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financial planning

What Women Should Know About Social Security

By | 2019, Money Matters, Newsletter | No Comments

Retirement is on everyone’s radar. Whether you are preparing for a future date or beginning retirement now, you need to know where your money will come from once the paychecks stop rolling in.

One retirement income source that is very confusing is Social Security. It is fraught with complicated options. From understanding how your benefit is calculated to determining the best time to begin receiving your benefit, the process can be painful. I want you to understand the nuances so you can be informed about your options and better prepared to make critical decisions.

To begin, almost everyone reading this article is eligible to receive Social Security benefits in some form. However, eligibility for retirement benefits is based on several factors. If you have worked at least 10 years, you are eligible for benefits based on your own earnings. If you are now or have been married, you may qualify for benefits based on a spouse’s earnings. The challenge is knowing which benefit to claim and how to maximize your income.

Something many women are surprised to know is that Social Security retirement benefits may be available even if you never worked outside of your home. If you are now or have been married, you can claim a benefit based on your spouse’s earnings record. This is in addition to what your spouse or ex-spouse will receive. At your full retirement age (FRA), you can receive 50% of your spouse’s benefit at their FRA. For example, if your spouse’s benefit at FRA is $1,800, you would receive $900 monthly. A spousal benefit does not increase beyond FRA. 

If you are divorced and have not remarried, you may be entitled to a spousal benefit. To receive this benefit, you must have been married for at least 10 years. You are entitled to the benefit even if your ex-spouse remarries.

Timing of benefits has a lifelong impact, and you should have a well thought out plan before signing up. For instance, beginning your benefits at the earliest age possible, age 62, will lock you into a reduced benefit for the rest of your life. To receive your full benefit, you must wait until you reach full retirement age. Stop thinking age 65 (that’s for Medicare). When it comes to Social Security, FRA is somewhere between age 66 and 67 – based on the year you were born. But it gets better, for every year you wait beyond your FRA up to age 70, your benefit will increase by 8% – locked in for the rest of your life.

The following chart shows a monthly benefit of $1,800 taken at a full retirement age of 66, and how it would change if taken earlier or later. For example, if taken at age 62, the benefit would be reduced to $1,350, and if taken at age 70, the benefit would increase to $2,376. That’s significant! A $1,026 difference each month – $12,312 annually.

There can be additional downfalls when taking Social Security early. If you take Social Security benefits before your FRA and you continue to work, you may be penalized. If you are under FRA for the entire year, $1 of your benefit will be withheld for every $2 you earn over the annual earnings limit ($17,640 in 2019). The earnings limit is higher in the year you reach FRA ($46,920 in 2019). The bottom line – you may not be getting as much as you think by taking your benefit early.

Understanding Social Security can be difficult and making the wrong decision can be costly. Don’t go it alone. Let us help you analyze your options so you can make the best possible choice regarding your benefit and future income.

If you have not started your Social Security benefit and are over age 55, watch for our Social Security seminar and webinar coming in the fall

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The Recession Obsession

By | 2019, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Over the last 18 months, I have heard more, read more, and been asked more about recession than any other financial topic. Many people were scarred by the great recession of 2008, and fear similar suffering may be coming. I understand the concern, but is this recession obsession helping investors reach their financial goals, or is it inadvertently hurting portfolio returns?

Misbehavior motivated by fear of downturn is far more costly than the downturns themselves, and that includes the great recession of 2008. When it comes to investing, we are truly our own worst enemy.

The economy cycles through phases of growth, peak, recession, and trough. Then it repeats. On average, a recession comes every 5.6 years and lasts 11 months.

Too much of a good thing?
Economic positives often turn into financial imbalances that are so excessive they need to be corrected (tech stocks in 2000, housing in 2008). When balance is restored, business and people should get back to normal and economic growth will turn positive again. This makes recessions, in hindsight, like relatively small speed bumps on the economic highway.

When is our fear of recession damaging?
The recession obsession can cause investors to try to avoid losses by sitting on the sidelines. Nobody knows when the market will drop or how far it will fall. Likewise, the upward bounces catch those sitting out by surprise. That’s why the best days in the market typically follow large pullbacks.

Since 1980, investors that stayed in the market 99.9 percent of the time and missed only the best five days would have missed out on a massive 35 percent! Increase the best days missed to just ten, and returns are cut in half!

What about the best days? Since 1998, six of the ten best days occurred within two weeks of the ten worst days. Thinking you can get one while avoiding the other is not reasonable.

As we enter the 11th year of the current economic expansion, it is helpful to know that some of the strongest market increases have occurred during the late stages of the cycle.

