Economic Updates & Financial Articles

Economic Updates & Financial Articles

Economic Updates:

Retirement in Sight Newsletter:

Financial Articles:

 


Weekly Economic Update for 12/9/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Key Wall Street benchmarks were up and down last week – or rather down and then up. A Tuesday retreat was offset by a Friday rally spurred by the Department of Labor’s November jobs report.  

While the S&P 500 managed to rise 0.16% for the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.13%, and the Nasdaq Composite ceded 0.10%. MSCI’s EAFE benchmark for international stocks retreated 0.25%.1,2

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New I.R.S. Contribution Limits

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The I.R.S. just increased the annual contribution limits on IRAs, 401(k)s, and other widely used retirement plan accounts for 2020. Here’s a quick look at the changes.

*Next year, you can put up to $6,000 in any type of IRA. The limit is $7,000 if you will be 50 or older at any time in 2020.1,2

*Annual contribution limits for 401(k)s, 403(b)s, the federal Thrift Savings Plan, and most 457 plans also get a $500 boost for 2020. The new annual limit on contributions is $19,500. If you are 50 or older at any time in 2020, your yearly contribution limit for one of these accounts is $26,000.1,2

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Retirement In Sight for December, 2019

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READY FOR MORE TIME TOGETHER?

A career-focused couple may spend as little as 5 to 6 hours interacting with each other on most days, given hours spent working, commuting, shopping, and running errands apart. Once retired, that same couple may spend as many as 15 to 16 hours together each day, with work and commuting out of the way. When you hear stories of retired spouses or partners getting on each other’s nerves, this difference may have something to do with it.

For many retiring couples, this extra time together is a gift. It offers spouses and partners a chance to savor, renew, or rekindle what is most wonderful about their relationship. Others are surprised by this abundance of time, not really knowing how to spend it and feeling like their days have a kind of inertia. Those who experience that feeling may find a remedy in part-time work, volunteering, and even starting a business. All retiring couples should be aware of this factor and think about how much togetherness or independence they may need. Many pre-retirees aspire to have financial freedom one day; many will have time freedom once they wind down their careers. In arranging their retirement transitions, it will be wise to think about how to spend and enjoy that ample time.1

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Monthly Economic Update for December, 2019

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THE MONTH IN BRIEF

The S&P 500 rose 3.4% in November and attained a series of record closes in the process. Earnings results helped stocks, as did intermittent signals that the first stage of a U.S.-China trade agreement might be near at hand. Job creation improved, and consumer spending lived up to market expectations; consumer confidence and business activity, not so much. Housing indicators communicated good news, and the rally in stocks made the commodity sector look less attractive.

DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH

Were the U.S. and China close to signing off on the first phase of a new trade deal? According to officials from both countries, the answer was yes. When would this phase-one deal be finalized? No definite answer emerged. On November 8, President Donald Trump said that such an agreement was near, and six days later, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said that negotiators were “getting close” to an accord. On November 26, China’s commerce ministry announced that trade representatives had “reached a consensus” on remaining issues, and President Trump said that negotiators were in the “final throes of a very important deal.” Still, November ended without any announcement that a phase-one pact had been reached.2,3

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Weekly Economic Update for 12/2/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

As November wrapped up, U.S. equity benchmarks advanced. Stocks were again aided by a sense of optimism that a preliminary U.S.-China trade deal could be near.

For the week, the Nasdaq Composite added 1.87%; the S&P 500, 1.21%; the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 1.03%. The MSCI EAFE index, which measures the performance of developed stock markets outside North America, gained 0.89%.1,2

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Establishing Good Credit in College

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Good credit may open doors. It is vital to securing a loan, a business loan, or buying a home. When you establish and maintain good credit in college, you create a financial profile for yourself that can influence lenders, landlords, and potential employers.

Unfortunately, some college students do not have good credit. In fact, Credit Karma says that the average 18-to-24-year-old has a credit score of 630. A FICO score of 730 or higher is considered good.1

What are the steps toward a good credit score? To start, you need to utilize credit. About 15% of your credit score is built on the length of your credit history, so the sooner you purchase goods and services with a credit card and pay off that debt, the sooner you create a record of credit use.1 

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Weekly Economic Update for 11/25/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stocks declined last week as mixed signals emerged about the progress of U.S.-China trade negotiations.

The three major Wall Street benchmarks all took weekly losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.46%; the S&P 500, 0.33%; the Nasdaq Composite, 0.25%. Also pulling back, the MSCI EAFE index, tracking developed stock markets outside the U.S. and Canada, retreated 0.69%.1,2

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Creating a Retirement Strategy

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Across the country, people are saving for that “someday” called retirement. Someday, their careers will end. Someday, they may live off their savings or investments, plus Social Security.  They know this, but many of them do not know when, or how, it will happen. What is missing is a strategy – and a good strategy might make a great difference.

