Year-End Tax & Financial Planning Strategies for 2021

As we wrap up 2021, it’s important to take a closer look at your tax and financial plans. This year likely brought challenges and disruptions that significantly impacted your personal and financial situation –– a continued global pandemic, several significant natural disasters, new tax laws, and political shifts. Now is the time to take a closer look at your current financial and tax strategies to make sure they are still meeting your needs, as well as take any last-minute steps that could save you money.

We’re here to help you take a fresh look at the health of your tax and financial well-being, so here’s an overview of some opportunities to consider as we approach year-end.

Key tax considerations from recent tax legislation

Many tax provisions were implemented under the American Rescue Plan Act that was enacted in March 2021. This act aimed to help individuals and businesses deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing economic disruption. Also, some tax provisions were passed late in December 2020 which will equally impact this upcoming filing season. Below is a summary of the highlights in recent tax law changes to help you plan.

Economic impact payments (EIPs)

The American Rescue Plan Act created a new round of EIPs that were sent to qualifying individuals. As with last year’s stimulus payments, the EIPs were set up as advance payments of a recovery rebate tax credit. If you qualified for EIPs, you should have received these payments already. However, if the IRS owes you more, this additional amount will be captured and claimed on your 2021 income tax return.

If you received an EIP as an advance payment, you should receive a letter from the IRS. Keep this for record-keeping purposes to help you determine any potential adjustment at tax time. Be sure to give this letter to your tax preparer.

Child tax credit

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, there were many important changes to the child tax credit, such as:

  • The amount has increased for certain taxpayers (from $2,000 per child to $3,000-$3,600 depending on the child’s age)
  • It is fully refundable (meaning that taxpayers will receive a refund of the credit even if they don’t owe the IRS any taxes)
  • It may be partially received in monthly payments (which should have started in July 2021)
  • Is applicable to children age 17 and younger in 2021

The IRS began paying half of the credit in advance monthly payments beginning in July. Some taxpayers chose to opt out of the advance payments, and some may have complexities that require additional analysis. We’ll be here to help you navigate any questions to make sure that you get the most benefit for your family.

Charitable contribution deductions

Individuals who do not itemize their deductions can take a deduction of up to $300 ($600 for joint filers). Such contributions must be made in cash and made to qualified organizations. Taxpayers who itemize can continue to deduct qualifying donations. In addition, taxpayers can claim a charitable deduction of up to 100% of their adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2021 (up from 60%). There are many tax planning strategies in this area we can discuss with you, such as donating appreciated securities, which gets you a deduction for full fair market value while avoiding recognition of capital gain income on the securities donated.

Another one of those strategies, for those who are quite charitably inclined and regularly give $1,000 or more per year in cash donations to qualified charities, you may want to consider a donor-advised fund, especially if the total of all your other itemized deductions are close to or just around your standard deduction amount. Making a contribution to a donor-advised fund allows you to deduct your full contribution to the fund while making grants to various charities over any number of years in the future. Bunching these contributions into one year can make a big difference in your tax bill.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs)

RMDs are the minimum amount you must annually withdraw from your retirement accounts (e.g., 401(k), 403(b) or IRA) if you meet certain criteria. For 2021, you must take a distribution if you are age 72 by the end of the year (or age 70½ if you reached that age before Jan. 1, 2020). Planning ahead to determine the tax consequences of RMDs is important, especially for those who are in their first year of RMDs. If you’re currently a client, we have already addressed these for 2021.

Unemployment compensation

Another thing to note that’s different in 2021 is the treatment of unemployment compensation. There is no exclusion from income. The $10,200 income tax exclusion that a taxpayer may have received in 2020 is no longer available in 2021. We can help you plan for any potential impacts of this change.

State tax obligations related to teleworking arrangements

The pandemic has spawned changes in how people work, and more people are permanently working from home (i.e., teleworking). Such remote working arrangements could potentially have tax implications that should be considered by you and your employer.

