Our Articles

Retirement Plan Contribution Limits Rise in 2018

Your Social Security Benefits and Provisional Income

Getting (Mentally) Ready to Retire

Life Insurance Products with Long Term Care Riders

One Couple, Two Different Retirements?

Should You Apply for Social Security Now or Later?

Tax Rules on Rental Property

Have a Plan, Not Just a Stock Portfolio

In-Service Withdrawals from Employee Retirement Plans

Financial Thoughts for International Women's Day

Tiny Social Security COLA, Possible Medicare Premium Hike

Why Life Insurance matters

Making Decisions About Life Insurance

Getting Your Financial Paperwork in Good Order

The A, B, C & D's of Medicare

Should You Downsize for Retirement?

Should You File Jointly, or Not?

The Lottery is No Retirement Plan

Hybrid Insurance Products with Long-Term Care Riders

Behind On Your Retirement Savings?

A look at Target-Date Funds

What Beneficaries Need to Know

The Importance of TOD and JTWROS Account Designations

Guarding Against Identity Theft

Are You Prepared to Pay for Long Term Care?

Legacy Planning for Women

How Do You Know When You Have Enough to Retire?

Reassessing Retirement Assumptions

A Primer for Estate Planning

An Estate Planning Checklist

 

Retirement Plan Contribution Limits Rise for 2018

Slight increases have been made due to mild inflation.

Provided by Jane Bourette

You will able to put a little more into your workplace retirement account in 2018. The federal government has boosted the annual contribution limit on some of the popular qualified retirement plans thanks to inflation and made other adjustments worth noting.

Contribution limits for 401(k)s are rising by $500. This is the first increase seen in three years. In 2018, you can direct up to $18,500 into one of these accounts; $24,500, if you are age 50 or older.1

This $500 increase also applies for three other types of retirement plans – the 403(b) plans in place at schools and non-profit organizations, the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees, and most 457 plans sponsored by state and local governments.1

The total contribution limit for a defined contribution plan increases. A defined contribution plan is a retirement plan to which both an employer and employee can contribute. If your company has such a plan, the annual limitation on total employer/employee contributions improves by $1,000 in 2018, to $55,000.1

Contribution limits for Health Savings Accounts increase by $50/$150. You must be enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) to have one of these accounts. The yearly contribution limit for those enrolled in individual plans rises $50 to $3,450; the yearly limit for those enrolled in qualifying family plans goes up $150 to $6,900. Correspondingly, the respective catch-up limits, which people 55 and older can take advantage of, are also heading north to $4,450 and $7,900.2

The phase-out ranges on IRA contributions are also rising. The annual IRA contribution limits are unchanged for next year ($5,500 for those under 50, $6,500 for those 50 and older), but the adjusted gross income limitations that reduce your eligibility to make IRA contributions are adjusted for inflation.1

If you are single and participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k), your new phase-out range is $1,000 higher: $63,000-$73,000. Joint filers who also contribute to workplace plans have a phaseout range of $101,000-$121,000, a $2,000 increase. If you want to contribute to an IRA and do not contribute to a workplace retirement plan, yet your spouse does, your phaseout range is $3,000 higher: $189,000-$199,000.1

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

Citations.

1 - benefitnews.com/news/irs-announces-2018-retirement-plan-contribution-limits [10/20/17]        

2 - cbsnews.com/news/irs-allows-higher-retirement-savings-account-limits-in-2018/ [10/24/17]

 

Your Social Security Benefits & Your Provisional Income

Earning too much may cause portions of your retirement benefits to be taxed.

Provided by Jane Bourette

You may be shocked to learn that part of your Social Security income could be taxed. If your provisional income exceeds a certain level, that will happen.

Just what is “provisional income”? The Social Security Administration defines it with a formula.

Provisional income = your modified adjusted gross income + 50% of your total annual Social Security benefits + 100% of tax-exempt interest that your investments generate.1

Income from working, pension income, withdrawals of money from IRAs and other types of retirement plans, and interest earned by certain kinds of fixed-income investment vehicles all figure into this formula.

If you fail to manage your provisional income in retirement, it may top the threshold at which Social Security benefits become taxable. This could drastically affect the amount of spending power you have, and it could force you to withdraw more money than you expect in order to cover taxes.

Where is the provisional income threshold set? The answer to that question depends on your filing status.   

If you file your federal income taxes as an individual, then up to 50% of your annual Social Security benefits are subject to taxation once your provisional income surpasses $25,000. Once it exceeds $34,000, as much as 85% of your benefits are exposed to taxation.1,2

The thresholds are set higher for joint filers. If you file jointly, as much as 50% of your Social Security benefits may be taxed when your provisional income rises above $32,000. Above $44,000, up to 85% of your Social Security benefits become taxable.2

The provisional income thresholds have never been adjusted for inflation. Since Social Security needs more money flowing into its coffers rather than less, it is doubtful they will be reset anytime in the future.

When the thresholds were put into place in 1983, just 10% of Social Security recipients had their retirement benefits taxed. By 2015, that had climbed to more than 50%.2

In 2017, the Seniors Center, a nonprofit senior advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., asked retirees how they felt about their Social Security benefits being taxed. Ninety-one percent felt the practice should end.2

How can you plan to avoid hitting the provisional income thresholds? First, be wary of potential jumps in income, such as the kind that might result from selling a lot of stock, converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, or taking a large lump-sum payout from a retirement account. Second, you could plan to reduce or shelter the amount of income that your investments return. Three, you could try to accelerate income into one tax year or push it off into another tax year.

Consult with a financial professional to explore strategies that might help you reduce your provisional income. You may have more options for doing so than you think.

Citations.

1 - kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T051-C032-S014-can-you-cut-taxes-you-pay-on-your-social-security.html [9/13/17]

2 - fool.com/retirement/2017/03/26/91-of-seniors-believe-this-social-security-practic.aspx [3/26/17]

 

Getting (Mentally) Ready to Retire

Even those who have saved millions must prepare for a lifestyle adjustment.

Provided by Jane Bourette

A successful retirement is not merely measured in financial terms. Even those who retire with small fortunes can face boredom or depression and the fear of drawing down their savings too fast. How can new retirees try to calm these worries?

Two factors may help: a gradual retirement transition and some guidance from a financial professional.  

An abrupt break from the workplace may be unsettling. As a hypothetical example, imagine a well-paid finance manager at an auto dealership whose personal identity is closely tied to his job. His best friends are all at the dealership. He retires, and suddenly his friends and sense of purpose are absent. He finds that he has no compelling reason to leave the house, nothing to look forward to when he gets up in the morning. Guess what? He hates being retired.

On the other hand, if he prepares for retirement years in advance of his farewell party by exploring an encore career, engaging in varieties of self-employment, or volunteering, he can retire with something promising ahead of him. If he broadens the scope of his social life, so that he can see friends and family regularly and interact with both older and younger people in different settings, his retirement may also become more enjoyable.

The interests and needs of a retiree can change with age or as he or she disengages from the working world. Retired households may need to adjust their lifestyles in response to this evolution.

Practically all retirees have some financial anxiety. It relates to the fact of no longer earning a conventional paycheck. You see it in couples who have $60,000 saved for retirement; you see it in couples who have $6 million saved for retirement. Their retirement strategies are about to be tested, in real time. All that careful planning is ready to come to fruition, but there are always unknowns.

Some retirees are afraid to spend. They fear spending too much too soon. With help from a financial professional, they can thoughtfully plan a withdrawal rate.

While no retiree wants to squander money, all retirees should realize that their retirement savings were accumulated to be spent. Being miserly with retirement money contradicts its purpose. The average 65-year-old who retires in 2017 will have a retirement lasting approximately 20 years, by the estimation of the Social Security Administration. So, why not spend some money now and enjoy retired life?1

Broadly speaking, our spending declines as we age. The average U.S. household headed by an 80-year-old spends 43% less money than one headed by a 50-year-old.1

Retirement challenges people in two ways. The obvious challenge is financial; the less obvious challenge is mental. Both tests may be met with sufficient foresight and dedication.

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

       

Citations.

1 - tinyurl.com/ydedsyl5 [4/24/17]

 

Life Insurance Products with Long Term Care Riders

Are they worthwhile alternatives to traditional LTC policies?

Provided by Jane Bourette

The price of long-term care insurance has really gone up. If you are a baby boomer and you have kept your eye on it for a few years, chances are you have noticed this. Last year, the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance (AALTCI) noted that married 60-year-olds would pay between $2,000-3,500 annually in premiums for a standalone LTC policy.1

Changing demographics and low interest rates have prompted major insurers to stop offering LTC coverage. As the AALTCI notes, the number of LTC policies sold in this country fell from 750,000 in 2000 to 105,000 in 2015. Not all insurers offer these policies. The demand for the coverage remains, however – and in response, insurance providers have introduced new options.1,2

Hybrid LTC products have emerged. Some insurers offer “cash rich” permanent life insurance policies that let you tap part of the death benefit to pay for long-term care. Other insurance products feature similar potential benefits.1,2

As these insurance products are doing “double duty” (i.e., one policy or product offering the potential for two kinds of coverage), their premiums are costlier than that of a standalone LTC policy. On the other hand, you can get what you want from one insurance product rather than having to pay for two.3

Another nice perk offered by these hybrid LTC products: sometimes, insurers guarantee that the premiums you pay will never rise. (Many retirees wish that were the case with their traditional LTC policies.) Whether the premiums are locked in at the initial level or not, the death benefit, coverage amount, and cash value are all, commonly, guaranteed.3

Hybrid LTC policies provide a death benefit, a percentage of which will go to your heirs. Do traditional LTC policies offer a death benefit? No. If you buy a discrete LTC policy, but die without needing long-term care, all those LTC policy premiums you paid will not return to you.3

The basics of securing LTC coverage applies to these policies. The earlier in life you arrange the coverage, the lower the premiums will likely be. If you are not healthy enough to qualify for a standalone LTC insurance policy, you might qualify for a hybrid policy – sometimes no medical exam is required. The LTC insurance benefit may be used when a doctor certifies that the policyholder is unable to perform two or more of the six activities of daily living (eating, dressing, bathing, transferring in and out of bed, toileting, and maintaining continence).4,5

Lump sums are no longer needed to fund many of these hybrid LTC policies. In the past, insurers would commonly require a single premium payment of $75,000-$100,000. No more. Most insurance companies let you fund these policies with monthly, quarterly, or annual premiums. When a lump sum is necessary, it may not be a major hurdle for a high net worth individual or couple, especially since appreciated assets from other life insurance products can be transferred into a hybrid product through a 1035 exchange.2,3,6

Are these hybrid policies just mediocre compromises? They have critics as well as fans. Detractors cite their two sets of fees, per their two forms of insurance coverage. They also point out that hybrid LTC policies are not inflation protected, so the insurance benefit is worth less with the passage of time. Also, while the premiums paid on conventional LTC policies are tax deductible, premiums paid on these hybrid policies are not.3

Funding the whole policy up front with a single premium payment has both an upside and a downside. You will not contend with potential premium increases over time, as owners of stock LTC policies often do; on the other hand, the return on the insurance product may be locked into today’s low interest rates.

