•••December 2015 Issue  •••

 

It’s Time to Think About Your Next Tax Return

Your 2015 tax return isn’t due until April of 2016, but now is the time to consider your options for tax planning. Many of the tax-savings moves you can make for your 2015 return need to occur before the end of the year. Here are answers to questions you may have about tax planning strategies in the weeks ahead:

 

Are there investment moves I should consider making before the end of the year?

 

It is important to know what your tax considerations are before making any moves. For example, many investors worry about capital gains. One effective tax-saving strategy is to offset any capital gains you might realize in your portfolio with capital losses. If you have investment holdings that are worth less than what you paid for them, you could consider selling those positions and realizing a capital loss, particularly as a way to offset capital gains. This strategy may be appropriate for taxpayers who may have capital gains that are subject to taxation.

 

Keep in mind that if you are in the 10 percent or 15 percent tax bracket, you qualify for a zero percent federal tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends, significant tax savings. In this case, “harvesting” capital losses is not a beneficial strategy. Before selling assets, make sure the move is consistent with your long-term investment strategy. Keep in mind that one of the biggest tax benefits is maintaining unrealized capital gains – growth in an investment that you continue to hold. Gains are only taxable when you sell an investment.

 

How about the tax implications of investments I own or am considering?

 

In general, there are many tax implications when it comes to investments. Let’s take a deeper look into mutual funds. There are different tax considerations with mutual funds because you are subject to distributions made by the fund that are taxable. It is possible that fund positions you own may pay out a significant distribution before the end of the year, even though the fund itself may have a negative return for the year. Check to see the status of potential distributions of any fund you own. Keep in mind that this tax treatment doesn’t apply to funds held in tax-deferred vehicles like a 401(k) or IRA.

 

Are there steps I can take to reduce taxes on my income?

 

If you have the ability to manage your income, you may want to pay attention to whether your income level is closing in on a threshold point that moves you into a higher tax bracket. For example, a married couple filing a joint return in 2015 with taxable income above $74,900 (after deductions and personal exemptions) would be in the 25 percent tax bracket. That doesn’t mean all income is subject to a 25 percent tax rate, as income is taxed in steps (everything under $74,900 would be taxed at a 15 percent rate or less). But by reaching the 25 percent tax bracket, any net long-term capital gains realized would be subject to a 15 percent tax at the federal level.

 

By keeping income (including any gains) below $74,900, a married couple remains in the 15 percent tax bracket, qualifying them for a zero percent long-term capital gains tax rate. Finding ways to keep income under thresholds can be important for different reasons for people with varying income levels.

 

Are there ways to cut taxes by increasing my savings to retirement plans?

 

Any pre-tax contributions to workplace savings plans or tax-deductible contributions to IRAs (if you qualify based on your income) can reduce your taxable income in 2015. You should also consider making contributions to a Roth IRA if you qualify, as this has the potential to create a source of tax-free income for retirement. Although Roth contributions cannot be deducted from current taxes, it is important to make them annually as contribution amounts are limited. In 2015, you can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA ($6,500 for those age 50 and older). You have until April 15, 2016, to make IRA contributions for 2015.

 

When should I make charitable donations?

 

Your favorite charities would likely prefer any gifts to be made as soon as possible. To claim deductions on your 2015 tax return, donations must be made by December 31, 2015. Keep in mind that to claim a charitable deduction, you need to itemize deductions and have a written record, either a bank statement or a receipt from the charity.

 

It’s important to note that the information provided in this article is a general source of information and is not intended to be the primary basis for investment decisions. It should not be construed as advice designed to meet the needs of an individual investor. Please seek the advice of a financial advisor regarding your financial concerns. Also, before making any decisions that may affect your 2015 tax return, be sure to consult your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

••••• November 2015 Issue  •••••

 

Take a Day to Organize Your Finances

 

 

If you’re like most people, you periodically set aside time to clean out your home, garage or closets. It’s equally as important to take time to organize your finances. The following checklist can help you get started:

 

• Cancel unused credit cards — If you’re paying an annual fee on a credit card or other account that you don’t use, you’re throwing money away. So, cash in any rewards points you have earned and then cancel the account. Of course, take into consideration whether canceling the card will negatively affect your credit rating.

 

• Cancel unused memberships — If a new at-home exercise routine has replaced your trips to the health club or gym, or if you’re no longer playing golf at a course you belong to, consider canceling your membership. Even if you have to pay a fee, you may quickly recoup your financial losses.

 

• Consolidate accounts – You don’t necessarily need multiple checking, savings, investment, retirement or credit card accounts, yet many people maintain them – often because it takes extra time up-front to consolidate. Maintaining numerous accounts can increase the amount of time you spend opening mail, reconciling statements, keeping records and paying bills. When it comes to credit, you may also earn more rewards if you stick to one or two cards.

 

• Negotiate better deals with your service providers — Whether it’s your cable, Internet or waste removal company, chances are you can negotiate a better rate. Simply take time to get quotes from competitors. If they are offering lower rates for the same services, go back to your service provider to see if they will price match to keep your business. If not, switch to someone new.

 

• Update your financial records — Make a list of your current financial accounts, contacts and passwords. Keep this information in a safe and secure place.

 

• Update your beneficiary designations — Your beneficiary designations override your will. So, if you’ve experienced a marriage, divorce, birth, adoption or death, make sure your beneficiary designations reflect your wishes.

 

• Review your home and auto insurance coverage — Make sure your coverage reflects your present needs. Also, price shop the same coverage with different providers. Whether you switch to a new provider or use this information to strike a deal with your current provider, you could save a significant amount.

 

• Simplify your investments – If tracking various investments is stressing you out, consider asset allocation or managed accounts. Attempting to manage and track too many investment accounts can require a great deal of time and, if you’re not on top of the details, can prevent you making the best investment choices for your portfolio. Consider working with a financial professional to help you organize your finances and help you determine what kinds of investments might work best for you.

 

Consult your financial advisor for more ideas and strategies on ways you can save.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

••••• October 2015 Issue  •••••

 

A Reminder That Markets Move Up and Down

 

 

 

 

It’s happened many times before, but when we experienced a serious downward move in stocks in late August, it caught many investors off guard since we hadn’t been through such a shift for quite some time. Beginning on August 18 and ending on August 25, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost nearly 1,900 points or more than 10 percent of its value — a significant drop in a condensed period of time. At the close on August 25, 2015 the Dow Jones Index actually fell more than 14 percent from the year-to-date high it reached in mid-May.

 

More surprising than the drop itself may be that it had been roughly three years since the U.S. stock market experienced a correction of at least 10 percent. Historically, such corrections tend to happen more frequently — on average once every two years since 1932.

 

Markets move in unexpected ways

 

Stock markets are notoriously unpredictable in the short term. The events of August 2015 are a reminder that the markets can move quickly with little or no warning. Nobody can say with certainty what will happen to stocks over the next week, month or even over the next year. For example, by early March of 2009, U.S. stock markets had lost more than 50 percent of their value over an 18-month period. The Dow Jones Industrial Average bottomed at 6,547 and fears were running high. At that point, many investors likely didn’t think they’d see the Dow Index around the 18,000 level that it reached this year in May of 2015.

 

It’s not about the markets — it’s about you

 

It is important to look beyond the headlines and instead keep the focus on what you are trying to accomplish with your investments over time. Short-term market fluctuations are a fact of life, but they should not drive investment strategy. It is important to assess your willingness to accept investment risk in conjunction with the goals you are trying to achieve. A market correction may be a good time to step back and re-assess what you are trying to accomplish with your portfolio. Here are some things to consider:

 

If you have years to let your money grow

 

If you are still several years from retirement, there may be less reason to be concerned with short-term market swings. Make sure your portfolio is positioned in the most effective way to achieve your long-term goals consistent with the amount of fluctuation you are willing to accept over shorter periods. If you don’t feel your portfolio is aligned with your goals given the recent bout of volatility, it may be time to work with a financial professional to reposition it.

 

If you are investing regularly in the market (such as contributions to your workplace retirement plan or an IRA), the volatility could work in your favor through dollar-cost averaging. This is a method of investing that helps reduce the risks of market timing by investing a fixed amount at regular intervals. When prices are low, your investment purchases more shares. When prices rise, you purchase fewer shares. Over time, the average cost of your shares will usually be lower than the average price of those shares. It does not assure a profit or protect against losses in a declining market. However, over longer periods of time it can be an effective means of accumulating shares. Investors should always consider their ability to continue investing through periods of low market prices.

