Dream a Little Dream: Know where you want to go

July 10, 2012

People often think defining an investment strategy is the first step in creating a solid financial plan. Slow down. Before you even begin to gather all the information you’ll need to form an investment strategy, sit down on the porch or patio or in front of the fireplace (with your spouse or partner if you have one) and let your mind roam.

What do you really want from life? If you could do anything you want, what would you do? Don’t put financial restrictions on yourself now. Dream. Stretch a little. Once you have that dream defined and you know roughly where you want to go, you can begin to determine what role a financial plan can have in helping you live that dream. 

A good investment strategy begins by identifying your specific individual goals and the time you have to achieve them. Those highly personal decisions, very often driven by your love of others, will suggest your strategy. Your strategy may include shorter- and longer-term objectives.

Are you investing to buy a house, pay for college or to retire with sufficient income to support the lifestyle you desire? How much money will you want for each objective? When will you need it? How can you get there? Will you have to make trade-offs to achieve those goals? Which take the highest priority?

The answers to all of those questions will help you determine your individual strategy. Without that strategy it is nearly impossible to know how to invest.

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Uncertain Fed Means Certain Outcome – Part 2

October 5, 2010

With the Federal Funds target rate effectively at zero the typical rate cut is not an option this time, so what will the Fed’s uncertainty lead it to do?
1. First, the Fed will likely signal its sensitivity to heightened risk by updating the message from the June meeting that it “will employ its policy tools as necessary” to reflect the latest language from the recent semiannual testimony that it “is prepared to take further actions as needed.” This will send the signal that the Fed has a greater bias toward easing monetary policy. This signal alone may have some of the effects desired by the Fed on the markets.

2. Second, in lieu of the Fed cutting rates, they may reinvest interest and principal payments on the Fed’s holdings of Mortgage-Backed Securities back into the market with the intention of adding money to the system and keeping rates low. However, we believe the Fed is not likely to take this step without a downgrade to its recently stated growth outlook for above-average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2011 and a 1% decline in the unemployment rate over the next year. The Fed has the ability to wait on any additional stimulus given the improvement in market conditions, from the stock market to the TED spread, since the last Fed meeting in June. If the uncertainty lingers, and the Fed further downgrades their outlook, the Fed could pursue the path of further easing consistent with prior early cycle periods of uncertainty.


Vacation Properties and Income – Part 2

September 14, 2010

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).


Saving for College

September 2, 2010

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 advisor 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.
By investing in a 529 plan outside of the state in which you pay taxes, you may lose tax benefits offered by the state’s plan. Withdrawals used for qualified expenses are federally tax-free. Tax treatments at the the state level may vary.


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.