Articles for February 2015

Getting Your Household Cash Flow Back Under Control

Developing a better budgeting process may be the biggest step toward that goal.

Where does your money go? If you find yourself asking that question from time to time, it may relate to cash flow within your household. Having a cash flow management system may be instrumental in restoring some financial control.

It is harder for a middle-class household to maintain financial control these days. If you find yourself too often living on margin (i.e., charging everything) and too infrequently with adequate cash in hand, you aren’t the only household feeling that way. Some major economic trends really have made it more challenging for households with mid-five-figure incomes.

By many economic standards, today’s middle class has it harder than the middle class of generations past. Some telling statistics point to this…

*In 81% of U.S. counties, the median income is lower today than it was in 1999. Even though we are in a recovery, much of the job growth in the past few years has occurred within the service and retail sectors. (The average full-time U.S. retail worker earns less than $25,000 annually.)

*Between 1989 and 2014, the American economy grew by 83% (adjusting for inflation) with no real wage growth for middle-class households.

*In the early 1960s, General Motors was America’s largest employer. Its average full-time worker at that time earned the (inflation-adjusted) equivalent of $50 an hour, plus benefits. Wal-Mart now has America’s largest workforce; it pays its average sales associate less than $10 per hour, sometimes without benefits.1,2

Essentially, the middle class must manage to do more with less – less inflation-adjusted income, that is. The need for budgeting is as essential as ever.

Much has been written about the growing “wealth gap” in the U.S., and that gap is very real. Less covered, but just as real, is an Achilles-heel financial habit injuring middle-class stability: a growing reliance on expensive money. As Money-Zine.com noted not long ago, U.S. consumer debt amounted to 7.3% of average household income in 1980 but 13.4% of average household income in 2013.3

So how can you make life more affordable? Budgeting is an important step. It promotes reliance on cash instead of plastic. It defines expenses, underlining where your money goes (and where it shouldn’t be going). It clears up what is hazy about your finances. It demonstrates that you can be in command of your money, rather than letting your money command you.

Budget for that vacation. Save up for it by spending much less on the “optionals”: coffee, cable, eating out, memberships, movies, outfits.

Buy the right kind of car & do your cash flow a favor. Many middle-class families yearn to buy a new car (a depreciating asset) or lease a new car (because they want to be seen driving a better car than they can actually afford). The better option is to buy a lightly used car and drive it for several years, maybe even a decade. Unglamorous? Maybe, but it should leave you less indebted. It may be a factor that can help you to …

Plan to set some cash aside for an emergency fund. According to a recent Bankrate survey, about a quarter of U.S. households lack one. Imagine how much better you would feel knowing you have the equivalent of a few months of salary in reserve in case of a crisis. Again, you can budget to build it – a little at a time, if necessary. The key is to recognize that a crisis will come someday; none of us are fully shielded from the whims of fate.3

Don’t risk living without medical & dental coverage. You probably have both, but some middle-class households don’t. According to the Department of Health & Human Services, 108 million Americans lack dental insurance. Workers for even the largest firms may find premiums, out-of-pocket costs and coinsurance excessive. This isn’t something you can go without. If your employer gives you the option of buying your own insurance, it could be a cheaper solution. At any rate, some serious household financial changes may need to occur so that you are adequately insured.3

Budgeting for the future is also important. A recent Gallup poll found that about 20% of Americans have no retirement savings. You have to wonder: how many of these people might have accumulated a nest egg over the years by steadily directing just $50 or $100 a month into a retirement plan? Budgeting just a little at a time toward that very important priority could promote profound growth of retirement savings thanks to investment yields and tax deferral.3

Equity investing may help many middle-class Americans attain wealth. Increasingly, it looks like the long-term difference between being consigned to the middle class and escaping it. Doing it knowledgably is vital.

Turning to the financial professional you know and trust for input may help you to develop a better budgeting process – and beyond the present, the saving and investing you do today and tomorrow may help you to one day become the (multi-)millionaire next door.   

Mike Moffitt may be reached at PH. 641-782-5577 or email mikem@cfgiowa.com.

Website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

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

Citations.

1 – washingtonpost.com/sf/business/2014/12/12/why-americas-middle-class-is-lost/ [12/12/14]

2 – tinyurl.com/knr3e78 [11/27/12]

3 – wallstcheatsheet.com/personal-finance/7-things-the-middle-class-cant-afford-anymore.html/?a=viewall [12/15/14]

 

An Estate Planning Checklist

Things to check & double-check as you prepare. 

