An Unexpected Windfall

At the start of every new year people make resolutions to lose weight, alter bad habits, or save more money.  While I cannot help you with some of those issues, I can offer a little advice on saving money.

For 2011, the IRS has reduced the employee-paid portion of the Social Security tax from 6.2 to 4.2 percent.  While that may not seem like a large amount of money on a per-paycheck basis, it can add up to a nice sum for the year.  If you earn the maximum Social Security wage limit of $106,800, 2 percent represents $2,136.

Before you grow accustomed to having a few extra dollars in your paycheck, I recommend you implement a plan now.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Deposit the funds into your emergency savings account.  Everyone needs an emergency savings account.  Opinions vary about the amount.  Some suggest 3 months’ worth of routine expenses.  Other say 6 to 9 months are needed.  
  • If your emergency savings account is well funded, apply the dollars to debt.  You could apply the extra money toward the smallest debt, if you want to experience the rush of the early payoff.  However, you will be financially better off if you to apply it to the account with the highest interest rate.  Reducing debt levels is always a great idea.
  • Fund a Roth IRA if you qualify.  If not, apply the savings to another retirement vehicle, such as your company’s 401(k) or a traditional IRA account.

I recommend that you use automatic bank drafts for any of the above options.  It is a simple way to transfer the funds from your account before you can spend them.  Parsec can assist you with setting up an automatic transfer into your brokerage accounts.

I hope you have a safe, healthy new year and wish you the best of luck in accomplishing your goals!

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

Share this:

There are No Loans for Retirement

In preparing for a child’s college education, parent’s can plan for the future expense in one of three ways: hope for scholarships, pay for part of it, or pay for all of it.

As I watched my 4 year old daughter play her favorite game over the snowy holiday, I began to consider what her future holds.  I can’t help but chuckle at some of the sayings she comes up with. Some of her other favorite games include tea party and art, though I must admit, it gets a little old when she plays “teacher” and is in charge of the crayons.  After all, one can only find so many uses for a single color. 

While I can’t be sure what she’ll choose as a career, a dentist, teacher, pre-school director, or stay-at-home-mom, my wife and I have started saving for her future through the North Carolina 529 college savings program and that is what brings me to this writing.  College is hopefully in her future, but if not we have the option of changing who the beneficiary is on the account.  We are comforted in the knowledge that if she chooses not to further her education, the funds can be used to pay for another member of the family (including a cousin).  Also, saving with the benefit of a tax deduction is a nice feature.  When considering what savings program to choose, an investor basically has three philosophical options:

  • Do nothing and hope for scholarships
  • Save for part of the expense
  • Save for, or pay for, all of the expense

 We chose to save for part of the expense.  We got a bit of a late start on having a family so our daughter will be entering college right about the same time that we are going to be slowing down for retirement.  We are faced with an interesting dilemma: We can sacrifice our future savings goals so that she can graduate college with little to no debt, or we can allow her to grow and accept responsibility for her own education through loans and work study programs.  Our philosophy for her education is best described as follows: we will save what we think we can afford and if we are in a position to help by paying down or paying off student loans when she graduates, then we will.  But one thing is for sure: there are no loans for retirement.

Neal Nolan, CFP(R)

Financial Advisor

Share this:

2010 Roth IRA and Regular IRA Contributions

The deadline to contribute to your Roth or Traditional IRA for the tax year 2010 is April 15, 2011. You can contribute $5,000 or the amount of earned income for the year, whichever is less. If you’re over 50, you can contribute an additional $1,000.

Your income determines if you qualify for a tax-deductible Traditional IRA contribution, or if you qualify to make a Roth IRA contribution.

Do you qualify to deduct your Traditional IRA contribution?
 If your income is less than the beginning of the phase-out range, you qualify.  If your income is over the phase-out range, you do not.  If your income falls inside the range, you partially qualify.
  Modified Adjusted Gross Income                                          Phase-Out Range
Single, participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan      $56,000 – $66,000
Married, participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan      $89,000 – $109,000
Married, your spouse participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but you do not.  $167,000 – $177,000
 
Do you qualify to contribute to a Roth IRA?
Single $105,000 – $120,000
Married, filing jointly     $167,000 – $177,000

 

Harli L. Palme, CFP®

Financial Advisor

Share this:

Gold-Plated Paper Clips for All!!!

I recently saw one of the “Oprah” episodes where she gave away mountains of stuff.  I am always shocked at the reaction.  She could say she is giving away a gold-plated paper clip, and people in the audience would lose it.  I mean, people were screaming, crying, hugging each other, jumping up and down.  Really?  The only thing that would garner that type of reaction from me would be if she brought out George Clooney, in an electric blue Bugatti Veyron.  He hands me the keys and says, “Let’s go for a ride.”  Oh, yeah. 

