Articles tagged with: Certified Exit Planning Advisor

Should You File Jointly, Or Not?

For many married couples, filing jointly is a good idea, but there are exceptions.

Ninety-five percent of married couples file joint federal tax returns. Filing jointly can be convenient. Frequently, there’s a financial advantage, but that does not mean it should be done without consideration.1

Years ago, there was less incentive to file jointly. That was because the “marriage penalty” for doing so was effectively greater. There is no written “marriage penalty” in the Internal Revenue Code, but, in the past, income tax brackets were structured a bit differently and spouses having similar annual incomes sometimes paid more taxes by filing jointly than single taxpayers did.

There are many good reasons to file jointly. Nearly all of them involve saving money.

Joint filing may give you an effective tax break right off the bat. Currently, married taxpayers who file separately face the 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6% income tax brackets at lower income thresholds than other unmarried taxpayers.2

Joint filers can claim significant tax credits that marrieds filing separately cannot. If you want to claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, the Elderly or Disabled Credit, or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), you have to file jointly. Joint filing also gives you the potential to claim the full Child Tax Credit, rather than a reduced one.3

Deductions, too, decrease when you file separately as a married couple. Standard deductions fall significantly. Phase-out ranges affect itemized deductions, and some itemized deductions are unavailable for married couples who do not file jointly. Couples who file separate 1040s can only deduct 50% of the capital gains losses joint filers can. In addition, if one spouse elects to itemize deductions, so must the other (there must be a separate Schedule A for each spouse). The spouse with fewer deductions has no ability to use the standard deduction to lower his or her taxable income.2,3

Joint filing even helps you with regard to the Alternative Minimum Tax. When you file separately as a married couple, your AMT exemption falls by 50%. So you may be more susceptible to the AMT if you file separately. If the AMT affects you, you will find many federal tax deductions reduced or unavailable to you.3

Do you live in a community property state? If you do, you may know that state tax law defines what is considered separately held or jointly held property. If you want to itemize deductions in a community property state, the paperwork can be onerous.3

More of your Social Security benefits may be taxed if you file separately. Social Security gives you a “base exemption,” an income threshold above which Social Security benefits may be taxable. The base exemption for married couples filing jointly is $32,000, meaning that if 50% of the Social Security benefits you receive in a tax year plus your other income in a tax year exceeds $32,000, taxes may apply. The base exemption for married couples filing separately who live together at any time during the tax year is $0. It improves to $25,000 for married couples filing separately who live apart for an entire year.4

So why would you not file jointly when married? In certain circumstances, filing separately may be wiser.

Maybe you do not trust your spouse financially. If your spouse is a tax cheat or interprets federal tax law very loosely, filing jointly could prove hazardous in the case of an audit or other troubles. Both spouses must sign a joint return, meaning that both spouses are legally responsible for all taxes, penalties, and fines linked to that return. Yes, an innocent spouse may be offered tax protection by the IRS, but that innocence must be proven.2,3

Maybe you or your spouse have large out-of-pocket medical expenses. If so, and if the spouse contending with such bills earns much less than the other, there may be merit in filing separately. By doing so, the spouse with far less income might have an opportunity to meet the 10% AGI threshold needed to itemize medical expenses. (The 7.5% AGI threshold for itemizing these costs is still in place for taxpayers age 65 and older.)2

Maybe you are separating or divorcing. If that is the case, then it may seem only natural to begin filing separately while still married. Doing so now may lessen the chance of the two of you wading through tax issues in the aftermath of a split.

If you are unsure about whether to file jointly or singly, you can ask a tax professional for his or her opinion. Or, that professional can look at last year’s return and run the numbers for you. Most couples find that filing jointly works out best, but there are exceptions.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at phone# 641-464-2248 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/robertwood/2016/01/26/married-filing-joint-tax-returns-irs-helps-some-couples-with-offshore-accounts/ [2/6/16]
2 – abcnews.go.com/Business/filing-taxes-jointly-good-idea/story?id=22504248 [2/17/14]
3 – foxbusiness.com/features/2015/03/06/should-couples-file-taxes-separately-or-jointly-which-is-best-for.html [3/6/15]
4 – irs.com/articles/how-are-social-security-benefits-taxed [2/11/16]

The Pros & Cons of Roth IRA Conversions

What are the potential benefits? What are the draw backs?

