Important Changes to your Social Security Benefit

In October, President Obama and the US Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.  Included in that act was a clause that eliminated two popular Social Security claiming strategies: File-and-Suspend and Restricted Application.

File-and-Suspend:  A strategy where a person, who is at least full retirement age, files for social security benefits, but then immediately requests to suspend those benefits. This allows his/her spouse to take a spousal benefit on the filer’s record, while the filer’s benefits are delayed and continue to grow.

Restricted Application:  A strategy where a person, who is at least full retirement age, files for spousal social security benefits and delays his/her own benefit so it continues to grow. This allows the filer to receive some benefit now (the spousal benefit), and a larger benefit later.

Delaying your benefit pays off big. When you delay your benefit you earn delayed retirement credits, which equate to an annual 8% increase in benefits.

Those born before April 30, 1950 were grandfathered in to the old rules and may continue to use File and Suspend and Restricted Application strategies while delaying their credits. Please note, if you were born before April 30, 1950 and you wish to implement the File and Suspend Strategy, you must submit your application before April 29, 2016.

Those born after April 30, 1950 or on or before January 1, 1954 (age 62 in 2015) may only use the Restricted Application strategy.   If your spouse is receiving benefits and you have reached full retirement age, you may apply for a spousal benefit, while allowing your own benefit to accrue Delayed Retirement Credits.

For those born after January 1, 1954, neither strategy is available.  However, you may still choose to delay taking your benefits until age 70.  By doing so, you stand to increase your future benefits by 32%.

Please note that if you are already drawing Social Security, or if you have already set up File and Suspend, the new laws do not affect you.

Summary of Available Strategies

Age Can Participate Cannot Participate
66  by 04/30/2016 File & Suspend /Restricted Application
62 by January 1, 2016 Restricted Application File & Suspend
62 by January 2, 2016 File & Suspend /Restricted Application

There are many factors to consider when determining when to start taking Social Security.  We recommend that you meet with your financial advisor for guidance to help you with that decision.  And if you were born before April 30, 1950, please remember the April 29, 2016 deadline.

Tracy Allen, CFP®
Financial Advisor
Tracy Allen
Tracy Allen
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Giving Away Your Cake (and eating it too), AKA Charitable Remainder Trusts

ImageOne of the first recorded instances of the age old phrase “a man can not have his cake and eat it too” was written from Thomas, Duke of Norfolk to Thomas Cromwell, speaking about how the construction of Kenninghall had cut deeply into his finances. Today, we use this phrase when considering saving something of value, or giving it up for consumption. When thinking about our own personal assets, we have many choices. We have the opportunity to hold on to them (having our cake), swap them out (trading for a different cake), or selling them and buying a consumable asset (eating the cake).

With responsible planning for the future, the size of your portfolio should grow through the years. At the point of retirement for someone, a combination of pension, social security, and portfolio income may be able to provide for all of their expenses. This is a fantastic place to be in as a retiree. A dependable cash flow can empower gifting to the extent that the cash flow remains intact.

A few months ago, I wrote about Charitable Remainder Trusts here. For a retiree that has an excess income stream from investments, a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) can provide a certain and continued stream of income from donated property.  As the name suggests, a charity will inherit the property held in the trust when the beneficiaries pass away, just as it would if you left the property to a charity in your will. However, the additional benefit of a CRT is the income tax deduction received for giving the property occurs immediately. As a beneficiary you retain an income interest.

Give thought to the idea of giving some of your cake away now. There are many great non-profits and charities that will thank you. Now, I know all this talk of cake has really gotten that sweet tooth going, so feel free to eat some cake now too!

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Gen Y, Say Yes to Stocks!

It started with anecdotal evidence: a conversation with a co-worker about a group of professionals he spoke to about their 401k. The wiser (by which I mean older) folks were asking about the outlook for the economy and how they could maximize their 401k contributions. But the young man in the group, who was in his early 30s, expressed complete contempt for the stock market.  All of his money, he said, was in cash. Then a client of mine who is nearing retirement called me just to tell me about a dinner he went to where the topic of investing came up.  He was shocked at how vehement the young people at the table were about not investing in stocks due to their risk.

Since then I’ve read about a growing body of evidence coming from surveys and other research that suggests that the younger generations are too conservative in their investments. Gen Y is saving but not investing aggressively enough. The problem is that they distrust financial institutions (we don’t count) and believe another financial meltdown is all but imminent.

