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Archive for the ‘Investing’ Category

2012 Contributions & Deductions Guide

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

2012 IRA Contribution Limits Guide
Equity Trust’s Guide to 2012 IRA Contribution Limits

Four Money Mistakes You Might Be Making

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Four years after the economic crisis led many Americans to re-evaluate their financial picture, economic uncertainty is still the norm. While there’s little you can do about the shaky economy, you can help stabilize your own finances over the long term by evaluating what you’re doing right … and wrong. There’s no guarantee, but avoiding these four money mistakes may help you survive and ultimately thrive in any turbulent economy.

Mistake 1: Jumping on the bandwagon

Are you letting economic news–good or bad–control your financial decisions? For example, are you selling gold because you’ve heard that prices are at record highs or buying real estate because you’ve heard that prices are at record lows? Have you decided to pull most of your money out of the stock market because you’ve seen headlines warning of a possible financial crisis? Unless you’re basing your decisions on your own needs and circumstances rather than on the opinions or actions of others, you can’t be sure you’re doing what’s right for you. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to your finances, no matter what economic news you’re hearing or what other investors are doing. Revisit your tolerance for risk and your own financial goals, and try to prepare yourself for a variety of scenarios. Avoid basing money decisions on emotion, or you may find yourself facing unanticipated consequences down the road.

Mistake 2: Only saving what’s left over

Do you continue to worry that you’re not saving enough? Do you routinely rely on credit rather than cash to pay for the things you want or need? Rather than blame your financial inertia on your income, look a bit deeper, because the real culprit may be the lack of financial priorities. If you don’t know exactly how you’re spending your money and you haven’t set financial goals, it’s unlikely that you’ll see much financial progress.

Go back to basics by preparing (or reviewing) your budget. If you tend to save only what you have left over every month, you can put yourself on a more disciplined course by having a fixed amount taken out of your paycheck automatically for retirement. Or, you can set up automatic transfers from your checking account to a savings or investment account.

Mistake 3: Not having an emergency fund

One lesson that you may have learned over the past few years is that the job market isn’t stable. That’s a major reason why one of your savings priorities should be an emergency fund. While it isn’t glamorous, this underappreciated workhorse really pulls its weight during hard times. Having cash on hand that you can use for an unexpected expense, or to pay bills if you lose your job, is vital because it can help you avoid having to rely on credit or tap your retirement savings. If you don’t have emergency
savings to fall back on, a minor money shortfall can quickly turn into a major cash crisis.

Mistake 4: Not asking for help

Even if your finances are in good shape right now, you may be overdue for a checkup. Reviewing your finances is especially important during periods of volatility because it can help reveal potential strengths and weaknesses, and identify changes you might need to make to adjust to the current economic climate. And if you’re already in financial trouble, don’t let fear or shame prevent you from asking for help. Facing financial problems early may help you make a full recovery. Many creditors are willing to work with you, but this may be much easier while your credit is still good, and while you still have time to turn things around.

Pay Down Debt or Save and Invest?

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

There are certainly a variety of strategies for paying off debt, many of which can reduce how long it will take to pay off the debt and the total interest paid. But should you pay off the debt? Or should you save and invest? To find out, compare what rate of return you can earn on your investments versus the interest rate on the debt. There may be other factors that you should consider as well.

Probably the most common factor used to decide whether to pay off debt or to make investments is to consider whether you could earn a higher after-tax rate of return on the investments than the after-tax interest rate on the debt if you were to invest your money instead of using it to pay off the debt.

For example, say you have a credit card with a $10,000 balance on which you pay nondeductible interest of 18%. You would generally need to earn an after-tax rate of return greater than 18% to consider making an investment rather than paying off the debt. So, if you have $10,000 available to invest or pay off debt and the outlook for earning an after-tax rate of return greater than 18% isn’t good, it may be better to pay off the debt than to make an investment.

On the other hand, say you have a mortgage with a $10,000 balance on which you pay deductible interest of 6%. If your income tax rate is 28%, your after-tax cost for the mortgage is only 4.32% (6% x (1 – 28%)). You would generally need to earn an after-tax rate of return greater than 4.32% to consider making an investment rather than paying off the debt. So, if you have $10,000 available to invest or pay off debt and the outlook for earning an after-tax rate of return greater than 4.32% is good, it may be better to invest the $10,000 rather than using it to pay off the debt.

