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Money Moxie

No One Can Predict The Future

By | 2020, Money Moxie | No Comments

No one can predict the future. Especially not me. On my LinkedIn page in March 2019, I posted: “I wouldn’t be surprised that we have some good growth in stocks for (2019). You usually have good growth right before a recession. However, 2020 could be a challenging year.” I had no idea it would be as challenging as it has been!

Even though I was right, I was not predicting the future. I was just following statistics and other economic indicators. Little did I know that a global pandemic would stall the U.S. (and world) economy and send it into a freefall. This yanked the 1st quarter into the red. Now, all we need to meet the technical definition of a recession is for the 2nd quarter to be negative as well.

Stocks are not the economy. There has never been a better example of this than the year 2020. The economy is hurting. Consumer spending is down double digits, and unemployment is near 20 percent.

Stocks, on the other hand, have been improving as the government has printed money. Some pundits think stocks have already bottomed and are just headed up from here. Others think we will head lower towards the mid-March bottom. Some have even suggested that this economy looks a lot like a depression. These are all conjectures. No one can predict the future.

This uncertainty leads people to question their financial future: Will I be able to pay my bills for the next 6 months? Will I be able to retire when I planned? Will my nest egg be enough to see me through retirement?

Years ago, questions like this led us at SFS to create a system that is simple yet powerful. It is designed for times like these. The goal is to provide an inflation-adjusted income for the rest of your life, regardless of the storms that may come. It helps remove a lot of the uncertainty around the security of your finances.

We call it a Lifetime Income Plan. The concept is simple: you segment your assets into time frames based on when you will need income. The assets set aside to generate income for the next 5 years should be conservative and protected.

The successive 5-year time segments should be moderate to aggressive, depending on the time frame and your personal risk tolerance. This system can be used whether you are already in retirement or just starting to save for the future.

While the design is simple, the application can be much more complex. As always, we recommend consulting with one of our Certified Financial Planners (CFP®) who are well versed in income distribution strategies.

No one knows exactly how things will turn out with the Coronavirus and how large or long-lasting the impact will be. However, with careful planning, you can help prepare your financial future for any storm that comes.

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What To Do With Your 401(k), If…

By | 2020, Money Moxie | No Comments

1: You are still employed by the sponsor company

Keep investing! The 401(k) implements an effective purchasing strategy called dollar- cost averaging. This strategy involves making regular and continuous fixed-dollar investments. But it is more than just a payroll deduction plan. Dollar-cost averaging removes the risk of trying to time the market.

By using dollar-cost averaging in a long-term investment account, the average cost per share ends up being less than the average price per share. This is because you buy less shares when prices are high and more shares when prices are low. In other words, volatility can work in your favor. So keep investing.

2. You are no longer working for the sponsor company but are employed elsewhere

You have some options.

(1) You can take a partial or full distribution. In most cases, this is a taxable event and may carry additional tax penalties. In rare situations, is this a good idea. Speak with a professional advisor before choosing this option.

(2) You can leave your 401(k) with your previous company. You can no longer contribute to it, but it will continue to perform based on the investments you have selected.

(3) If your new employer offers a 401(k) and you are eligible for it, you can roll your old 401(k) into your new 401(k) plan. This is a tax-free rollover, and you will need to select new investments based on what the new plan offers.

(4) You can roll the old 401(k) into an IRA. In most cases, this is what we recommend. An IRA gives the account owner more control, more investment options, and better planning opportunities than a 401(k). Like a 401(k), an IRA is a retirement account with annual maximum contribution limits and early withdrawal penalties. A rollover is not considered a contribution, and therefore any amount can be rolled.

3. You are no longer working for the sponsor company and are not employed

You have the same options as above, with the obvious exception of rolling to your new 401(k). If you are retired, however, the rollover option to the IRA may be even more appealing. When it comes time to take distributions from your retirement accounts, the IRA has some significant advantages. Some of these include better risk management strategies, tax-saving distribution strategies, and avoiding mandatory distributions from Roth accounts.

4. You need financial help due to COVID-19

The CARES Act allows some individuals to take early withdrawals from retirement accounts in 2020 without the early withdrawal penalty. If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, have a spouse or dependent diagnosed with COVID-19, or have experienced a layoff, furlough, reduction in hours, have been unable to work, or lack childcare because of COVID-19, you may qualify. Withdrawals may impact your tax liability, so speak with a financial advisor before taking an early distribution.

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Facing Coronavirus Uncertainty, Think Long Term

By | 2020, Executive Message, Money Moxie | No Comments

I often include the phrase, “Past performance does not guarantee future results,” to remind us that uncertainty will always be an integral part of investing. I also repeat the words, “Long term,” frequently to help keep perspective in the face of uncertain times.

