Your Year End Financial Checkup – Part Two

December 21, 2010

Review your overall investment allocation and consider rebalancing as necessary. In conjunction with rebalancing, take some time to re-evaluate the amount of volatility or risk that is acceptable to your situation. Some considerations when evaluating your level of risk tolerance are your age, time horizon & proximity to retirement, cash flow needs, net worth, and investment objective. And, if you haven’t already, structure investments appropriately into short-term, mid-term and long term buckets; making sure you have a smart place from which to draw money should you need it.

Review account beneficiary forms to confirm that you have a named primary and contingent beneficiary that reflects your wishes. Discuss and review your estate planning documents, such as your Wills, Trusts, Health Care Directives, and Durable Powers of Attorney with your Attorney to confirm that the documents you currently have in place take full advantage of the current estate tax laws and that they accurately reflect your wishes. If you have not yet established these documents, consider meeting with an Attorney to discuss whether they are appropriate for your situation. Be sure to advise your heirs and executor where your estate planning and account documentation can be found in case of death or incapacitation.

Review your current property/casualty, life, disability and long term care insurance coverage with your Financial Advisor and other insurance advisor(s) to determine if you are properly insured.

Organize year-end financial statements and 2010 tax documents as you receive them. Also, be sure to destroy old documentation that is no longer needed in a safe manner.

Review your credit report annually. The law requires the major national consumer reporting bureaus to provide you with a free credit report each year upon request.

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A Debt like No Other

August 17, 2010

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.


Spring Cleaning

April 23, 2010

As the snow melts away and the grass begins to green, many of us start our “spring cleaning” projects around the house. It is also a great time to clean up, organize, and review your financial affairs. Consider these six suggestions:

Review account beneficiary forms to confirm that you have a named primary and a contingent beneficiary that reflect your wishes.
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Discuss with your attorney and review your estate planning documents, such as your will, trusts, health care directives, and durable powers of attorney to confirm that the documents you have in place take full advantage of current estate tax laws. If you have not yet prepared these documents, consider meeting with an attorney to discuss whether they are appropriate for your situation. Be sure to advise your heirs and executor where your estate planning and account documentation can be found in case of your death or incapacitation.
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Review your current property/casualty, life, disability, and long-term care insurance coverage with your wealth manager and other insurance advisor(s) to determine if you are properly insured.
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Review contributions to employer retirement plans. The maximum contribution in 2010 to a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan is $16,500, and taxpayers age 50 and older may make “catch-up” contributions of $5,500. The maximum contribution to a SIMPLE Plan in 2010 is $11,500 with a “catch-up” contribution of $2,500 for taxpayers age 50 and older.
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Review contributions to traditional and Roth IRAs. The maximum contribution, if you qualify, is $5,000 in 2010 and taxpayers age 50 and older may make “catch-up” contributions of $1,000.
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Review your overall investment allocation and consider rebalancing as necessary. Contact a Wealth Enhancement Group advisor to discuss these and other opportunities that may exist.


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.


Simple Truths

September 8, 2009

As a financial advising firm, one of the simple truths we have learned is that relationships are the single greatest influence on how people use their money and plan for the future. When people talk about their hopes and dreams, they talk about the people they love. Their future, the life they wish to live, is always full of the people most important to them. They don’t talk first about dollars and cents, Dow averages, or bond yields. They talk about a spouse, a parent, a child. When imagining their financial futures, even those without family often focus on others, such as employees, friends, faith communities, and charities.


Keeping Your Emotions in Check…

September 3, 2009

In times like these, with the economy in a tailspin, and the stock market in the tank, investing requires an extra dose of patience, perseverance and perspective.
It takes patience to ride out the bear market, perseverance to continue to invest even through a difficult economy, and perspective to see the long-term picture and realize that recessions and bear markets are just part of the natural economic cycle. Slumping economies and bear markets of the past have always turned around — and there is no reason to believe that this time will be any different.