MONEY MATTERS

••• April 2017 Issue  •••

Don’t Derail Your Retirement: Watch for These 3 Risks

If you’re in or nearing retirement, you’re likely thinking about it as a time to relax, check items off your bucket list and enjoy what you’ve earned. But from a financial standpoint, it’s important not to get too comfortable. Once you leave the workforce, you will likely be reliant, at least in part, on your savings to cover living expenses. So it is important to stay diligent and be aware of potential risks to your financial security. Here are three key risks to keep an eye on in retirement:

 

1. Not revisiting your investment strategy

As you approach or enter retirement, you may have to re-assess your risk tolerance and make sure that your portfolio aligns with your goals, the lifestyle you want in retirement and your financial situation. Remember that you may have less time to recover from market swings, so consider protecting your portfolio as you prepare to live off your savings. With that said, being too conservative isn’t always the right solution. With many retirees living decades in retirement, you will likely have time for your assets to grow or at least, keep up with inflation. Plan to periodically review your portfolio in retirement to make sure you’re comfortable with your progress and risk tolerance.

 

2. Spending too much too quickly

When retirement rolls around, you may find you have more money accumulated than you’ve ever had before. This can lead to a false sense of financial security and prevent you from adjusting spending in retirement. But if you begin spending at an unsustainable level in the early years of retirement, you risk depleting your nest egg too quickly. If you dream of traveling or starting a business after you step away from the workforce, factor those activities into your retirement budget. That way you can feel good about enjoying what you’ve earned while also being cautious about not outliving your assets.

 

3. The rising cost of living

Many retirees believe the amount of money they can generate from their investments and other sources of income, such as Social Security, will be sufficient when retirement begins. But keep in mind that, historically, the cost of living has risen over time. For example, if you live for another 25 years after you retire and the cost of living rises by an average of three percent per year, your annual living expenses could potentially double in that time. Consider the possibility that retirement may be much more expensive as time goes on. Accounting for inflation impacting the most prominent items in your budget, such as health care or travel, is a good place to start.

 

The benefits of being prepared

Preparation and discipline can keep you on track and feeling secure about your finances in retirement. You can take steps to help address these risks prior to leaving the workforce with proper planning, diligent saving and a portfolio that is aligned with your goals and risk tolerance. If you’ve already entered retirement, these risks deserve consideration to help you continue to manage your assets on the way to achieving long-term financial security.

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 2017 Issue  •••

 

Leasing or Buying: Which Option is the Right One for You?

What’s the best route to acquiring a new and reliable set of wheels? Choosing the make and model of the vehicle you wish to drive, as well as other factors like amenities and mileage are important. However from a financial standpoint, one of your most important decisions is whether to lease or buy. Like many financial decisions, there are pros and cons to each option, so consider the following before signing on the dotted line.

Leasing a car

When you lease a car, you generally make an up-front payment and agree to make monthly payments for a new car over a defined period of time. Lease payments cover the vehicle’s estimated depreciation (how much value the car loses during the time you own it) and finance charges, but they do not help you build equity or ownership in the vehicle. Most lease agreements have an annual mileage limit, and you may incur a fee if you drive more than the amount allowed. Calculate your annual mileage from the last few years so you can negotiate a limit that fits your lifestyle. With an open-end or equity lease, you agree to purchase the vehicle at a predetermined price at the end of the lease. With a closed-end lease, you can walk away from the car once any outstanding fees are paid.

Advantages

Leasing allows you to drive a new car every few years with lower monthly payments and occasionally, with no down payment. When the lease ends, you don’t have to worry about finding a new owner for the car. In many cases, if your car requires maintenance or repairs the costs will be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty.

Disadvantages

Despite offering more affordable monthly payments, leasing rather than buying a car will cost more over time. This is because you won’t be able to sell the car and recoup some of your costs when the lease is up. Additionally, you’ll pay the car’s depreciation when it is at its highest (in the first few years of ownership) and the newer vehicle may be more expensive to insure. Keep in mind that you may be charged a penalty if you want out of the lease early.

Buying a car

A big factor to consider when you buy a car is how long you intend to drive it. Knowing your length of ownership will help you prioritize various features, such as the mileage or model year you’d like to purchase. Keep in mind that if you’d like to eventually sell or trade-in your vehicle that some cars hold their value better than others. Regular maintenance and careful driving can help retain your car’s resale value.

