Financial Planning

End-of-Year Money Moves for 2019

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Here are some things you might consider before saying goodbye to 2019.

What has changed for you in 2019?

Did you start a new job or leave a job behind? Did you retire? Did you start a family? If notable changes occurred in your personal or professional life, then you will want to review your finances before this year ends and 2020 begins.

Even if your 2019 has been relatively uneventful, the end of the year is still a good time to get cracking and see where you can manage your take bill and/or build a little more wealth.

Keep in mind this article is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for real-life advice. Please consult your tax, legal, and accounting professionals before modifying your tax strategy.

Do you practice tax-loss harvesting?

That is the art of taking capital losses (selling securities worth less than what you first paid for them) to offset your short-term capital gains. You might want to consider this move, which may lower your taxable income. It should be made with the guidance of a financial professional you trust. (1)

In fact, you could even take it a step further. Consider that up to $3,000 of capital losses in excess of capital gains can be deducted from ordinary income, and any remaining capital losses above that can be carried forward to offset capital gains in upcoming years. When you live in a high-tax state, this is one way to defer tax. (1)

Do you want to itemize deductions?

You may just want to take the standard deduction for 2019, which has ballooned to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers because of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act. If you do think it might be better for you to itemize, now would be a good time to get receipts and assorted paperwork together. While many miscellaneous deductions have disappeared, some key deductions are still around: the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, now capped at $10,000; the mortgage interest deduction; the deduction for charitable contributions, which now has a higher limit of 60% of adjusted gross income; and the medical expense deduction. (2,3)

Could you ramp up 401(k) or 403(b) contributions?

Contribution to these retirement plans may lower your yearly gross income. If you lower your gross income enough, you might be able to qualify for other tax credits or breaks available to those under certain income limits. Note that contributions to Roth 401(k)s and Roth 403(b)s are made with after-tax rather than pretax dollars, so contributions to those accounts are not deductible and will not lower your taxable income for the year. (4,5)

Are you thinking of gifting?

How about donating to a qualified charity or nonprofit organization before 2019 ends? Your gift may qualify as a tax deduction. You must itemize deductions using Schedule A to claim a deduction for a charitable gift. (4,5)

While we’re on the topic of estate strategy, why not take a moment to review your beneficiary designations? If you haven’t reviewed them for a decade or more (which is all too common), double-check to see that these assets will go where you want them to go, should you pass away. Lastly, look at your will to see that it remains valid and up to date.

Can you take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit?

The AOTC allows individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less (and joint filers with MAGI of $160,000 or less) a chance to claim a credit of up to $2,500 for qualified college expenses. Phaseouts kick in above those MAGI levels. (6)

See that you have withheld the right amount.

If you discover that you have withheld too little on your W-4 form so far, you may need to adjust your withholding before the year ends.

What can you do before ringing in the New Year?

Talk with a financial or tax professional now rather than in February or March. Little year-end moves might help you improve your short-term and long-term financial situation.

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▲ A closer look at tax rates – 2019

At-a-glance individual federal income tax guide for 2019. (7)

Sources

  1. investopedia.com/articles/taxes/08/tax-loss-harvesting.asp
  2. nerdwallet.com/blog/taxes/itemize-take-standard-deduction/
  3. investopedia.com/articles/retirement/06/addroths.asp
  4. investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/041315/tips-charitable-contributions-limits-and-taxes.asp
  5. marketwatch.com/story/how-the-new-tax-law-creates-a-perfect-storm-for-roth-ira-conversions-2018-03-26
  6. irs.gov/newsroom/american-opportunity-tax-credit-questions-and-answers
  7. https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/gim/protected/adv/insights/guide-to-retirement

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

What to Do When a Family Member Dies: A Financial Checklist for Difficult Times

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The passing of a loved one irrevocably alters family life. After a death, there is so much to attend to; it is better to do it sooner rather than later. Here, then, is a list of what commonly needs to be looked after.

Request copies of the death certificate.

Depending on where you live, you have two or three places to turn to for this document. You can phone, email, or personally visit the office of the county recorder (or county clerk, as the term may be). Alternately, you can contact your state’s vital records department (sometimes called the state registrar or department of health); it may take a little longer to get the document this way. In addition, some large and mid-sized cities maintain their own registrars of births and deaths.

Call advisors, executors, & business partners as applicable.

The deceased’s lawyer and CPA should be quickly notified along with any business partners and the executor of his or her estate. You must have a say in the decision-making. The tasks of protecting family assets, carrying out your loved one’s bequests, and determining the next steps for a business will follow.

Call your loved one’s current or former employer(s).

Notify them, even if your loved one left the workforce years ago, as retirement savings or pension payments may be involved. As the conversation develops, it is perfectly appropriate to ask about pertinent financial matters – say, 401(k) or 403(b) savings that will be inherited by a beneficiary or what will happen to unused vacation time and/or unpaid bonuses.

Funds amassed in a qualified retirement plan sponsored by an employer (or an IRA, for that matter) commonly go to the primary beneficiary who has been named on the most recent beneficiary form filled out by the account owner. That sounds simple enough – but certain rules and regulations can make things complicated. (1)

As a general rule, if the late 401(k) or 403(b) account owner was your spouse, then you are the presumed beneficiary of the 401(k) or 403(b) assets. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), workplace retirement plans are directed to abide by this guideline. If someone else has been named as the primary beneficiary of the account, with your consent, then the assets will go to that person. (2)

If the late 401(k) or 403(b) account owner was single, the assets in the account will go to whomever is designated as the primary beneficiary. The beneficiary designation will override other estate planning documents. (3)

To arrange and confirm the transfer or distribution of such assets, the beneficiary form must be found. If you can’t locate it, the employer and/or the financial firm overseeing the retirement plan should provide access to a copy. The financial firm should ask you to supply:

  • A certified copy of the account owner’s death certificate
  • A notarized affidavit of domicile (a document certifying his or her place of residence at the time of death)

If you have been widowed, call Social Security.

