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.

Signs of Elder Abuse

Physical, mental & financial warning signals.

Is someone taking advantage of someone you love? June 15 is World Elder Abuse Prevention Day, a day to call attention to a crisis that may become even more common as baby boomers enter the “third acts” of their lives.1

Every year, more than half a million American elders are abused or neglected. That estimate comes from the Centers for Disease Control, and the frequency of elder abuse may be greater as so many elders are afraid or simply unable to speak out about what is happening to them. In some cases, the abuse is limited to financial exploitation. In other cases, it may encompass neglect and physical or emotional cruelty.1

What should you watch out for? Different varieties of elder abuse have different signals, some less obvious than others.

Neglect. This is commonly defined as withholding or failing to supply necessities of daily living to an elder, from food, water and appropriate clothing to necessary hygiene and medicines. Signals are easily detectable and include physical signs such as bedsores, malnutrition and dehydration and flawed living conditions (i.e., faulty electrical wiring, fleas or cockroaches, inadequate heat or air conditioning).

Self-neglect also surfaces, stemming from the declining physical or mental capacity of an elder. If he or she foregoes proper hygiene, disdains needed medications or medical aids, or persists in living in an insect-ridden, filthy or fire-hazardous dwelling, intervene to try and change their environment for the better, for their health and safety.

Finally, neglect may also take financial form. If someone who has assumed a fiduciary duty to pay for assisted living, nursing home care or at-home health care fails to do so, that is a form of neglect which may be defined as elder abuse. The same goes for an in-home eldercare service provider that fails to provide an adequate degree or frequency of care.2

Abandonment. This occurs when a caregiver or responsible party flat-out deserts an elder – dropping him or her off at a nursing home, a hospital, or even a bus or train station with no plans to return. Hopefully, the elder has the presence of mind to call for help, but if not, a tragic situation will quickly worsen. When an elderly person seems to stay in one place for hours and appears confused or deserted, it is time to get to the bottom of what just happened for his or her safety.

Physical abuse. Bruises and lacerations are evident signals, but other indicators are less evident: sprains and dislocations, cracked eyeglass lenses, impressions on the arms or legs from restraints, too much or too little medication, or a strange reticence, silence or fearfulness or other behavioral changes in the individual.

Emotional or psychological abuse. How do you know if an elder has been verbally degraded, tormented, or threatened in your absence, or left in isolation? If the elder is not willing or able to let you know about such wrongdoing, watch for signals such as withdrawal from conversation or communication, agitation or distress, and repetitive or obsessive-compulsive actions linked to dementia such as rocking, biting or sucking.2

Financial abuse. When an unscrupulous relative, friend or other party uses an elder’s funds, property, or assets illegally or dishonestly, this is financial exploitation of the elderly. This runs all the way from withdrawing an elder’s savings with his or her ATM card to forgery to improperly assuming conservatorship or power of attorney.2

How do you spot it? Delve into the elder’s financial life and see if you detect things like strange ATM withdrawals or account activity, additional names on a bank signature card, changes to beneficiary forms, or the sudden absence of collectibles or valuables.

Examine signatures on financial transactions – on closer examination, do they appear to be authentic, or studied forgeries? Have assets been inexplicably transferred to long-uninvolved heirs or relatives, or worse yet apparent strangers? Have eldercare bills gone unpaid recently? Is the level of eldercare being provided oddly slipshod given the financial resources being devoted to it?

Respect your elders; protect your elders. Some people aim to exploit senior citizens. Others simply don’t recognize or respect the responsibilities that come with eldercare. Whether the abuse is intentional or not, the emotional, physical or financial harm done can be reprehensible. Talk to or check in on your parents, grandparents, siblings or other elders you know and care for to see that they are free from such abuse.

Citations.

1 – cdc.gov/features/elderabuse/ [6/9/14]

2 – ncea.aoa.gov/FAQ/Type_Abuse/index.aspx [2/10/15]

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by Bank of America, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Qwest, Chevron, ING Retirement, AT&T, Verizon, Glaxosmithkline, 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.