If you own a traditional IRA, perhaps you have thought about converting it to a Roth IRA. Going Roth makes sense for some traditional IRA owners, but not all.

Why go Roth? There is an assumption behind every Roth IRA conversion – a belief that income tax rates will be higher in future years than they are today. If you think that will happen, then you may be compelled to go Roth. After all, once you are age 59½ and have owned a Roth IRA for five years (i.e., once five full years have passed since the conversion), withdrawals from the IRA are tax-free.1

Additionally, you never have to make mandatory withdrawals from a Roth IRA, and you can contribute to a Roth IRA as long as you live, unless you lack earned income or make too much money to do so.2,3

For 2016, the contribution limits are $132,000 for single filers and $194,000 for joint filers and qualifying widow(er)s, with phase-outs respectively kicking in at $117,000 and $184,000. (These numbers represent modified adjusted gross income.)4

While you may make too much to contribute to a Roth IRA, anyone may convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. Imagine never having to draw down your IRA each year. Imagine having a reservoir of tax-free income for retirement (provided you follow IRS rules). Imagine the possibility of those assets passing tax-free to your heirs. Sounds great, right? It certainly does – but the question is, can you handle the taxes that would result from a Roth conversion?

Why not go Roth? Two reasons: the tax hit could be substantial, and time may not be on your side.

A Roth IRA conversion is a taxable event. When you convert a traditional IRA (which is funded with pre-tax dollars) into a Roth IRA (which is funded with after-tax dollars), all the pretax contributions and earnings for the former traditional IRA become taxable. When you add the taxable income from the conversion into your total for a given year, you could find yourself in a higher tax bracket.2

If you are nearing retirement age, going Roth may not be worth it. If you convert a sizable traditional IRA to a Roth when you are in your fifties or sixties, it could take a decade (or longer) for the IRA to recapture the dollars lost to taxes on the conversion. Model scenarios considering “what ifs” should be mapped out.

In many respects, the earlier in life you convert a regular IRA to a Roth, the better. Your income should rise as you get older; you will likely finish your career in a higher tax bracket than you were in when you were first employed. Those conditions relate to a key argument for going Roth: it is better to pay taxes on IRA contributions today than on IRA withdrawals tomorrow.

However, since many retirees have lower income levels than their end salaries, they may retire to a lower tax rate. That is a key argument against Roth conversion.

If you aren’t sure which argument to believe, it may be reassuring to know that you can go Roth without converting your whole IRA.

You could do a partial conversion. Is your traditional IRA sizable? You could make multiple partial Roth conversions through the years. This could be a good idea if you are in one of the lower tax brackets and like to itemize deductions.2

You could even undo the conversion. It is possible to “recharacterize” (that is, reverse) Roth IRA conversions. If a newly minted Roth IRA loses value due to poor market performance, you may want to do it. The IRS gives you until October 15 of the year following the initial conversion to “reconvert’’ the Roth back into a traditional IRA and avoid the related tax liability.5

You could “have it both ways”. As no one can fully predict the future of American taxation, some people contribute to both Roth and traditional IRAs – figuring that they can be at least “half right” regardless of whether taxes increase or decrease.

If you do go Roth, your heirs might receive a tax-free inheritance. Lastly, Roth IRAs can prove to be very useful estate planning tools. (You may have heard of the “stretch IRA” strategy, which can theoretically keep IRA assets growing for generations.) If the rules are followed, Roth IRA heirs can end up with a tax-free inheritance, paid out either annually or as a lump sum. In contrast, distributions of inherited assets from a traditional IRA are routinely taxed.2

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.
Distributions made prior to age 59 1/2 may be subject to a federal income tax penalty. If converting a
traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, you will owe ordinary income taxes on any previously deducted traditional
IRA contributions and on all earnings.

Traditional IRA account owners should consider the tax ramifications, age and income restrictions in regards to executing a conversion from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The converted amount is generally subject to income taxation.

“Stretch IRA” is a marketing term implying the ability of a beneficiary of a Decedent’s IRA to withdraw the least amount of money at the latest allowable time in order to maintain the inherited IRA assets for the longest time period possible. Beneficiary distribution options depend on a number of factors such as the type and age of the beneficiary, the relationship of the beneficiary to the decedent and the age of the decedent at death and may result in the inability to “stretch” a decedent’s IRA. Illustration values will greatly depend on the assumptions used which may not be predictable such as future tax laws, IRS rules, inflation and constant rates of return. Costs including custodial fees may be incurred on a specified frequency while the account remains open.

