Make The Most Of Your Empty Nest

How to Make Your Empty Nest Time a Prime Time in Your Life

Time flies when you’re a parent. Just when you’ve wrapped your head around the demands and responsibilities of raising a child, you turn around and your little bundle of joy is ready to head out into the world.

This empty nest transition can be very emotional. And in some cases, like children who stay on your health insurance until age 25, the break isn’t as clean as it used to be. But this change should also be exciting! Here are some tips on how you and your spouse can stay positive and make the most out of all your new free time, all that new space, and hopefully, all that extra money.

1. Celebrate!

First off, some major congratulations are in order. Raising children is as rewarding as it is challenging. In order to get where you and your spouse are today, you had to make so many sacrifices, juggle work and family schedules, and carefully manage your finances.

An empty nest fills some parents with sadness and loneliness. But you should focus on the positive. Your kids are ready to be adults. Be proud of them, and of you and your spouse. Pop a good bottle of wine you’ve been saving or treat yourselves to a night out. You deserve it. An exciting new part of your life is about to begin.

2. Readjust your budget.

Children are wonderful. They’re also really expensive! No more sports fees. No more restocking the fridge every other day. Depending on their ages and how much you’re helping with their transition into adulthood, no more school tuition or piggybacking on insurance and phone plans.

Even the smallest of these expenses adds up quickly month after month. Now that they’re in the past, it’s time to make a new budget. You might find ways to ramp up your savings and contributions to your retirement accounts. You also might be able to afford a few more creature comforts or an extra trip or two.

3. Reclaim your space.

If your house suddenly feels a little emptier, well … it is. Too empty? If you and your spouse now have more room than you really need, it might be time to consider downsizing and economizing. Any new homes or neighborhoods in your community that look appealing? Have you considered moving out of state to start a new adventure?

If you’re happy where you are, take back those vacant rooms. Refurnish with a more grown-up touch to create a guest room for visiting friends and family. Give your hobbies and passions their own space by making a crafting room or a library.

Added bonus: if your kids have any trouble “adulting,” they’ll be more motivated to figure things out for themselves if there’s an easel or writing desk where their beds used to be.

4. Reconnect with your spouse.

You and your spouse are going to have more one-on-one time now than you’ve had since you were newlyweds, especially if you’re both getting ready to retire. What things did you used to do together before all those soccer practices and ballet recitals started dominating your schedules? What dream vacations for two have you been putting off? Have your golf or tennis swings gotten a little rusty over the years? Do you have time to cook meals together now?

Another activity that might bring you and your spouse closer is regular visits to your adult children and any grandchildren you might have. Seeing your kids on their own, flourishing at college or raising their own kids, will only deepen the sense of pride you should feel for a job well done.

5. Talk it out.

Major life transitions are often more challenging than we’re prepared to admit. More room, more free time, and more cash in hand are all positive. But the feeling that a large part of your life is over might be hard to shake.

Your blank calendar and lack of routine can be intimidating. Empty bedrooms can feel lonely. And while empty nest blues are often associated with the mother, many fathers suffer in silence. Make sure that you and your spouse are open and honest with each other about what you’re both feeling and get help if necessary.

On the flipside, you might feel overwhelmed in a good way – thrilled by all the options available to you, excited to start something new, but unsure of where to begin.

Again, step one is clear communication with your spouse. Make sure that you are on the same page about what you both want from this new stage of your life. Plan activities that you can do together. But also make space in your new routine for each of you to explore, learn, and grow individually.

Step two: come in and talk to us. We can help you sort through the financial implications of your empty nest and make sure you have the resources to live your best possible life with the money you have.

Is How You Use Your Money Aligned With Your Values?

Is How You Use Your Money Aligned With Your Values?

By Mike Desepoli, Heritage

A hamster in a wheel.

Have you ever watched a hamster running in a wheel? All that running, all that effort, day after day after day … But the poor little critter never really gets anywhere, does he?

Many of us feel the same way about our money.

More specifically, we feel that way about the work we do to get that money. We spend forty hours every week on a wheel, running after a paycheck. And then, first thing Monday morning, we’re back on the wheel, and the whole thing starts over again.

Many folks just keep repeating this cycle, over and over, until they finally retire. They think that stepping off the wheel just isn’t an option because they have bills to pay, college expenses to save for, and a dream to be “financially set” before retiring from work. It begs the question if he we use our money is aligned with our values.

How much is enough?

These are all persuasive arguments that keep people on the wheel. And the hope is that someday, you’ll be able to stop running and enjoy the fruits of all that hard work.

Unfortunately, more often than not, “someday” never comes. If your focus in your work and in your financial planning is just having enough money, you’ll never feel like you have enough. There’s always another dollar to chase, another way to economize so that you can save more.

But for what? Is having more and more money, in and of itself, something that you really value? Does having more make running on the wheel worth it?

You might think that this “never enough” mentality ends once a person retires. In fact, it just transitions into a new, related worry: “Am I going to run out of money?” Again, that “someday” gets pushed back in favor of more saving, more super-conservative living. You might not be working any more, but you’re still just chasing after money.

The wind in your sails.

At the end of the day, your money is not the shore we’re sailing for. It’s not the sea you’re sailing on. It’s not even the boat you’re steering.

Your money is the sail. It’s the tool you use to get where you want to go.

And the wind in that sail is your values.

Just like a good sailor learns how to maneuver the sails to catch the most wind, aligning what’s most important to you with your financial resources is the key to successful financial planning.

So instead of asking yourself if you have enough money, or if you will run out of money, ask yourself a better question:

Am I managing my money in a way that’s improving my life?

We don’t want you just to “have enough money.” We want you to live the best life possible with the money you have.

That starts with thinking about what’s really important to you. The people whom you love. The causes that are dear to your heart. The activities that keep you feeling fit and full of energy. The hobbies that put your unique skills to their highest uses. The opportunities for learning and self-discovery that enrich your understanding of the world and of yourself. The wisdom that you will pass down to your children and grandchildren so that they live their best possible lives as well.

We believe that aligning your financial plan with these values is every bit as important as analyzing your tax situation or managing your investments. Come in and see how our interactive tools can you help plan for your whole life and get more from your money than just more money.

For more resources to help you align your money with your goals, and increase your return on life visit our video library.

Did You Inherit Your Beliefs About Money From Your Parents?

Did You Inherit Your Beliefs About Money From Your Parents?

Lou Desepoli, Heritage Financial Advisory Group

Parents know that children hear, see, and pick up on everything that is going on with the adults in their lives. And when you were a child, you were no different.

Our attitudes about money are formed at an early age, as we absorb how people around us deal with money. Some of these beliefs, such as a commitment to disciplined saving, are positive. Others, like skepticism about the stock market, can be more harmful than helpful as we try to build wealth in our own lives.

Answering these four key questions can help you look at your financial upbringing with a fresh perspective. When you’re done, think about which money beliefs you want to pass on to your own kids, and which might be preventing you from living the best life possible with the money you have.

  1. What was money like growing up?

Your childhood experiences of money are a composite of details both big and small.

You probably compared the comforts of your home to what you saw next door and drew some conclusions about how comfortable your family was.

Did your parents get a new car every couple years or drive around the same station wagon until it died? Did you take frequent vacations? What were holidays and birthdays like?

Watching mom and dad carefully balance their checkbooks or set next week’s grocery budget also might have made a strong impression. And at the more serious end of the spectrum, an unexpected job loss, debilitating medical condition, or death could have had a profound impact on your family’s finances.

  1. What was money like for your parents growing up?

Many baby boomers were raised by parents who had to tighten their belts during the Great Depression and World War II. The Greatest Generation probably impressed upon your parents the value of the hard work, the importance of saving, and perhaps some real apprehension when it comes to money. Your parents may have passed on these same values to you, or swung in the opposite direction and tried to make money as stress-free as possible.

How much do you know about your parents’ childhoods? If they’re still living, ask some questions that will fill in your family’s history a little more clearly. You might learn something surprising. And you might gain some insight into how their experiences of money are still affecting you.

 

  1. What specific lessons were you taught that you have continued?

People who grow up in working-class households often learn negative lessons about wealth. Their parents may view affluent people with suspicion or even resentment. Sometimes there are valid reasons for these views. In other cases, hard-working adults see greener grass on the other side of the fence. They underestimate how much hard work and discipline really go into wealth-building. Their kids learn to do the same.

On a more positive note, your parents also made decisions that taught you what was more important. Perhaps they sacrificed their own leisure and comforts so that you could attend a good private school. A parent might have earned a modest living as a teacher or working for a nonprofit that made your community better.

  1. What was the best thing you were taught about money?

As a child you probably rolled your eyes whenever your parents doled out maxims about money or started reminiscing about what money was like when they were growing up.

Now that you’re the one doing the earning, some of those lessons probably ring true. “Live on less than what you make” is hard to hear when it’s used to explain why you can’t have a new bike or take a big vacation. No child wants to sacrifice their weekends or summers working part time because their parents insist on it. But the lessons that were hard to swallow when we were young. These are the lessons that often create attitudes and habits that benefit us as adults.

The sum of all these memories, the positive and the negative, is a blueprint to your financial thinking. It’s also the schematic that we use to build your life-centered financial plan. Come in and share your blueprint with us so that together, we can lay a strong foundation for your family’s future.

For more information about this topic or any others, reach out to us by clicking here.

3 Ways to Know When You Are Ready to Retire

3 Ways to Know When You Are Ready to Retire

Mike Desepoli, Heritage

There’s a pretty good chance that your parents and grandparents retired just because they turned 65. Today’s retirement is a bit more complicated than that. While age is still an important factor, your ability to connect your financial resources to your lifestyle goals is what will truly determine if you’re ready to retire.

Here are three important markers to cross before you crack open your nest egg:

  1. You’re financially ready.

The most common question we field from our clients is, “How much do I need to retire?” While there’s no magic number to hit, a few key checkpoints are:

  • You have a budget. Many clients who are preparing to retire tell us they’ve never kept a budget before. Time to start! If you have any big plans for early in your retirement, like remodeling your home or a dream vacation, let us know so we can discuss front-loading your annual withdrawal rate.
  • Your debts are paid. No, you don’t necessarily need to pay off a fixed-rate mortgage before you retire. But try to reduce or eliminate credit card balances and any other loans that are charging you interest.
  • Your age, retirement accounts, and Social Security plan are all in-sync. If you’re planning on retiring early, be sure that your retirement accounts won’t charge you any early withdrawal penalties for which you’re not prepared. Also keep in mind that the earlier you take Social Security the smaller your payments will be. Can you afford to live without Social Security until age 70 to maximize your benefits?
  • You and your spouse have a health care plan. Medicare insures individuals, not families. If only the retiree is 65, the younger spouse will need to buy health care elsewhere.
  1. You’re emotionally ready.

We spend so much of our lives working that our jobs become a large part of our identities. Rediscovering who we are once we stop working can be a major retirement challenge. To prepare for this emotional transition:

  • Talk to your spouse ahead of time. Don’t wait until your last day of work to discuss how both of you feel about retirement. What do each of you imagine life will be like? What are the things you’re excited to do? What are you afraid of? What can each of you do to make this new phase of life as fulfilling as possible?
  • Make a list. What are the things you’re passionate about? Something you’ve always wished you knew more about? A skill you’d like to develop? A cause that’s important to you? An ambitious business idea that was too ambitious for your former employer?
  • Check that your estate plan is in order. It’s understandable that many people avoid this part of their retirement planning. But putting together a legacy that could impact your family and community for generations can have tremendous emotional benefits. The peace of mind that comes from knowing the people you care about are taken care of can empower you to worry a little less and enjoy your retirement more.
  1. You’re ready to do new things.

Ideally, the financial piece of this conversation should make you feel free enough to create a new retirement schedule based on the emotional piece. Plan your days around the people and passions that get you out of bed in the morning. Some ideas:

  • Work at something you love. Take a part-time job at a company that interests you. Turn that crazy idea you couldn’t sell to your old boss into your own business. Consult. Teach. Volunteer.
  • Keep learning. Brush up your high school French by enrolling in an online course. Learn some basic web design so you can showcase your photography portfolio or create an online store for your crafts. Sign up for cooking classes and get some new meals in your weekly rotation.
  • Get better at having fun. What’s the best way to lower your handicap or perfect your backhand? Take lessons from a pro. The second best? Organize weekly games with friends and family.
  • Travel. Planning out a big vacation can be a fun project for couples to do to together. And while you’re looking forward to that dream trip, take a few weekend jaunts out of town. Stay at the new bed and breakfast you keep hearing about. Visit your grandkids. Go on the road with a favorite sports team and enjoy the local flavor in a different city.
If you’re nearing retirement and struggling with these issues, working through the Return on Life tools with us might provide some clarity. Let’s discuss how we can help get you ready for the best retirement possible with the money you have.  

 

For more retirement resources visit the AARP website.

5 Next Steps When You Are Concerned About Aging Parents

5 Next Steps When You Are Concerned About Aging Parents

As your aging parents begin to settle into their final phase of life, their health, residence, and finances could become a factor in your retirement planning. This is especially true if you are the person your parents have tasked with settling their estates.

There’s no simple way to tackle all the logistical and emotional challenges associated with caring for an aging parent. But these five steps will help you get the help you’ll need to make sure your parent is safe, cared for, and financially secure.

  1. Call a family meeting.

No two families are the same, but in most cases, you’re going to want to gather together all siblings and close family members for an open and honest discussion. If your parent is dealing with a serious and potentially debilitating health issue, don’t sugar-coat the truth. Hiding the facts now will only lead to hurt feelings, resentment, and poor planning.

Depending on the parent’s condition, you might consider dividing up a caregiving or visitation schedule. Even pitching in on small day-to-day tasks like helping mom or dad buy groceries can be a big help.

If you’re contemplating a more serious decision, like assisted living, make sure you give everyone space to voice an opinion. Try to keep the conversation as positive and solution-focused as possible. Employing a mediator or family counselor to facilitate might be a good option if you’re concerned old family issues could boil over and prevent a solid resolution.