Medical Professionals: A Prescription for Your Financial Health

The demands on medical practitioners today can seem overwhelming. It’s no secret that health-care delivery is changing, and those changes are reflected in the financial issues that health-care professionals face every day. You must continually educate yourself about new research in your chosen specialty, stay current on the latest technology that is transforming health care, and pay attention to business considerations, including ever-changing state and federal insurance regulations.

Like many, you may have transitioned from medical school and residency to being on your own with little formal preparation for the substantial financial issues you now face. Even the day-to-day concerns that affect most people–paying college tuition bills or student loans, planning for retirement, buying a home, insuring yourself and your business–may be complicated by the challenges and rewards of a medical practice. It’s no wonder that many medical practitioners look forward to the day when they can relax and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Unfortunately, substantial demands on your time can make it difficult for you to accurately evaluate your financial plan, or monitor changes that can affect it. That’s especially true given ongoing health care reform efforts that will affect the future of the industry as a whole. Just as patients need periodic checkups, you may need to work with a financial professional to make sure your finances receive the proper care.

Maximizing your personal assets

Much like medicine, the field of finance has been the subject of much scientific research and data, and should be approached with the same level of discipline and thoughtfulness. Making the most of your earning years requires a plan for addressing the following issues.

Retirement

Your years of advanced training and perhaps the additional costs of launching and building a practice may have put you behind your peers outside the health-care field by a decade or more in starting to save and invest for retirement. You may have found yourself struggling with debt from years of college, internship, and residency; later, there’s the ongoing juggling act between making mortgage payments, caring for your parents, paying for weddings and tuition for your children, and maybe trying to squeeze in a vacation here and there. Because starting to save early is such a powerful ally when it comes to building a nest egg, you may face a real challenge in assuring your own retirement. A solid financial plan can help.

Investments

Getting a late start on saving for retirement can create other problems. For example, you might be tempted to try to make up for lost time by making investment choices that carry an inappropriate level or type of risk for you. Speculating with money you will need in the next year or two could leave you short when you need that money. And once your earnings improve, you may be tempted to overspend on luxuries you were denied during the lean years. One of the benefits of a long-range financial plan is that it can help you protect your assets–and your future–from inappropriate choices.

Tuition

Many medical professionals not only must pay off student loans, but also have a strong desire to help their children with college costs, precisely because they began their own careers saddled with large debts.

Tax considerations

Once the lean years are behind you, your success means you probably need to pay more attention to tax-aware investing strategies that help you keep more of what you earn.

Using preventive care

The nature of your profession requires that you pay special attention to making sure you are protected both personally and professionally from the financial consequences of legal action, a medical emergency of your own, and business difficulties. Having a well-defined protection plan can give you confidence that you can practice your chosen profession without putting your family or future in jeopardy.

Liability insurance

Medical professionals are caught financially between rising premiums for malpractice insurance and fixed reimbursements from managed-care programs, and you may find yourself evaluating a variety of approaches to providing that protection. Some physicians also carry insurance that protects them against unintentional billing errors or omissions. Remember that in addition to potential malpractice claims, you also face the same potential liabilities as other business owners. You might consider an umbrella policy as well as coverage that protects you against business-related exposures such as fire, theft, employee dishonesty, or business interruption.

Disability insurance

Your income depends on your ability to function, especially if you’re a solo practitioner, and you may have fixed overhead costs that would need to be covered if your ability to work were impaired. One choice you’ll face is how early in your career to purchase disability insurance. Age plays a role in determining premiums, and you may qualify for lower premiums if you are relatively young. When evaluating disability income policies, medical professionals should pay special attention to how the policy defines disability. Look for a liberal definition such as “own occupation,” which can help ensure that you’re covered in case you can’t practice in your chosen specialty.

To protect your business if you become disabled, consider business overhead expense insurance that will cover routine expenses such as payroll, utilities, and equipment rental. An insurance professional can help evaluate your needs.