This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. Marketing Library.Net Inc. is not affiliated with any broker or brokerage firm that may be providing this information to you. 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 not a solicitation or a recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – bankrate.com/finance/retirement/roth-ira-conversion-subject-to-5-year-rule.aspx [10/30/14]
2 – kiplinger.com/article/investing/T046-C000-S002-reap-the-rewards-of-a-roth-ira.html [12/15]
3 – irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Roth-IRAs [10/23/15]
4 – irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Plan-Participant,-Employee/Amount-of-Roth-IRA-Contributions-That-You-Can-Make-for-2016 [10/23/15]
5 – thestreet.com/story/13321349/1/roth-recharacterization-how-to-maneuver-your-ira-before-oct-15.html [10/13/15]

White House Proposes Changes to Retirement Plans

A look at some of the ideas contained in the 2017 federal budget
Provided by Michael Moffitt

Will workplace retirement plans be altered in the near future? The White House will propose some changes to these plans in the 2017 federal budget, with the goal of making such programs more accessible. Here are some of the envisioned changes.

Pooled employer-sponsored retirement programs. This concept could save small businesses money. Current laws permit multi-employer retirement plans, but the companies involved must be similar in nature. The White House wants to lift that restriction.1,2

In theory, allowing businesses across disparate industries to join pooled retirement plans could result in significant savings. Administrative expenses could be reduced, as well as the costs of compliance.

Would governmental and non-profit workplaces also be allowed to pool their retirement plans under the proposal? There is no word about that at this point.

This pooled retirement plan concept would offer employees new degrees of portability for their savings. A worker leaving a job at a participating firm in the pool would be able to retain his or her retirement account after taking a job with another of the participating firms. Along these lines, the White House will also propose new ways to make it easier for workers to monitor and reconcile multiple workplace retirement accounts.2,3

Scant details have emerged about how these pooled plans would be created or governed, or how much implementing them would cost taxpayers. Congress will be asked for $100 million in the new budget draft to test new and more portable forms of retirement savings accounts. Presumably, many more details will surface when the proposed federal budget becomes public in February.2,3

Automatic enrollment in IRAs. In the new federal budget draft, the Obama administration will require businesses with more than 10 employees and no retirement savings program to enroll their workers in IRAs. This idea has been included in past federal budget drafts, but it has yet to survive bipartisan negotiations – and it may not this time. Recently, the myRA retirement account was created through executive action to try and promote this objective.1,3

A lower bar to retirement plan participation for part-time employees. Another proposal within the new budget would allow anyone who has worked for an employer for more than 500 hours a year for the past three years to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.2

A bigger tax break for businesses starting retirement plans. Eligible employers can receive a federal tax credit for inaugurating a retirement plan – a credit for 50% of what the IRS deems the employer’s “ordinary and necessary eligible startup costs,” up to a maximum of $500. That credit (which is part of the general business credit) may be claimed for each of the first three years that the plan is in place, and a business may even elect to begin claiming it in the tax year preceding the tax year that the plan goes into effect. The White House wants the IRS to boost this annual credit from $500 to $1,500.2,4

Also, businesses could receive an annual federal tax credit of up to $500 merely for automatically enrolling workers in their retirement plans. As per the above credit, they could claim this for three straight years.2

What are the odds of these proposals making it into the final 2017 federal budget? The odds may be long. Through the decades, federal budget drafts have often contained “blue sky” visions characteristic of this or that presidency, ideas that are eventually compromised or jettisoned. That may be the case here. If the above concepts do become law, they may change the face of retirement plan participation and administration.

Michael 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 – nytimes.com/2016/01/26/us/obama-to-urge-easing-401-k-rules-for-small-businesses.html [1/26/16]
2 – tinyurl.com/je5uj3r [1/26/16]
3 – bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-01-26/obama-seeks-to-expand-401-k-use-by-letting-employers-pool-plans [1/26/16]
4 – irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Retirement-Plans-Startup-Costs-Tax-Credit [8/18/15]

The Long Ascent of the S&P 500

The index has overcome obstacle after obstacle through the years.

