Tax Reform or Accountant’s Re-employment Act?

For as long as I can remember, tax reduction and simplification have been on the table for congress and past presidents. So why not President Trump? File your next tax return on a postcard (not likely)? I might be a bit cynical, but the only result of the next tax act I see will be extending my employment as a tax planner and preparer for the foreseeable future.

I sincerely doubt I’ll see significant tax simplification in my lifetime, so my fellow CPA’s and Turbotax employees can probably breathe a sigh of relief-their jobs are likely safe for years to come.

You can be forgiven if you’re skeptical that Congress will be able to completely overhaul our tax system after multiple failures to overhaul our health care system, but professional advisors are studying the newly-released nine-page proposal closely nonetheless. We only have the bare outlines of what the initial plan might look like before it goes through the Congressional sausage grinder:

First, we would see the current seven tax brackets for individuals reduced to three — a 12% rate for lower-income people (up from 10% currently), 25% in the middle and a top bracket of 35%. The proposal doesn’t include the income “cutoffs” for the three brackets, but if they end up as suggested in President Trump’s tax plan from the campaign, the 25% rate would start at $75,000 (for married couples–currently $75,900), and joint filers would start paying 35% at $225,000 of income (currently $416,700).

The dreaded alternative minimum tax, which was created to ensure that upper-income Americans would not be able to finesse away their tax obligations altogether, would be eliminated under the proposal. But there is a mysterious notation that Congress might impose an additional rate for the highest-income taxpayers, to ensure that wealthier Americans don’t contribute a lower share than they pay today.

The initial proposal would nearly double the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples, and increase the child tax credit, now set at $1,000 per child under age 17. (No actual figure was given.)

At the same time, the new tax plan promises to eliminate many itemized deductions, without telling us which ones other than a promise to keep deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions. The plan mentions tax benefits that would encourage work, higher education and retirement savings, but gives no details of what might change in these areas.

The most interesting part of the proposal is a full repeal of the estate tax and generation-skipping estate tax, which affects only a small percentage of the population but results in an enormous amount of planning and calculations for those who ARE affected. Anyone with enough money to be subject to the estate tax, has probably paid lawyers and accountants enough for planning to avoid paying a single dollar of it.

The plan would also limit the maximum tax rate for pass-through business entities like partnerships and limited liability companies (LLC’s) to 25%, which might allow high-income business owners to take their gains through the entity, rather than as personal (1040) income and avoid the highest personal tax brackets.

Finally, the tax plan would lower America’s maximum corporate (C-Corporation) tax rate from the current 35% to 20%. To encourage companies to repatriate profits held overseas, the proposal would introduce a 100% exemption for dividends from foreign subsidiaries in which the U.S. parent owns at least a 10% stake, and imposes a one-time “low” (not specified) tax rate on wealth already accumulated overseas.

What are the implications of this bare-bones proposal? The most obvious, and most remarked-upon, is the drop that many high-income taxpayers would experience, from the current 39.6% top tax rate to 35%. That, plus the elimination of the estate tax, in addition to the lowering of the corporate tax (potentially leading to higher dividends) has been described as a huge relief for upper-income American investors, which could fuel the notion that the entire exercise is a big giveaway to large donors. But the mysterious “surcharge” on wealthier taxpayers might taketh away what the rest of the plan giveth.

But many Americans with S corporations, LLCs or partnership entities (known as pass-through entities because their income is reported on the owners’ personal returns and therefore no company level tax is paid) would potentially receive a much greater windfall, if they could choose to pay taxes on their corporate earnings at 25% rather than nearly 40% currently. (No big surprise: The Trump organization is a pass-through entity.)

A huge unknown is which itemized deductions would be eliminated in return for the higher standard deduction. Would the plan eliminate the deduction for state and local property and income taxes, which is especially valuable to people in high-tax states such as New York, New Jersey and California, and in general to higher-income taxpayers who pay state taxes at the highest rate? Note that on average, only about 35% of Americans itemize their deductions on Schedule A, most of them higher income taxpayers.

Currently, about one-third of the 145 million households filing a tax return — or roughly 48 million filers — claim state and local tax deductions. Among households with income of $100,000 or more, the average deduction for state and local taxes is around $12,300. Some economists have speculated that people earning between $100,000 and around $300,000 might wind up paying more in taxes under the proposal than they do now. Taxpayers with incomes above $730,000 would hypothetically see their after-tax income increase an average of 8.5 percent.