Another reality is that many middle-class seniors have little or no need to buy a life insurance policy. Their heirs will not face inheritance taxes because their estates will not exceed the federal estate tax exemption. Moreover, their children may be adults and financially stable, themselves. A large death benefit for these heirs is nice, but the opportunity cost of paying the life insurance premiums may be significant.

Cash value life insurance can be a crucial element in estate planning for those with large or complex estates, however – and if some of its death benefit can be directed toward long-term care for the policyholder, it may prove even more useful than commonly assumed.

 

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

  Citations.

1 - investmentnews.com/article/20160721/FREE/160729979/long-term-care-insurance-market-sees-rapid-decline [7/21/16]

2 - nytimes.com/2016/03/06/business/retirementspecial/hybrid-long-term-care-policies-provide-cash-and-leave-some-behind.html [3/6/16]

3 - today.com/series/starttoday/have-healthy-retirement-jean-chatzky-how-pay-long-term-care-t106862 [1/10/17]

4 - elderlawanswers.com/hybrid-policies-allow-you-to-have-your-long-term-care-insurance-cake-and-eat-it-too-15541# [4/5/16]

5 - elderlawanswers.com/activities-of-daily-living-measure-the-need-for-long-term-care-assistance-15395 [11/24/15]

6 - kiplinger.com/article/insurance/T036-C001-S003-tax-friendly-ways-to-pay-for-long-term-care-insura.html [8/16/16]

 

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One Couple, Two Different Retirements?

After many years together, some retired spouses may find their daily routines far apart.

Provided by Jane Bourette

When you see online ads or TV commercials about retirement planning, do they ever show baby boomer couples arguing? No. After all, retirement planning is about the pursuit of a happy outcome – a fun and emotionally rewarding “second act” that spouses and partners can share. 

Realizing that goal takes communication. As you approach retirement, you may not be who you were at 30 or 50. You and your significant other may want different daily lives once you retire. This is a frequently ignored reality in retirement planning. In preparing to retire, you might want to consider your individual preferences and differences when it comes to these factors:

How you spend your days. What does a good day in retirement look like to you? What does it look like for your spouse or partner?

Social engagement. How much time do each of you want to spend working, volunteering, or socializing? Your preferences may differ.

Your health. If you contend with serious health issues, you may define a “good day” in retirement much differently than your spouse or partner does.

Your spending. Where will your retirement income go? What will it be spent on besides basic living expenses? Your discretionary spending priorities and those of your spouse could vary. If they vary widely, this could be the source of some drama.  

Your time alone. Some couples build businesses together or work in the same office or practice for years; others spend just a few hours per day around each other for decades. In retirement, you will likely be around each other for more hours of the day than when you worked. You will need to decide how much “me time” you need.  

Your roles. Have you done most of the cleaning around the house? Or tackled most of the home improvement projects? Should it remain that way in retirement?

To some extent, your spouse or partner’s vision of retirement will vary from yours. It could vary 1%, or it could vary 99%, but some variance is almost certain. It need not breed discord so long as you recognize the following three truths.  

Some of your shared retirement savings will be used to fulfill individual dreams. The money you have saved and invested will provide financial support for you as a couple, but you also must concede that some of those dollars will be spent relative to each other’s individual goals, passions, and pursuits. The same applies for your retirement income.

You will not automatically see money the same way. Those online ads and TV commercials would have you believe that some kind of magic happens once retirement starts, leaving every retired couple to walk along the beach smiling, laughing, and in total agreement about their future. Yes, retired couples do disagree about money; they also learn to overcome those disagreements through understanding and compromise.  

Many things are more valuable than money in retirement. Time is probably your most valuable asset, and your health and relationships are close behind. So, whether your retirement savings falls short of or far exceeds the median baby boomer amount of $147,000 (as identified last year by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies), keep what matters most in mind.1    

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

Citations.

1 - forbes.com/sites/forbesfinancecouncil/2017/05/15/retirement-its-not-as-simple-as-it-used-to-be/ [5/15/17] 

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Should You Apply for Social Security Now or Later?

When should you apply for benefits? Consider a few factors first.

Provided by Jane Bourette

 

Now or later? When it comes to the question of Social Security income, the choice looms large. Should you apply now to get earlier payments? Or wait for a few years to get larger checks?

Consider what you know (and don’t know). You know how much retirement money you have; you may have a clear projection of retirement income from other potential sources. Other factors aren’t as foreseeable. You don’t know exactly how long you will live, so you can’t predict your lifetime Social Security payout. You may even end up returning to work again.

When are you eligible to receive full benefits? The answer may be found online at socialsecurity.gov/retire2/agereduction.htm.

How much smaller will your check be if you start receiving benefits at 62? The answer varies. As an example, let’s take someone born in 1955. For this baby boomer, the full retirement age is 66 years and 2 months. If that boomer decides to retire in 2017 at 62, his or her monthly Social Security benefit will be reduced about 26%. That boomer’s spouse would see a 30% reduction in monthly benefits.1,2

Should that boomer elect to work past full retirement age, his or her benefit checks will increase by 8.0% for every additional full year spent in the workforce. So, it really may pay to work longer.2

Remember the earnings limit. Let’s put our hypothetical baby boomer through another example. Our boomer decides to apply for Social Security at age 62 in 2017, yet stays in the workforce. If he/she earns more than $16,920 in 2017, the Social Security Administration will withhold $1 of every $2 earned over that amount.3

How does the SSA define “income”? If you work for yourself, the SSA considers your net earnings from self-employment to be your income. If you work for an employer, your wages equal your earned income.3

 

Please note that the SSA does not count investment earnings, interest, pensions, annuity income, and government or military retirement benefits toward the current $16,920 earnings limit.3  

Some fine print worth noticing. If you are self-employed, did you know that the SSA may define you as retired even if you aren’t? (This amounts to the SSA giving you a break.)

For example, if you are eligible to receive Social Security benefits in 2017, yet remain under full retirement age for the whole year, the SSA will consider you “retired” if a) you work 45 hours or less per month at your business or work between 15-45 hours a month at a business in a highly skilled occupation, b) your monthly earnings from such self-employment are $1,410 or less.4

Here’s the upside of all that: if you meet the two tests mentioned in the preceding paragraph, you are eligible to receive a full Social Security payment for any whole month of 2017 in which you are “retired” under these definitions. You can receive that monthly payment no matter what your earnings total for 2017.4

Learn more at socialsecurity.gov. The SSA website is information packed and user friendly. One last, little reminder: if you don’t sign up for Social Security at your full retirement age, make sure that you at least sign up for Medicare at age 65.

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

Citations.

1 - blog.ssa.gov/2017-brings-new-changes-to-full-retirement-age/ [1/6/17]

2 - fool.com/retirement/general/2016/04/25/3-facts-you-need-to-know-about-social-security-spo.aspx [4/25/16]

3 - ssa.gov/planners/retire/whileworking2.html [4/12/17]

4 - ssa.gov/planners/retire/rule.html [4/12/17]

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Tax Rules on Rental Property

The basics on capital gains & deductions.

Provided by Jane Bourette

 

Buying or selling income property has definite tax consequences. A taxpayer should clearly understand them, whether he or she intends to acquire a property or put one on the market. 

A sale of income property incurs either a capital gain or loss. If you profit from the sale of income property, that profit is considered fully taxable by the Internal Revenue Service. Fortunately, if you have owned that property for at least a year, you will pay only capital gains tax on those profits rather than income tax.1

Your capital gain is determined by subtracting the adjusted basis of the property (i.e., the price you paid for it, plus the total of any renovations, closing costs, and eligible legal fees) from the sale price. For most taxpayers, the capital gains rate is but 15%. If you sell an investment property for a capital gain of $30,000 and your capital gains rate is 15%, you will pay $4,500 of capital gains tax from the sale.1   

Depreciation can factor into this. If the market turns south and you can deduct $20,000 in depreciation within your ownership period, then your capital gain from the sale is $10,000 instead of $30,000.2

Should you happen to sell one investment property at a gain and another at a loss in the same year, you can subtract your capital loss from your capital gain, resulting in a net capital gain or loss for that tax year.1

Should you buy & hold, you could qualify for the homeowner exclusion. If you live in an investment property for two or more years during a five-year period, the I.R.S. will consider that investment property to be your primary residence, whether you do or not. You are, thereby, eligible for the federal homeowner exclusion when you sell such property, which enables you to shield up to $250,000 of capital gains from tax. Joint filers may exclude up to $500,000 of capital gains from tax through this break.1,3 

Income property investors may also qualify for some federal tax deductions. If you happen to utilize an investment property (or even a vacation home) for your personal use, you may be able to take advantage of property tax deductions, the mortgage interest deduction, even the home office deduction. The size of a deduction typically corresponds to how frequently you use the property. For example, you can deduct property management fees, insurance premiums, and certain other costs only when you use the property for longer than 14 days or 10% of the total days it is rented or leased.4

This article is simply an overview of the tax rules on rental property. To fully explore the tax implications of a sale or purchase and the deductions and exclusions you may qualify to receive, speak to a qualified tax, real estate, or financial professional today.

 

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

    

Citations.

1 - finance.zacks.com/tax-liability-selling-investment-property-5957.html [3/28/17]

2 - investopedia.com/articles/mortgages-real-estate/08/rental-property.asp [2/22/17]

3 - irs.gov/taxtopics/tc701.html [1/7/17]

4 - ajc.com/business/personal-finance/these-tax-breaks-can-help-make-homeownership-more-affordable/1rauoRXHzDmeWZVgbfmsoI [3/16/17]

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Have a Plan, Not Just a Stock Portfolio

Diversification still matters. One day, this bull market will end.

