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.

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The Right Beneficiary

Who should inherit your IRA or 401(k)? See that they do.

 

Here’s a simple financial question: who is the beneficiary of your IRA? How about your 401(k), life insurance policy, or annuity? You may be able to answer such a question quickly and easily. Or you may be saying, “You know … I’m not totally sure.” Whatever your answer, it is smart to periodically review your beneficiary designations.

Your choices may need to change with the times. When did you open your first IRA? When did you buy your life insurance policy? Was it back in the Eighties? Are you still living in the same home and working at the same job as you did back then? Have your priorities changed a bit – perhaps more than a bit?

While your beneficiary choices may seem obvious and rock-solid when you initially make them, time has a way of altering things. In a stretch of five or ten years, some major changes can occur in your life – and they may warrant changes in your beneficiary decisions.

In fact, you might want to review them annually. Here’s why: companies frequently change custodians when it comes to retirement plans and insurance policies. When a new custodian comes on board, a beneficiary designation can get lost in the paper shuffle. (It has happened.) If you don’t have a designated beneficiary on your 401(k), the assets may go to the “default” beneficiary when you pass away, which might throw a wrench into your estate planning.

How your choices affect your loved ones. The beneficiary of your IRA, annuity, 401(k) or life insurance policy may be your spouse, your child, maybe another loved one or maybe even an institution. Naming a beneficiary helps to keep these assets out of probate when you pass away.

Beneficiary designations commonly take priority over bequests made in a will or living trust. For example, if you long ago named a son or daughter who is now estranged from you as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, he or she is in line to receive the death benefit when you die, regardless of what your will states. Beneficiary designations allow life insurance proceeds to transfer automatically to heirs; these assets do not have go through probate.1,2

You may have even chosen the “smartest financial mind” in your family as your beneficiary, thinking that he or she has the knowledge to carry out your financial wishes in the event of your death. But what if this person passes away before you do? What if you change your mind about the way you want your assets distributed, and are unable to communicate your intentions in time? And what if he or she inherits tax problems as a result of receiving your assets? (See below.)

How your choices affect your estate. Virtually any inheritance carries a tax consequence. (Of course, through careful estate planning, you can try to defer or even eliminate that consequence.)

If you are simply naming your spouse as your beneficiary, the tax consequences are less thorny. Assets you inherit from your spouse aren’t subject to estate tax, as long as you are a U.S. citizen.3

When the beneficiary isn’t your spouse, things get a little more complicated for your estate, and for your beneficiary’s estate. If you name, for example, your son or your sister as the beneficiary of your retirement plan assets, the amount of those assets will be included in the value of your taxable estate. (This might mean a higher estate tax bill for your heirs.) And the problem will persist: when your non-spouse beneficiary inherits those retirement plan assets, those assets become part of his or her taxable estate, and his or her heirs might face higher estate taxes. Your non-spouse heir might also have to take required income distributions from that retirement plan someday, and pay the required taxes on that income.4

If you designate a charity or other 501(c)(3) non-profit organization as a beneficiary, the assets involved can pass to the charity without being taxed, and your estate can qualify for a charitable deduction.5

Are your beneficiary designations up to date? Don’t assume. Don’t guess. Make sure your assets are set to transfer to the people or institutions you prefer. Let’s check up and make sure your beneficiary choices make sense for the future. Just give me a call or send me an e-mail – I’m happy to help you.

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 – smartmoney.com/taxes/estate/how-to-choose-a-beneficiary-1304670957977/ [6/10/11]

2 – http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/bypassing-probate-with-beneficiary-designations.html [1/30/13]

3 – http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/estate-planning-when-you-re-married-noncitizen.html [1/30/13]

4 – individual.troweprice.com/staticFiles/Retail/Shared/PDFs/beneGuide.pdf [9/10]

5 – irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Frequently-Asked-Questions-on-Estate-Taxes [8/1/12]

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

Retirement Plans for Small Businesses

If you’re self-employed or own a small business and you haven’t established a retirement savings plan, what are you waiting for? A retirement plan can help you and your employees save for the future.

Tax advantages

A retirement plan can have significant tax advantages:

  • Your contributions are deductible when made
  • Your contributions aren’t taxed to an employee until distributed from the plan
  • Money in the retirement program grows tax deferred (or, in the case of Roth accounts, potentially tax free)

Types of plans

Retirement plans are usually either IRA-based (like SEPs and SIMPLE IRAs) or “qualified” (like 401(k)s, profit-sharing plans, and defined benefit plans). Qualified plans are generally more complicated and expensive to maintain than IRA-based plans because they have to comply with specific Internal Revenue Code and ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) requirements in order to qualify for their tax benefits. Also, qualified plan assets must be held either in trust or by an insurance company. With IRA-based plans, your employees own (i.e., “vest” in) your contributions immediately. With qualified plans, you can generally require that your employees work a certain numbers of years before they vest.

Which plan is right for you?

