Saving for College
Another school year is around the corner and your children or grandchildren are that much closer to college. If you haven’t already started to save for their college costs, this may be a good time to talk to your adviser about setting up a tax-sheltered college savings plan.
By planning ahead, you can use a 529 college savings plan to give your children a head start on their college costs. There are two types of 529 plans: college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans.
College savings plans are state sponsored investment accounts that allow participants to contribute regularly. A 529 plan account grows tax-deferred and withdrawals from the plan for qualified educational expenses are exempt from federal income tax. There are no income limits.
Saving for College
The Propensity to Consume
Most People and most societies consume what they can. Americans are notoriously short-sighted, as demonstrated by a low personal savings rate by international standards. There could be many explanations, from a standard of affluence that has distanced us from the struggle for mere survival, to our propensity to invent and create that places a premium on spending whatever money we have in order to create more. We are the consumer society. Just look at the ads in magazines or newspapers and calculate the percentage of them that sell what for most people are luxuries.
You may be surprised to find that you are guilty of a habit that dooms you to never having money. Some people who constantly feel money pressure buy themselves little treats or rewards, in part because they never have the money to buy themselves what they really want. But it’s precisely that accumulation of “little” expenses that prevents them from getting ahead. Many don’t even realize they do this. The only way to find out is to keep track of what you spend. Do it for a week or a month. Try to remember each expenditure, no matter how small. Record everything in a little notebook each day. Add them up in different categories at the end of your test period: food and drink, entertainment, utilities, gifts and so forth. Pay particular attention to the small expenditures on unnecessary items and see how they accumulate over time.
Sharing Your Wealth
The tax laws of the United States encourage gifts by granting tax deductions for them in many cases. If individual citizens voluntarily help meet our country’s needs, their contributions reduce the responsibility of the government. Many would also argue that private support of charitable activities is more efficient than public support.
Due to the tax treatment of charitable contributions, individuals may realize not only immediate tax benefits but also advantages in terms of after-tax cash flow and the size of the estate they may pass on to their heirs. Gifts to charity during one’s lifetime or at death, if structured properly, will reduce the estate tax liability. An additional benefit of lifetime gifts is that an income tax deduction is available within certain percentage limitations.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Planning is the only way to make sense of the five things you can do with money. If you don’t plan, you will likely spend more, save less, invest less, and do nothing to reduce your taxes.
Don’t sell yourself short by planning your retirement based on some arbitrary percentage of your income. “Needs planning” is a good start for someone who has given no thought to retirement savings. It’s one way to convince people that they should save something, but it’s not good for people who want to do better than just get by. Don’t settle for mediocrity in your investment planning; try to excel. It’s fine to set a floor for what you will need, but then aim higher—and plan to get there! Become a “wants” planner, instead of a “needs” planner. Only when you determine what you want from life can you determine the role that money will play in helping you achieve your dreams.
A Debt like No Other
If you have incurred inefficient debt, one method of eliminating it is to transfer the debt to your home equity. Many people are reluctant to use their home equity to consolidate other debt. This reluctance really stems from a mind-set that is behind the times. Certainly, 30 years ago, if people refinanced their home or took out a second mortgage, you can be sure the neighbors were talking behind their backs about their financial woes. But using your home’s equity is economically wise. It provides low interest rates, a tax deduction, and an extended amortization.
However, even this form of debt should not be used recklessly. Defaulting on a mortgage of any kind has greater consequences than defaulting on consumer loans. Mortgage loans are secured by your home, which means that if you can’t make payments, you will lose your home. Consumer credit lenders cannot take such drastic remedies.
Avoid all other kinds of debt, including the high-risk debt of stock margin purchases and stock and commodity options. Leave those investments to the professional gamblers. Otherwise, buy only what you can pay for with cash.
Trusts and You
Trusts are vehicles that can help shelter your assets from taxation and manage the property that you leave to your heirs. Simply put, you transfer property in the name of a trustee who manages it for the benefit of a third party, the beneficiary. One of the great advantages of trusts in their flexibility. They can be adapted to fit a wide variety of situations. In fact, as our attorneys at Wealth Enhancement Group say, “Trust is not the key word. Trust doesn’t tell you that much.”
What precedes the word trust tells you everything. The most important aspect of trusts is that they allow property to be managed according to the donor’s specific wishes, far into the future. Living trusts allow you to control trust assets; irrevocable trusts take away control but offer many attractive estate tax implications and more. Your advisers can help you determine which type of trust best suits your situation