Advantages

In the long run, buying a car is generally a better bargain than leasing, assuming you keep the vehicle for several years after the loan is paid off. This is because you will own the car and be free of monthly payments at the end of the loan. If you finance a used car rather than a new one, your potential savings are even greater. Buying gives you the flexibility to keep the car or sell it at the end of the loan. You also have the freedom to drive as many miles per year as you like (although high mileage does affect resale value).

Disadvantages

Buying a car typically costs you more up-front, in the form of a down payment. While this amount is negotiable, its size will affect the amount you pay in interest and the length of your loan. As a car owner, you are responsible for repairs, which may add up over time.

Making the decision

Think about your financial circumstances and preferences when you’re deciding which option – leasing or buying – is right for you. Find a reputable car dealer and ask questions before closing the deal. Compare specific offers with an online lease or purchase calculator, which allows you to plug in actual lease or loan terms. Ask your financial or tax advisor to help you assess the impact of buying versus leasing a car on your financial situation.

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 2017 Issue  •••

8 Tips to Improve Your Financial Communication

 

What makes a couple successful in their financial relationship? Ameriprise Financial surveyed over 1,500 couples (those married or living together for at least six months) to learn about their money conversations and how they make decisions. The results revealed eight ways you can improve the financial health of your relationship:

 

1. Understand your partner’s money mindset. It’s normal to have differing views and habits about money, but that doesn’t mean you can’t agree on your financial goals. Couples who report being on the same page financially work to understand their partner’s approach to money and keep the lines of communication open.

 

2. Make finances a priority and don’t give up. Couples who are willing to have the hard conversations and who work together to find financial harmony will reap the benefits over time. As you might expect, the study found that couples who had been together longer tend to have better communication and are on the same page when it comes to financial matters.

 

3. Agree on financial goals. It’s tough to pool your money with someone who overspends or who isn’t willing to save for the vacation you’ve always dreamed about. Sharing financial goals does bring you closer together—or at least it’s one less thing to argue about. To make it easier to save, challenge yourselves to add a timeframe to each goal so you know what you’re working toward first.

 

4. Assign and accept financial roles and responsibilities. Most couples split up tasks such as paying bills or monitoring investments. Clear responsibilities allow you to hold one another accountable without worrying if the cable bill was paid. However, be sure to work together on tasks such as retirement planning that requires close collaboration.

 

5. Invest in your future together. Make it a priority to set aside a portion of your earnings for short- and long-term goals, including retirement. Know how much you collectively have in retirement savings—a surprising 23 percent of couples are unsure of this number. If you have kids, talk about how much you’d like to contribute to their college expenses so you can save accordingly.

 

6. Set a spending limit. Spending habits were the leading cause of contention for couples. Consider setting a spending limit to ensure you’re on the same page as your partner regarding large expenditures. On average, couples said a purchase over $400 should trigger a discussion.

 

7. Understand that disagreeing is okay. According to the Ameriprise study, even couples who say they’re in financial harmony disagree on financial matters. What’s important isn’t that the partners don’t always agree, but that 82 percent resolve their issues and move on.

 

8. Enlist a professional to solidify your financial plan. When you need an objective opinion – or a deciding vote – meet with a financial advisor. Together the three of you can create a financial plan that meets your specific needs as a couple.

 

Ultimately, it feels good when you are in sync with your partner regarding financial decisions and can work together toward managing your finances. Couples who actively work on improving their financial relationship will likely be less frustrated over money matters and may even feel better about their relationship overall.

 

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

 

The Ameriprise study on couples and money was created by Ameriprise Financial, Inc. and conducted online June 14-July 14, 2016 by Artemis Strategy Group among 1,514 U.S. opposite and same sex couples (married or living together for at least six months with shared financial responsibility) between the ages of 25-70 with at least $25,000 in investable assets.

 

 

• • • January 2017 Issue • • •

When the dollar weakens

The dollar has been strong recently (more on that below), but it hasn’t always been that way. At the start of 2014, it cost approximately $1.35 to convert U.S. currency to one euro (Europe’s common currency), or $135 in American dollars to obtain 100 euros. In this period where the dollar was relatively weak compared to the euro, it was more expensive for Americans to travel in Europe.

 

This environment was, however, beneficial to U.S. companies that sold goods into European markets. Because the euro was stronger than the dollar, American-made goods were less expensive for Europeans to purchase. This helped generate business and profits for multi-national firms based in the U.S. Investors who owned stocks in those companies may have benefited from that trend.