A retirement strategy directly addresses the “when, why, and how” of retiring. It can even address the “where.” It breaks the whole process of getting ready for retirement into actionable steps.

This is so important. Too many people retire with doubts, unsure if they have enough retirement money and uncertain of what their tomorrows will look like. Year after year, many workers also retire earlier than they had planned, and according to a 2019 study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, about 43% do. In contrast, you can save, invest, and act on your vision of retirement now to chart a path toward your goals and the future you want to create for yourself.1

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Debunking Common Retirement Assumptions

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Financial generalizations are as old as time. Some have been around for decades, while others have only recently joined their ranks. Let’s examine a few.

Retirement means I can stop investing. In the past, retirement was viewed as an “end” in many ways. These days though, retirement is often seen as an opportunity to return to one’s passions or just another of life’s many chapters. That doesn't mean you should stop investing, however. 

My taxes will be lower. That depends on your situation. Some may earn less in retirement, which could lower their tax bracket which may reduce overall taxes. On the other hand, some retirees may end up losing the tax breaks they enjoyed while working. For more insight into your tax situation in retirement, speak with a tax or financial professional. They can help you manage withdrawals from your qualified retirement accounts.1

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Your Extended Care Strategy

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Do you have an extra $33,000 to $100,000 to spare this year? How about next year, and the year after that? Your answer to these questions is probably “no.”

What could possibly cost so much? Eldercare.  

According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, a year of in-home care for a senior costs roughly $33,000. A year at an assisted living facility? About $45,000. A year in a nursing home? Approximately $100,000.1

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Can You Put Your IRA into a Trust?

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Can your IRA be put directly into a trust? In short, no. Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) cannot be put directly into a trust. What you can do, however, is name a trust as the beneficiary of your IRA. The trust would inherit the IRA upon your passing, and your beneficiaries would then have access to the funds, according to the terms of the trust.1

Can you control what happens to your IRA assets after your death? Yes. Whoever was named the beneficiary will inherit the IRA. But you also can name a trust as the IRA beneficiary. In other words, your chosen heir is a trust. When you have a trust in place, you control not only to whom your assets will be disbursed, but also how those assets will be paid out.2

Using a trust involves a complex set of tax rules and regulations. Before moving forward with a trust, consider working with a professional who is familiar with the rules and regulations.

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Weekly Economic Update for 11/18/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stock benchmarks were little changed for much of last week, but a rally occurred Friday after news broke that the U.S. and China could be closing in on the first phase of a new trade pact.

At Friday’s close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed the 28,000 level. The Dow rose 1.17% for the week, outgaining the S&P 500 (which advanced 0.89%) and the Nasdaq Composite (which added 0.77%). The MSCI EAFE index, representing developed overseas stock markets, fell 0.77%.1,2

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Coping with College Loans

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Total student loan debt in America is now around $1.6 trillion. Since 2008, it has more than doubled. Federal Reserve data states that 44.7 million Americans are dealing with lingering education loans. The average indebted college graduate leaves campus owing nearly $30,000, and the mean monthly student loan payment is about $400.1

Economically, the country is feeling the impact. The National Association of Realtors says that 25% of recent homebuyers have outstanding student loans, including 41% of first-time buyers. A 2018 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College concludes that under-30 employees carrying education debt typically have just half as much saved in their workplace retirement plan accounts as other workers their age.2,3

If you carry sizable education debt, how can you plan to pay it off? If you are young (or not so young), budgeting is key. Even if you get a second job, a promotion, or an inheritance, you won’t be able to erase any debt if your expenses consistently exceed your income. Smartphone apps and other online budget tools can help you live within your budget day to day or even at the point of purchase for goods and services.

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Facts About Medicare Open Enrollment

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Medicare’s open enrollment period runs through December 7. If you are enrolling in Medicare for the first time, you will discover that it is much more complex than an employer-sponsored group health plan.1

When you are enrolled in Medicare, you pay multiple premiums for multiple types of coverage (Parts A and B as well as the Part D prescription drug plan), and unlike a group health plan, there are no caps on out-of-pocket costs and a risk that you might have to pay a hospital insurance deductible more than once per year. Original Medicare also does not cover some costs that many seniors would like to cover, such as dental and vision care expenses.2,3

This is why so many retirees decide to buy Medigap policies or enroll in comprehensive Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans – they recognize the shortcomings of original Medicare. The downside of Part C plans is that you are restricted to the doctors in their networks. Original Medicare allows you to choose any doctor that accepts Medicare (though it is smart to have a Medigap policy as well).1,3

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Ways to Repair Your Credit Score

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We all know the value of a good credit score. We all try to maintain one. Sometimes, though, life throws us a financial curveball and that score declines. What steps can we take to repair it?