Virtual currency/cryptocurrency

Virtual currency transactions are becoming more common. There are many different types of virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The sale or exchange of virtual currencies, the use of such currencies to pay for goods or services, or holding such currencies as an investment, generally have tax impacts. We can help you understand those consequences, especially since most crypto brokers won’t be sending you a 1099 form for 2021.

Additional tax and retirement planning considerations

We recommend that you review your retirement situation at least annually. That includes making the most of tax-advantaged retirement saving options, such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and company retirement plans. It’s also advisable to take advantage of health savings accounts (HSAs) that can help you reduce your taxes and save for your future. If you’re self-employed, setting up a self-employed retirement plan may have to happen before the calendar year turns to 2022. We can help you determine whether you’re on target to reach your retirement goals or help you set up a company (or solo) retirement plan.

Tax Loss Harvesting

With another good year for the markets, you may have realized and cashed in some significant capital gains in taxable accounts. To help offset these realized gains, engaging in capital loss harvesting, at year-end, involves selling taxable investments that are currently showing an unrealized loss, in order to “harvest” that loss to offset the gains. You can deduct total losses equal to your current net capital gain plus $3,000 to offset other ordinary income (e.g., salary, pensions, social security IRA distributions, etc.). Keep in mind that investments sold at a loss (or substantially similar ones) cannot be repurchased for at least 31 days or the tax “wash sale” rules apply to suspend the loss realized (and you can’t repurchase the same securities in your IRA or 401(k) either for at least 31 days).

Other Ideas

Here are a few more tax and financial planning items to discuss with us:

  • Let us (or your planner) know about any major changes in your life such as marriages or divorces, births or deaths in the family, job or employment changes, starting a business or significant expenditures (real estate purchases, college tuition payments, etc.).
  • Make sure you’re appropriately planning for estate and gift tax purposes. There is an annual exclusion for gifts ($15,000 per donee, $30,000 for married couples) to help save on potential future estate taxes and avoid the need to file gift tax returns.
  • Consider Section 529 college savings plans to help save for education; there can be federal and potentially state income tax benefits to do so, and we can help you with any questions.
  • Consider any updates needed to insurance policies or beneficiary designations.
  • Evaluate the tax consequences of converting part or all of traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs.
  • Review withholding and estimated tax payments and assess any liquidity needs.

Looming potential tax legislation

With potential tax changes looming as Congress debates proposals in President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, there remains uncertainty in how this will impact taxpayers. As legislation continues to evolve, and if it passes, we’ll communicate to you how changes impact your tax and financial plan.

Some provisions are retroactive to January 1, 2021, and may have a material effect on the final 2021 (and future) tax years.

The most significant provision, which affects most clients, is the potential increase in the state and local tax itemized deduction, currently limited to $10,000 per year. If an increase to this limit is enacted (very likely), it will allow for at least a maximum of $20,000-$40,000 deduction for state and local taxes. For this reason, if you have any state or local income or property taxes that can be paid in either 2021 or 2022, please wait as long as possible to pay them, pending legislation passage and additional guidance that we will communicate soon after the passage of 2021 tax legislation.

Year-end planning equals fewer surprises

There are many other opportunities to discuss as year-end approaches. And, many times, there may be strategies such as deferral or acceleration of income, prepayment or deferral of expenses, etc., that can help you save taxes and strengthen your financial position.

Fraudulent activity remains a significant threat

Our firm takes data security seriously and we think you should as well. Fraudsters continue to refine their techniques and tax identity theft remains a significant concern. Beware if you:  

  • Receive a notice or letter from the IRS regarding a tax return, tax bill or income that doesn’t apply to you
  • Get an unsolicited email or another form of communication asking for your bank account number, other financial details or personal information
  • Receive a robocall insisting you must call back and settle your tax bill

Make sure you’re taking steps to keep your personal financial information safe. Let us know if you have questions or concerns about how to go about this.  

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any year-end financial or tax 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.

Required Minimum Distributions Are Back in 2021

As we approach the end of 2021, now might be a good time to take a closer look at a few developments surrounding Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs).

What Are RMDs?

