Final Words on Debt

September 29, 2009

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.

Final words on debt. When to use it: rarely. How to use it: to increase your net worth or long-term quality of life, not to buy more things…

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Investing and Saving

September 24, 2009

The goal of investing is quite different from saving. Saving makes money available to you in a secure place; investing seeks to make 13that money grow for some future use.

Two rules of thumb: Invest 10 percent of your income, and pay yourself first. Your deposit into your investment account should be the first check you write each time you get paid, not the last. If you pay yourself first, you’ll be able to manage on what remains. If you instead plan to invest what remains from your paycheck after you’ve met other needs (and wants), you’ll find that you have little or nothing left for investing most months.


Time, Not Timing

September 22, 2009

In these days of detailed and ubiquitous reporting on stock markets one of the great dangers facing individual investors is the temptation to time the market. Never forget that time, not timing, is the investor’s greatest ally.

If your biggest concern is when to invest your money, you’re worrying about the wrong thing. Investing a set amount each month IS fine as a saving strategy, but as an investing strategy, it’s flawed. The best time to invest is as soon as you can. If you have created your asset allocation strategy, invest now!

But many people don’t follow this advice, or they try to beat the market by picking the right time to invest.


Trusts

September 17, 2009

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.


Wills

September 15, 2009

The basic instrument of estate planning is the will, a legal document in which you state who will receive what portion of your property, as well as when and under what conditions they will receive it. A will also allows you to designate a guardian for your children and an executor or personal representative who carries out the terms of the will. If you die intestate-without a will-the executor and guardian are appointed by the court, and your assets are disposed of according to state law.

In all states, however, at least part of your estate will go to your children, and ,n many states they will receive more than your spouse. A will that is complete and current, on the at names all those legally entitled to a share in your estate, accounts for assets, and pays all creditors, will ensure that the administration of your estate proceeds quickly according to your intentions. Keeping those close to you informed of your plans, especially if you’re financial or family situation changes, can help avoid litigation, costly delays, and unnecessary conflict.


Vacation Properties and Income – Part 2

September 14, 2009

Another way for retirees to generate income from a vacation home is to sell it. By using the federal capital gains exclusion in conjunction with the sale of your primary residence, you can potentially realize tax-free income. Here’s how it works. The basic capital gains exclusion rules state that you must have owned and used the home as your primary residence for at least two years out of the five-year period ending on the date of the sale. If you are married, the full $500,000 exclusion ($250,000 for single homeowners) is available as long as one or both of you satisfies the ownership test (two years) and you both satisfy the use test (primary residence).


Vacation Properties and Income – Part 1

September 10, 2009

If you have a vacation home, you’re already aware of the enjoyment it provides and the benefits it can offer at tax time. But you may not be aware of how vacation property can be used to generate income in retirement or how it can play into an estate plan. In fact, vacation properties offer retirees a number of different options in managing their finances and estate.
Vacation property may be used to generate income in several different ways. The first, and most obvious, is renting it. The IRS allows you to deduct mortgage interest on your primary residence and one additional property up to a limit of $1 million in combined mortgage debt for mortgages taken out after 1987. Current tax rules also allow you to rent out a second home for up to 14 days per year without having to report the rent as income. If you rent for more than 14 days, the home is considered investment property, and rent must be reported as income. Converting the property to an investment property, however, allows you to deduct rental expenses, such as insurance and utilities, if you have a net profit on the property (deductions are limited if you report a loss). You can still use an income-producing property for personal use while maintaining your tax advantages — but only for the greater of 14 days or 10 percent of the total days it is rented. Maintenance days do not count as personal-use days, but use by in-laws or other part-owners does, even if rent is charged.