 

Provided by Jane Bourette

In the first quarter of 2017, the bull market seemed unstoppable. The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared past 20,000 and closed at all-time highs on 12 consecutive trading days. The Nasdaq Composite gained almost 10% in three months.1

An eight-year-old bull market is rare. This current bull is the second longest since the end of World War II; only the 1990-2000 bull run surpasses it. Since 1945, the average bull market has lasted 57 months.2

Everyone knows this bull market will someday end – but who wants to acknowledge that fact when equities have performed so well?

Overly exuberant investors might want to pay attention to the words of Sam Stovall, a longtime, bullish investment strategist and market analyst. Stovall, who used to work for Standard & Poor’s and now works for CFRA, has seen bull and bear markets come and go. As he recently noted to Fortune, epic bull markets usually end “with a bang and not a whimper. Like an incandescent light bulb, they tend to glow brightest just before they go out.”2

History is riddled with examples. Think of the dot-com bust of 2000, the credit crisis of 2008, and the skyrocketing inflation of 1974. These developments wiped out bull markets; this bull market could potentially end as dramatically as those three did.3

A 20% correction would take the Dow down into the 16,000s. Emotionally, that would feel like a much more significant market drop – after all, the last time the blue chips fell 4,000 points was during the 2007-09 bear market.4

  

Investors must prepare for the worst, even as they celebrate the best. A stock portfolio is not a retirement plan. A diversified investment mix of equity and fixed-income vehicles, augmented by a strong cash position, is wise in any market climate. Those entering retirement should have realistic assessments of the annual income they can withdraw from their savings and the potential returns from their invested assets.

Now is not the time to be greedy. With the markets near historic peaks, diversification still matters, and it can potentially provide a degree of financial insulation when stocks fall. Many investors are tempted to chase the return right now, but their real mission should be chasing their retirement objectives in line with the strategy defined in their retirement plans. In a sense, this record-setting bull market amounts to a distraction – a distraction worth celebrating, but a distraction, nonetheless.

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

  

Citations.

1 - money.cnn.com/2017/03/31/investing/trump-rally-first-quarter-wall-street/index.html [3/31/17]

2 - fortune.com/2017/03/09/stock-market-bull-market-longest/ [3/9/17]

3 - kiplinger.com/article/investing/T052-C008-S002-5-reasons-bull-markets-end.html [4/3/14]

4 - thebalance.com/stock-market-crash-of-2008-3305535 [4/3/17]

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In-Service Withdrawals from Employee Retirement Plans

You might be able to take money out of your 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan while still working.

Provided by Jane Bourette

If you withdraw money out of a workplace retirement plan in your fifties, will you be penalized for it? In most cases, the answer is yes. Distributions taken from a qualified retirement plan before age 59½ usually trigger a 10% IRS early withdrawal penalty. The key word here is “usually,” for there are ways to make these withdrawals with no IRS penalty, even while you are still working for your employer.1

You may have a strong reason to make such a withdrawal. Maybe you want the money now. Maybe you are tired of your plan’s limited choices and high fees and want to invest those assets in a different way. In fact, some of these withdrawals are made just so the assets can be transferred to an IRA. An IRA allows you many, many more investment options than the typical employer-sponsored retirement plan.1,2

You can avoid the 10% penalty through an in-service, non-hardship withdrawal. Some 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans permit such distributions for plan participants who are still working. You may be able to arrange one, but you must pay attention to the rules.2

Different plans have different requirements for these distributions. Some only permit them if the employee has worked for the company for at least five years. Others shorten that obligation to two years. A plan may only let employees have this option starting in the calendar year in which they turn 59½. Employees are sometimes unable to withdraw their whole account balance. Spousal consent, in writing, may also be required.2   

You need to know the mechanics of the distribution. Can you withdraw your earnings as well as your contributions? Can you withdraw any matching contributions your company has provided? Is there a dollar ceiling on this type of distribution? Does the plan itself penalize such withdrawals (as opposed to the IRS)? Finally, you will want to ascertain the timeline of how long it will take to distribute the assets.       

What are the potential drawbacks to doing this? When you take an early distribution from a 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan, you do so with a strong conviction that you are putting that money to better use or directing it into a better investment vehicle. There is always the chance that time could prove you wrong. Taking the money out of the plan may also mean losing out on future company matches. Also, while you can currently put up to $24,000 a year into a 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan starting at age 50, the annual contribution limit for a Roth or traditional IRA is only $6,500 once you turn 50.3

If you need the money for an emergency, taking a loan from your plan might be a better option. If you just take the funds out of the plan without arranging a direct rollover (trustee-to-trustee transfer) to an IRA, every dollar you pocket will be taxed because the IRS considers a lump-sum retirement plan withdrawal to be regular income.2,5     

Should your current workplace retirement plan prohibit in-service, non-hardship withdrawals, take heart: you can reach back and withdraw funds from 401(k), 403(b), and 457 accounts held at past employers after you turn 59½. So, if you have an old employer retirement plan account, you could go this route instead; though, the balance of that account might be relatively small.4

Speak to a financial professional before you do this. A trustee-to-trustee transfer is one way to do it: you never touch the money, and the funds can go straight from your plan into an IRA with no tax ramifications resulting from the transfer. That move is ideally made with a financial professional’s help.5

    

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

   

Citations.

1 - irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/retirement-topics-tax-on-early-distributions [8/25/16]

2 - titanfinancial.net/blog/how-to-rollover-401k-funds-while-still-working-for-employer [4/24/16]

3 - forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2016/10/27/irs-announces-2017-retirement-plans-contributions-limits-for-401ks-and-more/ [10/27/16]

4 - thebalance.com/what-age-can-funds-be-withdrawn-from-401k-2388807 [8/16/16]

5 - al.com/business/index.ssf/2017/01/avoid_this_costly_ira_rollover.html [1/4/17]

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Financial Thoughts for International Women’s Day

Every March 8, we reflect on the financial progress women have made (and still need to make).

Provided by Jane Bourette

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social and economic progress and cultural achievements of women worldwide.

There really is much to celebrate. Globally, the wealth of women is growing at a faster rate than the wealth of men. The increase was about 8% a year from 2010-15 according to Boston Consulting Group, a global business consulting firm. BCG sees women’s wealth expanding another 7% per year through 2020, with women controlling $72.1 trillion in assets three years from now. Domestically, Census Bureau data shows women now owning more than a third of U.S. businesses.1

Today, women have more opportunity to build wealth than they did generations ago, plus more information and resources to help them plan for that objective – but how many women are taking advantage of all this? More should, especially with their retirements in mind.

Even with all this progress, there may be a retirement crisis in the making. The Department of Labor notes that just 44% of the 63 million employed women in the U.S. participate in an employee retirement plan. Vanguard research shows that while the mean 401(k) account balance for men is around $123,000, it is only about $75,000 for women.2,3     

As the DoL points out, today’s average 65-year-old female has a life expectancy of 85. So, a retirement of 20 years (or longer, if a woman retires before age 65) will be normal. If a woman has but $75,000 in a workplace retirement plan – and perhaps, say, $100,000-150,000 in other investments or retirement accounts – will that be enough, along with Social Security and/or a pension, to sustain a comfortable 20- or 25-year retirement? Even if her accumulated assets remain invested in equities, this is doubtful, especially with inflation.2 

For single women, the risk is heightened. The Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey discovered that roughly 40% of unmarried American women have less than $1,000 in retirement savings.3

If that fact seems unsettling, so is a perception brought to light by the EBRI survey. Approximately 36% of unmarried females responding to the survey felt that they could retire adequately with less than $250,000 in retirement savings – again, a highly debatable assumption. That assumption might prove true for a retirement lasting 5-10 years, like the retirements that were common 30-40 years ago. With today’s longer lifespans, it might prove faulty. (In contrast, a majority of men surveyed by EBRI felt they should save at least $500,000 for their retirements.)3

The bottom line is that many women need to save more, invest more, and prepare more for retirement and its two biggest risks: longevity risk and inflation risk. Longevity risk is the risk of outliving your money. Inflation risk is the risk of gradually losing your purchasing power as consumer prices presumably rise with time.

A woman saving and investing for her future would do well to regularly consult a financial professional along the way. This may be a key step in the pursuit of her retirement goals; a step that could help reveal paths to attaining them.

 

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

     

Citations.

1 - time.com/money/4360112/womens-wealth-share-increase/ [6/7/16]

2 - dol.gov/sites/default/files/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/publications/women.pdf [9/15]

3 - cnbc.com/2016/03/18/women-more-likely-than-men-to-retire-poor.html [3/18/16]

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Tiny Social Security COLA, Possible Medicare Premium Hike

Retirees will get only a few dollars more per month in 2017. 

Provided by Jane Bourette

The average Social Security recipient will get a $5 raise next year. Yes, a whopping $5 per month. In 2017, Social Security’s mean monthly benefit is projected to rise – from the current $1,355 – by this scant amount, all because of low yearly inflation measured by the federal government.1,3,4

Social Security cost-of-living adjustments are tied to changes in the CPI-W. This is a version of the Consumer Price Index that measures inflation for urban wage earners and clerical workers. If that seems a bit incongruous to you, it also does to many senior advocacy groups. They would prefer that these cost-of-living adjustments be based on the CPI-E, a version of the CPI that tracks consumer costs for the elderly.1,2,3

The CPI-E gives more weight to increases in medical and housing costs than the CPI-W. If Social Security COLAs were linked to the CPI-E, the thinking goes, they might be greater. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics backs up this assertion, as healthcare costs alone advanced 5.1% in the 12 months ending in August.1,3

Medicare payments might jump for some seniors. While most Social Security recipients will see all of their 2017 “raise” go toward covering Medicare Part B premiums, some may not.1,4

Federal law governing Social Security limits annual Medicare Part B premium increases for 70% of Social Security recipients, with the other 30% left to shoulder most of the burden. Just who makes up that other 30%? Seniors who will be enrolling in Part B for the first time in 2017, Social Security recipients whose income already prompts them to pay higher Part B premiums, and people who currently receive Medicare benefits, but collect no Social Security.1,4

Those groups could see their Part B premiums rise 22% next year – $149 a month, according to the latest Medicare Trustees Report – unless the federal government acts fast. In late 2015, a large premium increase was reduced when the U.S. Treasury loaned $7 billion to Medicare.1,4

The tiny 2017 Social Security COLA at least beats expectations. Social Security’s Board of Trustees had forecast the mean monthly benefit to rise 0.2% in 2017, not even $3 a month for the average recipient. Monthly Social Security benefits have risen an average of 2.3% per year since 2000, even with no COLAs occurring in 2009, 2010, and 2016.1,3,4

Citations.

