How to Build an Emergency Fund

How would you respond to sudden financial demands? We all define “emergencies” differently, but we are not immune to them. How can we plan to stay afloat financially when they occur?  Most households are not financially prepared for an emergency – not even close. A recent study from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that 64% of Americans had less than $1,000 in funds earmarked for a crisis.1  While the recession did its part to siphon emergency funds from families, attention must be paid to rebuilding those funds. It may be difficult; it may be inconvenient. That doesn’t make it any less of a priority.

Emergencies tend to be linked to long-term debt. Having a designated emergency fund can help you attack that debt. When most people think of financial emergencies, they think of medical problems and burdensome costs that their insurance won’t fully absorb – but there are other paths to long-term debt, such as a sudden layoff, a natural disaster, a family issue with financial underpinnings or even an abrupt need to move to another metro area, for whatever reason.

How large should the fund be? You decide. An old rule of thumb is six months of net income or six months of expenses. If you are snickering or laughing out loud at your chances of saving that much, you aren’t alone. If your prospects of building a five-figure emergency fund seem remote, try to create one equivalent to two or three months of net income. Any amount is better than none.

How do you do it without hurting your standard of living? Few of us have a lump sum we can just reassign for emergencies. So consider these subtle savings opportunities.

> You could pay cash whenever possible, opening the door to incremental savings that credit card companies would otherwise take from you. A few dozen bucks can become a few hundred bucks, then a few thousand bucks over time. Incidentally, in a nationwide survey conducted by Chase Blueprint and LearnVest, 31% of people polled cited credit card debt as a major barrier to achieving financial objectives. The credit card debt carried by this 31% averaged about $5,000. Clearly, living on credit cards will thwart your effort to build a rainy day fund.2

> You could vow not to spend frivolously, thereby retaining money you might be tempted to throw away on impulse.

 

> You could sell stuff – stuff somebody else, maybe down the street or across the country, might want. Incidental shipping and handling costs could seem irrelevant next to the cash you generate.

 

> You could arrange direct deposit or start a seasonal savings account. The psychology behind both moves is simple: you are less likely to spend money if it doesn’t pass through your wallet.

 

Here’s how not to do it. Try to avoid building a crisis fund through self-defeating methods. For example:

> Don’t start an emergency fund with a loan. Do it with your own accumulated savings, bonus money from your job performance, royalties – whatever the origin, use money you have made or and/or saved yourself, not money you have borrowed from lenders or relatives.

> Don’t do it using payday loans or cash advances. High-interest short-term loans and cash advances on credit cards are often pitched as rescues to struggling households. Thanks to their absurd interest rates, payday loans are not financial “life rafts” by any means. Cash advances on credit and debit cards come with disproportionately high fees. Sadly, people who go in for these loans and advances once commonly go in for them again.

Don’t refrain from paying certain bills. Let’s say that you have eight debts you have to pay per month. If you only pay three of them each month and carefully alternate which debts get paid down, can you create an emergency fund with the money you avoid paying? Well, yes – but you may imperil your credit rating in the process.

If you don’t have a designated emergency fund, you can build it up in the same way that you probably invest: a little at a time, with relatively little impact on your lifestyle. It can be done. It should be done.

This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

 

Citations.

1 – http://www.learnvest.com/knowledge-center/5-ways-to-start-an-emergency-fund/ [8/14/12]

2 – http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2012/11/01/seven-reasons-why-need-to-create-emergency-fund-now/ [11/1/12]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, ING Retirement, Bank of America, netbenefits.fidelity.com, MerckVerizon, access.att.com, AT&T, Qwest, Pfizer, Chevron, Northrop Grumman, ExxonMobil, Hughes, Raytheon, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, Glaxosmithkline, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

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Tips for Retirement

A few simple steps to help you get started on the right foot.

Planning financially for retirement may feel overwhelming. For some, that feeling is what keeps them from really focusing on and implementing a plan. If you haven’t started planning for your retirement – do yourself a favor and make TODAY the day you begin.

1. The earlier the better. 

Time is definitely one of your greatest allies. A person who begins contributing a modest amount to a retirement plan in their early twenties could end up on par with someone who contributes much more aggressively but does not start until their mid-thirties. Even if you have to start small, start now. Whatever amount you can afford to set aside for later, do it – and let it grow. If you don’t have the luxury of starting young, don’t waste time worrying about it. Start now. You’ll never again be younger than you are today.

2. Be smart about what you’ll need

Yes, it’s true – the senior discount is alive and well, and the general cost of living may be less for those who have retired. But don’t forget, there are other costs to consider. Your healthcare costs, for example, may be greater in retirement simply because you’re not as healthy as you were in your youth. Additionally, you’ll want to take inflation into account. If you plan your retirement based on the cost of living and income of your 30’s, by the time you hit your retirement years, you may find you greatly underestimated your needs.

3. Be smart about how long you’ll need it

When Social Security was being developed, in the 1930’s, a male retiring in the United States was really only expected to live about 12 years past his date of retirement. 2 However, the average life expectancy of a United States citizen has risen fairly steadily throughout the last fifty years. 1 Depending on when you retire, you may need to plan for 20 or more years of income.

4. Take advantage of tax-deferred contributions.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes people determine how much they can afford to contribute to a retirement account based on their net income, rather than their gross income. You may decide you can only afford $50 less per paycheck, net. But remember that some contributions, like those to your 401(k) for example, may be made with pre-tax dollars. That means you can afford to contribute a bit more from your gross income and still only “miss” $50 from your net income. This is an important consideration.

5. Take advantage of matching contributions.

If your employer offers a 401(k) match – consider scrimping here and there in order to take maximum advantage of it. It’s a very positive domino effect. The more you contribute, the more you earn in matching contributions (up to the maximum allowable amount). Think of it this way – if your employer offers a 50% match, then for every $100 you don’t contribute, you’re missing out on $50 in “free money”. You’re also missing out on the growth potential of that money as well.

6. Do the math. 

This might be the most important retirement tip of all. Block off some time to sit down and do some calculations. Consider the different levels of contributions you could make and calculate how far those could take you by the time you reach retirement. Once you see what you COULD achieve, you may be more motivated to increase your contributions.