 

If retirement is drawing near

 

Those who are within a few years of retirement tend to be more sensitive to short-term market moves and may want consider making some adjustments to their portfolios. This could include keeping more of your assets in less volatile investments that can help diversify stock market risk. Yet it’s still important to balance the need for growth opportunity as well as less volatile assets with the likelihood that your retirement could last for two-to-three decades or longer. Your next move really depends on what stage of life you are in and how close you are to retirement. Now would be a good time to talk with financial professional about your portfolio.

 

The outlook? More unpredictability

 

If there is one thing we can count on in the days ahead, it is more speculation about where the stock market may be headed. Various experts will voice different opinions about whether a further correction is in the cards or a major rally is on the horizon. Don’t be overly concerned with what you may read about in the papers or hear from TV pundits. Your own financial goals and the time you have to invest should guide your investment decisions.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals

 

 

••••• July/August 2015 Issue  •••••

 

Money and Memory: A Challenge for the Times

 

The increasing prevalence of dementia diagnoses such as Alzheimer’s disease is affecting more families in America. Family members must confront a wide range of issues, from determining when someone is no longer capable of driving, to identifying suitable caregiving options to managing financial affairs.

 

Financial matters can become particularly complex. In the ideal situation, there would be time to prepare a strategy in advance and take the appropriate steps to make sure all is in order. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out that way, but any planning that can be done ahead of time can make things a little easier for everyone involved.

 

Looking for signs

 

It isn’t unusual for issues related to dementia to first come to light if a person begins to have difficulty managing financial matters. That could mean failing to pay bills on time, losing track of funds coming in and going out or even making wildly erratic decisions about their money.

 

As a person’s inability to manage finances becomes more evident, other family members need to approach this issue delicately. The person affected may be hesitant to acknowledge that issues exist or resent having other adults tell them how to handle his or her money. It is best to frame any help in the context of “lending a hand,” not with the implication of taking control of their financial lives.

 

One important step that should happen well in advance is to designate a person or persons as “power of attorney.” A general power of attorney gives the designated person the ability to act as principal for another, including opening or closing financial accounts. This function no longer applies after an individual becomes incapacitated. At that point, a person who has already been named durable power of attorney assumes control of financial matters on behalf of the incapacitated individual. This person is committed to working in the interests of the person they represent. By having a durable power of attorney designated in advance, family members won’t need to seek court approval to establish a guardianship over financial affairs.

 

Planning steps to consider

 

If a person who is beginning to face issues related to dementia is working with a financial advisor, that professional should be contacted and a meeting can be held to discuss the circumstances. It makes sense to review all financial assets owned by the individual who has memory issues and make sure all are properly titled.

 

Determine sources of income, including Social Security and pensions, and make sure a structure is in place so that all payments are directed to the right accounts. To the extent that automatic bill paying can be established, that will make things easier for the individual and caregivers.

 

Insurance is another major thing to think about. Be sure all life, health, long-term care and disability insurance policies are identified and proper beneficiaries are named. Make certain the right coverage is in place to meet the needs of the individual who is sure to require additional medical attention in the years ahead.

 

Prepare for the costs of caregiving

 

Careful planning is also needed to prepare for expenses related to ongoing care of an individual who is diagnosed with a form of dementia. Over time, care needs will most likely become more significant. A plan should be put in place, including making arrangements for in-home care or moving to a facility that can provide the necessary level of support as the condition worsens.

 

These are among the many issues that should be laid out in advance, ideally while a person who faces challenges with dementia is still able to be part of the discussion. If adult children are concerned about issues with their parents, it may be beneficial to get the conversation started soon. Consulting with a financial advisor and an attorney familiar with elder law issues may also be helpful.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals

 

 

••••• July/August 2015 Issue  •••••

3 Ways to Simplify Your Financial Life

 

 

 

 

When life gets busy it’s easy to become more passive about managing your bank accounts and credit cards by letting receipts, bills and statements pile up. Even if you regularly keep up with your finances, it can be beneficial to take a fresh look at them. Simplify your financial life with these three strategies.

 

1. Go paperless.

 

It’s easier than ever to access financial documents online. Choosing paperless convenience will not only make your life more efficient and clutter-free, it’s also environmentally friendly.

 

A good place to start is by requesting electronic statements and opting out of printed ones from the companies who send you regular bills. Consider going paperless with your bank, credit card companies, your cell phone and cable providers or your electric company. You’ll then receive an email when your statement or bill is ready each month. This gives you the option to download and store your statements electronically and also to print and file if needed.

 

If you’re not already enrolled in direct deposit with your employer, make sure to get this set up. It saves a trip to the bank on pay day and you get to enjoy the fruits of your labors sooner. While you’re at it, go ahead and request electronic receipts at the store when they’re offered in lieu of stuffing them in your pockets or purse.

 

2. Consolidate where you can.

 

There are several corners of your financial life that can be simplified through consolidation. Retirement accounts are one of those areas. If you’ve worked for several employers during the course of your career, you’ve probably acquired a few retirement accounts along the way. Accumulated assets left in a former employer’s retirement account are still yours, but they sometimes offer less investment flexibility. If you like the idea of having fewer accounts to keep track of, or if you prefer to actively manage your retirement dollars, consider consolidating stray 401(k) and IRA dollars by rolling them into a centralized retirement account. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to rollovers so it’s important to weigh all of your options. (Consider a direct rollover, as withholding tax and tax penalties may apply for cash withdrawals.)

 

Credit cards and debt are two other areas where consolidation may be wise. Is it time to chop up the card that carries a hefty annual fee? Are you carrying a credit card balance that is snowballing due to high interest rates? It may be financially advantageous to pay off the cards with the highest interest rates and either close the account or put it away for emergency use only. It’s a relief to have fewer cards to manage, along with a plan for extinguishing debt.

 

3. Turn to the professionals.

 

As you sort through your financial choices, enlist the right team of professionals to assist you. Helpful professionals may include a tax advisor or an accountant, who can provide guidance on how to put you in the best tax situation, and a lawyer who specializes in estate planning. Also consider consulting a financial advisor who can help you streamline your financial life and accelerate your financial goals by recommending specific strategies based on your individual situation. Each of these professionals can share their expertise with you and help you eliminate unnecessary financial clutter.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, a Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

 

••••• June 2015 Issue  •••••

Reinventing Yourself in Retirement

 

 

 

Retirement offers people a great opportunity to start something new. In addition, life expectancy trends indicate that an increasing number of baby boomers should be prepared for a long life in retirement. While this is good news, it also creates a few things to think about:

 

• Financial resources may need to extend for a retirement that could last two-to-three decades or longer

 

• Healthy, vibrant individuals may not be prepared to “shut down” and enter into a traditional retirement

 

In light of these dual considerations, it may be time to rethink plans to retire at a traditional age, such as 65. For many, extending work into later life may be necessary to ensure long-term financial security. For others, it may not be a financial necessity as much as a desired lifestyle choice. Those who are healthy and energetic might not be ready to give up on work just yet. What do you do now?

 

Changing career focus

 

As you enter your late 50s and early 60s, you may be thinking about what’s next in life. High on the list for many is maintaining a sense of purpose as you grow older. In many cases, continuing to work in some capacity is part of this equation. A number of people view the period approaching and entering retirement from their career as a time to begin a new chapter in their lives.

 

This may mean reinventing yourself and the role you play as a contributor in the workforce. It requires “out-of-the-box” thinking to determine what you may be suited for that differs from what you’ve already been doing in your career. The range of options at this stage in life may be broader than you think. They include:

 

• Building on your experience by becoming a consultant for your former employers and others with a similar need

 

• Taking on a part-time role with your current employer, something that gives you more flexibility to pursue other interests

 

• Pursuing a long-held dream to start a business, possibly in a field completely different from what you’ve pursued in the past

 

• Providing your services to benefit organizations and people in a volunteer capacity

 

Looking for purpose

 

A developing trend is the desire among many baby boomers who want to keep working to find an occupation that provides an increased sense of purpose in life. Money may not be the prime motivation to keep working. Particularly for those who are more financially secure, the drudgery of the workaday world they may have experienced before can be set aside. Now is a time to seek work that is more engaging and purpose-filled.