  1. Don’t try to parent.

Shifting from the role of adult child to caregiver is going to be a difficult transition for both you and your parent. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Seniors who feel like they’re being “babied” are prone to depression or dangerous outbursts of independence, like grabbing the car keys or refusing to take medication.

A better approach is to try to frame your caregiving as a way of being more involved in your parent’s current routine. Take a seat at dad’s weekly card game. Put the grandkids’ sports and performance events on the calendar and offer transportation. Bring an extra dish to a dinner party. Drive mom to the movies … and let a sibling know the house will be unoccupied for a few hours if there are any cleaning or hoarding issues that need attention.

  1. Gather the essentials.

If your parent doesn’t keep all important documents in one location, now is the time to collect, copy, and file things like:

  • Identification (driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.)
  • Bank records
  • Home deeds and vehicle titles
  • Insurance records
  • Investment and retirement account records
  • Wills and trusts
  • Power of attorney
  • End of life directives
  • Login information for important online accounts (banking, subscriptions, social media)

There may be other documents that are unique to your parent’s living or financial situation. We can help you make a comprehensive list.

  1. Tag along.

Start attending doctor’s appointments. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that will help you familiarize yourself with your parent’s medical condition and aid with any at-home care like prescription drugs.

Also ask your parent to introduce you to his or her financial advisor and attorney. Make sure the relevant professionals have all important information about changes to your parent’s health, mental capacity, or living situation.

  1. Plan for the next steps.

At some point, your aging parent may no longer be self-sufficient. The earlier that you and your close family members decide upon an action plan, the better. Do you or anyone in your family have the room, the time, and the means to take in your parent? How can non-caregiving siblings or other family members chip in on associated costs of living?

In many cases an assisted living facility is a more realistic option. But be aware that your parent’s Medicare plan probably will not cover those costs. If your parent does not have retirement funds earmarked for end-of-life care, you and your close family members may need to hold another meeting to discuss how to pay for a facility.

None of these steps are easy, and none of the associated options your family settles on will be perfect. The sooner you loop us in on how caring for an aging parent might affect your financial picture, the sooner we can get to work on the money side so that you can concentrate on giving your family the love and support it needs during this difficult time.

4 Things to consider Before Financially Bailing Out Your Children

4 Things to Consider Before Financially Bailing Out Your Adult Children

Mike Desepoli, Heritage Financial Advisory Group

According to a recent study by TD Ameritrade, 25% of baby boomers are supporting their family members financially (1). Support to adult children averages out to $10,000 per year. That’s $10,000 that boomers aren’t saving, contributing to retirement accounts, or investing.

Can your retirement afford that kind of generosity?

If you fall short of your retirement goals, is the adult you’re bailing out going to bail you out during your golden years?

Before you write your struggling young adult another big check, ask yourself these four key questions:

  1. What, specifically, is this money for?

The key word here is SPECIFICALLY.

Many parents tend to err on the side of protecting their child’s feelings when weighing financial support. We know asking for money can be embarrassing, and we don’t want to deepen that embarrassment. Or we’re worried that if we ask too many questions the child will become frustrated and hide serious problems from us going forward.

These are understandable concerns. But it’s also important that you understand whether your child needs support because of something beyond his or her control (a car accident, serious health issues, unexpected job loss) or because they’re struggling with basic adult responsibilities. If your child is making poor budgeting decisions or settling for underemployment, you may be throwing good money after bad.

Be tactful, but get to the root problem before you decide if your money is the best solution.

  1. What is the real cost to me?

Many parents are already helping their adult children more than they realize.

For example, you might not think much of letting your adult children stay on the family cell phone plan or piggyback on an HBO subscription. After all, it’s only twenty bucks a month, right?

But how long have you been giving your child that monthly free pass? Years? You can also set time limits. For example, tell your child they can remain on the family cell phone plan until age 25 or until they get married, whichever comes first.

 

Are you helping with larger monthly expenses, like student loan or car payments? When will it finally be time to pull the plug?

Our advice: get it all down on paper. Make a spreadsheet that accounts for the financial support you’re already giving your child, large and small. Seeing how even small expenses accumulate over time will be eye-opening for both of you and help inform a good decision.

  1. What are the terms of the bailout?

This is another area that parents tend to tiptoe around because they’re afraid of insulting their children. But do you know of any bank that’s going to loan your kids money indefinitely, charge no interest, and ask for no repayment? Then why should your money be subject to such lousy terms?

Your children have to understand that your generosity is not open-ended, especially as you near retirement age. You’ve probably made many sacrifices for them already. You should not sacrifice your financial security or the nest egg that is meant to support you in retirement.

If your children want you to “be the bank,” then you have every right to act like one. Set clear terms in writing, including a repayment schedule. In more serious cases, you might want to bring us a copy of this agreement so that we can include it in your estate plan.

  1. How else can I help?

It’s very likely that your child spent 16 or more years in school without learning a single thing about managing money. Financial literacy just isn’t taught in schools. This knowledge gap could be a big reason your young adult is struggling.

A BMO Wealth Institute survey found that two-third of parents give money to adult children when a sudden need arises (2). Does your child need money suddenly because he or she doesn’t know how to budget? Help find that balance between covering current expenses and contributing to savings and investment accounts.

Housing and transportation expenses can be a shock to recent college grads. You could help your child negotiate a car lease. You might help a child who’s already chasing after the Joneses by counselling against a rash home purchase that will stretch his or her finances thin.

Introducing your underemployed child to some of your professional connections might lead to a significant career upgrade.

One key connection you should be sure to tap: your fiduciary advisor! We’re always happy to help our clients’ adult children get on their feet. We consider this a service to our clients because we know that the less you’re worried about supporting your children, the more secure your own retirement goals will be.

 

Sources
  1. https://s1.q4cdn.com/959385532/files/doc_downloads/research/TDA-Financial-Support-Study-2015.pdf
  2. https://wealth.bmoharris.com/media/resource_pdf/bmowi-bank-of-mom-and-dad.pdf

How to Have More Fun and Meaning When You Retire

How to Have More Fun and Meaning After You Retire

Lou Desepoli, Heritage Financial Advisory Group

A blank calendar filled with nothing but free time can be every bit as stressful as a packed work week.

That’s the surprising fact that many people who retire confront after a few days of hitting the snooze button and puttering around the house. This is usually when the reality of retirement sets in. This is your life now. What are you going to do with it?

Whatever you want!

The only thing better than sleeping in is jumping out of bed early because you’re energized and excited for the day ahead. This is the kind of active and fulfilling retirement that we love to help our clients prepare for.

Here are some ideas for creating a new retirement schedule that will keep you growing, learning, experiencing new things, and making meaningful connections with your community.

  1. Travel.

Taking all those trips you couldn’t squeeze in around work meetings and kids’ baseball tournaments tops many retirements wish lists. And with good reason. After all that hard work, prudent planning, and disciplined saving, you deserve to treat yourself, do things you never had time for, see places you’ve always wanted to see.

Why not try to be your own travel agent? Planning a few big trips scattered throughout the year can be a fun activity for you and your spouse to do together. And in between those big destination vacations like a river cruise in Europe, you can sprinkle in some long weekends visiting the grandkids, and a few separate getaways to give each of you space to pursue your personal passions.

  1. Work or volunteer part time.

No, “working in retirement” is not an oxymoron. More and more retirees who can afford to stop working are taking part-time jobs and volunteer positions. This can give your week some welcome structure and provide an outlet for things you’re passionate about.

That non-for-profit job you couldn’t afford when you were raising kids and paying a mortgage? Take it. Do some good in your community and make a little spending cash on the side. Put your cultural expertise to work as a docent for an art gallery or museum. Volunteer at a church or charitable organization that’s close to your heart.

  1. Upgrade your living situation.

Whether you’re handy and enjoy doing the work or just like picking out new colors, patterns, and fixtures, take care of all those lingering household projects. Your comfort is important, especially as you age. Don’t let minor inconveniences like leaky faucets and spotty heating turn into major problems. Get rid of that lumpy mattress and hard couch you’ve been torturing yourself with for a decade. Map out the deck and pool you’ve always wanted and turn your backyard into a central hangout for your family and friends.

Of course, that’s assuming you want to “retire in place” at your current residence. A permanent change of scenery can be invigorating as you enter this new phase in your life. Just make sure you talk to us if you see a new beachfront condo in your future. We’ll make sure to incorporate the move and all the necessary tax, health care, and cost of living adjustments into your financial plan.

  1. Get really good at something you love doing.

Been a frustrated weekend golfer your whole life? Sign up for lessons and get that handicap down for good. What better time than when you retire? Or better yet, set up a weekly tee time with a group of retired friends. No more rushing through meals on your way to and from work and school, so let your inner foodie have the run of the kitchen. Dust off your college French lessons before that dream trip to Paris with an online class. Clear out that back bedroom no one uses any more and make a study. Paint the pictures you’ve always wanted to paint. Finish the novel hiding in the bottom of your desk drawer.

The possibilities for an exciting and fulfilling life in retirement are bound only by your imagination and the financial resources you have available to you. Let us help you take care of the money part so you’re free to focus on the fun.

For more retirement resources check out our YouTube Channel

Empower Yourself by Recognizing Your Freedom to Choose

Empower Yourself by Recognizing Your Freedom to Choose

By Mike Desepoli, Heritage

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Viktor Frankl

We may not always be able to control the circumstances of a given situation we find ourselves in. But we always have the freedom to choose how we respond. The choice we make – and how we make it – often determines how well we survive the situation, and if we go on to thrive.

If challenges in your family life, your career, or your finances are making you feel powerless, try approaching the challenge from a new angle. This simple three-step process can put you back in touch with your freedom to choose how and why you live your life.

  1. Consider your reaction.

Step back from the problem. Take a breath. Take a walk. Pour yourself a cup of coffee.

By creating some space, you’ll be able to ask yourself, “Why am I reacting the way that I’m reacting? Is there a better perspective I could be taking? Am I letting past experiences influence my reaction for better? For worse?”

When we feel overwhelmed by a challenge, we often fall back on established patterns in our thinking. Often these default reactions are negative. If we’re arguing with our spouse, we might replay past arguments in the back of our heads. Financial difficulty might trigger memories of our parents struggling with money as we were growing up.

Identifying the negative experiences and perspectives that create our immediate reactions to challenges can help us find ways to create more positive and empowering reactions.

  1. Consider your purpose.

Instead of allowing the situation to dictate how you’re responding, push back. Refocus how you choose to respond around the goal that you are trying to accomplish.

For example, if your business partner backs out of the new company you’ve been planning to start, that loss of manpower and capital could make you feel defeated and powerless. But the reality is that you are choosing to dwell on negatives that you can’t control.

So, what can you control?

If you’re really committed to starting your new company, you can choose instead to focus on alternative funding sources. You can reach out to other friends, family, and colleagues about potential partnerships. You can choose to work on Plan B.

Another example is the investor who feels powerless as market volatility chips away at his nest egg for a quarter. No, you can’t control the natural disaster or political spat that’s giving the market fits right now. But you can choose to focus on your long-term purpose: a secure retirement for you and your family. That positive thinking and big-picture perspective could prevent a costly knee-jerk reaction.

  1. Consider your values

One of the best ways to drive negative thinking from our reactions is to focus on the things that matter the most to us. Reconnecting our decision making to our values can lead to solutions that make life more fulfilling.

Work might be the most common source of challenges in our lives. And while no one loves absolutely everything about their job all the time, it’s worth considering how your job affects your sense of freedom. Do those 40 hours per week give you the financial resources to spend your free time doing what you want with the people you love?  Are your skills and talents utilized in ways that make you feel like you’re making positive contributions? Does your employer have a mission bigger than profit that’s important to you?

If your answers are no, no, and no, you can choose to keep dragging yourself out of bed every Monday, resigned to the uninspiring week ahead. Or you can follow your values towards a more empowering choice. Consider a career change. Learn a new skill that will bolster your resume or line you up for a better job at your current employer.

If switching careers is really out of the question right now, choose to appreciate the parts of your job that you do well because of your unique skillset. And when you’re not working, make time for the hobbies, interests, and experiences that do fully engage your core values. Who knows? One day these pursuits might lead to exciting new opportunities for you and your family. If you’ve been committed to your values all along, you’ll be ready to make the right choice.

Are you choosing your best possible life?

If you’d like more insights on how you approach challenges and choices in your life, CLICK HERE to take our free ROL Index assessment. It will help you identify the areas of your life where you’re feeling good and those areas where you might want to make some enhancements.

After you’ve worked through the tool, you’ll receive a free, personalized report.

You may be surprised by the results! We’re here to answer your questions and to help you work towards a greater feeling of financial empowerment.

What Did You Learn Today?

What Did You Learn Today?

“In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.”
― Eric Hoffer

It’s never been easier for adults to continue to learn after completing their formal education. Online universities, TED talks, “master classes,” podcasts, and even curated YouTube playlists put world-class professionals, teachers, and thinkers literally at our fingertips.

Are you taking advantage?

One common attribute of successful, happy people is that they are intensely curious. They never feel like the world has passed them by because they have made learning and self-improvement a lifelong process. In fact, Bill Gates places such a high value on continuous learning that he schedules annual “Think Weeks” where he holes himself up in a private study with books, magazines, and scientific papers.

Whether you want to stay ahead of the curve or just cultivate a curious mind, daily learning can have some major personal and professional benefits.

Upgrade your job.

Technology, automation, and the global marketplace have disrupted many jobs and career paths. Learning a new skill is a great way to “future-proof” yourself or even reposition yourself for a new job that you’ll find more fulfilling.

If you have an interest in tech, consider learning how to “code” by studying a programming language. If you’re a pen-and-paper artist, translate those skills to the digital world by learning website or graphic design.