 

Other investment advantages of a weak dollar

 

Along with benefiting U.S. companies selling goods abroad, the declining value of the dollar also may have helped American investors who purchased overseas investments (such as a mutual fund that invests in stocks based in other countries). Overseas investments are purchased in the local currency. Subsequently, if the foreign currency gains value versus the dollar, the payoff to American investors increases when the investment is sold. In this situation, U.S. investors may stand to benefit even if the investment itself generates little or no return.

 

For example, if an investor purchased the stock of a German company for 100 euros and the exchange rate was $1.25 to the euro, it would cost him or her $125 to buy a share of the stock. If the price of the stock remained unchanged over a period of time, but the dollar weakened to $1.35 to the euro, the investor could sell a share of the stock for the same 100 euros and now receive $135 for it after converting the proceeds back to U.S. currency. From a currency perspective alone, the transaction resulted in an eight percent gain for the investor.

 

The story today – a stronger dollar

 

Since 2014, the dollar has gained significant strength against most foreign currencies. For example, as of December 1, 2016 the exchange rate for one euro was $1.05. This has been great for Americans vacationing in Europe because the cost of exchanging dollars into euros is far less expensive than just a few years ago. But the dollar’s growing strength has altered the environment for U.S. companies doing business abroad and Americans investing in overseas markets.

 

U.S. companies selling goods overseas are receiving a lower return when they convert back to the dollar compared to a few years ago. That could have a negative impact on their profits, which potentially detracts from stock performance. (Keep in mind that currency is one of many variables affecting company profits.) Unlike the previous example of the weakening dollar, an investor who bought a global mutual fund now and chooses to sell it has to overcome the impact of potential currency losses due to the dollar’s stronger position.

 

An unpredictable market

 

The direction of currency markets is extremely difficult to predict. A variety of factors, such as the strength of countries’ economies, inflation rates, interest rates and political developments, can impact currency valuations on a day-to-day basis.

 

Investors who purchase stock in companies with significant overseas business should understand that currency movements may affect their investment performance. The same is true if he or she invests in vehicles such as global equity and bond mutual funds. Investors should exercise caution before basing investment decisions on projections of trends in this highly unpredictable market.

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

• • • December 2016 Issue • • •

Donating Time May Cut Your Tax

Did you know your stewardship and goodwill may also help you reduce your taxes? Gifts given to charity and other expenses related to volunteering may be tax deductible. For the avid volunteer, the savings could be worth the effort to track expenses related to your charity work.

 

Transportation expenses

 

While you cannot deduct the time you spend on the road driving to and from volunteer events, you may be able to write-off related expenses, such as parking, tolls and gas directly used in your charity work. It’s important to note that you cannot claim costs for car repairs, routine maintenance, registration fees, insurance or depreciation.

 

If your charity work requires you to travel, you may be able to write-off the amount you spent on public transportation, i.e., bus and subway tickets or taxi fare, airfare, meals and accommodations.

 

Generally for all travel and driving expenses, the primary purpose of the trip must be to perform services for the charitable organization. A deduction may not be allowed if the trip also includes a significant amount of personal, recreation or vacation activities.

 

If you’d like to include volunteerism as part of your tax strategy, keep reliable written records of your expenses, including the total amount incurred. With regard to driving expenses, keep track of the reason you drove and the date you used your car for the charitable activity (1).

 

Out-of-pocket expenses

 

If you need to make a purchase to perform your volunteer work, you may be able to claim the purchase as a tax deduction. For example, a committee member might deduct the cost of supplies needed to host an auction. Other expenses could be deductible depending on your situation. As a best practice, keep good records and review them with your tax advisor.

 

As you tabulate your costs, be aware that the amounts must be:

 

• Unreimbursed. (If the organization has repaid you for an item, you may not claim it on your tax return.);

 

• Directly connected with the volunteer services;

 

• Expenses incurred only because of the volunteer services you gave; and

 

• Unrelated to personal, living or family expenses (For example, childcare is not an eligible expense you can deduct.)

 

Financial contributions

 

Generally speaking, cash donations you make to a qualified charitable organization are deductible if you keep proper records and itemize deductions. Property you donate may be written off as well based on the fair market value of the asset at the time of the donation. Note: Special rules may apply to certain contributions.

 

If you receive something of value from a charity, such as a benefit dinner or an auction item, you need to subtract the value of the item from the total donation to determine the deductible amount.

 

As you prepare for tax season, there are a few important things to keep in mind. For you to write-off volunteer expenses or donations to charity, you must itemize deductions on your tax return and keep reliable written records of anything you intend to claim. Also note that you cannot claim a deduction on your tax return for the value of donated time or services (2). If you’re considering deducting volunteer-related expenses or donations on your tax return, meet with a tax advisor to get his or her perspective on your financial situation. You may also refer to IRS publication 526 for guidance on charitable deductions (3).