 

Older Americans should not rule out the opportunity to take advantage of their available time to relax as well. Taking time off after spending years dedicated to a career and accumulating wealth is well deserved. It might also give you an opportunity to “re-tool,” reconsider your options and determine the best course of action for the next phase of your life.

 

The idea of “reinventing yourself” later in life can be a viable option for you. Make sure you have your financial house in order and avoid taking steps that might put your long-term financial security at risk. This can be an exciting time in life full of new opportunity. You’ll want to be certain that any choices you make are consistent with your abilities, energy and financial capabilities.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals

 

 

••••• May 2015 Issue  •••••

 

 

Keeping an Eye on Interest Rates

The Federal Reserve and the monetary policy it pursues is always a matter of interest to investors. The level of intrigue has been particularly acute this year because of growing speculation that the Fed is likely to boost the Fed Funds rate, a short-term interest rate it controls directly, for the first time since 2006.

 

This creates challenges for investors who may have pursued one investment strategy in a period of declining or stable interest rates. A different approach might be required if the interest rate environment shifts to one where rates trend higher.

 

Assessing bond market risk today

 

Interest rate risk is always a concern for bond investors, but especially when rates are as low as they are today. Rising interest rates may seem beneficial to fixed income investors who would like to earn higher yields on their savings, but there is a downside. When interest rates rise, the value of bonds already in the market (and potentially held in your portfolio or bond mutual fund) declines. These price declines occur as the bond yields rise to reflect the increase in interest rates. In the long run, the bonds will mature at par, or 100% of their initial value, but in the short run, investors may see a drop in investment values.

 

For several years, there’s been significant speculation among market analysts that the interest rate environment was due for a change. Consider it from an historical perspective using the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note at constant maturity as a benchmark:

 

• The yield peaked at 15.84 percent in September 1981.

 

• Over the next 30 years, yields moved lower, eventually hitting a low of 1.43 percent in July, 2012.

 

• For the last three years, yields have fluctuated in a fairly wide range, from 1.68 percent to 3.04 percent as investors have digested economic data and Federal Reserve commentaries.

 

At these current low levels, the general consensus is that rates are likely to move higher, meaning bond portfolios might be at risk of losing value in the near term.

 

A potential residual effect on stocks

 

The impact of rising interest rates on the equity market is typically less direct than it is on the bond market. At times in the past when interest rates have moved higher, it has dampened returns in the stock market. There could be a few reasons for this. With rates moving higher, some investors think bonds are more attractive than stocks. Also, higher interest rates could potentially dampen borrowing activity, and even contribute to a slowdown in business activity. Of course, there are many other factors that can also affect stocks and businesses besides interest rate movements. Regardless of what happens with rates, your age and investment time horizon have a lot to do with how you make investment decisions. Make sure these decisions are in the long-term interests of achieving your financial objectives.

 

Positioning for a change

 

If past market cycles are any guide, it is inevitable that at some point, interest rates will begin to move higher. The biggest questions are when it will start, and how quickly and dramatic the increase will be. While it may not be possible to eliminate all risk from the impact of rising rates, investors should exercise some caution. Now is a good time to consult with a financial professional about how to prepare for potential changes in the investment landscape that would occur if interest rates begin to move higher.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals

 

•••••• March 2015 Issue  •••••

 

 

Final Checklist for Your 50s

 

 

While 50 may be the new 40 in terms of lifestyle, vitality and longevity, it’s important to take a more earnest and pragmatic approach toward your long-term financial health than you may have in your 40s. Retirement may have felt far away a decade ago, but now it’s approaching rapidly. Many people in their 50s also feel the financial pressure of being part of the “sandwich generation,” a growing group of individuals who simultaneously support their adult children and aging parents in addition to saving for their own financial goals. Here are a few financial tips for people who are in their 50s.

 

1. Organize your financial priorities. At this point, saving aggressively for retirement should be at the top of your list. You likely still have other financial obligations, but it is critical that you don’t put retirement on the back burner. Try to find a balance between funding your family members’ needs – like college or assisted living expenses – and your personal savings. These decisions are often difficult, and may seem overwhelming, but having a written financial plan with guidelines for you and your family can help make them easier.

 

2. Kick your savings into high gear. If you’re already saving for retirement but have the ability to increase the amount you’re contributing to your 401(k) or IRA – do it! Know the maximum contribution you’re allowed to make each year, adjust what you’re saving accordingly and ensure you’re taking full advantage of your company’s matching program. If your savings are lacking, don’t panic, but recognize that you might have some catching up to do. The good news is, after age 50 you can make catch-up contributions to most retirement plans.

 

3. Calculate what you’ll need for retirement. Set aside some time to determine the expenses you’ll likely incur during retirement. Keep in mind that the financial impact of healthcare costs and long-term care can be sizable – and that with the average lifespan increasing, you may need to rely on your retirement savings for 30 year or longer. Though they shouldn’t replace the advice of a professional advisor, online resources like a retirement savings calculator can provide a baseline to get you started.

 

4. Be realistic. Retirement may be a possibility for you within five or 10 years, or it could be more distant. Regardless, now is the time to evaluate what you will spend your money on once you’ve retired and to discuss your retirement plans with your family. If you have a spouse or significant other, set goals together and make sure your plans are aligned. Consider where you might live, whether you plan to travel or work part-time. If you find that your retirement expenses are largely out of reach, adjust your savings, or make some decisions about how you’ll prioritize your goals.

 

5. Anticipate bumps in the road. Your role as a parent and a child is never ending, but as your family grows and changes, so should the level of financial support you provide. Have candid conversations with any family member you’re supporting financially and set realistic expectations. If your adult children or aging parents need help making healthy money decisions, provide advice but resist opening your pocketbook if it will put your own financial security in jeopardy. Also, be prepared for changes that may impact your plans, such as an early retirement offer or unexpected illness. While these can be difficult to prepare for, thinking through a variety of scenarios and establishing contingency plans can help ensure you’re financially secure in any situation.

 

There are many milestones you might encounter during your 50s, like becoming an empty-nester, a grandparent or dealing with the death of a parent – and all these things may have an impact on your finances. If you haven’t already started working with a financial advisor, consider doing so. A professional can help you navigate the complexities of estimating what you’ll need in the years to come, and help you organize, plan and save – regardless of what might come your way.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

 

••••• March 2015 Issue  •••••

Seven Essentials About Social Security

 

As more baby boomers reach retirement age, they’re realizing the valuable role Social Security will play as a source of lifetime income. Claiming Social Security benefits can be far more complex than you may realize. Here are seven essential things about Social Security to understand as you determine how Social Security will fit into your overall retirement income strategy:

 

1. You can start claiming benefits anytime between ages 62 and 70

 

When you’re working and paying Social Security taxes (via your paycheck), you earn credit toward your Social Security retirement benefits. To qualify for these benefits, you need to contribute at least 40 credits to the system, which is typically 10 working years (although it does vary). Alternatively, if you have never worked and you’re married to someone who qualifies, you may earn a spousal benefit. When claiming your own benefit, you can begin receiving Social Security at age 62 or delay receiving Social Security up to your 70th birthday.

 

2. Full retirement age is changing

 

The age to qualify for a “full” retirement benefit from Social Security used to be 65. Now it is up to 66 (for those born between 1943 and 1954). It increases by two months per year for those born between 1955 and 1959. For those born in 1960 or later, full retirement age is currently defined as 67.

 

3. The longer you wait, the larger your benefit

 

The amount of your benefit depends on the age you choose to first begin receiving Social Security. For example, if you collect beginning at 62 and your full retirement age is 66, your benefit will be about 25 percent lower. On the flip side, your benefit will increase by about 8 percent each year you delay taking Social Security after your full retirement age up to your 70th birthday.

 

4. Spousal benefits give married couples extra flexibility

 

If both spouses worked, they each can receive benefits based on their own earnings history. However, a lower earning spouse can choose to base a benefit on the higher earning spouse’s income. A spousal benefit equals 50% of the other spouse’s benefit. Note that if you claim a spousal benefit before full retirement age, it will be reduced. The maximum spousal benefit you can collect is by taking the benefit at your full retirement age (based on the benefit your spouse would earn at his or her full retirement age). You also can choose to collect a spousal benefit initially and delay taking your own benefit, allowing your benefit amount to increase. Then you can claim your benefit when you turn 70.