Gen Y, we don’t blame you. You were in your teens on Sept. 11, 2001, which had to have rocked whatever concept of stability you had. By the time you were old enough to know what the stock market was, the technology-driven crash of 2001-2002 was causing strife in budding 401k plans. And just when you were starting to dream about home ownership the housing market was spiraling out of control in 2008-2010. Many of you watched your parents go through extreme financial duress during this time period, something you were well old enough to understand.

It’s no wonder that Generation Y is too conservative. Your generation doesn’t have the benefit of personally experiencing the roaring 80s and 90s to boost your confidence about the markets. You don’t know who Crockett and Tubbs are. Looking at historical stock returns on paper just isn’t the same as living through it. And it’s hard to understand why men ever wore over-sized shoulder pads, but they did. Even the last five (amazing) years of positive stock markets seems like mere payback for the horror of 2008-2009. Despite this, we have to remember that stocks have historically provided the highest long-term return. No matter what your steadfast beliefs are about the future of the economy, it probably carries no more predictive capacity than the next differing opinion. That’s why we look to history as a guide, rather than trying to guess the future.

When you look at stock volatility over long time frames, it isn’t nearly as risky as the day-to-day movement would have you believe. In the last 87 years large company stocks’ annual returns ranged from -43% in the worst year to +54% in the best. That’s quite a spread! But those same stocks in any given 20 year period (starting on any given day in any year) averaged returns in a range of +3% in the worst 20-year period to nearly +18% in the best 20-year period. That includes the Great Depression and the market crashes of this century. That’s a lot easier to swallow. You have a long time before liquidating your accounts for retirement – probably more than 30 years, so you should be taking a longer term view.

And let’s not forget about inflation. That cash that’s in your 401k is doing less than nothing for you. Long run inflation is around 3%. If you are getting a 0% return on your cash, that is actually -3% in real dollars, guaranteed.

Saving money isn’t good enough. Millennials need to invest with a little more oomph. Yes, diligently putting away $500 a month for 30 years is hard work and no one wants to see their money shrink. But consider this: if you get a modest 4% average return on those savings, you will have $347,000 in retirement; if you double that return to 8% an amazing thing happens: $745,000. Taking risk means a lot of ups and downs along the way, but potentially twice the money in the end. If you can go cliff-jumping with your friends, you can buy stocks, right? (No? Was that just my friends?)

There is no reward without risk, to be sure. Any investment plan should be done with the full comprehension of the volatility, range of outcomes and potential for return. There certainly is risk in losing money in the stock market over short and intermediate time periods. However, those losses only become permanent if you sell out during periods of decline. It seems all but certain that an all-cash/fixed income portfolio is doomed to growth too slow to possibly reach any long-term financial goals.

 

Harli L. Palme, CFA, CFP®

A Gen-exer who believes all of the above applies to her generation too, except the part about over-sized shoulder pads.

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How much is that Doggie in the Window?

According to a recent announcement from the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $55.7 billion last year on their pets. That’s billion, not million. An article at Time.com (http://time.com/#23451/pets-dogs-cats-spending-americans/) cleverly noted that the figure is $10 billion more than Germany spends on its defense budget.

I admit I am one of these people. My little rescue dog hit the lottery when she came to live with me. She has seven dog beds, if you include her car seat (yes, car seat). She owns more jackets than I do, although they are all for function, not fashion. She has multiple, color-coordinated harnesses, collars, and leashes so that she need never feel ashamed about how she looks. When we go on vacation, she has as much luggage as I do. Yes, she is spoiled rotten.

I am not alone. Bill Geist of the “CBS Sunday Morning” program tells a hilarious story about his “free” rescue dog: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/even-cat-people-fall-in-puppy-love/.  Sometimes, the unexpected costs can really add up.

In our industry, I see a number of fees that some people pay for investments: high commission rates for certain products, either on the front or back end of the transaction; frequent, unnecessary trade costs from a practice called “churning;” and expensive investment counsel fees. Before long, that simple purchase of 100 shares of ABC Widget Works has cost a fortune in added fees.