 

1 – If you use the standard mileage rate, records must show the miles driven. If deducting actual expenses, records must indicate the costs of operating the car that directly related to the charitable use.

 

2 - Value of donated time and services cannot be defined by the IRS.

 

3 - https://www.irs.gov/publications/p526/index.html

Brandon Miller, CFP is a financial consultant at Brio Financial Group in San Francisco, specializing in helping LGBT individuals and families with their financial goals.

• • • October Issue • • •

A Checklist for Retiring Abroad

Do you dream about retiring in another country? It’s an intriguing option for some who feel ready for a new experience to go with the freedom of retirement.

 

No matter what the inspiration may be, it is not a matter to be taken lightly. Do your homework and become as familiar as you can with your dream environment before deciding.

 

Get a true feel of the country

 

It is easy to become infatuated with a particular location as your future home when you visit on vacation. But there is a big difference between being a tourist and a resident. Think about how your day-to-day routine would change and what elements you’d like to stay the same, such as going to the gym or volunteering. If you know others who have retired abroad, ask them about their experience making the transition overseas.

 

Determine what’s required to gain residency

 

If you’re seeking to become a fulltime resident overseas, you will have to determine the requirements. Understand the laws of the country for an American resident living on a fulltime basis.

 

Consider housing options

 

Will you want to buy a home or will renting be better? Renting may be wiser if you want to take some time to better acquaint yourself with your new surroundings before locking yourself into a purchase. Consider what happens as well if you purchase a home, plans don’t work out and you move back to the U.S.

 

Review medical options

 

As we grow older, the need for health care services tends to rise. While many countries have nationalized health care systems that cover residents, you may or may not be eligible to participate. Medicare won’t cover treatment overseas, so a separate insurance plan may be required. If you think you may return to live in the U.S. one day, you may want to keep paying Medicare premiums to maintain future eligibility for the program. Also check on the quality of health care services in your intended new home to determine if medical capabilities meet your expectations.

 

Review financial matters

 

Determine how the currency exchange rate will affect your expenses. You may want to transfer some money to a bank account in your new country, although electronic banking services today make it easy to access funds when you are outside the U.S. At the very least, you will need to continue filing a tax return in the U.S. and potentially paying U.S. taxes as well, though this can vary.

 

Choosing where to retire is a big decision. While thinking through the items above is a good place to start, consult the U.S. State Department’s website for more considerations. Visit www.travel.state.gov and search for the topic “retirement abroad.”

• • • September Issue • • •

 

Prepare for These Milestones as Retirement Approaches

 

Over a two-decade span ranging from ages 50 to 70-1/2, investors will face multiple milestone decisions that will likely impact their retirement savings and portfolio. As you navigate through each decision, you’ll need to be aware of how rules governing Social Security, Medicare and your taxes will come into play. Take steps now to be prepared as these milestones approach:

 

Age 50

 

Give your retirement savings a boost by making “catch-up” contributions. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules for 2016 allow those 50 and older to invest an additional $1,000 per year (for a maximum of $6,500 per year) in an IRA, and another $6,000 per year (to a maximum of $24,000) in a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k).

 

Age 55

 

This may be the first opportunity you have to make penalty-free withdrawals (income taxes still apply) from employer-based qualified plans. To become eligible, you must first retire from your employer in the year you turn 55 or later. While tapping into your retirement income may make sense for you, consider the impact early withdrawals could have on your long-term financial security before taking action.

 

Age 59-1/2

 

At this age, you have more penalty-free access to your retirement assets–meaning you can take distributions from IRAs and potentially from qualified work plans (check with your Human Resources department to see what rules apply to you). Keep in mind that withdrawing from your nest egg early is a risk to your long-term financial situation. Taxes are due on distributions attributable to pre-tax contributions and earnings.

 

Age 62

 

You first become eligible to claim retirement benefits from Social Security at age 62. The earlier you claim benefits, the lower the monthly payout will be. Many investors choose to claim at a later age, because you can receive a higher monthly benefit. If you do decide to claim benefits at age 62 while you continue to receive a paycheck, your Social Security benefits may be reduced until you reach full retirement age (defined below).

 

Age 65

 

You qualify for Medicare coverage starting at age 65. You’ll automatically be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B if you’re receiving Social Security at this time. Otherwise, you need to apply for it. Your application window is the three months of either side of your 65th birthday month. Medicare is complex, so make sure to research what options are available to you.