Once you reach age 72, you are required to take minimum distributions from your traditional IRAs and most employer-sponsored retirement plans. (RMDs are not required from an employer plan if you are still working at the company sponsoring the plan and you do not own more than 5% of the company.) You can always take more than the required amount if you choose.

The portion of an RMD representing earnings and tax-deductible contributions is taxed as ordinary income, unless the RMD is a qualified distribution from a Roth account. Failing to take the full amount of an RMD could result in a penalty tax of 50% of the difference.

Generally, RMDs must be taken by December 31 each year. You can delay your first RMD until April 1 following the year in which you reach RMD age; however, you will then need to take two RMDs in one year — the first by April 1 and the second by December 31. (If you reached age 72 in the first half of 2021, different rules apply; see below.)

You may want to weigh the decision to delay your first RMD carefully. Taking two distributions in one year might bump you into a higher income tax bracket for that year.

New RMD Age and a 2020 Waiver Add Complexity

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019 raised the minimum RMD age to 72 from 70½ beginning in 2020.  That means if you reached age 70½ before 2020, you are currently required to take minimum distributions.

However, there was a pandemic-related rule change in 2020 that might have affected some retirement savers who reached age 70½ in 2019. To help individuals manage financial challenges brought on by the pandemic, RMDs were waived in 2020, including any postponed from 2019. In other words, some taxpayers could have benefited from waiving both their 2019 and 2020 RMDs.

Anyone who took advantage of the 2020 waiver should note that RMDs have resumed in 2021 and need to be taken by December 31. The option to delay to April 1, 2022, applies only to first RMDs for those who have reached or will reach age 72 on or after July 1, 2021.

New Life Expectancy Tables

The IRS publishes tables in Publication 590-B that are used to help calculate RMDs. To determine the amount of a required distribution, you would divide your account balance as of December 31 of the previous year by the appropriate age-related factor in one of three available tables.

Recognizing that life expectancies have increased, the IRS has issued new tables designed to help investors stretch their retirement savings over a longer period of time. These new tables will take effect for RMDs beginning in 2022. Investors may be pleased to learn that calculations will typically result in lower annual RMD amounts and potentially lower income tax obligations as a result. The old tables still apply to 2021 distributions, even if they’re postponed until 2022.

If you are a current client of YDFS and you haven’t taken your RMD for 2021, we will be in touch over the next couple of weeks to discuss your options and requirements.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or have more questions about RMDs, 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.

Medicare Open Enrollment for 2022 Begins October 15

Medicare beneficiaries can make new choices and pick plans that work best for them during the annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period. Each year, Medicare plan costs and coverage typically change. In addition, your health-care needs may have changed over the past year. The Open Enrollment Period — which begins on October 15 and runs through December 7 — is your opportunity to switch your current Medicare health and prescription drug plans to ones that better suit your needs.

During this period, you can:

  • Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare
  • Change from one Medicare Advantage Plan to a different Medicare Advantage Plan
  • Change from a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers prescription drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that does offer prescription drug coverage
  • Join a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D)
  • Switch from one Part D plan to another Part D plan
  • Drop your Part D coverage altogether

Any changes made during Open Enrollment are effective as of January 1, 2022.

Review Plan Options

Now is a good time to review your current Medicare benefits to see if they’re still right for you. Are you satisfied with the coverage and level of care you’re receiving with your current plan? Are your premium costs or out-of-pocket expenses too high? Has your health changed?  Do you anticipate needing medical care or treatment, or new or pricier prescription drugs?

If your current plan doesn’t meet your health-care needs or fit your budget, you can switch to a new plan. If you find that you’re satisfied with your current Medicare plan and it’s still being offered, you don’t have to do anything. The coverage you have will continue.

Information on Costs and Benefits

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)  has announced  that the average monthly premium for Medicare Advantage plans will be $19,  and the average monthly premium for Part D prescription drug coverage will be $33.  CMS will announce 2022 premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance amounts for the Medicare Part A and Part B programs soon.

Where Can You Get More Information?