7. Trim the fat.

Keep careful track of your spending for one month (if you bank online, you may have access to tools that help you do this). After one full month, sit down and take a careful look at what you spent money on. Did it all make sense? Was some of it frivolous? Any regrets? Taking a close look at exactly where your money is going is often the best way to discover areas that need improvement, and ways you could adjust your spending habits. Add up all the money you feel you spent unnecessarily, then add that amount to the contribution math you did previously … how much further might that extra monthly contribution have taken you?

8. Get help.

These retirement tips are intended to help you get started down a path toward, potentially, a more successful retirement. But they’re just that – a starting point. While it’s definitely important to educate yourself and understand your finances, seeking the assistance of a financial professional may be one of the best moves you could make.

1 -google.com/publicdata?ds=wb wdi&met=sp_dyn_le00_in&idim=country:USA&dl=en&hl=en&q=life+expectancy [10/29/10]

2 – http://www.newretirement.com/Planning101/Retiring_Too_Soon.aspx [10/25/10]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. If assistance or further information is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional.

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, ING Retirement,  Glaxosmithkline, access.att.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, Northrop Grumman, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Raytheon, Merck, AT&T, resources.hewitt.com, hewitt.com, ExxonMobil, Qwest, Chevron,Hughes, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

529 college savings plan

Section 529 college savings plans are tax-advantaged college savings vehicles and one of the most popular ways to save for college today. Much like the way 401(k) plans revolutionized the world of retirement savings a few decades ago, 529 college savings plans have revolutionized the world of college savings. As of June 2012, assets in 529 college savings plans totaled $157.3 billion (Source: College Board’s 2012 Trends in Student Aid Report).

Tax advantages and more

529 college savings plans offer a unique combination of features that no other college savings vehicle can match:

  • Federal tax advantages: Contributions to your account grow tax deferred and earnings are tax free if the money is used to pay the beneficiary’s qualified education expenses. (The earnings portion of any withdrawal not used for college expenses is taxed at the recipient’s rate and subject to a 10% penalty.)
  • State tax advantages: Many states offer income tax incentives for state residents, such as a tax deduction for contributions or a tax exemption for qualified withdrawals.
  • High contribution limits: Most plans let you contribute over $300,000 over the life of the plan.
  • Unlimited participation: Anyone can open a 529 college savings plan account, regardless of income level.
  • Professional money management: College savings plans are offered by states, but they are managed by designated financial companies who are responsible for managing the plan’s underlying investment portfolios.
  • Flexibility: Under federal rules, you are entitled to change the beneficiary of your account to a qualified family member at any time as well as rollover the money in your 529 plan account to a different 529 plan once per year without income tax or penalty implications.
  • Wide use of funds: Money in a 529 college savings plan can be used at any college in the United States or abroad that’s accredited by the Department of Education and, depending on the individual plan, for graduate school.
  • Accelerated gifting: 529 plans offer an excellent estate planning advantage in the form of accelerated gifting. This can be a favorable way for grandparents to contribute to their grandchildren’s education. Specifically, individuals can make a lump-sum gift to a 529 plan of up to $70,000 ($140,000 for married couples) and avoid gift tax, provided the gift is treated as having been made in equal installments over a five-year period and no other gifts are made to that beneficiary during the five years.

Choosing a college savings plan

Although 529 college savings plans are a creature of federal law, their implementation is left to the states. Currently, there are over 50 different college savings plans available because many states offer more than one plan.

You can join any state’s 529 college savings plan, but this variety may create confusion when it comes time to select a plan. To make the process easier, it helps to consider a few key features:

  • Your state’s tax benefits: A majority of states offer some type of income tax break for 529 college savings plan participants, such as a deduction for contributions or tax-free earnings on qualified withdrawals. However, some states limit their tax deduction to contributions made to the in-state 529 plan only. So make sure to find out the exact scope of the tax breaks, if any, your state offers.
  • Investment options: 529 plans vary in the investment options they offer. Ideally, you’ll want to find a plan with a wide variety of investment options that range from conservative to more growth-oriented to match your risk tolerance. To take the guesswork out of picking investments appropriate for your child’s age, most plans offer aged-based portfolios that automatically adjust to more conservative holdings as your child approaches college age. (Remember, though, that any investment involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of how an investment will perform in the future.)
  • Fees and expenses: Fees and expenses can vary widely among plans, and high fees can take a bigger bite out of your savings. Typical fees include annual maintenance fees, administration and management fees (usually called the “expense ratio”), and underlying fund expenses.
  • Reputation of financial institution: Make sure that the financial institution managing the plan is reputable and that you can reach customer service with any questions.

With so many plans available, it may be helpful to consult an experienced financial professional who can help you select a plan and pick your plan investments, giving you peace of mind. In fact, some 529 college savings plans are advisor-sold only, meaning that you’re required to go through a designated financial advisor to open an account. Always carefully read the 529 plan issuer’s official materials before investing.

Account mechanics

Once you’ve selected a plan, opening an account is easy. You’ll need to fill out an application, where you’ll name a beneficiary and select one or more of the plan’s investment portfolios to which your contributions will be allocated. Also, you’ll typically be required to make an initial minimum contribution, which must be made in cash or a cash equivalent.

Thereafter, most plans will allow you to contribute as often as you like. This gives you the flexibility to tailor the frequency of your contributions to your own needs and budget, as well as to systematically invest your contributions. You’ll also be able to change the beneficiary of your account to a qualified family member (e.g., siblings, stepsiblings, parents, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, first cousins) with no income tax or penalty implications. Most plans will also allow you to change your investment portfolios (either for your future or current contributions) if you’re unhappy with their investment performance.