 

Age 66-67

 

Depending on your birth year, you reach what Social Security defines as “full retirement age” at 66 or 67. Visit www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/retirechart to learn what age that is for you. If you wait until now to receive Social Security benefits, you’ll have more ways to structure your benefits. Married couples in particular tend to have many options, so be sure to coordinate your decisions with your spouse.

 

Age 70

 

Your maximum monthly benefit is available after your 70th birthday. If you haven’t claimed Social Security benefits, you should do so as there is no advantage to waiting beyond this date. You may want to consider donating your benefit if you have other investments that cover your expenses.

 

Age 70-1/2

 

By April 1 of the year after you turn 70-1/2, you are required to take a minimum distribution from traditional IRAs and workplace retirement plans. The IRS calculates the amount you pay (called Required Minimum Distributions or RMDs) using the Uniform Lifetime Table and your age at the time you’re talking the distribution. Instructions for calculating RMDs can be found in IRS Publication 590 at www.irs.gov. Distributions must be taken from each account that is subject to this rule. Failure to do so can result in penalty of 50 percent of the amount that was required to be distributed.

 

If you have questions about making these milestone decisions or want to get an objective opinion, consider hiring a financial advisor.

 

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 Issue • • •

Facts You Might Not Know About Medicare

 

 

More than 50 years ago, the federal government established programs designed to help Americans afford health care services, called Medicare and Medicaid. Since both of these programs involve many variables, they can be somewhat complex. To provide insight into how the coverage works, here are six facts you might not know about Medicare:

 

1. Medicare and Medicaid provide most of the same services, but for different people. Medicare provides services for those age 65 and over and with other qualifying conditions, while Medicaid is a program intended for lower-income Americans based on financial need. The government continues to evolve and expand the programs to match the ever-changing health care environment.

 

2. Medicare coverage has four parts. Each part covers different categories of medical expenses. As you look into Medicare, you may see the term “original Medicare.” This term refers to what is now called Part A and Part B.

 

• Part A is the hospital insurance portion, which covers inpatient stays in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, hospice facilities and sometimes also covers home-based health care services. Depending on your situation, you may automatically be enrolled in Parts A and B, or you may need to enroll.

 

• Part B covers doctor visits, durable medical equipment, home health services and qualified preventive services, among other related expenses.

 

• Part C (Medicare Advantage plans) provides Part A, Part B and usually prescription drug coverage from private insurers. You must be enrolled in Part A and Part B before you can receive Part C coverage.

 

• Part D covers outpatient prescription drug coverage from private insurers. You must be enrolled in Part A or Part B before you can receive Part D coverage.

 

3. Everyone can enroll in Medicare – eventually. There are three different times when you can sign up for Medicare Parts A and B:

 

• Initial enrollment period: Once you reach age 65, you may enroll within three months on either side of your birthday month.

 

• General enrollment period: If you don’t sign up during your initial enrollment period, you have the option to enroll each subsequent year between January 1 and March 31.

 

• Special enrollment period: You may get started with Medicare at any age if you experience a qualifying condition. Qualifying conditions may include disabilities, certain cancers or end-stage diseases. After your initial enrollment period ends, you may have a chance to enroll in Medicare during a special enrollment period due to a qualifying event such as moving away from your existing coverage or losing coverage from an employer.

 

4. Medicare is not free for most of us. While Part A comes with no monthly premium if you have at least a 10-year history of paying Medicare taxes, you will be responsible for deductibles and coinsurance, unless you qualify for help. For example, the deductible for 2016 is $1,288 for each benefit period, with varying coinsurance depending on the length of stay. The Part B premium costs $104.90 per month in 2016. Premiums can be higher for beneficiaries with incomes that exceed specific thresholds.

 

5. Original Medicare operates without networks and caps. With original Medicare, there are no networks to worry about. You’re free to go to any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare, including outside of your home state. In addition, original Medicare does not limit your annual costs. Health care bills owed (due to coinsurance) continue to grow all year if you don’t have supplemental insurance to help manage these expenses. This is in contrast to Medicare Advantage plans, which operate around the concept of networks.

 

6. After you enroll in Medicare, you may need supplemental insurance. While Medicare covers a variety of expenses, there are limitations to its coverage. Therefore, you may need additional coverage depending on your current or future health needs. Carefully review information about what expenses each part covers before enrolling, and be sure to ask other insurance providers how their coverage complements with Medicare.

 

The federal government and most states provide resources to help you understand your options and guide you through the Medicare enrollment process. It’s good to be prepared – start learning more today so you’re ready when you become eligible for Medicare coverage.