Practice management and business planning

Is a group practice more advantageous than operating solo, taking in a junior colleague, or working for a managed-care network? If you have an independent practice, should you own or rent your office space? What are the pros and cons of taking over an existing practice compared to starting one from scratch? If you’re part of a group practice, is the practice structured financially to accommodate the needs of all partners? Does running a “concierge” or retainer practice appeal to you? If you’re considering expansion, how should you finance it?

Questions like these are rarely simple and should be done in the context of an overall financial plan that takes into account both your personal and professional goals.

Many physicians have created processes and products for their own practices, and have then licensed their creations to a corporation. If you are among them, you may need help with legal and financial concerns related to patents, royalties, and the like. And if you have your own practice, you may find that cash flow management, maximizing return on working capital, hiring and managing employees, and financing equipment purchases and maintenance become increasingly complex issues as your practice develops.

Practice valuation

You may have to make tradeoffs between maximizing current income from your practice and maximizing its value as an asset for eventual sale. Also, timing the sale of a practice and minimizing taxes on its proceeds can be complex. If you’re planning a business succession, or considering changing practices or even careers, you might benefit from help with evaluating the financial consequences of those decisions.

Estate planning

Estate planning, which can both minimize taxes and further your personal and philanthropic goals, probably will become important to you at some point. Options you might consider include:

  • Life insurance
  • Buy-sell agreements for your practice
  • Charitable trusts

You’ve spent a long time acquiring and maintaining expertise in your field, and your patients rely on your specialized knowledge. Doesn’t it make sense to treat your finances with the same level of care?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, Glaxosmithkline, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Merck, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, 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.

Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage

If you’re covered by Medicare, here’s some welcome news–Medicare drug coverage can help you handle the rising cost of prescriptions. If you’re covered by original Medicare, you can sign up for a drug plan offered in your area by a private company or insurer that has been approved by Medicare. Many Medicare Advantage plans will also offer prescription drug coverage in addition to the comprehensive health coverage they already offer. Although prescription drug plans vary, all provide a standard amount of coverage set by Medicare. Every plan offers a broad choice of brand name and generic drugs at local pharmacies or through the mail. However, some plans cover more drugs or offer a wider selection of pharmacies (for a higher premium) than others, so you’ll want to choose the plan that best meets your needs and budget.

How much will it cost?

What you’ll pay for Medicare drug coverage depends on which plan you choose. But here’s a look at how the cost of Medicare drug coverage is generally structured in 2015:

A monthly premium: Most plans charge a monthly premium. Premiums vary, but average $33.13. (Source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.) This is in addition to the premium you pay for Medicare Part B. You can have the premium deducted from your Social Security check, or you can pay your Medicare drug plan company directly.

An annual deductible: Plans may require you to satisfy an annual deductible of up to $320. Deductibles vary widely, so make sure you compare deductibles when choosing a plan.

A share of your prescription costs: Once you’ve satisfied the annual deductible, if any, you’ll generally need to pay 25% of the next $2,640 of your prescription costs (i.e., up to $660 out-of-pocket) and Medicare will pay 75% (i.e., up to $1,980). After that, there’s a coverage gap; you’ll need to pay 100% of your prescription costs until you’ve spent an additional $3,720. (Some plans offer coverage for this gap.) However, once your prescription costs total $6,680 (i.e., your out-of-pocket costs equal $4,700–you’ve paid a $320 deductible + $660 + $3,720 in drug costs–and Medicare has paid $1,980), your Medicare drug plan will generally cover 95% of any further prescription costs. For the rest of the year, you’ll pay either a coinsurance amount (e.g., 5% of the prescription cost) or a small co-payment for each prescription.

Again, keep in mind that all figures are for 2015 only–costs and limits may change each year, and vary among plans.

Note: Health-care legislation passed in 2010 gradually closes the prescription drug coverage gap. In 2015, if you have spending in the coverage gap, you’ll receive a 55% discount on covered brand-name drugs, and a 35% discount on generic drugs. Other changes will take effect in future years.