Warren Buffett understands uncertainty and long-term investing. He is one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet and one of the best investors of all time. Recently he gave us a glimpse into how he is viewing the extreme pessimism and optimism on Wall Street. On May 2, 2020, Warren Buffett conducted a virtual shareholder meeting. In the discussion, we learned that Buffett has been selling some and holding much of his investment portfolio during the Covid-19 pandemic. With around $137 billion in cash, many people thought Buffett would be buying aggressively. We also learned how he is viewing short-term and long-term investing now that he is 89 years old:

I hope I’ve convinced you to bet on America. Not saying that this is the right time to buy stocks if you mean by “right,” that they’re going to go up instead of down. I don’t know where they’re going to go in the next day, or week, or month, or year. But I hope I know enough to know, well, I think I can buy a cross section and do fine over 20 or 30 years. And you may think, for a guy, 89, that that’s kind of an optimistic viewpoint. But I hope that really everybody would buy stocks with the idea that they’re buying partnerships.

At the age of 89, Buffett is still thinking 20 to 30 years into the future. That’s an important lesson for all of us because the likelihood of making money increases with time.

The Dow Jones index is made up of 30 stocks, so it’s not a comprehensive example, but it is perhaps the oldest index. Over the last 100 calendar years, the probability of a positive return in any given year was 69%. That’s not bad, but that means that 31% were negative. Now that’s uncertainty. At the extremes, the Dow lost over 50% (1931) and gained 63% (1933). That’s what we call short-term.

I would define long-term as 10 years or more. It makes a big difference. The Dow was positive 83% of the 10-year periods and 96% of the 20-year periods. Only during the Great Depression were the 20-year numbers negative, but any investor who could have stayed invested would have done well in the latter half of the Depression and in the decades to come. Through these 100 years, the Dow averaged a 5.7% annual return (and that does not even include dividends).

So, while uncertainty will probably always be difficult to embrace, time can be our ally. Warren Buffett is choosing to think this way at the age of 89. I firmly believe that the same perspective will be beneficial to us as we continue through the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

*The Dow Jones index is often used to represent the U.S. stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index and of course, past performance does not guarantee future results.

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3 Things You Should Know – CARES Act

By | 2020, Money Moxie | No Comments

Back in March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed. It was designed as a stimulus bill that would provide relief and assistance to millions of Americans affected by the pandemic. Here are three things you should know about the CARES Act.

No Required Minimum Distributions for 2020
This year, you will not have to take out a required minimum distribution from your qualified retirement accounts. The waiver for this year also includes any inherited retirement accounts.

We know many of our clients also like to take advantage of qualified charitable distributions to donate their required distributions directly from their IRAs to a charity, tax-free. If you are over age 70 ½, you can still do this in 2020. It may even be advantageous for you to donate money from your IRA to a charity. This year, since you won’t be required to take money out, it will require more evaluation than in previous years to determine if it is still beneficial for you.

Unemployment Benefits
Unemployment benefits have been expanded, and individuals will be eligible for an additional $600 weekly benefit through July 31, 2020. Additionally, individuals will also have 13 weeks of federally funded benefits through 2020 for people who exhaust their state benefits. Another added benefit from the CARES Act is for people who would not normally qualify for unemployment benefits like independent contractors, part-time workers, and self-employed individuals. They will now also be eligible for benefits.

Penalty-free Withdrawals from Retirement Accounts
The 10% early-distribution penalty tax that normally applies to distributions made before age 59 ½ is waived for distributions up to $100,000 relating to Coronavirus. You must be impacted by COVID-19 for the waiver to apply; this would include being diagnosed with Coronavirus, being unable to work due to lack of child care available, or being furloughed, laid off, or have reduced hours.

While you will still have to pay income tax on any withdrawal, you’ll be able to spread the payment of those taxes over three years. If you decide to repay the withdrawal back into your account within three years, you will not owe income tax, and it will not be counted toward yearly contribution limits.

*Remember to speak to one of our wealth advisors before making the decision to tap into your retirement account.

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The State of Retirement

By | 2020, Money Moxie | No Comments

When asked, “When are they going to retire?” Most people reply with a specific age or date, something they have pinpointed and are looking forward to with anticipation. Unfortunately, only 53 percent of retirees leave the workforce based on their planned time-frame. Forty-seven percent are unexpectedly forced into retirement at an early age. This staggering number supports the importance of having a retirement plan that prepares you for all outcomes, those you anticipate, and those you don’t.