Estate planning is a task that people tend to put off, as any discussion of “the end” tends to be off-putting. However, those who die without their financial affairs in good order risk leaving their heirs some significant problems along with their legacies.

No matter what your age, here are some things you may want to accomplish this year with regard to estate planning.

Create a will if you don’t have one. It is startling how many people never get around to this, even to the point of buying a will-in-a-box at a stationery store or setting one up online.

How many Americans lack wills? The budget legal service website RocketLawyer conducts an annual survey on this topic, and its 2014 survey determined that 51% of Americans aged 55-64 and 62% of Americans aged 45-54 don’t have them in place.1

A solid will drafted with the guidance of an estate planning attorney may cost you more than a will-in-a-box. It may prove to be some of the best money you ever spend. A valid will may save your heirs from some expensive headaches linked to probate and ambiguity.

Complement your will with related documents. Depending on your estate planning needs, this could include some kind of trust (or multiple trusts), durable financial and medical powers of attorney, a living will and other items.

You should know that a living will is not the same thing as a durable medical power of attorney. A living will makes your wishes known when it comes to life-prolonging medical treatments. A durable medical power of attorney authorizes another party to make medical decisions for you (including end-of-life decisions) if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make these decisions. Estate planning attorneys usually recommend that you have both on hand.2

Review your beneficiary designations. Who is the beneficiary of your IRA? How about your 401(k)? How about your annuity or life insurance policy? If your answer is along the lines of “It’s been a while,” then be sure to check the documents and verify who the designated beneficiary is.

You need to make sure that your beneficiary decisions agree with your will. Many people don’t know that beneficiary designations take priority over will bequests when it comes to retirement accounts, life insurance, and other “non-probate” assets. As an example, if you named a child now estranged from you as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, he or she is in line to receive that death benefit when you die, even if your will requests that it go to someone else.3

Time has a way of altering our beneficiary decisions. This is why some estate planners recommend that you review your beneficiaries every two years.

In some states, you can authorize transfer-on-death or payable-on-death designations for certain assets or accounts. This is a tactic against probate: a TOD designation can arrange the transfer of ownership of an account or assets immediately to a designated beneficiary at your death.3

If you don’t want the beneficiary designation you have made to control the transfer of a particular non-probate asset, you can change the beneficiary designation or select one of two other options, neither of which may be wise from a tax standpoint.

One, you can remove the beneficiary designation on the account or asset. Then its disposition will be governed by your will, as it will pass to your estate when you die.3

Two, you can make your estate the beneficiary of the account or asset. If your estate inherits a tax-deferred retirement account, it will have to be probated, and if you pass away before age 70½, it will have to be emptied within five years. If you name your estate as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, you open the door to “creditors and predators” – they have the opportunity to lay claim to the death benefit.3,4

Create asset and debt lists. Does this sound like a lot of work? It may not be. You should provide your heirs with an asset and debt “map” they can follow should you pass away, so that they will be aware of the little details of your wealth.

One list should detail your real property and personal property assets. It should list any real estate you own, and its worth; it should also list personal property items in your home, garage, backyard, warehouse, storage unit or small business that have notable monetary worth.

Another list should detail your bank and brokerage accounts, your retirement accounts, and any other forms of investment plus any insurance policies.

A third list should detail your credit card debts, your mortgage and/or HELOC, and any other outstanding consumer loans.

Consider gifting to reduce the size of your taxable estate. The lifetime individual federal gift, estate and generation-skipping tax exclusion amount is now unified and set at $5.34 million for 2014. This means an individual can transfer up to $5.34 million during or after his or her life tax-free (and that amount will rise as the years go by). For a married couple, the unified credit is currently set at $10.68 million.5

Think about consolidating your “stray” IRAs and bank accounts. This could make one of your lists a little shorter. Consolidation means fewer account statements, less paperwork for your heirs and fewer administrative fees to bear.

Let your heirs know the causes and charities that mean the most to you. Have you ever seen the phrase, “In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to…” Well, perhaps you would like to suggest donations to this or that charity when you pass. Write down the associations you belong to and the organizations you support. Some non-profits do offer accidental life insurance benefits to heirs of members.

Select a reliable executor. Who have you chosen to administer your estate when the time comes? The choice may seem obvious, but consider a few factors. Is there a stark possibility that your named executor might die before you do? How well does he or she comprehend financial matters or the basic principles of estate law? What if you change your mind about the way you want your assets distributed – can you easily communicate those wishes to that person?

Your executor should have copies of your will, forms of power of attorney, any kind of healthcare proxy or living will, and any trusts you create. In fact, any of your loved ones referenced in these documents should also receive copies of them.