529 prepaid tuition plans–a distant cousin

There are actually two types of 529 plans–college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans. As of June 2012, assets in 529 prepaid tuition plans totaled $21.5 billion (Source: College Board’s 2012 Trends in Student Aid Report). The tax advantages of college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans are the same, but the account features are very different. A prepaid tuition plan lets you prepay tuition at participating colleges at today’s prices for use by the beneficiary in the future. The following chart describes the main differences:

College Savings Plans Prepaid Tuition Plans
Offered by states Offered by states and private colleges
You can join any state’s plan State-run plans require you to be a state resident
Contributions are invested in your individual account in the investment portfolios you have selected Contributions are pooled with the contributions of others and invested exclusively by the plan
Returns are not guaranteed; your account may gain or lose value, depending on how the underlying investments perform Generally a certain rate of return is guaranteed
Funds can be used at any accredited college in the U.S. or abroad Funds can only be used at participating colleges, typically state universities

 

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Merck, Pfizer, Chevron, HughesBank of America, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Verizon, Glaxosmithklinehewitt.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached atwww.theretirementgroup.com

All About IRAs

All about IRAs

An individual retirement arrangement (IRA) is a personal retirement savings plan that offers specific tax benefits. In fact, IRAs are one of the most powerful retirement savings tools available to you. Even if you’re contributing to a 401(k) or other plan at work, you should also consider investing in an IRA.

What types of IRAs are available?

There are two major types of IRAs: traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. Both allow you to make annual contributions of up to $5,500 in 2013 ($5,000 in 2012). Generally, you must have at least as much taxable compensation as the amount of your IRA contribution. But if you are married filing jointly, your spouse can also contribute to an IRA, even if he or she does not have taxable compensation. The law also allows taxpayers age 50 and older to make additional “catch-up” contributions. These folks can put up to $6,500 in their IRAs in 2013 ($6,000 in 2012).

Both traditional and Roth IRAs feature tax-sheltered growth of earnings. And both give you a wide range of investment choices. However, there are important differences between these two types of IRAs. You must understand these differences before you can choose the type of IRA that’s best for you.

Traditional IRAs

Practically anyone can open and contribute to a traditional IRA. The only requirements are that you must have taxable compensation and be under age 70½. You can contribute the maximum allowed each year as long as your taxable compensation for the year is at least that amount. If your taxable compensation for the year is below the maximum contribution allowed, you can contribute only up to the amount you earned.

Your contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax deductible on your federal income tax return. This is important because tax-deductible (pretax) contributions lower your taxable income for the year, saving you money in taxes. If neither you nor your spouse is covered by a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plan, you can generally deduct the full amount of your annual contribution. If one of you is covered by such a plan, your ability to deduct your contributions depends on your annual income (modified adjusted gross income, or MAGI) and your income tax filing status. You may qualify for a full deduction, a partial deduction, or no deduction at all.

What happens when you start taking money from your traditional IRA? Any portion of a distribution that represents deductible contributions is subject to income tax because those contributions were not taxed when you made them. Any portion that represents investment earnings is also subject to income tax because those earnings were not previously taxed either. Only the portion that represents nondeductible, after-tax contributions (if any) is not subject to income tax. In addition to income tax, you may have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you’re under age 59½, unless you meet one of the exceptions.

Traditional IRAs–Tax Year 2013
Individuals Covered by an Employer Plan
Filing status Deduction is limited if MAGI between: No deduction if MAGI over:
Single/Head of household $59,000 – $69,000 $69,000
Married joint* $95,000 – $115,000 $115,000
Married separate $0 – $10,000 $10,000
* If you’re not covered by an employer plan, but your spouse is, your deduction is limited if your MAGI is $178,000 to $188,000, and eliminated if your MAGI exceeds $188,000.

If you wish to defer taxes, you can leave your funds in the traditional IRA, but only until April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70½. That’s when you have to take your first required minimum distribution from the IRA. After that, you must take a distribution by the end of every calendar year until your funds are exhausted or you die. The annual distribution amounts are based on a standard life expectancy table. You can always withdraw more than you’re required to in any year. However, if you withdraw less, you’ll be hit with a 50% penalty on the difference between the required minimum and the amount you actually withdrew.

Roth IRAs

Not everyone can set up a Roth IRA. Even if you can, you may not qualify to take full advantage of it. The first requirement is that you must have taxable compensation. If your taxable compensation is at least $5,500 in 2013 ($5,000 in 2012), you may be able to contribute the full amount. But it gets more complicated. Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA in any year depends on your MAGI and your income tax filing status. Your allowable contribution may be less than the maximum possible, or nothing at all.

Tax Year 2013
Filing status Contribution is limited if MAGI between: No contribution if MAGI over:
Single/Head of household $112,000 – $127,000 $127,000
Married joint $178,000 – $188,000 $188,000
Married separate $0 – $10,000 $10,000

Your contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible. You can invest only after-tax dollars in a Roth IRA. The good news is that, if you meet certain conditions, your withdrawals from a Roth IRA will be completely free from federal income tax, including both contributions and investment earnings. To be eligible for these qualifying distributions, you must meet a five-year holding period requirement. In addition, one of the following must apply:

  • You have reached age 59½ by the time of the withdrawal
  • The withdrawal is made because of disability
  • The withdrawal is made to pay first-time homebuyer expenses ($10,000 lifetime limit from all IRAs)
  • The withdrawal is made by your beneficiary or estate after your death

Qualified distributions will also avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty. This ability to withdraw your funds with no taxes or penalty is a key strength of the Roth IRA. And remember, even nonqualified distributions will be taxed (and possibly penalized) only on the investment earnings portion of the distribution, and then only to the extent that your distribution exceeds the total amount of all contributions that you have made.

Another advantage of the Roth IRA is that there are no required distributions after age 70½ or at any time during your life. You can put off taking distributions until you really need the income. Or, you can leave the entire balance to your beneficiary without ever taking a single distribution. Also, as long as you have taxable compensation and qualify, you can keep contributing to a Roth IRA after age 70½.

Choose the right IRA for you

Assuming you qualify to use both, which type of IRA is best for you? Sometimes the choice is easy. The Roth IRA will probably be a more effective tool if you don’t qualify for tax-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA. However, if you can deduct your traditional IRA contributions, the choice is more difficult. Most professionals believe that a Roth IRA will still give you more bang for your dollars in the long run, but it depends on your personal goals and circumstances. The Roth IRA may very well make more sense if you want to minimize taxes during retirement and preserve assets for your beneficiaries. But a traditional deductible IRA may be a better tool if you want to lower your yearly tax bill while you’re still working (and probably in a higher tax bracket than you’ll be in after you retire). A financial professional or tax advisor can help you pick the right type of IRA for you.