Or, if you want to make yourself a little more global, why not learn a new language? Is your company preparing to expand into Europe or China? Do you have a large customer base that speaks Spanish? Learning the language of your business will prepare you for where that business is travelling next.

Think outside the office.

Learning can make life more exciting outside of the office as well. When we challenge ourselves to learn new things, we step outside of our comfort zones. We bring ourselves in contact with new cultures, new ideas, and new experiences.

French lessons might be your passport to a month vacationing in Paris. Signing up for a cooking class could improve your family’s health, or lead you to farmer’s markets that strengthen your connection to your community. Golf lessons could improve your enjoyment of the game and turn you into a better first coach for your young children.

Of course, learning doesn’t just mean signing up for formal classes. We spend so much of our lives on social media these days that it bears repeating: you can do a whole lot more with your phone and PC than get sucked into the latest tweetstorm. When was the last time you closed that Facebook app and opened up an ebook reader or audiobook player? You could also make your morning commute or exercises more stimulating if you cue up a podcast for some on-the-go learning.

Get ready for the long run.

One of the ways that your financial planning experience will be very different from your parents’ or grandparents’ is how we will account for your plan’s longevity. People today are healthier, living longer, and staying active later in life. In fact, Andrew Scott, Professor of Economics at London Business School and a fellow of All Souls, Oxford University, and the Center for Economic Policy Research, believes that hundred-year lifespans will soon become much more normal.

A commitment to learning and self-improvement will create positive attitudes and habits that will serve you well as you near retirement and prepare to enjoy your golden years. According to Professor Scott, “in a hundred-year life, leisure time will be used not just for recreation, but also, if you’ll excuse the pun, re-creation. You’re going to have to use leisure time not just as a consumption activity by watching Netflix, but as an investment activity. Using your leisure time to invest in yourself and not just rest we think will be crucial to deal with these changes.”

 

So, why not start making daily learning a part of your routine today?

Make a list of two or three things you’ve always wanted to know more about, or skills you wish you had, or talents you’d like to develop. If any of your learning goals are big enough that they might have an impact on your financial planning, we’d love for you to come in and tell us about them.

for more info on this topic and others, visit us at Heritage Financial Advisory Group

Are You Financially and Emotionally Prepared for Life’s Big Transitions?

Are You Financially and Emotionally Prepared for Life’s Big Transitions?

Mike Desepoli, Heritage

Financial planning is more than just a series of savings and investments you lock away and forget about. Your money doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Your financial needs are going to fluctuate in response to the transitions that we all go through as we work, raise our families, and look ahead to retirement.

Managing these transitions is one of the keys to maximizing your finances and to achieving a greater Return on Life™ (ROL).

It’s Better to Prepare Than Repair

When it comes to your financial future, it’s easier to prepare for what’s ahead than it is to repair mistakes. With that in mind, we have a tool called The $Lifelineä. It’s designed to help you prepare for life’s transitions by asking you to anticipate what’s coming up and the age at which you expect the transition to happen.

You can then plot the applicable transitions on your $Lifeline, and use a color-coded system to rate the transition based on whether it is a High, Medium, or Low priority. If you’re married, you and your spouse can plot both shared transitions and transitions that are unique to each of you on the same $Lifeline for a complete picture of all the milestones that will affect your household, and your finances. Each transition also includes links to additional resources that you can consult for more information.

Let’s take a look at the six $Lifeline categories, and a few of the important transitions we can help you map out and prepare for:

Family
  • Expecting a child
  • Special family event
  • Assistance to a family member
  • Child going to college
  • Child getting married
  • Empty nest
Health
  • Worried about an aging parent
  • Concern about the health of child
  • Possible concern about the health of spouse
  • Family member with disability or illness
  • Recent death of a family member
  • Create end of life medical directive

 

Work
  • Contemplating career change
  • Job re-structuring
  • Expand business
  • Start a new business
  • Acquire / purchase a business
  • New job training / education
Retirement
  • Downshift worklife
  • Full retirement
  • Changing residence
  • Start receiving Social Security income
  • Eligible for Medicare.
  • Start receiving retirement distributions
Financial
  • Refinancing mortgage
  • Reconsidering investment philosophy
  • Significant investment gain
  • Significant investment loss
  • Considering investment opportunity
  • Receiving inheritance
Giving
  • Stipend to family member
  • Gift to children / grandchildren
  • Develop / review estate plan
  • Create a foundation
  • Create or fund a scholarship
  • Fund a cause or event

 

Transitions Change Over Time

Once we’ve plotted your anticipated life transitions on your $Lifeline, we can start discussing the transitions that are most important to you from an immediate planning standpoint. Maybe you need to understand the financial implications of taking care of an aging parent. Perhaps it’s figuring out how to pay for your kids’ education. Or you may want to know the best time to start receiving pension payments.

Over time, as new transitions arise and old ones get completed, we can add, remove, and reprioritize transitions as necessary.

The easiest way to throw off your financial plan is to make a rash, emotional decision in the middle of a difficult moment. The $Lifeline, and our Life-Centered Planning process, will help you avoid reacting – or overreacting – to the ebbs and flows of your life by putting you into a more proactive mindset about your financial future.

You’ll be less likely to take on a risky second mortgage to pay for your son’s freshman year of college and your daughter’s wedding if you plan for those events in advance—something the $Lifeline helps you visualize.

As you prepare to go through the $Lifeline exercise, take a look at the categories and transitions listed above. If you’re married, talk to your spouse about them. Write out a list of transitions that you know you’ll want to plot on your $Lifeline. When we meet, we’ll fire up the tool and create your personalized $Lifeline so you can start preparing for life’s big transitions.

 

Spending: What to Do When You and Your Spouse are NOT on the Same Page?

Spending: What to Do When You and Your Spouse are NOT on the Same Page?

Mike Desepoli, Heritage

Most married couples take a “divide and conquer” approach to household tasks and chores. One spouse might handle weekly shopping, the other might handle garbage and recycling. Or one spouse might handle laundry and cleaning, the other might handle yardwork and maintenance. One spouse might drive the kids to school, the other might handle pickup and extracurricular activities.

But household spending and budgeting is one of those responsibilities that’s best tackled together. Money issues are one of the biggest sources of marital tension, and a leading factor in divorces. Here are five ways that you and your spouse can make sure you agree on your household spending, avoid surprises, and maximize the Return on Life ™ your money provides.

Have an open and honest discussion.

Many couples assume their attitudes about money are aligned. Then one day, the roof needs an emergency repair that taps a savings account, or someone walks in the door with an unexpected splurge purchase (or worse yet, hides it!).

Stressful situations are not the ideal time for a couple to discover significant differences in spending habits. Sit down with your spouse and have a thorough review of your finances, and your monthly budget. Find compromises that will allow you to save for the future while still enjoying your present.

Understand the total household cash flow.

In many households, one spouse handles all the bill payments. This can lead to misunderstandings, and arguments, about where the money goes every month.

It is important for both spouses to understand how much the household spends every month, and how your bills get paid. If you’re the one who’s usually in charge of bills, take an hour to walk your spouse through your process. Show him or her which bills are paid electronically, which are paid by check, the monthly amounts and due dates, etc. This won’t just help both spouses understand the monthly cash flow, it will ensure that both spouses can handle household finances in the event of an emergency.

Be transparent about all assets and liabilities.

Newly married couples might still have banking or credit accounts that are only in the original account holder’s name. The other spouse might not find out about these accounts until a credit card is maxed out, or a checking account is overdrawn.

Again, the less stressful your reason for talking to your spouse, the more positive the outcome will be. Financial secrets tend to come out at the worst times, compounding stress, hurt feelings, and strain on your budget.

Your spouse should be a cosigner and beneficiary on all of your accounts, and vice-versa. If one of those accounts carries a large liability, get out in front of the problem and talk about how to start paying it down. Discuss the ramifications of combining any large individual assets with a tax professional or your financial advisor.

Agree on a budget.

If one spouse is responsible for budgeting and bill pay, that person often becomes The One Who Has to Say “No.” No eating out this week. No weekend trip to the waterpark,  no new cell phones, and certainly no new clothes.

No fun!

Nobody likes being in that position, especially if you’re saying “No” to your children. Eventually, you or your spouse will resent being The One Who Has to Say “No.” You should both understand the household’s monthly cash flow and agree on how your money is – and isn’t – spent.

Get help

Mint.com is just one of the many apps and web services that help households set and maintain a budget. If you’re a small business owner, Intuit offers a line of bookkeeping and tax prep solutions to fit any needs. Automating select bill payments and regular contributions to retirement and savings accounts can also help to clarify your monthly budgeting picture.

Finally, if there’s a spending gap between you and your spouse that seems impossible to bridge, we can be an excellent resource. It’s important to us that we understand where clients’ attitudes about money come from. We also strive to understand how they’ve developed these attitudes, and how they can diverge between couples. Facilitating this dialogue is key to making sure both people have the best life possible with the money they have…and we can help do that for you.

For more info on spending tips, check out this video: 1 simple tip to help curb the urge to spurge!

Savings: Does Your Desire to Save Match Your Reality?

Savings: Does Your Desire to Save Match Your Reality?

Mike Desepoli, Heritage Financial Advisory Group

“The only money that’s really yours is the money you spend.

Everything else goes to somebody else.”

-Teddy Chafolious

That piggy bank we remember from childhood wasn’t just a place to store our birthday money and spare change: it was a lesson, a way our parents encouraged us to get into the habit of saving. Many parents even go so far as to deposit half of any monetary gifts their children receive directly into a savings account, just to drive the point home. Adults who took that lesson to heart might set up automatic deposits into long-term savings or retirement accounts from their paychecks every month – a modern mechanism for implementing this age-old lesson.

But the quote from Teddy Chafolious raises an important point: What are we saving FOR? Many new investors come to their financial advisors with a number in mind: “I want to save $1 million before I retire.” There’s even something of a fad among millennials who work as hard as they can, save as much as they can, and try to retire before age 50.

But why? After all, “you can’t take it with you.”

It’s important to have financial goals, and committing to a regular savings plan is good first step towards achieving them. But if you treat your long-term financial planning as just a series of targets to hit, or numbers you have to drive up as much as possible, your return on investment is going to be a lot higher than your Return on Life – the feelings of happiness and fulfillment that your financial planning should provide you.

How much are Americans saving?

According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, Americans today are saving a lot less than they have in years past. Personal savings in the United States averaged 8.29 percent from 1959 until 2017. The rate for 2017 is hovering around 3 percent. Experts tie this historically low savings rate to increased household spending, which continues to outpace wage increases, and high levels of revolving debt, like credit cards.

Figures like these drive many people to the opposite end of the spectrum: they save as much as they possibly can, especially if they’re nearing retirement.

Finding balance.

We tend to think that the person saving more is doing a better job of managing his or her money than the person saving too little. But neither extreme is going to maximize your Return on Life. Spend too much enjoying the now, and you might end up having to work much longer than you want to – maybe even all the way through retirement. Save too much too early, and you and your family might miss out on the experiences that you deserve to enjoy with your hard-earned money: big family vacations, a new home, creature comforts, entertainment and culture that will enrich all of your lives.

Worse, new retirees who have spent their lives stuck in “savings mode” often have trouble transitioning to the reward mentality that should provide for a meaningful retirement. These retirees worry so much about running out of money that they often neglect their own wants and needs, to their emotional and physical detriment.

Reality check.

So how do you find that balance between enjoying today and preparing for tomorrow?

First, ask yourself if your rate of savings is in line with your reality. Are you saving so much that you’re not enjoying life as much as you could be? Or are you hovering around that 3 percent savings figure, telling yourself that you’re putting enough money away when you know, deep down, that you’re not?

Next, make an appointment with your Advisor to talk about your financial goals, and your vision for a dream retirement. Work together to find that saving/spending balance that’s going to align your savings with your reality, and hopefully, your goals and dreams. Find that sweet spot, and your money won’t just be numbers on a balance sheet. It will be yours. Don’t have an advisor? Here is a helpful article to show you what to look for.

Overlooked Keys to Being a Successful Investor

Three Overlooked Keys to Being a Successful Investor

Mike Desepoli, Heritage

Does investing strike “fear” in you? We once heard somebody say the word “fear” stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” That seems to apply to investing. Here’s why.

The stock market makes some people nervous. This can be especially true for young people who grew up during the Great Recession. Not only did these folks see market volatility at its worst, but they also came away with negative impressions about the financial markets in general.

The truth is that the market is neither a one-way ticket to instant riches nor a dangerous game for insiders only. There is risk involved in any kind of investment, but if you understand how the market operates in the long run, then the rewards can be significant.

By understanding the following three important facts about the market, you might be able to turn “fear” into “False Evidence Appearing Real” and not get scared out of letting your money work hard for you in the market.

  1. The market tends to move in long cycles.

The amount of info we have at our fingertips makes it tempting to check in on our investments weekly, daily, or even hourly. As a financial professional, though, we take a much wider view of the markets. And while past performance is no guarantee of future returns, the history of the market continues to trend upwards.

Consider the S&P 500 Index. If we go back and look at all the bull (upwards) and bear (downwards) markets from 1926 to 2017, the average bear lasted 1.4 years and resulted in a 41% loss on average. However, the average bull lasted 9 years, and gave investors a 480% gain on average, according to First Trust.

When volatility strikes, patience is usually a good course of action. Your financial plan is designed to provide for the rest of your life, not for one bull or bear cycle. Instead of panicking when the market dips, try to think of volatility as a tax that investors pay on the wealth that the market can create.

And if you do find yourself checking in on your investments as regularly as you check your email, maybe think about uninstalling that app—or calling us.

  1. Make consistent contributions to your portfolio.

Besides struggling to accept volatility, many people are skittish about the markets because they feel powerless. Money goes in, and decades later, who knows what’s going to come out. They feel that politicians, corporations, and geopolitical tumult will have the final say in how big their retirement nest egg grows.

However, often times the biggest factor that determines the success of your investments is simply contributing new money on a consistent basis. As discussed above, the market will most likely trend upwards in the long run. The more of your money that’s along for the ride, the bigger those eventual gains will be.