If you already receive benefits, you may now be eligible for greater benefits. (4)

If your spouse received Social Security and you did not, you may now qualify for survivor benefits – and you should let Social Security know as soon as possible, as these benefits may be paid out relative to your application date rather than the date of your loved one’s death. (4)

If this is the case, you may apply for survivor benefits by phone or by visiting a Social Security office. You will need to have some extensive paperwork on hand, specifically:

  • Proof of the death (death certificate, funeral home documentation)
  • Your late spouse’s Social Security number
  • His/her most recent W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return
  • Your own Social Security number & birth certificate
  • Social Security numbers & birth certificates of any dependent children
  • Your marriage certificate, if you have been widowed
  • The name of your bank & the number of your bank account, for direct deposit purposes

If you have reached full retirement age, you will likely get 100% of the basic benefit amount that your late spouse was receiving. If you are in your sixties, but haven’t yet reached full retirement age, you may receive anywhere from 71% to 99% of that amount. If you have a child younger than 16, you will get 75% of your late spouse’s basic benefit amount and so will your child. (4,5)

Contact the insurance company.

Assuming your loved one had some form of life insurance, contact the policyholder services department of that insurer and confirm the steps for claiming the death benefit. A claim form will have to be filled out, signed, and presented to the insurance company (one for each named adult beneficiary of the policy), and a certified copy of the death certificate must also be sent. If the primary beneficiary of a policy is deceased, the contingent beneficiary can usually claim the death benefit with a claim form, plus the death certificates of the policy owner and the primary beneficiary. Some insurers simply have you submit a form reporting the death of the policyholder first, and then follow up by mailing you forms and instructions for the next steps. (6)

Death benefits are generally paid out within 30 to 60 days of a claim. Presumably, they will be paid out in a lump sum. Some insurers will let a beneficiary receive a payout as a stream of monthly income or in installments. (7)

It isn’t unusual for people to own multiple life insurance policies. The AARP, AAA, and myriad banks and non-profits market group life coverage to members/customers, and mortgage lenders and credit issuers offer forms of life insurance for borrowers. Tracking all this coverage down is the problem, and canceled checks and bank records don’t always provide ready clues. Not surprisingly, websites have appeared that will help you search for life insurance policies, and you may be able to locate policies with the help of your state insurance commissioner’s office. (8)

If the family member was a veteran, call the VA.

Your family may be entitled to funeral and burial benefits. In addition, the Veterans Administration offers Death Pensions and Aid & Attendance and Housebound Pensions to lower-income widows of deceased wartime veterans and their unmarried children. (9)

These pensions are needs based. To be eligible for the Death Pension, a widow or child’s “countable” income must fall below a certain yearly limit set by Congress. (A “child” as old as 22 may be eligible for the Death Pension.) The deceased veteran must not have received a dishonorable discharge, and they must have served 90 or more days of active duty, at least 1 day of it during wartime. If they entered active duty after September 7, 1980, then in most cases, 24 months or more of active duty service are necessary for a Death Pension to eventually be paid. The Aid & Attendance and Housebound Pensions provide some recurring income to pay for licensed home health aide or homemaker services. (9)

It is wise to contact a Veterans Services Officer before you file such a pension claim, as they can be a big help during the process. You can find a VSO through your state veterans’ affairs department or through the VFW, the Order of the Purple Heart, the American Legion, or the non-profit National Veterans Foundation. (9)

A final individual income tax return may be required for the deceased.

You or your tax professional should consult I.R.S. Publication 17 for more detail. Also, search for “Topic 356 – Decedents” on the I.R.S. website. Deductible expenses paid by the deceased before death can generally be claimed as deductions on such a return. (10)

If you have been widowed, consider the future.

In the coming days or weeks, you should arrange a meeting to review your retirement planning strategy, and your will, beneficiary designations, and estate plan may also need to be updated. The passing of your spouse may necessitate a new executor for your own estate. Any durable powers of attorney may also need to be revised.

Sources

  1. thebalance.com/review-401-k-plan-beneficiary-designations-2894174
  2. nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/if-you-don-t-want-leave-retirement-accounts-your-spouse.html
  3. cnbc.com/2018/04/16/out-of-date-beneficiary-designations-are-a-common-and-costly-mistake.html
  4. thebalance.com/social-security-survivor-benefits-for-a-spouse-2388918
  5. ssa.gov/planners/survivors/onyourown.html
  6. nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/beneficiaries-claim-life-insurance-32433.html
  7. investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/121914/life-insurance-policies-how-payouts-work.asp
  8. thebalance.com/finding-a-lost-life-insurance-policy-4066234
  9. nvf.org/pensions-for-survivors-of-deceased-wartime-veterans/
  10. irs.gov/taxtopics/tc356.html

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Understanding Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) From Your IRA

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When you reach age 70½, the Internal Revenue Service instructs you to start making withdrawals from your traditional IRA(s). These withdrawals are also called Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). You will make them, annually, from now on. (1)

If you fail to take your annual RMD or take out less than the required amount, the I.R.S. will notice. You will not only owe income taxes on the amount not withdrawn, you will owe 50% more. (The 50% penalty can be waived if you can show the I.R.S. that the shortfall resulted from a “reasonable error” instead of negligence.) (1)

Many IRA owners have questions about the rules related to their initial RMDs, so let’s answer a few.

How does the I.R.S. define age 70½?

Its definition is pretty straightforward. If your 70th birthday occurs in the first half of a year, you turn 70½ within that calendar year. If your 70th birthday occurs in the second half of a year, you turn 70½ during the subsequent calendar year. (2)

Your initial RMD has to be taken by April 1 of the year after you turn 70½. All the RMDs you take in subsequent years must be taken by December 31 of each year. (1)

So, if you turned 70 during the first six months of 2020, then you will be 70½ by the end of 2020, and you must take your first RMD by April 1, 2021. If you turn 70 in the second half of 2020, then you will be 70½ in 2021, and you won’t need to take that initial RMD until April 1, 2022. (1)

Is waiting until April 1 of the following year to take my first RMD a bad idea?