With a dizzying array of retirement plans to choose from, each with unique advantages and disadvantages, you’ll need to clearly define your goals before attempting to choose a plan. For example, do you want:

  • To maximize the amount you can save for your own retirement?
  • A plan funded by employer contributions? By employee contributions? Both?
  • A plan that allows you and your employees to make pretax and/or Roth contributions?
  • The flexibility to skip employer contributions in some years?
  • A plan with lowest costs? Easiest administration?

The answers to these questions can help guide you and your retirement professional to the plan (or combination of plans) most appropriate for you.

SEPs

A SEP allows you to set up an IRA (a “SEP-IRA”) for yourself and each of your eligible employees. You contribute a uniform percentage of pay for each employee, although you don’t have to make contributions every year, offering you some flexibility when business conditions vary. For 2015, your contributions for each employee are limited to the lesser of 25% of pay or $53,000. Most employers, including those who are self-employed, can establish a SEP.

SEPs have low start-up and operating costs and can be established using an easy two-page form. The plan must cover any employee aged 21 or older who has worked for you for three of the last five years and who earns $600 or more.

SIMPLE IRA plan

The SIMPLE IRA plan is available if you have 100 or fewer employees. Employees can elect to make pretax contributions in 2015 of up to $12,500 ($15,500 if age 50 or older). You must either match your employees’ contributions dollar for dollar–up to 3% of each employee’s compensation–or make a fixed contribution of 2% of compensation for each eligible employee. (The 3% match can be reduced to 1% in any two of five years.) Each employee who earned $5,000 or more in any two prior years, and who is expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year, must be allowed to participate in the plan. SIMPLE IRA plans are easy to set up. You fill out a short form to establish a plan and ensure that SIMPLE IRAs are set up for each employee. A financial institution can do much of the paperwork. Additionally, administrative costs are low.

Profit-sharing plan

Typically, only you, not your employees, contribute to a qualified profit-sharing plan. Your contributions are discretionary–there’s usually no set amount you need to contribute each year, and you have the flexibility to contribute nothing at all in a given year if you so choose (although your contributions must be nondiscriminatory, and “substantial and recurring,” for your plan to remain qualified). The plan must contain a formula for determining how your contributions are allocated among plan participants. A separate account is established for each participant that holds your contributions and any investment gains or losses. Generally, each employee with a year of service is eligible to participate (although you can require two years of service if your contributions are immediately vested). Contributions for any employee in 2015 can’t exceed the lesser of $53,000 or 100% of the employee’s compensation.

401(k) plan

The 401(k) plan (technically, a qualified profit-sharing plan with a cash or deferred feature) has become a hugely popular retirement savings vehicle for small businesses. According to the Investment Company Institute, 401(k) plans held $4.3 trillion of assets as of March 2014, and covered 52 million active participants. (Source: http://www.ici.org/401(k), accessed February 5, 2015.) With a 401(k) plan, employees can make pretax and/or Roth contributions in 2015 of up to $18,000 of pay ($24,000 if age 50 or older). These deferrals go into a separate account for each employee and aren’t taxed until distributed. Generally, each employee with a year of service must be allowed to contribute to the plan.

You can also make employer contributions to your 401(k) plan–either matching contributions or discretionary profit-sharing contributions. Combined employer and employee contributions for any employee in 2015 can’t exceed the lesser of $53,000 (plus catch-up contributions of up to $6,000 if your employee is age 50 or older) or 100% of the employee’s compensation. In general, each employee with a year of service is eligible to receive employer contributions, but you can require two years of service if your contributions are immediately vested.

401(k) plans are required to perform somewhat complicated testing each year to make sure benefits aren’t disproportionately weighted toward higher paid employees. However, you don’t have to perform discrimination testing if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan. With a safe harbor 401(k) plan, you generally have to either match your employees’ contributions (100% of employee deferrals up to 3% of compensation, and 50% of deferrals between 3 and 5% of compensation), or make a fixed contribution of 3% of compensation for all eligible employees, regardless of whether they contribute to the plan. Your contributions must be fully vested.

Another way to avoid discrimination testing is by adopting a SIMPLE 401(k) plan. These plans are similar to SIMPLE IRAs, but can also allow loans and Roth contributions. Because they’re still qualified plans (and therefore more complicated than SIMPLE IRAs), and allow less deferrals than traditional 401(k)s, SIMPLE 401(k)s haven’t become popular.

Defined benefit plan

A defined benefit plan is a qualified retirement plan that guarantees your employees a specified level of benefits at retirement (for example, an annual benefit equal to 30% of final average pay). As the name suggests, it’s the retirement benefit that’s defined, not the level of contributions to the plan. In 2015, a defined benefit plan can provide an annual benefit of up to $210,000 (or 100% of pay if less). The services of an actuary are generally needed to determine the annual contributions that you must make to the plan to fund the promised benefit. Your contributions may vary from year to year, depending on the performance of plan investments and other factors.