 

5. There may be a long-term advantage if a higher earning spouse delays Social Security

 

If the higher earning spouse is older (or has more health concerns that could affect longevity), it may make sense to delay taking Social Security as long as possible up to age 70. When the spouse with the higher benefit dies, the surviving spouse will collect the higher benefit that was earned by the deceased spouse. The higher the deceased spouse’s benefit, the larger the monthly check for the surviving spouse.

 

6. Claiming benefits early while still working can reduce your benefit

 

If you begin claiming Social Security before your full retirement age but continue to earn income, your Social Security benefit could be reduced. If your earnings are above a certain level ($15,720 in 2015), your Social Security checks will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earned in income above that threshold. In the year you reach full retirement age, that threshold amount changes. $1 is deducted for every $3 earned above $41,880 up to the month you reach full retirement age. Once you reach full retirement age, you can earn as much income as you want with no reduction in your Social Security benefits.

 

7. Benefits you earn may be subject to tax

 

According to the Social Security Administration, about one-third of people who receive Social Security have to pay income tax on their benefits. You may want to consult a tax professional to determine what impacts this will have on your overall benefits.

 

These essential points are just a beginning. There’s much more to consider. Consult with your financial advisor, tax professional, your local Social Security office and/or Social Security’s website, www.ssa.gov to find out more before you make your final decisions about when to first claim Social Security benefits.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

 

••••• February 2015 Issue  •••••

 

Managing Your Taxes in 2015

 

There’s one thing you can count on as we kick off a new year – changes to the tax code. While there are few major new laws affecting taxpayers in 2015, it is important to understand how any adjustments to tax rules or your income might affect your tax liability. It is a critical aspect of your overall financial plan and can help you avoid any surprises when you file your 2015 tax return next year.

 

Be aware that new laws can be implemented during the year. Congress has the ability to adjust tax laws and even do so retroactively. The tax code in place at the start of 2015 could be altered before year’s end, with those changes being made effective for the whole year.

 

Here are some important tax considerations for the New Year:

 

Get health insurance or pay

 

The individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act that took effect January 1, 2014 requires most individuals to obtain a qualifying level of health insurance or be subject to a fee. In 2015, the fee has increased to the higher of:

 

• 2% of your yearly household income (capped at a certain level); or

 

• $325 per person ($162.50 for a child under 18), with a family maximum of $975.

 

If your employer provides health coverage, you do not have to purchase additional insurance on your own. Those who don’t have employer coverage can review options available from the health insurance exchanges. Visit www.healthcare.gov for information.

 

Take advantage of tax savings by deferring income

 

If you typically “max out” your workplace retirement plan contributions, you are able to adjust those deferral amounts to a higher level in 2015. The elective deferral limit for employees has risen to $18,000, $500 more than in 2014. Those 50 and older can make an additional $6,000 in contributions ($500 more than 2014) to their 401(k), 403(b) or federal government Thrift Savings Plan. Remember that for every dollar of income you defer into your retirement plan on a pre-tax basis, you reduce your current tax liability.

 

Pay attention to a new limit on IRA rollovers

 

IRA contribution limits remain the same for 2015, but there is an important rule change for IRAs. Now, tax laws allow only one rollover from an IRA to a different IRA in a 12-month period. The “one rollover per year” limit applies in circumstances where you withdraw money from an IRA, but then roll it to another IRA within 60 days to avoid any current tax or penalty consequences. Direct transfers from an IRA with one trustee to an IRA with another can happen as often as you wish. Unless it is absolutely necessary, you want to avoid taking IRA distributions prior to age 59-1/2 to eliminate the risk of incurring a penalty. It’s best to talk with a tax professional before doing an indirect rollover to make sure you understand all the rules.

 

Account for inflation in tax rates and your income

 

Tax brackets are adjusted yearly for inflation. In 2015, the income thresholds for each bracket were raised by about 1.5%. The standard deduction amount (used if you don’t itemize deductions) and the personal exemption amount are also adjusted for inflation. It is important to be aware of how all of these factors might affect your tax liability. On the other side of the coin, if you receive a salary increase and/or bonus in 2015, it could impact your tax bill. Work with your tax advisor to help determine if the amount of tax withheld from each paycheck is sufficient to avoid an under withholding penalty.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP, is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

••••• January 2015 Issue  •••••

 

 

Better Financial Resolve for 2015

 

 

It takes a lot of practice to become a champion of responsible spending and saving to meet your long-term goals. If you’re a bit out of shape in the financial department, don’t try to change everything overnight. Instead, embark on a financial evolution that fosters the kind of behaviors that will improve your financial standing over time. Here are three fundamentals to embrace as you evolve to a new financial you in 2015.

 

1. Be more aware. Paying more attention to your finances can make a big difference when it comes to achieving your long-term financial goals. You may overspend because you don’t have a handle on your budget and you’re not exactly sure how much you can afford to spend. Move into the new year with renewed focus on your money—where it comes from and where it goes. You may want to try forgoing the use of your credit card and only spend money on things you can afford through your bank account. Also, make it a habit to review your bank statements each month so you can see where your money is going and make adjustments if necessary.

 

2. Reinforce the good. Don’t underestimate the power of your inner self and how emotions drive your financial behaviors. For example, you may dread paying bills or saving money because it makes you feel deprived or anxious. Borrow from the field of psychology and use conditioning and rewards to reinforce behaviors you want to repeat. Start by practicing positive self-talk to help align your heart with your head. Then sit down to pay bills with your favorite music playing and a favorite snack or beverage as refreshment. Use a notebook to record your successes and mentally thank yourself for completing the task. Over time, you may start to look forward to the positive feelings now associated with keeping your finances in order.

 

3. Add and subtract. Changing how you behave financially involves subtracting behaviors and adding others. For every “bad” financial habit you want to eliminate, identify two or more smart financial habits to take its place. For example, if your goal is to stop accruing late fees, identify new actions that will help you succeed, such as opening bills immediately to be aware of due dates, programming alerts in your calendar to trigger payments or signing up for automatic payments. Before you know it, late fees will be a thing of the past and you’ll also have a better handle on your upcoming financial obligations.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals••••• December 2014 Issue  •••••

 

 

Considering Healthcare in Retirement

 

 

With all the uncertainties of the future, it’s difficult for people to know exactly how much to save for retirement. While it may be relatively easy to gauge how much you’ll need for everyday living expenses like food and housing, other expenses such as the costs for health care can be a lot more difficult to estimate.

 

According to projections from the Employee Benefit Research Institute*, a baby boomer couple retiring in 2020 will need an average of $227,000 to cover medical expenses. You can hope your costs will be on the lower side of that figure, but there’s really no way to predict the amount of medical care you’ll need as you age—or the price tag that will go with it.

 

To help people better understand how their future health status, health care costs and finances are all intertwined, Ameriprise Financial recently released the Health, Wealth and RetirementSM study. Here are five key findings from the study, along with some tips to help you manage future medical costs:

 

1. Most baby boomers have yet to take financial action to prepare for health care and potential long-term care costs in retirement. You can take some comfort in knowing you’re not alone if you haven’t put a plan in place to manage your future health care costs. But, because these costs can be so significant, the sooner you take action, the better off you’ll likely be.

 

2. The majority of boomers see the connection between health and potentially reduced health care costs in retirement. While many health events are unpredictable, you can control some aspects of your future state of health. One way to offset your need for medicines or surgeries is to take care of yourself now—by eating right and getting sufficient exercise and rest.

 

3. 1 in 4 baby boomers have experienced a serious health condition; 54% say it had a financial impact. This insight reinforces the vital importance of an emergency health care fund and the value of a comprehensive medical plan. Your task is then to learn about your health coverage options in retirement, including supplemental plans that can help offset large and unexpected expenses in exchange for monthly premiums.

 

4. Those who have taken action to prepare for health care coverage in retirement experience positive emotions, while those who have not experience worry, anxiety and insecurity. Do your best to reduce the amount of worry and stress in your life by taking steps to plan and save for your health care expenses in retirement.