Talk to the professionals. Do-it-yourself estate planning is not recommended, especially if your estate is complex enough to trigger financial, legal, and emotional issues among your heirs upon your passing.

Many people have the idea that they don’t need an estate plan because their net worth is less than the lifetime unified credit. Keep in mind, money isn’t the only reason for an estate plan. You may not be a multimillionaire yet, but if you own a business, have a blended family, have kids with special needs, worry about dementia, or can’t stand the thought of probate delays plus probate fees whittling away at assets you have amassed… well, these are all good reasons to create and maintain an estate planning strategy.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at phone 641-782-5577 or email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com.

website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

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

Citations.

1 – forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2014/04/09/americans-ostrich-approach-to-estate-planning/ [4/9/14]

2 – ksbar.org/?living_wills [9/10/14]

3 – nj.com/business/index.ssf/2013/12/biz_brain_beneficiary_designat.html [12/9/13]

4 – nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/naming-non-spouse-beneficiary-retirement-accounts.html [9/10/14]

5 – forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2013/11/01/the-2013-limits-on-tax-free-gifts-what-you-need-to-know/ [11/1/13]

 

 

 

2015 IRA Deadlines Are Approaching

Here is what you need to know. 

Financially, many of us associate April with taxes – but we should also associate April with important IRA deadlines.

*April 1 is the absolute deadline to take your first Required Mandatory Distribution (RMD) from your traditional IRA(s).

*April 15 is the deadline for making annual contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA.1

Let’s discuss the contribution deadline first, and then the deadline for that first RMD (which affects only those IRA owners who turned 70½ last year).

The earlier you make your annual IRA contribution, the better. You can make a yearly Roth or traditional IRA contribution anytime between January 1 of the current year and April 15 of the next year. So the contribution window for 2014 is January 1, 2014- April 15, 2015. You can make your IRA contribution for 2015 anytime from January 1, 2015-April 15, 2016.2

You have more than 15 months to make your IRA contribution for a given year, but why wait? Savvy IRA owners contribute as early as they can to give those dollars more months to grow and compound. (After all, who wants less time to amass retirement savings?)

You cut your income tax bill by contributing to a deductible traditional IRA. That’s because you are funding it with after-tax dollars. To get the full tax deduction for your 2015 traditional IRA contribution, you have to meet one or more of these financial conditions:

*You aren’t eligible to participate in a workplace retirement plan.

*You are eligible to participate in a workplace retirement plan, but you are a single filer or head of household with modified adjusted gross income of $61,000 or less. (Or if you file jointly with your spouse, your combined MAGI is $98,000 or less.)

*You aren’t eligible to participate in a workplace retirement plan, but your spouse is eligible and your combined 2015 gross income is $183,000 or less.3

If you are the original owner of a traditional IRA, by law you must stop contributing to it starting in the year you turn 70½. If you are the initial owner of a Roth IRA, you can contribute to it as long as you live provided you have taxable compensation and MAGI below a certain level (see below).1,3

If you are making a 2014 IRA contribution in early 2015, be aware of this fact. You must tell the investment company hosting the IRA account what year the contribution is for. If you fail to indicate the tax year that the contribution applies to, the custodian firm may make a default assumption that the contribution is for the current year (and note exactly that to the IRS).4

So, write “2015 IRA contribution” or “2014 IRA contribution” as applicable in the memo area of your check, plainly and simply. Be sure to write your account number on the check. Should you make your contribution electronically, double-check that these details are communicated.

How much can you put into an IRA this year? You can contribute up to $5,500 to a Roth or traditional IRA for the 2015 tax year, $6,500 if you will be 50 or older this year. (The same applies for the 2014 tax year). If you have multiple IRAs, you can contribute up to a total of $5,500/$6,500 across the various accounts. Should you make an IRA contribution exceeding these limits, you will not be rewarded for it: you will have until the following April 15 to correct the contribution with the help of an IRS form, and if you don’t, the amount of the excess contribution will be taxed at 6% each year the correction is avoided.1,4

If you earn a lot of money, your maximum contribution to a Roth IRA may be reduced because of MAGI phase-outs, which kick in as follows.3

2014 Tax Year                                                                2015 Tax Year

Single/head of household: $114,000 – $129,000          Single/head of household: $116,000 – $131,000

Married filing jointly: $181,000 – $191,000                   Married filing jointly: $183,000 – $193,000

Married filing separately: $0 – $10,000                        Married filing jointly: $0 – $10,000

If your MAGI falls within the applicable phase-out range, you may make a partial contribution.3