No one knows what will happen tomorrow on Wall Street. Even the most esteemed analysts can only make educated guesses. As the old saying goes: past performance is not indicative of future results.

All that said, the market has had many more positive years than negative years. The history of the S&P 500 is worth considering in light of recent market volatility. The S&P is the broad benchmark that economists, journalists, and investors regard as shorthand for the “market.” As the S&P 500 includes about 500 companies, it represents overall market performance better than the 30-component Dow Jones Industrial Average.

If you look at the annual returns of the S&P since 1928, you will see a long ascent with periodic interruptions, and a historical affirmation of equity investment. Looking at the total returns of the S&P (with dividends reinvested), the numbers are even more impressive.

The S&P advanced in 63 of the 87 years from 1928-2014. The average total return during those 63 profitable years was 21.5%. The average total return during the 24 down years was not as bad: -13.6%.1

The index has endured only four multi-year slumps in this 87-year period: 1930-31, 1940-41, 1973-74 and 2000-02. As for extremes, the total return for 1954 was 52.56%; the total return for 1931 was -43.84%.2

Narrowing the time frame a bit to reflect the investing experience of baby boomers, the S&P advanced in 31 of the 40 years from 1975-2014.3

Have market gains typically outpaced inflation? Looking at data since 1950, the answer is yes. Only in the 1970s and 2000s did U.S. equities climb less than consumer prices. The nadir came in the 1970s, when yearly inflation averaged 7.4% while the S&P’s average price return was 1.6% and its average total return was 5.8%. Contrast that with the 1990s. In that decade, the annual price return for the index averaged 15.3%, the average total return 18.1%; mean yearly inflation was just 2.9%.4

When it seemed like the market was coming apart, the S&P recovered. As the oil crisis and inflation threatened to unglue venerable economies in the 1970s, the S&P posted total returns of -14.31% in 1973 and -25.90% in 1974. Then it roared back, gaining 37.00% in 1975 and 23.83% in 1976. When the dot-com bubble burst, the total return was -11.85% in 2001, -21.97% in 2002; after that, the S&P’s next two annual total returns were +28.36% and +10.74%. When the credit crunch and the Great Recession occurred, the index delivered an abysmal -36.55% total return in 2008; the next year, the total return improved to +25.94% and stayed positive through 2014.2

The S&P’s compound returns are especially encouraging. In studying the index’s compound annual returns, we get a solid understanding of how staying in the market has benefited the U.S. equity investor. Average returns are interesting, yet they do not factor in cumulative gains or losses over a given period.

Examining 40-year performance periods for the S&P from 1928-2014, the poorest such period had a compound return of 8.9%. The best 40-year “window” had a 12.5% compound return. Using an even narrower “window,” we find that the best 15-year stretch was from 1985-99, producing a compound return of 18.3%. The poorest 15-year stretch occurred before many of today’s investors were born: the interval from 1929-43 had a compound annual growth rate of just 0.6%.1

The compound return across 1928-2014 is 9.8%, in simplest terms meaning that a $100 investment in shares of S&P 500 firms in that year would have grown to $346,261 in 2014.1,*

The correction we have just witnessed looks momentary indeed in the light cast by these “windows” of time.

The lesson? Stay patient & keep the big picture in mind. Before this latest correction, the market had been comparatively calm for so long (the previous 10% drop happened nearly four years ago), investors had almost forgotten what a correction felt like. Moreover, that 2011 correction was the culmination of a three-month market descent; it was not so abrupt.5

We cannot predict tomorrow, but we can take comfort (and encouragement) from the history of the market and how well the S&P 500 has performed over time.

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 is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific situation. Your results will vary. The hypothetical rates of return used do not reflect the deduction of fees and charges inherent to investing.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is a capitalization weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.

 The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index which cannot be invested into directly. Unmanaged index returns do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment. Past performance is not guarantee of future results.

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 – marketwatch.com/story/understanding-performance-the-sp-500-in-2015-02-18 [2/18/15]

2 – pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/New_Home_Page/datafile/histretSP.html [1/5/15]

3 – 1stock1.com/1stock1_141.htm [8/27/15]

4 – simplestockinvesting.com/SP500-historical-real-total-returns.htm [8/27/15]

5 – cnbc.com/2015/08/21/the-associated-press-qa-what-a-stock-market-correction-means-to-you.html [8/21/15]

Happy Labor Day

labor_day-600x448

Please enjoy the long weekend.