In general, defined benefit plans are too costly and too complex for most small businesses. However, because they can provide the largest benefit of any retirement plan, and therefore allow the largest deductible employer contribution, defined benefit plans can be attractive to businesses that have a small group of highly compensated owners who are seeking to contribute as much money as possible on a tax-deferred basis.

As an employer, you have an important role to play in helping America’s workers save. Now is the time to look into retirement plan programs for you and your employees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

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

Balancing Your Investment Choices with Asset Allocation

A chocolate cake. Pasta. A pancake. They’re all very different, but they generally involve flour, eggs, and perhaps a liquid. Depending on how much of each ingredient you use, you can get very different outcomes. The same is true of your investments. Balancing a portfolio means combining various types of investments using a recipe that’s appropriate for you.

Getting an appropriate mix

The combination of investments you choose can be as important as your specific investments. The mix of various asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives, accounts for most of the ups and downs of a portfolio’s returns.

There’s another reason to think about the mix of investments in your portfolio. Each type of investment has specific strengths and weaknesses that enable it to play a specific role in your overall investing strategy. Some investments may be chosen for their growth potential. Others may provide regular income. Still others may offer safety or simply serve as a temporary place to park your money. And some investments even try to fill more than one role. Because you probably have multiple needs and desires, you need some combination of investment types.

Balancing how much of each you should include is one of your most important tasks as an investor. That balance between growth, income, and safety is called your asset allocation, and it can help you manage the level and type of risks you face.

Balancing risk and return

Ideally, you should strive for an overall combination of investments that minimizes the risk you take in trying to achieve a targeted rate of return. This often means balancing more conservative investments against others that are designed to provide a higher return but that also involve more risk. For example, let’s say you want to get a 7.5% return on your money. Your financial professional tells you that in the past, stock market returns have averaged about 10% annually, and bonds roughly 5%. One way to try to achieve your 7.5% return would be by choosing a 50-50 mix of stocks and bonds. It might not work out that way, of course. This is only a hypothetical illustration, not a real portfolio, and there’s no guarantee that either stocks or bonds will perform as they have in the past. But asset allocation gives you a place to start.

Someone living on a fixed income, whose priority is having a regular stream of money coming in, will probably need a very different asset allocation than a young, well-to-do working professional whose priority is saving for a retirement that’s 30 years away. Many publications feature model investment portfolios that recommend generic asset allocations based on an investor’s age. These can help jump-start your thinking about how to divide up your investments. However, because they’re based on averages and hypothetical situations, they shouldn’t be seen as definitive. Your asset allocation is–or should be—as unique as you are. Even if two people are the same age and have similar incomes, they may have very different needs and goals. You should make sure your asset allocation is tailored to your individual circumstances.

Many ways to diversify

When financial professionals refer to asset allocation, they’re usually talking about overall classes: stocks, bonds, and cash or cash alternatives. However, there are others that also can be used to complement the major asset classes once you’ve got those basics covered. They include real estate and alternative investments such as hedge funds, private equity, metals, or collectibles. Because their returns don’t necessarily correlate closely with returns from major asset classes, they can provide additional diversification and balance in a portfolio.

Even within an asset class, consider how your assets are allocated. For example, if you’re investing in stocks, you could allocate a certain amount to large-cap stocks and a different percentage to stocks of smaller companies. Or you might allocate based on geography, putting some money in U.S. stocks and some in foreign companies. Bond investments might be allocated by various maturities, with some money in bonds that mature quickly and some in longer-term bonds. Or you might favor tax-free bonds over taxable ones, depending on your tax status and the type of account in which the bonds are held.

Asset allocation strategies

There are various approaches to calculating an asset allocation that makes sense for you.

The most popular approach is to look at what you’re investing for and how long you have to reach each goal. Those goals get balanced against your need for money to live on. The more secure your immediate income and the longer you have to pursue your investing goals, the more aggressively you might be able to invest for them. Your asset allocation might have a greater percentage of stocks than either bonds or cash, for example. Or you might be in the opposite situation. If you’re stretched financially and would have to tap your investments in an emergency, you’ll need to balance that fact against your longer-term goals. In addition to establishing an emergency fund, you may need to invest more conservatively than you might otherwise want to.

Some investors believe in shifting their assets among asset classes based on which types of investments they expect will do well or poorly in the near term. However, this approach, called “market timing,” is extremely difficult even for experienced investors. If you’re determined to try this, you should probably get some expert advice–and recognize that no one really knows where markets are headed.

Some people try to match market returns with an overall “core” strategy for most of their portfolio. They then put a smaller portion in very targeted investments that may behave very differently from those in the core and provide greater overall diversification. These often are asset classes that an investor thinks could benefit from more active management.

Just as you allocate your assets in an overall portfolio, you can also allocate assets for a specific goal. For example, you might have one asset allocation for retirement savings and another for college tuition bills. A retired professional with a conservative overall portfolio might still be comfortable investing more aggressively with money intended to be a grandchild’s inheritance. Someone who has taken the risk of starting a business might decide to be more conservative with his or her personal portfolio.

