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.

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

 
   
 

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.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Variable Annuities

 

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

 

What is a Variable Annuity?


A variable annuity is a contract with an insurance company where you invest money into your choice of a variety of sub-accounts, similar to mutual funds. Non-qualified, variable annuities provide tax deferral on gains until the funds are withdrawn. Upon distribution your gains are taxed at regular income tax rates as opposed to capital gains rates. Variable annuities generally charge fees twice those charged by mutual funds. Additionally, you will be to subject to substantial early withdrawal charges if you purchase an annuity from an advisor who is compensated through commissions. Most variable annuities provide the option to buy a guaranteed death benefit option and/or a Guaranteed Minimum Withdrawal Benefit. These do not come without a cost and can be very complex.  Below are some advantages and disadvantages of Variable Annuities.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Variable Annuities:

Advantages:

  • Tax Deferral of gains, beneficial if you have maximized limits on other retirement vehicles such as 401ks and IRAs.
  • No Required Minimum Distribution at 70 and ½ as with traditional retirement accounts. There is no Required Minimum Distribution on Roth IRAs.
  • Death benefit and Guaranteed Lifetime Withdrawal Benefits (GLWB) riders can be purchased for additional fees. However, the death benefit is rarely instituted due to long term growth in the stock market. GLWBs can be very complex and not without risk.
  • Trades can be made within annuity without tax consequences – this is also true within all retirement accounts.
  • Non-taxable transfers can be made between companies using a 1035 exchange.
  • No annual contribution limit. Traditional retirement plans have annual contribution limits.

Disadvantages:

  • Gains taxed at regular income tax rates as opposed to capital gains rates on taxable mutual funds.
  • Higher expense structure –Mortality and Expense fees substantially higher than mutual funds.
  • Substantial surrender charges for up to 10 years on commission products
  • 10% penalty on withdrawals prior to 59 ½, this is also true with most traditional retirement accounts.
  • Complex insurance product
  • Lack of liquidity due to surrender charges and tax on gains
  • No step-up in basis, taxable mutual funds and stocks have a step-up in basis upon death
  • Loss of tax harvesting opportunities

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.

Watch Out for These Pitfalls with Social Security and IRA Rollovers

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Here are a couple issues on Social Security and IRA Rollovers that frequently catch people by surprise.

Think twice about taking your Social Security at 62 or before your regular retirement age, if you plan to work during this timeframe. In 2011, if you earn more than $14,160, Social Security will withhold $1 for every $2 earned above this amount. However, all is not lost, when you reach full retirement age Social Security will increase your benefits to make up for the benefits withheld. Once you reach your full retirement age there is no reduction in benefits for earning more than $14,160. However, the amount of tax you pay on your Social Security benefits will increase as your taxable income increases. This may be a good reason to wait until your full retirement age or until you stop working to begin taking Social Security.

If you are thinking about moving your IRA from one custodian to another I strongly encourage you to do this as a direct transfer and not as a rollover. We frequently use these terms synonymously but I assure you the IRS does not! A transfer is when you move your IRA directly from one IRA trustee/custodian to another – nothing is paid to you. A rollover is when a check is issued to you and you write a second check to the new IRA Trustee/Custodian. This must be done within 60 days or the transaction is treated as a taxable distribution. You can do as many transfers as you desire in a given year. However, you can only do one rollover per year, on a given IRA. This is a very stringent rule and there are very few exceptions even when the error is out of your control. Whenever possible be sure to use a direct transfer not a rollover to move your IRA Account.

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.

You Are Invited to our 1st Fireside Chat of 2011 on Thursday, February 10th

Please join us at Pinnacle Financial Concepts, for our first Fireside Chat of 2011. This is a great opportunity to join us in a very relaxed atmosphere to ask questions, and get prepared for filing your tax return. On Thursday, February 10, from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. our topic will be “There’s No Such Thing as a Stupid Investment Question” with a bonus (apologies to David Letterman) of “The Top 10 Things to Think About During Tax Season”. We’ll have a basic overview of investment definitions and things to know about investments to spur a discussion on the topic.

Please call 260-9800 x2 to reserve your spot at this chat. There is no charge, but we will limit the number of available seats and schedule an overflow date if needed.   Free coffee and donuts will be served and, as always, this is purely educational, no selling!!

Almost Whole

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Jane M. Young

I am continually surprised by questions from financial reporters who are still asking how my clients are faring after losing half of their retirement savings or by individual investors who are still fretting over losing half of their nest egg. If you followed our advice, as about 95% of our clients did, to stay the course and avoid selling during the drop in the market you would be close to break even now. If your risk tolerance precluded you from staying in the market, you may have realized a greater loss. This is a good reminder that we need to avoid acting on emotional reactions to the stock market. The stock market is cyclical and you can’t recover from a loss if you aren’t in the market. The stock market is counter intuitive – generally, the best time to buy is when you feel like selling and the best time to sell is when you feel like buying.

Here are some figures that will illustrate the actual change in the market over the last three or four years. The S&P 500 hit an all time high of around 1561 in October of 2007 and dropped about 56% to around 683 by March of 2009. Since March of 2009 the market increased by about 88% to 1286 on January 31, 2011. While it hasn’t reached the peak of 1561 it has returned to the 1200-1300 level where the market hovered throughout the summer of 2008 – before the significant drop in September 2008. The NASDAQ hit an all time high of around 2810 in October of 2007 and dropped about 54% to around 1293 by March of 2009. Since March of 2009 the NASDAQ has increased by about 109% to 2706 on January 31, 2011.

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. 

 

Your Money Bus is Coming to Colorado Springs

Your Money Bus is coming to Colorado Springs.

                               Get free professional advice, no strings attached

It’s never too late to secure your financial future.

Re: Free Non-profit Financial Education Event – Please share with friends, family and business associates.

All of us have family; friends and colleagues who are struggling to save money, eliminate debt and find jobs. Please share with them the opportunity to meet for a free one-on-one with local independent financial advisors when the national Your Money Bus Tour rolls into Colorado Springs on July 8th and 9th. Pinnacle Financial Concepts, Inc. is coordinating the Colorado Springs stop of this non-profit tour, visiting more that 25 cities. We will be volunteering at this event along with several other fee-only financial planning firms in town. The Your Money Bus Tour is sponsored by The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) Consumer Education Foundation, TD AMERITRADE, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and FiLife.com.

The Your Money Bus Tour will stop in Colorado Springs at the Penrose Library (downtown) on July 8th from 12:00 – 7:00 and at UCCS, Lot 1 on July 9th from 12:00 – 5:00. At each stop, consumers can sit down with locally-based volunteer financial advisors to ask pressing financial questions. All Money Bus visitors will receive a free financial education kit, including a Kiplinger magazine and a budgetary workbook.

Forty percent of American families spend more than they earn and the average American with a credit file has more than $16,000 in debt, not including mortgages. We encourage people to stop byYour Money Bus to learn how to better save, eliminate debt and develop personal financial sustainability habits that will get them through and beyond these tough times.

The NAPFA Consumer Education Foundation is a 501c (3) organization committed to educating Americans on personal finance. Consumers need easy to understand information without any bias, sales, or conflicts of interest. All volunteer financial advisors are fee-only fiduciaries; nothing is being sold or promoted. This is strictly educational and free information for the public. The public is welcome to just stop by or make an appointment ahead of time.

For more information, visit www.YourMoneyBus.com and for up-to-date schedule information contact Krist Allnutt,krista.allnutt@perceptiononline.com.

Warmest Regards,

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

The Demise of an Investment Portfolio – Emotions and Market Timing

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Forecasting the short-term movement of the stock market and trying to time the market is fruitless. As in all areas of our lives, we can’t control what life throws at us but we can establish a defensive position to best deal with a variety of outcomes. When it comes to our investments, we accomplish this through diversification, dollar cost averaging, maintaining an emergency fund and staying the course. We need to fight the natural inclination to make financial decisions based on emotions. Don’t forget that the stock market is counter-intuitive. Generally, the best time to buy is when things seem really bad and the best time to sell is when things seem the brightest. But then again, we just never know. It is easy to get caught up in the fear or euphoria of the moment. But, keep in mind that emotional reactions to the market can have a devastating impact on your portfolio. The stock market is a long- term investment and we need to avoid reacting to short-term events.

Proof of this can be seen in a Dalbar study conducted in March of 2010 for the time period of 1/1/90 – 12/31/09. During this time the average return in the equity market was 8.8% but the average return for the individual investor was only 3.2%. This discrepancy is a result of investors trying to time the market or reacting emotionally to financial news and events. Below are two quotes that sum this up very well.

“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

“The idea that a bell rings to signal when investors should get into or out of the stock market is simply not credible. After nearly fifty years in this business, I do not know of anybody who has done it (time the market) successfully and consistently. I don’t even know anybody who knows anybody who has done it successfully and consistently”
– John Bogle, founder of Vanguard Investments

Don’t Be Alarmed by the Financial Scaremongers

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

About once a week a client asks me about the latest prognostication from some famous so called “financial expert/alarmist.” They are either predicting the demise of the world as we know it or predicting a triple digit increase in the stock market. Maybe I am exaggerating, just a little, but we’ve all experienced those who think they can forecast the future and lead us to “Financial Paradise.” I remind my clients of two things with regard to these “miraculous forecasters.” The first is that most of the TV hosts, radio shows, magazines, and financial authors are in the business of making money by selling magazines, books, and ad space. They are not in the business of providing the consumer with the best possible advice. They want to entertain, tantalize, and terrorize you. This is what gets and keeps our attention. Let’s face it! Good solid investment advice is really boring. It doesn’t change much and doesn’t sell magazines! Secondly, they cannot predict what the market is going to do tomorrow much less six months from now. Historically, no one has ever been able to consistently predict the future of the financial markets. Sure, when you have thousands of people making forecasts a few are bound to get lucky. As a good friend often says, even a blind man eventually hits the bull’s eye.

Develop a solid plan to meet your unique situation and stick with it. Don’t let the financial hype throw you off course. Below are a few quotes that help emphasize the fallacy of placing too much faith in financial forecasts.

“We’ve long felt that the only value of stock forecasts is to make fortune tellers look good. Short-term market forecasts are poison and should be kept locked up in a safe place, away from children and also from grown-ups who behave in the market like children” (Warren Buffett).

“Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window” (Peter Drucker).

” We have two classes of forecasters: Those who don’t know – and those who don’t know they don’t know” (J.K. Galbraith, US Economist and diplomat).

To Convert or Not Convert – Looking Beyond the Roth IRA Conversion Calculator

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

As I mentioned in the previous article on Roth IRAs, with a Roth IRA you pay income tax now and not upon distribution. With a traditional IRA you defer taxes today and pay income taxes upon deferral. When you convert a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA you must pay regular income taxes on the amount that is converted. The advisability of converting to a Roth depends on the length of time you have until you take distributions, your tax rate today and your anticipated tax rate upon retirement and your projected return on your investments.

When you run your numbers through one of the numerous calculators available on the internet you may or may not see a big savings in doing a Roth Conversion. However, there are several other factors that may tilt the scale toward converting some of your money to a Roth.

• Income tax rates are currently very low and there is a general consensus that they will increase considerably by the time you start taking distributions. With a Roth conversion you pay the tax now at the lower rates and take tax free distributions when the tax rates are higher.

• The stock market is still down about 25% from where it was in August of 2008. There is a lot of cash sitting on the sidelines waiting to be invested once consumer confidence is restored. You can pay taxes on money in your traditional IRA while the share prices are low and take a tax free distribution from your Roth down the road when the market has rebounded.

• You may have a sizable portion of your portfolio in tax deferred retirement accounts on which you will have to take required minimum distributions (RMD). This could put you into a much higher tax bracket. By converting some of your traditional IRA into a Roth you can get some tax diversification on your portfolio. This will lower your RMD– because there is no RMD on a Roth IRA. Diversifying your portfolio between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA enables you to take your distributions from the most appropriate pot of money in any given year.

For more information on Roth IRAs and the new tax laws for 2010 please review the articles previously posted under Roth IRAs.