 

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 Issue • • •

 

Get a true feel of what it will be like to live in a new country

Determine what’s required to gain residency

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 Issue 2016 ••••

 

Municipal Bankruptcies Still Draw Headlines

 

What does it mean for investors when a city, country or territory declares bankruptcy? When placed in the context of the thousands of government entities in the U.S., it is an infrequent occurrence. However when it does happen, it certainly grabs our attention. It is a reminder that municipal bonds, like all bonds, carry some risk.

 

Hundreds of bankruptcies by municipalities have been recorded since the 1930s. The largest municipal bankruptcy ever occurred in 2013, when the city of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 protection from creditors. The troubled city, with a declining tax base, was unable to meet all of its financial obligations and required a restructuring of its debt. Other cities such as Chicago and Atlantic City, New Jersey and the territory of Puerto Rico are facing financial challenges that have put them in recent headlines.

 

In the case of Detroit’s bankruptcy, the city’s declining economic fortunes resulted in a notable drop in its tax collections. Other governments have run into problems due to overwhelming pension obligations, financial mismanagement or various other problems that created a budget crisis.

 

A reality check about debt issuers

 

Individuals often choose to invest in bonds in order to generate a stream of income on a regular basis. In essence, investors are lending money to the bond issuer, who promises to pay back the principal, but in the meantime, makes interest payments to the investor. Municipal bonds are particularly attractive to some investors because income is generally free of federal income tax, and sometimes state and local income tax as well.

 

Any bond carries risk. One of the most important that investors must consider is the possibility that the issuer will default on debt securities that were sold to investors. Generally, investors tend to think that there is little likelihood that a government entity that issues a bond will default on its obligation. After all, a municipality or other government unit can issue bonds that are backed by its authority to levy taxes on citizens. But this does not preclude the potential for the municipality to run into a financial shortfall.

 

The fact that municipal bankruptcies occur for a variety of reasons and through different economic climates indicates that taxing power alone will not fully protect investors. Bankruptcy courts will often require these government entities to take steps to improve their financial standing, including selling assets as a way to raise money to help pay creditors.

 

Municipal bonds may work for the right investor

 

Most investors view bonds as an asset class that potentially carries less risk than some other types of assets such as stocks or commodities. Bonds also tend to perform differently in various market environments than asset classes like stocks. Therefore, bonds can play an important role in diversifying a portfolio. That type of diversification can be a valuable benefit for investors, and municipal bonds can play a role.

 

While a municipality may run into financial difficulty, its bonds can remain attractive. Some investors view the unique ability of these bonds to provide income that is generally free from federal income tax (and sometimes from state and local income tax) worth the risk. As you consider your options in the bond market, work with a financial professional who can help you determine what investments make sense in the context of your portfolio and financial goals.

 

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.

•••••April Issue ••••

Consider Donating Stock To Charity In Lieu of Cash

 

Giving to charity is an important financial priority for many people. Most often this takes the form of donating cash or material goods to a favorite nonprofit. A less common strategy – but one that may be worth considering – is to give the gift of appreciated stock. When managed correctly, donating appreciated stock can be beneficial for the charity and the donor, allowing the donor to make a larger gift while potentially claiming a higher tax deduction.

 

How it works

 

Generally speaking, a contribution to a qualified charity allows you to claim a tax deduction if you itemize deductions. (See IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions for additional information.) When a stock has increased in value over time and you intend to make a donation with the proceeds, you can approach it in two ways as illustrated by this example:

 

A married couple holds a stock valued at $10,000. The stock was purchased five years earlier for $5,000. The couple would like to liquidate the stock as a way to make a substantial gift to a local charity. They can either:

 

1. Sell the stock, generating $10,000 in proceeds and then make the gift. Assuming that they owe long-term capital gains taxes at a rate of 15 percent1 on the $5,000 long-term capital gain, their net proceeds would be $4,250. (This does not assume any state taxes.) In this case, the total after-tax proceeds available for the charity would be $9,250. This is also the maximum value of the tax deduction they could claim (the actual deduction available will depend on their income level).

 

2. Give the shares of stock directly to the charity. By not selling the stock first, the couple would not have to recognize tax on the gain. Ownership would be transferred to the charity, which would generally be able to sell the stock at any time. Neither the couple nor the charity would be required to pay tax on the appreciated value when the sale occurs. The charity would receive a larger donation because the stock would be valued at $10,000. The couple would be able to claim up to a $10,000 tax deduction2 based on the fair market value of the stock on the day the gift is made (based on the average of the high and low selling price of the security on the date of transfer). Keep in mind that the stock can move in value, and future gains for the charity after you gift the stock are not guaranteed.