As I continued to watch the show, I realized that I have been working at Parsec way, way too long.  She brought out expensive gift after expensive gift.  Two thoughts popped into my head: “Geez, the taxes on this stuff will be terrible” and “I wonder if you could say no to some of this junk and yes to the other stuff, to reduce the tax liability.”  I doubt anyone in the audience thought the same thing.  They were too excited about rhinestone-studded mop handles.

Just out of curiosity, I asked one of our advisors about the tax consequences.  Unfortunately, the answer is more complicated than I anticipated.  It all depends upon each person’s individual situation and state of residence.  How you receive the gift also comes into play.  Oprah’s gold-plated paper clip might be considered contest winnings, so you might have to pay tax.  However, if Uncle Joe gives you a wad of cash, he might incur a tax liability, again, based upon certain factors.  So, if Clooney does appear in my driveway on Christmas Day in that lovely sports car, I should consult with a tax professional.  (I wonder what the tax appraisal for Clooney himself will be?)

Should Santa be extra generous to you this year, keep the gift tax in the back of your mind.  Do not get all excited about the gift and forget that the tax man always cometh for someone, either Santa or you!

I hope you and your family survives the madness of the holidays and has a healthy, happy new year. 

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

Share this:

Charitable Giving Tips

I recently read a study by The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.  “The 2008 Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy,” sponsored by Bank of America, found that over 90 percent of households surveyed planned to make donations using cash and checks in the near future.  A little over 30 percent planned to donate securities.  

As you probably know, donating appreciated securities has tax advantages.  Sure, it is not as easy as writing a check.  With proper planning and some paperwork, you can lower your tax burden while providing the donation amount you already planned to give.  

It is important to consider the option this year if you had a major tax event.  Perhaps you converted from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.  Maybe you have a capital gain from a stock sale.  Donating appreciated securities could minimize the resulting tax burden.      

Such donations can also become part of long-term estate planning.  Do you want to provide a legacy for the charity or charities of your choice?  Do you want to donate a fixed sum every year?  Would you like for your children to be involved in charitable giving decisions? 

Your investment advisor can assist you with both your short-term and long-term charitable giving strategies.  If you are interested in donating securities this tax year, I urge you to contact your advisor soon.  It is best to submit securities donations as early as possible to ensure processing before December 31. 

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

Share this:

Too Much Information?

Too much information running through my brain
Too much information driving me insane
–The Police

The more you trade, the worse you do. This has been demonstrated in repeated academic studies over various time frames. Why does it work this way? Because the human brain is wired to do exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time in the stock market.

As our clients know, a core part of our investment philosophy is keeping a long-term perspective. When we purchase a stock, we intend to hold it. While it is difficult to calculate exactly, our average holding period is probably in the 4-6 year range.

Earlier this year, I chuckled when I saw there is now an iPhone application for mobile trading. As I have told some of my friends, do you really need to be able to place trades from your child’s soccer game? And shouldn’t you be watching the game anyway? Is this the type of logical, well-thought out investment decision that will enable you to select and hold a diversified portfolio of assets to help accomplish your financial goals? No! It caters to short-term thinking, which is often destructive.

So imagine my horror when I saw a commercial last week on CNBC for automated trading. Now you don’t even need to initiate the trade from the soccer field. You can select some strategy from a menu, set up your trades, and then go off to work. When you come home, your email inbox will have your trade confirmations and you can see how you did. While you’re at it, why not add some leverage by way of margin to help get wiped out sooner?

As I see it, the underlying problem is the constant media barrage of information telling us that we need to do something. You can watch financial news 24/7 these days, and every channel is urging some sort of action. But these experts are not talking about things like risk tolerance, what mix of assets is appropriate for a particular situation, how much you need to save in order to retire, and how much you can spend from your portfolio in retirement. Your financial plan is at least as important as your specific investment strategy, and perhaps more so.

There are many strategies out there, some good and some bad. But being able to liquidate your portfolio poolside, or trying to trade your way to riches without knowing anything about the companies you are buying sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

Bill Hansen, CFA
August 13, 2010

Share this:

George, I Can Lie About My Age!!

This year, I celebrate a milestone birthday. Let’s just say I am now officially too old to be George Clooney’s girlfriend.

As often happens with milestone birthdays, you reflect about how you imagined your life would be at this stage. Perhaps you had envisioned retiring at an early age. Maybe you wanted to start your own business. Or save tons of money, quit your job, and travel around the world for a couple of years. (Hey, you can dream.)

Then, life happened. You devoted yourself to a career. You bought a home. You got married and started a family. The years go by. You wake up one day and realize you’re that age.

When you first began your journey with Parsec, your goals were just rough ideas of where you thought you wanted to be in 10, 15, 20 years. Now that time has passed, are those goals still the same? Have you been affected by any of these events:

• Started a family
• Sent a child to college
• Lost your job
• Dealt with aging parents

We would also be remiss if we overlooked the extraordinary market volatility of the last two years.  All of the above events can significantly alter your financial plan.

Do you still have the same goals now that you did before these events occurred? Has your “deadline” for achieving those goals shifted? It is very easy in the day-to-day rush to not think about these things. However, it is important to evaluate your financial situation and goals periodically so you can stay on track.