Note:   You can have both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA, but your total annual contribution to all of the IRAs that you own cannot be more than $5,500 in 2013 ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older).

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, access.att.com, Raytheon, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent, resources.hewitt.com, Merck, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Do Our Biases Affect Our Financial Choices?

 

Even the most seasoned investors are prone to their influence.

Investors are routinely warned about allowing their emotions to influence their decisions.  They are less routinely cautioned about letting their preconceptions and biases color their financial choices.

In a battle between the facts & our preconceptions, our preconceptions may win. If we acknowledge this tendency, we may be able to avoid some unexamined choices when it comes to personal finance. So it may actually “pay” us to recognize our biases as we invest. Here are some common examples of bias creeping into our financial lives.

Valuing outcomes of investment decisions more than the quality of those decisions. An investor thinks, “I got a great return off of that decision” instead of thinking, “that was a good decision because ______.”

How many investment decisions do we make that have a predictable outcome? Hardly any. In retrospect, it is all too easy to prize the gain from a decision over the wisdom of the decision, and to therefore believe that the decisions with the best outcomes were in fact the best decisions (not necessarily true).

Valuing facts we “know” & “see” more than “abstract” facts. Information that seems abstract may seem less valid or valuable than information that relates to personal experience. This is true when we consider different types of investments, the state of the markets, and the health of the economy.

On Main Street, we find a classic example in Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index. In the August edition of this monthly poll of more than 3,500 U.S. adults, 55% of respondents said the American economy is “getting worse” instead of better. In fact, more Americans have told Gallup that the economy is getting worse rather than better since March.1

This flies in the face of the declining jobless rate, the strong hiring of 2015, the comeback of the housing market, and key surveys showing years of consistent monthly growth in the manufacturing and service sectors – but in all probability, these poll respondents are not looking at economic indicators when they make such a judgment. Their neighbor was laid off, or there was a story on the nightly news about a new homeless camp growing in size. These are facts they can “see” – and therefore, in their minds the economy is getting worse.1

Valuing the latest information most. In the investment world, the latest news is almost always more valuable than old news… but when the latest news is consistently good (or consistently bad), memories of previous market climate(s) may become too distant. If we are not careful, our minds may subconsciously dismiss the eventual emergence of the next bear (or bull) market.

Being overconfident. The more experienced we are at investing, the more confidence we have about our investment choices. When the market is going up and a clear majority of our investment choices work out well, this reinforces our confidence, sometimes to a point where we may start to feel we can do little wrong thanks to the state of the market, our investing acumen or both. This can be dangerous. 

The herd mentality. You know how this goes: if everyone is doing something, they must be doing it for sound and logical reasons. If most investors are getting out of equities, or getting back into equities, it follows that you should follow them. The herd mentality is what leads many investors to buy high (and sell low). It can also promote panic selling. Above all, it encourages market timing – and when investors try to time the market, they frequently realize subpar returns.

Did you know that American retail investors held equity shares for an average of 6.3 years during the 1950s? That duration kept shortening until the 2000s, when it was reduced to roughly six months – which is still the average today. We have exponentially greater media coverage of Wall Street today than we had in the 1950s, and that may be the big factor in that difference – but still, you have to wonder how much better the typical investor’s return would be if he or she had the patience of the investors of the past.2 

Extreme aversion to risk. Some investors want zero risk, or close. What price do they pay in pursuit of that goal? The opportunity cost may be sizable. In building an extremely risk-averse portfolio, they thwart their potential for significant gains when the equity markets advance.

Everyone loves to be certain about things. Sometimes, however, we need to ask ourselves what that certainty is based on, and what it reflects about ourselves. Examining our preconceptions may help us as we invest.

Citations.

1 – gallup.com/poll/184640/economic-confidence-index-stable.aspx [8/18/15]

2 – nytimes.com/2014/01/13/your-money/stocks-and-bonds/why-we-buy-in-a-marked-up-market.html [1/13/14]

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Raytheon, Hughes, Verizon, Bank of America, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Northrop Grumman, Merck, Pfizer, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Self-Directed IRAs

A self-directed IRA isn’t a different type of IRA. Rather, the term refers to any individual retirement account (traditional or Roth) that allows you to direct the investment of your IRA assets into nontraditional investments. For example, in addition to the usual IRA mainstays (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and CDs), a self-directed IRA might invest in real estate, limited partnership interests, or anything else the law (and your IRA trustee/custodian) allows. In fact, the only investment you can’t have in an IRA is life insurance. Collectibles (e.g., artwork, stamps, wine, and antiques) aren’t prohibited, but if your IRA purchases these items, you could suffer adverse tax consequences.

Getting started

First, you’ll need to find a trustee or custodian that specializes in self-directed IRAs. Make sure you understand the expenses involved–some trustees charge transaction fees and/or asset-based fees, depending on the particular investment. You also need to be aware of the prohibited transaction rules. These rules are designed to make sure that only your IRA, and not you (or your immediate family), benefits from your IRA transactions. For example, you are prohibited from buying investments from, or selling investments to, your IRA. If you violate these rules, your account will cease to be treated as an IRA, with potentially devastating tax consequences.

Finally, you need to understand the UBIT (unrelated business income tax) rules. Even though IRA investments usually grow tax deferred (or even potentially tax free in the case of a Roth IRA), if your IRA conducts certain business activities or has debt-financed income, then your IRA could be taxed currently on all or part of the income generated.

Investing in real estate

Your self-directed IRA can invest in virtually any form of real estate. That includes direct ownership in property as well as indirect ownership through limited partnership interests, REITs, and mortgage obligations. Your IRA can buy a beach house, a multifamily home, commercial property, raw land, time shares, condos, an island–almost anything. Your IRA can be the sole owner of the real estate, or a partial owner with others.

Your IRA can even borrow money to purchase real estate. However, it may be difficult to find a bank that will lend money to your IRA (since you can’t personally guarantee the note). Borrowing may also cause some of the income (or sales proceeds) from the property to be taxed currently to your IRA under the UBIT rules. When you invest in real estate, you’ll also need to pay particular attention to the prohibited transaction rules. You can’t, for example, sell property you already own to your IRA. And neither you nor certain family members can use real estate while it’s owned by your IRA. As discussed below, that sort of self-dealing can result in your entire IRA becoming taxable to you.