Things to think about

  • Don’t forget about the impact of inflation on your savings. As time goes by, your money will probably buy less and less unless your portfolio at least keeps pace with the inflation rate. Even if you think of yourself as a conservative investor, your asset allocation should take long-term inflation into account.
  • Your asset allocation should balance your financial goals with your emotional needs. If the way your money is invested keeps you awake worrying at night, you may need to rethink your investing goals and whether the strategy you’re pursuing is worth the lost sleep.
  • Your tax status might affect your asset allocation, though your decisions shouldn’t be based solely on tax concerns.

Even if your asset allocation was right for you when you chose it, it may not be appropriate for you now. It should change as your circumstances do and as new ways to invest are introduced. A piece of clothing you wore 10 years ago may not fit now; you just might need to update your asset allocation, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ExxonMobil, access.att.com, Raytheon, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Pfizer, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, 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.

Net Unrealized Appreciation: The Untold Story

If you participate in a 401(k), ESOP, or other qualified retirement plan that lets you invest in your employer’s stock, you need to know about net unrealized appreciation–a simple tax deferral opportunity with an unfortunately complicated name.

When you receive a distribution from your employer’s retirement plan, the distribution is generally taxable to you at ordinary income tax rates. A common way of avoiding immediate taxation is to make a tax-free rollover to a traditional IRA. However, when you ultimately receive distributions from the IRA, they’ll also be taxed at ordinary income tax rates. (Special rules apply to Roth and other after-tax contributions that are generally tax free when distributed.)

But if your distribution includes employer stock (or other employer securities), you may have another option–you may be able to defer paying tax on the portion of your distribution that represents net unrealized appreciation (NUA). You won’t be taxed on the NUA until you sell the stock. What’s more, the NUA will be taxed at long-term capital gains rates–typically much lower than ordinary income tax rates. This strategy can often result in significant tax savings.

What is net unrealized appreciation?

A distribution of employer stock consists of two parts: (1) the cost basis (that is, the value of the stock when it was contributed to, or purchased by, your plan), and (2) any increase in value over the cost basis until the date the stock is distributed to you. This increase in value over basis, fixed at the time the stock is distributed in-kind to you, is the NUA. For example, assume you retire and receive a distribution of employer stock worth $500,000 from your 401(k) plan, and that the cost basis in the stock is $50,000. The $450,000 gain is NUA.

How does it work?

At the time you receive a lump-sum distribution that includes employer stock, you’ll pay ordinary income tax only on the cost basis in the employer securities.

You won’t pay any tax on the NUA until you sell the securities. At that time the NUA is taxed at long-term capital gain rates, no matter how long you’ve held the securities outside of the plan (even if only for a single day). Any appreciation at the time of sale in excess of your NUA is taxed as either short-term or long-term capital gain, depending on how long you’ve held the stock outside the plan.

Using the example above, you would pay ordinary income tax on $50,000, the cost basis, when you receive your distribution. (You may also be subject to a 10% early distribution penalty if you’re not age 55 or totally disabled.) Let’s say you sell the stock after ten years, when it’s worth $750,000. At that time, you’ll pay long-term capital gains tax on your NUA ($450,000). You’ll also pay long-term capital gains tax on the additional appreciation ($250,000), since you held the stock for more than one year. Note that since you’ve already paid tax on the $50,000 cost basis, you won’t pay tax on that amount again when you sell the stock.

If your distribution includes cash in addition to the stock, you can either roll the cash over to an IRA or take it as a taxable distribution. And you don’t have to use the NUA strategy for all of your employer stock–you can roll a portion over to an IRA and apply NUA tax treatment to the rest.

What is a lump-sum distribution?

In general, you’re allowed to use these favorable NUA tax rules only if you receive the employer securities as part of a lump-sum distribution. To qualify as a lump-sum distribution, both of the following conditions must be satisfied:

  • It must be a distribution of your entire balance, within a single tax year, from all of your employer’s qualified plans of the same type (that is, all pension plans, all profit-sharing plans, or all stock bonus plans)
  • The distribution must be paid after you reach age 59½, or as a result of your separation from service, or after your death

There is one exception: even if your distribution doesn’t qualify as a lump-sum distribution, any securities distributed from the plan that were purchased with your after-tax (non-Roth) contributions will be eligible for NUA tax treatment.