A last-chance RMD deadline rolls around on April 1. If you turned 70½ in 2014, the IRS gave you a choice: you could a) take your first Required Minimum Distribution from your traditional IRA before December 31, 2014, or b) postpone it until as late as April 1, 2015.1

If you chose b), you will have to take two RMDs this year – one by April 1, 2014 and another by December 31, 2014. (For subsequent years, your annual RMD deadline will be December 31.) The investment firm hosting your IRA should have already notified you of this consequence, and the RMD amount(s) – in fact, they have probably calculated the RMD(s) for you.5

Original owners of Roth IRAs will never face this issue – they are not required to take RMDs.1

Michael Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577  or email mikem@cfgiowa.com

website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, 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 – irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Traditional-and-Roth-IRAs [11/3/14]

2 – dailyfinance.com/2014/12/06/time-running-out-end-year-retirement-planning/ [12/6/14]

3 – asppa.org/News/Browse-Topics/Sales-Marketing/Article/ArticleID/3594 [10/23/14]

4 – investopedia.com/articles/retirement/05/021505.asp [1/21/15]

5 – schwab.com/public/schwab/nn/articles/IRA-Tax-Traps [6/6/14]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Money Blunders That Could Leave You Poorer

A “not-to-do” list

How are your money habits? Are you getting ahead financially, or does it feel like you are running in place?

It may come down to behavior. Some financial behaviors promote wealth creation, while others lead to frustration. Certainly other factors come into play when determining a household’s financial situation, but behavior and attitudes toward money rank pretty high on the list.

How many households are focusing on the fundamentals? Late in 2014, the Denver-based National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) surveyed 2,000 adults from the 10 largest U.S. metro areas and found that 64% wanted to make at least one financial resolution for 2015. The top three financial goals for the new year: building retirement savings, setting a budget, and creating a plan to pay off debt.1

All well and good, but the respondents didn’t feel so good about their financial situations. About one-third of them said the quality of their financial life was “worse than they expected it to be.” In fact, 48% told NEFE they were living paycheck-to-paycheck and 63% reported facing a sudden and major expense last year.1

Fate and lackluster wage growth aside, good money habits might help to reduce those percentages in 2015. There are certain habits that tend to improve household finances, and other habits that tend to harm them. As a cautionary note for 2015, here is a “not-to-do” list – a list of key money blunders that could make you much poorer if repeated over time.

Money Blunder #1: Spend every dollar that comes through your hands. Maybe we should ban the phrase “disposable income.” Too many households are disposing of money that they could save or invest. Or, they are spending money that they don’t actually have (through credit cards).

You have to have creature comforts, and you can’t live on pocket change. Even so, you can vow to put aside a certain number of dollars per month to spend on something really important: YOU. That 24-hour sale where everything is 50% off? It probably isn’t a “once in a lifetime” event; for all you know, it may happen again next weekend. It is nothing special compared to your future.

Money Blunder #2: Pay others before you pay yourself. Our economy is consumer-driven and service-oriented. Every day brings us chances to take on additional consumer debt. That works against wealth. How many bills do you pay a month, and how much money is left when you are done? Less debt equals more money to pay yourself with – money that you can save or invest on behalf of your future and your dreams and priorities.

Money Blunder #3: Don’t save anything. Paying yourself first also means building an emergency fund and a strong cash position. With the middle class making very little economic progress in this generation (at least based on wages versus inflation), this may seem hard to accomplish. It may very well be, but it will be even harder to face an unexpected financial burden with minimal cash on hand.

The U.S. personal savings rate has averaged about 5% recently. Not great, but better than the low of 2.6% measured in 2007. Saving 5% of your disposable income may seem like a challenge, but the challenge is relative: the personal savings rate in China is 50%.2

Money Blunder #4: Invest impulsively. Buying what’s hot, chasing the return, investing in what you don’t fully understand – these are all variations of the same bad habit, which is investing emotionally and trying to time the market. The impulse is to “make money,” with too little attention paid to diversification, risk tolerance and other critical factors along the way. Money may be made, but it may not be retained.

Make 2015 the year of good money habits. You may be doing all the right things right now and if so, you may be making financial strides. If you find yourself doing things that are halting your financial progress, remember the old saying: change is good. A change in financial behavior may be rewarding.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at 641-782-5577 or mikem@cfgiowa.com

website:  www.cfgiowa.com

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

Citations.

1 – denverpost.com/smart/ci_27275294/financial-resolutions-2015-four-ways-help-yourself-keep [1/7/15]

2 – tennessean.com/story/money/2014/12/31/tips-getting-financially-fit/21119049/ [12/31/14]