Keep in mind that when you hold real estate in a traditional IRA, you’ll have to pay tax at ordinary income rates when your account is ultimately paid out to you–whether you receive cash or the property itself. Qualified distributions from a self-directed Roth IRA, on the other hand, are free from federal income tax, which makes the Roth IRA an attractive vehicle for real estate ownership. Say you’ve found your dream retirement home. It may be possible to have your Roth IRA purchase the property, rent it out to an unrelated party to generate income, and then, when you’re ready to retire, have the IRA distribute the property (and any income) to you tax free. (A distribution is qualified if you satisfy a five-year holding period and you’re either age 59½ or disabled when you receive the distribution.)

Finally, note that you’ll need to pay any expenses related to your real estate investment out of your IRA, so make sure it will have enough cash each year to cover any real estate taxes, legal fees, repairs, insurance, and other costs.

What are prohibited transactions?

Generally, a prohibited transaction is any improper use of an IRA account or annuity by you, your beneficiary, or any disqualified person. Disqualified persons include IRA fiduciaries (see below) and members of your family (spouse, ancestor, lineal descendant, and any spouse of a lineal descendant). The following are examples of prohibited transactions with an IRA:

  • Borrowing money from it • Selling property to it
  • Receiving unreasonable compensation for managing it
  • Using it as security for a loan
  • Buying property for personal use (present or future) with IRA funds

For this purpose, a fiduciary includes anyone who does any of the following:

  • Exercises any discretionary authority or discretionary control in managing your IRA or exercises any authority or control in managing or disposing of its assets
  • Provides investment advice to your IRA for a fee, or has any authority or responsibility to do so
  • Has any discretionary authority or discretionary responsibility in administering your IRA

Consequences of engaging in a prohibited transaction

Generally, if you (or your beneficiary after your death) engage in a prohibited transaction at any time during the year, the account stops being an IRA as of the first day of that year. The account is also treated as distributing all its assets to you at their fair market values on the first day of the year. For a traditional IRA, if the total of those values exceeds your basis in the IRA, you’ll have a taxable gain that’s includible in your income. If you’re not yet age 59½, the 10% premature distribution penalty tax may also apply. The IRS hasn’t yet provided specific guidance describing how these rules apply to Roth IRAs. However, it’s probable that if you’ve satisfied the requirements for a qualified distribution, the distribution will still be tax free. A nonqualified distribution from a Roth IRA will result in a taxable gain to the extent the distribution exceeds your Roth IRA contributions (and again, the premature distribution penalty tax may apply if you haven’t yet reached age 59½).

What is UBIT?

UBIT stands for “unrelated business income tax.” While not common, it can apply to your traditional (and Roth) IRA. (The UBIT rules also apply to most employer retirement plans and tax-exempt organizations.) In simple terms, if your IRA regularly conducts a trade or business (for example, you buy and operate a bakery using IRA funds), then the income from that trade or business (less any expenses directly connected with carrying on the trade or business) is subject to UBIT. The IRA is taxed on the income (unrelated business taxable income, or UBTI) at trust tax rates.

The term “trade or business” is defined as any activity carried on for the production of income from selling goods or performing services. This has been broadly interpreted to apply even if an IRA doesn’t directly conduct a business, but instead invests in a pass-through entity, like a partnership, that conducts a trade or business. If an IRA invests in a partnership that conducts a trade or business, then the IRA must calculate its UBTI based on its share of the partnership’s gross income and deductions. This information is provided by the partnership to the IRA on Schedule K-1.

There are numerous exclusions from the definition of UBTI, including dividends, interest, annuities, royalties, and rents from real property. However, even otherwise exempt income can become subject to UBIT if the property is acquired with borrowed funds. For example, if your IRA purchases real property and finances the purchase with a mortgage, any rental income attributable to the financed portion of the property will be UBTI, even though that rental income would otherwise be exempt. An IRA needs at least $1,000 of gross income from unrelated businesses for the UBIT to apply. The IRA itself is responsible for paying the tax. This may result in double taxation as the income will be subject to tax again, under the regular IRA distribution rules, when ultimately distributed from the IRA (although qualified distributions from Roth IRAs will be tax free).

As you can see, a self-directed IRA can provide you with almost unlimited investment flexibility, but also presents some traps for the unwary. Your financial professional can help you weigh the benefits and risks of a self-directed IRA, and help you determine if it’s the right choice for you.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Merck, Pfizer, AT&T, Verizon, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Bank of America, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com..

Protecting Your Loved Ones with Life Insurance

How much life insurance do you need?

Your life insurance needs will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your family, the nature of your financial obligations, your career stage, and your goals. For example, when you’re young, you may not have a great need for life insurance. However, as you take on more responsibilities and your family grows, your need for life insurance increases.

Here are some questions that can help you start thinking about the amount of life insurance you need:

  • What immediate financial expenses (e.g., debt repayment, funeral expenses) would your family face upon your death?
  • How much of your salary is devoted to current expenses and future needs?
  • How long would your dependents need support if you were to die tomorrow?
  • How much money would you want to leave for special situations upon your death, such as funding your children’s education, gifts to charities, or an inheritance for your children?
  • What other assets or insurance policies do you have?

Types of life insurance policies

The two basic types of life insurance are term life and permanent (cash value) life. Term policies provide life insurance protection for a specific period of time. If you die during the coverage period, your beneficiary receives the policy’s death benefit. If you live to the end of the term, the policy simply terminates, unless it automatically renews for a new period. Term policies are typically available for periods of 1 to 30 years and may, in some cases, be renewed until you reach age 95. With guaranteed level term insurance, a popular type, both the premium and the amount of coverage remain level for a specific period of time.

Permanent insurance policies offer protection for your entire life, regardless of your health, provided you pay the premium to keep the policy in force. As you pay your premiums, a portion of each payment is placed in the cash-value account. During the early years of the policy, the cash-value contribution is a large portion of each premium payment. As you get older, and the true cost of your insurance increases, the portion of your premium payment devoted to the cash value decreases. The cash value continues to grow–tax deferred–as long as the policy is in force. You can borrow against the cash value, but unpaid policy loans will reduce the death benefit that your beneficiary will receive. If you surrender the policy before you die (i.e., cancel your coverage), you’ll be entitled to receive the cash value, minus any loans and surrender charges.

