Articles for December 2018

Seasons Greetings and a Quick Market Update

I hope you had a very Merry Christmas and holiday season and all of us at Cornerstone Financial Group wish you a Happy New Year in 2019!

I thought it would be important to reach out to give a quick update on some of the facts regarding what’s been going on in the stock and bond markets recently as we approach the end of 2018 and look into 2019. I’ll try to make this short but concise, and stick with what we know and what we don’t!
In an earlier letter to all clients at the end of September, I mentioned we were overdue for a bear market, which is defined by Investopedia as decline of 20% or more.1 As I write this the day after Christmas, the S&P 500 index has now officially declined 20% from it’s high on September 21. The Dow Jones 30 Industrials index is not quite there, but very close. The NASDAQ 100 index is down more than 20%. Google is down about 23%, Apple down about 37% and Netflix down over 40%. So it’s safe to say we’ve achieved bear market status.

Bear markets typically happen about every 3.5 years. Doing a little research, I found the average bear market decline was 35.4%.2 This could indicate the current bear market has a while yet to run. The average bear market lasts about 10 months – we’re just over 3 months into this one. It’s easy to say that investors should get out at the top of the market and back in at the bottom, right? In reality, this is quite hard to do since we only know the high and the low in hindsight. So how do we manage risk in client portfolios?

There are multiple ways to handle risk. Many investors and advisors build diversified portfolios that hold assets other than stocks, such as bonds. Earlier in the year as interest rates worked higher (often bonds drop in value as interest rates rise) our bond portfolios were a drag on performance but we always anticipated that when we finally saw the larger correction the bonds would help us manage through it. This has proved accurate as the bond holdings now are helping protect capital. During the last couple of years, we also recommended and invested in FDIC-insured market-linked Certificates of Deposit for clients wishing to protect a portion of their portfolios. While these are priced somewhat in relationship to the value of their underlying holdings, which have been generally lower, they do have FDIC insurance protection at maturity so we feel comfortable that these will protect capital. As a result of these actions, for those people who have completed risk tolerance surveys we believe their portfolios should be pretty well aligned with their stated risk tolerance.

Other options we have used include traditional CDs, fixed index annuities, high quality (or insured) bonds that you can hold to maturity, or buying put options (a little more complicated strategy). But in general, our plan through corrections (and I’ve lived through 5 of them in my career) is to help you build portfolios that can potentially help you keep risk within your comfort level. If your risk comfort level is high, it’s true that stocks have outperformed many alternatives and based on an NYU study has vastly outperformed government-guaranteed United States treasury bills and bonds.3
What is ahead? Most likely uncertainty. A weak or slowing economy may bring on a bear market — the signs of a weak or slowing economy are typically low employment, low disposable income, weak productivity and a drop in business profits. That doesn’t seem to be the case right now, however. In addition, any intervention by the government in the economy may also trigger a bear market. We may be seeing that with the China tariff situation. A drop in investor confidence may also signal the onset of a bear market.

But at these levels, many stocks are fairly priced based on their historical price/earnings ratios. It’s a little like a sale at a department store. When you see a sale where an item is 20% off, you know that is a better price than it used to be. But what you don’t know is if that item might be marked down further – which would represent a better deal! While there are in general no guarantees in investing, I’m as confident there will be a rally next year as I was earlier this year that there was a correction coming around the corner. So I do not believe this is a good time to be a seller. It’s probably a better time to be a buyer but the “mark downs” might not be done yet, either. Patience is the best virtue to have here. If you believe your risk tolerance is changing as you watch the market move, we should use the next rally as an opportunity to shift your portfolio to a more conservative mix.
Feel free to give me a call if you wish to discuss this further.

Sincerely,
Mike

Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal advice or accounting 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 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.

Securities and Registered Investment Advisory Services offered through Silver Oak Securities, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. Silver Oak Securities, Inc. and Cornerstone Financial Group are separate entities.

Citations
1 – https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bearmarket.asp
2 – https://www.gold-eagle.com/article/history-us-bear-bull-markets-1929
3 – http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/New_Home_Page/datafile/histretSP.html

Putting a Price Tag on Your Health

Being healthy not only makes you feel good, it may also help you financially.