You may also enjoy this recipe from Judy Moffitt for Key Lime – White Chocolate Cookies!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
½ cup (1 stick) margarine or butter, softened

¾ cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 egg

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 ½ cups Bisquick original baking mix

6 drops green food color (optional)

1 six ounce package white chocolate baking bars cut into chunks

1 tablespoon grated lime zest

½ cup chopped pecans

Beat the margarine, sugars, egg and vanilla in a large bowl until well mixed. Stir in the baking mix. Stir in food color (if desired), white chocolate chunks and lime zest.

Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until set but not brown. Let cool 1 minute before removing from the baking sheet. Cool on a wire rack. Makes about 3 ½ dozen cookies.

Teaching Your Heirs to Value Your Wealth

Values can help determine goals & a clear purpose.

Some millionaires are reluctant to talk to their kids about family wealth. Perhaps they are afraid what their heirs may do with it.

In a 2015 CNBC Millionaire Survey, 44% of families having at least $1 million in investable assets said that they had not yet told their children about their future inheritance. Another 27% said they had refrained from mentioning it until their children were 30 or older.1

It can be awkward to talk about such matters, but these parents likely postponed discussing this topic for another reason: they wanted their kids to grow up with a strong work ethic instead of a “wealth ethic.”

If a child comes from money and grows up knowing he or she can expect a sizable inheritance, that child may look at family wealth like water from a free-flowing spigot with no drought in sight. It may be relied upon if nothing works out; it may be tapped to further whims born of boredom. The perception that family wealth is a fallback rather than a responsibility can contribute to the erosion of family assets. Factor in a parental reluctance to say “no” often enough, throw in an addiction or a penchant for racking up debt, and the stage is set for wealth to dissipate.

How might a family plan to prevent this? It starts with values. From those values, goals, and purpose may be defined.

Create a family mission statement. To truly share in the commitment to sustaining family wealth, you and your heirs can create a family mission statement, preferably with the input or guidance of a financial services professional or estate planning attorney. Introducing the idea of a mission statement to the next generation may seem pretentious, but it is actually a good way to encourage heirs to think about the value of the wealth their family has amassed, and their role in its destiny.

This mission statement can be as brief or as extensive as you wish. It should articulate certain shared viewpoints. What values matter most to your family? What is the purpose of your family’s wealth? How do you and your heirs envision the next decade or the next generation of the family business? What would you and your heirs like to accomplish, either together or individually? How do you want to be remembered? These questions (and others) may seem philosophical rather than financial, but they can actually drive the decisions made to sustain and enhance family wealth.

Feel no shame in exerting some control. A significant percentage of families seek to define a purpose for transferred wealth. In CNBC’s survey, 32% of parents aged 55 or younger said they were going to specify what their heirs could use their inheritances for, and that was also true for 15% of parents aged 55-69 and 9% of parents aged 70 or older.1

You may want to distribute inherited wealth in phases. A trust provides a great mechanism to do so; a certain percentage of trust principal can be conveyed at age X and then the rest of it Y years later, as carefully stated in the trust language.

This is a way to avoid a classic mistake: giving your heirs too much money at once. In fact, a 2015 Merrill Lynch Private Banking & Investment Group report notes that 46% of high net worth parents share that very concern.2

Just how much is too much? Answers vary per family, of course. In the aforementioned Merrill Lynch survey, 46% of families said that they wanted to avoid handing down the kind of money that would dissuade their heirs from realizing their full potential in their lives and careers.2

By involving your kids in the discussion of where the family wealth will go when you are gone, you encourage their intellectual and emotional investment in its future. Pair values, defined goals, and clear purpose with financial literacy and input from a financial or legal professional, and you will take a confident step toward making family wealth last longer. 

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 – cnbc.com/2015/07/22/wealthy-parents-fret-over-inheritance-talk-with-kids.html [7/22/15]

2 – bankrate.com/finance/estate-planning/critical-questions-before-leaving-an-inheritance-1.aspx [8/6/15]

 

The Strong Dollar: Good or Bad?

What is dollar strength and who invests in it?

You may have heard that the dollar is “strong” right now. You may have also heard that a strong dollar amounts to a headwind against commodities and stocks.

While there is some truth to that, there is more to the story. A strong dollar does not necessarily rein in the bulls, and dollar strength can work for the economy and the markets.