NUA at a glance
You receive a lump-sum distribution from your 401(k) plan consisting of $500,000 of employer stock. The cost basis is $50,000. You sell the stock 10 years later for $750,000.*
Tax payable at distribution–stock valued at $500,000
Cost basis–$50,000 Taxed at ordinary income rates; 10% early payment penalty tax if you’re not 55 or disabled
NUA–$450,000 Tax deferred until sale of stock
Tax payable at sale–stock valued at $750,000
Cost basis– $50,000 Already taxed at distribution; not taxed again at sale
NUA– $450,000 Taxed at long-term capital gains rates regardless of holding period
Additional appreciation-$250,000 Taxed as long- or short-term capital gain, depending on holding period outside plan (long-term in this example)
*Assumes stock is attributable to your pretax and employer contributions and not after-tax contributions

 

NUA is for beneficiaries, too

If you die while you still hold employer securities in your retirement plan, your plan beneficiary can also use the NUA tax strategy if he or she receives a lump-sum distribution from the plan. The taxation is generally the same as if you had received the distribution. (The stock doesn’t receive a step-up in basis, even though your beneficiary receives it as a result of your death.)

If you’ve already received a distribution of employer stock, elected NUA tax treatment, and die before you sell the stock, your heir will have to pay long-term capital gains tax on the NUA when he or she sells the stock. However, any appreciation as of the date of your death in excess of NUA will forever escape taxation because, in this case, the stock will receive a step-up in basis. Using our example, if you die when your employer stock is worth $750,000, your heir will receive a step-up in basis for the $250,000 appreciation in excess of NUA at the time of your death. If your heir later sells the stock for $900,000, he or she will pay long-term capital gains tax on the $450,000 of NUA, as well as capital gains tax on any appreciation since your death ($150,000). The $250,000 of appreciation in excess of NUA as of your date of death will be tax free.

Some additional considerations

  • If you want to take advantage of NUA treatment, make sure you don’t roll the stock over to an IRA. That will be irrevocable, and you’ll forever lose the NUA tax opportunity.
  • You can elect not to use the NUA option. In this case, the NUA will be subject to ordinary income tax (and a potential 10% early distribution penalty) at the time you receive the distribution.
  • Stock held in an IRA or employer plan is entitled to significant protection from your creditors. You’ll lose that protection if you hold the stock in a taxable brokerage account.
  • Holding a significant amount of employer stock may not be appropriate for everyone. In some cases, it may make sense to diversify your investments.*
  • Be sure to consider the impact of any applicable state tax laws.

When is it the best choice?

In general, the NUA strategy makes the most sense for individuals who have a large amount of NUA and a relatively small cost basis. However, whether it’s right for you depends on many variables, including your age, your estate planning goals, and anticipated tax rates. In some cases, rolling your distribution over to an IRA may be the better choice. And if you were born before 1936, other special tax rules might apply, making a taxable distribution your best option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Planning Lessons for Educators: Addressing Your Financial Issues

Being an educator requires expertise and that you stay current on developments in your field. However, that level of ongoing attention can make it difficult to find the time to stay on top of issues that affect your finances, or to put together a comprehensive financial plan. Whether you work directly with students or focus on research, whether you are just starting your career or have achieved distinction in your field, you may benefit from working with a financial professional who understands an educator’s special concerns. Here are some issues that may not have been at the top of your to-do list, but that can affect your long-term comfort and happiness.

 

Addressing tax issues

 

Many educators, particularly contingency or adjunct faculty members, have multiple sources of income. For example, you may teach at several institutions, and/or earn consulting fees or royalties on your work. Welcome as that income doubtless is, it also may complicate tax planning and preparation. Other tax issues you may need help with include the deductibility of student loan payments, tax issues that arise from pursuing an advanced degree, and the taxation of employer-provided benefits such as faculty housing.

 

Getting tenure is cause for celebration, but it also is likely to affect your tax situation. Moving into a higher tax bracket could mean it’s time to make or rethink decisions about how much you need to save for retirement, the immediate and long-term benefits of various retirement savings accounts–both taxable and tax-advantaged–and how your retirement savings are invested.

 

Planning for retirement and beyond

 

One key to any potentially successful retirement plan is starting early. The sooner you can put a well-thought-out plan in place, the better your chances of financial security. Saving for retirement is like building up an endowment; it gives you the freedom to expand your horizons. Because academic salaries tend to remain relatively predictable (at least compared with corporate salaries) once you’ve gotten tenure, you may have an advantage when it comes to retirement planning. Why? Because you may be able to make more accurate forecasts of your lifetime earning capacity than people in other professions, which can in turn help you make more informed decisions about how you should manage your money now. Statistical analysis tools can estimate the likelihood that a given financial strategy may be adequate to meet your long-term needs.

 

Take full advantage of the tax benefits of your employer’s 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plan, especially if there’s an employer match (it’s essentially free money). You can defer up to $18,000 in 2015 ($24,000 if you’re 50 or older), or 100% of your pay if less. Also, any deferrals you make to a 457(b) plan don’t reduce the amount you can contribute to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. So, for example, if you’re eligible for both a 403(b) and 457(b) plan, you can contribute the maximum to both, for a total contribution of up to $36,000 ($48,000 if you’re 50 or older) in 2015. Beyond employer-sponsored plans, you may also be able to use other tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles, such as a traditional or Roth IRA. In 2015, the annual contribution limit for traditional and Roth IRAs is $5,500 (plus an additional $1,000 if you’re 50 or older).