 

5. A majority (62 percent) of those preparing for retirement plan to consult their financial advisors about how to afford future health care costs. This fact reveals that this is a task that requires a second opinion. With the help of a qualified financial advisor, you can explore strategies for managing future health care costs in the context of a larger plan that considers all of your wants and needs in retirement.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

 

 

••••• November 2014 Issue  •••••

 

More Women Are Taking Control of Their Finances

 

As women’s economic, political and social power increase, they’re also taking a more active role in their finances. According to the recent Ameriprise Financial Women and Financial PowerSM study, women of all generations are involved in financial decision making — either shared or on their own — in their households.

 

In fact, among the Boomer, Gen X and Millennial women surveyed, only 4 percent said they weren’t involved in financial matters. More than half (56%) share in making financial decisions with a spouse or partner. Another 41 percent are the sole financial decision-makers in their households.

 

Of the women who are the sole decision-makers, 63 percent are either unmarried or divorced. And nearly half (42%) of the 37 percent of married women said they are in the role of primary financial decision-maker because they view themselves as the most financially savvy individual in their household.

 

Trends show more Millennial women are financial decision-makers

 

A closer look at the numbers also reveals a trend for younger generations to take greater control of household finances. Thirty-eight percent of Millennials — compared with 22 percent of Gen Xers and 11 percent of Boomers — said they are the primary financial decision-makers.

 

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that many Millennial women said they feel educated and knowledgeable about finances. Many (62%) also said that one or both of their parents spent time teaching them about finances and financial decision making while growing up — compared to only 43 percent of boomers.

 

This experience seems to have made mothers under age 34 even more likely to pass on financial knowledge to their children. A large portion (85%) of Millennial women with children over the age of five believe they have done at least a good job of teaching their children about money. In fact, 33 percent rate themselves as “excellent” at this — many more than any other generation studied. So, it appears that Millennial women are paving the way for the next generation to be even more financially savvy and confident.

 

Planning for your financial future makes a difference

 

Another interesting finding the survey revealed was that women who have a written financial plan feel the most financially confident and in control. They are also more likely to feel at peace with their financial choices. What’s more, women’s financial engagement and attitudes tend to improve with age. For example, 76 percent of boomer women said they have a long-term financial plan they feel comfortable with, compared to just over half (55%) of younger women.

 

This increased comfort also extends to the non-financial aspects of their lives. Boomer-aged women are more likely to rate all the life values — such as financial security, family harmony and health — as more important than other generations. Women ages 55 to 70 are also more likely to say they are satisfied that they’ve achieved the things that are important to them (80% versus 66% of women under age 55).

 

As the national conversations about finances and retirement readiness continue, it’s important that women — and men — know how to successfully save and manage their money. If you’d like to learn more about financial planning or about creating a holistic financial plan, consult a financial advisor. An advisor can help you assess your financial situation and goals, and create a strategy to help reach them.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

 

 

••••• October 2014 Issue  •••••

 

Spend or invest? New thoughts on an age-old dilemma

 

A familiar experience for many Americans is that as fast as money comes in, it goes out the door again in pursuit of the next “must have” purchase. Such spending habits can take a toll on plans to build up savings for the future. The key is finding a balance between immediate gratification and long-term financial security.

 

In many instances, we can all find ways save on daily purchases to set more money aside to help meet goals like saving for retirement or a child’s education. The bigger challenge comes when it is time to make a major purchase – a home, a car, appliances or home improvements. These expenditures can require the immediate outlay of thousands of dollars. You may have to drain money from savings or at the very least reduce available funds to invest for your future. When is the expenditure worth it, and when is the cost too prohibitive relative to your financial future?

 

Judging the “real” cost

 

There are a variety of ways to assess the financial value of a major purchase. The approach you choose can vary depending on the type of expenditure you make. Here are three ways to think about it:

 

1. Opportunity cost

 

Whenever you’re making a significant purchase on a product or service, you need to look at how it will impact your financial future. It is important to assess the opportunity cost of making a cash purchase today. For example, consider what could happen if instead of spending $5,000 on a home entertainment center, that money was invested for 20 years earning 7% per year. Over time, that $5,000 could grow to more than $19,000 (not accounting for taxes or investment fees). Assessing potential opportunity cost is one way to better evaluate the real cost of making a significant purchase.

 

 

 

2. A “return on investment”

 

Another consideration is whether there is a payback on the purchase. For example, paying for a class or a college degree may provide a future return in the form of the potential for increased income. Anybody who has spent (or taken loans for) $100,000 or more for a medical or law degree likely does so with a reasonable expectation that future income will more than make up the difference. A home improvement may be looked at in the same way – an investment that may be recouped in the future.

 

3. Borrowing the money to cover purchase costs

 

While it may be tempting to pay for purchases with credit cards, home equity loans or other types of financing, you have to think about how much borrowing the money will cost in the long run. The key here is to limit interest charges as much as possible. It’s not that you necessarily need to avoid all debt. In some instances you can incur “good debt,” which is used to purchase an asset that has a long lifespan, increasing value and other potential benefits such as tax deductibility of interest. Mortgages and student loans are typically considered good debt.

 

Major expenditures aren’t just about the immediate benefit. You should consider whether the current cost would become more significant over time because the money was not invested for your future.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Brio Financial Group, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goal

 

 

 

••••• September 2014 Issue  •••••

 

Adjusting your Money Mindset

 

Money is a powerful force in our lives. We’re required to think about money—how much we have, how much we want, how to get more of it— on a regular basis. Undoubtedly, how we think about money influences our emotions and behaviors. For these reasons, if you’re serious about improving your financial life, it can be helpful to examine your money mindset, look for patterns that may interfere with your personal goals, and replace what hinders you with more productive habits.

 

Acknowledge the influence of your personal history. Because our financial lives are inextricably linked to our family of origin and upbringing, we’re all bound to have a complex and layered relationship with money. If you grew up in poverty, you may have an underlying sense of never having “enough.” If you are accustomed to abundance, you may never have learned how to manage money wisely. Of course, neither of these scenarios may be true if you had someone who taught you good money habits. The purpose of looking back is to see if you have any ingrained stumbling blocks that can sabotage your best intentions to earn what you’re worth, save adequately, spend responsibly or be more philanthropic. If you see room for improvement, awareness paves the way for change, as needed or desired.

 

Evaluate your emotional response to money. Is your emotional state tied to your assets? Does your bank account define you? When you allow money to occupy the driver’s seat, normal emotional states can sometimes turn into feelings of anxiety. It’s not that it’s wrong to feel a certain way, it’s just that certain powerful emotions can prevent you from making reasonable choices.

 

Stop playing money mind games without much possibility of winning. If you find yourself in any of these mental exchanges, you might be setting yourself up with challenges down the road.

 

I’ll be happy when I make more money. Working toward your financial goals is crucial, but it’s also important to enjoy successes you’re experiencing today.

 

Money is the only thing that matters. Money is important as a means to an end. However, worshipping money at the expense of people, nature, art and ideas is likely to lead to loneliness and disappointment.

 

Money is meaningless. This kind of thinking can also be harmful, because it can feed reckless spending and de-motivate your work life. Money should be treated with respect and not frittered away.

 

Let go of the past. Stop beating yourself up for your financial mistakes. It’s better to reframe regrets as opportunities to learn and grow. Don’t shut the door on your past, but don’t let it convince you that you don’t deserve another chance, or that you can’t change the present or the future. Plenty of people have turned their financial lives around after a failed business, job loss, stock tumble, tax trouble or any number of other financial fiascos. Focusing on what you can do now, with an open mind about the future, can free you from a history you’d prefer to forget.

 

Curtail the time spent thinking about money. There’s an appropriate amount of time to devote to money matters, and then there’s the extreme of continuous, non-productive dwelling on dollars and cents. If you find yourself mulling over financial mistakes or fantasizing at length about winning the lottery, it’s time to switch gears. Try to gain insight into what you really hope to accomplish (or avoid) by allowing money to monopolize your thoughts, and step back to see the futility of your preoccupation. Next, identify actions you can take that will be more successful at helping you reach your goals. Give yourself permission to problem solve or daydream for short bursts of time, but then get back to the business of living.