 Total prescription costs in 2015 What you pay What Medicare pays
$0 to $320 You pay deductible of $320 (some plans may offer lower deductibles) Medicare pays nothing until deductible is satisfied
$320 to $2,960 You pay 25% of costs Medicare pays 75% of costs
$2,960 to $6,680 You pay 100% of costs Medicare pays nothing
Over $6,680 You pay 5% of costs Medicare pays 95% of costs

 

What if you can’t afford coverage? Extra help with Medicare drug plan costs is available to people who have limited income and resources. Medicare will pay all or most of the drug plan costs of seniors who qualify for help. If you haven’t already received an application for help, you can get one at your local pharmacy or order one from Medicare.

When can you join?

Seniors new to Medicare have seven months to enroll in a drug plan (three months before, the month of, and three months after becoming eligible for Medicare). Current Medicare beneficiaries can generally enroll in a drug plan or change drug plans during the annual election period that occurs between October 15 and December 7 of each year, and their Medicare prescription drug coverage will become effective on January 1 of the following year. If you qualify for special help, you can enroll in a drug plan at anytime during the year. Certain other events may qualify you for a Special Enrollment Period outside of the annual election period when you can enroll in a plan or switch plans.

If you already have Medicare drug coverage, remember to review your plan each fall to make sure it still meets your needs. Before the start of the annual election period, you should receive a notice from your current plan letting you know of any important plan modifications or additional plan options. Unless you decide to make a change, you’ll automatically be re-enrolled in the same drug plan for the upcoming year.

Do you have to join?

No. The Medicare prescription drug benefit is voluntary. However, when deciding whether or not to enroll, keep in mind that if you don’t join when you’re first eligible, but decide to join in a future year, you’ll pay a premium penalty that will permanently increase the cost of your coverage. There’s an exception to this premium penalty, though, if the reason you didn’t join sooner was because you already had prescription drug coverage that was at least as good as the coverage available through Medicare.

What if you already have prescription drug coverage?

Like many people, you may already have prescription drug coverage through the Medicare Advantage program, private health insurance such as Medigap, or your employer or former employer’s health plan. You can generally opt either to keep that coverage or join a Medicare prescription drug plan instead. If you already have other prescription drug coverage, you’ll receive a notice from your current provider explaining your options.

What happens after you join?

Once you join a plan, you’ll receive a prescription drug card and detailed information about the plan. In order to receive drug coverage, you’ll generally have to fill your prescription at a pharmacy that is in your drug plan’s network or through a mail-order service in that network. When you fill a prescription, show the card to the pharmacist (or provide the card number through the mail) even if you haven’t satisfied your annual deductible, so that your purchase counts toward the deductible and benefit limits.

What if you have questions?

If you have questions about the Medicare prescription drug benefit, you can get help by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or by visiting the Medicare website at http://www.medicare.gov. Look for information in the mail from Medicare and the Social Security Administration (SSA), including a copy of this year’s “Medicare and You” publication that will give you details about the prescription drug plans available in your area.

Choosing a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan

  • Start by making a list of all the prescription drugs you currently take and the price you pay for them to see how much you’re spending on prescription drugs.
  • Next, compare plans. Does each plan cover all of the drugs you currently take?
  • What deductible and co-payments does each plan require?
  • What monthly premium will you pay?
  • What pharmacies are included in each plan’s network?
  • Finally, ask for help if you need it. A family member or friend can help you find information, or you can call a Medicare customer representative at 1-800-MEDICARE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, Qwest, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Glaxosmithkline, Bank of America, 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.

Setting and Targeting Investment Goals

Go out into your yard and dig a big hole. Every month, throw $50 into it, but don’t take any money out until you’re ready to buy a house, send your child to college, or retire. It sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s what investing without setting clear-cut goals is like. If you’re lucky, you may end up with enough money to meet your needs, but you have no way to know for sure.

How do you set investment goals?