Many different types of cash-value life insurance are available, including:

  • Whole life: You generally make level (equal) premium payments for life. The death benefit and cash value are predetermined and guaranteed (subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company). Your only action after purchase of the policy is to pay the fixed premium.
  • Universal life: You may pay premiums at any time, in any amount (subject to certain limits), as long as the policy expenses and the cost of insurance coverage are met. The amount of insurance coverage can be changed, and the cash value will grow at a declared interest rate, which may vary over time.
  • Indexed universal life: This is a form of universal life insurance with excess interest credited to cash values. But unlike universal life insurance, the amount of interest credited is tied to the performance of an equity index, such as the S&P 500.
  • Variable life: As with whole life, you pay a level premium for life. However, the death benefit and cash value fluctuate depending on the performance of investments in what are known as subaccounts. A subaccount is a pool of investor funds professionally managed to pursue a stated investment objective. You select the subaccounts in which the cash value should be invested.
  • Variable universal life: A combination of universal and variable life. You may pay premiums at any time, in any amount (subject to limits), as long as policy expenses and the cost of insurance coverage are met. The amount of insurance coverage can be changed, and the cash value goes up or down based on the performance of investments in the subaccounts.

With so many types of life insurance available, you’re sure to find a policy that meets your needs and your budget.

Choosing and changing your beneficiaries

When you purchase life insurance, you must name a primary beneficiary to receive the proceeds of your insurance policy. Your beneficiary may be a person, corporation, or other legal entity. You may name multiple beneficiaries and specify what percentage of the net death benefit each is to receive. If you name your minor child as a beneficiary, you should also designate an adult as the child’s guardian in your will.

What type of insurance is right for you?

Before deciding whether to buy term or permanent life insurance, consider the policy cost and potential savings that may be available. Also keep in mind that your insurance needs will likely change as your family, job, health, and financial picture change, so you’ll want to build some flexibility into the decision-making process. In any case, here are some common reasons for buying life insurance and which type of insurance may best fit the need.

Mortgage or long-term debt: For most people, the home is one of the most valuable assets and also the source of the largest debt. An untimely death may remove a primary source of income used to pay the mortgage. Term insurance can replace the lost income by providing life insurance for the length of the mortgage. If you die before the mortgage is paid off, the term life insurance pays your beneficiary an amount sufficient to pay the outstanding mortgage balance owed.

Family protection: Your income not only pays for day-to-day expenses, but also provides a source for future costs such as college education expenses and retirement income. Term life insurance of 20 years or longer can take care of immediate cash needs as well as provide income for your survivor’s future needs. Another alternative is cash value life insurance, such as universal life or variable life insurance. The cash value accumulation of these policies can be used to fund future income needs for college or retirement, even if you don’t die.

Small business needs: Small business owners need life insurance to protect their business interest. As a business owner, you need to consider what happens to your business should you die unexpectedly. Life insurance can provide cash needed to buy a deceased partner’s or shareholder’s interest from his or her estate. Life insurance can also be used to compensate for the unexpected death of a key employee.

Review your coverage

Once you purchase a life insurance policy, make sure to periodically review your coverage; over time your needs will change. An insurance agent or financial professional can help you with your review.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Bank of America, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Verizon, Raytheon, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Pfizer, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Yes, Young Growing Families Can Save & Invest

It may seem like a tall order, but it can be accomplished. 

Plan to put yourself steps ahead of your peers. If you have a young, growing family, no doubt your to-do list is pretty long on any given day. Beyond today, you are probably working on another kind of to-do list for the long term. Where does “saving and investing” rank on that list?

For some families, it never quite ranks high enough – and it never becomes the priority it should become. Assorted financial pressures, sudden shifts in household needs, bad luck – they can all move “saving and investing” down the list. Even so, young families have planned to build wealth in the face of such stresses. You can follow their example. It is less an option than a necessity.

First step: put it into numbers. Most people have invested a little by the time they reach 30 or 35, and some have invested avidly. A plan is not always in place, however. The mission is simply to “make money” or “build wealth” for “the future.”

This is good, but also vague. How much money will you need to save by 65 to promote enough retirement income and to live comfortably? Are you on pace to build a retirement nest egg that large? How much risk do you feel comfortable tolerating as you invest? What kind of impact are investment fees and taxes having on your efforts?

A financial professional can help you arrive at answers to these questions, and others. He or she can help you define long-range retirement savings goals and project the amount of savings and income you may need to sustain your lifestyle as retirees. At that point, “the future” will seem more tangible and your wealth-building effort even more purposeful.

Second step: start today & never stop. If you have already started, congratulations! In getting an early start, you have taken advantage of a young investor’s greatest financial asset: time.

If you haven’t started saving and investing, you can do so now. It doesn’t take a huge lump sum to begin. Even if you defer $100 worth of salary into a retirement plan a month, you are putting a foot forward. See if you can allocate much more.

If you begin when you are young and keep at it, you will witness the awesome power of compounding as you build your retirement savings and net worth through the years.

Just how awesome is it? An example: let’s say you save $100 per month in an investment account for 20 years and the account returns a (hypothetical) 5% for you over those two decades. In 20 years under such conditions, your $100-a-month nest egg will not amount to $24,000 – it will work out to $41,011, which is 71% more! If you put in $200 a month, you wind up with a projected $82,022 off of the $24,000 in contributions! We aren’t factoring in account fees or market fluctuations, of course – but you get the picture. Stretched out to 30 years, a consistent $100-per-month contribution and a consistent 5% return project to $82,302; raise the monthly contribution to $200 and you get $164,604. These numbers factor in annual compounding; use daily compounding as the variable, and they grow a bit larger. So even if you set aside and invest a few twenties each month, you may still end up with appreciable retirement savings – and these are numbers for one retirement saver, there are two of you.1

What’s that? You say you can’t retire on $164,000 or less? You’re absolutely right. You have to devote more than that to your effort. You may need a million or two – and if you plan ahead, you may very well generate it. Ownership of equity investments, real property, business or professional success – this can all help to position you and your family for a comfortable future, provided you keep good financial habits along the way and pay attention to taxes.  