Determining what coverage you have now and comparing it to other Medicare plans can be confusing and complicated. Pay attention to notices you receive from Medicare and from your plan, and take advantage of available help. You can call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit the Medicare website, medicare.gov, to use the Plan Finder and other tools that can make comparing plans easier.

You can also call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for free, personalized counseling. Visit shiptacenter.org or call the toll-free Medicare number to find the phone number for your state.

You can find more information on Medicare  benefits in the Medicare & You 2022 Handbook on medicare.gov.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any health insurance concerns, 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.

Roth IRA Conversions after Age 70-1/2

A Roth IRA conversion allows you to move a sum of money from a traditional/rollover IRA into a Roth IRA, pay the taxes due, and thereby convert the future distributions into a tax-free stream out of the Roth IRA for yourself or your heirs.  You probably already know that the IRS requires you to start taking mandatory distributions from your traditional IRA when you turn 70 1/2, even if you don’t actually need the money.  A Roth IRA has no such annual minimum distribution requirement for the original owner and spouse. So the question is: can you do a Roth conversion at that late date, and thereby defer distributions forever?

The answer is that you CAN do a Roth conversion at any time, including after age 70 1/2.  But that might not be ideal tax planning.  Why?  Because at the time of the conversion, you would have to pay ordinary income taxes on the amount converted—basically, paying Uncle Sam up-front for what you would owe on all future distributions.  So, from a tax standpoint, you’re either paying taxes on yearly distributions or all at once.  (Or, if it’s a partial conversion, on the amount transferred over.)  If the goal was to avoid having to pay taxes on that money until you needed it, the conversion kind of defeats the purpose. Unless, of course, you have little other taxable income, and adding a Roth Conversion amount costs you little or nothing in taxes

The traditional reason people made Roth conversions was to pay taxes at a lower rate today than the rate they expect to have to pay on distributions in the future.  They might also want to convert in order to leave the Roth IRA dollars to heirs who might be in a higher tax bracket (keep in mind that a heir who is not your spouse is required to take a minimum, albeit non-taxable, distribution from a Roth IRA).  But with the new Republican Administration taking over, and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, tax rates are odds-on favorites to go down, not up, in the near future.

If you still want to go ahead and make a conversion after the mandatory distribution date, the law says that you have to take your mandatory withdrawal from your IRA before you do your conversion. That means that you can’t make a 100% conversion of your traditional IRA if you are subject to minimum distribution requirements.  Regardless, you or your tax advisor should “run the numbers” to ensure that you understand the taxes and tax rates that apply before and after the Roth Conversion.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other tax or 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://time.com/money/4568635/roth-ira-conversion-year-turn-70-%C2%BD/?xid=tcoshare

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

Regulators to the Rescue?

By now, some of you have received one or more notices from your broker or custodian about changes to your chosen money market fund. What do these changes mean to you?

The world of money market funds changed forever back in 2008, when an investment vehicle called the Reserve Primary Fund loaded up on loan obligations backed by Lehman Brothers.  Lehman famously went under, and the fund “broke the buck,” meaning that when Lehman was unable to pay back its loans, the value of a share of the Reserve Primary Fund dipped under $1.

This was the first time many investors realized that money market funds were not risk-free.  Many panicked, causing a run on other money market instruments, and overall the event added another unhappy twist to the financial crisis.

Fast forward to the near future: October 14, 2016, the date when new protective regulations implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission, will go into effect.  Yes, the government wheels creak along that slowly.

What regulations?  To make sure that the funds are able to redeem at par ($1 per share), all money market instruments that invest in taxable corporate debt or municipal bonds, and have institutional investors, will have to keep at least 10% of their assets either in cash, U.S. Treasury securities or other securities that will convert to cash within one day (many money market funds make overnight loans to lending institutions in the U.S. and Europe.)

As further safeguards, at least 30% of a money market fund’s assets will have to be liquid within one week, and funds will be restricted from investing more than 3% of their assets in lower-quality second-tier securities.  No more than one-half of one percent of their assets can be invested in second-tier securities issued by any single issuer.  Finally, money market funds will not be allowed to buy second-tier securities that mature in more than 45 days.