Setting investment goals means defining your dreams for the future. When you’re setting goals, it’s best to be as specific as possible. For instance, you know you want to retire, but when? You know you want to send your child to college, but to an Ivy League school or to the community college down the street? Writing down and prioritizing your investment goals is an important first step toward developing an investment plan.

What is your time horizon?

Your investment time horizon is the number of years you have to invest toward a specific goal. Each investment goal you set will have a different time horizon. For example, some of your investment goals will be long term (e.g., you have more than 15 years to plan), some will be short term (e.g., you have 5 years or less to plan), and some will be intermediate (e.g., you have between 5 and 15 years to plan). Establishing time horizons will help you determine how aggressively you will need to invest to accumulate the amount needed to meet your goals.

How much will you need to invest?

Although you can invest a lump sum of cash, many people find that regular, systematic investing is also a great way to build wealth over time. Start by determining how much you’ll need to set aside monthly or annually to meet each goal. Although you’ll want to invest as much as possible, choose a realistic amount that takes into account your other financial obligations, so that you can easily stick with your plan. But always be on the lookout for opportunities to increase the amount you’re investing, such as participating in an automatic investment program that boosts your contribution by a certain percentage each year, or by dedicating a portion of every raise, bonus, cash gift, or tax refund you receive to your investment objectives.

Which investments should you choose?

Regardless of your financial goals, you’ll need to decide how to best allocate your investment dollars. One important consideration is your tolerance for risk. All investments involve some risk, but some involve more than others. How well can you handle market ups and downs? Are you willing to accept a higher degree of risk in exchange for the opportunity to earn a higher rate of return?

Whether you’re investing for retirement, college, or another financial goal, your overall objective is to maximize returns without taking on more risk than you can bear. But no matter what level of risk you’re comfortable with, make sure to choose investments that are consistent with your goals and time horizon. A financial professional can help you construct a diversified investment portfolio that takes these factors into account.

Investing for retirement

After a hard day at the office, do you ask yourself, “Is it time to retire yet?” Retirement may seem a long way off, but it’s never too early to start planning, especially if you want retirement to be the good life you imagine.

For example, let’s say that your goal is to retire at age 65. At age 20 you begin contributing $3,000 per year to your tax-deferred 401(k) account. If your investment earns 6% per year, compounded annually, you’ll have approximately $679,000 in your investment account when you retire.

But what would happen if you left things to chance instead? Let’s say that you’re not really worried about retirement, so you wait until you’re 35 to begin investing. Assuming you contributed the same amount to your 401(k) and the rate of return on your investment dollars was the same, you would end up with approximately $254,400. And, as this chart illustrates, if you were to wait until age 45 to begin investing for retirement, you would end up with only about $120,000 by the time you retire.

Investing for college

Perhaps you faced the truth the day your child was born. Or maybe it hit you when your child started first grade: You have only so much time to save for college. In fact, for many people, saving for college is an intermediate-term goal–if you start saving when your child is in elementary school, you’ll have 10 to 15 years to build your college fund.

Of course, the earlier you start, the better. The more time you have before you need the money, the greater chance you have to build a substantial college fund due to compounding. With a longer investment time frame and a tolerance for some risk, you might also be willing to put some of your money into investments that offer the potential for growth.

Investing for a major purchase

At some point, you’ll probably want to buy a home, a car, or even that vacation home you’ve always wanted. Although they’re hardly impulse items, large purchases are usually not something for which you plan far in advance; one to five years is a common time frame. Because you don’t have much time to invest, you’ll have to budget your investment dollars wisely. Rather than choosing growth investments, you may want to put your money into less volatile, highly liquid investments that have some potential for growth, but that offer you quick and easy access to your money should you need it.

Review and revise

Over time, you may need to update your investment strategy. Get in the habit of checking your portfolio at least once a year–more frequently if the market is particularly volatile or when there have been significant changes in your life. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring it back in line with your investment goals and risk tolerance. If you need help, a financial professional can help.