We constantly hear how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That is not always easy, especially in the face of temptation or the easy option of procrastination. For some, the monetary benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle may provide an incentive.

Being healthy not only makes you feel good, it may also help you financially. For example, a recent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study determined that a 40-year-old who simply moves from being obese to overweight could save an average of $18,262 in health care costs over the rest of his or her lifetime. If that person maintains a healthy weight, the average potential savings increase to $31,447.1

If you’re wondering how your health habits might be affecting your bottom line, consider the following:

Regular preventative care can help reduce potential health care costs. Even minor illnesses can lead to missed work, missed opportunities, and potentially lost wages. Serious illnesses often involve major costs like hospital stays, medical equipment, and doctor’s fees. Preventative dentistry may help you reduce dental costs as well.

In a way, staying healthy helps our potential to save for retirement. If your health declines to the point where you cannot work, that hurts your income and your ability to contribute to retirement accounts. The threat is real: the Social Security Administration notes that a quarter of us will become disabled at some point during our working years.2

Overweight workers may be subjected to wage discrimination. A LinkedIn study of almost 4,000 full-time and part-time workers found that the workers whose weights were greater than normal earned an average of $2,512 less annually than the others.3

Higher weight seems to be a factor in overall health care costs for many. Ask the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC notes that per-year health care expenses are about 41% higher ($4,870) for an obese individual than for a person of normal weight ($3,400). The biggest factor in this difference: prescription drug costs.4

Some habits that lead to poor health can be expensive in themselves. Smoking is the classic example. A pack of cigarettes costs anywhere from $5-14, which means ballpark expenses of $2,000-5,000 or more a year in expenses for a pack-a-day smoker. Smokers also pay higher premiums for health, disability, and life insurance.5

By focusing on your health, eliminating harmful habits, and employing preventative care, you may be able to improve your self-confidence and quality of life. You may also be able to reduce expenses, enjoy more of your money, and boost your overall financial health.

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 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.

Securities and Registered Investment Advisory Services offered through Silver Oak Securities, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. Silver Oak Securities, Inc. and Cornerstone Financial Group are separate entities.

Citations.
1 – https://www.bankrate.com/banking/savings/healthier-lifestyle-can-save-you-money/ [9/25/18]
2 – https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/11/protect-yourself-from-a-career-derailment-that-trips-up-1-in-4-workers.html [11/11/18]
3 – https://www.foxbusiness.com/features/employers-pay-overweight-workers-less-new-study-reveals [11/5/18]
4 – https://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=8184975&page=1 [7/28/18]
5 – https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/family-finance/articles/the-real-cost-of-smoking [11/20/18]

Why Do You Need a Will?

It may not sound enticing, but creating a will puts power in your hands.According to the global analytics firm Gallup, only about 44% of Americans have created a will. This finding may not surprise you. After all, no one wants to be reminded of their mortality or dwell on what might happen upon their death, so writing a last will and testament is seldom prioritized on the to-do list of a Millennial or Gen Xer. What may surprise you, though, is the statistic cited by personal finance website The Balance: around 35% of Americans aged 65 and older lack wills.1,2

A will is an instrument of power. By creating one, you gain control over the distribution of your assets. If you die without one, the state decides what becomes of your property, with no regard to your priorities.

A will is a legal document by which an individual or a couple (known as “testator”) identifies their wishes regarding the distribution of their assets after death. A will can typically be broken down into four parts:

*Executors: Most wills begin by naming an executor. Executors are responsible for carrying out the wishes outlined in a will. This involves assessing the value of the estate, gathering the assets, paying inheritance tax and other debts (if necessary), and distributing assets among beneficiaries. It is recommended that you name an alternate executor in case your first choice is unable to fulfill the obligation. Some families name multiple children as co-executors, with the intention of thwarting sibling discord, but this can introduce a logistical headache, as all the executors must act unanimously.2,3
*Guardians: A will allows you to designate a guardian for your minor children. The designated guardian you appoint must be able to assume the responsibility. For many people, this is the most important part of a will. If you die without naming a guardian, the courts will decide who takes care of your children.
*Gifts: This section enables you to identify people or organizations to whom you wish to give gifts of money or specific possessions, such as jewelry or a car. You can also specify conditional gifts, such as a sum of money to a young daughter, but only when she reaches a certain age.
*Estate: Your estate encompasses everything you own, including real property, financial investments, cash, and personal possessions. Once you have identified specific gifts you would like to distribute, you can apportion the rest of your estate in equal shares among your heirs, or you can split it into percentages. For example, you may decide to give 45% each to two children and the remaining 10% to your sibling.

A do-it-yourself will may be acceptable, but it may not be advisable. The law does not require a will to be drawn up by a professional, so you could create your own will, with or without using a template. If you make a mistake, however, you will not be around to correct it. When you draft a will, consider enlisting the help of a legal, tax, or financial professional who could offer you additional insight, especially if you have a large estate or a complex family situation.

Remember, a will puts power in your hands. You have worked hard to create a legacy for your loved ones. You deserve to decide how that legacy is sustained.

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 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.

Securities and Registered Investment Advisory Services offered through Silver Oak Securities, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. Silver Oak Securities, Inc. and Cornerstone Financial Group are separate entities.

Tax Considerations for Retirees

Are you aware of them?
The federal government offers some major tax breaks for older Americans. Some of these perks deserve more publicity than they receive.

If you are 65 or older, your standard deduction is $1,300 larger. Make that $1,600 if you are unmarried. Thanks to the passage of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, the 2018 standard deduction for an individual taxpayer at least 65 years of age is a whopping $13,600, more than double what it was in 2017. (If you are someone else’s dependent, your standard deduction is much less.)1

You may be able to write off some medical costs. This year, the Internal Revenue Service will let you deduct qualifying medical expenses once they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. In 2019, the threshold will return to 10% of AGI, unless Congress acts to preserve the 7.5% baseline. The I.R.S. list of eligible expenses is long. Beyond out-of-pocket costs paid to doctors and other health care professionals, it also includes things like long-term care insurance premiums, travel costs linked to medical appointments, and payments for durable medical equipment, such as dentures and hearing aids.2

Are you thinking about selling your home? Many retirees consider this. If you have lived in your current residence for at least two of the five years preceding a sale, you can exclude as much as $250,000 in gains from federal taxation (a married couple can shield up to $500,000). These limits, established in 1997, have never been indexed to inflation. The Department of the Treasury has been studying whether it has the power to adjust them. If modified for inflation, they would approach $400,000 for singles and $800,000 for married couples.3,4

Low-income seniors may qualify for the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. This incentive, intended for people 65 and older (and younger people who have retired due to permanent and total disability), can be as large as $7,500 based on your filing status. You must have very low AGI and nontaxable income to claim it, though. It is basically designed for those living wholly or mostly on Social Security benefits.5

Affluent IRA owners may want to make a charitable IRA gift. If you are well off and have a large traditional IRA, you may not need your yearly Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for living expenses. If you are 70½ or older, you have an option: you can make a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) with IRA assets. You can donate up to $100,000 of IRA assets to a qualified charity in a single year this way, and the amount donated counts toward your annual RMD. (A married couple gets to donate up to $200,000 per year.) Even more importantly, the amount of the QCD is excluded from your taxable income for the year of the donation.6

Some states also give seniors tax breaks. For example, the following 11 states do not tax federal, state, or local pension income: Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania. Twenty-eight states (and the District of Columbia) refrain from taxing Social Security income.7

Unfortunately, your Social Security benefits could be partly or fully taxable. They could be taxed at both the federal and state level, depending on how much you earn and where you happen to live. Whether you feel this is reasonable or not, you may have the potential to claim some of the tax breaks mentioned above as you pursue the goal of tax efficiency.5,7

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 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.

Securities and Registered Investment Advisory Services offered through Silver Oak Securities, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. Silver Oak Securities, Inc. and Cornerstone Financial Group are separate entities.