1 - time.com/money/4533881/social-security-2017-increase-cola-cost-of-living-adjustment/ [10/18/16]

2 - ssa.gov/oact/STATS/cpiw.html [10/19/16]

3 - fool.com/retirement/2016/09/24/heres-why-your-social-security-check-is-hardly-goi.aspx [9/24/16]

4 - usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2016/10/18/social-security-cola-medicare-premiums-cost-of-living/92051378/ [10/18/16]

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Why Life Insurance Matters

Besides the death benefit, it may also help you financially during your life.

Provided by Jane Bourette

As Bankrate.com noted, 43% of Americans have no life insurance. Some view it as optional; some have simply procrastinated when it comes to buying a policy. Others believe that they can't afford it.1

In reality, life insurance is cheap today. If you just want term life coverage – essentially, life insurance that you “rent” for X number of years – you may find it quite affordable wherever you live. Plugging in some sample variables, a little comparison shopping online reveals that a 40-year-old, non-smoking woman in excellent health who lives in New Hampshire would pay premiums of just $380-420 a year for a 20-year level term policy with a $500,000 death benefit. (She would have several providers to choose from.)2

If you choose permanent life insurance rather than term life, new possibilities emerge. In addition to a benefit for your heirs at your death, an insurance policy capable of building cash value gives you more capability to address financial needs during your lifetime.

Permanent life insurance allows you the opportunity to build cash value. The premiums on a whole, universal, or variable life policy are higher than for a term life policy, but there is a reason for that – as you pay into one of these policies, the policy, itself, accumulates cash value. That cash value grows without being taxed.3

In all probability, the cash value will continue to be available as long as you live. While it's true that some insurance companies have gone under, the reality is that very, very few do. They guarantee the death benefit and the viability of the policy as long as you keep making the premium payments.3

If you need a loan someday, a cash value life policy may give you an option. Some of these policies allow withdrawals of the cash value, meaning that you can borrow against the cash value once you have funded the policy with a sufficient amount of premiums. (You can even tap the cash value to pay the premiums, if you like.) Naturally, loans taken from the policy will reduce the death benefit amount. The policyholder faces no requirement to pay back the loan, but the loan is subject to interest.3

Many of these policies come with degrees of flexibility. You may be able to transfer some of the cash value into another insurance product with the death benefit unaffected.

The death benefit may do much to preserve your loved ones' quality of life. Life insurance death benefit proceeds are almost never taxed (only under rare circumstances does the IRS count them as gross income). So a permanent life policy will give your heirs money to address funeral and burial expenses and possible estate taxes, and those funds could also provide them with part of their inheritance.4 

Cash value life insurance also means permanent coverage as long as the policy is in force. The death benefit will not be readjusted or diminished if you fall ill, and if you buy a policy in your thirties or forties, you save money compared to those who purchase a policy after age 50. 

Permanent life insurance is also highly useful in estate planning. Several kinds of trusts may be used in conjunction with permanent life policies, such as irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs), special needs trusts, spendthrift trusts, simple living trusts, and more. Often, a trust can be named as beneficiary of a permanent life policy, an estate planning step toward an eventual financial benefit to heirs.5

First and foremost, life insurance matters for its death benefit – but those considering it should not overlook its financial utility in other situations during the course of life.

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

Citations.

1 - bankrate.com/financing/insurance/how-painful-is-the-life-insurance-talk/ [9/15/15]

2 - term4sale.com/cgi-bin/cqsl.cgi [8/9/16]

3 - investopedia.com/terms/c/cash-value-life-insurance.asp [8/9/16]

4 - irs.gov/Help-&-Resources/Tools-&-FAQs/FAQs-for-Individuals/Frequently-Asked-Tax-Questions-&-Answers/Interest,-Dividends,-Other-Types-of-Income/Life-Insurance-&-Disability-Insurance-Proceeds/Life-Insurance-&-Disability-Insurance-Proceeds [1/1/16]

5 - aol.com/article/2015/05/07/how-to-supercharge-trusts-with-life-insurance/21173793/ [5/7/15]

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Making Decisions About Life Insurance

Life insurance choices can be confusing.

Provided by Jane Bourette

Man is Mortal. That makes life insurance a little unique and interesting, doesn't it? We purchase things like health insurance, car insurance and home insurance, then hope we never have a need to use them. Life insurance is different because it's a widely accepted fact that, sooner or later, each one of us will die.

So many choices. When it comes to life insurance, there are many options. You may have heard terms like “whole life insurance,” “term insurance,” or “variable insurance,” but what do they all mean? And what are the differences? Well, first let me point out what they have in common: all life insurance policies provide payment to a beneficiary in the event of your death. Except for that basic tenet, the differences between policies can be major.

Whole life insurance. This type of insurance covers your entire life (not just a portion or a “term” of it). Insurance companies tend to be cautious when selecting their investments, so the benefits could be, potentially, lower than if you invested on your own. Whole life policies also tend to cost more than “term” policies. This is both because they grow what is known as “cash value,” and, after a certain period of time, you will be able to borrow against or withdraw from your whole life benefits.

Term insurance. Rather than covering your whole life, “term” insurance covers a pre-determined portion of your life. If you die within that term, your beneficiaries receive a death benefit. If not, generally, you get nothing. To put it simply, term insurance allows you to purchase more coverage for less money. Basically, you are betting on the probability of your death occurring within that specified “term.”

Variable life insurance. Variable life insurance is a permanent insurance. Unlike whole life insurance, however, variable insurance allows you to invest the cash value of your policy into “subaccounts” (which can include money market funds, bonds or stocks). Variable insurance offers a bit of control, as the value and benefit depend upon the performance of the subaccounts you select. That means there could be significant risk involved, though, since the performance of your subaccounts cannot be guaranteed.

Universal life insurance. With universal insurance, it all comes down to flexibility. It is permanent life insurance that provides access to cash values, which, over time, build up tax-deferred. You can choose the amount of coverage you feel is appropriate, and you retain the ability to increase or decrease that amount as your needs change (subject to minimums and requirements). You also have some flexibility in determining how much of your premium goes toward insurance, and how much is used within the policy's investment element.

So, which is right for you? Many factors come into play when deciding what type of life insurance will best suit your needs. The best thing to do is speak with a trusted and qualified financial professional who can assist you in looking at all the factors and help you to choose the policy that will work best for you.

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

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The A, B, C, & D's of Medicare

Breaking down the basics & what each part covers.

Provided by Jane Bourette

 

Whether your 65th birthday is on the horizon or decades away, you should understand the parts of Medicare – what they cover, and where they come from.

Parts A & B: Original Medicare. America created a national health insurance program for seniors in 1965 with two components. Part A is hospital insurance. It provides coverage for inpatient stays at medical facilities. It can also help cover the costs of hospice care, home health care, and nursing home care – but not for long, and only under certain parameters.1

Seniors are frequently warned that Medicare will only pay for a maximum of 100 days of nursing home care (provided certain conditions are met). Part A is the part that does so. Under current rules, you pay $0 for days 1-20 of skilled nursing facility (SNF) care under Part A. During days 21-100, a $161 daily coinsurance payment may be required of you.2

If you stop receiving SNF care for 30 days, you need a new 3-day hospital stay to qualify for further nursing home care under Part A. If you can go 60 days in a row without SNF care, the clock resets: you are once again eligible for up to 100 days of SNF benefits via Part A.2

Part B is medical insurance and can help pick up some of the tab for physical therapy, physician services, expenses for durable medical equipment (scooters, wheelchairs), and other medical services such as lab tests and varieties of health screenings.1

Part B isn't free. You pay monthly premiums to get it and a yearly deductible (plus 20% of costs). The premiums vary according to the Medicare recipient's income level; in 2016, most Medicare recipients are paying $121.80 a month for their Part B coverage. The current yearly deductible is $166. Some people automatically get Part B, but others have to sign up for it.3

Part C: Medicare Advantage plans. Insurance companies offer these Medicare-approved plans. Part C plans offer seniors all the benefits of Part A and Part B and more: many feature prescription drug coverage and vision and dental benefits. To enroll in a Part C plan, you need have Part A and Part B coverage in place. To keep up your Part C coverage, you must keep up your payment of Part B premiums as well as your Part C premiums.4

To say not all Part C plans are alike is an understatement. Provider networks, premiums, copays, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket spending limits can all vary widely, so shopping around is wise. During Medicare's annual Open Enrollment Period (Oct. 15 - Dec. 7), seniors can choose to switch out of Original Medicare to a Part C plan or vice versa; although any such move is much wiser with a Medigap policy already in place.5

How does a Medigap plan differ from a Part C plan? Medigap plans (also called Medicare Supplement plans) emerged to address the gaps in Part A and Part B coverage. If you have Part A and Part B already in place, a Medigap policy can pick up some copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles for you. Some Medigap policies can even help you pay for medical care outside the United States. You have to pay Part B premiums in addition to Medigap plan premiums to keep a Medigap policy in effect. These plans no longer offer prescription drug coverage; in fact, they have been sold without drug coverage since 2006.6

Part D: prescription drug plans. While Part C plans commonly offer prescription drug coverage, insurers also sell Part D plans as a standalone product to those with Original Medicare. As per Medigap and Part C coverage, you need to keep paying Part B premiums in addition to premiums for the drug plan to keep Part D coverage going.7

Every Part D plan has a formulary, a list of medications covered under the plan. Most Part D plans rank approved drugs into tiers by cost. The good news is that Medicare's website will determine the best Part D plan for you. Go to medicare.gov/find-a-plan to start your search; enter your medications and the website will do the legwork for you.8

Part C & Part D plans are assigned ratings. Medicare annually rates these plans (one star being worst; five stars being best) according to member satisfaction, provider network(s), and quality of coverage. As you search for a plan at medicare.gov, you also have a chance to check out the rankings.9

  

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

 

Citations.

1 - mymedicarematters.org/coverage/parts-a-b/whats-covered/ [6/13/16]

2 - medicare.gov/coverage/skilled-nursing-facility-care.html [6/13/16]

3 - medicare.gov/your-medicare-costs/part-b-costs/part-b-costs.html [6/13/16]

4 - tinyurl.com/hbll34m [6/13/16]

5 - medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/when-can-i-join-a-health-or-drug-plan/when-can-i-join-a-health-or-drug-plan.html#collapse-3192 [6/13/16]

6 - medicare.gov/supplement-other-insurance/medigap/whats-medigap.html [6/13/16]

7 - ehealthinsurance.com/medicare/part-d-cost [6/13/16]

8 - medicare.gov/part-d/coverage/part-d-coverage.html [6/13/16]

9 - medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/when-can-i-join-a-health-or-drug-plan/five-star-enrollment/5-star-enrollment-period.html [6/13/16]

 

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Getting Your Financial Paperwork in Good Order

 Help make things easier for your loved ones when you leave this world.