When you are evaluating an investment advisor, consider how the person earns his or her money. Does he receive a commission for his or her investment recommendations? Is he or she directly affiliated with a broker? Does he or she charge an additional investment counsel fee? While he or she may promise a great gross return on investment, the net return after all of those fees may be no better than what you would find with a simple savings account.

At Parsec, we do not receive commissions for any of the investment products we recommend – no commission from the trade, no commission for recommending a certain security, nothing. In addition, when we recommend mutual funds, we look for funds that do not carry significant internal fees.

We are not beholden to a particular broker. We have four brokers who we like to recommend, based upon client needs.

We do charge an investment counsel fee that we think is reasonable to industry standards. When you sign a service agreement, you see upfront what your fee schedule will be. On a quarterly basis, you receive a reports package that includes information about net-of-fee investment performance, current holdings, et cetera. We are also here to help with planning – everything from college savings to retirement to estate. We like to think service goes beyond placing a trade. Our clients pay us to act as a partner in planning their future.

Everything in life – from owning a home to adopting a rescue dog – has the potential for unexpected costs. How you invest your money, though, should be a little more straightforward. With a little research in advance, you can evaluate whether or not fees charged for service are reasonable and affordable.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to order organic food for my doggie. And maybe I will pick up a bottle of shampoo. She told me she is tired of smelling like a bowl of oatmeal.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

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Taxable Income Reduction Strategies

As a trusted financial advisors for our clients, our priority is to stay apprised on current tax laws, as well as provide planning opportunities to reduce future tax liabilities. For many of our clients, their Traditional IRAs are also their largest tax liability. When an IRA is responsibly managed, the hope is that the account will continue growing until the owner’s late 70s. At that point in time, the mandatory withdrawals from the account may offset any capital appreciation and earnings on the account. When taking into account these growth expectations, as well as the client’s necessary cash flow, many clients find that the RMDs in their 80s will far exceed their necessary cash flow. These factors contribute to an increasing likelihood of the client having a higher tax rate later in life. Higher Modified Adjusted Gross Income(MAGI) is one concern that has a trickle down effect. When MAGI gets high enough, it can result in an income based adjustment for Medicare Part B and D. It should be clear by now that a healthy retirement can actually increase tax concerns.

So, by now you may be saying, “Thanks for the depressing news Daniel, I don’t think I want to read any further. ” I encourage you to keep reading.
 
Controlling Income

The first step in keeping MAGI low is controlling income. For retired individuals, there are two main sources of cash flow. The first being social security and pensions. These are fixed amounts that cannot be changed. The second source is income from personal assets. This includes brokerage accounts, Traditional IRAs, and Roth IRAs. A brokerage account is not a tax-deferred account. Therefore any income produced by the account will contribute to MAGI. It is possible to manipulate a brokerage account’s holdings to reduce taxable income. The second source of cash flow is withdrawals made from Traditional IRAs to supplement income or fulfill an RMD. These withdrawals are fully taxable to the individual. In addition to Traditional IRA withdrawals, Roth IRA withdrawals can be made, however, these withdrawals are not taxable to the individual if made after 59 ½. The IRS gives us tax tables, from these, we are able to determine the maximum amount of taxable income we want to produce for clients. As I said before, it may become impossible to keep income below this desired threshold when RMDs get larger and larger. If this is the case, we move on to advanced planning techniques.

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Roth Conversions and Charitable Remainder Trusts 
One of our favorite techniques to reduce the impact of RMDs is to combine the benefits of a Roth IRA with a charitable gift. The establishment of a Charitable Remainder Trust may allow someone with charitable intentions for their estate to realize the benefit now. The Charitable Remainder Trust can provide a lifetime income stream for the donor, as well as provide a large charitable deduction. In this tandem planning technique, the charitable deduction can offset the income incurred from a Traditional to Roth conversion. The reduction in the size of the Traditional IRA will also truncate the amount of the RMD going forward.
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This particular technique is just an example of some of the advanced planning options we evaluate with our clients. Every situation is different with special circumstances to consider. If you have any questions about these strategies, contact one of our advisors.
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Leaking Hot Water Heaters

Our Asheville office was built in 1892.  I cannot speak for any upgrades made between 1892 and the mid-1980s, but I would like to think there were a few.  When Parsec moved into this building around 1986, almost the entire building had been remodeled.  It was brought up to what was then considered modern standards.