Of course, it isn’t an all-or-nothing choice. It may be useful to apply a strategy of paying off debts with high interest rates first, and then investing when you have a good opportunity to make investments that may earn a higher after-tax rate of return than the after-tax interest rate on the debts remaining.

Say, for example, you have a credit card with a $10,000 balance on which you pay 18% nondeductible interest. You also have a mortgage with a $10,000 balance on which you pay deductible interest of 6%, and your tax rate is 28%. So, if you have $20,000 available to invest or pay off debt, it may make sense to pay off the credit card with $10,000 and invest the remaining $10,000.

When investing, keep in mind that, in general, the higher the rate of return, the greater the risk, which can include the loss of principal. If you make investments rather than pay off debt and your investments incur losses, you may still have debts to pay, but will you have the money needed to pay them?

When deciding whether to pay down debt or to save and invest, you might consider the following:

  • What are the terms of your debt? Are there any penalties for prepayment?
  • Do you actually have money that you could invest? Most debts have minimum payments that must be paid each month. Failure to make the minimum payment can result in penalties, increased interest rates, and default. Are your funds needed to make those payments?
  • How much debt do you have? Is it a problem? How do you feel about debt? Is it something you can easily live with or does it make you uncomfortable?
  • If you say you will save the money, will you really invest it or will you spend it? If you pay off the debt, you will have assured instant savings by eliminating the need to come up with the money needed to pay the interest on the debt.
  • Would you be able to borrow an additional amount, if needed, and at what interest rate, if you paid off current debt? Do you have an emergency fund, or other source of funds, that could be used if you lose your job or have a medical emergency, or would you have to borrow?
  • If your employer matches your contributions in a 401(k) plan, you should generally invest in the 401(k) to get the matching contribution. For example, if your employer matches 50% of your contributions up to 6% in a 401(k) plan, getting the 50% match is like getting an instant 50% return on your contribution. In addition, there are tax advantages to investing in a 401(k) plan

Would You Rather?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Many aspects of life require careful consideration and balancing of the tradeoffs that arise from competing demands. For example, a common lifestyle tradeoff is working longer hours versus spending more time with your family. The competing demands within this decision are the income necessary to provide a suitable quality of life for your family versus the immeasurable benefits of quality time with your family. There is no right answer, but most people understand the tradeoff and attempt to find the balance that is right for them.

Successful investing and financial planning also require balancing tradeoffs. For example, a common investment tradeoff is that of risk and return. One of the competing demands is preservation of capital versus preservation of purchasing power. The former may allow for a better night’s sleep during periods of heightened uncertainty and corresponding volatility, but the latter helps ensure you’ll have a comfortable bed in the future when accounting for rising prices from inflation. Once again, there is no right answer, no “optimal” solution. Understanding the tradeoffs between preserving capital and preserving purchasing power will help investors find the balance that is right for them. This balance will depend on their definition of risk and attitude towards it.

Some investors may consider risk to be volatility. They have difficulty stomaching the daily ups and downs associated with investing in asset classes that experience significant price fluctuations, such as equities, because declining prices are often accompanied by predominantly negative headlines. Although information will be reflected in prices before one can react to it, this is little solace to investors who extrapolate the recent past into the future and see the bad news as an indicator of what’s to come rather than a commentary on what has already happened. These investors yearn for short-term preservation of capital.

Other investors may define risk as a diminishing standard of living. They have long-term financial obligations, such as spending during their retirement years, and their primary goal is building wealth to meet those future expenses. They recognize that, while the cumulative effects of inflation are sometimes glacially slow or even undetectable in real time, inflation can be the silent killer of a financial plan. These investors desire long-term preservation of purchasing power.

Investing is relatively straightforward when the definition of risk and attitude toward it are so black and white. For example, you can virtually guarantee the preservation of capital by investing in the equivalent of Treasury bills as long as you accept the corresponding potential for the loss of purchasing power. On the other hand, you can preserve purchasing power by investing in asset classes with expected returns exceeding inflation, providing you accept price fluctuations that can temporarily impair your capital.

Unfortunately, in practice, investing isn’t that simple. Individual investors rarely have black and white objectives or well-defined definitions of and attitudes towards risk. Some expect long-term preservation of purchasing power and short-term preservation of capital. Making matters worse is the tendency for the priority and relative importance of their competing demands to change through time, often in response to what’s happened in the recent past.