What happens if all these safeguards don’t work, and a share of the money market fund still goes below $1?  In those (probably rare) instances, the fund’s board of directors are permitted to suspend your ability to redeem your investment for up to ten days, and under certain circumstances, they may impose a 1% or 2% fee on your redemptions. That’s pretty steep, considering that you’re probably currently receiving less than a 1% return on your money market funds.

The bottom line is that investors will still be able to put $1 into a money market fund and expect to get $1 back out again when they sell shares—with, perhaps, a tiny bit more confidence a few months from now. Just don’t expect these money market funds to keep up with the pace of inflation.

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.multnomahgroup.com/hubfs/PDF_Files/Webinar_Presentation_Slides/Money_Market_Mutual_Funds_Slides.pdf?t=1439394348032

http://www.bankrate.com/finance/investing/sec-new-rules-for-money-market-funds.aspx
http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/07/23/s-e-c-approves-rules-on-money-market-funds/?_r=0

http://www.thesimpledollar.com/best-money-market-account/

http://www.bankrate.com/funnel/money-market-mutual-funds/money-market-mutual-fund-results.aspx?Taxable=true

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

What’s Going on in the Markets September 9 2016

On Friday September 9 2016, the S&P 500 index fell 2.4%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.1%.  This was the first “greater than 1%” sell-off since June, its worst single-session loss in more than two months. The drop ended a relatively quiet summer for U.S. stocks, which had touched new highs in mid-August. But despite Friday’s jarring downdraft, market internals remain solid and equity markets are within stones throw of their recent peaks. Of course, the press reports are describing it as a full-blown market panic.

Even if the short-term pullback in stocks persists, we do not believe the longer-term bull market—which has been underway since 2009—is dead. U.S. economic data has generally shown signs of strength, and an improving economy should support the stock market over the long term.

So what’s going on?  Efforts to trace the reason why quick-twitch traders scattered for the hills on Friday turned up two suspects.  The first was Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren, who sits at the table of Fed policy makers who decide when (and how much) to raise the Federal Funds rate.  On Friday, he announced that there was a “reasonable case” for raising interest rates in the U.S. economy.  According to a number of observers, traders had previously believed there was a 12% chance of a September rate hike by the Fed; now, they think there’s a 24% chance that the rates will go up after the Fed’s September 21-22 meeting. Oh the horror of a less than 1 in 4 chance of a quarter-point (0.25%) rise in short-term interest rates–sell everything!

If the Fed decides the economy is healthy enough to sustain another rise in interest rates—from rates that are still at historic lows—why would that be bad for stocks?  Any rise in bond rates would make bond investments more attractive compared with stocks, and therefore might entice some investors to sell stocks and buy bonds.  However, with dividends from the S&P 500 stocks averaging 2.09%, compared with a 1.67% yield from 10-year Treasury bonds, this might not be a money-making trade.

If the possibility of a 0.25% rise in short-term interest rates doesn’t send you into a panic, maybe a pronouncement by bond guru Jeffrey Gundlach, of DoubleLine Capital Management, will make you quiver.  Gundlach’s exact words, which are said to have helped send Friday’s markets into a tailspin, were: “Interest rates have bottomed.  They may not rise in the near term as I’ve talked about for years.  But I think it’s the beginning of something, and you’re supposed to be defensive.” My thoughts on this: pundits have been declaring the end of the bull market in bonds for many years and have been proven wrong time and time again. Statements like this are pretty worthless in my opinion. Could he be right? Sure, there’s a 50/50 chance.

Short-term traders appear to have decided that Gundlach was telling them to retreat to the sidelines, and some have speculated that a small exodus caused automatic program trading—that is, money management algorithms that are programmed to sell stocks whenever they sense that there are others selling.  After the computers had taken the market down by 1%, human investors noticed and began selling as well.

Uncertainty about central bank policy outside the U.S. was another potential cause for Friday’s volatility. On Thursday, the European Central Bank opted for no new easing moves and Japanese bond yields have continued to rise. The two events have sent a message to markets that quantitative easing (bond buying and other monetary stimulus) may have lost some of its efficacy and will not continue indefinitely.