 

Investing responsibly

 

An understanding of investing fundamentals is essential to making informed decisions with your money. A financial professional can help you understand not only the mechanics of investing, but demonstrate why a given strategy might be appropriate for you. Most common investing strategies are derived from a wealth of research on the historical performance of various types of  investments. Though past performance is no guarantee of future results, it can help to understand the various asset classes, the way each class tendsto behave, and the function each fulfills in a balanced portfolio. Asset allocation is a method used to help manage investment risk; it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss. You might find assistance especially useful if you are the recipient of a lump sum, such as a cash award, prize or grant for your work.

 

Do you have ethical concerns about investing? Socially conscious investing has entered the mainstream, and there are many investment options that could help you address your financial needs and still support your convictions.

 

Even if you’re an experienced investor, you may need to adjust your strategy periodically as your circumstances change over time–for example, after you receive tenure or as you near retirement. The sooner you establish a relationship with a professional, the sooner you might benefit from the expertise of someone who deals with financial issues daily.

 

Creating an estate plan

 

A will is the cornerstone of every estate plan; without it, you have no control over how your assets will be distributed. You also should have a durable power of attorney and a health care directive.

 

If you’ve amassed substantial outside business interests or intellectual property assets (e.g., copyrights, patents, and royalties), an estate plan is particularly important. Managing those assets wisely while you’re alive can help make an enormous difference in your ability to maximize their benefits for your heirs.

 

Estate planning also can further your legacy in other ways. Charitable giving to your heirs, your educational institution, or another nonprofit organization can both further your philanthropic goals and be an effective tool to help reduce taxes. For example, by establishing a trust, you may be able to benefit from an immediate tax deduction as well as provide an ongoing income stream for you or the charitable institution of your choice. While trusts offer numerous advantages, they incur up-front costs and often have ongoing administrative fees. The use of trusts involves a complex web of tax rules and regulations. You should consider the counsel of an experienced estate planning professional and your legal and tax advisors before implementing such strategies.

 

Protecting your assets

 

You also might want to think about whether you and your family are adequately shielded from emergencies. Types of insurance you might consider include:

  • Life insurance
  • Disability insurance
  • Liability insurance (particularly if you’re involved in applied research projects or consulting engagements)

 

Managing debt

 

Being in debt can make managing all other financial issues more challenging. If you’re in the early part of your career, you may still be facing years of student loan payments; if you’re more senior, you may be trying to pay off a mortgage and eliminate all debts before retirement. Balancing debt with the day-to-day demands of raising a family, seeking support for your work, finding good housing, and saving for your children’s education and your own retirement can be a formidable task.

 

Handling debt wisely can have consequences over time. Having someone review your finances might uncover some new ideas for improving your situation. It also can help you understand the true long-term cost of any debt you incur. Whether you have a specific concern or just want to be better prepared for the future, a financial professional may be able to help. However, there is no guarantee that working with a financial professional will improve investment results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ING Retirement, access.att.com, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, hewitt.com, 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.

The Power of Dividends in a Portfolio

It wasn’t so long ago that many investors regarded dividends as roughly the financial equivalent of a record turntable at a gathering of MP3 users–a throwback to an earlier era, irrelevant to the real action.

But fast-forward a few years, and things look a little different. Since 2003, when the top federal income tax rate on qualified dividends was reduced from a maximum of 38.6%, dividends have acquired renewed respect. Favorable tax treatment isn’t the only reason, either; the ability of dividends to provide income and potentially help mitigate market volatility is also attractive to investors. As baby boomers approach retirement and begin to focus on income-producing investments, the long-term demand for high-quality, reliable dividends is likely to increase.

Why consider dividends?

Dividend income has represented roughly one-third of the total return on the Standard and Poor’s 500 since 1926. According to S&P, the portion of total return attributable to dividends has ranged from a high of 53% during the 1940s–in other words, more than half that decade’s return resulted from dividends–to a low of 14% during the 1990s, when investors tended to focus on growth.*

If dividends are reinvested, their impact over time becomes even more dramatic. S&P calculates that $1 invested in the Standard and Poor’s 500 on January 1,1929 would have grown to $66.48 by 2012. However, when coupled with reinvested dividends, that same $1 investment would have resulted in $1,832.45.* (Bear in mind that past performance is no guarantee of future results, and taxes were not factored into the calculations.)

If a stock’s price rises 8% a year, even a 2.5% dividend yield can push its total return into double digits. Dividends can be especially attractive during times of relatively low or mediocre returns; in some cases, dividends could help turn a negative return positive, and also can mitigate the impact of a volatile market by helping to even out a portfolio’s return. Another argument has been made for paying attention to dividends as a reliable indicator of a company’s financial health. Investors have become more conscious in recent years of the value of dependable data as a basis for investment decisions, and dividend payments aren’t easily restated or massaged.

Finally, many dividend-paying stocks represent large, established companies that may have significant resources to weather an economic downturn–which could be helpful if you’re relying on those dividends to help pay living expenses.