Investors who succumb to the cycle of fear and greed end up chasing a moving target. Advisors can try to mitigate this destructive behavior by focusing investors on the tradeoffs that were made at the outset when determining their balance between assets that are expected to grow faster than inflation and those that stabilize the portfolio and reduce its fluctuations. So if an investor is now fearful and therefore more focused on capital preservation, it is time to reframe the tradeoffs by emphasizing why growth assets were in the portfolio to begin with and how the so-called “riskless” asset (i.e., bills) can actually be extremely risky in the long run.

More than ever, comparisons like these are needed when discussing the tradeoff of preserving capital versus preserving purchasing power. Investors feel the risk of equities in real time. Volatility is immediate and apparent as their portfolio value shows up in the mail every month or on their computer screen every day. Conversely, the risk of investing in bills and other low-volatility assets is less discernible and may take time to detect as it shows up when investors open their wallet at the grocery store or gas station many years later.

Investors may still want to revisit the tradeoffs they made and alter course if appropriate. However, changes to a long-term plan should reflect an informed decision rather than an emotional one. Fear and greed are powerful forces, but we should resist letting them dictate the tradeoffs we make in our lives or in our portfolios.

As the Most Interesting Man in the World would say, “stay invested, my friends!”

Retirement Plan Limits Increased

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Recently, the IRS announced that retirement plan limits had been increased for 2012.  For the preceding three years all limits had remained constant.  If you are trying to maximize your retirement savings, these changes will be important to consider.

401k Contributions: The annual amount you can contribute to your 401k plan has increased to $17,000. per year.  That calculates to $1,416.66 per month.  Remember, 401k contributions are taken out of your pay check before taxes, so the deduction is less in actual out of pocket cost.  Combine that savings with any match your employer might make and you may have the best possible vehicle for retirement savings.

Defined Contribution Annual Limit: This is the amount you are allowed to contribute to your plan from all sources.  This would include: 401k contribution; employer match; catch up; profit sharing contribution, etc.  When you add up all of these sources the amount can not exceed $50,000.  That is an increase of $1,000. from current levels.

Catch Up Contributions: Catch up contributions, the amount individuals over age 50 can contribute to “catch up” (because they did not contribute enough when they were younger) has not been changed and remains at $5,500. per year.

See your Human Resources Department to update your retirement savings contribution instructions.

There are several other changes that have taken place: such as definition of highly compensated employees and key officer compensation.  If you wish a complete list of the changes please contact us at Acclaro Wealth Management.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice.  We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

A Great Investment Opportunity

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

It’s that time of the year when we start thinking about tax season and wishing we had ways to reduce our tax debt. Participating in your company sponsored retirement plan will help for next year. So be proactive in 2011, get started in your plan or look at increasing your contributions. Here are three reasons to participate in these plans:

1.  Social Security Alone Will Not Do The Job
Don’t plan on Social Security to pay your retirement bills. The rule of thumb is that Social Security probably represents only 40% of your retirement needs. In 2010, the average monthly benefit for a retired worker was about $1,164. This won’t buy the kind of retirement most Americans dream about. When you participate in your retirement plan, you take control of supplementing Social Security.

Visit the Social Security Administration website for more information about the retirement benefit you can expect.

2.  Tax Savings
There are two basic types of retirement plans offered by companies:

  • Before-Tax Contributions:  You save money today when you contribute because the money going into your account has not been taxed.You are taxed when you withdraw your money in retirement, when your tax bracket should be lower. By postponing taxes until you take withdrawals, you have more money working for you.
  • After-Tax Contributions:  Commonly called Roth accounts, these contributions are taxed before you invest them. However, they are not taxed when they are taken as qualified withdrawals

In addition, retirement plan earnings aren’t taxed every year, so you could benefit from having more money in your account growing through compounding. Check with your employer to find out which contribution types your plan offers.

3.  Your Employer May Help
Does your company offer matching funds as an incentive to encourage employees to contribute? If your employer does, take it! It’s free money. Try to contribute at least enough to get the full match.

If you do not have access to a company sponsored plan you can make contributions to IRA’s. If you are self-employed consider setting up a SEP or an individual 401k.