Big picture, economists are in the early stages of debating how much the plan might add to America’s soaring $20 trillion national debt. One back-of-the-envelope estimate by a Washington budget watchdog estimated that the tax cuts might add $5.8 trillion to the debt load over the next 10 years. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget analysis, Republican economists have identified about $3.6 trillion in offsetting revenues (mostly an assumption of increased economic growth), so by the most conservative calculation the tax plan would cost the federal deficit somewhere in the $2.2 trillion range over the next decade.

Others, notably the Brookings Tax Policy Center (see graph) see the new proposals actually raising tax revenues for individuals (blue bars), while mostly reducing the flow to Uncle Sam from corporations.

CA - 2017-9-30 - Tax Reform Proposal_2

These cost estimates have huge political implications for whether a tax bill will ever be passed. Under a prior agreement, the Senate can pass tax cuts with a simple majority of 51 votes — avoiding a filibuster that might sink the effort — only if the bill adds no more than $1.5 trillion to the national debt during the next decade.

That means compromise. To get the impact on the national debt below $1.5 trillion, Congressional Republicans might decide on a smaller cut to the corporate rate, to something closer to 25-28%, while giving typical families a smaller 1-percentage point tax cut (gee…thanks?). Under that scenario, multi-national corporations might be able to bring back $1 trillion or more in profit at unusually low tax rates, and most families might see a modest tax cut that will put a few hundred extra bucks in their pockets.

Alternatively, Congress could pass tax cuts of more than $1.5 trillion if the Republicans could flip enough Democratic Senators to get to 60 votes. The Democrats would almost certainly demand large tax cuts for lower and middle earners, potentially lower taxes on corporations and higher taxes on the wealthy. Would you bet on that sort of compromise?

We shall see, and I’ll keep you posted on tax developments. For now, put away that post card–you’re probably going to need an envelope and more postage.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Sources:
https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/trump-overpromising-tax-cuts-205013012.html
https://www.aei.org/publication/the-big-six-tax-reform-framework-can-you-dynamically-score-a-question-mark/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2017/09/27/trumps-new-tax-plan-shows-how-unserious-republicans-are-about-governing/?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.d37e0bcf718d
https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/hidden-tax-hikes-trumps-tax-cut-plan-202041809.html
https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/republicans-700-million-problem-could-173027048.html
https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/trumps-tax-plan-just-got-180000645.html
The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

 

Can Any Monkey Make Money in an Uptrending Stock Market?

Looking back in history at a chart of the stock markets, in hindsight, it seems so simple to make money in the markets. Buy some index funds, periodically add to them, and “voila”, your money grows over time. Buy Amazon shares at $4.00 and sell them several years later at $1,000. Easy peasy, right?

You probably didn’t notice, but Monday, September 11 marked a milestone: the S&P 500 index’s bull (up-trending) market became the second-longest and the second-best performing in the modern economic era. Stock prices are up 270% from their low point after the Great Recession in March 2009—up 340% if you include dividends. That beats the 267% gain that investors experienced from June 1949 to August 1956. (The raging bull that lasted from October 1990 to March 2000 is still the winning-est ever, and may never be topped.) Any diversification, trimming of positions or risk management over this period of time cost you profits and reduced your returns. Nonetheless, it’s what any prudent investor should do.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to think that the long eight-year ride was easy money; you just put your chips on the table when the market hit bottom and let them ride the long bull all the way to where we are today. We tend to forget that staying invested is actually pretty difficult, due to all the white noise that tries to distract us from sound investing principles, not to mention some gut wrenching declines that test our meddle.

Consider, for example, that initial decision to invest in stocks that March in 2009. We had just experienced the worst bear market since the Great Depression (S&P 500 index down 57.7% from the peak in October 2007), and were being told many plausible reasons why prices could go lower still. After all, corporate earnings were dropping from already-negative territory. Was that the time to buy, or should you respond by waiting out the next couple of years until a clear upward pattern emerged?

The following year, investors were spooked by the so-called “Flash Crash,” which represented the worst single-day decline for the S&P 500 since April 2009. Then came 2011, two to three years into the bull, when the S&P 500 declined almost 20% from its peak in May through a low in October. Remember the double-dip recession we were in for? The pundits and touts proclaimed that another recession was looming on the horizon, which would take stocks down still further. Surely THAT was a good time to take your winnings and retreat to the sidelines.

By the time 2012 rolled around, there was a new reason to take your chips off the table: the markets were hitting all-time highs. Of course, historically, all-time highs are not indicative of anything other than a market that has been going up. If you decided to take your gains and get out of the market when the S&P 500 hit its first all-time high in 2012, you would have missed an additional 98% gain.