How do you find the balance? This is worth addressing – how do you balance saving and investing with attending to your family’s immediate financial needs?

Bottom line, you have to find money to save and invest for your family’s near-term and long-term goals. If it isn’t on hand, you may find it by reducing certain household costs. Are you spending a lot of money on goods and services you want rather than need? Cut back on that kind of spending. Is credit card debt siphoning away dollars you should assign to saving and investing? Fix that financial leak and avoid paying with plastic whenever you can. Other young families are doing it, and yours can as well.   

Vow to keep “paying yourself first” – maintain the consistency of your saving and investing effort. What is more important, saving for your child’s college education or buying those season tickets? Who comes first in your life, your family or your gardener? You know the answer.

It has been done; it should be done. Stories abound of families that have built wealth out of comparative poverty. There are people who came to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs who have found prosperity; there are families (including single-parent households) who have been dealt a bad hand yet overcame long financial odds to gain affluence.

It all starts with belief – the belief that you can do it. Complement that belief with a plan and regular saving and investing, and you may find yourself much better off much sooner than you think.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – bankrate.com/calculators/savings/compound-savings-calculator-tool.aspx [12/26/14]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.


The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Glaxosmithkline, ING Retirement, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Verizon, Bank of America, ExxonMobil, Merck, Pfizer or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Health Savings Accounts: Are They Just What the Doctor Ordered?

Are health insurance premiums taking too big of a bite out of your budget? Do you wish you had better control over how you spend your health-care dollars? If so, you may be interested in an alternative to traditional health insurance called a health savings account (HSA).

How does this health-care option work?

An HSA is a tax-advantaged account that’s paired with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Let’s look at how an HSA works with an HDHP to enable you to cover your current health-care costs and also save for your future needs.

Before opening an HSA, you must first enroll in an HDHP, either on your own or through your employer. An HDHP is “catastrophic” health coverage that pays benefits only after you’ve satisfied a high annual deductible. (Some preventative care, such as routine physicals, may be covered without being subject to the deductible). For 2016, the annual deductible for an HSA-qualified HDHP must be at least $1,300 for individual coverage and $2,600 for family coverage. However, your deductible may be higher, depending on the plan.

Once you’ve satisfied your deductible, the HDHP will provide comprehensive coverage for your medical expenses (though you may continue to owe co-payments or coinsurance costs until you reach your plan’s annual out-of-pocket limit). A qualifying HDHP must limit annual out-of-pocket expenses (including the deductible) to no more than $6,550 for individual coverage and $13,100 for family coverage for 2016. Once this limit is reached, the HDHP will cover 100% of your costs, as outlined in your policy. Because you’re shouldering a greater portion of your health-care costs, you’ll usually pay a much lower premium for an HDHP than for traditional health insurance, allowing you to contribute the premium dollars you’re saving to your HSA. Your employer may also contribute to your HSA, or pay part of your HDHP premium. Then, when you need medical care, you can withdraw HSA funds to cover your expenses, or opt to pay your costs out-of-pocket if you want to save your account funds.

An HSA can be a powerful savings tool. Because there’s no “use it or lose it” provision, funds roll over from year to year. And the account is yours, so you can keep it even if you change employers or lose your job. If your health expenses are relatively low, you may be able to build up a significant balance in your HSA over time. You can even let your money grow until retirement, when your health expenses are likely to be substantial. However, HSAs aren’t foolproof. If you have relatively high health expenses (especially within the first year or two of opening your account, before you’ve built up a balance), you could deplete your HSA or even face a shortfall.

How can an HSA help you save on taxes?

HSAs offer several valuable tax benefits:

  • You may be able to make pretax contributions via payroll deduction through your employer, reducing your current income tax.
  • If you make contributions on your own using after-tax dollars, they’re deductible from your federal income tax (and perhaps from your state income tax) whether you itemize or not. You can also deduct contributions made on your behalf by family members.
  • Contributions to your HSA, and any interest or earnings, grow tax deferred.
  • Contributions and any earnings you withdraw will be tax free if they’re used to pay qualified medical expenses.

Consult a tax professional if you have questions about the tax advantages offered by an HSA

Can anyone open an HSA?

Any individual with qualifying HDHP coverage can open an HSA. However, you won’t be eligible to open an HSA if you’re already covered by another health plan (although some specialized health plans are exempt from this provision). You’re also out of luck if you’re 65 and enrolled in Medicare or if you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

How much can you contribute to an HSA?

For 2016, you can contribute up to $3,350 for individual coverage and $6,750 for family coverage. This annual limit applies to all contributions, whether they’re made by you, your employer, or your family members. You can make contributions up to April 15th of the following year (i.e., you can make 2015 contributions up to April 15, 2016). If you’re 55 or older, you may also be eligible to make “catch-up contributions” to your HSA, but you can’t contribute anything once you reach age 65 and enroll in Medicare.

Can you invest your HSA funds?

HSAs typically offer several savings and investment options. These may include interest-earning savings, checking, and money market accounts, or investments such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds that offer the potential to earn higher returns but carry more risk (including the risk of loss of principal). Make sure that you carefully consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses associated with each option before investing. A financial professional can help you decide which savings or investment options are appropriate.

How can you use your HSA funds?

You can use your HSA funds for many types of health-care expenses, including prescription drugs, eyeglasses, deductibles, and co-payments. Although you can’t use funds to pay regular health insurance premiums, you can withdraw money to pay for specialized types of insurance such as long-term care or disability insurance. IRS Publication 502 contains a list of allowable expenses.

There’s no rule against using your HSA funds for expenses that aren’t health-care related, but watch out–you’ll pay a 20% penalty if you withdraw money and use it for nonqualified expenses, and you’ll owe income taxes as well. Once you reach age 65, however, this penalty no longer applies, though you’ll owe income taxes on any money you withdraw that isn’t used for qualified medical expenses.