Investing for Your Goals

Investment goal and time horizon At 4%, you’ll need to invest At 8%, you’ll need to invest At 12%, you’ll need to invest
Have $10,000 for down payment on home: 5 years $151 per month $136 per month $123 per month
Have $50,000 in college fund: 10 years $340 per month $276 per month $223 per month
Have $250,000 in retirement fund: 20 years $685 per month $437 per month $272 per month
Table assumes 3% annual inflation, and that the return is compounded annually; taxes are not considered. Also, rates of return will vary over time, particularly for long-term investments, which could affect the amounts you would need to invest. This hypothetical example is not intended to reflect the actual performance of any investment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ExxonMobil, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, 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.

Nonprofit Boards: New Challenges and Responsibilities

The days are long gone when nonprofit boards were made up of large donors who expected that little more would be asked of them beyond socializing at the occasional fundraiser. Being a board member can be as demanding and rewarding as any full-time work.

 

Nonprofit board members are being required to do strategic planning for both long- and short-term goals. They must produce demonstrable results that are measured against specific benchmarks. And they are finding that they must stretch already tight budgets further than ever. In turn, stakeholders within and outside nonprofit organizations increasingly are holding board members to a higher standard of accountability for making sure the organization not only delivers on its mission but does so in the most effective way.

 

Learning how to do more with less

 

Of all the challenges facing nonprofits, financial issues can be especially complex. In the last decade, many nonprofits have experienced funding cutbacks. Even those whose funding has remained stable are finding that money has to go further to meet increased client loads and demands on programs and services.

 

In some cases, the issues can be so complex that boards are going outside the organization’s ranks to hire consultants with specific expertise in certain areas. People who stay on top of the latest developments in such fields as tax law, charitable giving regulations, and best practices in accounting can be particularly effective in helping an organization fulfill its purpose without having to add staff.

 

Understanding your role and responsibilities as a board member, as well as the challenges facing nonprofits today, can not only improve your board’s decision-making process, but also can help you have maximum impact. A nonprofit board member has a dual role: support of the organization’s purpose, and governance over how it attempts to further that mission. You and your fellow board members doubtless want to use your collective time efficiently. When thinking about how to focus your efforts, consider whether your organization needs help with any of the following issues.

 

Ensuring accountability

 

Limited budgets and greater demand mean that hard choices will need to be made; in many cases, it’s the board’s responsibility to make them. To make wise decisions, it’s important to understand the organization’s financial assets, liabilities, and cash flow situation. If you’ve had corporate experience, you may be able to help your fellow board members review the balance sheet; if not, it’s worth your time to become familiar with it yourself. For example, knowing whether your organization qualifies for state sales and/or use tax exemption could have a meaningful impact on finances. Little may be more disturbing to potential donors than the feeling that their money may not be used effectively.

 

Also, the IRS is beginning to require more detailed information about nonprofit finances and governance practices, such as involvement in a joint venture or other partnership.

 

Program funders also have increased reporting requirements. When deciding which grants to make, foundations are asking for more information, greater documentation, and increased evaluation of results. Gathering and analyzing accurate, timely, comprehensive data and being able to document a program’s effectiveness and impact is increasingly important. Understanding the organization’s finances doesn’t just improve the board’s oversight capabilities; it also can make you a more effective fundraiser.

 

Higher standards of accountability mean that boards also should ensure that liability insurance is in place for both directors and officers. This is especially true if the organization provides services to the public, such as medical care.

 

Adopting enhanced governance standards

 

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in the wake of corporate governance scandals and nicknamed SOX, also affects nonprofits. Though the law applies almost exclusively to publicly traded companies, some nonprofits are using SOX provisions as a model for developing formal policies on financial reporting, potential conflicts of interest, and internal controls.

 

Two provisions of SOX also apply to nonprofits. First, organizations must have a written policy on retention of important documents, particularly those involved in any litigation. Second, they need a process for handling internal complaints while also protecting whistleblowers. Individual states have expressed interest in extending other SOX requirements to the nonprofit world, particularly larger organizations. Many nonprofit organizations hope that voluntary compliance efforts will eliminate calls for increased official regulation of such issues as board member compensation and conflicts of interest.

