months of expenses. If you have an exceptionally secure job you may be able to drop it down to 3 months. Always be sure to sure to maintain an adequate emergency fund.

3. Once your emergency fund is established pay off any high interest credit cards.

4. Put aside money for special one time expenses such as a new roof, a new car or a down payment on a house. If you don’t own your own home give some serious consideration to saving up to buy one. Decide how much you want to save on a monthly basis and start a systematic savings plan.

5. Now you can start investing! Determine how much you can afford to invest on a monthly basis. Most people should start by investing in their company retirement plan up to the level that the company will match. If you can afford to invest beyond the level of your company match, invest up to the maximum allowed in a Roth IRA. This should be done on a monthly basis to take advantage of dollar cost averaging – investing the same amount every month. The 2009 contribution limit for a Roth IRA is $5,000 if you are under 50 and $6000 if you are over 50. There is an income limit on your eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA based on your adjusted gross income. For 2009, your eligibility to contribute begins to phase-out at $166,000, if you are married filing jointly and $105,000 if you are single.

If you still have money to invest after maximizing your Roth IRA, resume contributing to your company retirement plan up to the maximum amount. The maximum contribution limit for a 401k in 2009 is $16,500 if you are under 50 and $22,000 if you are over 50.

Invest your money in a diversified set of mutual funds. Establish an asset allocation consistent with your timeframe and risk tolerance. For most individuals this will vary from 50% to 80% in stock mutual funds, with the balance in fixed income investments. The market is still priced very low and it is a great time to buy stock mutual funds. However, the market will be very volatile over the next 6 – 9 months. Dollar cost averaging into your retirement plans will help you take advantage of this volatility.

This is very general advice and everyone’s situation is unique. Treat this advice as a general guideline and adapt it to your own situation or consult a Certified Financial Planner for guidance.

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