The I.R.S. allows you three extra months to take your first RMD, but it isn’t necessarily doing you a favor. Your initial RMD is taxable in the year that it is taken. If you postpone it into the following year, then the taxable portions of both your first RMD and your second RMD must be reported as income on your federal tax return for that following year. (2)

An example: James and his wife Stephanie file jointly, and they earn $78,950 in 2019 (the upper limit of the 22% federal tax bracket). James turns 70½ in 2019, but he decides to put off his first RMD until April 1, 2020. Bad idea: this means that he will have to take two RMDs before 2020 ends. So, his taxable income jumps in 2020 as a result of the dual RMDs, and it pushes the pair into a higher tax bracket for 2020 as well. The lesson: if you will be 70½ by the time 2019 ends, take your initial RMD by the end of 2019 – it might save you thousands in taxes to do so. (3)

How do I calculate my first RMD?

I.R.S. Publication 590 is your resource. You calculate it using I.R.S. life expectancy tables and your IRA balance on December 31 of the previous year. For that matter, if you Google “how to calculate your RMD,” you will see links to RMD worksheets at irs.gov and a host of other free online RMD calculators. (1,4)

If your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you and happens to be designated as the sole beneficiary for one or more of the traditional IRAs that you own, you should use the I.R.S. IRA Minimum Distribution Worksheet (downloadable as a PDF online) to help calculate your RMD. (5)

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If your IRA is held at one of the big investment firms, that firm may calculate your RMD for you and offer to route the amount into another account of your choice. It will give you and the I.R.S. a 1099-R form recording the income distribution and the amount of the distribution that is taxable. (6)

When I take my RMD, do I have to withdraw the whole amount?

No. You can also take it in smaller, successive withdrawals. Your IRA custodian may be able to schedule them for you. (7)

What if I have more than one traditional IRA?

You then figure out your total RMD by calculating the RMD for each traditional IRA you own, using the IRA balances on the prior December 31. This total is the basis for the RMD calculation. You can take your RMD from a single traditional IRA or multiple traditional IRAs. (1)

What if I have a Roth IRA?

If you are the original owner of that Roth IRA, you don’t have to take any RMDs. Only inherited Roth IRAs require RMDs. (7)

Be proactive when it comes to your first RMD

Putting off the initial RMD until the first quarter of next year could mean higher-than-normal income taxes for the year ahead. (2)

▼RMDs at a Glance for All Account Types

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Sources

  1. irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Retirement-Plans-FAQs-regarding-Required-Minimum-Distributions
  2. kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T045-C032-S014-avoid-the-5-biggest-ira-rmd-mistakes.html
  3. taxfoundation.org/2019-tax-brackets/
  4. google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=how+to+calculate+your+RMD
  5. irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/jlls_rmd_worksheet.pdf
  6. finance.zacks.com/everyone-ira-1099r-4710.html
  7. fidelity.com/viewpoints/retirement/smart-ira-withdrawal-strategies
  8. https://static.twentyoverten.com/58e639ce21cca2513c90975b/CMPlElT87-y/RMDMFSFlyer.pdf

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Covering the Cost of College Using 529 Plans, Coverdell ESAs, UTMA or UGMA accounts

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You can plan to meet the costs through a variety of methods.

How can you cover your child’s future college costs?

Saving early (and often) may be the key for most families. Here are some college savings vehicles to consider.

529 plans

Offered by states and some educational institutions, these plans let you save up to $14,000 per year for your child’s college costs without having to file an IRS gift tax return. A married couple can contribute up to $28,000 per year. (An individual or couple’s annual contribution to the plan cannot exceed the IRS yearly gift tax exclusion.) These plans commonly offer you options to try and grow your college savings through equity investments. You can even participate in 529 plans offered by other states, which may be advantageous if your student wants to go to college in another part of the country. (1,2)

While contributions to a 529 plan are not tax-deductible, 529 plan earnings are exempt from federal tax and generally exempt from state tax when withdrawn, as long as they are used to pay for qualified education expenses of the plan beneficiary. If your child doesn’t want to go to college, you can change the beneficiary to another child in your family. You can even roll over distributions from a 529 plan into another 529 plan established for the same beneficiary (or for another family member) without tax consequences. (1)

Grandparents can start a 529 plan, or other college savings vehicle, just as parents can; the earlier, the better. In fact, anyone can set up a 529 plan on behalf of anyone. You can even establish one for yourself. (1)

529 plans have been improved with two additional features. One, you can now use 529 plan dollars to pay for computer hardware, software, and computer-related technology, as long as such purchases are qualified higher education expenses. Two, you can now reinvest any 529 plan distribution refunded to you by an eligible educational institution, as long as it goes back into the same 529 plan account. You have a 60-day period to do this from when you receive the refund. (3)

Investors should consider the investment objective, risks, charges, and expenses associated with 529 plans before investing. More information about 529 plans is available in each issuer’s official statement, which should be read carefully before investing. A copy of the official statement can be obtained from a financial professional. Before investing, consider whether your state offers a 529 plan that provides residents with favorable state tax benefits.

Coverdell ESAs

Single filers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $95,000 or less and joint filers with AGI of $190,000 or less can pour up to $2,000 annually into these tax-advantaged accounts. While the annual contribution ceiling is much lower than that of a 529 plan, Coverdell ESAs have perks that 529 plans lack. Money saved and invested in a Coverdell ESA can be used for college or K-12 education expenses. Coverdell ESAs offer a broader variety of investment options compared to many 529 plans, and plan fees are also commonly lower.(4)

Contributions to Coverdell ESAs aren’t tax-deductible, but the account enjoys tax-deferred growth and withdrawals are tax-free so long as they are used for qualified education expenses. Contributions may be made until the account beneficiary turns 18. The money must be withdrawn when the beneficiary turns 30 (there is a 30-day grace period), or taxes and penalties will be incurred. Money from a Coverdell ESA may even be rolled over tax-free into a 529 plan (but 529 plan money may not be rolled over into a Coverdell ESA). (2,4)

UGMA & UTMA accounts

These all-purpose savings and investment accounts are often used to save for college. When you put money in the account, you are making an irrevocable gift to your child. You manage the account assets. When your child reaches the “age of majority” (usually 18 or 21, as defined by state UGMA or UTMA law), he or she can use the money to pay for college. However, once that age is reached, that child can also use the money to pay for anything else.(5)

Imagine your child graduating from college debt-free. With the right kind of college planning, that may happen.