Provided by Jane Bourette

 

Who wants to leave this world with their financial affairs in good order? We all do, right? None of us wants to leave a collection of financial mysteries for our spouse or our children to solve.

What we want and what we do can differ, however. Many heirs spend days, weeks, or months searching for a decedent's financial and legal documents. They may even discover a savings bond, a certificate of deposit, or a life insurance policy years after their loved one passes.

Certainly, you want to spare your heirs from this predicament. One helpful step is to create a “final file.” Maybe it is an actual accordion or manila folder; maybe it is a file on a computer desktop; or maybe it is secured within an online vault. The form matters less than the function. The function this file will serve is to provide your heirs with the documentation and direction they need to help them settle your estate.

What should be in your “final file?” Definitely a copy of your will and copies of any trust documents. Place a durable power of attorney and a health care proxy in there too, as this folder's contents may need to be accessed before you die.

Copies of insurance policies should go into the “final file” – not only your life insurance policy, but home and auto coverage. A list of all the financial accounts in your name should be kept in the file – and, to be complete, why not include sample account statements with account numbers, or, at least, usernames and passwords, so that these accounts can be easily accessed online.

Social Security benefit information should also be compiled. That information will be essential for your spouse (and, perhaps, for a former spouse). If you happen to receive a pension from a former employer, your heirs need to know the particulars about that.

They should also be able to access documentation pertaining to real estate you own. If you have a safe deposit box, at least one of your heirs should know where the key is – otherwise, your heirs will have to pay a locksmith, directly or indirectly, to open it. Along those lines, the combination to a home safe should be disclosed. If you have trust issues with some of your heirs, you can only disclose such information to the trusted ones or to an attorney.

Contact information should be inside the “final file” as well. Your heirs will need to look up the email address or phone number of the financial professionals you have consulted, any attorneys you have turned to for estate planning or business advice, and any insurance professionals with whom you have maintained relationships.

Other documentation to include: credit card information, vehicle titles, and cemetery/burial information. Be sure to include your social media and e-commerce passwords for sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Amazon, and eBay. Some social media sites may require a copy of your death certificate or obituary notice before allowing any other party to access your profile. Furthermore, you may also wish to leave a letter or note instructing your heirs on how the world should be notified of your death.1

Your heirs will want to supplement your “final file” with contributions of their own. Perhaps the most important supplement will be your death certificate. A funeral home may tell your heirs that they will need only a few copies. In reality, they may need several – or more – if your business or financial situation is particularly involved.

A “final file” may save both money & time. If documentation is scant or unavailable, settling an estate can be a prolonged affair. As National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys president Howard Krooks told Reuters, “It could be six months or longer if you don't have the paperwork in order.” In the worst-case scenario, probate consumes 5% or more of an estate.2 

One other important step may save your heirs money & time. If you add the name of an heir to a key bank account, that heir can pay a hospital bill or make a mortgage payment on your behalf without undue delay.2   

Be sure to tell your heirs about your “final file.” They need to know that you have created it; they need to know where it is. It will do no good if you are the only one who knows those things when you die.

You can compile your “final file” gradually. The next account statement, income payment, or real estate or insurance newsletter than comes into your inbox or mailbox can be your cue to tackle and scratch off that particular item from the “final file” to-do list. Yes, it takes work to create a “final file” – but you could argue that it is necessary work, and your heirs will thank you for your effort.

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

Citations.

1 - marketwatch.com/story/13-steps-to-organizing-your-accounts-and-assets-2016-03-03 [3/3/16]

2 - reuters.com/article/us-retirement-death-folder-idUSKBN0FK1RW20140715 [7/15/14]

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Should You Downsize for Retirement?

Some retirees save a great deal of money by doing so; others do not.

Provided by Jane Bourette

You want to retire, and you own a large home that is nearly or fully paid off. The kids are gone, but the upkeep costs haven't fallen. Should you retire and keep your home? Or sell your home and retire? Maybe it's time to downsize.

Lower housing expenses could put more cash in your pocket. If your home isn't paid off yet, have you considered how much money is going toward the home loan? When you took out your mortgage, your lender likely wanted your monthly payment to amount to no more than 28% of your total gross income, or no more than 36% of your total monthly debt repayments. Those are pretty standard metrics in the mortgage industry.1

What percentage of your gross income are you devoting to your mortgage payments today? Even if your home loan is 15 or 20 years old, you still may be devoting a significant part of your gross income to it. When you move to a smaller home, your mortgage expenses may lessen (or disappear) and your cash flow may greatly increase  

You might even be able to buy a smaller home with cash (if finances permit) and cut your tax liability. Optionally, that smaller home could be in a state or region with lower income taxes and a lower cost of living.

You could capitalize on some home equity. Why not convert some home equity into retirement income? If you were forced into early retirement by some corporate downsizing, you might have a sudden and pressing need for retirement capital, another reason to sell that home you bought decades ago and head for a smaller one.   

The lifestyle reasons to downsize (or not). Maybe your home is too much to keep up, or maybe you don't want to climb stairs anymore. Maybe a condo or an over-55 community appeals to you. Maybe you want to be where it seldom snows.

On the other hand, you may want and need the familiarity of your current home and your immediate neighborhood (not to mention the friends close by). 

Sometimes retirees underestimate the cost of downsizing. Even the logistics can be expensive. As Kiplinger notes, just packing up and moving a two-bedroom condominium's worth of furniture will cost about $1,500 if you are resettling locally. If you are sending it across the country, the journey could take $5,000 or more. If you can't sell or move everything, the excess may go into storage, and the price tag on that may be well over $100 a month. In selling your home, you will probably pay commissions to both your agent and the buyer's agent that add up to 6% of the sale price.2

Some people want to retire and then sell their home, but it may be wiser to sell a home and then retire if the real estate market slows. If you sell sooner instead of later, you can always rent until you find a smaller house that could save you thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars over time.

Run the numbers as accurately as you think you can before you make a move. Downsizing always seems to have a hidden cost or two, but for many retirees, it can open a door to long-term savings. Other seniors may find it cheaper to age in place.

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

Citations.

1 - nerdwallet.com/blog/mortgages/two-ways-to-determine-how-much-house-you-can-afford/ [2/3/16]

2 - kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T010-C022-S002-downsizing-costs-add-up.html [4/1/16]

 

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Should You File Jointly, Or Not?

For many married couples, filing jointly is a good idea, but there are exceptions.

Provided by Jane Bourette

 

Ninety-five percent of married couples file joint federal tax returns. Filing jointly can be convenient. Frequently, there's a financial advantage, but that does not mean it should be done without consideration.1

Years ago, there was less incentive to file jointly. That was because the “marriage penalty” for doing so was effectively greater. There is no written “marriage penalty” in the Internal Revenue Code, but, in the past, income tax brackets were structured a bit differently and spouses having similar annual incomes sometimes paid more taxes by filing jointly than single taxpayers did.

There are many good reasons to file jointly. Nearly all of them involve saving money.

Joint filing may give you an effective tax break right off the bat. Currently, married taxpayers who file separately face the 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6% income tax brackets at lower income thresholds than other unmarried taxpayers.2

Joint filers can claim significant tax credits that marrieds filing separately cannot. If you want to claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, the Elderly or Disabled Credit, or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), you have to file jointly. Joint filing also gives you the potential to claim the full Child Tax Credit, rather than a reduced one.3

Deductions, too, decrease when you file separately as a married couple. Standard deductions fall significantly. Phase-out ranges affect itemized deductions, and some itemized deductions are unavailable for married couples who do not file jointly. Couples who file separate 1040s can only deduct 50% of the capital gains losses joint filers can. In addition, if one spouse elects to itemize deductions, so must the other (there must be a separate Schedule A for each spouse). The spouse with fewer deductions has no ability to use the standard deduction to lower his or her taxable income.2,3

Joint filing even helps you with regard to the Alternative Minimum Tax. When you file separately as a married couple, your AMT exemption falls by 50%. So you may be more susceptible to the AMT if you file separately. If the AMT affects you, you will find many federal tax deductions reduced or unavailable to you.3

Do you live in a community property state? If you do, you may know that state tax law defines what is considered separately held or jointly held property. If you want to itemize deductions in a community property state, the paperwork can be onerous.3

More of your Social Security benefits may be taxed if you file separately. Social Security gives you a “base exemption,” an income threshold above which Social Security benefits may be taxable. The base exemption for married couples filing jointly is $32,000, meaning that if 50% of the Social Security benefits you receive in a tax year plus your other income in a tax year exceeds $32,000, taxes may apply. The base exemption for married couples filing separately who live together at any time during the tax year is $0. It improves to $25,000 for married couples filing separately who live apart for an entire year.4

So why would you not file jointly when married? In certain circumstances, filing separately may be wiser.

Maybe you do not trust your spouse financially. If your spouse is a tax cheat or interprets federal tax law very loosely, filing jointly could prove hazardous in the case of an audit or other troubles. Both spouses must sign a joint return, meaning that both spouses are legally responsible for all taxes, penalties, and fines linked to that return. Yes, an innocent spouse may be offered tax protection by the IRS, but that innocence must be proven.2,3

Maybe you or your spouse have large out-of-pocket medical expenses. If so, and if the spouse contending with such bills earns much less than the other, there may be merit in filing separately. By doing so, the spouse with far less income might have an opportunity to meet the 10% AGI threshold needed to itemize medical expenses. (The 7.5% AGI threshold for itemizing these costs is still in place for taxpayers age 65 and older.)2

Maybe you are separating or divorcing. If that is the case, then it may seem only natural to begin filing separately while still married. Doing so now may lessen the chance of the two of you wading through tax issues in the aftermath of a split.

If you are unsure about whether to file jointly or singly, you can ask a tax professional for his or her opinion. Or, that professional can look at last year's return and run the numbers for you. Most couples find that filing jointly works out best, but there are exceptions.

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

Citations.

1 - forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2016/01/26/married-filing-joint-tax-returns-irs-helps-some-couples-with-offshore-accounts/ [2/6/16]

2 - abcnews.go.com/Business/filing-taxes-jointly-good-idea/story?id=22504248 [2/17/14]

3 - foxbusiness.com/features/2015/03/06/should-couples-file-taxes-separately-or-jointly-which-is-best-for.html [3/6/15]

4 - irs.com/articles/how-are-social-security-benefits-taxed [2/11/16]

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Lottery Is No Retirement Plan

Pay yourself first instead, with your future in mind.  