Over the years, we have experienced lots of challenges with our building.  For example, it is always fun to run network cable.  If you have ever renovated an old house, you can appreciate the architecture – and frustration – of buildings that were never designed for the age of technology.

Our latest adventure involves remodeling the top and main floor restrooms.  It was supposed to be a simple job of replacing fixtures, painting, et cetera.  Unfortunately, we discovered that the hot water heaters (inexplicably located in the ceiling) were leaking and needed replacement.  The contractor then uncovered significant water damage in one of the bathrooms, resulting in an almost complete gut of that room.

The project is now over budget due to these unexpected expenses.  As with everything else in life, the best laid plans are often derailed by things you cannot foresee.  The same principle applies to your financial life.

While we can design a careful plan for any financial goal, things happen.  You could encounter a bear market.  Or the stork can bring an unexpected baby late in life.  Or your college graduate child could move home to live with you, thwarting your plans to downsize your home.

The key to success is to be adaptable.  Realize that you will most likely need to periodically adjust your financial plan.  It will not be static.

We are here to help.  We greatly appreciate it when you tell us of life’s unexpected events.  We are a team, working together to help you meet as many of your financial goals as you can.  We encourage you to call us so we can stay on track.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

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The Bucket List

Several years ago, I read a self-help book that promised to help me manage money better.  I do not remember much about the book, not even the title.  I do remember one exercise that was very useful.

I was supposed to create what is now commonly known as a “bucket list.”  I should list all of the things I wanted to do during my lifetime.  It did not matter how long the list was.  When finished with the list, I should then review it and think about how a change in money management practices could help me achieve those goals.  That would help me to set a budget, make more responsible spending decisions, et cetera.  After all, you need money to pay for most of the things you want to do in life.

I found the exercise to be very enlightening.  To my surprise, I saw that most of the items related to travel.  I realized that I needed to do a better job at maintaining an emergency fund and set a formal budget for travel.  I had been tapping the emergency fund whenever I wanted to visit some place new, which is a bad idea.  I setup a direct debit from my checking to my savings account so that savings could be automatic.  This act created a formal budget for both emergency savings and travel.

Today’s list is very different.  My revised list includes completing several projects around the house, paying off my mortgage a few years early, donating more money to my favorite charity, buying a nice road bike, and squirreling away more money for unexpected expenses and retirement.  Sure, there are a few personal goals that are not tied to money; I am not completely shallow.  In balance, the list is much more practical than years ago, when I wanted to see the world.

I still do not want to wake up one day at age 80 and realize all I ever did was work, work, work.  The list can help me stay focused on important things and achieve some of my goals.  Hopefully, I can strike the right balance between the practical (saving for retirement) and the fun (buying that road bike).  I encourage you to take some time to create your own list.

Then, please share your list with your financial advisor.  Goals change over time, so he or she should be aware of what you want from life.  Together, you can develop a financial plan to direct your savings in a manner that will bring you closer to achieving your goals.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

 

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Scared Money Don’t Make Money

Recently, I heard the above phrase in a rap song by Pitbull.  I was surprised to hear mention of investment risk/reward in a popular song.  He did not go on to discuss European economic instability or currency valuation.  That would have been truly shocking.

The statement provokes thought, though.  People who are willing to take the most risk have the potential for greater reward – and greater loss.  It is easy to have an asset allocation of 100 percent equities in an up market.  Can you keep that allocation when the market is significantly down?  Will you still sleep at night?

On the other hand, holding money in a money market fund earning near-zero interest is also a risky proposition.  You must find some vehicle in which to invest because you cannot afford to earn nothing for your money.  Inflation continues to rise, even when interest rates are not.  The dollar you stash in a mattress will not be worth the same 10 years from now as it is today.

Finding the right allocation is very tricky.  It requires a great deal of evaluation on your part.  What is your current age?  Do you have enough time to recover from a short-term loss?  What are your investment goals for the next 5, 10, 15 years?  When do you want to retire? 

This is just a sample of some of the questions you should ask yourself.  A thoughtful review of your situation with your investment advisor will help the two of you to determine the best asset allocation.  Being brutally honest with yourself and communicating your goals, thoughts, and concerns with your investment advisor will allow you to work as a team.  The two of you will be able to find the right allocation that can help you sleep a little better at night.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

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