In a Federal Reserve study of non-retirees, 40 percent responded they feel their retirement savings are on track.

Sadly, 25 percent responded that they have not prepared for retirement and have no retirement savings. This can be due to many factors. They may work for a company that does not provide employees with retirement savings options such as a 401(k). Often they feel like they should do something but are overwhelmed and do not know how to start or where to turn for advice. If you are in this situation, please reach out to us for assistance.

The number of DIY investors with self-directed accounts changes as they reach their retirement years. This could be for a number of reasons. One is the complexity of turning a lifelong savings plan into an income-producing plan. Like climbing a mountain, the greatest risk comes on the way down. The same is true with retirement savings. Many fear taking on the wrong type of risk and jeopardizing their future income.

Source for all data: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

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Year of the Coronavirus

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter, Travel | No Comments

Coronavirus was difficult to recognize and impossible to track when first contracted around November 17, 2019. It was misunderstood in China. Dismissed in America. Many said, “it’s just the flu.” But Covid-19 is no ordinary flu. Those infected are contagious days before symptoms show. Some may never have symptoms as they spread the disease. It is a novel strand of the Cornovirus, and that means it’s new, and there is no immunity to it. Most of us are likely to catch it sometime in the next 12 months.

The healthcare system is ill-prepared for an outbreak. We have the expertise, equipment, and medicine. We do not have the capacity. This is where flattening the curve comes in. The goal of the government is to slow the spread of the virus to buy time to help those infected and those researching prevention and treatments.

In 2020, the stock market lost 20% in roughly 20 days. Historically, it has taken 400 days from the market top for it to fall by 20%. The 12-year-old bull market is over.

Over the last few years, we have had a smooth run interrupted by violent drops. The S&P 500 dropped roughly 19% in 2016 and twice in 2018. This week, it finally reached 20% and then kept going.

There is so much we don’t know, so we will focus on what we do know. American consumers will continue to spend. We are resilient. However, there is a shift in where we spend. This has led to a lack of global demand for oil. OPEC producers prefer stable prices and would like to cut oil supplies to push prices higher. Russia refused to cooperate, which has driven prices sharply lower. The United States is now a major world producer, so we find our country caught in the middle of this unexpected consequence of the current pandemic.

Falling energy prices are both bad and good. The immediate impact is bad. Energy suppliers feel the financial pinch. Some may default on debt payments, which could domino through the economy. Eventually, these lower prices reach consumers. I have never heard a friend complain about low prices at the gas pump. This leads to more flexible spending and more growth. It takes about 18 months for the low price of oil to show up in higher economic growth. Of course, the financial markets anticipate.

Don’t fight the Fed. The Federal Reserve lowered its overnight interest rate to zero and announced it will inject $1.5 trillion into the financial system to keep the markets functioning properly. This is more money than the Fed has put into the markets in the last 5 years combined. The entire Federal Government budget is $3.8 trillion. So, while the Fed can’t fight the virus, it is doing what it can to prevent a breakdown as we experienced in 2008.

When will financial markets come back up? (1) Investors need to wrap their minds around all the sudden changes to everyday life, and (2) The growth of Coronavirus cases must slow. Problems don’t have to disappear. Investors just need less uncertainty.

When all the news turns negative, any sign of hope could be the turning point. That’s what makes predicting the future so difficult. And this is why we work so hard to manage risk and be invested to participate in long-term growth.

*Research by SFS. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. The S&P 500 index is widely considered to represent the overall U.S. stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

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A Neglected Tax-Saving Strategy: Qualified Charitable Distributions

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

There are two types of people who complain about paying taxes, men and women. We all recognize the importance of taxes, but Gerald Barzan said it best, “Taxation with representation ain’t so hot either.” Yes, tax evasion is illegal, but tax avoidance…that’s wisdom. Tax avoidance should also be a financial advisor’s specialty. This is precisely why I’m so surprised by the number of financial and tax professionals who are unfamiliar with, or do not utilize, the Qualified Charitable Distribution.

The Qualified Charitable Distribution, or QCD, is a powerful tax savings strategy available to individuals age 70.5 and older who donate to 501(c)(3) organizations. Examples of 501(c)(3) organizations include religious, educational, and scientific organizations, public charities, and private foundations.

When you take a distribution from a tax-deferred retirement account, the distribution will be taxed at your marginal tax rate. However, if the distribution is from an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and is sent directly to a 501(c)(3) organization, it qualifies as a QCD and becomes tax-free.

For example, Elliott has a required minimum distribution from her IRA of $3,000. Her tax rate is 20% federal and 5% state. Elliott plans to donate $3,000 to a 501(c)(3) organization this year. If Elliott takes the $3,000 distribution and pays the tax, she’ll receive $2,250 from her IRA. When she makes her $3,000 donation, she will be $750 short.