Provided by Jane Bourette

Powerball fever swept across America last week, with a record jackpot of $1.5 billion eventually being split by three winners in the January 13 drawing. Millions lined up for lottery tickets, hoping to realize their dreams of being rich, independent, and carefree.1,2

This infinitesimal chance at massive wealth was certainly alluring – to too many, more alluring than the practical steps that can be taken in pursuit of personal wealth and retirement security.

The passion for Powerball defied logic. It may have been a commentary on our wishful thinking, and on the lack of financial literacy in America as well.

As Creighton University professor Brad Klontz remarked to CNBC, “A lot of individuals who are not saving for their retirement are standing in line to buy a Powerball ticket. It's a lot more seductive than instituting a savings plan.”1

On January 13, a Powerball ticket buyer had a 1-in-292-million chance to win the big prize. In comparison, the odds of someone being killed by a falling vending machine within the next 365 days are 1 in 112 million, and the odds of a person being struck by both lightning and a meteorite during their lifetime are 1 in 210 million.2

When the Powerball jackpot reached $1.3 billion last week, a widely circulated Internet meme claimed that the jackpot could end poverty, stating that every American would get $4.3 million if it were divided equally among the population. This was passed along as truth rather than colossally bad math – it would only apply if there were 300 Americans. Since there are roughly 300 million Americans, divvying up the $1.3 billion across the entire U.S. population would give each of us $4.33, give or take a few cents – enough to buy a flavored latte.3

What if we simply saved $4.33 per day, or more? Our financial lives might take a turn for the better.

Usually, wealth is not a matter of fate or luck. We can all take practical steps toward financial freedom, and even if we do not end up rich, those steps may improve our personal finances and retirement prospects. 

First, spend less than what you make. Two or three percent less, 5% less, 10% less – whatever the number, it must be calculated from a comparison of your monthly income versus your monthly budget. That comparison may take a half an hour, but it is time well spent. Size up the money coming into your household per month with the money going out of it per month, and set a percentage that you would like to save every month. In effect, you will be paying yourself X dollars a month – and paying yourself, rather than your creditors, is a fundamental move for financial independence.

Two, direct these savings into investment accounts as well as savings accounts. It is vital to build up savings so that you can have an emergency fund – a good, strong emergency fund amounts to several months' worth of salary. Another portion of the money can go into retirement savings accounts, preferably to be invested in equities. Yes, 2016 has started poorly on Wall Street, but one bad month (or year) is not the historical norm for the market.

Three, cut down bad debts. There are some “good debts” in life – debts that we take on in pursuit of a worthy outcome, such as a home loan or an education loan. Bad debts outnumber them, and the average credit card statement will note many. Some financial professionals and consumer advocates will tell you to try and pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first, then the one with the next highest interest rate, and so on; others will tell you to eliminate the smallest debt first and work your way up to the largest. One way or the other, you want less debt and you want to pay off any credit card balances in full each month.

Four, chat with a financial professional to determine your money goals. When will you have enough savings to retire? When should you claim Social Security, and how long should you keep working? How much monthly income might you need when you are retired? Most people retire without any answers to these questions, only guesses. It is important to know not only what you are doing, but also where you are going – and through a long-run saving and investing strategy, you can set objectives and measure your progress toward them over time.

The fantasy of receiving great wealth with no effort inspires people to play the lottery and try other forms of gambling. The reality is that saving for retirement takes planning and commitment. While some may not want to acknowledge this reality, those who do may find themselves making financial strides as others struggle.

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

     

Citations.

1 - cnbc.com/2016/01/14/lost-the-powerball-now-its-time-to-really-focus-on-finances.html [1/14/16]

2 - latino.foxnews.com/latino/money/2016/01/13/what-powerball-chances-likelier-hit-both-meteorite/ [1/13/16]

3 - cnet.com/news/can-powerball-end-poverty-lottery-meme-fails-to-check-the-math/ [1/12/16]

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Hybrid Insurance Products with Long-Term Care Riders

With the cost of long term care insurance rising, they are gaining attention.

Provided by Jane Bourette

Could these products answer a financial dilemma? Many high net worth households worry about potential long term care expenses, but they are reluctant or unable to buy long term care insurance. According to a 2014 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, less than 8% of U.S. households have purchased LTCI.1

Costs of traditional LTCI policies are rising, and then you have the “use it or lose it” aspect of the coverage: if the insured party dies abruptly, all those insurance premiums will have been paid for nothing. If the household is wealthy enough, maybe it can forego buying a LTC policy and absorb some or all of possible LTC costs using existing assets.

Are there alternatives allowing some flexibility here? Yes. Recently, more attention has come to hybrid LTC policies and hybrid LTC annuities. These are hybrid insurance products: life insurance policies and annuities with an option to buy a long term care insurance rider for additional cost. They are gaining favor: sales of hybrid LTC policies alone rose by 24% in 2012, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance's 2014 LTCi Sourcebook. Typically, the people most interested in these hybrid products are a) wealthy couples concerned about the increasing costs of traditional LTCI coverage, b) annuity holders outside of their surrender period who need long term care coverage. Being able to draw on LTCI if the moment arises can be a relief.2

They can be implemented with a lump sum. Often, assets from a CD or a savings account are used to fund the annuity or life insurance policy (the policy is often single-premium). In the case of a hybrid LTC policy, the bulk of the policy's death benefit can be tapped and used as LTC benefits if the need arises. LTC benefits generated can end up equaling 400% of the initial deposit (or even more). In the case of a hybrid LTC annuity, the money poured into the annuity is usually directed into a fixed-income investment, with the immediate or deferred annuity payments increasing (possibly even doubling or tripling, in some cases) if the annuity holder requires LTC.2,3

What if the annuity or policy holder passes away suddenly, or dies with LTC benefits left over? If that happens with a hybrid LTC policy, you still have a life insurance policy in place. His or her heirs will receive a tax-free death benefit. It is also possible in many cases to surrender the policy and even get the initial premium back (what is known as a return of premium rider). The annuity holder, of course, names a beneficiary – and if he or she doesn't need long term care, there is still an immediate or deferred income stream from the annuity contract.3

There are some trade-offs for the LTC coverage. Costs of these products are usually defined by the insurer as “guaranteed” – LTCI premiums are fixed, and the value of the policy or annuity will never be less than the lump sum it was established with (though a small surrender charge might be levied in the first few years of the annuity). In exchange for that, some hybrid LTC policies accumulate no cash value, and some hybrid LTC annuity products offer less than fair market returns.4

Tax-free withdrawals may be used to pay for LTC expenses. Thanks to the Pension Protection Act of 2006, the following privileges were granted regarding hybrid insurance products:

*All claims paid directly from appreciated hybrid LTC annuities and hybrid LTC policies are income tax free so long as they are used to pay qualified long term care expenses. In using the cash value to cover LTC expenses, you are not triggering a taxable event.2,4

*Owners of traditional life insurance policies and annuities are now allowed to make 1035 exchanges into appropriate hybrid LTC products without incurring taxable gains.2

If you shop for a hybrid insurance product, shop carefully. The first hybrid LTC policy or hybrid LTC annuity you lay eyes on may not be the cheapest, so look around before you leap and make sure the product is reasonably tailored to your financial objectives and needs. Remember that annuity contracts are not “guaranteed” by any federal agency; the “guarantee” is a pledge from the insurer. If you decide to back out of these arrangements, you need to know that some insurers will not return your premiums. Also, keep in mind that over the long run, the return on these hybrid products will likely not match the return on a conventional fixed annuity or LTCI policy; actuarially speaking, when interest rates rise there is no incentive for the insurer to adjust the fixed income rate of return in response.2,4 

Are hybrid insurance products for you? If you can't qualify medically for LTCI but still want coverage, they may represent worthy options that you can start with a lump sum. You might want to talk to your insurance or financial consultant about the possibility.  

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

Citations.

1 - rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2014/rwjf410654 [2/14]

2 - forbes.com/sites/jamiehopkins/2014/04/21/new-and-unexpected-ways-to-fund-long-term-care-expenses/ [4/21/14]

3 - fa-mag.com/news/hybrid-ltc-insurance-gains-traction-among-the-affluent-17070.html [2/25/14]

4 - kitces.com/blog/is-the-ltc-cost-guarantee-of-todays-hybrid-lifeltc-or-annuityltc-insurance-policies-just-a-mirage/ [10/16/13

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Behind on Your Retirement Savings?

What steps could you take to catch up?

Provided by Jane Bourette & Christi Kemprecos

 

If life has not allowed you to build substantial retirement savings, what can you do to improve your retirement prospects? Here are some suggestions.

Play catch-up. If at all possible, take advantage of the catch-up contributions the IRS allows you to make to IRAs and other retirement accounts starting in the year in which you turn 50. For example, this year a worker age 50 or older can put $24,000 into a 401(k) account compared with $18,000 for someone younger.1

Get the match. If your employer matches your retirement plan contributions to some degree when you contribute to a workplace retirement plan at a certain level, you should make every effort to get the match and take advantage of what amounts to an offer of free money.

Work a little longer. More years contributing to retirement accounts means additional inflows into those accounts, and additional growth and compounding for those assets. It means you claim Social Security later, resulting in a larger monthly benefit. It also leaves you with fewer years of retirement that you must fund.

Alternately, think about working a little early in retirement. It is true, your Social Security benefits could be docked as a result – but the tradeoff might be worthwhile.

If you are a Social Security recipient and younger than full retirement age in 2015, Social Security will withhold $1 in benefits for every $2 you earn over $15,720. This is called the Social Security earnings test. Social Security essentially balances this penalty out, however, by boosting your benefit as you reach full retirement age – and for that matter, you can earn as much as you want at full retirement age or later with no reduction to your benefits.2

If you retire at 62 and make $25,000 a year through a part-time job you hold during the first five years of your retirement, you are putting a dent in any Social Security income you receive until age 67 – but that $25,000 yearly income can represent $25,000 you do not have to withdraw annually from your retirement savings. You could also invest some of that income, and the annual yield on your investment could exceed annual consumer inflation. Not a bad move in many eyes.

Think about long-run growth investing. One of the biggest risks retirees face is the erosion of purchasing power. Some seniors invest in such a risk-averse way that they lose ground versus even minor inflation. Keeping a foot (or both feet) in the market may be essential if your retirement nest egg is small – not just because it needs to grow, but because it will need to grow faster than inflation.    