Your financial advisor is here to help you. Together, he or she can review your financial plan and work to keep it in line with your changing life. Just call him or her anytime.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

Share this:

How to Save Millions in Two Seconds!

I love headlines like that. Tightening our belts is the topic du jour during this economic disaster. While the leading indicators show an improvement, I am sure you know people who are still unemployed, have lost their homes, or are in serious financial straits. We are hardly out of the woods yet. So, I have compiled a list of my favorite tips for saving money:

Protect your credit score. Why?

o You qualify for better interest rates when your credit score is good, which saves you money in the long run.
o Your credit score impacts your property insurance rates.
o A prospective employer may want to check your credit. A bad score could hurt your chances, depending upon the employer.

Everyone knows you should get the free, annual credit report offered through AnnualCreditReport.com. Identity theft is not the only danger, though. Excessive debt and late payments or defaults can damage your score. All your sacrifices and stringent budgeting can be undone by a lousy credit score.

Be thoughtful about all purchases, not just the big ones. I am not talking about your daily Starbucks habit, although that can add up too. A lot of purchases are driven by a perceived need, rather than an actual need.

Don’t fall victim to the “it’s on sale” syndrome. You are not saving money if you really had no intention of buying the item in the first place.

The Internet is a fabulous tool. You can comparison shop without having to leave the comfort of your home.

Tip if you are considering an appliance purchase: Go to energystar.gov. Look for the Energy Star Appliance Rebate Program button. The “cash for clunkers” program is being offered for certain appliances this year. Each state has a different budget and rollout date. Our dishwasher died here at Parsec about three weeks ago. We waited for this program to start in North Carolina and saved over $100.

Ask about discounts. Some people will give you a discount, but you have to ask. My vet will match heartworm medicine prices offered by a national catalog retailer. I saved about $50.

Yes, it takes extra work to stretch your dollar these days. Hopefully, these tips can assist you in that task.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

Share this:

The Special Tax

April 15th is in the past. The hand wringing and sweating, while glaring glassy-eyed at Turbo Tax is over and you can all breathe a sigh of relief, unless of course you filed an extension!

There are some interesting changes to the tax code that were passed in the healthcare bill. These changes won’t take effect until 2013, so voters won’t feel the hit until after the 2012 elections. In 2013, upper incomers will pay more in Medicare taxes. First there will be 0.9% surtax on single filers that earn over $200,000. If you are happily married filing jointly, the threshold is $250,000. The EMPLOYEE will pay the whole tax.

The second issue to address for 2013 is that there will be a Special Medicare Tax of 3.8%. Singles with adjusted gross income over $200,000 and married filers with $250,000 of adjusted gross income will be affected. The adjusted gross income includes earned income, income from interest, dividends, capital gains, annuity payments, royalties and passive rental income. Still excluded from the special 3.8% tax is municipal bond interest and retirement plan payouts. There will be a few more changes to the tax code that will begin in 2013; however, we feel the Special Medicare Tax has the greatest ability to affect our clients.

The programmers at Turbo Tax will be quite busy for the next several years. Who knows — maybe they are hiring!

Gregory D. James, CFP®

Partner

ParsecFinancial

227 W. Trade Street

Suite 1840

Charlotte, NC 28202

(704) 334-0894 phone

(704) 334-9323 fax

www.parsecfinancial.com

Share this:

To Convert or Not to Convert?

I hate paying taxes. I know, I know. The government needs money to provide services and secure the national defense. I just hate paying taxes. You probably share my sentiments.

You will be surprised to know I am actually considering an option that would require me to pay more taxes over the next two years. For 2010, the IRS has changed the rules for conversions of traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs.

In the past, if you converted, you must pay taxes on the value of the distribution when you prepared your tax return the following year. However, for conversions processed in 2010, you can spread the tax liability over two years.

So, why would anyone want to do this? Distributions from traditional IRA accounts are taken at ordinary income tax rates. If you think you will be in a higher tax bracket in retirement, it might make sense to pay taxes now.

Presumably, you would pay less tax now than at retirement, when your IRA account has (hopefully) appreciated in value, and tax rates may be higher. Keep in mind that Roth distributions are tax free if you have had the Roth for at least five years and are over 59 ½.

There are other reasons to consider a conversion:

• Individuals who were previously ineligible to convert to a Roth because of income limits can now take advantage of the conversion option.
• You are not required to take minimum distributions from a Roth account.
• Distributions will be made income tax free to your heirs over their lifetimes.

Still, it may not be the right decision. If you think your tax bracket will be lower in retirement, then why pay more taxes now? If you have a short time horizon to retirement, it might not be worth the tax liability. Do you have cash available to pay the taxes? Using funds from the IRA you are converting or selling taxable assets to raise funds might be defeating the purpose.

Confused?  Your financial advisor would be glad to review your situation and determine if a Roth conversion is the right step for you.  Please give him or her a call.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

Share this: