Reverse Mortgages – No Longer a Loan of Last Resort

MONEY TALKS – When most of us hear the term “reverse mortgage” there is usually a negative connotation associated with the phrase. It’s hard to pinpoint why these two words leave such a sour taste in our mouths when you consider that most of us don’t even know anyone with a reverse mortgage. Furthermore, when pressed on the issue of why reverse mortgages are bad, the standard response is usually; “Ummm, I don’t know. I just heard they were bad because they take advantage of senior citizens.” Perhaps you are subconsciously hearing Henry Winkler’s smooth cadence from the reverse mortgage TV commercial while thinking of a poor widow from Nebraska who just lost her family home. The truth of the matter is, due to some recent legislative changes to protect the consumer, a reverse mortgage is no longer a loan of last resort. If fact, in the right circumstance, it can be used as a very effective financial planning tool to preserve your wealth.

What is a Reverse Mortgage? – A reverse mortgage is home loan that allows you to own your home without having to make monthly mortgage payments. Instead of making monthly payments, like you would with a traditional mortgage, the loan balance on a reverse mortgage is paid in one lump sum when the borrower moves out, sells the home, or passes away. One popular myth circulating among the public is that the bank can kick you out of your home if the mortgage balance exceeds the value of the home. This is simply not true. As long you live in the home, keep it insured, pay taxes, and maintain the property, the bank can never force you to move out or sell the home. Another common misconception is that your family could get stuck with a big mortgage debt. When the borrower passes away, your family has two options. They can either purchase the home, for 95% of the appraised value or the mortgage balance (whichever is lower), or sell the home. If they choose to sell the home and the home value exceeds the mortgage balance, they can keep any remaining equity. Conversely, if the mortgage debt exceeds the value of the home they can walk away without owing a nickel. Since the loan is guaranteed by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) Mortgage Insurance Fund your family can never be liable for any amount over the value of the home.

Why Should You Consider a Reverse Mortgage? – The use of home equity in a retirement-income plan is becoming a more popular tool used by financial advisors today because of the flexibility and protection it affords their clients. For many Americans, their home is their largest asset, yet under a traditional model the accessibility to this asset is nonexistent. Integrating a reverse mortgage into a financial plan may allow clients to tap into their biggest asset that otherwise has been hiding under their nose. In fact, Wade Pfau, Professor of Retirement Income at the American College of Financial Services, states; “the reverse-mortgage option should be viewed as a method for responsible retirees to create liquidity from an otherwise illiquid asset, which in turn can create new options that potentially support a more efficient retirement income strategy.” Integrating a reverse mortgage into a retirement plan can be a great option for seniors who want accessibility to the equity in their home and the comfort of knowing they can age in place.

Are You Eligible? – In order to be eligible for a reverse mortgage the borrower(s) must be competent, at least 62 years of age, and have equity in the home. They must have the financial resources to cover taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs. Federal debt cannot exist and any existing mortgages on the property must be paid off (which can be done with the loan proceeds). Lastly, a receipt of a counseling certificate from an FHA approved counselor must be provided. In order for the property to be eligible it must serve as your primary residence, meet FHA property standards and flood requirements, pass an FHA appraisal, and be maintained to meet FHA health and safety standards.

What Now? – Thanks to the Reverse Mortgage Stabilization Act of 2013, many safeguards were put in place to protect borrowers from taking on too much debt. However, as with any other loan, there are risks involved. “Unquestionably there can be misuses of the product. But the problem is the use, not the product” says Harold Evensky, Professor of Personal Financial Planning at Texas Tech University. Understanding the complexities of the loan and how to best integrate it into your financial plan are critical to success. Speaking with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and/or FHA approved counselor would be a good start to finding out if you could benefit from a reverse mortgage.

Lakeside Financial Planning – Advisor Insights

Take Control Over Your Taxes Before It’s Too Late

MONEY TALKS – Congratulations, you finally finished your 2016 tax return (with 4 days to spare). If you, like most Americans, just sighed in relief and thought to yourself “thank goodness I don’t have to worry about my taxes for another eight months”; unfortunately, you couldn’t be further from the truth. This common line of thinking often gets taxpayers in trouble because waiting until January of 2018 leaves you with limited tax planning options and very little control over the size of the check you write, when filing your tax return. To get a jump start on the tax year, here are a few planning strategies you should be thinking about now so you can take control over your taxes before it’s too late.

Adjust Tax Withholdings – The majority of salaried employees receive a Form W-2 (Wage and Tax Statement) in early February showing their wages earned (Box 1) along with their Federal income tax withheld (Box 2). What you may not know is the amount withheld is generally dependent on two factors; your taxable wages and how you filled out Form W-4 (Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate) on your first day of work. If you owed money with your 2016 tax return, then you should consider adjusting your withholding so more tax is withheld. Rather than messing around with the number of allowances you are claiming, which confuses most people, the easiest way to increase the amount you want withheld from each paycheck is to simply write the dollar amount on Line 6. Conversely, if you received a large refund (over $1,000) then too much is being withheld from your paychecks. While it’s nice getting money back in April, if you are receiving a refund year over year then you are essentially giving the government an interest free loan. Lowering the amount of allowances you claim will reduce the amount withheld from each paycheck, giving you more money to invest throughout the year.

Manage Retirement Contributions – The easiest way to reduce your taxable income is by contributing to a qualified retirement plan such as a 401(k). The employee contribution limits for a 401(k) are $18,000 for those under 50 years old and $24,000 for those north of the border. Ideally, from a tax standpoint, you should be maxing out your contributions to lower the amount of income subject to taxation. If you aren’t sure how much you contributed last year, take a look in Box 12 of your W-2. You should see the letter D followed by a number, which was your 2016 401(k) contributions. If that number is below your respective contribution limit, increase your contributions to maximize your tax savings.

Spring Clean – Donating clothing and household items to a qualified charity is a great way to save on taxes because the fair market value of your contributions is tax deductible. Household items include furniture and furnishings, electronics, appliances, linens, and other similar items. Keep in mind that you can’t take a deduction for clothing or household items unless they are in good used condition or better. One area often overlooked is recordkeeping. Remember that the burden of proof is always on the taxpayer, not the IRS. If you gave property, you should keep a receipt or written statement from the organization you gave the property to, or a reliable written record, that shows the organization’s name and address, the date and location of the gift, and a description of the property.

As with most areas of life, proper planning is crucial to achieving your goals. Tax planning is a fundamental component of any good financial plan. The key take away here should be that it’s much more effective implementing tax strategies now rather than waiting until the next year’s W-2 shows up in the mail.

5 Ways to Turbo Boost Your Savings in 2017

MONEY TALKS – Achieving your goals and aspirations may be closer than you think. Saving is the foundation to any good financial plan. Follow these five steps to boost your savings to the next level!

  1. Max Out Your Retirement Plans – In 2017 you can defer up to $18,000 of your salary into an employer sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan. If you are age 50 or older, the IRS has a special “catch-up” provision which allows you to contribute an additional $6,000 for a total contribution limit of $24,000. If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan you may still be eligible to contribute to a Traditional or Roth IRA. The IRA contributions limits for 2017 are $5,500 or $6,500 for those age 50 or older. If you didn’t maximize your IRA last year there is still time. The Internal Revenue Code has a special provision permitting you to make a 2016 contribution up until April 17th of 2017.
  1. Know How Much You Are Spending – Most people have no idea what they are actually spending. While some bold participants may blurt out a response when asked, in my experience what people say they are spending and what they are actually spending are two very different numbers. A good back of the envelop approach to calculate your spending is to look at your final pay check for 2016. Take your year to date gross pay and subtract any taxes paid as well as any employee benefits such as medical, dental, and retirement contributions. This in effect is your take home pay. From there subtract any additions you made to long term savings accounts throughout the year and you have calculated your annual spending. Most people are surprised by how much they are spending. Now that you know how much you’re spending, keep any eye on major outflows and set up an automatic transfer to your savings account to ensure some money is put away before hitting your pocket.
  1. Review Your Investment Portfolio – When it comes to determining an appropriate asset allocation, most people take the set it and forget it approach. Meaning they randomly picked some stock and/or bond mutual funds when they enrolled in their employer retirement plan, and they have not looked at it since. For many of us this could be 5, 10, or even 20+ years. Review your most recent portfolio statement to see if your current allocation is still appropriate for your age. Traditionally younger investors can be more aggressive and allocate a higher percentage of their portfolio towards equities. On the other hand, seasoned investors whom are approaching retirement may want to reduce their risk by diversifying into more bond funds and less stocks. If your current asset allocation is appropriate for your age, be sure to rebalance your accounts annually to make sure your portfolio stays properly aligned.
  1. Take Responsibility – The glamorization and/or demonization of politics and economics by the media can be hard to ignore because they are on the face of every TV station, newspaper, and social media site. Nonetheless, it’s essential to remember that for the most part these situations are out of your control. However, that doesn’t mean you should sit idly by and hope for the best. To use a weather analogy, while you don’t have control over when the next snow storm will hit, you do have the ability to buy snow tires for your car, a new shovel, and salt for your driveway. By personally managing the internal factors in your life such as; how much you save, your consumer loan balance, and the size of the home you purchase, you are taking responsibility over the aspects in your life that allow you to control your own financial destiny rather than taking a back seat to external factors over which you are powerless.
  1. Invest in Yourself – Many people don’t realize that the greatest financial asset they have is themselves; i.e. their ability to earn a living. Investing in post-secondary education, technical training programs, and advanced degrees go a long way toward building a complete resume. Combine these skills with quality work experience and you have just positioned yourself for a financially rewarding career.    

5 New Year’s Resolutions for 2017

MONEY TALKS – Lakeside Financial Planning was fortunate enough to be featured in a recent article on Investopedia’s advisor insights platform. The article is published below or you can view the original source by clicking here.

1. Pay off Consumer Debt
Credit cards can have interest rates well into the double digits. Paying off credit card debt is a great way to free up cash flow for the future. Credit card purchases are generally for short term items that have no lasting value. Putting away your credit cards and learning to live within your means can go a long way towards financial independence. If you are prone to consumer debt, try consolidating your credits cards down to one and using cash for everyday purchases.

2. Build an Emergency Reserve
Wage earners should have a minimum of 10% of their gross annual income in a long term savings account. An additional 20% should be saved as an emergency reserve. The best place for your emergency reserve is within your 401(k) or other tax sheltered accounts because the interest earned is tax deferred. Self-employed and retired individuals should build their cash/emergency reserves to an even greater level. As an additional test, the combined value of cash and emergency reserves should be at least 20% of your mortgage balance.

A Home Equity Line of Credit or HELOC is loan where a homeowner can borrow against the equity they have in their home. Unlike a conventional home equity loan where the borrower is advanced the entire lump sum up front, a HELOC is different in that the borrower only draws on the line of credit if needed. A HELOC could be used to cover a variety of expenses including unforeseen outlays for home improvements or medical bills. Homeowners should consider getting a HELOC as a supplement to their cash/emergency reserves as an added security blanket.

3. Purchase Long Term Disability Insurance
For most workers, the ability to earn a living is their most significant financial resource. A disabling illness or injury stops income, often leads to additional medical costs, and prevents savings for key goals such as education and retirement. Despite these facts, employees are more likely to have dental insurance than long term disability. The reason for this is most people associate disability with serious accidents. Since very few employees have high risk jobs, the general inclination in the workforce is to say, “I don’t need it” when it comes to disability insurance. In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth as 90% of disability claims are due to illness not injury. Even people who don’t have high risk jobs are still at risk of disability from cancer, cardiovascular, muscular, or other illnesses. A disabling illness or injury can have a devastating effect on you and your family. Purchase long term disability insurance now to protect you and your family’s financial security.

4. Increase Retirement Savings
Most company retirement plans allow you to enroll in a plan where your contributions are automatically deducted from your paycheck and directly deposited into the retirement plan. The beauty of automatic deductions is, since you never see the money, it’s nearly impossible for you to spend it. The only problem with this out-of-sight, out-of-mind enrollment process is most people set up a standard contribution rate when they enroll in their plan and never think to increase it. Lots of employers now offer an auto increase plan where your contribution percentage will increase by 1% per year. If your employer offers an auto increase plan be sure to enroll, if not then be sure to increase your contribution percentage manually each year. Consider investing in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) if your employer does not offer a retirement plan.

5. Create an Estate Plan
Approximately 55 percent of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place. The primary reason for this staggering statistic is twofold; one being that no one wants to think about their own demise. The other; more alarming reason, is because many Americans are ill-informed on benefits of an estate plan. The most common excuses I hear are; “I don’t have children so I don’t need an estate plan” and “estate plans are only for wealthy families.” Both of these statements couldn’t be further from the truth. Most people don’t know that one of the primary purposes of an estate plan is to give guidance while you are still living. Questions such as, whom do you want to make medical decisions on your behalf or what are your wishes concerning life-prolonging procedures are typically addressed in a comprehensive estate plan. Regardless of your wealth or family situation an estate plan is beneficial for everyone involved.

How Much Do I Need to Retire?

MONEY TALKS – Friends and family often ask me how much savings they need in order to retire. While I am more than happy to talk in generalities, I try to steer away from giving any specifics when I don’t have all the facts. Without a complete view of their financial picture, it would not only be impossible but irresponsible of me to answer their questions.

Unfortunately, more often than not, before I have a chance to respond, they hastily begin shouting out numbers. “Do I need ½ million? 1 million?” Typically this leads to me awkwardly trying to explain that the solution isn’t that simple and ethically I really shouldn’t answer their question. This response is usually met with a bewildered look and the inevitable “So you’re saying that’s not enough?” (Heavy sigh) At this point I coyly suggest that if they really want to know the answer they should become a client.

In an effort to provide friends and family with some guidance (and to quell the family banter), I have devised a quick back of the envelop calculation to give you a ballpark estimate of how much savings you need to retire. The calculation is rather easy to complete but does require some preliminary information before you can get started. I have included here a list of the necessary data as well as a simple worksheet that will walk you through this back of the envelope approach. Please bear in mind that this is a rudimentary calculation that won’t give you an exact figure, but it can be used as a reality check to see if you are on target to retire comfortably.

Here’s what you will need:

  • Pay statement
  • Federal and state tax returns
  • Social Security statement
  • Pension statement
  • Estimate of any other income you may receive in retirement.

In order to help illustrate the underlying methodology let’s consider the following scenario:

  • Tom (60) and Rachael (58) are married with four kids. Tom, an engineer by trade, is the primary wage earner with a gross salary of $150,000 per year. Rachael works as teacher earning $50,000 per year. Tom’s net take home pay is $3,750 and Rachel’s net take home pay is $1,250.
  • They both get paid twice per month, for a total of 24 times per year.
  • Last year they paid $18,400 in Federal taxes and $6,600 in state taxes.
  • Neither Tom nor Rachel are eligible for medical benefits through their employer after they retire. When eligible, they plan to go on Medicare and purchase a supplemental Medigap policy.
  • Tom is eligible for Social Security and expects his annual benefit at full retirement age to be about $43,000. Rachel earnings as a teacher do not qualify for Social Security benefits; however, through her teachers union, she is entitled to a pension benefit of $40,000 per year. Neither plan to seek part-time employment in retirement.
  • Tom and Racheal both plan to work until their mid-sixties. They live a healthy lifestyle and plan to live well into their nineties.

Now let’s work through the numbers:

retirement-chart

Based on the chart above, Tom and Rachel would need about $1.5 million in order to retire.

While I hope that you find the above exercise helpful, please keep in mind that is a static calculation which doesn’t take into account life changes that may occur in retirement. To get a more precise calculation or recommendation, I would encourage you to reach out to a qualified financial advisor.


*Multiplier is based on a success rate of 90% or more for a 15, 30, and 45 year portfolio. The calculations were completed by William P. Bengen, CFP® and can be found is his book Conserving Client Portfolios During Retirement.

** Note: the Savings Required field is not specific in nature and does not take into account your individual facts and circumstances. Accordingly, this should not be relied upon when determining how much money you need to retire, nor does it substitute for any legal, financial, tax, or accounting advice.

A Beginners Guide to Maximizing Your 401(k) Plan

MONEY TALKS – In today’s workplace environment, unless you are working as a teacher, police officer, firefighter, or state/federal employee, the chances are you do not have a pension plan. In other words, when it comes to funding your retirement YOYO (you’re on your own). For most private sector employees, defined contribution (DC) retirement plans are their primary savings vehicle. DC plans are a type of retirement plan where an employer and/or employee make regular contributions. They differ from a pension plan in that there is no guaranteed income stream at retirement. Instead, both the employer and employee contributions, plus any investment earnings, grow together in an account where the employee has control over the cash distributions during their retirement. The most common DC plan is the 401(k) plan which has grown to become America’s de facto retirement savings plan since its inception in the late 1970’s.

A 401(k) plan is a great savings vehicle for a number of reasons. First and foremost any contributions made by the employee are tax deductible. Secondly, any earnings in the account grow tax free until they are withdrawn. Unfortunately many Americans are not taking full advantage of the benefits a 401(k) plan has to offer. There are two primary culprits behind this underutilization; lack of participation and low contribution rates. In order to ensure you are getting the most out of your 401(k) plan, make sure to follow these guidelines.

Start Contributing Early
During your first week of work you will likely be given a large packet of information listing everything from your vacation accrual to your medical benefits. Included in this packet should be an enrollment form for your employer’s 401(k) plan. You should sign up for your 401(k) plan immediately. Some employers may have restrictions on when you can start contributing or an elimination period before the employer themselves match any contributions; however, these restrictions typically do not prevent you from enrolling in the plan.

If you have already been working but have yet to sign up, there is no time like the present. To borrow a line from a colleague of mine, “You will never be younger than you are today.” When it comes to investing, the longer the time horizon, the greater the growth potential.

Maximize Your Employer Match
Most employers will make a modest contribution to your 401(k) plan presuming you do one thing; contribute to the plan yourself. While there is a wide range of company match levels, a typical employer match policy might read something like this: XYZ agrees to match 50% of employee contributions for the first 6%-of-salary that an employee contributes. In this scenario, in order for an employee to maximize their employer match, they would need to contribute 6% or more of their salary into their 401(k) plan. Any contribution below 6% means the employer is not obligated to contribute the full match.

Maximizing your employer match is critical to building your retirement nest egg. Not contributing or under contributing to your own plan means you are essentially throwing money out the window. An employer match is a guaranteed return on investment which is rare if not impossible to find in this day and age.

Take It to the Limit
The most common way to contribute to a 401(k) plan is through automatic payroll deductions. Many plans allow you to designate a percentage of your gross income to be allocated to your 401(k) plan. A good rule of thumb is to contribute 10% or more of your salary into your 401(k) plan. Unfortunately, for many young or underpaid employees this figure is simply unrealistic. For those who can’t save 10% or more, start off by saving the minimum allowable contribution that enables you to maximize your employer match. Most employer plans require employee contributions between 4% and 8% to receive the maximum match.

Automatic contribution increases are another great way to get the most of your 401(k) plan. As the name infers, an automatic contribution increase is simply an election you make to annually increase your contribution percentage (typically by 1%). The beauty of this election is it forces you to save more each year and they typically coincide with a merit increase so the effects are negligible. If your company doesn’t offer this election then remember to manually adjust your contribution percentage each time you get a raise.

Keep in mind that the Internal Revenue Service regulates how much an employee can contribute to their 401(k) plan. In 2016 the contribution limit is $18,000. If you are lucky enough to be age 50 or older, the IRS has a special “catch-up” provision which allows you to contribute an additional $6,000 for a total contribution limit of $24,000.

Protect Your Retirement Nest Egg

MONEY TALKS – Retirement planning can be a stressful time for many baby boomers because there are so many questions that cannot be answered; how long will I live, what will my health be like in twenty years, will my spouse or I need long term care, and the elephant in the room; how much money do I need? Scientific advances in the medical community have made it not only possible but likely that a healthy retiree in their sixties could live well into their nineties. While it’s great that retirees are living longer, healthier, and more active lifestyles than ever, on the flip side of the coin, there is a vast amount of time their retirement savings must last. Pulling funds out of a portfolio for thirty plus years creates tremendous strain on the portfolio. To further compound things, factors such as the retiree’s age, withdrawal rate, and current market conditions have a paramount impact on the longevity of the portfolio. Perhaps most frightening, even a modest loss in the early stages retirement, regardless of the size of an investment portfolio, can derail an otherwise solid investment plan leaving a retiree in a precarious position.

Sequential Risk

Sequential risk is not a term that is used in everyday conversation; however, anyone who has recently retired or has retirement on the horizon should make sure they have a basic understanding of the concept. In essence, sequential risk is the notion of making withdrawals from an investment portfolio during or immediately after periods of poor performance. A retiree who begins taking withdrawals from their portfolio following a market downturn is at a much higher risk to deplete their portfolio. To demonstrate the magnitude of sequential risk let’s look at two similar scenarios with drastically different endings.

Early Retirement Losses

John & Lisa have accumulated a million dollars and decide to retire at age 65. They determine that they will need $90,000 to live on of which $25,000 will come in the form of Social Security and the remaining $65,000 will be withdrawn from their portfolio annually (adjusted for inflation). Unfortunately for John & Lisa, during the first year of their retirement the market falls and has a 20% loss. In years two through fourteen their luck changes and the market remains stable returning 7% annually. In year fifteen they are hit with even more luck as the market surges and they receive a 30% return on their investment. The good news for John & Lisa is that they’ve had a healthy and active retirement and maintained their same standard of living for the last fifteen years. The bad news is at age 81 they can no longer support themselves financially because they have less than $25,000 remaining in their portfolio. To make matters worse, the recent financial stress has caused John & Lisa’s health to take a turn for the worse and now they are considering moving into a state subsidized nursing home.

Losses Down the Road

John & Lisa’s neighbors, Bruce and Diane, have also accumulated a million dollars and decide to retire at age 65. They too will need $90,000 in living expenses and will receive $25,000 from Social Security. Fortunately for Bruce and Diane in their first year of retirement the market spikes and returns 30%. In years two through fourteen the market remains unprecedentedly stable and returns 7% annually. Unfortunately in year fifteen their string of good luck changes and the market drops 20%. Fortunately for Bruce and Diane, due to the positive early returns, their portfolio was large enough to withstand the latest market downturn. Despite losing over $229,000 in their portfolio over the last year, they still have over $900,000 dollars remaining. Like John & Lisa, Bruce and Diane have lived a healthy and active retirement. However, instead of looking for nursing homes, Bruce and Diane are looking at independent living villas in Costa Rica because the winters in Florida are just too cold for them.

Similar Story – Different Ending

While the facts remain strikingly similar, the end of their stories is vastly different. Unfortunately no one can predict what the stock market is going to do tomorrow, let alone next month, year, or ten years from now. Unless you have a flux capacitor, trying to plan your retirement date around future market forecasts is a futile and will not get you far. So what can be done to mitigate sequential risk?

Mitigate Sequential Risk

There are a multitude of different strategies that work well to help reduce the risk associated with early retirement withdrawals. However, regardless of the specific strategy chosen, they all centrally revolve around two main concepts; minimizing volatility and monitoring withdrawal rates. Strategies that focused on minimizing volatility may be a more appropriate approach as changing your withdrawal rate in retirement is not feasible for many retirees, especially for those living on a fixed income.

Ultra-Conservative Portfolio

Rather than taking a traditional approach of starting at 60% stocks (40% bonds) and reducing the weight as you age, consider taking a road less traveled. In order to minimize volatility during the onset of retirement, switch to an ultra-conservative portfolio. Dropping to a 30% stock allocation in early retirement has historically kept losses, even during the worst bear markets, to single digits. Minimizing the effects of market crashes protects your nest egg during the most critical stage of your retirement. As you get further along into retirement, gradually increase your equity exposure to as much as 60%.

Dedicated Cash Flow Stream

Another hybrid approach to minimize an early retiree’s volatility involves creating a dedicated cash flow stream to fund withdrawals. Using this approach, the amount of the withdrawal would be the same; however, a dedicated portion of the portfolio would be specifically set aside to fund the withdrawals. The simplest approach to create a dedicated cash flow stream is through the use of a laddered Certificate of Deposit. A ladder is sequential series of maturing term CD’s. For example purchasing a 12 month, 24 month, 36 month, 48 month, and 60 month CD. The maturing CD’s give a retiree a guaranteed cash flow without having to worry about current market conditions because the portion subject to withdrawals has already been prefunded and cannot lose value. The volatility in the remaining portion of their portfolio is mitigated because no funds are being withdrawn from this portion.

Fundamental Philosophy

Both approaches are based on the fundamental philosophy that an early retiree is at a greater risk from a market downturn than a mature retiree due to the number of withdrawal years. Consider reducing your sequential risk by transitioning to a more conservative portfolio at the onset of retirement or by creating a dedicated cash flow stream to eliminate or minimize early withdrawals from your portfolio.

Friendly Advice during Tax Season

MONEY TALKS – Winter is fading away, and the 2016 tax season is now upon us. Unfortunately, with the tax deadline fast approaching, many of us are feeling stressed. To help alleviate some of your stress I have put together a quick list of tax tips to help you get past the finish line. Remember to always to consult your CPA or tax advisor before implementing any tax strategies herein.

New Tax Deadline

In 2016 you will have a few extra days to complete your tax return. Federal law mandates that any holiday in the nation’s capital also applies to offices there. Due to Emancipation Day falling on April 15th, the usual due date for annual 1040 filings is pushed back to Monday, April 18th. Taxpayers in Massachusetts and Maine get an extra day because of Patriots Day. The due date for filing 2015 personal income tax returns for MA and ME residents is Tuesday, April 19th.

 Itemized Deductions

Most individuals remember to deduct the state income and real estate tax they paid; however, not everyone is aware that you can also deduct any local excise tax paid on your vehicle as long as the tax is yearly and is based on the value of the vehicle. Charitable deductions are another area that are often overlooked. Remember that the deduction is not just for cash contributions; clothing and other personal items can also be deducted. Lastly, be sure to include any fees paid to your CPA or Financial Advisor as they may be deductible.

 Retirement Contributions

Technically you can still make an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or Roth IRA contribution for the 2015 calendar year up until April 18th of 2016. The contribution limit, although subject to Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limitations, is up to $5,500 per person with an additional $1,000 “catch-up” contribution allowed if you are over 50 years old. If you make an IRA contribution it may be deductible on your 2015 tax return and could reduce your tax liability.

Avoid Fraudulent Schemes

The IRS does not reach out to individuals through the phone or by email, they generally send letters via snail mail. If you receive a phone call or email from someone claiming to work for the IRS, it’s probably someone trying to scam you. Do not give any personal information over the phone or email, and report the incident to the proper authorities immediately. The IRS, through their website, continues to issue warnings about tax scams, including fake IRS agent phone calls, email phishing, and other identity theft attempts by criminals.

Protect Your Personal Information

Never enter personal information through a link or an unsolicited email. Many of these links contain phishing schemes where they clone a page to look like the real site; however, it’s actually a fake site designed to steal your user credentials. Any electronic documents containing sensitive information should be password protected or encrypted before it is transmitted online. All paper documents containing confidential data should be shredded, unless they are being used to support your tax return. Supporting paperwork should be filed away in a safe and secure location.

Choose Direct Deposit for Your Tax Refund

If you are being issued a refund, a direct deposit refund into your personal bank account is the most secure method. Since your refund goes directly into your account, there’s no risk of having your refund check stolen or lost in the mail. Furthermore, direct deposit is the fastest way to get your refund. You should deposit your refund into an account in your own name. Avoid making a deposit into accounts owned by others. If you are filing a joint tax return, some banks require both spouses’ names on the account to deposit a tax refund.

5 New Year’s Resolutions for 2016

1. Pay off Consumer Debt

Credit cards can have interest rates well into the double digits. Paying off credit card debt is a great way to free up cash flow for the future. Credit card purchases are generally for short term items that have no lasting value. Putting away your credit cards and learning to live within your means can go a long way towards financial independence. If you are prone to consumer debt, try consolidating your credits cards down to one and using cash for everyday purchases.

2. Build an Emergency Reserve

Wage earners should have a minimum of 10% of their gross annual income in a long term savings account. An additional 20% should be saved as an emergency reserve. The best place for your emergency reserve is within your 401(k) or other tax sheltered accounts because the interest earned is tax deferred. Self-employed and retired individuals should build their cash/emergency reserves to an even greater level. As an additional test, the combined value of cash and emergency reserves should be at least 20% of your mortgage balance.

A Home Equity Line of Credit or HELOC is loan where a homeowner can borrow against the equity they have in their home. Unlike a conventional home equity loan where the borrower is advanced the entire lump sum up front, a HELOC is different in that the borrower only draws on the line of credit if needed. A HELOC could be used to cover a variety of expenses including unforeseen outlays for home improvements or medical bills. Homeowners should consider getting a HELOC as a supplement to their cash/emergency reserves as an added security blanket.

3. Purchase Long Term Disability Insurance

For most workers, the ability to earn a living is their most significant financial resource. A disabling illness or injury stops income, often leads to additional medical costs, and prevents savings for key goals such as education and retirement. Despite these facts, employees are more likely to have dental insurance than long term disability. The reason for this is most people associate disability with serious accidents. Since very few employees have high risk jobs, the general inclination in the workforce is to say, “I don’t need it” when it comes to disability insurance. In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth as 90% of disability claims are due to illness not injury. Even people who don’t have high risk jobs are still at risk of disability from cancer, cardiovascular, muscular, or other illnesses. A disabling illness or injury can have a devastating effect on you and your family. Purchase long term disability insurance now to protect you and your family’s financial security.

4. Increase Retirement Savings

Most company retirement plans allow you to enroll in a plan where your contributions are automatically deducted from your paycheck and directly deposited into the retirement plan. The beauty of automatic deductions is, since you never see the money, it’s nearly impossible for you to spend it. The only problem with this out-of-sight, out-of-mind enrollment process is most people set up a standard contribution rate when they enroll in their plan and never think to increase it. Lots of employers now offer an auto increase plan where your contribution percentage will increase by 1% per year. If your employer offers an auto increase plan be sure to enroll, if not then be sure to increase your contribution percentage manually each year. Consider investing in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) if your employer does not offer a retirement plan.

 5. Create an Estate Plan

Approximately 55 percent of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place. The primary reason for this staggering statistic is twofold; one being that no one wants to think about their own demise. The other; more alarming reason, is because many Americans are ill-informed on benefits of an estate plan. The most common excuses I hear are; “I don’t have children so I don’t need an estate plan” and “estate plans are only for wealthy families.” Both of these statements couldn’t be further from the truth. Most people don’t know that one of the primary purposes of an estate plan is to give guidance while you are still living. Questions such as, whom do you want to make medical decisions on your behalf or what are your wishes concerning life-prolonging procedures are typically addressed in a comprehensive estate plan. Regardless of your wealth or family situation an estate plan is beneficial for everyone involved.