For example, suppose that you decide to invest $10,000 every year for 10 years into your portfolio. In a flat market returning 0%, that $10,000 would account for 100% of your portfolio’s gains. In a modest market returning 6% per annum, that $10,000 would account for 73% of your portfolio’s gains. And even in a bull market, charging ahead at a rate of 12%, your $10,000 would STILL account for more than half of your portfolio’s gains, according to Invesco.

  1. Focus on what you can control.

To be sure, part of investing involves accepting things you can’t control. A hurricane on the other side of the world might rattle the markets for a couple days. A large company might become embroiled in an accounting scandal. The Federal Reserve might make an unexpected interest rate move. Market corrections might follow.

But if you understand volatility and continue to focus on the big picture, you’ll start paying more attention to the things you can control, like a monthly budget that allows for automatic contributions to your investment and retirement accounts.

Better yet, think about setting a goal to ramp up the size of those contributions. Many people try to save or invest 10% of their income. Can you shoot for 15%? 20%? The bigger the contributions, the bigger the payoff when you retire. And if retirement isn’t on your radar, that big investment cushion will go a long way toward giving you a feeling of freedom.

If you’re still unsure about investing in the markets, make an appointment to talk to us. We can help clear away any misconceptions you might have about investing and craft a plan that makes you comfortable about how your money is working for you.

 

 

Why We Love Money (And You Should, Too!)

WHY WE LOVE MONEY (AND YOU SHOULD, TOO!)

Mike Desepoli, Heritage

“Money can’t buy happiness but somehow it is better to cry in a BMW than on a bicycle.”
We often end up listening to the endless arguments upon whether to be materialistic or not. While spiritually we should not really become materialistic because world’s greatest joys are not hidden in materialistic items at the same time living in a practical world around people, you cannot help but be materialistic after all without money you cannot go anywhere (think about your cab driver).

Here is our take on whether to love money or not and to what extent?

MONEY BUYS YOU THINGS

Off course world’s greatest joys are hidden in the things that money cannot buy but think of the dress that you always wanted to buy, think of the vacation that is too expensive but you really wish to experience it, think of the joy which is beheld in a double crest cheesy pizza. These things are not possible without money; do you still believe that money cannot buy joy?

MONEY MOTIVATES

Won’t you be joyous to see your bank balance hitting the sky? Well, isn’t the whole point of finding a job, earning well, having a well-settled life somehow revolves around earning money too. It is true that job satisfaction is primary to be thought upon but don’t you think that often money motivates you to do more or to do better? Come on who would refuse to put some extra efforts for monetary benefits offered?

MONEY BRINGS PRESTIGE

Whether you agree or disagree, the society has agreed upon that fact that money brings in prestige. While respect has to be earned and there are no two ways about it but your lifestyle adds on to this respect as well. A king sized lifestyle gets a king sized treatment and what is a king without treasure? Are you getting our point?

THE DESIRES

We are humans and that is why our desires are unreasonably endless. However, have you ever noticed that each desire of yours stops at money? Whether you wish to learn a newer skill or pack your bags for travelling. Everything begins and ends with the amount that your bank balance reads. The unfulfilled desires bring anxiety and with no money in your hand, you are going to pile up in anxiety only.

UNDENIABLE FACTOR

No matter how much you hate minting money so matter how much denial do you possess for money the reality is that money forms an integral and undeniable element of life. Your stand in the society, your extracurricular activities, your lifestyle, your efficiency of work and so on is determined by money.

We agree that greed can dig your grave but, a complete denial of money is yet another form of digging your graves too. While it is vital to be contented with what you have, there is no harm in desiring for a little extra either.

GOT A PIECE OF ADVICE ON MONEY? WE WOULD LOVE TO GET YOUR FEEDBACKS IN COMMENTS

Do you love money too? Check out #AskTheAdvisor 41: 3 Things Successful Investors NEVER Do!

Weekly Market Insights

Heritage Weekly Market Insights

January 30, 2018
This Week In The Markets

The numbers are coming in.

Publicly-traded companies report their earnings and sales numbers for the previous quarter in the current quarter. For example, fourth quarter’s sales and earnings are reported during the first quarter of the year, and first quarter’s sales and earnings will be reported during the second quarter, and so on.

Through last week, about one-fourth of the companies in the Standard & Poor (S&P)’s 500 Index had reported actual sales and earnings for the fourth quarter of 2017. As far as sales go, a record number – 81 percent – of companies sold more than expected during the fourth quarter. That was quite an improvement. FactSet reported:

“During the past year (four quarters), 64 percent of the companies in the S&P 500 have reported sales above the mean estimate on average. During the past five years (20 quarters), 56 percent of companies in the S&P 500 have reported sales above the mean estimate on average.”

The mean is the average of a group of numbers.

The money a company makes through sales is called revenue. For instance, if a lemonade stand sells 100 glasses of lemonade for $1 each, then the proprietors have earned $100. That is the stand’s ‘revenue.’ Of course, as every parent who has financed a lemonade stand knows, revenue doesn’t include the cost of the product. ‘Earnings’ are what the company has left after expenses – the bottom line. If every glass of lemonade cost 50 cents, then the stand’s earnings are $50.

Companies in the S&P 500 are doing pretty well on earnings, too. About three out of four companies have reported earnings higher than expected. Overall, earnings are 4.5 percent above estimates.

Through Friday, annual earnings growth for S&P 500 companies was 10.1 percent. It’s still early in the fourth quarter earnings season, but the data so far seem likely to confirm that 2017 was a bright, sun-shiny year for U.S. companies.

Let’s Take A Look at Performance

Data as of 1/26/18 1-Week Y-T-D 1-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year
Standard & Poor’s 500 (Domestic Stocks) 2.2% 7.5% 25.1% 11.8% 13.9% 7.8%
Dow Jones Global ex-U.S. 1.9 7.0 28.2 7.8 5.5 1.6
10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only) 2.7 NA 2.5 1.8 2.0 3.6
Gold (per ounce) 1.4 4.4 13.7 1.8 -4.0 3.9
Bloomberg Commodity Index 2.6 3.0 2.9 -3.4 -8.4 -7.1
DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index 1.7 -2.8 4.6 2.8 8.2 7.4

S&P 500, Dow Jones Global ex-US, Gold, Bloomberg Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; the DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index does include reinvested dividends and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods.

Sources: Yahoo! Finance, Barron’s, djindexes.com, London Bullion Market Association.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. N/A means not applicable.

certain parts of the circular economy

probably adapt to cities and towns better than they do to rural areas. 

What is the circular economy?

It is “a system that reduces waste through the efficient use of resources. Businesses that are part of the circular economy seek to redesign the current take/make/dispose economy, a model which relies on access to cheap raw materials and mass production. For example, car sharing addresses the inefficiency of privately owned cars – which are typically used for less than one hour a day,” explains Morgan Stanley.

Imagine not owning a car.

Clearly, it’s not something that would work everywhere. However, if you live in a city or town that has public transportation, ride sharing, car rentals, and bicycles, it’s possible. If you’re retired and you can organize your days in the way you like, it may even be sensible because owning a car is expensive. Transportation costs are the second highest budget item for most households, reports U.S. News. Housing costs top the list.

Giving up a car could help households save a lot of money.

According to AAA

owning and operating a new car in 2017 cost about $8,469 annually, on average, or $706 a month. Small sedans are the least costly ($6,354 per year), on average, and pickup trucks are the most expensive ($10,054 per year), on average, of the vehicles in the study. The calculations include sales price, depreciation, maintenance, repair, and fuel costs.

AAA’s estimate does not include insurance. In 2017, the national average premium for a full-coverage policy was $1,318 annually, according to Insure.com. Auto insurance premiums are highest in Michigan ($2,394) and lowest in Maine ($864).

Combining the averages, the cost of auto ownership is almost $10,000 a year. It’s food for thought.

Weekly Focus – Think About It

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.”

–Aldo Leopold, American author and conservationist

 

Best regards,

 

The Heritage Team

 

* Government bonds and Treasury Bills are guaranteed by the U.S. government as to the timely payment of principal and interest and, if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value. However, the value of fund shares is not guaranteed and will fluctuate.

* Corporate bonds are considered higher risk than government bonds but normally offer a higher yield and are subject to market, interest rate and credit risk as well as additional risks based on the quality of issuer coupon rate, price, yield, maturity, and redemption features.

* The Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) is an unmanaged group of securities considered to be representative of the stock market in general. You cannot invest directly in this index.

* The Dow Jones Global ex-U.S. Index covers approximately 95% of the market capitalization of the 45 developed and emerging countries included in the Index.

* The 10-year Treasury Note represents debt owed by the United States Treasury to the public. Since the U.S. Government is seen as a risk-free borrower, investors use the 10-year Treasury Note as a benchmark for the long-term bond market.

continued

* Gold represents the afternoon gold price as reported by the London Bullion Market Association. The gold price is set twice daily by the London Gold Fixing Company at 10:30 and 15:00 and is expressed in U.S. dollars per fine troy ounce.

* The Bloomberg Commodity Index is designed to be a highly liquid and diversified benchmark for the commodity futures market. The Index is composed of futures contracts on 19 physical commodities and was launched on July 14, 1998.

* The DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index measures the total return performance of the equity subcategory of the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) industry as calculated by Dow Jones.

* Opinions expressed are subject to change without notice and are not intended as investment advice or to predict future performance.

* Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

* Past performance does not guarantee future results. Investing involves risk, including loss of principal.

* You cannot invest directly in an index.

* Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

* Consult your financial professional before making any investment decision.

 

Sources:

https://insight.factset.com/record-percentage-of-sp-500-companies-beat-sales-estimates-for-q4

http://www.investinganswers.com/financial-dictionary/ratio-analysis/arithmetic-mean-2546

https://www.accountingcoach.com/blog/what-is-the-difference-between-revenues-and-earnings

https://insight.factset.com/sp-500-earnings-season-update-january-25

https://insight.factset.com/hubfs/Resources%20Section/Research%20Desk/Earnings%20Insight/EarningsInsight_012518.pdf (Page 18)

http://www.morganstanley.com/access/circular-economy

https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/saving-budget/articles/2017-02-14/how-to-save-money-by-ditching-your-car

http://newsroom.aaa.com/tag/driving-cost-per-mile/

https://www.insure.com/car-insurance/car-insurance-rates.html

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/aldo_leopold_387729

The 2018 Personal Finance Roadmap

The 2018 Personal Finance Roadmap

By Mike Desepoli, Heritage

Ah Spring time. Warm weather and longer days.

People also tend to be more motivated in the Spring to organize, clean, and go through their stuff.

While it’s always good to get rid of old stuff and clean your house or apartment, I think it’s also a perfect time to leverage your motivation to give your personal finances a good deep cleaning as well.

Regularly checking up on your finances is important. There are many things you can do to improve your personal finances. However, a majority of them are really easy to put on the back-burner. Trust me – “buy life insurance” was on my to do list for two years before I finally got around to it.

Carve out some time this Spring to go through this spring cleaning personal finance checklist. It will help you start doing some things you’ve been meaning to do, as well as give you a check-up on certain things you are already doing to ensure you are still in a good spot.

Check your Net Worth

Checking your net worth can be a painful experience, especially for those who are in student loan or other debt. Even if you fall in this group, though, it’s still better to know where you stand than to be ignorant of your situation.

I have said in the past that for a large majority of people, especially millennials, it’s more important to focus on income than net worth. That’s exactly why it took me so long to get around to utilizing online platforms to track my finances. But once I did it felt good to know exactly where I stand at any point in time.

Review your Budget or Start Budgeting

One of the things I stress in personal finance lunch and learns or coaching sessions is to not only budget, but to regularly review your budget.
If you haven’t started a budget yet, that’s the first thing you should do. Budgeting can be as hands-on or hands-off as you want. Some people hold themselves to a specific spending threshold while others (myself included) just track the monthly trend and make sure they aren’t spending too much on things they don’t care about.

If you already budget, take some time to review your monthly spending. Ask yourself these questions:

• Is my spending in alignment with my values?
• Are there areas I can cut back spending on (i.e. restaurants, cable, cell phone, entertainment)?
• Is my current spending habits allowing me to pay down debt or prohibiting me from paying down or incurring more debt?
• What changes can I make to create more cash flow?

Review your Debt

While Personal Capital does a good job of pulling in your debt, I think it can be valuable to lay out all your debt in a spreadsheet as well.
When I’m looking at my debt I focus on a couple things: what type of debt it is and what the interest rate is?

There are different strategies you can use depending on the type of debt, but the first goal should always be to get a lower interest rate. If you have high interest credit card debt it can make a lot of sense to refinance it through a personal loan. It it’s student loan debt there is also opportunities to refinance at a lower rate.

Debt can be overwhelming, and I always encourage people to be action-oriented with their debt. Sometimes no action is needed, for example if you have it on auto-payment and it will be done at a specific date in the future (assuming you are happy with the interest rate). Others may want to be more proactive, such as refinancing, increasing their income through their 9-5 or a side hustle, or cutting expenses to pay it off faster.
Analyze your Income

It’s easy to get comfortable in a job and lose a pulse on whether or not you are getting paid fairly. Take some time to review your 9-5 income and give your resume a refresh. Some specific things you can do include:

• Review and compare salary data on sites like glassdoor
• Review job listings on an app like indeed to see what sort of skills employers are looking for
• Update your LinkedIn Profile
• Update Your Resume

Perhaps you are happy with where you are at with your 9-5 and the prospect of switching employers – even if it meant a higher pay – isn’t attractive. Or perhaps you are already maxed out at your 9-5 but still want to increase your income.

Check your Emergency Fund

Now you probably don’t need to check your emergency fund. If you have one, you likely know how much it is. If you don’t have one, you also know how much you have.