The headline distraction in 2013 was rising interest rates, which were said to be the “death knell” of the bull market. Low rates [it was declared] were the “reason” for the incredible run-up from 2009-2012, so surely higher rates would have the opposite effect. (The “experts” were wrong. The S&P 500 would advance 32% in 2013, its best year since 1997.)

In 2014, the U.S. dollar index experienced a strong advance, as markets began to expect the U.S. Fed to end its quantitative easing (bond buying) program. A falling dollar and easy Fed money were said to be responsible for the “aging” bull market, so this surely meant that it was time to head for the exits. Instead, the index ended 2014 with a 13.7% gain.

The following year, a sharp decline in crude oil prices was said to be evidence of a weakening global economy. The first Fed rate hike (in December 2015) since 2006 led many institutional investors to sell their stocks in the worst sell-off to start a year in market history. The 52-week lows in January and February were said to be extremely bearish; the market, we were told, was going much lower. Instead, the S&P 500 ended 2016 up 12% after being roughly “flat” for 2015.

Today, you’ll hear that the bull market is “running out of steam,” and is “long in the tooth.” New record highs mean that there is nowhere to go but down. In other words, you are, at this moment, subject to the same noise—in the form of extreme forecasts, groundless predictions, prophesies and extrapolation from yesterday’s headlines—that has bombarded us throughout the second-longest market upturn in history.

This is not to say that those dire predictions won’t someday come true; there is definitely a bear market in our future, and several more after that. But investors who tune out the noise generally fare much better, and capture more of the returns that the market gives us, than the hyperactive traders who jump out of stocks every time there’s a scary headline. This is also not to say that prudent risk management should not be part of your investing plan (trimming shares, re-balancing, hedging). As I like to say, making money in up-trending markets is not terribly hard if you don’t get scared out; keeping your profits (risk management) before a big decline is much harder.

As we look back fondly at the yellow line in the middle of the graph below, let’s recognize that holding tight through big market advances and allowing your investments to compound, is never easy. But it can be extremely profitable in the long run.

Bull Markets_3

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Sources:
https://pensionpartners.com/myths-markets-and-easy-money/
http://www.businessinsider.com/stocks-bull-market-is-2nd-best-since-wwii-2017-9
The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

Equifax Data Breach Requires Action

While most of us have been watching the path of Hurricane Irma, another big news story this past week warrants your attention.  Last week, Equifax announced that a “Cybersecurity Incident” had exposed names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license and credit card numbers, from a whopping 143 million Americans.  We have already received e-mails from clients who have been affected, and expect to receive more since this will likely affect about half of the country.

In fact, this is another massive data breach reminding us how vulnerable we are to thieves seeking our personal information and identity. “Incident” sounds a bit tepid for the magnitude of this particular breach.

Are You Impacted?

To find out if your information has been compromised, check the potential impact on the Equifax website: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/

You should do so for all of your household members, including your underage kids.  In the event that you or one of your family members are affected, Equifax offers to enroll you for free credit monitoring, which they will provide for one year.  I’m generally not a fan of paying for identity theft insurance or credit monitoring services, but there’s no reason not to take advantage of Equifax’s free offer. A credit monitoring service won’t prevent fraud from happening, but WILL alert you when your personal information is being used or requested.  The service includes identity theft insurance, and it will also scan the Internet for use of your Social Security number—assuming you trust Equifax with this information after the breach.

It may take a few weeks before the service becomes effective.  In the meantime, I recommend you plan to monitor transactions on your bank accounts and credit cards.  The credit card companies typically do a pretty good job of catching fraudulent activity quickly and shutting it down, but your own diligence is essential.

Unfortunately, the free credit monitoring service has issues.  According to credit expert John Ulzheimer “You’re only going to get it free for one year” and chances are, your liability is going to last longer. Additionally, it “only applies to your Equifax credit report, and not your credit reports at Experian and TransUnion. That’s like locking one of the three doors to your house.”

I suspect that once the extent of the breach is ultimately revealed, Equifax will highly likely extend the free credit monitoring service period.

How Are YDFS Clients Protected?

Withdrawing funds from a custodian (such as Charles Schwab) account is not possible simply with your login.  This set-up provides higher security than a retail bank or other brokerage account, where a thief could hack your username/password and access your funds.