10 Investment Principles that Never Go Out of Style

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

Frequently people talk about how everything is different and we should change the way we invest. Yes, we have just experienced a very difficult year with some major changes in our economic situation. However, every time we go through a major market adjustment if feels like “this time is different”. We could take numerous comments made at the end of the last bear market and insert them into today’s headlines without missing a beat. I call this the “recency effect”; bad times always feel more desperate while we are experiencing them. We need to step back and look at the big picture; don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Good, sound investment fundamentals are still valid. Some people may reassess their tolerance for risk, start saving more money or cut back on their discretionary spending – but the following investment principals are good, time tested guidelines that everyone should follow in any market.

1. Don’t time the market – The stock market is counter-intuitive. Generally, it may be better to invest when things seem most dire and sell when everything is rosy. It is impossible to predict the movement of the stock market and history shows that those who do frequently miss out on big upswings.

2. Dollar Cost Average – This enables you to invest a set dollar amount every month or every quarter regardless of what the market does. As a result you buy more shares when the price is low and fewer when the market is high. Dollar cost averaging helps you mitigate risk because we don’t know what the stock market is going to do tomorrow.

3. Maintain at least 3 to 6 months of expenses in an emergency fund – This is especially important in difficult financial times when stock market values are low and unemployment is high. Unless you have a very secure job I currently recommend a 6 month emergency fund.

4. Don’t invest in anything you don’t understand – If you just can’t get your head around something after it’s been explained or you have done a reasonable amount of research don’t invest in it. If an investment opportunity is overly complicated something may be rotten in Denmark.

5. Don’t Chase Hot Asset Classes – Today international funds may be skyrocketing and tomorrow it may be small cap domestic stock funds. Don’t forget what happened to the stock market after the dot.com bubble burst.

6. Diversify, Diversify, Diversify – Everyone needs to diversify with a mix of fixed income and equity investments that is consistent with their own unique investment goals and objectives. Although most stocks dropped in unison over the last year, I still think there is value in diversifying between different types of stock mutual funds. I believe we will see some categories of stocks outpace others as the market rebounds. Depending on your risk tolerance, a small allocation in commodities and real estate may be advisable.

7. Don’t Make Emotional Decisions – Many investment decisions are triggered by fear and greed and they are equally damaging. Don’t make rash decisions based on emotion. Remember the stock market is counter-intuitive.

8. Don’t put more than 5% of your assets in one security – Any given company can go bankrupt as we have seen with many financial and automobile firms over the last year. I encourage the use of mutual funds over individual stocks to help mitigate this type of risk. If you do invest in individual stocks don’t put too much faith in any one company. If you are investing in your own company and you have a strong understanding of the firm’s performance you could go up to 10%.

9. Be tax smart – Take advantage of tax advantaged retirement plans such as Roth IRAs and 401k plans. Consider tax consequences when re-balancing your portfolio. Use a bear market to harvest some tax losses and off-load some bad or inappropriate investments.

10. Be aware of fees and surrender charges – When selecting investments be aware of high fees and commissions. Tread cautiously with anything that contains a contingent deferred sales charge. Many clients have come to me with a desire to sell or transfer previously purchased investments, usually annuities, only to find they have a 5-10% surrender charge if they sell within ten years of purchase. A surrender charge can have a big impact on your flexibility. If you really want a variable annuity buy one with low fees and no surrender charges.

Roth IRAs – Part II – The Major Differences Between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

The primary difference between a Traditional IRA and a Roth IRA is when you pay income tax. A traditional IRA and a traditional retirement plan are funded with pre-tax dollars and you pay taxes on your withdrawals. A Roth IRA is funded with after tax dollars and you don’t pay taxes on your withdrawals. The decision to buy a Roth or a Traditional IRA is largely based on your current and future tax rates, your investment timeframe and your investment goals. The Roth IRA is usually the more advantageous of the two options but it depends on your individual situation.