However, Elliott has a wise financial advisor who tells her about the QCD. So, she sends her $3,000 IRA distribution directly to the charity, and Elliott doesn’t pay tax on the distribution at all. Elliott’s required minimum distribution is satisfied for the year, she donates the desired $3,000 to charity, and her wise financial advisor saved her $750 in taxes.

Every year, we educate financial and tax professionals regarding the QCD and how to report it on the form 1040. Too often, we see it reported incorrectly. If you make a QCD and do not report it accurately, you won’t receive the benefit. If Elliott or her CPA doesn’t understand how to report her $3,000 QCD, she’ll pay an extra $750 to the IRS, and the QCD won’t save her anything.

On tax form 1040, line 4a asks for “IRA distributions,” and line 4b asks for the “taxable amount” as shown below.

Elliott took a $3,000 distribution from her IRA and will write $3,000 on line 4a. She will then subtract her QCD amount from 4a and write the balance on line 4b. In Elliott’s case, she will write $0 on line 4b, and no tax will be due from her IRA distribution. A tax penny saved is a tax-free penny earned.

Please help us get the word out regarding the Qualified Charitable Distribution. If you, your CPA, or your friends have questions about QCDs or other tax-saving strategies, please contact us. Tax planning is our specialty, and tax avoidance is the goal.

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A Newlywed’s Guide to Financial Success

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

I’m sure most people reading this article have heard that money is one of the leading causes of divorce. That can be disheartening to hear when you’re planning a wedding. Being a newlywed myself, I have thought a lot about myself and my husband’s financial success and how to achieve our personal financial goals. I also know from observing friends and former classmates that young people often don’t even know where to start when it comes to making good money choices, especially when you add another person to the picture. As I’ve thought about all of this, I have come up with a list of things that will help newlyweds be successful in their financial endeavors.

1. Talk about it – This first one is arguably the most important. Money is often a taboo subject, but it is important to have open communication about money, especially in marriage. It is best to talk about money before you get married, but if you haven’t, talk about it as soon as possible. Make sure you both understand each other’s expectations for your money. For example, let your spouse know if you expect them to talk to you before making purchases over a certain amount. It is essential to be honest with your spouse, especially about any debt you may have.

2. Build an emergency fund – Having an emergency fund should be a top priority for newly married couples. The general rule of thumb is to have 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses saved up for emergencies such as a lost job, family illness, natural disaster, or major home repairs. This will bring security in case disaster strikes.

3. Design and track a budget – Start by reviewing your joint budget for the last few months and assigning dollar limits to each spending category. Remember, a budget is a work in progress. It is okay to make adjustments, especially in the first few months. Tracking your spending after creating a budget is just as important as making the budget. There are many ways to track your spending. Some people use apps; some people use spreadsheets; some people use the envelope method. The envelope method is primarily just using cash for your budget, and once the cash is gone, you’re done spending in that category for the month. This is especially helpful in areas in which you tend to overspend. Try out a few different methods and find the one you like best.

4. Save for retirement – This one is not something newlyweds often think about. Retirement can seem like it is so far in the future you don’t need to worry about it. However, starting to save for retirement when you are young really gives you a leg up. Having time on your side helps you take advantage of compounding interest. Even if you start small, saving something toward your retirement early on can have a big impact. Contributing to your employer-sponsored 401k plan is an excellent place to start.

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Election Years: Positively Volatile

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

It may turn out to be a typical election year. I expect stocks to be up in 2020, but in the single digits—much less than in 2019. Investors dislike uncertainty, and 2020 will be filled with plenty of political unknowns. Despite some extra ups and downs, election years tend to be positive for stocks. Hang in there.

A lot of Republicans could have missed out from 2009 to 2016. Similarly, Democrats would have missed the 2017-2020 markets. The rule for election volatility is that it comes sooner than most investors expect. Most summers have a bit of a slowdown. In election years, that drop usually hits in spring.

The classic October drop is typical even in election years, but don’t get caught saying, “I’ll invest when the election is over.” The market usually begins to climb a couple of weeks before the final vote.

Some rotation in the markets may develop as we learn who the candidates will be. Still, the most likely outcome is gridlock in Washington, with the Republicans staying in control of the Senate and the House controlled by Democrats. Regardless of your political opinions, gridlock is usually good for stocks because large companies plan 10+ years ahead of time and prefer a predictable business environment.

*Research by SFS. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. The S&P 500 index is widely considered to represent the overall U.S. stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

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