Whittle down your debt. As Ben Franklin wrote in the 1758 edition of Poor Richard's Almanac, “A penny saved is a penny got” (he never actually said “a penny saved is a penny earned”). While you may be thinking “mortgage,” reducing your credit card debt can produce the savings you want now. So can eliminating certain household expenses. Speaking of family expenses...3

Tell your adult children that you will not be supporting them. If you desperately need to catch up on your retirement savings effort, the last thing you want to do is provide your kids with a financial lifeline. You have 15 years or less until retirement; they may have 40 or 45. Helping them pay off their college loans may feel like the right thing to do for them, but it is not the right thing to do on behalf of your retirement.

Take one crucial step before you pursue any of these options. Turn to a financial professional to see what kind of retirement income you may need to live comfortably. (Any such consultation should include a Social Security analysis.) When you retire, having adequate income becomes just as important as having adequate savings.

 

 Citations.

1 - money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2014/12/01/how-to-max-out-your-retirement-accounts-in-2015 [12/1/14]

2 - ssa.gov/retire2/whileworking2.htm [7/2/15]

3 - forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/08/18/a-penny-saved-was-never-a-penny-earned/ [8/18/14]

   _______________________________________________________________

A Look at Target-Date Funds

Are these low-maintenance investments vital to retirement planning, or overrated?

Provided by Jane Bourette & Christi Kemprecos

Do target-date funds represent smart choices, or just convenient ones? These funds have become ubiquitous in employer-sponsored retirement plans and their popularity has soared in the past decade. According to Morningstar, net inflows into target-date funds tripled during 2007-13. Asset management analysts Cerulli Associates project that 63% of all 401(k) contributions will be directed into TDFs by 2018.1,2

Fans of target-date funds praise how they have simplified investing for retirement. Still, they have a central problem: their leading attribute may also be their biggest drawback.

How do TDFs work? The idea behind a target-date fund is to make investing and saving for retirement as low-maintenance as possible. TDFs feature gradual, automatic adjustment of asset allocations in light of an expected retirement date, along with diversification across a wide range of asset classes. An investor can simply “set it and forget it” and make ongoing contributions to the fund with the confidence that its balance of equity and fixed-income investments will become more risk-averse as retirement nears.

In a sense, a TDF starts out as one style of fund for an investor and mutates into another. When he or she is young, it is an aggressive growth fund, with as much as 90% of the inflows assigned to equities. By the time the envisioned retirement date rolls around, the allocation to equities and fixed-income investments may be split closer to 50/50.2

With such long time horizons, TDFs are truly buy-and-hold investments. That has definite appeal for people who lack the time or inclination to take a hands-on approach to retirement planning. TDFs also usually have low turnover, with some distributions taxed as long-term capital gains.1

Are pre-retirees relying too heavily on TDFs? Putting retirement investing on “autopilot” can have a downside and that may be worth an alarm or two, given Vanguard's forecast that 58% of its retirement plan participants (and 80% of its new plan participants) will have all of their retirement plan assets in TDFs by 2018. So in noting the merits of TDFs, we must also look at their demerits.2

The asset allocation of a target-date fund is not exactly dynamic. As it is geared to a time horizon rather than current market conditions, TDF investors may wince when a severe bear market arrives it could be a case of “set it & regret it. They will need the patience to ride such downturns out. If they sell, they defeat the purpose of owning their TDF in the first place.

Additionally, some investors are conservative well before they reach retirement age. A fortysomething risk-averse investor might not like having a clear majority of his or her TDF assets held in equities.

An investor will not be able to perform any tax loss harvesting with assets invested in a TDF (that is, selling “losers” in a portfolio to offset gains made by “winners”) and if all of his or her retirement savings happen to be in the TDF, you have to pull money out of the TDF to put it in other types of investments that might generate tax savings.1

Fees can be high, because most TDFs are funds of funds, that is, multiple mutual funds brought together into one giant one. So this may mean two layers of fees.2

The glide path is very important. All TDFs have a glide path, the glide path being the rate or pace at which the asset allocation changes from aggressive toward conservative. With some TDFs, the glide path ends at retirement and the asset allocation approaches 100% cash. With others, the fund keeps gliding past a retirement date with the result that the retiree maintains a foot in the equities market potentially very useful in the face of longevity risk, or as it is popularly known, the risk of outliving your money. The glide path of the TDF should be agreeable to the investor. The problem is that an investor may agree with it more at age 40 than at age 60.1

A new feature may make TDFs even more appealing. In October 2014, the IRS and the Treasury Department permitted TDFs held in 401(k) plans to add a lifetime income option. That would let a TDF investor receive a pension-like income beginning at the fund's target date. Companies sponsoring 401(k)s can even elect to make such TDFs the default plan investment; that is, employees who wanted to direct their money into other investment vehicles would have to inform their employers that they were opting out.2

Younger retirement savers should take a look at TDFs. If you are not enrolled in one already, you may want to weigh their pros and cons. While not exactly “the cure” for America's retirement savings problem, they are deservedly popular.    

Citations.

1 - money.usnews.com/money/blogs/the-smarter-mutual-fund-investor/2015/04/07/3-questions-to-ask-before-choosing-target-date-funds [4/7/15]

2 - time.com/money/3616433/retirement-income-401k-new-solution/ [12/5/14]

3 - nextavenue.org/article/2015-02/target-date-funds-pros-and-cons [2/8/15]

 

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

 

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An Estate Planning Checklist

Things to check & double-check as you prepare.

Provided by Jane Bourette & Christina Kemprecos

Estate planning is a task that people tend to put off, as any discussion of “the end” tends to be off-putting. However, those who die without their financial affairs in good order risk leaving their heirs some significant problems along with their legacies.

No matter what your age, here are some things you may want to accomplish this year with regard to estate planning.

Create a will if you don’t have one. It is startling how many people never get around to this, even to the point of buying a will-in-a-box at a stationery store or setting one up online.

How many Americans lack wills? The budget legal service website RocketLawyer conducts an annual survey on this topic, and its 2014 survey determined that 51% of Americans aged 55-64 and 62% of Americans aged 45-54 don’t have them in place.1

A solid will drafted with the guidance of an estate planning attorney may cost you more than a will-in-a-box. It may prove to be some of the best money you ever spend. A valid will may save your heirs from some expensive headaches linked to probate and ambiguity.

Complement your will with related documents. Depending on your estate planning needs, this could include some kind of trust (or multiple trusts), durable financial and medical powers of attorney, a living will and other items.

You should know that a living will is not the same thing as a durable medical power of attorney. A living will makes your wishes known when it comes to life-prolonging medical treatments. A durable medical power of attorney authorizes another party to make medical decisions for you (including end-of-life decisions) if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make these decisions. Estate planning attorneys usually recommend that you have both on hand.2

Review your beneficiary designations. Who is the beneficiary of your IRA? How about your 401(k)? How about your annuity or life insurance policy? If your answer is along the lines of “It’s been a while,” then be sure to check the documents and verify who the designated beneficiary is.

You need to make sure that your beneficiary decisions agree with your will. Many people don’t know that beneficiary designations take priority over will bequests when it comes to retirement accounts, life insurance, and other “non-probate” assets. As an example, if you named a child now estranged from you as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, he or she is in line to receive that death benefit when you die, even if your will requests that it go to someone else.3   

Time has a way of altering our beneficiary decisions. This is why some estate planners recommend that you review your beneficiaries every two years.

In some states, you can authorize transfer-on-death or payable-on-death designations for certain assets or accounts. This is a tactic against probate: a TOD designation can arrange the transfer of ownership of an account or assets immediately to a designated beneficiary at your death.3

If you don’t want the beneficiary designation you have made to control the transfer of a particular non-probate asset, you can change the beneficiary designation or select one of two other options, neither of which may be wise from a tax standpoint.

One, you can remove the beneficiary designation on the account or asset. Then its disposition will be governed by your will, as it will pass to your estate when you die.

Two, you can make your estate the beneficiary of the account or asset. If your estate inherits a tax-deferred retirement account, it will have to be probated, and if you pass away before age 70½, it will have to be emptied within five years. If you name your estate as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, you open the door to “creditors and predators” – they have the opportunity to lay claim to the death benefit.3,4

Create asset and debt lists. Does this sound like a lot of work? It may not be. You should provide your heirs with an asset and debt “map” they can follow should you pass away, so that they will be aware of the little details of your wealth.

One list should detail your real property and personal property assets. It should list any real estate you own, and its worth; it should also list personal property items in your home, garage, backyard, warehouse, storage unit or small business that have notable monetary worth.

Another list should detail your bank and brokerage accounts, your retirement accounts, and any other forms of investment plus any insurance policies. 

A third list should detail your credit card debts, your mortgage and/or HELOC, and any other outstanding consumer loans.

Consider gifting to reduce the size of your taxable estate. The lifetime individual federal gift, estate and generation-skipping tax exclusion amount is now unified and set at $5.34 million for 2014. This means an individual can transfer up to $5.34 million during or after his or her life tax-free (and that amount will rise as the years go by). For a married couple, the unified credit is currently set at $10.68 million.5

Think about consolidating your “stray” IRAs and bank accounts. This could make one of your lists a little shorter. Consolidation means fewer account statements, less paperwork for your heirs and fewer administrative fees to bear.

Let your heirs know the causes and charities that mean the most to you. Have you ever seen the phrase, “In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to…” Well, perhaps you would like to suggest donations to this or that charity when you pass. Write down the associations you belong to and the organizations you support. Some non-profits do offer accidental life insurance benefits to heirs of members.

Select a reliable executor. Who have you chosen to administer your estate when the time comes? The choice may seem obvious, but consider a few factors. Is there a stark possibility that your named executor might die before you do? How well does he or she comprehend financial matters or the basic principles of estate law? What if you change your mind about the way you want your assets distributed – can you easily communicate those wishes to that person?

Your executor should have copies of your will, forms of power of attorney, any kind of healthcare proxy or living will, and any trusts you create. In fact, any of your loved ones referenced in these documents should also receive copies of them.

Talk to the professionals. Do-it-yourself estate planning is not recommended, especially if your estate is complex enough to trigger financial, legal, and emotional issues among your heirs upon your passing.

Many people have the idea that they don’t need an estate plan because their net worth is less than the lifetime unified credit. Keep in mind, money isn’t the only reason for an estate plan. You may not be a multimillionaire yet, but if you own a business, have a blended family, have kids with special needs, worry about dementia, or can’t stand the thought of probate delays plus probate fees whittling away at assets you have amassed… well, these are all good reasons to create and maintain an estate planning strategy.  