Those who avoid the market under the pretense of protection inadvertently keep themselves from receiving that potential growth. Investors who stay fully invested through entire cycles, including recessions, experience greater growth.

The best advice I can give, for your portfolio and your sanity, is to create a financial plan that works for you. Stick to that plan and don’t worry too much about economic cycles. The financial plans we create for clients account for pullbacks, downturns, and recessions. Although every year in the market won’t be positive, your long-term outlook will be.

(Secret recession tip: After the stock market has dropped significantly, it’s usually better to buy than to sell; think of it as a long-term buying opportunity.)

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Get in the Right Lane

By | 2019, Money Matters, Newsletter | No Comments

Missing a freeway exit can be extremely aggravating. Once missed, you are required to drive farther away from your destination. It can happen for many reasons; being in the wrong lane, missing an exit sign, or heavy traffic preventing you from getting over. Once you realize you have missed the exit, you immediately begin making corrections so you can exit at the next opportunity.

Financial success can be like the freeway. You may be headed in the right direction, but are you making the right decisions? Here are some behaviors that may keep you from reaching your financial destination:

  1. Spending more than your planned budget. One of the greatest concerns of retirees is running out of money. The goal of a financial plan is to make sure your money lasts as long as you do, even if you live to 100. If you are depleting your nest egg too quickly, you should change lanes. 

  2. Giving money to kids. When adult children are having financial troubles, giving them money may seem like the right thing to do. That is not the case. In most situations, it just prolongs the problem. If you are bailing out your adult children, you should change lanes.

  3. Paying for things you don’t use. This could be a gym membership, a storage unit to hold more stuff, or the RV and toys that rarely get used. Letting go of these things has financial and psychological benefits. You no longer worry that these items are going unused. You can rent an RV for a vacation if you want, and most of the stuff you are storing is of higher value to you than it may be to your kids. Ask them what they would like to have and get rid of the rest. It’s refreshing! If you are paying for things you don’t need, you should change lanes.

Look at your financial goals. Are you on target to reach your financial destination? If not, I challenge you to make a lane change – make the needed corrections and continue to move forward. Don’t let anything keep you from reaching your financial destination. Having a plan can keep you headed in the right direction and the right lane.

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Heritage Planning

By | 2019, Newsletter | No Comments

What Successful Families Do Differently

We all have loved ones who we want to succeed after we have passed on. How do we prepare them to use our hard-earned savings in a healthy way?

Heritage planning encompasses passing on your “wealth” to your heirs without controlling or enabling them. The process begins by redefining “wealth.”

Your wealth is human, intellectual, and financial capital. It is who you are and what you value. You can improve the life of your loved ones by passing these principles to them along with financial assets.

Many people are curious about how to start heritage planning with their families. These are six steps to focus on:

  1. Redefine wealth as financial capital, human capital, and intellectual capital.
  2. Use a 7th generation mentality.
  3. Pass on your values through stories.
    (Above is the word cloud of values from our participants.)
  4. Teach your children to give.
  5. Teach your children how to manage financial risks.
  6. Focus on the qualitative and not on the quantitative.

Please call us if you would like to schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you get started with heritage planning in your family.

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2019 Outlook: Patience Will Pay Off

By | 2019, Newsletter | No Comments

“The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.”

This statement by Warren Buffett is educational and relevant today. When markets move downward, investors become uncomfortable. But during recessionary times, investors may panic. Companies pull back, people lose jobs, and stock declines can become sharp.

The U.S. is now late in that cycle, meaning we are coming closer to the end of a growth period. But if we look at the big picture, how damaging are recessions? How often do they occur? And how should investors handle them?

Since 1950, the average expansion lasted 67 months (5.6 years) and had an average GDP growth of 24 percent. The current expansionary period is one of the longest in history, currently 10 years in length. But it has also had one of the slowest average growth rates and is still far from the largest in total growth. Capital Group believes this has prevented the major imbalances that cause recessions from materializing. However, they do admit that the risk of recession will continue to grow until its inevitable arrival.

The average recession has lasted only 11 months and had a GDP decline of 1.8 percent. The contrast, as you can see in the graph provided, is immense. Yet the fear that those relatively small declines bring is often greater than their positive counterpart. The truth is, opportunities are developing in declining markets, and the strongest rallies are generally found right after a recession.

The general rule is this: Stay invested. Those who deviate from their financial plans are those who Warren Buffett calls “impatient investors.” If you stick with your plan, the odds of success will greatly be in your favor and the money transferring from the impatient will be to you, the patient investor.

Presented by Max McQuiston (American Funds) at the Just for Women conference. Recap by Jordan R. Hadfield.