Without signed documentation and verbal confirmation, funds withdrawn from custodian accounts can only be sent via check to the address of record on the account, or via an electronic transfer to a bank account that has been authorized with previously signed documentation. All wire transfer requests require verbal confirmation before any funds leave your account.

Also, all withdrawals from custodian accounts are seen on the same or next business day by your YDFS team so we can be on the lookout for unusual activity.

If You’re a Victim of Identity Theft

If you’re a victim of this (or any) breach, here’s what to do. The whole process takes about an hour to complete:

  • Contact one of the three credit bureaus Equifax (800-766-0008), Experian (888-397-3742) and TransUnion (800-680-7289) to put a free fraud alert on your credit report. Under Federal law, each is obligated to notify the other two. The alert makes it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name, but experts note that alerts usually just slow down the process of criminals opening accounts in your name; they don’t prevent it. The alert lasts 90 days, but you can renew it, and the alert entitles you to a free credit report from each of the three companies.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and print your Identity Theft Affidavit. Use that to file a police report and create your Identity Theft Report.
  • Place a credit-freeze on your credit file, which generally stops all access to your credit report. Unfortunately, you need to contact all three companies to freeze your file. Here are the links: Equifax; ExperianTransUnion. Important note about a freeze: If you need to access credit, you have to unfreeze your records, which can take a few days. The availability of a credit freeze depends on state law or a consumer reporting company’s policies. Some states charge a fee for placing or removing a credit freeze, but it’s free to place or remove a fraud alert. You can sometimes get this service for free if you supply a copy of a police report (which you can probably file and obtain online) or affidavit stating that you believe you are likely to be the victim of identity theft.
    Another advantage: each credit inquiry from a creditor has the potential to lower your credit score, so a freeze helps to protect your score from scammers who file inquiries.

Best Practices to Employ

According to pros like Ulzheimer and professional hacker Kevin Mitnick, the question is not if your information will be compromised, but when. Criminals are actively stealing your passwords, buying and selling your data and reading your emails. There is no single way to protect your coveted identity, but here are eight best practices to employ to keep the criminals at bay.

1) Protect your information:

  • Refrain from providing businesses with your social security number (SSN) just because they ask for it. Give it only when required. In an antiquated practice, doctors, dentists and some lawyers routinely request your social security number for billing (and collection) purposes. Refuse to do business with professionals who insist on supplying your social security number without a true need to know. Medicare recipients take note: your SSN is printed on your current Medicare card, so be careful with it! The process of changing the cards will take some time, but it is in the works.
  • Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you know with whom you are dealing. This is especially important to communicate to older relatives or friends, who are prime targets of fraudsters.
  • Beware of over-sharing on social media, where criminals are finding treasure troves of information. Because they are explicitly targeting children under the age of 18, it’s important for parents to talk to their kids and explain why it is so dangerous to share too much personal information online. Share your vacation photos & experiences AFTER you’ve returned home.
  • Update your passwords so they are difficult to hack. NY Daily News found the top ten worst passwords to include: 123456, password, baseball, football, etc. Others have started to use encrypted password managers where you enter one login/password and they manage all your other passwords for you.
  • Review your banking transactions online or on your statements to look for transactions you didn’t make. Report any suspicious activity to your bank promptly.

2) Protect your Password: You know the drill; you should be changing logins and passwords every few months, and sign up for two-factor authentication (where your cell phone is your 2nd device used to authorize access) for those sites that are used frequently.

3) Shop carefully: Stop sending your credit card information over unsecured wireless networks, and when making purchases, use a credit card, which has more fraud protections under federal law than debit cards or online payment services. Free (public) Wi-Fi hotspots are prime targets for banking and credit card information theft. Never do your personal or business banking over these hotspots.

4) Review credit card statements: Before you pay, be sure to spend a few minutes to verify that there are no fraudulent charges. While you’re at it, enroll in your credit card’s notification program, where the company alerts you to charges over a set amount.

5) Review your (and your kids’, for reasons mentioned above) credit report (free) every 12 months at annualcreditreport.com. You want to make sure that nothing fishy has cropped up. If you find an error, report it immediately and stay on top of the process.

6) Protect your Social Security account from identity theft by claiming your record at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/. Two-factor authentication will prevent others from attempting to steal your social security identity and records. Do it before they do.

7) Avoid maintaining large balances in checking or savings accounts with a debit card attached: Keep larger account balances in brokerage accounts or accounts without debit and/or check writing features.

8) Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers: ID thieves like to intercept offers of new credit sent via postal mail.  If you don’t want to receive pre-screened offers of credit and insurance, you have two choices: You can opt out of receiving them for five years by calling toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visiting www.optoutprescreen.com. Or you can opt out permanently online at www.optoutprescreen.com.  To complete your request, you must return a signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which will be provided after you initiate your online request.

It’s important to remember that breaches like these have happened before and will happen again.  Taking preventative measures like those listed above limit the potential damage of such events.  Please contact us if you have any further questions or concerns regarding this topic.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

How to Navigate a Homeowner’s Insurance Claim

The disaster in Texas, for the unfortunate souls living there, reminds us how vulnerable we can be, and how being prepared before disaster strikes, can make the aftermath so much easier. While the odds of losing everything in a natural or man made disaster are relatively low, it helps to know that you took some steps ahead of time, like having a recent video tape of your entire home and it’s contents, and meeting with your insurance agent to update the coverage and discuss the available “riders” to minimize surprises at claim time.

But suppose your number is up, and you’re the victim of a huge natural disaster like Harvey, or have experienced some more local damage, like a tree falling on your house. What are the best practices for filing a claim for the damages your home and property have suffered?

Recently, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) offered tips on how to get all that you’re entitled to from your insurance company. I’ve added my own personal tips based on my experience dealing with a homeowner’s insurance loss claim.

The CFA starts by noting a disturbing trend: families victimized by Harvey-related wind and flood damage will have to dig deeper into their pockets because few of today’s homeowners have federal flood insurance, and because insurers have been steadily increasing hurricane wind coverage deductibles and imposing other homeowners insurance policy limitations. Discuss flood coverage with your agent, find out the premium, and decide whether your risk is higher than average. If it’s only a few hundred dollars a year, it may be worth it. Also, most people are surprised that some wind damage to roofs may not be covered if your roofing has been neglected or is past its useful life.

Among the tips: Report your claim as promptly as possible, since insurance companies generally handle them on a first come, first serve basis. Be sure to write down your claim number, because insurance company claims departments locate your file most efficiently using your claim number.

Depending on the circumstances, you may be responsible for mitigating the damage. That is, if the dwelling was safe, and you had the ability to take steps to reduce the overall loss (say by shutting off the water supply in the event of a broken water pipe, or fixing a broken window), and you didn’t, your claim payout may be reduced.

Sometimes the damage requires a contractor to come out prior to an insurance adjuster’s arrival to mitigate the damage. Contractors by their very nature can be overzealous or aggressive, so try and be there onsite before they arrive to take pictures and control or limit their activities to damaged areas. You don’t want to be responsible for costs that may not ultimately be covered by insurance. In the case of water damage, keep samples of the wood flooring, carpeting, tiles or wall coverings before they’re hauled off the property. You’ll be glad you did when starting reconstruction and trying to find matching replacements. Remember, it’s your home; nobody cares more about it than you-let the contractors know you’re in charge, and that you won’t be pressured to make unnecessary improvements or replacements.

Meanwhile, maintain receipts for any expenditures related to immediate repairs you had to make to secure your home, or any living expenses (hotel, meals) if you could not return to your home in the wake of the storm, or as a result of your own home damage experience. (If your claim is limited to flood insurance, additional living expenses are usually not covered.)

When an adjuster arrives to survey your damage, ask if he/she is an employee of the insurance company, or an independent adjuster (I.A.) hired by that firm. If this person is an independent adjuster, ask if he or she is authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company, and ask for the name of the in-house company adjuster to whom the I.A. is sending your information.

Many insurance companies will send out one of their approved contractors to estimate your property damage. You are not under any obligation to use them, and you should realize that these approved contractors have likely agreed to limit repair costs based on average cost estimates in the area. You might benefit from getting an estimate from other local contractors, since your damage situation will be unique. Just because your insurance company approves of a contractor, that doesn’t mean they’re the best or most qualified for you.

Before you file a claim, know that it helps to have pictures or a video of your possessions, which you can file as evidence of what you’re claiming. Make as thorough a list of your possessions as you can ahead of time. When the claim is made, start a notebook documenting contacts with your insurance company and contractors, writing down the date, time and a brief description of every exchange. Keep receipts from emergency repairs as well as any costs you incur in temporary housing, which may be reimbursable under the “Additional Living Expense” portion of your homeowners’ policy.