 

Other considerations

 

If you have appreciated assets that might be appropriate to donate to charity, here are other factors to consider:

 

• The stock must be held for more than one year to qualify as capital gain property for the scenarios listed above.

 

• The maximum amount you can deduct in a given year is limited to 30 percent of your adjusted gross income (known as AGI, or your total gross income minus specific deductions), because it is appreciated capital gain property. However, you can carry forward unused deductions for five years. You do have an option of deducting only the cost basis (purchase price adjusted for stock splits, dividends and return of capital distributions) of the security, which would raise your deductible limit to 50 percent of your AGI.

 

• The total deductions you can claim in a year may be reduced if your income exceeds certain levels.

 

• Consult with your tax advisor to make sure your gift is handled properly in order to claim your tax deduction. Additionally, talk to your financial professional to see how you can make donations that are aligned with your financial goals.

 

1 Assumes ordinary tax bracket of between 25-35 percent.

 

2 Deductions for charitable contributions may be limited based on the type of property donated, type of charity and the donor’s AGI.

 

3 Other limitations to the amount you can deduct in a given year may apply.

 

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 2016 Issue  •••••

Merging Finances When Starting a Life Together

 

When a couple makes the decision to bring their lives together, it’s inevitable that their financial lives will become intertwined. Even though the sentiment that “love conquers all,” tends to overshadow financial concerns early in the relationship, the reality is that how each partner handles money could have a significant impact on your collective financial future.

 

This is a more significant issue today than it might have been in the past. It’s more common for couples to choose to marry or live together at a later age than was typical for previous generations. Or, couples may be coming together after one or both partners went through a divorce. In situations like these, both individuals are often bringing more financial assets and their own financial priorities into the relationship.

 

Here are key topics that every couple should discuss before merging their finances:

 

Income and expenses

 

One of the biggest decisions you should agree on is how much of your income will be directed to individual accounts or to a joint account. Individuals who are used to managing their money may want to maintain their account, or have a separate account for discretionary spending. If this is your preference, have a plan for who is responsible for each expense. Opening a joint account that both parties contribute to is a common way to pay for shared expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments, utilities, food. If you decide only to have a joint account, discuss how you’ll handle discretionary spending. Many couples agree to discuss any purchase made above an agreed-upon amount, so both partners feel involved in the decision.

 

Existing debts

 

If one or both of you is bringing debt to the relationship, such as student loans or credit card debt, it is important to agree how those will be paid off. Will both of you contribute to loan payments, or will the person who brought those debts to the relationship take sole responsibility? Reducing and eventually eliminating these debts should be a priority for the long-term financial stability of the household.

 

Emergency fund

 

An important consideration for any couple is having a sufficient cash reserve in place to meet emergency needs or to provide funding if special opportunities arise. A general rule of thumb is to have six-to-nine months of income set aside in a cash account that is easily accessible when the money is needed. If both individuals earn income, both should contribute to this joint household account. Clearly communicate what type of expenses warrant dipping into this fund in order to avoid a potentially stressful situation.

 

Financial priorities

 

Before you merge your finances, talk about your financial goals and dreams. Consider putting together a plan that prioritizes each goal and factors in the ideal timeframe for achieving each goal. As part of this discussion, talk about your spending habits, your approach to saving and how you will resolve disagreements about money. Be upfront about any issues you might have had with money in the past and how that might affect your lives going forward. Putting it all on the table at the outset can help avoid problems related to money matters in the future.

 

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 2016 Issue  •••••

 

Letting Go of Emotional Investing Patterns

When the Fed raised short-term interest rates in December, did you feel obligated to buy, sell or change your investing strategy solely on that knowledge? The urge to make an investment decision is often influenced by media reports and the sentimental value you apply to those investments. This frame of thinking may lead you to make investment decisions based on your emotions, and in the long-term, emotional investing may prevent your portfolio from reaching its true potential.

 

Focus on the long-term. Check yourself for news-driven fear or euphoria before you call your financial professional. Remind yourself of what your long-term financial goals are, and ask yourself if making a change would help you reach them. If you still feel you need to make a change, ask your professional for their perspective.