 

Enlist a financial ally. A skilled financial advisor will be very familiar with the mental, emotional and behavioral landmines you may be grappling with as you work to establish a strong financial foundation for your life. They can provide you with the tools to plan, save, and invest, within your timeframe and budget, according to your personal goals. But you can also look to your advisor for guidance and encouragement as you sharpen your mental game with regard to personal money management.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Jordan Miller & Associates, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

••••• August 2014 Issue  •••••

 

MONEY MATTERS

Lending Money to Family Members

 

It’s harder than ever for young adults to save and get ahead in our current economy. Modest incomes and college loans make it tough to assemble enough cash to purchase a car or make a down payment on a house. It doesn’t help that credit standards have tightened, putting bank loans out of reach for those without a strong credit history.

 

It’s no wonder people are looking to family members for some financial help, and while you may want to help, lending to a family member isn’t always the best idea. Here are a few reasons why:

 

Tricky to negotiate

 

When family is involved, people tend to think with their hearts rather than their brains. Settling on terms that are agreeable to both people involved is easier said than done. One person may view the loan as more of a favor or obligation than a business transaction, setting the stage for misunderstanding. And when opinions differ about the size of a loan and the terms of repayment, it can be difficult to find common ground.

 

Lack of enforcement

 

A conventional loan has built-in rules that help keep borrowers on track. In contrast, there’s often a nebulous framework surrounding a family loan. If there’s no consequence for a late payment, there’s little incentive to make payments on-time. As a result, a loan to a family member can stretch from months to years to decades, simply because it can.

 

Altered relationship

 

Money has a way of driving a wedge between the best of relationships. A family loan changes the dynamics between even the most well-intentioned family members. A loan tips the balance of power, and one or both parties may find themselves feeling resentful once money has changed hands. Suddenly the lender has the upper hand, and the borrower may feel angry at the lender’s scrutiny of spending habits. Similarly, the lender may feel entitled to be more involved in the borrower’s personal life, creating unpleasant friction.

 

Ripple effect

 

A loan within the family can cause problems beyond the borrower and lender. Other family members may frown on the loan. Siblings or cousins may be jealous. Grandparents may feel protective; parents may want to intervene. Aunts and uncles may take sides. As more people and emotions are dragged into the fray, the stickier it can be.

 

High potential for default

 

Individuals who borrow money from family members often do so because their credit is shaky, which likely means the risk of default under these circumstances will be higher than average. The takeaway? Make sure you can live without the money before you part with it.

 

Poor rate of return

 

Lending money to a family member is rarely a good investment if you’re weighing your return in hard dollars. You may never see a dime of principal, let alone interest. If you’re satisfied knowing your money helped someone you care about, then you may be okay with a low rate of return.

 

No going back

 

Once you’ve extended a family loan, it’s hard to undo. The money is out there, with uncertain promise of return. Feelings can be easily hurt and difficult to repair. If you can’t afford the risks that come with loaning money to a family member, you’re well within your rights to say no. But if you do decide to provide a financial loan to a family member, do yourself a favor and consult an expert. Meet with your financial advisor to determine how a loan will impact your overall net worth and what steps you can take to make up the deficit. It’s also a good idea to draw up an agreement with terms of the loan, including clear expectations for repayment.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Jordan Miller & Associates, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

 

••••• May 2014 Issue  •••••

 

 

The Homestretch Before Retirement

 

 

 

As people enter their 50s and early 60s, earnings from work or other income sources often begin to reach a peak. In many instances, this also happens at the same time some expenses decrease – people might not need to worry about college tuition costs for kids, or perhaps they paid off the home mortgage.

 

Based on all of these factors, people may have more discretionary money available during this period than at any other time in life. You may or may not find yourself in this exact situation, but one thing is clear – the last decade or two you spend working is a great opportunity to build financial security for retirement.

 

This fact seems to hit home as individuals reach their 50th birthday. There is a greater sense of urgency about finding ways to stash more money away for retirement savings – either workplace plans like a 401(k) or other accounts such as an IRA. Whatever savings vehicle you use, it makes sense to set aside as much money as possible to protect the ability to enjoy your desired lifestyle in retirement.

 

Those nearing retirement have a chance to ‘catch up’

 

While tax laws may restrict how much money you can direct to a workplace savings plan or IRA on an annual basis, once you reach age 50, you have more flexibility. Provisions in the tax code allow for “catch-up” contributions to these types of tax-advantaged savings plans. Assuming you’ve earned sufficient income, in 2014, those who will reach age 50 and older can contribute:

 

• Up to $23,000 to a traditional 401(k), 403(b) or most 457 plans. By comparison those under age 50 are limited to contributions of no more than $17,500 per year.

 

• Up to $14,500 to a SIMPLE 401(k) plan (compared to the standard limit of $12,000).

 

• As much as $6,500 per year to an IRA (either traditional or Roth IRA or a combination of the two). That’s $1,000 more than is allowed for those under age 50.

 

The extra several thousand dollars you are allowed to invest in tax-deferred accounts can make a big difference if you take advantage of it year-after-year.

 

Making the most of your closing years of work

 

Maximizing retirement plan contributions and other savings targeted for retirement funding is critical as your working life winds down. It represents the last best chance for you to accumulate wealth to achieve your financial goals for your post-working years. Here are some things you might want to consider doing:

 

• Contribute as much as you can to your workplace savings plan. If your employer offers a matching contribution, you’ll want to at least contribute enough to fully capitalize on the match. If possible, contribute the maximum amount allowed.

 

• Add money to your IRA, and if possible, try to build some money in a Roth IRA to take advantage of the potential of tax-free withdrawals later in life.

 

• Set additional dollars aside in savings or brokerage accounts if you’ve maximized contributions to retirement accounts.

 

There are many variables to think about when it comes to planning for retirement. Consider talking with a financial professional to help make sure you’re on track for your specific retirement goals.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Jordan Miller & Associates, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

 

••••• June 2014 Issue  •••••

 

Landing Your Dream Job in Retirement

 

 

Many retirees choose to work in retirement. Americans in general have a strong work ethic, so a life of extended leisure doesn’t appeal to everyone. And with the average U.S. life expectancy estimated at 80.1 years, there’s no reason why you can’t pursue meaningful work in retirement especially if your health is good and your mind is sharp. The desire for activity and income are other important reasons you may decide to return to the workforce and stay there well beyond age 65. If you need to or want to work in retirement, there are many options.

 

What kind of “second career” is plausible for a senior citizen? Retirees today can consider a number of opportunities, such as turning special expertise into a consulting gig, taking a part-time job, starting a small business or volunteering for non-profit work. Let’s take a closer look at the possibilities for working in retirement.

 

Become a consultant. When you retire after many years in a specialized field, you take a wealth of experience and knowledge with you that cannot be easily replaced. Many retired professionals turn their past into thriving consulting businesses, often providing services to their former employers. Others gain clients by blogging about their fields of expertise. Speaking engagements, seminars and webinars are additional ways you can share your knowledge, which can bring in income and provide you with the professional and intellectual stimulation your former work life provided.

 

Get a part-time job. If your former field offers part-time opportunities, you may be one of the lucky ones to land a less-than-full time job with better-than-average compensation. Some seniors go back to school to get another degree, training or certification that will qualify them for a challenging part-time job in a field of interest. Or, you may decide to take a low stress, entry-level job simply to remain active—bagging groceries, working a cash register or becoming a barista to stay busy for a portion of the week while lining your pockets with a little extra cash.

 

Start your own small business. Many sellers on sites such as eBay and Etsy are people who have turned their hobbies of collecting or crafting into thriving businesses. In your former work life, you may not have had as much time to devote to your hobby as you would have liked. Now you can pursue selling your collectibles or handmade treasures and enjoy the rewards of a small business.

 

Volunteer. Many retirees take advantage of their open calendars to ramp up volunteering for organizations they wish to support. And while giving your services freely to your favorite nonprofit won’t pad your pocketbook, it can be extremely rewarding and meaningful. Whether you choose to help your favorite church, hospital, professional organization or animal shelter, volunteering your time can enrich your life and benefit your community in important ways.

 

It’s up to you to create a rewarding retirement. If you choose to continue working for a paycheck, your financial advisor can help you examine how additional income will impact your overall retirement finances. If you do decide to return to the workforce, remember this: The point of a work commitment in retirement is not to replicate your former 40-plus hour work week—you’ve been there and done that. Ideally, your retirement career is about staying active and engaged in ways that keep you young. Whether or not you pursue a new line of work in retirement, be sure to leave room for activities and interactions that will make your golden years as rewarding as they can be.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Jordan Miller & Associates, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

 

••••• May 2014 Issue  •••••

Essential Money Topics Before Marriage

 

When couples tie the knot, they make a commitment to stand by one another, for richer or poorer. Despite this earnest vow, money is a common source of marital strife at all economic levels. Money is so central to our daily lives that conflicting financial beliefs and behaviors can spill into all areas of married life.