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How Emotion Drives Your Money

By | 2019, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Emotional Response

Financial advertisements make inflammatory statements such as “You cannot afford losses like those of the last recession” or “Making the wrong Social Security decision can cost you thousands.” These advertisers want to make us feel that we need to make changes without considering the reality of our situation.

Everything we hear or see causes an emotional reaction; good or bad. Information we hear or see hits the amygdala, the center of emotion in our brain within 12 milliseconds.

Logical Response

It takes 40 milliseconds for the same information to hit the logical part of our brain, the cortex.

By that time our emotions have hijacked our brain, and we cannot think straight. There literally is no time for rational thinking. Our minds were made up before we even realized what was happening.

Finding a Solution

Next time you find your logic being hijacked by emotion, take a step back. Think to yourself: “What if the situation I am fearing does not happen?” “What if the opposite happens and things are better than I think?”

Your financial plan is the tool we use to prepare you for market volatility and prevent emotional decisions from sidetracking you from your important financial goals. If you do not have a plan or have not recently reviewed your plan, I invite you to meet with one of our financial advisors.

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IRAs & 401(k)s

By | 2019, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Planning for retirement is daunting, especially if you don’t know where to start. In this article, we’ll walk through the basics of two common retirement accounts and two different ways you can contribute to them so you can make a more informed decision.

An IRA (individual retirement accounts) and a 401(k) serve similar purposes. They are both accounts that are used for retirement. They both have penalties for withdrawing money before age 59½ and the option to make traditional or Roth contributions.

So, which should you choose? If you don’t have the option to contribute to a 401(k) then, of course, an IRA is the better choice. However, if you have the 401(k) as an option, that is usually a good option, especially if the company is matching part of your contributions, it is always a good idea to take advantage of an employer match. It’s basically free money!

Another thing to consider is whether to contribute to a traditional account or a Roth account.

The primary difference between traditional contributions and Roth contributions is when they are taxed. Traditional contributions go into the account pre-tax, and everything is taxed as ordinary income when distributions are taken. In Roth accounts, the money is taxed before it is contributed, and the distributions are taken tax-free. Another bonus to Roth accounts, you can pass them to your heirs tax-free as well.

Depending on your personal situation, one account or the other may be more advantageous to you. In simple terms, if you are in a low tax bracket now, contributing to the Roth is a good idea. Tax rates are relatively low right now, and it’s likely that they will be higher in the future. If you pay tax now, while in a low tax bracket, you will benefit from it because you won’t have to pay taxes at the possibly higher rate in the future.

On the other hand, if you are in a high tax bracket now and expect to be in a lower tax bracket in the future, it would be prudent to make traditional contributions. The money will avoid taxes now and will be taxed later when your tax rate is lower.

Now that you’re armed with information, you can make a better decision as to when, where, and how to contribute! Please call us with any questions.

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Don’t Miss Out On Your ESPP

By | 2019, Money Moxie | No Comments

If you have an Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP), you might wonder if it is a good value. An ESPP can be very beneficial, depending on how the plan is written. Check the plan rules to see if it lines up in your favor. If so, then you should (1) participate as much as you comfortably can and (2) cash out each year as soon as you can. Here’s why an ESPP is usually a good deal.

An ESPP allows you to contribute a percentage of your income each paycheck towards the purchase of company stock. The payroll deductions go into an account and are held until the end of the purchase period, typically yearly. At that point, you “purchase” company stock usually at a 15% discount, which is a nice benefit by itself.

If your plan has a “look back” provision, it is a bonus. A “look back” provision gives you the price on either the offering date or the purchase date, whichever is lower. So, even if the company stock is down from the offering price, you still get it at a 15% discount from its lowest price. If the stock is up, you purchase at the lower price and may have significant gains.

These potential gains may make the transaction attractive, but you shouldn’t sink all your money into the ESPP. Participate at a rate that is comfortable and that doesn’t rob your other buckets.

You should always have short-term, intermediate-term, and long-term buckets. Your short-term bucket should be your emergency fund, preferably in a Money Market or short-term CD (i.e. 1 year or less). We like to see an emergency fund of 3-6 months of living expenses.

Your 401(k) and other retirement savings are your long-term bucket. We prefer that clients save 10-15% per year for retirement. If you already have 1-2 months of living expenses in the bank and you are saving for retirement, you could use the ESPP to build the emergency fund and then to build the intermediate bucket for expenses like new cars, buying a home, etc. Once your short-term bucket is full, then participate more fully in the ESPP.

Cashing out immediately when the stock is available is the safest choice because you lock in guaranteed gains. Just be aware that the distribution will be taxable as ordinary income, unless your plan is qualified, which may have a more favorable tax treatment.