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

   

Citations.

1 - forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2014/04/09/americans-ostrich-approach-to-estate-planning/ [4/9/14]

2 - ksbar.org/?living_wills [9/10/14]

3 - nj.com/business/index.ssf/2013/12/biz_brain_beneficiary_designat.html [12/9/13]

4 - nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/naming-non-spouse-beneficiary-retirement-accounts.html [9/10/14]

5 - forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2013/11/01/the-2013-limits-on-tax-free-gifts-what-you-need-to-know/ [11/1/13]

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What do you do when an account owner passes away?
 
Provided by Jane Bourette & Christina Kemprecos
 
If your loved ones have invested, saved or insured themselves to any degree, you may be named as a beneficiary to one or more of their accounts, policies or assets in the event of their deaths. While we all hope “that day” never comes, we do need to know what to do financially if and when it does.
 
Legally, just who is a beneficiary? IRAs, annuities, life insurance policies and qualified retirement plans such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s are set up so that the accounts, policies or assets are payable or transferrable on the death of the owner to a beneficiary, usually an individual named on a contractual document that is filled out when the account or policy is first created.
 
In addition to the primary beneficiary, the account or policy owner is asked to name a contingent (or secondary) beneficiary. The contingent beneficiary will receive the asset if the primary beneficiary is deceased.
 
Some retirement accounts and policies may have multiple beneficiaries. Charities are also occasionally named as beneficiaries. If you have individually listed one (or more) of your kids or grandkids as designated beneficiaries of your 401(k) or IRA, that designation will usually override any charitable bequest you have stated in a trust or will.1
 
A will is NOT a beneficiary form. When it comes to 401(k)s and IRAs, beneficiary designations are commonly considered first and wills second. Be mindful of who you select. If you willed your IRA assets to your son in 2008 but named the man who is now your ex-husband as the beneficiary of your IRA back in 1996, those IRA assets are set up to transfer to your ex-husband in the event of your death.1
 
If a retirement account owner passes away, what steps need to be taken? First, the beneficiary form must be found, either with the IRA or retirement plan custodian (the financial firm overseeing the account) or within the financial records of the person deceased. Beyond that, the financial institution holding the IRA or retirement plan assets should also ask you to supply:
 
* A certified copy of the account owner's death certificate
* A notarized affidavit of domicile (a document certifying his or her place of residence at the time of death)
 
If the named beneficiary is a minor, a birth certificate for that person will be requested. If the beneficiary is a trust, the custodian will want to see a W-9 form and a copy of the trust agreement.2
 
If you are named as the primary beneficiary, you usually have three options for claiming the assets, regardless of what kind of retirement savings account you have inherited:
 
* Open an inherited IRA and transfer or roll over the funds into it.
* Roll over or transfer the assets to your own, existing IRA.
* Withdraw the assets as a lump sum (liquidate the account, get a check).
 
Before you make ANY choice, you should welcome the input of a tax advisor, and discuss any limitations or consequences that may apply to your situation.2
 
What if you are a spousal beneficiary? If that is the case, you may elect to:
 
* Roll over or transfer assets from a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA or SIMPLE IRA into your own traditional or Roth IRA, or an inherited traditional or Roth IRA
* Withdraw the assets as a lump sum
* Roll over or transfer qualified retirement plan assets from a 401(k), 403(b), etc. into your own retirement account, or take them as a lump sum.2,3
 
What if you are a non-spousal beneficiary? If this is so, you may elect to:
 
* Roll over or transfer assets from a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, SIMPLE IRA or qualified retirement plan into an inherited IRA
* Withdraw the assets as a lump sum.2
 
What if a qualified (i.e., irrevocable) trust is named as the beneficiary? If that is the circumstance, the trustee has two choices:
 
* Transfer assets from a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, SIMPLE IRA or qualified retirement plan into an inherited IRA
* Withdraw the assets as a lump sum.2
 
The next calendar year will be very important. Inheritors of retirement accounts have until September 30 of the year following the original account ownerÃÆ'¢â‚¬™s death to review and remove beneficiaries, and until December 31 of that year to divide the IRA assets among multiple beneficiaries. Usually, December 31 of the year after the original retirement plan ownerÃÆ'¢â‚¬™s passing is the deadline for the first RMD (Required Minimum Distribution) from an inherited traditional or Roth IRA.4
 
Now, how about U.S. Savings Bonds? If you are named as the primary beneficiary of a U.S. Treasury Bond, you have three options:
 
* Redeem it at a financial institution (you will need your personal I.D. for this).
* Get the security reissued in your name or the names of multiple beneficiaries. You do this via
Treasury Department Form 4000, which you must sign before a certifying officer at a bank (not a notary). Then you send that signed form and a certified copy of the death certificate to a Savings Bond Processing Site.
* Do nothing at all, as the primary beneficiary automatically becomes the bond owner when the original bond owner passes away.5
 
What about savings & checking accounts? Bank accounts are often payable-on-death (POD) assets or “Totten trusts.” All a beneficiary needs to claim the assets is his or her personal identification and a certified copy of the death certificate of the original account holder. There is no need for probate. (Some states limit charities and non-profits from being POD beneficiaries of bank accounts.)5
 
How about real estate? Lastly, it is worth noting that about a dozen states use transfer-on-death (TOD) deeds for real property. If you live in such a state, you have to go to the county recorder or registrar, usually with a certified copy of the death certificate and a notarized affidavit which informs the recorder or registrar that ownership of the property has changed. If the deed names multiple beneficiaries and some are dead, the surviving beneficiaries must present the recorder or registrar with certified copies of the death certificates of the deceased beneficiaries.5
 
This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.
 
1 - marketwatch.com/story/how-to-choose-a-beneficiary-2012-11-13 [11/13/12]
2 - schwab.com/public/file/P-1625576/CS13416-02_MKT13598-10_FINAL_118091.pdf [12/10]
3 - irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Plan-Participant,-Employee/Retirement-Topics---Beneficiary [5/13/14]
4 - forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2012/09/13/four-ira-deadlines-every-smart-investor-or-advisor-should-know/ [9/13/12]
5 - nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/claim-payable-on-death-assets-32436.html [7/28/14]

 

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The Importance of TOD & JTWROS Designations

A convenient move that could ward off probate on your accounts.

Provided by Jane Bourette

TOD, JTWROS...what do these obscure acronyms signify? They are shorthand for transfer on death and joint tenancy with right of ownership – two designations that permit automatic transfer of bank or investment accounts from a deceased spouse to a surviving spouse.

This automatic transfer of assets reflects a legal tenet called the right of survivorship – the idea that the surviving spouse should be the default beneficiary of the account. In some states, a TOD or JTWROS beneficiary designation is even allowed for real property.1

When an account or asset has a TOD or JTWROS designation, the right of survivorship precedes any beneficiary designations made in a will or trust.1,2

There are advantages to having TOD and JTWROS accounts ... and disadvantages as well.

TOD & JTWROS accounts can usually avoid probate. As TOD and JTWROS beneficiary designations define a direct route for account transfer, there is rarely any need for such assets to be probated. The involved financial institution has a contractual requirement (per the TOD or JTWROS designation) to pay the balance of the account funds to the surviving spouse.1

In unusual instances, an exception may apply: if the deceased account owner has actually outlived the designated TOD beneficiary or beneficiaries, then the account faces probate.3    

What happens if both owners of a JTWROS account pass away at the same time? In such cases, a TOD designation applies (for any named contingent beneficiary).3 

To be technically clear, transfer on death signifies a route of asset transfer while joint tenancy with right of ownership signifies a form of asset ownership. In a variation on JTWROS called tenants by entirety, both spouses are legally deemed as equal owners of the asset or account while living, with the asset or account eventually transferring to the longer-living spouse.3

Does a TOD or JTWROS designation remove an account from your taxable estate? No. A TOD or JTWROS designation makes those assets non-probate assets, and that will save your executor a little money and time – but it doesn’t take them out of your gross taxable estate.

In fact, 100% of the value of an account with a TOD beneficiary designation will be included in your taxable estate. It varies for accounts titled as JTWROS. If you hold title to a JTWROS account with your spouse, 50% of its value will be included in your taxable estate. If it is titled as JTWROS with someone besides your spouse, the entire value of the account will go into your taxable estate unless the other owner has made contributions to the account.4     

How about capital gains? JTWROS accounts in common law states typically get a 50% step-up in basis upon the death of one owner. In community property states, the step-up is 100%.5

Could gift tax become a concern? Yes, if the other owner of a JTWROS account is not your spouse. If you change the title on an account to permit JTWROS, you are giving away a percentage of your assets; the non-spouse receives a gift from you. If the amount of the gift exceeds the annual gift tax exclusion, you will need to file a gift tax return for that year. If you retitle the account in the future so that you are again the sole owner, that constitutes a gift to you on behalf of the former co-owner; he or she will need to file a gift tax return if the amount of the gift tops the annual exclusion.5

TOD & JTWROS designations do make account transfer easy. They simplify an element of estate planning. You just want to be careful not to try and make things too simple.

TOD or JTWROS accounts are not cheap substitutes for wills or trusts. If you have multiple children and name one of them as the TOD beneficiary of an account, that child will get the entire account balance and the other kids will get nothing. The TOD beneficiary can of course divvy up those assets equally among siblings, but in doing so, that TOD beneficiary may run afoul of the yearly gift tax exclusion.2

JTWROS accounts have a potential a drawback while you are alive. As they are jointly owned, you have a second party fully capable of accessing and using the whole account balance.2

As you plan your estate, respect the power of TOD & JTWROS designations. Since they override any beneficiary designations made in wills and trusts, you want to double-check any will and trust(s) you have to make sure that you aren’t sending conflicting messages to your heirs.2

That aside, TOD & JTWROS designations represent convenient ways to arrange the smooth, orderly transfer of account balances when original account owners pass away.       

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

Citations.

1 - dummies.com/how-to/content/bypassing-probate-with-beneficiary-designations.navId-323700.html [5/5/14]

2 - galaw.com/the-dangers-of-pod-and-tod-accounts/ [2/4/14]

3 - fidelity.com/estate-planning-inheritance/estate-planning/asset-strategies/brokerage [5/13/14]

4 - theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/167700/what-is-probate.html [5/10/13]

5 - newsobserver.com/2013/06/08/2944839/advice-on-joint-tenancy-with-rights.html [6/8/13]