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▲Comparing college savings vehicles
  • 529 plan: Potential for tax-free investing for qualified education expenses;* high levels of flexibility, control and contribution maximums along with special gift and estate tax benefits.
  • Custodial account: Less tax efficiency and control than other accounts; higher impact on financial aid eligibility.
  • Coverdell account: Potential for tax-free investing for any qualified education expense; more restrictions and lower contributions than other accounts.
  • Key takeaway: Not all college savings plans are the same. Differences among accounts can have a major impact on current taxes and future college funds.

* Earnings on non-qualified withdrawals may be subject to federal income tax and a 10% federal penalty tax, as well as state and local income taxes. Federal law allows distributions for tuition expenses in connection with enrollment or attendance at an elementary or secondary public, private or religious school (“K-12 Tuition Expenses”) of up to $10,000 per beneficiary per year. Under New York State law, distributions for K-12 Tuition Expenses will be considered non-qualified withdrawals and will require the recapture of any New York State tax benefits that have accrued on contributions.

Sources

  1. irs.gov/uac/529-Plans:-Questions-and-Answers 
  2. time.com/money/3149426/college-savings-esa-529-differences-financial-aid/ 
  3. figuide.com/new-benefits-for-529-plans.html
  4. time.com/money/4102891/coverdell-529-education-college-savings-account/ 
  5. franklintempleton.com/investor/products/goals/education/ugma-utma-accounts?role=investor
  6. investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/102915/life-insurance-vs-529.asp
  7. https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/gim/protected/adv/products/college-savings-plan/college-planning-essentials

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

How to Value the Value of Working With a Financial Advisor

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Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash

A good professional provides important guidance and insight through the years.

What kind of role can a financial professional play for an investor?

The answer: a very important one. While the value of such a relationship is hard to quantify, the intangible benefits may be significant and long-lasting.

There are certain investors who turn to a financial professional with one goal in mind: the “alpha” objective of beating the market, quarter after quarter. Even Wall Street money managers fail at that task – and they fail routinely.

At some point, these investors realize that their financial professional has no control over what happens in the market. They come to understand the real value of the relationship, which is about strategy, coaching, and understanding.

A good financial professional can help an investor interpret today’s financial climate, determine objectives, and assess progress toward those goals. Alone, an investor may be challenged to do any of this effectively. Moreover, an uncoached investor may make self-defeating decisions. Today’s steady stream of instant information can prompt emotional behavior and blunders.

No investor is infallible

Investors can feel that way during a great market year, when every decision seems to work out well. Overconfidence can set in, and the reality that the market has occasional bad years can be forgotten.

This is when irrational exuberance creeps in. A sudden Wall Street shock may lead an investor to sell low today, buy high tomorrow, and attempt to time the market.

Market timing may be a factor in the following divergence: according to investment research firm DALBAR, U.S. stocks gained 10% a year on average from 1988-2018, yet the average equity investor’s portfolio returned just 4.1% annually in that period. (1)

A good financial professional helps an investor commit to staying on track

Through subtle or overt coaching, the investor learns to take short-term ups and downs in stride and focus on the long term. A strategy is put in place, based on a defined investment policy and target asset allocations with an eye on major financial goals. The client’s best interest is paramount.

As the investor-professional relationship unfolds, the investor begins to notice the intangible ways the professional provides value. Insight and knowledge inform investment selection and portfolio construction. The professional explains the subtleties of investment classes and how potential risk often relates to potential reward.

Perhaps most importantly, the professional helps the client get past the “noise” and “buzz” of the financial markets to see what is really important to his or her financial life.

The investor gains a new level of understanding, a context for all the investing and saving. The effort to build wealth and retire well is not merely focused on “success,” but also on significance.

This is the value a financial professional brings to the table. You cannot quantify it in dollar terms, but you can certainly appreciate it over time.MI-GTM_3Q19_August_High-Res-64

▲ Diversification and the average investor

The top chart shows the powerful effects of portfolio diversification. It illustrates the difference in movements between the S&P 500, a 60/40 portfolio and a 40/60 portfolio indicating when each respective portfolio would have recovered its original value at the peak of the market in 2007 from the market bottom in 2009. It shows that the S&P 500 fell far more than either of the two diversified portfolio and also took two or more years longer to recover its value. The bottom chart shows 20-year annualized returns by asset class, as well as how an “average investor” would have fared. The average investor asset allocation return is based on an analysis by Dalbar, which utilizes the net of aggregate mutual fund sales, redemptions and exchanges each month as a measure of investor behavior.

Sources

  1. cnbc.com/2019/07/31/youre-making-big-financial-mistakes-and-its-your-brains-fault.html
  2. https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/gim/adv/insights/guide-to-the-markets/viewer

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

The Power of Consistent Saving and Compound Interest

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Everyone is told to save for retirement early. Everyone is told to save consistently. You may wonder: just what kind of difference might an early start and ongoing account contributions make?

Let’s take a look some eye-opening numbers

(You can verify these numbers simply by using the compound interest calculator at investor.gov, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s website).

Scenario #1

If you are 30 years old and contribute $200 a month to a tax-deferred retirement account (initial investment of $200, then $200 per month thereafter), you will have $333,903.82 by age 65, if that account consistently returns 7% a year. (This is with annual compounding.)

Scenario #2

If you change one variable in the above scenario – you start saving and investing at 25 years old instead of 30 – you will have $482,119.16 by age 65.

Scenario #3

Start at 20 years old and you will have $689,998.84 by age 65.

An early start really matters.

It gives you a few more years of compounding – and the larger the account balance, the greater difference compounding makes.

These are simple scenarios, but the impact of consistent saving and investing is undeniable. Over time, it may help you build a retirement account that could become a significant part of your retirement savings.

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▲Benefit of saving and investing early

Investors should make saving for retirement a priority by investing early and often. This graph illustrates the savings and investing behavior of four people who start saving the same annual amount at different times in their lives, for different durations and with different investment choices. Consistent Chloe saves and invests consistently over time and reaches 65 with more than double the amount of the other investors. Quitter Quincy starts early but stops after 10 years, just as Late Lyla starts saving. Despite saving one-third as much as Lyla, the power of long-term compounding on money invested early helps Quincy end up with almost the same wealth at retirement. Nervous Noah saves as much and as often as Chloe, but chooses not to invest his money so he accumulates less than half of Chloe’s final amount.

Are you saving enough?

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▲ Annual savings needed if starting today

What is the rule of thumb for the percentage of your income you need to save for retirement? Some say 10%, some say higher or lower. The real answer is that it depends—on what you earn, the “lifestyle you become accustomed to” and when you start saving. This chart shows the percentage of gross income someone would need to start saving at the ages in the left column to be able to afford the typical lifestyle associated with the household income amounts in the top row. Starting at age 25, the annual savings required ranges from 7% to 10%: achievable, but well above what most Americans save. By contrast, someone thinking about waiting until age 50 to focus on retirement should see how unrealistic that may be, with required savings of between 31% and 47% of their gross income. The sooner investors start, the better chance they may have of steadily winning the retirement savings race.

Sources

  1. https://www.investor.gov/additional-resources/free-financial-planning-tools/compound-interest-calculator
  2. https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/gim/protected/adv/insights/guide-to-retirement

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

4 Important Questions You’ll Need to Answer Before Claiming Social Security

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Whether you want to leave work at 62, 67, or 70, claiming the retirement benefits you are entitled to by federal law is no casual decision. You will want to consider a few key factors first.

1. How long do you think you will live?

If you have a feeling you will live into your nineties, for example, it may be better to claim later. If you start receiving Social Security benefits at or after Full Retirement Age (which varies from age 66-67 for those born in 1943 or later), your monthly benefit will be larger than if you had claimed at 62. If you file for benefits at FRA or later, chances are you probably a) worked into your mid-sixties, b) are in fairly good health, c) have sizable retirement savings. (1)

If you sense you might not live into your eighties or you really need retirement income, then claiming at or close to 62 might make more sense. If you have an average lifespan, you will, theoretically, receive the average amount of lifetime benefits regardless of when you claim them; the choice comes down to more lifetime payments that are smaller or fewer lifetime payments that are larger. For the record, Social Security’s actuaries project the average 65-year-old man living 84.3 years and the average 65-year-old woman living 86.7 years. (2)

2. Will you keep working?

You might not want to work too much, for earning too much income can result in your Social Security being withheld or taxed.

Prior to Full Retirement Age, your benefits may be lessened if your income tops certain limits. In 2018, if you are 62-65 and receive Social Security, $1 of your benefits will be withheld for every $2 that you earn above $17,040. If you receive Social Security and turn 66 later this year, then $1 of your benefits will be withheld for every $3 that you earn above $45,360. (3)

Social Security income may also be taxed above the program’s “combined income” threshold. (“Combined income” = adjusted gross income + non-taxable interest + 50% of Social Security benefits.) Single filers who have combined incomes from $25,000-34,000 may have to pay federal income tax on up to 50% of their Social Security benefits, and that also applies to joint filers with combined incomes of $32,000-44,000. Single filers with combined incomes above $34,000 and joint filers whose combined incomes surpass $44,000 may have to pay federal income tax on up to 85% of their Social Security benefits. (3)

3. When does your spouse want to file?

Timing does matter, especially for two-income couples. If the lower-earning spouse collects Social Security benefits first, and then the higher-earning spouse collects them later, that may result in greater lifetime benefits for the household. (4)

4. How much in benefits might be coming your way?

Visit ssa.gov to find out, and keep in mind that Social Security calculates your monthly benefit using a formula based on your 35 highest-earning years. If you have worked for less than 35 years, Social Security fills in the “blank years” with zeros. If you have, say, just 33 years of work experience, working another couple of years might translate to slightly higher Social Security income. (1)

Your claiming decision may be one of the major financial decisions of your life. Your choices should be evaluated years in advance, with insight from the financial professional who has helped you plan for retirement.

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▲ Maximizing Social Security benefits

The age at which one claims Social Security greatly affects the amount of benefit received. Key claiming ages are 62, full retirement age (FRA is currently 66 and 4 months for today’s 62-year-olds) and 70, as shown in the row of ages in the middle of the slide. The top three graphs show the three most common ages an individual is likely to claim and the monthly benefit he or she would receive at those ages. Claiming at the latest age (70) provides the highest monthly amount but delays receipt of the benefit for 8 years. Claiming at Full Retirement Age, 66 and 4 months, or 62 years old provides lesser amounts at earlier ages. The grey shading between the bar charts represents the ages at which waiting until a later claim age results in greater cumulative benefits than the earlier age. This is called the breakeven age. The breakeven age between taking benefits at age 62 and FRA is age 76 and between FRA and 70 is 80. Not shown is the breakeven between 62 and 70, which is 79 (78 and 6 months). Along the bottom of the page, the percentages show the probability that a man, woman or one member of a married couple currently age 62 will reach the specified ages. Comparing these percentages against the breakeven ages will help a beneficiary make an informed decision about when to claim Social Security if maximizing the cumulative benefit received is a primary goal. Note that while the benefits shown are for a high-income earner who maxes out their Social Security taxes each year (income of $128,700 in 2018), the breakeven ages would hold true for those at other income levels.

Sources

  1. fool.com/investing/2018/07/07/4-frequently-asked-social-security-questions.aspx
  2. ssa.gov/planners/lifeexpectancy.html
  3. blackrock.com/investing/literature/investor-education/social-security-retirement-benefits-quick-reference-one-pager-va-us.pdf
  4. thebalance.com/social-security-for-married-couples-2389042
  5. https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/gim/protected/adv/insights/guide-to-retirement

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

What Your Financial To-Do List Should Include for 2019

person holding black pen and book near pink ceramic mug

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Things you can do for your future as the year unfolds.

What financial, business, or life priorities do you need to address for 2019?

Now is a good time to think about the investing, saving, or budgeting methods you could employ toward specific objectives, from building your retirement fund to lowering your taxes. You have plenty of options. Here are a few that might prove convenient.