For seasoned investors, a 2% drop after a very long market calm simply means a return to normal volatility.  This is generally good news for investors, because volatility has historically provided more upside than downside, and because these occasional downdrafts provide a chance to add to your stock holdings at bargain prices. I’ve been telling clients all summer long to expect a volatile and rocky September and October. Does that make me smart? Nope, historically, periods of calm like we’ve seen are always followed by volatility. September and October tend to be more volatile than other months of the year.  Markets have been unusually calm this summer, and prolonged periods of low volatility can make markets susceptible to news and rumors. Given the emphasis the market is now placing on Fed policy—and the uncertainty surrounding it—we wouldn’t be surprised to see markets continue to experience volatile swings when news or economic data suggest the Fed may, or may not, raise interest rates.

That doesn’t, of course, mean that we know what will happen when the exchanges open back up on Monday, or whether the trend will be up or down next week or for the remainder of the month.  Nor do we know whether the Fed will raise rates in late September, or how THAT will affect the market.

As for bonds, while rising interest rates can translate into falling bond prices—bond yields typically move inversely to bond prices—it’s important to remember that yields generally don’t move in tandem all along the yield curve. The Fed influences short-term interest rates, but long-term interest rates are generally affected by other factors, such as economic growth and inflation expectations. And even if the Fed does raise short-term interest rates again this year, I would anticipate that future rate hikes would be gradual, as inflation remains low and the U.S. economy is only growing moderately.

That said, periods of market volatility are a good time to review your risk tolerance and make sure your portfolio is aligned with your time horizon and investing goals. A well-diversified portfolio, with a mix of stocks, bonds and cash allocated appropriately based on your goals and risk tolerance, can help you weather periods of market turbulence.

All we can say with certainty is that there have been quite a number of temporary panics during the bull market that started in March 2009, and selling out at any of them would have been a mistake.  You must resist overreacting to swings in the market. Stock market fluctuations are a normal part of investing; panicking and pulling money out of the market may mean missing out on a potential rebound.

The U.S. economy is showing no sign of collapse, job creation is stable and a rise in interest rates from near-negative levels would probably be good for long-term economic growth.  The Institute for Supply Management survey for the manufacturing sector recently showed an unexpected decline, and the service sector moved down by more than economists had expected, so I will be monitoring upcoming survey results closely to see if this develops into a trend. The employment situation remains firm; new job openings hit a record high in July and new claims for unemployment remain near recent lows.

While it may be prudent to trim some profits, panic is seldom a good recipe for making money in the markets, and our best guess is that Friday will prove to have been no exception. Market volatility is unnerving, but it’s a normal—and normally short-lived—part of investing. If you’ve built a solid financial plan and a well-diversified portfolio, it’s best to ignore the noise and focus on your long-term goals.

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.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-08/gundlach-says-it-s-time-to-get-defensive-as-rates-may-rise

http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurengensler/2016/09/09/stocks-fall-worst-day-since-brexit/#3a9ed7252961

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-09/split-among-fed-officials-leaves-september-rate-outlook-murky?utm_content=markets&utm

http://thereformedbroker.com/2016/09/09/dow-decline-signals-end-of-western-civilization/?utm

https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/interest-rates/Pages/TextView.aspx?data=yield

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

Protect Your Future Income

For all of us, protecting our online accounts should be high on our priority list.  The Social Security Administration has finally caught on and has tightened security in order to frustrate hackers and identity thieves.  Now, when you log into your Social Security Administration (SSA) account, you do what you’ve always done: give your user name and password.  Then you receive a security code sent by text message, and type in that code to complete your login procedure.  In the cyber-security trade, this is known as multi-factor authentication.