Suppose the claim is denied or you feel the offer is too low. At that point, you should ask the company to identify the language in your homeowners’ policy that served as the basis for denying your claim or offering so little. Once the company pinpoints the appropriate language in the policy, you should be able to determine the fairness of the offer. If you feel that the company has slipped new limitations into the policy and has not adequately informed you, it might be a good idea to consult an attorney. If a structural engineer has deemed your repairs not due to a disaster (but say to normal wear and tear), it may pay to hire your own licensed structural engineer to refute the insurance company’s report. If it’s an independent engineer hired by the insurance company, and you disagree with his or her conclusions, you have every right to call and discuss their conclusions with them.

For those not living through Harvey, this might be a good time to look hard at your current policy. The CFA has noticed that new provisions are showing up which limit replacement cost payments, and many insurers no longer cover the additional costs to bring a damaged home up to new building codes (wiring, elevation for flood risk, etc.) Remember that sewer backup coverage is usually an additional low cost rider, so consider adding it, especially if your home has a finished or even an unfinished basement.

Once the insurance company tells you the reasons for its action, it cannot produce new reasons for denying payment or making a low offer at a later time. You have locked them in—an important protection for the consumer.

If you still feel that their claim settlement offer is too low, or the claim denial is wrong, complain to an executive in the firm’s consumer relations department (who is paid to keep consumers happy) rather than an executive in the claims department (who is paid to keep claims costs low). In the conversation, use the records you’ve kept since the claim process began. The more serious the insurance company sees that you are in documenting how you were treated, the more likely they will make a more reasonable offer.

If that doesn’t get you anywhere, complain to your state insurance department. All states will at least seek a response to your complaint from your insurance company, which will give you more information as you consider your next steps.

Your last option is to consult a lawyer. If you’re sitting in the attorney’s office, the notes you took take on additional importance. If your treatment was particularly bad, the courts in many states will allow additional compensation if the insurance company acted in “bad faith.” Since insurance companies take your money in exchange for their promise to make you whole when disaster strikes, they must act in utmost good faith in performing that obligation. With that said, it may be time to evaluate whether the insurance company you’re doing business with is “solid” and reputable enough to handle a flood of claims. Saving a few dollars on insurance premiums by using lesser known (and lesser capitalized) insurers may not be worth it.

Finally, try and be onsite to inspect each step of the rebuilding process once underway. Insurance repair estimates can be tediously detailed, and are not always easy to understand. But you want to be sure that the appropriate quality replacement materials are used, and that workmanship is of the highest standards. You may have to do some of your own legwork to find suitable replacement materials if the contractor tells you that your original materials are no longer available. After the work is done, you’ll likely find or remember (damaged) items that were missed during the original claim, so most insurance companies give you 1-2 years after the “claim date” to add other items that are detected, without having to file a new claim, or incurring a second deductible. Keep that important deadline in mind.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Source: http://consumerfed.org/press_release/consumers-get-fair-claims-payments-wake-hurricane-harvey/

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

A Good Time to Sell?

I got a call this week from a client who wanted to sell more than 50% of their investments over fear that the North Korea situation might balloon into something big. Despite my assurances that the market is trading within 1% of an all-time high, and if institutions with billions of dollars under management weren’t selling, why would we? What do we know that they, with their millions of dollars in market and geo-political risk assessment research, don’t know? And once you sell, how will you know when to get back in?

So far, the world markets seem to be shrugging off the sabre-rattling coming from North Korea (normal behavior) and the U.S. White House (complete departure from policy). The smart money is betting that the distant but suddenly headline-grabbing possibility of the first conflict between two countries armed with nuclear weapons will amount to a tempest in a teapot.

Meanwhile, the U.S. stock market has been testing new highs for months, and experts cannot quite explain why valuations have been rising amid such low volatility.

So the question is quite logical: isn’t this a good time to pare back or get out of the market until valuations return to their historical norms, or at least until the North Korean “crisis” blows over?

The quick answer is that there’s never a good time to try to time the market, especially as concerns geo-political events. The longer answer is that this may actually be a particularly bad time to try it.

What’s happening between the U.S. and North Korea is admittedly unprecedented. In the past, the U.S. largely ignored the bluster and empty threats coming out of the tiny, dirt-poor communist regime, and believe it or not, that also seems to be what the military is doing now. Yes, our President did blurt out the term “fire and fury” in impromptu remarks to the press, and later doubled down on the term by suggesting that his warning wasn’t worded strongly enough. But the U.S. military seems to be responding with a yawn. There are no Naval carrier groups anywhere near Korea at the moment; the U.S.S. Carl Vinson and the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt are both still engaged in training exercises off the U.S. West Coast, and the U.S.S. Nimitz is currently patrolling the Persian Gulf. Nor has the State Department called for the evacuation of non-essential personnel from South Korea, as it would if it believed that tensions were leading toward a military confrontation.