Can you contribute more to your retirement plans this year?

In 2019, the yearly contribution limit for a Roth or traditional IRA rises to $6,000 ($7,000 for those making “catch-up” contributions). Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) may affect how much you can put into a Roth IRA: singles and heads of household with MAGI above $137,000 and joint filers with MAGI above $203,000 cannot make 2019 Roth contributions. (1)

For tax year 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 to 401(k), 403(b), and most 457 plans, with a $6,000 catch-up contribution allowed if you are age 50 or older. If you are self-employed, you may want to look into whether you can establish and fund a solo 401(k) before the end of 2019; as employer contributions may also be made to solo 401(k)s, you may direct up to $56,000 into one of those plans.1

Your retirement plan contribution could help your tax picture.

If you won’t turn 70½ in 2019 and you participate in a traditional qualified retirement plan or have a traditional IRA, you can cut your taxable income through a contribution. Should you be in the new 24% federal tax bracket, you can save $1,440 in taxes as a byproduct of a $6,000 traditional IRA contribution. (2)

What are the income limits on deducting traditional IRA contributions?

If you participate in a workplace retirement plan, the 2019 MAGI phase-out ranges are $64,000-$74,000 for singles and heads of households, $103,000-$123,000 for joint filers when the spouse making IRA contributions is covered by a workplace retirement plan, and $193,000-$203,000 for an IRA contributor not covered by a workplace retirement plan, but married to someone who is. (1)

Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and 457 plans are funded with after-tax dollars, so you may not take an immediate federal tax deduction for your contributions to them. The upside is that if you follow I.R.S. rules, the account assets may eventually be withdrawn tax free. (3)

Your tax year 2019 contribution to a Roth or traditional IRA may be made as late as the 2020 federal tax deadline – and, for that matter, you can make a 2018 IRA contribution as late as April 15, 2019, which is the deadline for filing your 2018 federal return. There is no merit in waiting until April of the successive year, however, since delaying a contribution only delays tax-advantaged compounding of those dollars. (1,3)

Should you go Roth in 2019?

You might be considering that if you only have a traditional IRA. This is no snap decision; the Internal Revenue Service no longer gives you a chance to undo it, and the tax impact of the conversion must be weighed versus the potential future benefits. If you are a high earner, you should know that income phase-out limits may affect your chance to make Roth IRA contributions. For 2019, phase-outs kick in at $193,000 for joint filers and $122,000 for single filers and heads of household. Should your income prevent you from contributing to a Roth IRA at all, you still have the chance to contribute to a traditional IRA in 2019 and go Roth later. (1,4)

Incidentally, a footnote: distributions from certain qualified retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, are not subject to the 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) affecting single/joint filers with MAGIs over $200,000/$250,000. If your MAGI does surpass these thresholds, then dividends, royalties, the taxable part of non-qualified annuity income, taxable interest, passive income (such as partnership and rental income), and net capital gains from the sale of real estate and investments are subject to that surtax. (Please note that the NIIT threshold is just $125,000 for spouses who choose to file their federal taxes separately.) (5)

Consult a tax or financial professional before you make any IRA moves to see how those changes may affect your overall financial picture. If you have a large, traditional IRA, the projected tax resulting from a Roth conversion may make you think twice.

What else should you consider in 2019?

There are other things you may want to do or review.

Make charitable gifts.

The individual standard deduction rises to $12,000 in 2019, so there will be less incentive to itemize deductions for many taxpayers – but charitable donations are still deductible if they are itemized. If you plan to gift more than $12,000 to qualified charities and non-profits in 2019, remember that the paper trail is important. (6)

If you give cash, you need to document it.

Even small contributions need to be demonstrated by a bank record or a written communication from the charity with the date and amount. Incidentally, the I.R.S. does not equate a pledge with a donation. You must contribute to a qualified charity to claim a federal charitable tax deduction. Incidentally, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act lifted the ceiling on the amount of cash you can give to a charity per year – you can now gift up to 60% of your adjusted gross income in cash per year, rather than 50%. (6,7)

What if you gift appreciated securities?

If you have owned them for more than a year, you will be in line to take a deduction for 100% of their fair market value and avoid capital gains tax that would have resulted from simply selling the investment and donating the proceeds. The non-profit organization gets the full amount of the gift, and you can claim a deduction of up to 30% of your adjusted gross income. (8)

Does the value of your gift exceed $250?

It may, and if you gift that amount or larger to a qualified charitable organization, you should ask that charity or non-profit group for a receipt. You should always request a receipt for a cash gift, no matter how large or small the amount. (8)

If you aren’t sure if an organization is eligible to receive charitable gifts, check it out at irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Exempt-Organizations-Select-Check.

Open an HSA.

If you are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan, you may set up and fund a Health Savings Account in 2019. You can make fully tax-deductible HSA contributions of up to $3,500 (singles) or $7,000 (families); catch-up contributions of up to $1,000 are permitted for those 55 or older. HSA assets grow tax deferred, and withdrawals from these accounts are tax free if used to pay for qualified health care expenses. (9)

Practice tax-loss harvesting.

By selling depreciated shares in a taxable investment account, you can offset capital gains or up to $3,000 in regular income ($1,500 is the annual limit for married couples who file separately). In fact, you may use this tactic to offset all your total capital gains for a given tax year. Losses that exceed the $3,000 yearly limit may be rolled over into 2020 (and future tax years) to offset ordinary income or capital gains again. (10)

Pay attention to asset location.

Tax-efficient asset location is an ignored fundamental of investing. Broadly speaking, your least tax-efficient securities should go in pre-tax accounts, and your most tax-efficient securities should be held in taxable accounts.

Review your withholding status.

You may have updated it last year when the I.R.S. introduced new withholding tables; you may want to adjust for 2019 due to any of the following factors.

  • You tend to pay a great deal of income tax each year.
  • You tend to get a big federal tax refund each year.
  • You recently married or divorced.
  • A family member recently passed away.
  • You have a new job, and you are earning much more than you previously did.
  • You started a business venture or became self-employed.

Are you marrying in 2019?