The result is better security, but it may be a big hassle for some users.  On the first day, Verizon customers weren’t getting their security codes; the problem has since been fixed.  Less technology-oriented Americans (and there are many) don’t use texting on their phones, which means they’ll either have to learn or do without their SSA account.  At the same time, multi-factor authentication doesn’t necessarily prevent cyber criminals from fraudulently creating an online account in your name or from siphoning away your benefits. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

Your response?  If you don’t already have an online account with the Social Security Administration, now would be a good time to open one, before a thief decides to do it for you.  (Here’s a direct link: https://secure.ssa.gov/RIL/SiView.do)  And if you aren’t into texting, now is a good time to become familiar with that feature of your smart phone.  If you’re having trouble, ask any teenager for some quick technical support. You may wonder why you waited so long to do so.

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://time.com/money/4434100/social-security-website-two-factor-authentication/?xid=tcoshare

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

Managing and Paying Off Student Loans

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article here entitled “A College Education Still Pays” despite the growing student loan burden. If you already owe money on student loans, this article follows up and suggests ways to manage and pay off your student loans.

Actively managing your debt is an important step, and your student debt may be one of the biggest financial obligations you have. There are many strategies that could help you manage student loans efficiently. Here is a checklist:

  • Choose a federal loan repayment plan that fits your circumstances:
    • The Graduated Repayment Plan starts with a reduced payment that is fixed for a set period, and then is increased on a predetermined schedule. Compared to the standard plan, a borrower is likely to end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan.
    • The Standard Repayment Plan requires a fixed payment of at least $50 per month and is offered for terms up to 10 years. Borrowers are likely to pay less interest for this repayment plan than for others.
    • The Extended Repayment Plan allows loans to be repaid over a period of up to 25 years. Payments may be fixed or graduated. In both cases, payments will be lower than the comparable 10-year programs, but total costs could be higher. This program is complex and has specific eligibility requirements. See the Extended Repayment Plan page on the U.S. Department of Education website for details.
    • The Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR), the Pay as You Earn Repayment Plan, the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR) and the Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan offer different combinations of payment deferral and debt forgiveness based on your income and other factors. You may be asked to document financial hardship and meet other eligibility requirements. See the U.S. Department of Education’s pages on income-driven repayment plans and income-sensitive repayment plans for more information.
  • Take an inventory of your debt. How much do you owe on bank and store credit cards? On your home mortgage and home equity credit lines? On car loans? Any other loans? Consider paying extra each month to reduce the loans with the highest interest rates first, followed by those with the largest balances.
  • Free up resources by cutting costs. Consider eating out less, reducing snacks on the go, and carpooling or using mass transit instead of driving to work. You may also be able to cut your housing costs, put off or take less costly vacations and reduce clothing and other discretionary purchases.
  • Think about enhancing your income. A second job? A part-time business opportunity? Selling unused household items on eBay? Diversifying your income is just as important as diversifying your investments.
  • Consider jobs that offer opportunities for subsidies or debt forgiveness.
  • Sign up for automatic loan payments. Many loans offer discounted interest rates for setting up automatic electronic payments on a predetermined schedule. A reduction of 0.25% per year may look small, but over the life of a 20-year loan, it can reduce your total interest cost by hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
  • A last resort is seeking loan deferment or forbearance. Students facing significant financial hardship may be able to put off loan interest or principal payments. To see whether you might qualify, look to the U.S. Department of Education’s information on Deferment and Forbearance.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters or student loan options, 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.

 

A College Education Still Pays

These days, it’s hard not to hear about the student loan mess and how it’s the next financial crisis that’s currently brewing (some are already calling it a bubble).  Students and parents write stories of how they were lured into borrowing far more money for college than they could ever pay back, even after throwing three or four years worth of salary at it. That is, if they could even find a job after graduation. Despite a student debt level that continues to grow, a college education is still one of the most worthwhile investments a high school graduate can make.

According to the Student Loan Marketing Association (more commonly known as Sallie Mae Bank), the average tuition, room and board at a private college comes to $43,921.  Public tuition for in-state students at state colleges amounted to $19,548, with out-of-state students paying an average of $34,031.

How are parents and students finding the cash to afford this expense?

Sallie Mae breaks it down as follows: 34% from scholarships and grants that don’t have to be paid back, coming from the college itself or the state or federal government, often based on need and academic performance.