The corporate incentive

Financial and utility companies have been traditional mainstays for investors interested in dividends, but other sectors of the market also have begun to offer them. For example, investors have been stepping up pressure on cash-rich technology companies to distribute at least some of their profits as dividends rather than reinvesting all of that money to fuel growth. Some investors believe that pressure to maintain or increase dividends imposes a certain fiscal discipline on companies that might otherwise be tempted to use the cash to make ill-considered acquisitions (though there are certainly no guarantees that a company won’t do so anyway).

However, according to S&P, corporations are beginning to favor stock buybacks rather than dividend increases as a way to reward shareholders. If it continues, that trend could make ever-increasing dividends more elusive.

Differences among dividends

Dividends paid on common stock are by no means guaranteed; a company’s board of directors can decide to reduce or eliminate them. The amount of a company’s dividend can fluctuate with earnings, which are influenced by economic, market, and political events. However, a steadily growing dividend is generally regarded as a sign of a company’s health and stability. For that reason, most corporate boards are reluctant to send negative signals by cutting dividends.

That isn’t an issue for holders of preferred stocks, which offer a fixed rate of return paid out as dividends. However, there’s a tradeoff for that greater certainty; preferred shareholders do not participate in any company growth as fully as common shareholders do. If the company does well and increases its dividend, preferred stockholders still receive the same payments.

The term “preferred” refers to several ways in which preferred stocks have favored status. First, dividends on preferred stock are paid before the common stockholders can be paid a dividend. Most preferred stockholders do not have voting rights in the company, but their claims on the company’s assets will be satisfied before those of common stockholders if the company experiences financial difficulties. Also, preferred shares usually pay a higher rate of income than common shares.

Because of their fixed dividends, preferred stocks behave somewhat similarly to bonds; for example, their market value can be affected by changing interest rates. And almost all preferred stocks have a provision that allows the company to call in its preferred shares at a set time or at a predetermined future date, much as it might a callable bond.

Look before you leap

Investing in dividend-paying stocks isn’t as simple as just picking the highest yield. If you’re investing for income, consider whether the company’s cash flow can sustain its dividend.

Also, some companies choose to use corporate profits to buy back company shares. That may increase the value of existing shares, but it sometimes takes the place of instituting or raising dividends.

If you’re interested in a dividend-focused investing style, look for terms such as “equity income,” “dividend income,” or “growth and income.” Also, some exchange-traded funds (ETFs) track an index comprised of dividend-paying stocks, or that is based on dividend yield.

Note: Be sure to check the prospectus for information about expenses, fees and potential risks, and consider them carefully before you invest.

Taxes and dividends

The American Tax Relief Act of 2012 increased the maximum tax rate for qualified dividends to 20% for individuals in the 39.6% federal income tax bracket. For individuals in the 25%, 28%, 33%, or 35% marginal tax bracket, a 15% maximum rate will generally apply, while those in the 10% or 15% tax bracket will still owe 0% on qualified dividends. Depending on your income, dividends you receive may also be subject to a 3.8% net investment income tax (also referred to as the unearned income Medicare contribution tax).

Qualified dividends are those that come from a U.S. or qualified foreign corporation, one that you have held for more than 60 days during a 121-day period (60 days before and 61 days after the stock’s ex-dividend date). Form 1099-DIV, which reports your annual dividend and interest income for tax accounting purposes, will indicate whether a dividend is qualified or not.

Some dividends aren’t taxed at the same rate as qualified dividends, and a portion may be taxed as ordinary income. Also, some so-called dividends, such as those from deposits or share accounts at cooperative banks, credit unions, U.S. savings and loan associations, and mutual savings banks actually are considered interest for tax purposes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, 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 resources.hewitt.com, fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Northrop Grumman, 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.

Beyond Traditional Asset Classes: Exploring Alternatives

Stocks, bonds, and cash are fundamental components of an investment portfolio. However, many other investments can be used to try to spice up returns or reduce overall portfolio risk. So-called alternative assets have become popular in recent years as a way to provide greater diversification.

What is an alternative asset?

The term “alternative asset” is highly flexible; it can mean almost anything whose investment performance is not correlated with that of stocks and bonds. It may include physical assets, such as precious metals, real estate, or commodities. In some cases, geographic regions, such as emerging global markets, are considered alternative assets. Complex or novel investing methods also qualify. For example, hedge funds use techniques that are off-limits for most mutual funds, while private equity investments rely on skill in selecting and managing specific businesses. Finally, collectibles are included because the value of your investment depends on the unique properties of a specific item as well as general interest in that type of collectible.

Each alternative asset type involves its own unique risks and may not be suitable for all investors. Because of the complexities of these various markets, you would do well to seek expert guidance if you want to include alternative assets in a portfolio.

Hedge funds

Hedge funds are private investment vehicles that manage money for institutions and wealthy individuals. They generally are organized as limited partnerships, with the fund managers as general partners and the investors as limited partners. The general partner may receive a percentage of the assets, fees based on performance, or both.