 

Ensuring effective fundraising and money management

 

Nonprofits have not been spared the increases in for-profit health care costs and worker’s compensation insurance that have hit corporations and small businesses. Yet fundraising for such mundane areas as day-to-day operations, staff salaries, and building and equipment maintenance has traditionally been one of the biggest challenges for nonprofits.

 

The twin effects of inflation and increased client loads have underscored the importance of having an adequate operating reserve. Also, corporate sponsorships can be vulnerable to the mergers and acquisitions that occur frequently in the corporate world. It makes sense to ensure a diversity of donors rather than relying on a few traditional sources.

 

Bringing in money is only half the battle; the day-to-day issues are equally important. Board members may be unfamiliar with operational challenges that businesses don’t generally face, such as fundraising, or recruiting and managing volunteers. However, in some cases you might be able to suggest ways to adapt businesslike methods for nonprofit use.

 

For example, appropriately investing short-term working capital can help preserve financial flexibility while maximizing resources. If your group has an infusion of cash that won’t be spent immediately, such as a contribution for a capital spending project, consider alternatives for putting at least some of it to work rather than letting it sit idle.

 

Planning strategically

 

Having a strategic plan can lead to better evaluation of funding needs and targeted fundraising efforts; it also can help ensure that board members and staff are on the same page. Make sure your plan provides guidance, yet allows staff members to do their jobs without constant board supervision.

 

A board of directors also must assure that the organization can attract and retain leadership. Many nonprofits today are led by executives who came of age during the 1960s. As those baby boomers march toward retirement, some experts worry that attracting and retaining executive directors and staff will become increasingly challenging, especially when budgets are shrinking. A succession plan for key personnel might be wise.

 

Using your time wisely

 

Nonprofit board membership can be both demanding and rewarding. Understanding your group’s finances can increase your effectiveness in furthering your organization’s goals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, Glaxosmithkline, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Qwest, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, 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.

Exchange-Traded Funds: Do They Belong in Your Portfolio?

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have become increasingly popular since they were introduced in the United States in the mid-1990s. Their tax efficiencies and relatively low investing costs have attracted investors who like the idea of combining the diversification of mutual funds with the trading flexibility of stocks. ETFs can fill a unique role in your portfolio, but you need to understand just how they work and the differences among the dizzying variety of ETFs now available.

What is an ETF?

Like a mutual fund, an exchange-traded fund pools the money of many investors and purchases a group of securities. Like index mutual funds, most ETFs are passively managed. Instead of having a portfolio manager who uses his or her judgment to select specific stocks, bonds, or other securities to buy and sell, both index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds attempt to replicate the performance of a specific index.

However, a mutual fund is priced once a day, when the fund’s net asset value is calculated after the market closes. If you buy after that, you will receive the next day’s closing price. By contrast, an ETF is priced throughout the day and can be bought on margin or sold short–in other words, it’s traded just as a stock is.

How ETFs invest

Since their inception, most ETFs have invested in stocks or bonds, buying the shares represented in a particular index. For example, an ETF might track the Nasdaq 100, the S&P 500, or a bond index. Other ETFs invest in hard assets–for example, gold. With the rapid proliferation of ETFs in recent years, if there’s an index, there’s a good chance there’s an ETF that tracks it. More and more new indexes are being introduced, many of which cover narrow niches of the market, or use novel rules to choose securities. Many so-called rules-based ETFs are beginning to take on aspects of actively managed funds–for example, by limiting the percentage of the fund that can be devoted to a single security or industry.