If so, why not review the beneficiaries of your workplace retirement plan account, your IRA, and other assets? In light of your marriage, you may want to make changes to the relevant beneficiary forms. The same goes for your insurance coverage. If you will have a new last name in 2019, you will need a new Social Security card. Additionally, the two of you, no doubt, have individual retirement saving and investment strategies. Will they need to be revised or adjusted once you are married?

Are you coming home from active duty?

If so, go ahead and check the status of your credit and the state of any tax and legal proceedings that might have been preempted by your orders. Make sure any employee health insurance is still in place. Revoke any power of attorney you may have granted to another person.

Consider the tax impact of any upcoming transactions.

Are you planning to sell (or buy) real estate next year? How about a business? Do you think you might exercise a stock option in the coming months? Might any large commissions or bonuses come your way in 2019? Do you anticipate selling an investment that is held outside of a tax-deferred account? Any of these actions might significantly impact your 2019 taxes.

If you are retired and older than 70½, remember your year-end RMD.

Retirees over age 70½ must begin taking Required Minimum Distributions from traditional IRAs, 401(k)s, SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs by December 31 of each year. The I.R.S. penalty for failing to take an RMD equals 50% of the RMD amount that is not withdrawn. (4,11)

If you turned 70½ in 2018, you can postpone your initial RMD from an account until April 1, 2019. All subsequent RMDs must be taken by December 31 of the calendar year to which the RMD applies. The downside of delaying your 2018 RMD into 2019 is that you will have to take two RMDs in 2019, with both RMDs being taxable events. You will have to make your 2018 tax year RMD by April 1, 2019, and then take your 2019 tax year RMD by December 31, 2019. (11)

Plan your RMDs wisely.

If you do so, you may end up limiting or avoiding possible taxes on your Social Security income. Some Social Security recipients don’t know about the “provisional income” rule – if your adjusted gross income, plus any non-taxable interest income you earn, plus 50% of your Social Security benefits surpasses a certain level, then some Social Security benefits become taxable. Social Security benefits start to be taxed at provisional income levels of $32,000 for joint filers and $25,000 for single filers. (11)

Lastly, should you make 13 mortgage payments in 2019?

There may be some merit to making a January 2020 mortgage payment in December 2019. If you have a fixed-rate loan, a lump-sum payment can reduce the principal and the total interest paid on it by that much more.

Talk with a qualified financial or tax professional today. Vow to focus on being healthy and wealthy in 2019.

Sources

  1. forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2018/11/01/irs-announces-2019-retirement-plan-contribution-limits-for-401ks-and-more
  2. irs.com/articles/2018-federal-tax-rates-personal-exemptions-and-standard-deductions
  3. irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Traditional-and-Roth-IRAs
  4. forbes.com/sites/bobcarlson/2018/10/26/7-ira-strategies-for-year-end-2018/
  5. irs.gov/newsroom/questions-and-answers-on-the-net-investment-income-tax
  6. crainsdetroit.com/philanthropy/what-donors-need-know-about-tax-reform
  7. thebalance.com/tax-deduction-for-charity-donations-3192983
  8. schwab.com/resource-center/insights/content/charitable-donations-the-basics-of-giving
  9. kiplinger.com/article/insurance/T027-C001-S003-health-savings-account-limits-for-2019.html
  10. schwab.com/resource-center/insights/content/reap-benefits-tax-loss-harvesting-to-lower-your-tax-bill
  11. fool.com/retirement/2018/01/29/5-things-to-consider-before-tapping-your-retiremen.aspx

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

What Comprehensive Financial Planning Is and How It Can Help You

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Your approach to building wealth should be built around your goals & values.

Just what is comprehensive financial planning?

As you invest and save for retirement, you may hear or read about it – but what does that phrase really mean? Just what does comprehensive financial planning entail, and why do knowledgeable investors request this kind of approach?

While the phrase may seem ambiguous to some, it can be simply defined.

Comprehensive financial planning is about building wealth through a process, not a product.

Financial products are everywhere, and simply putting money into an investment is not a gateway to getting rich, nor a solution to your financial issues.

Comprehensive financial planning is holistic.

It is about more than “money.” A comprehensive financial plan is not only built around your goals, but also around your core values. What matters most to you in life? How does your wealth relate to that? What should your wealth help you accomplish? What could it accomplish for others?

Comprehensive financial planning considers the entirety of your financial life.

Your assets, your liabilities, your taxes, your income, your business – these aspects of your financial life are never isolated from each other. Occasionally or frequently, they interrelate. Comprehensive financial planning recognizes this interrelation and takes a systematic, integrated approach toward improving your financial situation.

Comprehensive financial planning is long range.

It presents a strategy for the accumulation, maintenance, and eventual distribution of your wealth, in a written plan to be implemented and fine-tuned over time.

What makes this kind of planning so necessary?

If you aim to build and preserve wealth, you must play “defense” as well as “offense.” Too many people see building wealth only in terms of investing – you invest, you “make money,” and that is how you become rich.

That is only a small part of the story. The rich carefully plan to minimize their taxes and debts as well as adjust their wealth accumulation and wealth preservation tactics in accordance with their personal risk tolerance and changing market climates.

Basing decisions on a plan prevents destructive behaviors when markets turn unstable.

Quick decision-making may lead investors to buy high and sell low – and overall, investors lose ground by buying and selling too actively. Openfolio, a website which lets tens of thousands of investors compare the performance of their portfolios against portfolios of other investors, found that its average investor earned 5% in 2016. In contrast, the total return of the S&P 500 was nearly 12%. Why the difference? As CNBC noted, most of it could be chalked up to poor market timing and faulty stock picking. A comprehensive financial plan – and its long-range vision – helps to discourage this sort of behavior. At the same time, the plan – and the financial professional(s) who helped create it – can encourage the investor to stay the course. (1)

A comprehensive financial plan is a collaboration & results in an ongoing relationship.

Since the plan is goal-based and values-rooted, both the investor and the financial professional involved have spent considerable time on its articulation. There are shared responsibilities between them. Trust strengthens as they live up to and follow through on those responsibilities. That continuing engagement promotes commitment and a view of success.

Think of a comprehensive financial plan as your compass.