Traditional IRA: (tax me later)

• Funded with pre-tax dollars therefore it provides a current tax deduction
• Earnings are tax deferred
• Distributions taxed at regular income tax rates, penalty if withdrawn before 59 1/2
• Required minimum distributions must be taken beginning at age 70 1/2
• Income limit on contributions begins at, if participant is in a retirement plan, $89,000 MFJ and $55,000 if single.
• Annual contribution limit is $5000 if under 50 and $6000 if over 50
• Many IRAs are created as a result of a rollover from a company retirement plan such as a 401k – very similar in tax structure.

Roth IRA: (tax me now)

• Funded with after tax dollars, does not provide a current tax deduction
• Earnings tax exempt (after five years or 59 ½)
• Contributions can be withdrawn penalty and tax free
• Earnings can be withdrawn tax free after five years or 59 1/2
• No required minimum distribution
• Income limit on contribution begins at $166,000 MFJ and $105,000 if single
• Annual contribution limit is $5000 if under 50 and $6000 if over 50

Part III of this series will address the pros and cons of converting a Roth IRA to a Traditional IRA.

Start Planning Now! Income Limits on Roth IRA Conversions to be Lifted in 2010 – Part 1

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Beginning in January 2010 the income limit of $100,000 AGI (adjusted gross income) on converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA will be lifted. This is a huge opportunity for many who have been unable to contribute to a Roth or convert to a Roth due to income restrictions. Normally, when one converts a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA the amount converted is added to gross income in the year of conversion. However, for conversions made in 2010 the government is allowing you to spread out the payment of taxes over the 2011 and 2012 tax years.

Why should you care about this now, prior to 2010? There are several things you can do to prepare for this opportunity. This is a great time to fund your traditional IRA, non-deductible traditional IRA or your 401k plan, if you are planning to retire or change companies soon, in anticipation of converting it to a Roth in 2010. You will need cash to pay the taxes associated with converting to a Roth IRA, so you should be incorporating this additional need for liquidity into your financial planning today.

This is the first in a series of postings on Roth IRAs and Roth IRA conversions.

Three Significant Changes to Your Retirement Plans in 2009 and 2010

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

1. No required minimum distribution in 2009 for IRA, 401k, 403b, 457b, 401k and profit sharing plans. This does not apply to annuitized defined benefit plans.

2. If you are older than 70 ½, in 2009 you can make charitable gifts from your IRA without the payment being included in your adjusted gross income. The distribution must be a “qualified charitable distribution”, which means it must be made directly from the IRA owner to the charitable institution. This is especially beneficial if you claim a standard deduction and were unable to deduct charitable contributions by itemizing.

3. Beginning in 2010 individuals earning over $100,000 in modified adjusted gross income will be able to convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. Modified adjusted gross income is the bottom line on the first page of the 1040 tax form. Income from a conversion in 2010 may be reported equally over 2011 and 2012.

While there are many benefits to converting from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA the conversion will increase your adjusted gross income (AGI) which can have some unintended consequences. An increase in AGI may impact the taxability of your social security, phase-outs on itemized deductions, education and your tax bracket.

I will write more about Roth IRA conversions in a future blog.

Does the Stimulus Make Gold Shine? (Part I)

Jane M. Young CFP, EA, CDFA

I have frequently been asked about the wisdom of investing in gold to hedge against inflation. Generally gold is not a great investment, it is commonly thought of as a doomsday investment. Gold is very risky and exceptionally volatile. The value of gold is based on what people are willing to pay. The market value of gold can be highly dependent on irrational emotions. Over long periods of time the return on gold has mirrored that of inflation resulting in a real return close to zero. The current price of gold is exceptionally high; it increased almost 60% over the three years ending in 2008. Additionally, the cost to acquire and sell gold can be prohibitive.

Recent increases in government spending make inflation a greater threat. A threat of inflation makes gold more appealing. Gold usually holds its value at times when other assets are losing their value. The demand for gold generally spikes in times of economic instability and inflation. If the government becomes unable to sell treasuries to cover significant increases in government spending it will resort to printing money. This will result in inflation. Historically, inflation has lead to higher gold prices.

If you decide to reinforce your portfolio with gold to guard against inflation or economic instability it should only represent a small percentage of your portfolio – generally 5% and no more than 15%.

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