Pros and Cons of Exchange-Traded Funds

Pros

  • ETFs can be traded throughout the day as price fluctuates
  • ETFs can be bought on margin, sold short, or traded using stop orders and limit orders, just as stocks can
  • ETFs do not have to hold cash or buy and sell securities to meet redemption demands by fund investors
  • Annual expenses are often lower, which can be especially important for long-term investors
  • Because ETFs typically trade securities infrequently, they have lower annual taxable distributions than a mutual fund

Cons

  • Dollar-cost averaging will require paying repeated commissions and will increase investing costs
  • If an ETF is organized as a unit investment trust, delays in reinvesting its dividends may hamper returns
  • An ETF doesn’t necessarily trade at its net asset value, and bid-ask spreads may be wide for thinly traded issues or in volatile markets

The new wave of ETFs

New and unique indexes are being developed every day. As a result, ETFs that might seem similar–for example, two funds that invest in large-cap stocks–can actually be quite different. Many indexes define which securities are included based on their market capitalization–the number of shares outstanding times the price per share. However, other indexes and the ETFs that mimic them may select or weight securities within the index based on fundamental factors, such as a stock’s dividend yield. Why is weighting important? Because it can affect the impact that individual securities have on the fund’s result. For example, an index that is weighted by market cap will be more affected by underperformance at a large-cap company than it would be by an underperforming company with a smaller market cap. That’s because the large-cap company would represent a larger share of the index. However, if the index weighted each security equally, each would have an equal impact on the index’s performance.

The cost advantages and tradeoffs of ETFs

As indicated above, one of the reasons ETFs have gained ground with investors is because of their low annual expenses. Passive index investing means an ETF doesn’t require a portfolio manager or a research staff to select securities; that reduces the fund’s overhead. Also, investing in an index means that trades are generally made only when the index itself changes. As a result, the trading costs required by frequent buying and selling of securities in the fund are minimized.

However, don’t forget that you’ll generally pay a commission with each ETF trade (depending on the type of account you have). That means a one-time lump-sum investment in an ETF will be more cost-effective than frequent, regular investments over time.

ETFs and taxes

ETFs can be relatively tax efficient. Because it trades so infrequently, an ETF typically distributes few capital gains during the year. There can be times when some investors find themselves paying taxes on capital gains generated by a mutual fund, even though the value of their fund may actually have dropped. Though it’s not impossible for an ETF to have capital gains, ETFs generally can minimize the ongoing capital gains taxes you’ll pay.

Just how much impact can reducing taxes have over the long term? More than you might think. Even a 1% difference in your return can be significant. For example, if you invest $50,000 and earn an average annual return of 5% (compounded monthly), you would have a pretax amount of $82,350 after 10 years. Even a 1% increase in that return would give you $90,970 at the end of that time. (This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the performance of any particular investment. Actual results will vary.)

Make sure you consider how an ETF’s returns will be taxed. Depending on how the fund is organized and what it invests in, returns could be taxed as short-term capital gains, ordinary income, or in the case of gold and silver ETFs, as collectibles; all are taxed at higher rates than long-term capital gains.

What are some other reasons investors use ETFs?

  • To get exposure to a particular industry or sector of the market. Because the minimum investment in an ETF is the cost of a single share, ETFs can be a low-cost way to make a diversified investment in alternative investments, a particular investing style, or geographic region.
  • To limit losses. Being able to set a stop-loss limit on your ETF shares can help you manage potential losses. A stop-loss order instructs your broker to sell your position if the shares fall to a certain price. If the ETF’s price falls, you’ve minimized your losses. If its price rises over time, you could increase the stop-loss figure accordingly. That lets you pursue potential gains while setting a limit on the amount you can lose.

How to evaluate an ETF

  1. Look at the index it tracks. Understand what the index consists of and what rules it follows in selecting and weighting the securities in it. Be aware that the performance of an unmanaged index is not indicative of the performance of any specific security. Individuals cannot invest directly in any index.
  2. Look at how long the fund and/or its underlying index have been in existence, and if possible, how both have performed in good times and bad.
  3. Look at the fund’s expense ratios. The more straightforward its investing strategy, the lower expenses are likely to be. An index using futures contracts is likely to have higher expenses than one that simply replicates the S&P 500.

Your financial professional can help you decide how ETFs might fit your investing strategy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.