Questions to consider

  • How much will you save on your health insurance premium by enrolling in an HDHP? If you’re currently paying a high premium for individual health insurance (perhaps because you’re self-employed), your savings will be greater than if you currently have group coverage and your employer is paying a substantial portion of the premium.
  • What will your annual out-of-pocket costs be under the HDHP you’re considering? Estimate these based on your current health expenses. The lower your costs, the easier it may be to accumulate HSA funds.
  • How much can you afford to contribute to your HSA every year? Contributing as much as you can on a regular basis is key to building up a cushion against future expenses.
  • Will your employer contribute to your HSA? Employer contributions can help offset the increased financial risk that you’re assuming by enrolling in an HDHP rather than traditional employer-sponsored health insurance.
  • Are you willing to take on more responsibility for your own health care? For example, to achieve the maximum cost savings, you may need to research costs and negotiate fees with health providers when paying out-of-pocket.
  • How does the coverage provided by the HDHP compare with your current health plan? Don’t sacrifice coverage to save money. Read all plan materials to make sure you understand benefits, exclusions, and all costs.
  • What tax savings might you expect? Tax savings will be greatest for individuals in higher income tax brackets. Ask your tax advisor or financial professional for help in determining how HSA contributions will impact your taxes.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Bank of America, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Northrop Grumman, Pfizer, Raytheon, Verizon or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Common Annuity Riders

An annuity is a contract between you (the purchaser or owner) and the issuer (an insurance company). In its simplest form, you pay money to the annuity issuer, the issuer invests the money for you, and then the issuer pays out the principal and earnings back to you or to a named beneficiary.

An immediate annuity is a contract between you and an insurance company in which you pay a single sum of money to the company in exchange for its promise to make payments to you for a fixed period of time or for the rest of your life.

Annuity riders are optional features that provide added benefits to a basic annuity contract. For example, some riders focus on offering greater access to the annuity’s principal, or providing long-term income.

Annuity riders usually come with an annual cost, generally ranging from.1% to 1.0% or more of the annuity’s value. Review the annuity sales materials and prospectus for a description of applicable fees and charges. The availability of a specific annuity rider usually depends on the annuity issuer and the type of annuity you are considering. 

Cost-of-living adjustment rider

The cost-of-living adjustment rider, available on some immediate annuities, increases immediate annuity payments by a stated annual percentage to offset the effects of inflation. However, due to the added cost of this rider to the issuer, the first few payments from an annuity with this rider are typically less than they would be without the rider. It usually takes several years before cost-of-living immediate annuity payments equal or exceed immediate annuity payments without this rider. 

Cash/installment refund rider

Available on some immediate annuities, the cash refund rider provides that if the total of all immediate annuity payments received by the time of your death is less than the investment (the premium) you paid into the immediate annuity, the difference is paid in a lump sum to your annuity beneficiary. The installment refund rider is similar to the cash refund rider, except that your beneficiary receives the balance of the immediate annuity premium in installment payments instead of a lump sum. 

Impaired risk (medically underwritten) rider

This rider may be added to an immediate annuity. Ordinarily, an insurance company bases the amount of immediate annuity payments on the amount of premium you pay, your age at the time payments begin, and how long you are expected to live if payments are to be made for the rest of your life. If you have a medical condition that reduces your life expectancy, the impaired risk rider bases your annuity payments on your shortened life expectancy. This results in payments being greater than they would be for a person in good health, or the payments can be the same but for a smaller premium.

Commuted payout rider

This immediate annuity rider allows you to withdraw a lump-sum amount from your immediate annuity in addition to the regular payments you are receiving. Usually, this option is available for a limited period of time, and may be limited to a maximum dollar amount or a maximum percentage of your premium.

Guaranteed minimum accumulation benefit rider (GMAB)

The GMAB rider, available with some variable annuities, restores your annuity’s accumulation value to the amount of your total premiums paid if, after a prescribed number of years (usually 5 to 10), the annuity’s accumulation value is less than the premiums you paid (excluding your withdrawals). Some issuers offer this rider with the ability to lock in any gains in the accumulation value. Thereafter, your guaranteed minimum accumulation value will equal your total premiums paid, plus locked-in gains, less withdrawals.

Guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit rider (GMWB) 

The GMWB rider provides you with a minimum income by allowing you to take withdrawals from your annuity up to an amount at least equal to the premiums you paid. Annual withdrawals are usually limited to a percentage of the total premiums paid (5% to 12% per year). Both the GMAB rider and the GMWB rider provide you with the opportunity to secure the return of your investment (the premium) in the annuity, even if the annuity’s accumulation value decreases due to poor subaccount performance. 

Guaranteed minimum income benefit rider (GMIB)

The GMIB rider, included with some variable annuities, offers a minimum income regardless of your actual accumulation value. The annuity issuer adds a growth rate to your premiums (usually 5% to 7% per year) that becomes your guaranteed minimum account value. After a minimum number of years (often 5 to 10), the rider allows you to convert the variable annuity to an immediate annuity and receive payments based on the greater of the minimum account value or the annuity’s accumulation value. 

Guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit rider (GLWB)

The GLWB rider may be added to some annuity contracts. It allows you to receive an annual income for the rest of your life without having to convert to an immediate annuity. And you can usually access the remaining accumulation value in addition to the income payments received. Income payments and withdrawals are subtracted from the annuity’s cash value.  

Long-term care rider

The long-term care rider is available with many fixed deferred annuities. If you become confined to a nursing home, or are unable to take care of yourself, this rider allows you to access more of your annuity’s accumulation value, possibly up to 100%, without the imposition of surrender charges or distribution costs otherwise applicable. 

Disability/unemployment rider

These riders are offered with fixed and variable annuities. If you become disabled for an extended period of time (usually from 60 days to 1 year), or if you are unemployed for a similar length of time and are eligible for unemployment benefits, these riders allow you to access a portion or all of your annuity’s accumulation value without the imposition of surrender charges. 

Terminal illness rider

This rider, available with both fixed and variable annuities, waives surrender charges otherwise applicable for a portion or all of your annuity’s accumulation value if you suffer from a terminal illness with a medical life expectancy of one year or less. 

Immediate Variable Fixed
Cost-of-Living GMAB LTC
Cash/Installment GMWB Disability
Impaired Risk GMIB Terminal Illness
Commuted Payout GLWB GLWB
Disability Disability

 

Terminal Illness

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

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Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.