You can choose to hold the stock to lower your taxes. However, you must keep it for one year from the purchase date, and two years after the beginning of the offering period. At that point, the gain above the purchase price will be taxed at a long-term capital gain rate, which is always lower than your ordinary income rate. However, it may not be wise to wait a year. Saving taxes doesn’t help if the stock value goes down by more than your tax savings. That is why the safest bet is to sell the stock as soon as it is available. Only hold on to the stock if your other buckets are filled and you are just investing for the future.

ESPP’s can be a great way to save for the future. If you have any questions about your specific situation, please contact one of our wealth managers.

This article is not a solicitation, offer, or recommendation to buy or sell any security. Financial advisory services are only provided to investors who become Smedley Financial clients. Projected returns are not a guarantee of actual performance. There is a potential for loss as well as gain that is not reflected in the information presented. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. This article is not intended as tax advice, and Smedley Financial does not represent in any manner that the outcomes described herein will result in any particular tax consequence. Prospective investors should confer with their personal tax advisors regarding the tax consequences based on their particular circumstances. Smedley Financial assumes no responsibility for the tax consequences to any investor of any transaction.

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Deceitful Guise of Financial Demise

By | 2019, Money Moxie | No Comments

Grace Groner was born in Lake County, Illinois, in 1909. She was orphaned at the age of twelve. Although she lived to be 100 years old, Grace never married or had children. Most of her life was lived in a small one-bedroom cottage. She shopped at rummage sales and never owned a car. She worked her entire career as a secretary, earning a modest income.

When Grace Groner passed away in 2010, she left over $7 million dollars to a foundation established for the benefit of students at Lake Forest College. How did she become so wealthy? She invested in stocks at a young age, reinvested her dividends, and stayed invested so compounding interest could work its magic.

Richard Fuscone was an ambitious man. He received an education at Harvard and the University of Chicago. He then went on to become a vice chairman for Merrill Lynch. He was so successful in the investment industry that he retired at the age of 40 to pursue other interests.
Richard owned two homes, one of which carried a mortgage of $66,000 a month. Richard Fuscone declared bankruptcy in the same year Grace Groner donated millions to charity.
Richard had a top-shelf education and an impressive background in finance. Grace had neither. How is that possible?

The answer is behavioral finance. Financial knowledge does not prevent bad financial decisions. Richard had an expert understanding of how markets and investments work, but behavioral finance is an entirely different animal, one he did not understand.

We, as wealth managers, are often judged by our investment management. However, that is only part of our service. The financial and behavioral advice we offer can make a more significant economic impact than people realize.

We work hard to ensure sound financial decisions are made and protect against bad ones, which are not always obvious and are usually made unknowingly.

We wouldn’t suggest one live like Grace, but we certainly wouldn’t recommend one live like Richard, who might have saved millions with a behavioral financial advisor and some quality advice.

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Is Your Heart Making the Decision?

By | 2019, Money Matters, Newsletter | No Comments

Women generally have huge hearts and can sometimes let their hearts lead their financial decisions. Even the most educated and most successful women can let their hearts influence their financial decisions. Here are some examples of how women may be dealing with financial situations:

–    Children ask for money for the latest thing(s), and mothers usually say yes. When mothers spend too much money on their children, they may not be saving enough for retirement.

–    Women who allow their husbands to handle every aspect of financial decisions may find themselves in crisis when a spouse is injured, they are divorced or widowed and discover they are unprepared to manage all facets of their financial life.

–    Single women – those who never marry or who are divorced – are often uncomfortable with finances and may even be bored with financial matters. Still, they are anxious about being financially secure now and in the future.

As women, we need to take control of our financial life and be honest with ourselves and others in our relationships.  We are generous with our love, time and money and we shouldn’t stop being kind, generous people, but we must be sure that our acts of generosity are not depleting our financial future and retirement plans.  We must learn to say “NO” out of love, not out of fear. If you pay for a child’s college education, will it jeopardize your future retirement? This act of generosity could potentially create financial stress for years into the future. Your act of charity should never put you at financial risk.

Women need to set financial limits. Our goal should be to raise financially independent, successful children. While it may seem reasonable to help a family member, continuing to pay expenses for grown children will not help them become financially successful adults. It might feel like tough love, but in the big picture, it truly helps everyone. 

Make financial decisions that support your financial goals and secure your financial future by taking time to think through the situation and process the outcome. Lead with your head, not your heart. Being financially smart will help you secure your goals and achieve financial success.

If you are faced with a decision and need additional information or maybe just a sounding board, reach out to us and let us help you think through your options. Together we can find the right solution for you.

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