Meanwhile, on the home front, the U.S. economy continues to grow slowly but steadily, and in the second quarter of 2017, 72.2% of companies in the S&P 500 index have reported earnings above forecast.

What does this all mean? It means that you will probably see a certain amount of selling due to panic over the North Korean standoff, which will make stocks less expensive—a classic buying opportunity. August and September have been somewhat volatile months in the past, so the North Korean standoff gives some “cover” for selling. Nonetheless, history has given all of us many opportunities to panic, going back to World War I and World War II, and more recently 9/11—but those who stayed the course reaped enormous benefits from those who abandoned their stock positions. It should be understood that it’s not the known perils that usually cause a major market selloff; it’s the ones that we don’t see coming.

If you’re feeling panic over the North Korean situation, by all means, go in the nearest bedroom and scream—and then share some sympathy for the Americans living in the island territory of Guam, which is in the direct path of the North Korean bluster. Sure, if you have held your investments throughout this bull market and haven’t taken any profits, it doesn’t hurt to trim a few positions or to hedge them. Just don’t sabotage your financial plan and well-being in the process by selling a large chunk of your investments in response to what may amount to a non-event.

If you’re having trouble sleeping at night worrying over your portfolio, then you are probably holding more risk than you should (you know your risk score, right?)  So there’s nothing wrong with reducing the risk of your portfolio if it makes you uncomfortable. Work with your advisor to reduce the risk of your portfolio to the “sleeping soundly” point. Just don’t wait for geopolitical events to force you to sell in a panic.

A recent true story I read, helps keep these sort of things in perspective:
During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, warships were parked off the coast of Cuba, and the Soviet Union and the U.S have nuclear weapons pointed at each other in the highest possible state of alert. The market is falling and Mike Epstein is at the center of the action as a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Mike turns to his boss and asks what he should do. His boss tells him “hit the ask and buy ‘em.” Mike politely questions the sanity of his boss because he realizes the world may be coming to end in a nuclear holocaust. His boss tells him to keep buying, “if they don’t nuke us the market will bounce, and if they do you won’t have to worry about paying for them!”

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

 

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post.

10 Investment Mistakes to Avoid

There are many ways to lose money while investing your money. Here’s a look at 10 proven ways to manage your stock portfolio into the ground in no time.

The temptation to sell is always highest when the market drops the furthest.

Who needs a pyramid scheme or a crooked money manager when you can lose money in the stock market all by yourself?  If you want to help curb your loss potential, avoid these 10 strategies:

  1. Go with the herd. If everyone else is buying it, it must be good, right? Wrong. Investors tend to do what everyone else is doing and are overly optimistic when the market goes up and overly pessimistic when the market goes down. For instance, in 2008, the largest monthly outflow of U.S. domestic equity funds occurred after the market had fallen over 25% from its peak. And in 2011, the only time net inflows were recorded was before the market had slid over 10%.
  2. Put all of your bets on one high-flying stock. If only you had invested all your money in Apple ten years ago, you’d be a millionaire today. Perhaps, but what if, instead, you had invested in Enron, Conseco, CIT, WorldCom, Washington Mutual, or Lehman Brothers? All were high flyers at one point, yet all have since filed for bankruptcy, making them perfect candidates for the downwardly mobile investor.
  3. Buy only when the market is up. If the market is on a tear, how can you lose? Just ask the hordes of investors who flocked to stocks in 1999 and early 2000—and then lost their shirts in the ensuing bear market.
  4. Sell when the market is down. The temptation to sell is always highest when the market drops the furthest. And it’s what many inexperienced investors tend to do, locking in losses and precluding future recoveries.
  5. Stay on the sidelines until markets calm down. Since markets almost never “calm down,” this is the perfect rationale to never get in. In today’s world, that means settling for a miniscule return that may not even keep pace with inflation.
  6. Buy on tips from friends. Who needs professional advice when your new buddy from the gym can give you some great tips? If his stock suggestions are as good as his abs workout tips, you can’t go wrong.
  7. Rely on the pundits for advice. With all the experts out there crowding the airwaves with their recommendations, why not take their advice? But which advice should you follow? Jim Cramer may say buy, while Warren Buffett says sell. Does their time frame and risk tolerance even come close to yours? How would you know? Remember that what pundits sell best is themselves.
  8. Go with your gut. Fundamental research may be OK for the pros, but it’s much easier to buy or sell based on what your gut tells you. Had problems with your laptop lately? Maybe you should sell that Hewlett Packard stock. When it comes to hunches, irrationality rules.
  9. React frequently to market volatility. Responding to the market’s daily ups and downs is a surefire way to lock in losses. Even professional traders have a poor track record of guessing the market’s bigger shifts, let alone daily fluctuations. Market volatility is a good teacher of bad short-term investing habits. Refuse to be a student.
  10. Set it and forget it. Ignoring your portfolio until you’re ready to cash it in gives it the perfect opportunity to go completely out of balance, with past winners dominating. It also makes for a major misalignment of original investing goals and shifting life-stage priorities. Instead, re-balance your portfolio on a regular basis and keep cash available so you can buy when others are panicking.  Ignoring your quarterly statements definitely won’t improve your investment performance.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Sources:

ICI; Standard & Poor’s. The stock market is represented by the S&P 500, an unmanaged index considered representative of large-cap U.S. stocks. These hypothetical examples are for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended as investment advice.

Crypto-Currency: The Next Tulip Craze?

Imagine transacting business or buying goods and services one day without using a single dollar bill or other country currency.  Imagine further that no one country or organization controls the currency and no one can create further units to dilute the value of your buying power. That’s the promise of crypto-currencies, which, since the first one was introduced in 2009, have been gaining much attention and buying.

In fact, one candidate for the greatest bull market run (uptrend) in financial history is the recent run-up in price of the Bitcoin—the crypto-currency favored by international arms dealers and drug cartels, but also gaining acceptance at some retail locations. The so-called “internet of money” is not backed by any government, which its promoters say is a good thing, because the currency is not subject to quantitative easing, better known as the over-caffeinated money printing presses in Washington, the U.K., Brussels or Tokyo. Ironically, to acquire bitcoins, you’ll have to exchange your dollars, pounds, euros or yen.

Of course, these are not actual coins; the currency exists in “wallets” that are tracked through a global system that updates everyone’s holdings; your “wallet” is on your computer, and sophisticated computers can “mine” new “coins” by solving complex algorithms that also help keep the money tracked. In the early days, there were lurid stories of peoples’ wallets getting hacked, but the crypto-processing seems to be safer now.

As recently as 2011, you could have bought any number of bitcoins for practically $0. In fact, seven years ago, a programmer spent 10,000 bitcoins to purchase two Papa John’s pizzas. Today, a single “coin” is selling for about $2,513, no doubt causing the programmer to wish that he’d held onto his coins for a few more years. But as you can see on the chart, the ride for bitcoin holders has been bumpy, and much of the price run-up has been recent. If you’ve ever experienced a market bubble, you know this is what they look like (and two inquiries about buying bitcoin at my office in the last two weeks tells me that a “correction” in the price is likely not too far off).

CA - 2017-6-8 - Crypto-Bubble

But why would the price ever drop? For one thing, the Bitcoin currency now has crypto-currency rivals, among them a similar technology and market system called Ethereum. For the first time, Bitcoins actually make up less than 50% of the crypto-marketplace. For another, costs per transaction—which are supposed to be zero—have risen to an average of $4.75, and it sometimes takes a month for the transaction to settle.

Beyond that, there’s a long-running dispute between the developers of Bitcoin who process transactions, and the “miners” who create the coins, which doesn’t look likely to be settled any time soon. It’s been speculated that Bitcoin will split into two factions, which users will have to choose between. A possible glimpse into the future happened when a new startup called Coinbase was touted as the marketplace that would finally bring Bitcoin to the mainstream. Coinbase was backed by the New York Stock Exchange. After considering its options, Coinbase decided to create a new currency alternative to Bitcoin, called Token—which will be built on Ethereum technology.

The conclusion: This is not a bandwagon you want to jump on at current prices. While prices might work their way higher in the short term, you’ll want to wait for more clarity on which ones will survive, and how governments will respond and attempt to regulate the exchanges. Our traditional currencies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

sources:

http://www.coindesk.com/price/

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/22/bitcoin-price-hits-fresh-record-high-above-2100.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2017/06/07/bitcoin-is-at-an-all-time-high-but-is-it-about-to-self-destruct/?utm_source=TWITTER&utm_medium=social&utm_content=929485744&utm_campaign=sprinklrForbesMainTwitter#4fa5a25dcb31

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post