 

Root out unfitting investments. Do you still have your first stock certificate from mom and dad? Shares inherited from a favorite aunt? Stock from an early employer? There are all kinds of ways to acquire stocks over the years, and over time, some investments may not “fit” with your overall investment goals. It can be hard to detach from stocks with an emotional connection, but like unruly branches in your backyard, portfolios need pruning on a regular basis to perform at their best. Portfolios and individual stocks should be evaluated periodically to determine whether they are still appropriate holdings given your time horizon, risk tolerance and overall portfolio. Keep in mind that sometimes no changes are warranted, but it’s a good habit to regularly review.

 

Strive for a balanced portfolio. Portfolios often need to be rebalanced over time, as your individual circumstances and the individual holdings’ situation changes. Take an objective look at your portfolio and ensure you are comfortable with the level of risk. If company stock options are available to you, make sure you’re aware of how that may impact your overall investment strategy. While it’s good to have confidence in your company, having too much stock in one company may expose you to more risk than you intend.

 

Be consistent. Counteract impulse buying and selling with a consistent approach to investing. Automated investing makes it easy to implement a disciplined approach, such as investing a set amount at regular intervals. This systematic investing can be a way to help minimize the effects of market volatility in a portfolio; however, you will still need to review over time to make sure the strategy fits with your overall goals.

 

Embrace diversity. You’ll be in a better position to hang on to a sentimental favorite if the rest of your portfolio is diversified across a range of industries and assets. Diversity may provide balance in the event one or more sectors are down, but do keep in mind that diversity alone cannot protect against an investment loss.

 

Sell when the time is right. If you identify a loser that’s not likely to turn around, it may be advantageous to sell it now. Many investors continue to hold an investment with the hope that one day it will pay off to hold it. If you’re unsure about if you should cut your losses and move on, consult a financial professional who can give you an objective opinion.

 

Request a portfolio review. If you suspect your personal preferences and emotions are interfering with your investment decisions, defer to the experts. Ask a financial professional to conduct an objective review of your portfolio, with an eye to performance and your financial goals. Together you can look for opportunities to grow your earnings through disciplined investing strategies.

 

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 2016 Issue  •••••

 

Renting Your Second Home

 

If you are among the many Americans who own a second home that you occasionally use as a vacation getaway, you may be leaving an important source of income untapped. It’s worth taking the time to understand the value of renting the property. Before you make any decision to become a “vacation landlord,” remember that some decisions are worth careful consideration.

 

Do-it-yourself or hire a team

 

First, consider how much of the burden you want to take on for yourself. Renting a property may create an income opportunity, but it requires work. If you are going to do it yourself, you’ll need to advertise the property, follow-up with potential renters, collect the rent, establish expectations for your renters and make sure the property is in good shape. You may want to hire someone for housekeeping services, yard care and maintenance work. But that comes at a cost and it still leaves work for you.

 

The alternative is to use a full-service management company that will handle many of the tasks related to booking and managing the property. Taking this route may cost you as much as 20 percent or more of the rental income generated by the property. You have to determine if that investment is worthwhile for you.

 

Tax considerations to keep in mind

 

Another factor to consider is how much you plan to use your vacation home. There are tax ramifications based on the amount of time you live in the home versus the time you rent it out.

 

If it becomes a full-time rental (you don’t use the property more than 14 days in a year or 10 percent of the time it is rented), you can deduct many of the costs associated with your rented home. However, the degree to which you can write off losses in a given year will be different if you plan to spend more time in your second home.

 

When you rent your home for 14 days or less in a year, any income you earn is considered free of federal income tax. If you rent it out for a period that adds up to longer than 14 days in a year and use the home a fair amount of time, costs need to be allocated to determine the deductibility of expenses related to renting it.

 

Keep in mind that state and local taxes may apply no matter what decision you make regarding the period your home is rented out. It is best to consult your tax advisor to understand all of the potential tax ramifications of your rental strategy.

 

Be prepared to share

 

When you rent your vacation home, the space is no longer just your own. Sharing your property with others will undoubtedly lead to additional wear-and-tear on your home. Make sure you limit the number of guests at any one time to an amount the home can reasonably accommodate. Spell out policies on smoking, pets and even a minimum age. The clearer your rules and expectations are for the renters, the less likely you are to encounter unpleasant surprises after renters have left the property. Do what you can to make the experience a positive one for renters to build repeat business and effective word-of-mouth marketing.

 

When you choose to rent your vacation home, you are entering the hospitality business. Be sure you are prepared to meet the expectations of people who will be paying to stay in your home rather than in a hotel or other establishment. Careful thought before renting will also ensure you are prepared for how the changes will affect how and when you can use your vacation home.

 

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.

 

 

More Money Matters 2015-2014

 

 

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© Castro Courier 2014

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