Accordingly, the financial professional who works with you to craft and refine the plan can serve as your navigator on the journey toward your goals.

The plan provides not only direction, but also an integrated strategy to try and better your overall financial life over time. As the years go by, this approach may do more than “make money” for you – it may help you to build and retain lifelong wealth.

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▲ Comprehensive Planning

Planning for retirement can be overwhelming as individuals navigate various retirement factors over which we have varying levels of control. There are challenges in retirement planning over which we have no control, like the future of tax policy and market returns, and factors over which we have limited control, like longevity and how long we plan to work. The best way to achieve a secure retirement is to develop a comprehensive retirement plan and to focus on the factors we can control: maximize savings, understand and manage spending and adhere to a disciplined approach to investing.

Sources

  1. cnbc.com/2017/01/04/most-investors-didnt-come-close-to-beating-the-sp-500.html
  2. https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/gim/protected/adv/insights/guide-to-retirement

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

End-of-the-Year Money Moves for 2018

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Here are some things you might want to do before saying goodbye to 2018.

What has changed for you in 2018?

Did you start a new job or leave a job behind? Did you retire? Did you start a family? If notable changes occurred in your personal or professional life, then you will want to review your finances before this year ends and 2019 begins.

Even if your 2018 has been relatively uneventful, the end of the year is still a good time to get cracking and see where you can plan to save some taxes and/or build a little more wealth.

Do you practice tax-loss harvesting?

That is the art of taking capital losses (selling securities worth less than what you first paid for them) to offset your short-term capital gains. If you fall into one of the upper tax brackets, you might want to consider this move, which directly lowers your taxable income. It should be made with the guidance of a financial professional you trust. (1)

In fact, you could even take it a step further. Consider that up to $3,000 of capital losses in excess of capital gains can be deducted from ordinary income, and any remaining capital losses above that can be carried forward to offset capital gains in upcoming years. When you live in a high-tax state, this is one way to defer tax. (1_

Do you want to itemize deductions?

You may just want to take the standard deduction for 2018, which has ballooned to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers because of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act. If you do think it might be better for you to itemize, now would be a good time to get the receipts and assorted paperwork together. While many miscellaneous deductions have disappeared, some key deductions are still around: the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, now capped at $10,000; the mortgage interest deduction; the deduction for charitable contributions, which now has a higher limit of 60% of adjusted gross income; and the medical expense deduction. (2,3)

Could you ramp up 401(k) or 403(b) contributions?

Contribution to these retirement plans lower your yearly gross income. If you lower your gross income enough, you might be able to qualify for other tax credits or breaks available to those under certain income limits. Note that contributions to Roth 401(k)s and Roth 403(b)s are made with after-tax rather than pre-tax dollars, so contributions to those accounts are not deductible and will not lower your taxable income for the year. They will, however, help to strengthen your retirement savings. (4)

Are you thinking of gifting?

How about donating to a qualified charity or non-profit organization before 2018 ends? In most cases, these gifts are partly tax deductible. You must itemize deductions using Schedule A to claim a deduction for a charitable gift.5

If you donate publicly traded shares you have owned for at least a year, you can take a charitable deduction for their fair market value and forgo the capital gains tax hit that would result from their sale. If you pour some money into a 529 college savings plan on behalf of a child in 2018, you may be able to claim a full or partial state income tax deduction (depending on the state).2,6

Of course, you can also reduce the value of your taxable estate with a gift or two. The federal gift tax exclusion is $15,000 for 2018. So, as an individual, you can gift up to $15,000 to as many people as you wish this year. A married couple can gift up to $30,000 in 2018 to as many people as they desire.7

While we’re on the topic of estate planning, why not take a moment to review the beneficiary designations for your IRA, your life insurance policy, and workplace retirement plan? If you haven’t reviewed them for a decade or more (which is all too common), double-check to see that these assets will go where you want them to go, should you pass away. Lastly, look at your will to see that it remains valid and up-to-date.

Should you convert all or part of a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA?

You will be withdrawing money from that traditional IRA someday, and those withdrawals will equal taxable income. Withdrawals from a Roth IRA you own are not taxed during your lifetime, assuming you follow the rules. Translation: tax savings tomorrow. Before you go Roth, you do need to make sure you have the money to pay taxes on the conversion amount. A Roth IRA conversion can no longer be recharacterized (reversed). (8)

Can you take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit?

The AOTC allows individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less (and joint filers with MAGI of $160,000 or less) a chance to claim a credit of up to $2,500 for qualified college expenses. Phase-outs kick in above those MAGI levels.9

See that you have withheld the right amount. The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act lowered federal income tax rates and altered withholding tables. If you discover that you have withheld too little on your W-4 form so far in 2018, you may need to adjust your withholding before the year ends. The Government Accountability Office projects that 21% of taxpayers are withholding less than they should in 2018. Even an end-of-year adjustment has the potential to save you some tax.10

What can you do before ringing in the New Year? Talk with a financial or tax professional now rather than in February or March. Little year-end moves might help you improve your short-term and long-term financial situation.

Sources

  1. nerdwallet.com/blog/investing/just-how-valuable-is-daily-tax-loss-harvesting/
  2. marketwatch.com/story/how-to-game-the-new-standard-deduction-and-3-other-ways-to-cut-your-2018-tax-bill-2018-10-15
  3. hrblock.com/tax-center/irs/tax-reform/3-changes-itemized-deductions-tax-reform-bill/
  4. investopedia.com/articles/retirement/06/addroths.asp
  5. investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/041315/tips-charitable-contributions-limits-and-taxes.asp
  6. savingforcollege.com/article/how-much-is-your-state-s-529-plan-tax-deduction-really-worth
  7. fool.com/retirement/2018/06/28/5-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-estate-tax.aspx
  8. marketwatch.com/story/how-the-new-tax-law-creates-a-perfect-storm-for-roth-ira-conversions-2018-03-26
  9. fool.com/investing/2018/03/17/your-2018-guide-to-college-tuition-tax-breaks.aspx
  10. money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/taxes/articles/2018-10-16/should-you-adjust-your-income-tax-withholding

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