 

Communication is key to avoiding surprises, promoting cooperation and creating harmony in your new financial life together. Before reciting your marriage vows, take time to understand the state of your pending economic union. A joint household will fare better when both of you are open and honest about all of your money matters. As you learn more about yourself and one another, you’ll be better able to manage your own expectations and respect the choices of your new spouse.

 

Here are three money topics that deserve discussion before you walk down the aisle:

 

What does money mean to you? This is a big, broad question, but it can uncover what’s at the heart of many financial disagreements. Examining closely held beliefs about money is a healthy part of personal development. You can assess your financial values by answering smaller questions like these: Do you equate money with success? Is your bank account a measure of your mood or self-worth? Do you prefer to spend or save? Is it ever okay to borrow money? What’s your philosophy about giving?

 

Explore where your thinking differs and try to find common ground. The value you each attach to money will affect how much time you dedicate to earning, how much you set aside for the future and how you approach spending. In a similar way, what you believe about gender roles and responsibilities can influence your financial behavior and what you expect from your partner.

 

Different personal beliefs about money can cause rifts between couples because they are so deeply ingrained and personal. It may help to realize how your earliest experiences shaped your money mindset. For example, if you grew up poor, you may be anxious about even small expenditures. Acknowledging this concern can diminish its power to overtake common sense. Likewise, if you grew up in a wealthy home, you may spend without a care in the world, even when your bank account does not match your lifestyle. Recognizing this trait in yourself might compel you to adopt a more disciplined approach to spending. Try to be more self-aware of how your attitudes and beliefs affect your actions and remain open to fresh perspectives that foster rewarding financial behaviors.

 

What’s your financial history: Income, savings, debt and credit rating? It’s important to know what the other person will bring to the marriage. Both parties should fully disclose any obligations that will affect your household’s creditworthiness or interfere with your financial goals. Even modest debt or a substandard credit rating can affect your ability to purchase a house or obtain a car loan.

 

The revelation of adverse credit or a ballooning college loan can be a deal breaker for some, but more commonly it provides the opportunity for couples to work together to correct past mistakes and move forward. By rolling up your sleeves and tackling debt together, you can start your married life with a renewed commitment to financial responsibility.

 

What are your financial hopes and dreams? Entering into a lifelong relationship is exciting, but also a little frightening. Soon you will be accountable not only to yourself, but also to your spouse. Do you both want the same kind of future? Big questions such as whether to have a family, where to live and the type of work you pursue will affect your financial goals. Smaller questions about things such as how much you spend on your hobbies or what kinds of vacations you take can reveal gaps. Again, ongoing conversations about your financial aspirations will go a long way toward helping you achieve your goals. While it’s important to have small and large goals, it’s equally important to be flexible. Strong relationships endure when people are able to compromise and adapt to changing circumstances.

 

Remain committed to financial honesty to prevent financial matters from derailing your marriage. Sit down often to review income, savings and spending, and make time to talk about your financial hopes and dreams. Meet with a financial advisor who can help you create a plan for your financial future. Annual or more frequent meetings with your advisor can help you stay on track over the years as your needs and goals evolve. The more collaborative and mindful you can be about your money, the stronger your relationship will be.

 

••••• April 2014 Issue  •••••

 

Six Ways to Protect Your Identity

Recent data breaches at several national retailers illustrate the importance of keeping your identity safe and secure. Not only are identity thieves getting more brazen — hacking into retail computer systems and pilfering data and dollars from millions of debit cards — they continue to find new ways to abuse the electronic systems created to make our lives easier.

 

Not only is identity theft a personal violation, it is a costly problem for law-abiding citizens. Even if your personal bank account hasn't been drained, you pay the price for identity theft every day in the form of higher-priced goods and services, inflated insurance premiums and higher taxes.”

 

Identity theft is a broad term for unauthorized use of your personal data, typically for financial gain. It starts when someone "steals" your name, address, social security number, checking account or credit card numbers, passwords and other personal information. Your information is then used to falsely obtain credit cards, loans, cash, merchandise, medical services — even government benefits and tax refunds.

 

Not only is identity theft a personal violation, it is a costly problem for law-abiding citizens. Even if your personal bank account hasn't been drained, you pay the price for identity theft every day in the form of higher-priced goods and services, inflated insurance premiums and higher taxes.

 

It may seem tedious to keep a close eye on your identity and the financials attached to it, but it's worth the effort. After all, it's doubly aggravating and time consuming to undo the damage caused by identity theft. Do what you can to avoid the headache and hard work of being a victim of identity theft with these simple tips.

 

Monitor your accounts regularly. Even if you prefer printed versus online bank statements, you shouldn't wait until the end of the month to check that your accounts are reconciled (and nothing's amiss). Take advantage of online access to your financial accounts and watch for fraudulent transactions. You know something's not right with a transaction if someone has used your credit card to purchase train tickets in a foreign country. In a situation like this, contact your bank immediately.

 

Keep tabs on your electronic devices. Identity thieves will look for your private information on any electronic device with a wired or wireless connection to the Internet. Never leave your desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone out and unattended in public places. You may want to rethink plans to sell or give away an electronic device that you've used to store sensitive information. At a minimum, clear stored data by restoring factory settings and removing SIM cards (phones) or wiping your hard disk (computers).

 

Clear your history often. Get in the habit of clearing the cache or history in your Internet browser before you log out or step away from your computer. Doing so may not stop the most persistent thieves with forensic skills, but it will slow down the process of retrieving data you'd rather keep private.

 

Change your PINs and passwords. If you regularly access financial accounts and complete credit card transactions online, it's particularly important to have several layers of security in place. For example, you can easily require a PIN or password log-in whenever you turn on your phone or start your computer. But if you use the same password to log on to your computer and your bank account, or to open your phone or retrieve your email, you've defeated the purpose and made the identity thief's job that much easier. Make your passwords inscrutable to outsiders. While nonsensical strings of letters, symbols and numbers can be hard to remember, they will be tougher passwords for criminals to crack.

 

When in doubt, pay with cash. Another way to limit your exposure to identity theft is by reducing your credit card transactions. For instance, you might try using cash for all transactions under $100. For larger transactions, it's often better to use plastic. Not only do credit cards remain more convenient, carrying around large sums of cash makes you more vulnerable to old-fashioned theft targeting your wallet or purse.

 

Stay informed and alert. Because of the annual cost of identity theft, the federal government is interested in helping consumers stop identity theft before it happens. Stay informed about consumer identity theft with alerts, tips and other resources provided by the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.ftc.gov.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Jordan Miller & Associates, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

••••• March 2014 Issue  •••••

 

Retirement for the Self-Employed

 

If you call yourself a consultant, a freelancer or an independent contractor, you’re one of the growing numbers of Americans without an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. As a solo entity, you’re left without the luxury of the “employer match,” which many use to help grow their retirement nest eggs. Meanwhile, the full retirement age for Social Security eligibility has been pushed out, making it more important than ever for self-employed individuals to put retirement planning strategies in place. Here are three tips to help you prepare financially for your retirement years.

 

Max out your retirement savings

 

As a self-employed worker, have you established a SEP IRA or Solo 401(k)? These retirement savings plans are not mutually exclusive, and you can contribute the maximum (as much as 25 percent of your adjusted growth income) to both plans to accelerate your savings in any given year. But, you don’t need to stop there. If you’re looking for more ways to save, consider a Roth IRA as a vehicle for accruing supplemental retirement savings.

 

With the Roth, your contributions are not tax deductible in the year in which you make them. Down the road, however, your withdrawals in retirement will be tax-free if you have met all the qualifications. Because the tax rates of the future are not entirely predictable, this is a plus. Since you can withdraw direct contributions from the Roth at any time, you needn’t worry about not being able to access the money for emergencies. Earnings in your Roth account can also be withdrawn tax- or penalty-free once you reach age 59 ½ (sooner if your eligibility changes due to disability) and have had the Roth for five years or more. For 2014, you can contribute up to $5,500 to your Roth IRA (if your income falls within certain income limits). If you are 50 or older, this maximum goes up to $6,500.