But when I say check your emergency fund I want you to actually think about whether or not your emergency fund is sufficient. How many months could you live off of it? If your answer was less than three months, it’s time to make building your emergency fund a priority. If you really want to challenge yourself make a plan of hitting somewhere in the six to twelve month range.

Now, if you don’t have an emergency fund then it’s time to get one. I will be the first to admit that building an emergency fund is not easy, especially when you have debt and other things that you want to put your income towards. But I can also tell you that it’s one of the best things you can do for your peace of mind.

Start by setting a realistic goal like saving $100. Then challenge yourself to increase that to $500, and so on. Eventually you will want to have the equivalent of three or more months of monthly expenses set aside. The important thing is to get started.

Review your Retirement & Health Savings Account

Another thing you should review is your retirement and Health Savings Account. A few things to check are:

• Are you contributing up to your company match for your 401k?
• Whether you have a company match or not, how much money are you actually putting into your 401k and/or IRA?
Are you able to contribute more?
• What investments do you haven in your 401k and/or IRA? Do you need to re-balance it?

I’m all about the “set it and forget it” approach to investing, especially when it comes to retirement accounts, but it is important to check up on them every once in a while, even if it’s just once a year.

Review your Insurance

The last thing on the Spring Cleaning Personal Finance Checklist is review your insurance. Insurance isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but it serves an important function and can protect you from expensive, unexpected bills – or even bankruptcy.

Take an inventory of your current insurance coverage. How much do you pay in premiums? What are you actually getting in return? Is your coverage adequate?

Many times people don’t realize how much they are paying for insurance because it’s baked into their paycheck, mortgage payment, or is on auto-pay. Understanding the true cost of your insurance is important, if not just to have it as a reference point.

Insurance isn’t all about cost. You can oftentimes get cheaper insurance, but if the coverage is bare-bones you are going to regret it if something big happens. One of my former manager’s house burnt down right after he switched to a cheaper home insurance company. They ended up being very difficult to deal with and caused much more hassle than a different company likely would have. That’s not always the case, but I think it’s important to balance cost with quality of coverage.

Besides reviewing your current coverage it might make sense to add some additional coverage as well. Up until a little over a year ago I did not have any life insurance, but I decided to open a million dollar policy at age 27. There’s are many reasons to consider life insurance. In general, if others depend on your income and would be impacted if it were to go away, you should look into getting life insurance.

For more info on this topic checkout: (VIDEO) #AskTheAdvisor 55: The 2018 Personal Finance Roadmap

What To Do With Your 401k When Changing Jobs

What To Do With Your 401k When Changing Jobs

By Mike Desepoli, Heritage

Last year, millennials were nicknamed the ‘job-hopping generation’ after a Gallup report revealed that 6 in 10 millennials are open to new job opportunities.

According to this report, millennials have a reputation for job-hopping and are said to move freely from company to company, more so than any other generation.

That being said, I don’t think switching jobs is a trait unique to millennials only, even though they are said to job-hop three times more than other generations.

The job market is ever-changing and is not like it used to be. Fewer companies offer pensions and some entry-level jobs offer very little benefits or stagnant wages. Self-employment, temporary work, and side jobs have all become increasingly popular work options.

Also, there is less loyalty among employees who realize they can be laid off at any given time.

At the end of the day, if you come across a better job opportunity that you think you’ll be happier with and has better pay and benefits, you may feel tempted to switch jobs and there’s nothing wrong with that.

If you have a 401k however, you may be wondering what you can do with it when you do secure another job. You don’t want all the money you saved for retirement to go to waste, so here are a few options.

 

Keep the Money in Your Old 401k

Most companies will let you leave the money you saved for retirement in your 401k where it is. In other cases, there may be a balance requirement.

Employees who move on to another company may choose this option out of default especially if they have no idea what to do with their 401k. The major downside is that you won’t be able to contribute to your 401k anymore.  Also, you’ll have to keep track of more than one retirement account.

If you tend to switch jobs every couple of years, you could wind up with multiple 401k plans that you can’t contribute to which is why it’s best to consider some of these other options first.

 

Roll Over Your 401k to Your New Company’s 401k

If you had a good 401k plan with your old employer, you can easily roll it over to your new 401k. Check to see what the investment options are along with the fees with your new company. If you don’t like your current options as much as your old plan, consider rolling it over.

Most employers will accept a 401k rollover. As long as you have at least $5,000 in your account, it’s your legal right to do roll it over. If you have less than $5,000 in your account, your employer will have the option to cash you out of the plan.

If you’re going with this option, always ask for the rules to be clarified since you may have limitations since you’re no longer with the company. For example, you may be charged extra fees since you no longer work there.

Move Your 401k to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

This is another option you’ll have especially if you don’t like your new company’s 401k plan. IRAs and Roth IRAs are great options that typically have lower fees and allow you to have more control over your investment options. With an IRA, you will just have more control overall. You can choose low-fee investments and won’t be limited to name just your spouse as your beneficiary like with most 401k plans.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA. With a traditional IRA, you contribute pre-tax dollars.  The money is not taxable until withdrawals begin. If you withdraw funds before then, you’ll most likely have to pay a penalty fee.

With a Roth IRA, your contributions are taxed when you make them so your earnings will be tax-free. Withdrawals are also tax free once you attain age 59 1/2.

There are also income limits to be eligible for an IRA. In 2017, you must earn less than $118,000 if you’re single and less than $186,000 if you’re married. The maximum contribution you’re allowed to make per year is $5,500 and $6,500 if you’re 50 or older.

Cash Out Your 401k

This isn’t the best option, but it is an option nonetheless. If you want or need the money in your 401k account to pay bills, meet other expenses you have, or even to reinvest another way, you can simply cash out what’s in your retirement account.

A major downside is that you will have to pay taxes on the money along with a penalty. If you cash out a smaller amount, what you receive will be even smaller. If you cash out a large amount, it won’t really be worth it due to your large tax bill.

You could also destroy your retirement nest egg in the process especially if you received a nice 401k company match.

Depending on how many times you switch jobs that provide you with a 401k account, you may need to make the decision of what to do with your old 401k more than once. To determine which option is best for you, determine your current and future needs. Always consider factors like fees along with your investment options.

I’m sure everyone wants to retire some day so it usually the better option to keep money from your 401k and roll it over or put it in an IRA.

4 Ways to ACTUALLY Keep Your Resolutions

4 Ways to ACTUALLY Keep Your Resolutions

By Mike Desepoli, Heritage

 

You might know that 41% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions annually. But did you know that out of those, more than 42% never actually succeed, yet continue to make new resolutions every year? As the saying goes, if change were easy, more people would do it.

Fortunately, there are some simple ways for you to set yourself up for success. Read on to explore some of the most common resolutions and how you can actually make them stick.

Resolution: Manage Time better

Most of us can think of some way we’d like to improve our time management. Whatever you want to make room for, there’s a key strategy that can help you actually make it stick.

Success Tip: Name Your Why

You have 24 hours in a day, but old habits can be hard to break. To make a lasting change in how you’re budgeting your time, first establish your “why”.

Let’s say you want to spend more time with family, or spend an hour a day reading. What’s the reason behind your goal? How will it enrich your life? If you review your “why” regularly, you’re less likely to quit when those old habits come calling.

Resolution: Learn a new skill.

Adding new skills can help you maintain a sharp mind and a sense of purpose in life. It can also be a lot of fun! If there’s something you’ve been wanting to learn, the new year is a great time.

Success Tip: Get Classy

You don’t have to go at it alone. Take a class and let an expert show you the way. There are top quality online classes available for everything from tennis to organic farming to screenwriting. Looking for more in-person experience? Check out the offerings at your local community college.

Resolution: Get Healthy

Whether you want to eat better, sleep more, or amp up your exercise regimen, “getting healthy” is one of the most popular wishes at the beginning of a new year.s

Success Tip: Partner Up

For better or worse, we often tend to show up for other people more easily than for ourselves.

Doing a cleanse? Checking out yoga? Find a buddy to do it with you. Chances are good that someone you know has a similar goal. With a partner who’s counting on you, you’re more likely to stay accountable and get in great shape.

Resolution: Get Organized

The new year’s invitation for a fresh start also extends to your personal space and working environment. But trading a habitual mess for lasting tidiness can feel like an impossible task.

Success Tip: Start Small

Whether you’re looking to empty an attic, declutter your desk, or finally put all those National Geographic in chronological order, keep it simple and flexible.

To get unstuck, ask yourself: “What is one small thing that I can do today?” Just keep taking one small step each day, and you’ll have the job done before you know it.

 

For more information on this topic, check out the #asktheadvisor show episode 53 by clicking HERE

3 Financial Resolutions for 2018

3 Financial Resolutions for 2018

by Mike Desepoli, VP of Heritage

With 2017 coming to a close and 2018 in our sights, it’s time once again to make that list of new year’s resolutions. Each and every year, we sit down in late December and hammer out a list of things we hope to accomplish next year. While we all certainly have good intentions, studies show that most resolutions have come and gone by the time January ends. Some evidence of this would be going into a gym in early January, you can bet the place is packed. However, head back there in mid march and you can be certain the crowd has thinned out.

So that begs the question, why do so many people fail at keeping their resolutions? Do they reach too far? Maybe they set the bar too high? As we know with goals, they not only need to be measurable, but it helps when they are actually achievable.

I may not be able to help you in every part of your life, but when it comes to personal finance we have your covered. Here are 3 financial resolutions for you to deploy in 2018.

Be Aware

One of root causes of financial problems is lack of attention and accountability to ones finances. It is no longer acceptable not to know what your account balance is, what is your credit limit, and how much money you spend on a monthly basis. The first step to achieving any basic financial goal is awareness. Once you are more in tune with where your money flows every month, you can start to identify financial opportunities that will move you forward towards greater things.

Create a Budget

Yes, I know you have heard this 100 times but how many of you have actually done this? We all think we know what we spend money on, but the fact is without a budget there is no doubt you are wasting money each month. Outlining a budget will help you have a closer relationship with your money. The more we learn to respect money, the more responsible we will handle it. Make sure creating a budget is one of your new year’s resolutions.

Reduce Debt!

This is so simple, yet so important. Most financial problems originate from debt. It starts small, and the next thing you know your credit cards are maxed out and you can only afford the minimum interest payments. This starts the cycle of perpetual debt that is very hard to climb out of. Having a budget will help you avoid debt in the first place, but if you should find yourself in debt start by paying off the highest interest debt first.

These are just a few quick tips to get you on the right track. For more info hit the link below to check out our Youtube Show! Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

For more info check out episode 52 of The #AskTheAdvisor Show!

Senate Tax Reform Highlights

Senate Tax Reform Highlights

by Kristi Desepoli, Heritage

Tax reform, a campaign promise as old as the walls of congress. This weekend, a 51-49 vote occurred on Saturday by the U.S. Senate to pass a tax reform worth about $1.4 trillion. Although the bill is not yet finalized, this brings many Americans much closer to a tax cut.

Here is how the latest tax reform legislation would affect you:

Deductions

The bill allows deductions of up to $10,000 in local property taxes, but does away with federal deductions for state and local income and sales taxes. As far as personal deductions, the bill nearly doubles the standard deduction level to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples; up from $6350 and $12,700 respectively.

Tax Brackets

The Senate bill keeps seven tax brackets, but reduces them to 10, 12, 22, 24, 32, 35 and 38.5 percent. Currently, the seven brackets are: 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35, and 39.6 percent.

Corporate Tax Rates

The Senate bill will cut the current rate of 35 percent to 20 percent, but it calls for a one-year delay in dropping the rate.

Tax Reform and 2017 Returns

The changes will not have any impact on your taxes for 2017.

President Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to make tax reform law before the end of the year. If that is the case, most of the provisions would take effect on January 1st.

 

Social Security Finally Gets a Boost

Social Security Finally Gets a Boost

by Kristi Desepoli, Heritage

The cost of living adjustment announced by the Social Security Administration will be impacting seniors collecting monthly checks in 2018. With a 2% increase, this is the largest adjustment since a 3.6% increase in 2012.  In comparison to 2016 where seniors only got a 0.3% increase, and none at all in 2015, 2% can make quite the difference.

In 2017, the average amount a beneficiary receives is about $1360 per month. With a 2% increase in 2018, that would be about another $27.40 per month, or an extra $326 for the entire year.  Although this seems great initially, of course there is a catch.  The higher cost of living adjustment stems from the effect of higher inflation. Best case scenario, seniors are being given enough additional income to keep up with a higher cost of living.

How is cost of living determined?

The annual cost of living increase is determined by taking the average rate of inflation from July through September and comparing it to the same period of the previous year, using an index known as CPI-W. Originally the cost of living adjustment increase was projected to range between 1.6% and 1.8%. However there was a sudden swell in inflation in August and September due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma- ultimately putting a few extra dollars in seniors’ pockets next year.

 

3 Tips for Negotiating Salary

Negotiate Salary with These 3 Tips

By Kristi Desepoli, Heritage

 

Negotiating a job-offer is rarely an easy task. Although every situation is unique, there are some strategies the can help address many of the obstacles people face when it comes to negotiating with prospective employers.

 

Here are some rules to help you navigate these discussions:

 

Do not undervalue the importance of your likability

Although this may seem simple, people are not going to fight for you if they don’t truly like you.  If you do anything throughout the negotiation process that makes you less likeable, it’s not probable that they will work to get you a better offer.  This pertains to not coming off as greedy when asking for what you deserve and being persistence without being a pest, rather than just making sure you are being polite.

 

Help them understand that you deserve what you are asking for

Aside from being liked, you also have to appear worth the offer that you are requesting.  Never assume that your request can speak for itself, always give the details that go along with it.  Rather than just requesting a higher salary, state the reasons why you are more qualified to receive more money.  If you do not have any justifying reasons behind your request, it may not be worth your while to make it in the first place.

 

Make it clear that they can get you

It can be a process for employers to get approval for salary negotiations depending on the structure, and they won’t want to jump through hoops for someone that they think is still going to say “no, thank you” regardless of the outcome.  If you plan on negotiating with a prospective employer, make it clear that you are serious about working for them.  Although some employers may jump to meet your demands when they hear that other employers are doing the same to get you; some may take that as a sign that they may be wasting their time on someone who isn’t likely to pursue their offer.

 

Although every situation is unique, be sure to utilize these tips to make your negotiation process as smooth as possible.

Backdoor IRA’s for High Income Earners

Backdoor IRA’s – The Dirty Little Secret

By this point in the year, most of us have filed our taxes and the 2016 tax year is behind us. Not many people have taxes on the mind and they will probably put off re-visiting the topic until next year, however; there is no time like the present to plan for how you can save on your future tax payments. If you are looking to pad your retirement savings, a backdoor IRA may be just the remedy for you.

What you need to know

Roth IRAs are a very popular and attractive investment vehicle for many reasons, and they are a great vehicle to facilitate a backdoor IRA.  The accounts are funded with after-tax dollars, withdrawals in retirement are tax-free, and any earnings in the account are tax-deferred.  Unlike the Traditional IRA, Roth IRAs are not subject to required minimum distributions during retirement, which makes them very appealing when it comes to tax planning.

Unlike with a Traditional IRA, there are income limits to opening a Roth IRA which has left many people earning high salaries believing it is not an option for them.  The law states that a single person with an annual adjusted gross income of $133,000 or more, and a married couple making more than $196,000 cannot directly fund a Roth IRA.  Despite this limitation, there have been no income limits placed on converting funds to a Roth IRA.  This allows for strategic planning to have more tax-free money available in retirement.  For high income earners, this is a fantastic planning tool.

How to do it

This work-around is called a “backdoor” approach.  Most high-income earners are most likely contributing the maximum allowances to their 401k plans. This means additional contributions can be made to a non-deductible Traditional IRA.  The backdoor approach would then have these investors turn around and move/convert those dollars to a Roth IRA.  Because the funds are coming from another retirement account, they are not considered to be a contribution.  The advantage to converting these funds is the tax-free growth that is provided in a Roth IRA. Deploying backdoor IRA’s is a little used strategy because it is widely unknown. Make sure to consult your finance and tax professionals before deploying this strategy.

For more information on this and other strategies for high earners, visit us here.

6 Steps to Get Out of Debt

6 Steps to Get Out of Debt

Unfortunately there are no classes in high school or college that teach you how to pay off a loan or credit card, but there are plenty of companies out there willing to lend you the money you need for your next big purchase. Knowing that a portion of your hard earned money will be going towards digging yourself out of a hole instead of wealth preservation can be discouraging; but that doesn’t mean you can’t cover up that hole and walk away debt free.

Getting out of debt requires a plan and commitment. Here are six simple strategies to help you pay off any kind of debt:

Figure out how much you owe

Gather your statements, and log onto those accounts to see how much you owe for each account. Make a list of your accounts, the balances, and the interest rates being charged.

Rank your debts in order of size or interest rate

Next, you need to decide the order you want to pay off your debts. One strategy is the “snowball method.” This is where you start with your smallest debt, and work your way up to the bigger ones. The idea is that as you are able to check accounts off of your list as being paid off, you gain both a confidence and mental boost to keep on going. Another strategy would be to tackle the most expensive debt first. Find the account with the highest interest rate, and pay down that debt. Once that is paid, move onto the next highest interest rate, and so on. Doing this will ultimately have you paying less over the life of your loans.

Know how much you’re spending

It is important to know how much money you have coming in vs. how much money you have going out. After you have a good idea of the amount left over every month, it will be much easier to determine the amount you can comfortably devote to paying down your debt.

Allot cash for minimum payments

Although earlier we established what debt we would like to pay down first, we can’t forget that the rest of the accounts have the minimum payments that need to be made each month. It is important to take these minimum payments into account before allocating extra funds to the first debt on your list to pay off.

Automate your payments

Regardless of if you’re making a minimum payment or throwing extra money toward the debt to get it paid off, it’s always a good idea to make your payments automatic. It’s as simple as a few clicks online or a quick phone call to set up. Not only will you be sure not to miss a payment, but it’s a little bit easier to part ways with your money when you don’t have to manually make the payment every month.

Reduce your regular expenses

Many times we don’t know just how much we’re spending on certain things until it’s all laid out in a budget. Setting a limit to the amount of money you allocate to different categories on a monthly basis is a good way to free up extra cash to put towards your debt. It’s always a good idea to check back each month and see how you can improve your spending habits, and make any changes to better suit your needs. If you would like additional help on budgeting, you can find resources here.

About the Author

Kristi Desepoli is an associate financial advisor at Heritage Financial Advisory Group. Heritage specializes in investment management and financial planning for business owners, executives, and doctors.

Trump Tax Reform Plan

Trump Tax Reform Plan Released

 

Just days before the 100-day mark of the Trump administration, we were presented the outline of what is being called “the biggest tax cut” in US history. Trump’s tax reform calls for big cuts in federal taxes for businesses and a simplified basis for individuals.

But what exactly does this big news mean for investors?
  • Even a minor decrease in tax rates on businesses can have a big benefit on their bottom line. Rather than use the extra money for expansion or other projects, it is likely that companies would use those dollars to increase stock buy-back or raise their dividend. The end result: more wealth for shareholders.
  • With more favorable tax rates on corporations, foreign companies will be more inclined to increase business within the Unites States. More companies will begin production domestically rather than seeking international options, which in turn will drive U.S. economy upwards.
  • Personal tax rates are projected to become a whole lot more simplified changing the existing seven brackets down to three; 10%, 25% and 35%. Income ranges for these amounts have yet to be announced, however; the proposed rates would ease the tax burden on most Americans, freeing up dollars to be invested.
  • In addition to lower personal tax rates, Trump wants to double the standard deduction for individuals. This would look like a deduction of $24,000 for a married couple. Essentially this means that the first $24,000 earned is not taxed. This creates yet another tax savings for individuals, and more dollars in the pockets of tax-payers.
  • The proposed plan lowers the capital gains tax from 23.8% to 20%; eliminating the portion that is used to fund the Affordable Care Act. This reduction makes investing in the stock market much more attractive.

While companies begin to save money on taxes and drive their market share, it is going to force investors on the sidelines to take part in the market gains. Extra money in the consumers pocket due to having a smaller tax burden will also contribute to a market up rise; while having a smaller burden on the backend when it comes to capital gains.

About the Author

Kristi Desepoli is an associate financial advisor at Heritage Financial Advisory Group. Heritage specializes in investment management and financial planning for business owners and executives.

7 Reasons a Roth IRA May Be for You

7 Reasons a Roth IRA May Be a Good Idea for You

By Mike Desepoli, VP of Heritage

 

It’s almost the tax filing deadline. During April, many people take advantage of the opportunity to reduce taxes by funding a Traditional IRA. While that makes sense for some Americans, others may benefit by contributing to a Roth IRA that offers no immediate tax break, but has other tax advantages, such as tax-free growth potential and tax-free income during retirement. Some people may realize the greatest benefit by having both types of IRAs.

Unfortunately, IRS contribution rules limit investors, who are younger than age 50, to making contributions of just $5,500 to all IRA accounts during 2015 and 2016. If you’re age 50 or older, you can save $6,500. Before making a 2015 contribution, consider the advantages of Roth IRAs, including:

Tax-free growth potential.

You won’t get a tax break today, but any earnings in a Roth IRA growth tax-free.

Tax-free income.

Distributions taken from a Roth IRA are tax-free, too, as long as certain requirements are met*. That means the income from your Roth IRA is protected from future tax increases.

No required minimum distributions.

You can leave the money in your Roth IRA until your heirs inherit it. You can’t do that with a Traditional IRA. At age 70½, you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from Traditional IRAs. Generally, RMDs are taxable and, if an RMD is not taken when it should be, a hefty penalty is assessed.

Penalty-free early distributions.

You don’t have to be age 59½ to take a penalty-free distribution from a Roth IRA as long as the distributions are used for higher education costs, qualified home purchases, unreimbursed medical expenses, or specific other expenditures.

Improved tax diversification.

When a portfolio is ‘tax-diversified,’ it includes taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-free accounts. Different types of accounts offer different kinds of benefits. For example:

  • Taxable accounts offer immediate access to funds. Money that is saved or invested in taxable accounts – like brokerage or banks accounts – have already been taxed and can be spent at any time.
  • Tax-deferred accounts offer tax breaks today. For instance, contributions to 401(k) and 403(b) plan accounts are made with before-tax money so the contributions are not included in taxable income today. The downside is IRS penalties may be assessed if the money in these plans is distributed before retirement. (Another potential benefit of tax-deferred accounts is employer-matching contributions, which can help you accumulate retirement assets more quickly.)
  • Tax-free accounts offer a tax break in the future. For example, contributions to a Roth IRA are made with after-tax dollars but any earnings grow tax-free and distributions may be tax-free. Having tax-free income during retirement may help you stay in a lower tax bracket.
Open an account at any age.

Anyone, of any age, who has earned income, can open a Roth IRA. So, you can fund a Roth IRA for yourself any time. You can also fund one for a child or grandchild who works, and give him or her a head start on saving for retirement.

Contribute as long as you work.

While contributions to Traditional IRAs must stop at age 70½ (when RMDs begin), that is not the case with Roth IRAs. As a result, Roth IRAs provide legacy and estate planning advantages Traditional IRAs do not.

 

If you’re planning to open or fund an IRA before April 15 for yourself or someone you love, and you’re not certain whether a Traditional or Roth IRA is the right choice, talk with your financial professional. He or she can review your portfolio and help determine which may best suit your needs.

To find out if a Roth IRA is right for you, talk with a financial advisor today.

8 Tax Credits to Get More from Uncle Sam

8 Federal Tax Credits to Get More from Uncle Sam

By Jackie Waters, Guest Contributor from Hyper-Tidy.com

 

Every year, federal tax credits can change. Some get added, others are taken away, and changes may occur within the ones that have been around for ages. Tax credits are one way to maximize how much of your money you get to keep. In some cases, they feel a bit like a tax-free “bonus” to offset costs. However, most taxpayers only know about a few federal tax credits—and the majority of taxpayers don’t have a clear understanding of what those credits entail.

Tax credits and tax deductions are wildly different, but often confused. Deductions reduce your taxable income. The goal is to reduce your income as much as possible so you ideally fall within a lower tax bracket (and thus pay less in taxes). However, credits reduce taxes directly and aren’t tied to tax rates. Still, the actual value of each credit might be informed by your basic tax liability. There are also nonrefundable credits which can reduce your taxes to zero, but anything leftover is lost (in other words, you won’t be getting a check for the difference).

Most tax credits are aimed at families and parents, and include:

  1. Child Tax Credit. For the 2016 tax year, you can claim up to $1,000 per child. This credit is designed to offset the costs related to caring for children.
  2. Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. This credit is available on a case by case basis. If you paid someone to take care of your child or dependent who is under 13 years old, you likely qualify. However, this credit works more like a deduction (which is how they can get so confusing!).
  3. Adoption Tax Credit. Adopting a child can be expensive. Taxpayers can claim up to $13,460 for the 2016 tax year for each child. Adopted children must be under 18 years old, or over 18 if they have special needs.
  4. Credit for the Elderly and Disabled. If you’re over 65 years old, or if you’ve already retired and have a permanent disability with taxed disability income, you may be eligible for this credit. However, there are income limitations.
Home, Sweet Home (and other Credits)

The second most popular credit category is for homeowners. Buying a home is probably the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make, and Uncle Sam can help ease the burden. There are also special credits for employees, medical expenses and more:

  1. Home Energy Tax Credits. If you installed a green, renewable-energy item in your home, you can get a credit of up to 30 percent of total expenses. However, not all items qualify. Popular items include solar panels and geothermal heat pumps. Talk with your CPA about qualifying purchases.
  2. Earned Income Tax Credit. One of the most well-known credits, this one is for those who had low or moderate incomes in 2016. Also known as the EITC, it helps reduce taxes, and may even qualify you for a refund.
  3. Foreign Tax Credit. If you worked outside the United States, the FTC is designed to protect against double taxation. You don’t pay federal or state taxes for the money earned while you worked abroad, but you do still pay Medicare and Social Security taxes.
  4. Premium Tax Credit. If you have low or moderate income and bought health insurance via the Health Insurance Marketplace, you may qualify to have a credit paid to your insurance company to minimize monthly premium payments. Another option is to claim the full credit on your taxes.

These are just a few of the tax credits you may qualify for during the 2016 tax year. As you plan for next year’s taxes, pore over the qualifications to make sure you’re not overpaying or missing out on any credits (check out some software here that may help you). The sheer volume of tax credits available is another reminder of how critical a CPA can be when planning your financial future.

About Jackie Waters

Jackie Waters is a mother of four boys, and lives on a farm in Oregon. She is passionate about providing a healthy and happy home for her family, and aims to provide advice for others on how to do the same with her site Hyper-Tidy.com.

Trump Agenda in Doubt?

Trump Agenda in Doubt After Healthcare Fail?

By Mike Desepoli, Heritage Financial Advisory Group

It was supposed to the first step in the Trump administrations plan to make America great again. While nothing on the Hill comes easy, with a congressional majority a victory was expected. After 7 years of publically campaigning for a shot to fix healthcare, the republicans failed spectacularly to do just that. Unable to gather the necessary votes for a full repeal and replace of Obamacare, they opted to scrap the vote and move on. It leaves you to wonder how they had 7 years to come up with a comprehensive replacement plan and failed.

Future plans in doubt?

More importantly, what does it mean for the future of the Trump agenda and their grandiose plans? In terms of the financial markets, the focus immediately turns to tax reform. A large part of the recent run up in stocks has been attributed to the expectation of tax cuts. It has been viewed as a near certainty that with a congressional majority that the republicans could easily and swiftly pass a tax reform bill. However, when you take into consideration their lack of unity on the issue of healthcare suddenly tax reform is no sure thing.

It is worth noting that President Trump has indicated that they will move on from healthcare and deal with taxes. I think the initial thought in the wake of the healthcare defeat was that they would keep trying their luck there before moving on to item two of the agenda. That prospect has investors worried that tax reform may not be coming any time in the near future.

In the markets..

There is likely to be a lot of volatility in the weeks and months ahead as the market grapples with the new reality that even the Republican party appears divided. There is no doubt the administration expects resistance from the Democrats.  But I don’t think anyone expected this type of division in their first shot to pass a major bill. Whether or not they will be prepared to regroup and move on undeterred remains to be seen. Make no mistake, investors around the world will be waiting anxiously.

The 1 Question Investors Should Ask

The 1 Question Investors Should Ask: Is My Financial Advisor a Fiduciary?

By Mike Desepoli AIF®, Vice President of Heritage Financial Advisory Group

Financial advisors will have a new regulation to deal with starting in April, and it’s the biggest change the financial advice industry has seen since the great recession. It’s called the “Fiduciary Rule”, and it will have a significant impact on how financial advice is delivered. It is important that investors understand what this change is, and why its’s important.

Introduced by the previous administration, the fiduciary rule will require financial advisors to put the client’s needs before their own. Yes, you read that right. Until the rule officially goes into effect, your financial advisor may not have your best interest in mind.

What is the current law?

As the law currently stands, there are two standards that advisors are held to, the suitability standard and the fiduciary standard. The suitability standard gives advisers the most wiggle room. It simply requires that recommendations must fit clients’ investing objectives, time horizon and experience. You can satisfy the suitability standard by recommending the least suitable of the options, as long as it falls within the general suitability test of that client. The suitability standard invites conflicts of interest pertaining to compensation, which can vary greatly from one product to another.

It also doesn’t require advisors to disclose conflicts of interest. So what that means is often the products that are being recommended are best for the broker, and have higher costs for the investor. It is estimated that non fiduciary advice costs Americans approximately $17 billion each year.

The other standard of care, the fiduciary standard, tasks advisors with putting their clients’ best interest ahead of their own. For instance, faced with two identical products but with different fees, an adviser under the fiduciary standard would be compelled to recommend the lower cost option to the client, even if it meant fewer dollars in his or her own pocket.

Unfortunately many investors can’t distinguish among advisors who is a fiduciary, and who isn’t. Studies have shown that individual investors don’t know who is a fiduciary or what a fiduciary actually is. So here are a few questions to help you sort through the rubble:

How often do you monitor my investments?

Investors don’t ask this question often, because most investors assume the advisor keeps a close eye on their portfolio. A common reason for using an advisor is insufficient time to self-manage. Hopefully, you are not paying an annual fee for an advisor to put your money into passive index funds and not monitor their performance. If your advisor is not analyzing your portfolio at least quarterly, you may want to discuss the services offered for the annual fee you pay.

 

What is your investment philosophy?

Paying careful attention to the advisor’s answer can offer insight into the business model. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, all advisors should have a disciplined and repeatable investment approach. Markets fluctuate, and strategies that may have been in favor last year might perform terribly the next year. An advisor who chases performance and lacks an underlying process often generates poor returns. If they are pitching a new “hot” fund every time you meet, they may not have your best interest in mind.

 

How much am I really paying?

Disclosure requirements have improved since the financial crisis, but “hidden” fees remain for the average investor. Often, when selecting a financial advisor, clients base their decision on the advertised fee. In some cases, there may be no fee referenced at all. Is the advisor working for free? If the fee seems too low, that may also be concerning. The advisor may be receiving ongoing service fees from the investment they are recommending.

This undisclosed compensation is a big conflict of interest. Beware, as these fees can become a significant cost over time, compared to the explicit fees of a fiduciary advisor. A typical fee-based advisor has a tiered structure based on account size that is disclosed to a client up front. Selecting an advisor with a reasonable fee is important, but what you get for that fee is equally relevant. If one advisor is a fiduciary and the other is only held to the suitability standard, the difference in fees may not paint the full picture. Investing in an advisor who has your best interests at heart could pay handsomely over time.

When it comes to choosing a financial advisor, take nothing for granted. Know what you are paying for, and what services you are entitled to. Remember, a misguided broker focused on his or her next commission could cause you financial ruin.

Unusual Expenses that Add Up Quickly

Saving for a Rainy Day: Unusual Expenses that Add Up Quickly

By Jackie Waters, Guest Contributor from Hyper-Tidy.com

 

When you’re living independently as an adult, it’s easy to budget for everyday costs–grocery shopping, mortgage or rent, gas for your car, etc. However, most people end up spending a significant portion of their income on emergency situations that are not expected. The big fault here is not having a disaster, but not planning for one. In your monthly or yearly contribution to your extra savings account, it’s important to think about the price of even the most unusual expenses as a result of unexpected circumstances. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of if these situations will happen–but when. During tough times, you want to be prepared, so here are some areas in your life for which you should be saving.

 

Home repairs

If you are living under a roof with your name on the property, you are responsible for fixing all the problems that arise. This ranges from a leaky faucet, to a damaged appliance, and to even more serious issues that attribute to the home’s structure. Some of the home repair afterthoughts include:

 

  • Bug infestation, such as fleas or bedbugs

 

  • Water damage

 

  • Foundation problems (such as a crack or shift)

 

  • Sewer line problems on the outskirts of your property

 

  • Mold

 

Often times, water damage and mold can be preventable simply by being aware and immediately fixing leaks throughout the house. Any type of bugs, especially fleas or bedbugs, can attach to you or your belongings as you travel. It’s important to check for bugs any new place you stay, even for a short duration of time. Foundation or sewer problems, on the other hand, are issues that happen over time and can only be fixed by calling professionals for repair.

 

Environmental disasters

Depending on where you live in North America, you can take a hit from the environment in a variety of ways. These disasters can be droughts, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes, hail storms, and severe weather that encompasses rain, wind, thunder, and lightening. In 2016 alone, major climate disasters in the United States accumulated to a one-billion-dollar cost per disaster.

 

  • House fires can cost up to $45,000 for homes without fire sprinklers and $2,166 for homes with sprinklers, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

 

  • Flooding for 2,000 square foot homes with 6 inches of water damage can cost up to $39,150 based on National Flood Insurance Program estimates. Find out the estimated cost for your home here.

 

  • Earthquakes cost the average homeowner $3,914 in property damage and repairs.

 

It’s important to note that while purchasing homeowner insurance can reduce most costs of natural disasters, the coverage varies state by state. Typically, water damage from floods are not covered by insurance companies.

 

Family Tragedy

Death of a loved one, or severe illness, can happen unexpectedly and change the lives of everyone else in an instant. Particularly, American funerals are becoming more and more expensive; the average can range from $8,000 to $10,000 per person.

 

Major sickness, such as cancer, can require intense pharmaceutical drugs and hospital visits that end up costing an individual thousands of dollars each year. Drugs and other medicinal therapies alone can range from $10,000-$30,000 per month for some people. Insurance companies usually cover 70-80% of medical bills, but that still leaves the average cancer patient with $24,000 to $36,000 in annual debt.

 

Sudden job loss or cut in pay

No one likes to plan for the day they lose their job, but unfortunately, it can still happen. For those who live on their own independently or whose income provides for an entire family unit, the loss of pay can be quite significant. In these circumstances, having an emergency fund with 3 to 6 months’ worth of expenses can help with daily living until you get back on your feet.

 

About Jackie Waters

Jackie Waters is a mother of four boys, and lives on a farm in Oregon. She is passionate about providing a healthy and happy home for her family, and aims to provide advice for others on how to do the same with her site Hyper-Tidy.com.

Executive Orders

Executive Orders – Heritage Insider

February 7, 2017

U.S. stock markets were unsettled last week.

President Trump’s executive orders banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries to the United States for 90 days, in tandem with some disappointing earnings reports. As a result, this inspired turmoil and uncertainty that helped push U.S. stock markets lower early in the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped below 20,000.

Markets remained confused after the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged, leaving many to ponder their next move.

The Federal Reserve left open the door to hike rates further should the trend in inflation accelerate. They also maintained the option to hold rates steady for an extended period. I expect the minutes to be released in a few weeks will show a more wide ranging debate than that indicated by the policy statement. A potential drawback would be the clear lack of visibility on key policy issues. For example, trade, tax, spending, and regulatory initiatives would be welcomed in the next statement.

Late in the week, markets rallied when the Bureau of Labor Statistics delivered a reasonably strong jobs report. Employers added a healthy 227,000 workers to their payrolls in January. However, despite a surge of local minimum-wage increases in states across the country, wage growth was meager.

Financial shares gained on Friday. The market showed great optimism  after The Wall Street Journal published an interview with Gary Cohn, White House Economic Council Director. Cohn indicated President Trump planned to sign executive orders preparing to reduce financial regulation. In particular, dismantling Dodd-Frank reforms and limit other regulations affecting the financial industry. Consequently, financial stocks rallied hard. Other executive orders may be on the way in regards to financial reform as well.

The Dow finished the week just above 20,000.

Data Check
Data as of 2/3/17 1-Week Y-T-D 1-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year
Standard & Poor’s 500 (Domestic Stocks) 0.1% 2.6% 10.1% 9.7% 11.3% 4.7%
Dow Jones Global ex-U.S. 0.3 4.3 15.3 -0.1 1.8 -1.0
10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only) 2.5 NA 1.9 2.6 2.0 4.8
Gold (per ounce) 2.6 4.8 7.4 -1.3 -6.9 6.5
Bloomberg Commodity Index -0.1 0.5 15.3 -11.4 -9.6 -6.1
DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index 0.8 0.7 13.4 12.5 10.2 4.2

does college open doors?

A new study examined how college affects Americans’ social mobility by researching data from the Department of Education (from 1999-2013) with 30 million tax returns. The researchers looked at the earnings of graduates from various colleges and how graduates’ earnings varied relative to parental income.

Some colleges do a better job of boosting poor students up the income ladder than others. Previously, the best data available showed only average earnings by college. For the first time it is known how the entire earnings distribution of a college’s graduates relates to parental income.

The data shows the likelihood of ending up in the 1 percent. It suggests that graduates of elite universities are the most likely. They credit single-digit admissions rates and billion-dollar endowments as the main catalysts. Having wealth parents also improves the odds. Despite recent efforts to change, their student bodies are still overwhelmingly wealthy.

legacy admissions…

Legacy admissions give preferential treatment to family members of alumni. Many feel that this exacerbates the imbalance at these institutions. Of Harvard’s most recently admitted class, 27 percent of students had a relative who also attended. There’s evidence that this system favors the already wealthy. MIT and the California Institute of Technology, two elite schools with no legacy preferences, have much fewer students who hail from the ranks of the super-rich.

 

The top colleges by mobility rate , which is defined as students moving from the bottom to the top 20 percent, includes: Cal State University-Los Angeles, Pace University-New York, SUNY-Stony Brook. It also includes, Technical Career Institutes, University of Texas-Pan American, CUNY System, Glendale Community College, South Texas College, Cal State Polytechnic-Pomona, and University of Texas-El Paso.

 

 

Weekly Focus – Think About It

 

“Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam,

Where the deer and the antelope play,

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,

And the skies are not cloudy all day.”

–Lyrics to Home on the Range

 

About Heritage

Heritage Financial Advisory Group provides financial planning and investment management to individuals, families, and businesses. For more information how we can help you pursue a work option lifestyle, visit us at Long Island Financial Advisor.

6 Easy Ways to Ruin Your Retirement

6 Easy Steps to Ruin Your Retirement

 

Many people I know have concluded that retirement was worth waiting for and worth planning for. Those who planned well (and who are lucky enough to have good health) are generally finding this to be a very satisfying time in their lives. But those who didn’t plan well or who couldn’t save enough are finding that retirement can be difficult.

My commitment is to help people, but this week I’m switching roles so I can give you some dynamite tips for having an unhappy retirement. (Of course, what I’m really advocating is that you do not do these things.)

Don’t save enough money.

Spend (and borrow) whatever it takes to keep yourself and your family happy. You can always catch up later when you get into your peak earning years, when the kids are gone, or when you’re finally finished paying for whatever else is more important right now.

The likely result: You could find yourself in “panic mode” in your 50s and 60s. You could have to work longer than you want. Another popular choice, you could have to reduce your living standards after your work life is through. You could fall prey to persuasive salespeople (see my final tip below) who do not have your best interests at heart. Or maybe even all of the above.

Be careless about how you plan and budget for retirement expenses.

When I was an advisor, I was amazed how many investors neglected to include taxes as a cost of living in retirement. If you’re living off of distributions from a non-Roth IRA or 401(k), the full amount of those distributions is likely to be taxable. For extra credit: Don’t spend any money on a financial advisor to help you plan.

The likely result: You may go into “panic mode” when your accountant hands you an unexpected tax bill.

Lock in your expectations about your life in retirement and make rigid financial decisions.

There are plenty of ways to do this. You could sell your house and move somewhere cheaper even though you don’t know anybody there. Another option, you could buy a fixed annuity to have an income that’s certain. You could fail to establish an emergency fund. (After all, what could go wrong?) You could get sick or need surgery that isn’t covered by Medicare or other insurance.

The likely result: Things will happen that you don’t expect, probably sending you once again into “panic mode” and making you vulnerable to the pitches from all manner of enthusiastic salespeople.

Ignore inflation, since it doesn’t seem like a current problem.

Assume that $1,000 will buy roughly the same “basket of goods and services” in 2026 and 2036 that it will today. Be confident that you know what the future holds. After all, the years of high inflation that are often cited happened a long time ago. Things are different now.

The likely result: You probably won’t be thrust into “panic mode” since inflation is usually gradual. But one day you will realize with a start that things are costing a lot more than they “should,” and your income can’t keep up.

Keep all your money where it’s “safe,” in fixed income.