The U.S. Dollar Index has soared lately. Across July 2014-February 2015, the USDX (which measures the value of the greenback against key foreign currencies) rose an eyebrow-raising 19.44%.1

On March 9, the European Central Bank initiated its quantitative easing program. The dollar hit a 12-year high against the euro a day later, with the USDX jumping north more than 3% in five trading days ending March 10. Remarkable, yes, but the USDX has the potential to climb even higher.2,3

Before this dollar bull market, we had a weak dollar for some time. A dollar bear market occurred from 2001-11, partly resulting from the monetary policy that the Federal Reserve adopted in the Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke years. As U.S. interest rates descended to historic lows in the late 2000s, the dollar became more attractive as a funding currency and demand for dollar-denominated debt increased.4

In Q1 2015, private sector dollar-denominated debt hit $9 trillion globally. Asian corporations have relied notably on foreign currency borrowing, though their domestic currency borrowing is also significant; Morgan Stanley recently researched 625 of these firms and found that dollar-denominated debt amounted to 28% of their total debt.4,5

So why has the dollar strengthened? The quick, easy explanation is twofold. One, the Fed is poised to tighten while other central banks have eased, promoting expectations of a mightier U.S. currency. Two, our economy is healthy versus those of many other nations. The greenback gained on every other major currency in 2014 – a development unseen since the 1980s.4

This explanation for dollar strength aside, attention must also be paid to two other critical factors emerging which could stoke the dollar bull market to even greater degree.

At some point, liabilities will increase for the issuers of all that dollar-denominated debt. That will ramp up demand for dollars, because they will want to hedge.

Will the dollar supply meet the demand? The account deficit has been slimming for the U.S., and the slimmer it gets, the fewer new dollars become available. It could take a few years to unwind $9 trillion of dollar-denominated debt, and when you factor in a probable rate hike from our central bank, things get really interesting. The dollar bull may be just getting started.

If the dollar keeps rallying, what happens to stocks & commodities? Earnings could be hurt, meaning bad news for Wall Street. A strong dollar can curb profits for multinational corporations and lower demand for U.S. exports, as it makes them more expensive. U.S. firms with the bulk of their business centered in America tend to cope better with a strong dollar than firms that are major exporters. Fixed-income investments invested in dollar-denominated assets (as is usually the case) may fare better in such an environment than those invested in other currencies. As dollar strength reduces the lure of gold, oil and other commodities mainly traded in dollars, they face a real headwind. So do the economies of countries that are big commodities producers, such as Brazil and South Africa.6

The economic upside is that U.S. households gain more purchasing power when the dollar strengthens, with prices of imported goods falling. Improved consumer spending could also give the Fed grounds to extend its accommodative monetary policy.6

How are people investing in the dollar? U.S. investors have dollar exposure now as an effect of being invested in the U.S. equities market. Those who want more exposure to the rally can turn to investment vehicles specifically oriented toward dollar investing. European investors are responding to the stronger greenback (and the strong probability of the Fed raising interest rates in the near future) by snapping up Treasuries and corporate bonds with longer maturities.

Stocks can still rally when the dollar is strong. As research from Charles Schwab indicates, the average annualized return for U.S. stocks when the dollar rises has been 12.8% since 1970. For bonds, it has been 8.5% in the years since 1976. A dollar rally amounts to a thumbs-up global vote for the U.S. economy, and that can certainly encourage and sustain a bull market.7

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.

Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

There is a potential for fast price swings in commodities and currencies that will result in significant volatility in an investor’s holdings.

Citations.

1 – wsj.com/mdc/public/npage/2_3050.html?mod=mdc_curr_dtabnk&symb=DXY [3/9/15]

2 – reuters.com/article/2015/03/10/us-markets-stocks-idUSKBN0M612A20150310 [3/10/15]

3 – forbes.com/sites/maggiemcgrath/2015/03/10/u-s-equities-hammered-on-dollar-strength-and-oil-weakness/ [3/10/15]

4 – valuewalk.com/2015/02/us-dollar-bull-market/ [2/4/15]

5 – tinyurl.com/ptpolga [2/25/15]

6 – blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2014/12/24/how-a-strong-dollar-affects-investors-at-a-glance/ [12/24/14]

7 – time.com/money/3541584/dollar-rally-global-currencies/ [2/13/15]

 

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]