Parents typically pay 29% of the total bill (an average of $7,000) out of savings or income, and other family members (think: grandparents) are paying another 5%.

The students themselves are paying for 12% of the cost, on average.

The rest, roughly 20% of the total, is made up of loans.  The federal government’s low-interest loan program offers up to $5,500 a year for freshmen, $6,500 during the sophomore year, and $7,500 for the junior and senior years.  If that doesn’t cover the remaining cost, then students and parents will borrow from private lenders.  The average breakdown is students borrowing 13% of their total tuition costs and parents borrowing the other 7%.

Is the cost worth it?  The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently published a report on the labor market for college graduates.  The conclusion, in graphical format, is that younger workers have experienced much higher unemployment rates than their college graduate peers—the figures currently are 9.5% unemployment for all young workers, vs. just 4.2% for recent college graduates.  Overall, the unemployment rate for people who have graduated with a 4-year degree is 2.6%, and even during the height of the Great Recession, it never went over 5%.

And income is higher as well.  The average worker with a bachelor’s degree earns $43,000, vs. $25,000 for people with a high school diploma only.  The highest average incomes are reported for people with pharmacy degrees ($110,000 mid-career average), computer engineering ($100,000), electrical engineering ($95,000), chemical engineering ($94,000), mechanical engineering ($91,000) and aerospace engineering ($90,000).

Lowest average mid-career incomes: social services ($40,000), early childhood education ($40,000), elementary education ($42,000), special education ($43,000) and general education ($44,000).

Among the lowest unemployment rates: miscellaneous education (1.0%), agriculture (1.8%), construction services (1.8%) and nursing (2.0%).

Yes, there are some themes here, and of course people in every career can fall above or below these averages.  Nor does everybody who graduates with a particular degree end up in a career that tracks that degree.  (Of particular note: the list does not include a financial planning or investment advisory degree.)  The point is that despite the cost, a college degree does seem to provide significantly better odds of getting a job, and getting paid more for the job you do get.

I plan to expand on some of the finer aspects and stories about student loan debt in an upcoming article-stay tuned.

If you would like to discuss college planning, 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://money.cnn.com/2016/06/29/pf/college/how-to-pay-for-college/index.html?iid=SF_LN

https://www.newyorkfed.org/research/college-labor-market/college-labor-market_unemployment.html

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

Learn to Embrace New Highs

It’s been an interesting start of the week for those of us watching the stock markets. In case you hadn’t noticed, the S&P 500 index reached record territory on Monday, and the NASDAQ briefly crossed over the 5,000 level before settling back with a more modest gain.  At 2,137.6, the S&P 500 finished above the previous high of 2,130.82, set on May 21, 2015.

We’ve waited more than a year for the markets to get back to where they were before the downturn this January, before Brexit, and before a lot of uncertainties in the last 12 months.  The market top itself is an uncertainty; after all, many investors regard market tops warily.  When stocks are more expensive than they’ve ever been (or so goes the thinking) it may be time to sell and take your profits.  However, if you followed this logic and sold every time the market hit a new high, you’d probably have been sitting on the sidelines during most of the long ride from the S&P at 13.55 in June 1949, which was the bull market high after the index started at 10.  New highs are a normal part of the market, and it is just as likely that tomorrow will set a new one as not.  In fact, overall, the market spends roughly 12% of its life at all-time highs.

We all know that the next bear market will start with an all-time high, but we can never know which one in advance.  That’s why in this business we say that there’s nothing better than a new high, except the one that marks “the top”.  But new market highs do not necessarily become market tops.  Let’s see if we can all celebrate this milestone without the usual dose of fear that often comes with new records.

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.forbes.com/sites/shreyaagarwal/2016/07/11/sp-500-closes-at-record-high/?utm_source=yahoo&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=yahootix&partner=yahootix#7f74bf29721d

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-stock-futures-climb-with-sp-near-record-high-2016-07-11?siteid=yhoof2

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/waggoner/2014/06/19/new-highs-dont-mean-you-have-to-sell/10921973/

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

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