Citations.
1 – fool.com/taxes/2018/04/15/2018-standard-deduction-how-much-it-is-and-why-you.aspx [4/15/18]
2 – aarp.org/money/taxes/info-2018/medical-deductions-irs-fd.html [1/12/18]
3 – loans.usnews.com/what-are-the-tax-benefits-of-buying-a-house [10/17/18]
4 – cnbc.com/2018/08/02/some-home-sellers-would-see-huge-savings-under-treasury-tax-cut-plan.html [8/2/18]
5 – fool.com/taxes/2017/12/31/living-on-social-security-heres-a-tax-credit-just.aspx [12/31/17]
6 – tinyurl.com/y8slf8et [1/3/18]
7 – thebalance.com/state-income-taxes-in-retirement-3193297 ml [8/15/18]

Making a Charitable Gift from Your IRA

Follow the rules, and you might get a big federal tax break.

Is your annual IRA withdrawal a bother? If you are an affluent retiree, that might be the case. The income is always nice, but the taxes that come with it? Not so much.

If only you could satisfy your yearly IRA withdrawal requirement minus the attached taxes. Guess what: there might be a way.

If you gift traditional IRA assets to charity, you could see some big tax savings. The Internal Revenue Service calls this a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD), and you may want to explore its potential. Some criteria must be met: you need to be at least 70½ years old in the year of the donation, the donation must take the form of a direct transfer of assets from the IRA custodian to the charity, and the charity must be “qualified” in the eyes of the I.R.S. Any 501(c)(3) non-profit organization meets the I.R.S. qualification, as do houses of worship.1

The amount you gift can be applied toward your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for the year, and you may exclude it from your taxable income. If you are retired and well-to-do, a charitable IRA gift could be a highly tax-efficient move.1,2

Just how much could you save? That depends on two factors: how much you gift, and your federal income tax bracket. As an example, say you are in the 35% federal income tax bracket, and you donate $40,000 from your traditional IRA to a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. That $40,000 will be gone from your taxable income, and the donation will cut your federal tax bill for the year by $14,000 (as 35% of $40,000 is $14,000). Yes, the savings could be significant.2

You can donate as much as $100,000 to a qualified charity this way in a single year. That limit is per IRA owner; if you are married, and you and your spouse both have traditional IRAs, you can each donate up to $100,000.1,2

What about the fine print? There is plenty of that, and it is all worth reading. You may be curious if you can make a QCD from a SIMPLE or SEP-IRA; the answer is no. You can make a QCD from a Roth IRA, but there is little point in it: Roth IRA withdrawals are commonly tax-free.1

Regarding the asset transfer, the critical detail is that you cannot touch the money. The distribution must be payable directly to the non-profit organization or charity, not to you. (Income tax does not need to be withheld from the distribution since the amount withdrawn will not count as taxable income.) In addition, your tax preparer must identify the distribution as a QCD on your federal tax return. This is crucial and must not be overlooked, because the custodian of your IRA will probably report your QCD as a normal IRA distribution.2

If you itemize your deductions, you should know that a charitable IRA gift does not count as a deductible charitable contribution. (That would amount to a double tax break.) Of course, fewer taxpayers have incentive to itemize now, since the standard deduction is so large, thanks to the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act.1,2   

If you want to make a charitable IRA gift, start the process before the year ends. If you try to make the gift in late December, your IRA custodian might not be able to move fast enough for you, and the asset transfer may occur later than you would like (i.e., after December 31). Talk with a tax or financial professional before the year ends, so that you can plan a charitable IRA donation with some time to spare.

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 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.

Securities and Registered Investment Advisory Services offered through Silver Oak Securities, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. Silver Oak Securities, Inc. and Cornerstone Financial Group are separate entities.

Citations.

1 – thebalance.com/qualified-charitable-distributions-3192883 [1/15/18]

2 – marketwatch.com/story/how-retirees-can-save-on-charitable-donations-under-the-new-tax-bill-2018-03-02 [3/2/18]