You’ll have lots of company among current retirees whose “golden” years are being tarnished because they have to rely on today’s historically low interest rates. Don’t just blindly invest in equities, because, as we all know, you can lose money in the stock market.

The likely result: You may start retirement with sufficient income to meet your needs, but those needs will probably increase, especially for health care, in your later retirement years. Your fixed income may be safe, but it won’t expand to meet increased needs.

Attend investment seminars and trust the presenters, then make important decisions without getting a second professional opinion.

You could follow the unfortunate example of a couple I know who, in their 50s, attended a retirement seminar and got some bad advice. They met privately with the presenter/saleswoman, then rolled their entire retirement accounts into a variable annuity. They thought they were giving themselves good returns, future flexibility and saving a lot of money in taxes.

In reality, they gave themselves huge headaches and nearly lost half their life savings. I helped them fight the unpleasant (and ultimately successful) battle to get out of their contract and recover their money.

This couple could teach us all some lessons, but the terms of their settlement makes that unlikely. If they disclose that they got their money back, or if they disclose how they were deceived and cheated, they will have to give the money back to the insurance company.

The likely results: You will be disappointed in the decisions you make. You will have many reasons to never trust an investment sales pitch again. You will have less money in retirement than if you had never heard of that particular seminar.

So now you have it: Six easy steps to ruin your retirement. I hope, of course, that you do just the opposite of each one of these. Unfortunately, I think there’s a high likelihood that somebody you know has fallen into one or more of these traps.

My advice: Learn from their mistakes.

Is Your Financial Advisor A Fiduciary?

Many Investors are not aware of the different between fiduciary and suitability standards

President Obama’s recent endorsement of fiduciary standards for financial advisors could have significant implications for the investment industry. In other words, the president is pushing to require financial advisors to put the client’s needs before their own. While this may come as a surprise, your advisor may not have your best interests in mind. As the law currently stands, any financial professionals operating under the “suitability standard” are merely required to ensure an investment is suitable for a client at the time of the investment.

This contrasts with the “fiduciary standard” where registered investment advisors, and appointed fiduciaries must avoid conflicts of interest and operate with full transparency. It is estimated according to the Council of Economic Advisers that non-fiduciary advice costs Americans 1 percentage point of their return annually, or $17 billion each year.

Fiduciary vs. Suitability

To illustrate the difference between these two standards, consider a middle-aged client who is a long-term investor and is not bothered much by market volatility. Under the suitability standard, an advisor can meet with this client to determine what is suitable at that point in time. Using the goals and risk tolerance as a baseline, the advisor may determine that the majority of savings should go into a stock mutual fund. Many advisors promote funds of the very banks or institutions that employ them, because they provide a back end compensation to the advisor. Investors are largely unaware of this practice. Once the client leave’s this advisor’s office, they have little further legal obligation to monitor this client’s investment.

The picture is much different under the fiduciary standard. First, all conflicts of interest must be disclosed. Also, a fiduciary has a “duty to care” and must continually monitor not only a client’s investments, but also their changing financial situation. Maybe this client’s risk tolerance changed after going through a painful bear market. Perhaps there was a tragedy in the family, causing the client’s medical expenses to skyrocket. Under the suitability standard, the financial planning process can begin and end in a single meeting. For fiduciaries, that first client meeting marks only the beginning of the advisor’s legal obligation. It’s time to be more proactive with your advisor. Here is a list of questions to consider.

How often do you monitor my investments?

Investors don’t ask this question often, because most investors assume the advisor keeps a close eye on their portfolio. A common reason for using an advisor is insufficient time to self-manage. Hopefully, you are not paying an annual fee for an advisor to put your money into passive index funds and not monitor their performance. However, the problem has become so prevalent that the Securities and Exchange Commission is increasing scrutiny of “reverse churning.” As more advisors move their compensation toward annual fees, the incentive has shifted from doing excessive transactions to generate commissions, toward inactivity. If your advisor is not analyzing your portfolio at least quarterly, you may want to discuss the services offered for the annual fee you pay.

What is your investment philosophy?

Paying careful attention to the advisor’s answer can offer insight into the business model. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, all advisors should have a disciplined and repeatable investment approach. Markets fluctuate, and strategies that may have been in favor last year might perform terribly the next year. An advisor who chases performance and lacks an underlying process often generates poor returns. If they are pitching a new “hot” fund every time you meet, they may not have a have a disciplined long-term investment philosophy. The tried-and-true advisor with a transparent fee structure and disciplined approach may not provide fodder for cocktail party gossip, but over time, he or she will reward patient investors.

How much am I really paying?

Disclosure requirements have improved since the financial crisis, but “hidden” fees remain. Often, when selecting a financial advisor, clients base their decision on the advertised fee. In some cases, there may be no fee referenced at all. Is the advisor working for free? If the fee seems too low, that may also be concerning. The advisor may be receiving ongoing service fees from the investment they are recommending. This undisclosed compensation is called “soft dollars,” but are basically kickbacks for selling a particular investment product.

Beware, as these fees can become a significant cost over time, compared to the explicit fees of a fiduciary advisor. A typical fee-based advisor has a tiered structure based on account size that is disclosed to a client up front. The average is about 1.3 percent, which does not include fund expenses, another meaningful cost to consider when you choose an advisor. Selecting an advisor with a reasonable fee is important, but what you get for that fee is equally relevant. If one advisor is a fiduciary and the other is only held to the suitability standard, the difference in fees may not paint the full picture. Investing in an advisor who has your best interests at heart could pay handsomely over time.

In summary

when it comes to selecting a financial advisor, take nothing for granted. In an environment where the first question is, “Do you have my best interests in mind?” assumptions should be verified. Regardless of which advisor you choose, ask if they adhere to the fiduciary standard. Know what you are paying for. A good advisor will have a customized plan to fit your lifestyle. Finally, make sure your advisor is grounded by a solid philosophy and has experience consistently applying it throughout market cycles. Only after finding advisors who exemplify these attributes should you concern yourself with fees. Remember, a discount broker focused on his or her next commission could cause you financial ruin.

Dow Jones 20k?

Dow Jones 20,000?

December 27, 2016
The Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) got within 13 points of 20,000 last Tuesday. It finished the week about 90 points below the vaunted milestone. As a result, the Dow Jones has gained nearly 10 percent since the end of October, more than double its 4.1 percent rise during the first nine months of the year, spurred in part by Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

 

The major U.S. indices have been strong performers since early November. Many people are wondering whether they will continue to do well in 2017. The Economist suggested 2017 could hold a surprise that will negatively affect investors’ expectations:

 

“By definition, a surprise is something the consensus does not expect…investors are expecting above-trend economic growth, higher inflation, and stronger profits…So it is not too difficult to see how the first surprise might play out. Expectations for the effectiveness of Mr. Trump’s fiscal policies are extraordinarily high. But it takes time for such policies to be implemented, and they may be diluted by Congress along the way (especially on public spending). Furthermore, it may well be that demography and sluggish productivity make it very hard to push economic growth up to the 3-4 percent hoped for by the new administration.”

Profitability on the rise?

On the other hand, profitability has improved. As a result, american companies have seen earnings rebound, and many companies are positioned to benefit from the corporate tax cuts promised by the new administration. However, this good news may already be reflected in current share prices. Robert Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price-earnings (CAPE) ratio, a measure of valuation based on average inflation-adjusted earnings of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index from the previous 10 years, was at 27.99 on December 23. That’s almost 70 percent above its long-term average of 16.05 and indicates markets may be overvalued.

 

Regardless of potential negative surprises and current market valuation, many analysts expect a positive performance from U.S. stock markets next year. MarketWatch reported, “Most house projections from the big investment banks and brokers converge around the S&P closing the year at 2350 – a scant 5 percent above current levels. Only one strategist…dares to suggest that 2017’s gains could be as much as 20 percent.”

Lets take a look where we’re at:
Data as of 12/23/16 1-Week Y-T-D 1-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year
Standard & Poor’s 500 (Domestic Stocks) 0.2% 6.8% 7.7% 7.4% 12.3% 4.8%
Dow Jones Global ex-U.S. -1.2 0.8 0.4 -3.3 2.8 -1.1
10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only) 2.5 NA 2.3 2.9 2.0 4.6
Gold (per ounce) -2.8 6.5 5.9 -1.9 -6.8 6.1
Bloomberg Commodity Index -2.1 9.8 10.5 -12.2 -9.4 -6.3
DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index -0.5 7.1 7.3 12.2 11.5 5.1

S&P 500, Dow Jones Global ex-US, Gold, Bloomberg Commodity Index returns exclude reinvested dividends (gold does not pay a dividend) and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; the DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index does include reinvested dividends and the three-, five-, and 10-year returns are annualized; and the 10-year Treasury Note is simply the yield at the close of the day on each of the historical time periods.

Sources: Yahoo! Finance, Barron’s, djindexes.com, London Bullion Market Association.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. N/A means not applicable.

 

america’s most wanted…

Don’t worry. Robots have not yet replaced human workers. In fact, according to The World In 2017 (published by The Economist):

 

“…automation seems to be pushing people from routine jobs, such as factory work, into non-routine ones, particularly those that require cognitive and social skills. Technological progress will cause a shift in the nature of jobs available and the skills they require. It is impossible to know for sure what these new jobs will be – the Luddites who campaigned against the mechanization of weaving in the early 19th century could not have imagined that new fields such as railways, telegraphy, and electrification were coming. But two tools can help us take a stab at identifying the jobs of the near future: hard-nosed statistics and predictive intuition.”

Statistically speaking..

So, what do statistics tell us about the new jobs young people and career changers should be preparing to do? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics looked at current trends and projected the fastest growing jobs from 2014 to 2024 would be:

 

  1. Wind turbine service technician (up 108 percent)
  2. Occupational therapy assistants (up 43 percent)
  3. Physical therapy assistants (up 41 percent)
  4. Home health aides (up 38 percent)
  5. Commercial drivers (up 37 percent)
  6. Nurse practitioners (up 35 percent)
  7. Physical therapists (up 34 percent)
  8. Statisticians (up 34 percent)
  9. Ambulance drivers (up 33 percent)
  10. Physician assistants (up 30 percent)

 

Predictive intuition suggested quite a different set of careers. The World In 2017 suggested there could be demand for drone technicians and support staff as the use of autonomous vehicles increases. There may also be demand for bot wranglers, such as ‘chatbot’ specialists, who help bots provide customer service through speech and text. Indoor farming may prove to be a growth industry as urban populations increase. Other career possibilities included virtual fashion designers, robo-psychologists, and synthetic tissue engineers. Clearly, there is a world of opportunity.

 

Weekly Focus – Think About It

 

“So, I’m going to challenge all of you. I want you to true your wheels: be honest about the praise that you need to hear. What do you need to hear? Go home to your wife – go ask her, what does she need? Your husband, what does he need? You should go home and ask those questions, and then help the people around you.”

–Dr. Laura Trice, Therapist and life coach

Are Markets Worrying Too Much?

Are markets worrying too much?

Last week, markets headed south because investors were concerned about the possibility of negative interest rates in the United States, even though the Federal reserve just began raising interest rates.

The worries appear to have taken root after the Fed chair Janet Yellen was called before the house financial services committee to testify about the current path of monetary policy.

What Should Investors do if we see negative interest rates?

Worried investors may want to consider their longer term goals and objectives before bailing on their investment plan. Switching investment strategies can sometimes feel like changing lanes in traffic. As soon as you move out of that lane that is at a stand still, it starts to move again.

Don’t take your eye off the ball….step back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what has changed so dramatically in your life that it would be prudent to tear up your investment plan and start over. More often than not, the best thing to do is nothing.

It’s times like now that many pundits come out and call a market top. These are the same critics that have not participated in the current bull market at all. They have a vested interest in creating fear and euphoria.

 

Stay Disciplined With Your Portfolio

Stay Disciplined With Your Investment Approach

One of the most challenging aspects of investing is not what many may think. Digging through the multitude of options available to put your money to work can be a daunting task. However, keeping your cool when things move in the wrong direction can make or break your portfolio returns.

Sometimes stock prices move based on economic facts, other times they move based on a perceived notion, or in anticipation of an event. If we know one thing, markets DO NOT like fear and uncertainty…..and given the levels of those prevalent in the market today, it’s no wonder we are seeing the market go haywire. This can easily weigh on an investors emotions. Watching your portfolio plunge into a sea of red is by no means easy to stomach, but it happens. Making sure you take the right steps when it happens, will make sure you don’t turn short term pain into long term damage.

So what should you do With your portfolio?

For one, it is always advisable to work with a professional. You wouldn’t try to build a house by yourself…..you hire a builder. So why should you treat your portfolio any differently? Secondly, beware of taking financial advice from the mass media. The media speaks to a very large and diverse audience, and their recommendations may not be suitable for you. They do not know your goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon…..so how would they know what is best for your portfolio?

The more you stay focused on your long term goals, the better off you will be. Keep your eye on the ball!

If you want to talk with us about ways to stay more disciplined with your portfolio strategy, click Contact and we will get back to you shortly.

When China Sneezes

When China Sneezes…

The quote above has been circulated around for years…..but how much truth does it hold? Well, if the start to 2016 is any indicator… global markets are paying close attention to China. Chinese stock markets got off to a horrific start in 2016. As a result, the negative sentiment is spreading quickly. The US markets are off to their worst 5 day start in……HISTORY. Consequently, we are seeing the bond and stock markets retreat convincingly.

Is the market drawdown justified? Many questions are beginning to circulate. It is too early to say we are in a correction as the market averages have not yet reached that level. No one can say with any certainty, but it is times like this that having a disciplined investment strategy becomes more important than ever. Remember your goals, objectives, and time horizon……if none of that has changed over the past week then why should your investment strategy change? Here’s a hint…….IT SHOULDN’T!!!

Interested in a compliment Portfolio Stress Test?

Is your portfolio protected from the risk that China presents? If you don’t know, lets run a portfolio stress test.  Contact