 

The more you have working for your future security, and the more predictable your retirement income can be the better. Consult your financial advisor and visit IRS.gov for more complete rules on retirement savings plans.

 

Budget for healthcare costs

 

Nearly all of us will eventually need costly medical care at one time or another and that possibility rises in retirement. Evaluate income streams such as annuity or interest income that may help you defray eventual medical expenses. If you’re within five years of leaving the workforce, it’s a good idea to anticipate what your healthcare needs may be and how you will pay for those expenses.

 

It’s important to know that regardless of your work status, you must sign up for Medicare by age 65 to avoid potentially delaying your coverage and paying higher premiums. Visit Medicare.gov to familiarize yourself with premium and deductible costs for hospital, general medical and prescription coverage offered by the government. Talk to your insurance broker to explore supplemental plans that can help you manage deductibles and pay for services not allowed by Medicare. By all means, do what you can to maintain your health, but don’t ignore the likelihood that you’ll need costly medical care at some point in retirement.

 

Keep working if you’re able

 

The amount of your monthly Social Security check is determined by how much you earned annually over your working life and your retirement date. This means delaying your retirement will result in a bigger monthly Social Security check. If you’re in good health and enjoy working, there’s no hard and fast rule that says you have to remove yourself from the workforce.

 

These retirement planning tips are especially important for self-employed individuals, but they also have value for workers of every variety. As more employers retreat from the business of providing extensive retiree benefits, everyone in the workforce needs to be mindful of how they will manage the bills in retirement. At the end of the day, you’re the boss of your own retirement. Make your retirement finances a priority by working with a financial professional who can help you establish a solid retirement plan.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Jordan Miller & Associates, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals.

 

••••• February 2014 Issue  •••••

 

Smart Moves for Retirement Relocation

 

Retirement opens the door for many retirees to consider a change in residence. Here are answers to questions about the financial implications of relocation at this stage in life.

 

Q:When I retire, I'd like to spend the winter in a warmer climate. Should I purchase a second home in my favorite destination?

 

A: The decision to buy a second home in another state may depend on how well your budget can endure the costs. Can you afford to take part of your nest egg to buy another home or allocate monthly income to new mortgage payments? Will you be left with sufficient funds to manage unpredictable retirement expenses, such as future medical care? And are you prepared to hire a property management company to maintain your property when you're away? You also need to think about travel, upkeep, homeowner's insurance and taxes as you tally up projected expenses of owning a second home.

 

It's also important to recognize that real estate may not be the best investment for your situation. As the recent recession clearly demonstrated, there's no guarantee that a property purchased today will retain its value when you want to sell. Additionally, many warm weather states were hit hard by the real estate crash and remain vulnerable.

 

As an alternative to buying a second home, consider renting a vacation property in the desired area. This option poses less financial risk, and ultimately offers more flexibility, including the freedom to visit other locations to get your warm weather fix.

 

…living in a foreign land can have drawbacks. Medicare dollars will not follow you overseas. If you're wary of healthcare services in your new country of residence or can't afford to purchase care abroad, you'll have to travel to the U.S. to use these benefits.”

 

Q: My spouse and I are debating whether to stay in our current home or move to a smaller residence once we retire. What are the pros and cons of downsizing?

 

A: Trading in the family home for something smaller can be a good financial decision for some people. Generally speaking, a smaller home is easier to maintain. That means less work and expense for the occupants. Assuming your new home is less expensive, you can put the difference toward retirement savings or remodeling projects in your new home. Downsizing also provides the option to choose a home with fewer levels or other features that may be more suitable as you age. And, with less room to fill, you won't be as tempted to make unnecessary purchases.

 

Moving also gives families the opportunity to look at all of your possessions, pass on some heirlooms to loved ones and "let go" of nonessentials. Clearing away the clutter is not only personally freeing, it can reduce the burden on those who will ultimately be responsible for dividing your estate at some point.

 

Q: I've heard of retirees moving abroad to stretch their retirement dollars. Is this a good idea?

 

A: It's true that some Americans are moving abroad in retirement. If you're eager to experience a different country and culture firsthand and have the resources to make such a move, foreign relocation might be a dream come true. Popular relocation spots in Europe, Central America and South America can provide a warmer climate, more relaxed lifestyle and may be more affordable.

 

On the other hand, living in a foreign land can have drawbacks. Medicare dollars will not follow you overseas. If you're wary of healthcare services in your new country of residence or can't afford to purchase care abroad, you'll have to travel to the U.S. to use these benefits. Trips home will be subject to fluctuating airfares and may become more difficult to manage as you age. In addition, social security dollars generally can't go to foreign banks, and Americans retired abroad will likely still need to file a U.S. tax return. Furthermore, foreign currencies can be unpredictable. Should conversion rates change abruptly, the buying power of your American dollars may fall quickly.

 

If you're serious about foreign relocation, consider a trial run to see how it goes. After the experience, you'll be more likely to make the right decision for you and your family.

 

Regardless of where you end up living in retirement, it's important to consider the implications that relocating may have on your financial goals in retirement. Consider meeting with a financial advisor to discuss this topic.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Jordan Miller & Associates, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco.

 

••••• January 2014 Issue  •••••

 

Stocks Reach New Highs – Now What?

 

If you’ve had money invested in the stock market in 2013, you’re most likely pleased with the results. It’s rare that major stock indexes, like the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500, generate returns in excess of 20 percent in a single year, as they did in 2013. In fact, the S&P 500 reached a new all-time high, which is a major milestone.

 

Like many investors, you may be asking, can the upward ride that stock investors have enjoyed since 2009 continue? It’s a question that nobody can answer with certainty. We know that over time, stock markets are unpredictable and do move up and down, sometimes in dramatic fashion.

 

As an investor, you always need to be prepared for periodic market swings. Even more important than determining what’s next for financial markets is to understand your own perspective as an investor.

 

Questions to ask today

 

Here are some of the key questions you should ask and issues you should consider as you think about what to do with your investments in 2014:

 

1. Now that the stock market has reached a new record, am I happy with how much I have invested in stocks?

 

During the severe market downturn in 2008, many investors took money out of stocks, and not all of that money came back. Have you been a participant in this market rally to the extent you would like to be? Whether the answer yes or no, you may want to meet with a financial advisor to talk about the steps you can take to make investment decisions based on your financial goals and risk tolerance.

 

2. Should I consider selling my stock positions given the market’s recent strong run?

 

This question is related to “timing” the market. Trying to choose the right time to buy or sell can be difficult, even for professionals who invest for a living. That said, because stocks have been performing well, you may want to consider rebalancing your investment portfolio as the recent surge could have increased the stock weighting of your overall portfolio. Stocks can be part of almost any asset allocation model, but how much and what type to own varies for everyone. The decision to make changes to your portfolio should be centered on your own needs, goals and risk tolerance. Think about your long-term goals and what you hope to accomplish before making any significant changes.

 

3. Couldn’t a major economic or world event cause a big decline in the stock market?

 

This is always a concern for investors. Nobody can predict when the next market downturn will occur. By the same token, few predicted that the stock market would soar in 2013. Surprises can happen in either direction. This is why you need to maintain a well-diversified portfolio designed to help you achieve your long-term goals. Although diversification doesn’t guarantee a gain or prevent a loss, it can help to mitigate the effects of volatility on a portfolio. Markets will move up and down over time, and on occasion, significant events may cause more dramatic shifts in stock prices. A long-term plan is important to help you achieve your ultimate goals.

 

4. How do I know what’s the right move to make with my equity portfolio now?

 

There is no single right answer for every investor. You need to assess your personal circumstances – most notably the amount of time you have to keep your money invested before reaching specific goals and the degree of market fluctuation you can live with in your portfolio. Making your decision based on what works for you in the long-term will make it easier to weather short-term concerns. It may be beneficial for you to consult with an investment professional to help you reach your financial goals.

 

Brandon Miller, CFP and Joanne Jordan, CFP are financial consultants at Jordan Miller & Associates, A Private Wealth Advisory Practice of Ameriprise Financial Inc. in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families plan and achieve their financial goals

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© Castro Courier 2014