Hedge funds originally derived their name from their ability to hedge against a market downturn by selling short. Though they may invest in stocks and bonds, hedge funds are considered an alternative asset class because of their unique, proprietary investing strategies, which may include pairs trading, long-short strategies, and use of leverage and derivatives. Participation in hedge funds is typically limited to “accredited investors,” who must meet SEC-mandated high levels of net worth and ongoing income (individual funds also usually require very high minimum investments).

Private equity/venture capital

Like stock shares, private equity and venture capital represent an ownership interest in one or more companies, but firms that make private equity investments may or may not be listed or traded on a public market or exchange. Private equity firms often are involved directly with management of the businesses in which they invest.

Private equity often requires a long-term focus. Investments may take years to produce any meaningful cash flow (if indeed they ever do); many funds have 10-year time horizons and you may not have access to your funds when you want them. Like hedge funds, private equity also typically requires a large investment and is available only to investors who meet SEC net worth and income requirements.

Real estate

You may make either direct or indirect investments in buildings–either commercial or residential–and/or land. Direct investment involves the purchase, improvement, and/or rental of property. Indirect investments are made through an entity that invests in property, such as a real estate investment trust (REIT), which may be either publicly traded or not. Real estate not only has a relatively low correlation with the behavior of the stock market, but also is often viewed as a hedge against inflation. However, bear in mind that physical real estate can be highly illiquid, may involve more work on your part to manage, and may be subject to weather hazards, rezoning or other factors that can reduce the value of your property. The value of a traded REIT will depend on fluctuations in the value of its real estate holdings as well as investor sentiment and market volatility. The value of a nontraded REIT is directly based on the value of its underlying real estate holdings. All REITs are subject to the risks associated with the real estate market in general. Also, some types of REITs are considered more illiquid than others, which could mean problems if you need to sell quickly.

Precious metals

Investors have traditionally purchased precious metals because they believe that gold, silver, and platinum provide security in times of economic and social upheaval. Gold, for instance, has historically been seen as an alternative to paper currency and therefore may help hedge against inflation and currency fluctuations. As a result, gold prices often rise when investors are worried that the dollar is losing value, though prices can fall just as quickly. There are many ways to invest in precious metals. In addition to buying bullion or coins, you can invest in futures, shares of mining companies, sector funds, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Natural resources/equipment leasing

Direct investments in natural resources, such as timber, oil, or natural gas, can be done through limited partnerships that provide income from the resources produced. In some cases, such as timber, the resource replenishes itself; in other cases, such as oil or natural gas, it may be depleted over time. Timberland also may be converted for use as a real estate development. Some limited partnerships pool your money with that of other investors to invest in equipment leasing businesses, giving you partial ownership of the equipment those businesses lease out, such as construction equipment.

Commodities and financial futures

Commodities are physical substances that are fundamental to creating other products and are basically indistinguishable from one another. Examples include oil and natural gas; agricultural products; livestock such as hogs; and metals such as copper and zinc. Commodities are typically traded through futures contracts, which promise delivery on a certain date at a specified price. Futures contracts also are available for financial instruments, such as a security, a stock index, or a currency. Though the futures market was created to facilitate trading among companies that produce, own, or use commodities in their businesses, futures contracts also are bought and sold as investments in themselves, and some mutual funds and ETFs are based on futures indexes. Futures allow an investor to leverage a relatively small amount of capital. However, they are highly speculative, and that leverage also magnifies the potential for loss in a relatively short period of time.

Art, antiques, gems, and collectibles

Some investors are drawn to these because they may retain value or even appreciate as inflation rises. However, those values can be unpredictable because they are affected by supply and demand, economic conditions, and the quality of an individual piece or collection.

Why invest in alternative asset classes?

Part of sound portfolio management is diversifying investments so that if one type of investment is performing poorly, another may be doing well. As previously indicated, returns on some alternative investments are based on factors unique to a specific investment. Also, the asset class as a whole may behave differently from stocks or bonds.

An alternative asset’s lack of correlation with other types of investments gives it potential to complement more traditional asset classes and provide an additional layer of diversification for money that is not part of your core portfolio, though diversification cannot guarantee a profit or ensure against a loss.

Tradeoffs you need to understand

Alternative assets can be less liquid than stock or bonds. Depending on the investment, there may be restrictions on when you can sell, and you may or may not be able to find a buyer. Performance, values, and risks may be difficult to research and assess accurately. Also, you may not be eligible for direct investment in hedge funds or private equity.

The unique properties of alternative asset classes also mean that they can involve a high degree of risk. Because some are subject to less regulation than other investments, there may be fewer constraints to prevent potential manipulation or to limit risk from highly concentrated positions in a single investment. Finally, hard assets, such as gold bullion, may involve special concerns, such as storage and insurance, while natural resources and commodities can suffer from unusual weather or natural disasters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, 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.

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.