Reduce your credit utilization ratio. Your credit utilization ratio (CUR) is the percentage of a credit card’s debt limit you have used up. Simply stated, if you have a credit card with a limit of $1,500 and you have $1,300 borrowed on it right now, the CUR for that card is 87%. Carrying lower balances on your credit cards tilts the CUR in your favor and promotes a better credit score.1

Review your credit reports for errors. You probably know that you are entitled to receive one free credit report per year from each of the three major U.S. credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You might as well request a report from all three at once. As the federal government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes, you can do this at annualcreditreport.com. About 20% of credit reports contain mistakes. Upon review, some borrowers spot credit card fraud; some notice botched account details or identity errors. At its website, the CFPB offers sample letters and instructions you can use to dispute errors.2

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Cash Flow Management

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You’ve probably heard the saying that “cash is king,” and that truth applies whether you own a business or not. Most discussions of business and personal “financial planning” involve tomorrow’s goals, but those goals may not be realized without attention to cash flow, today.  

Management of available cash flow is a key in any kind of financial strategy. Ignore it, and you may inadvertently sabotage your efforts to grow your company or even build personal wealth.

Cash flow statements (CFS) are important for any business. They can reveal so much to the owner(s) and/or CFO, because as they track inflows and outflows, they bring expenditures to light. They denote your sources and uses of cash, per month and per year. Income statements and P&L statements may provide inadequate clues about that, even though they help you forecast cash flow trends.   

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Weekly Economic Update for 11/11/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Domestic and international stocks rose last week. Risk appetite outweighed concerns about the state of U.S.-China trade discussions.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, Nasdaq Composite, S&P 500, and MSCI EAFE all ended the week with gains. Blue chips led the way, as the Dow added 1.22%. The Nasdaq improved 1.06%; the S&P, 0.85%. The EAFE, tracking developed stock markets away from North America, was up 0.76%. The Dow recorded its third straight weekly gain; the S&P, its fifth.1,2,3

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What if You Get Audited?

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“Audit” is a word that can strike fear into the hearts of taxpayers.

However, the chances of an Internal Revenue Service audit aren’t that high. In 2017, the most recent statistics available, show the I.R.S. audited 0.5% of all individual tax returns.1

Being audited does not necessarily imply that the I.R.S. suspects wrongdoing. The I.R.S. says that an audit is just a formal review of a tax return to ensure information is being reported according to current tax law and to verify that the information itself is accurate.

 

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Trust Deed Investments

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Trust deeds may seem to be a fairly straightforward form of financial investment. You may have heard of them in passing without being certain exactly what they are. It’s also referred to as a private trust deed.

What are they? At the core, these private trust deeds are sort of like mortgages that are used by real estate investors to borrow money to purchase property or finance buildings. The “sort of” part comes from the fact that these private trust deeds are not exactly like the mortgage a homeowner might take from a bank or other mortgage lender to buy a house.1,2

That said, private trust deeds are vehicles through which an investor or group of investors, through a broker, offers financing (sometimes through “bridge loans”) for the projects of real estate investors.1,2

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Reducing the Risk of Outliving Your Money

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“What is your greatest retirement fear?” If you ask any group of retirees and pre-retirees this question, “outliving my money” will likely be one of the top answers. In fact, 51% of investors surveyed for a 2019 AIG retirement study ranked outliving their money as their top anxiety.1

Retirees face greater “longevity risk” today. The Census Bureau says that Americans typically retire around age 63. Social Security projects that today’s 63-year-olds will live into their mid-eighties, on average. This is a mean life expectancy, so while some of these seniors may pass away earlier, others may live past 90 or 100.2,3

If your retirement lasts 20, 30, or even 40 years, how well do you think your retirement savings will hold up? What financial steps could you take in your retirement to try and prevent those savings from eroding? As you think ahead, consider the following possibilities and realities. 

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Retirement In Sight for November, 2019

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WORKING A LITTLE IN RETIREMENT MAY BE EASIER THAN YOU THINK

Increasingly, Americans older than 65 are finding compelling reasons to return to the workforce, whether part time or full time. Some want the money; some want the challenge and sense of purpose. One factor in their favor: companies in many industries are having a hard time finding enough qualified workers. So far this year, U.S. job openings have outnumbered job applicants. That was also true in 2018. Strong economy or not, this disparity could go on into the future because, generationally speaking, more Americans are exiting the workforce than entering it. So, employers may want older workers with decades of experience to stick around or soon return.

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Monthly Economic Update for November, 2019

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THE MONTH IN BRIEF

Investors and traders found much to like in October. The S&P 500 gained 2.04% during the month, topping 3,000 again. The Federal Reserve made its third interest rate cut of the year. Word came that the U.S. and China could be headed toward the first phase of a new, bilateral trade agreement. The United Kingdom failed to meet its extended Brexit deadline, but the European Union granted it more time. While some fundamental U.S. economic indicators were underwhelming, Wall Street got a lift from the latest earnings season.1  

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Weekly Economic Update for 11/4/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

A better-than-forecast jobs report prompted a stock market rally Friday, two days after traders witnessed another interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve.

Both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite ended the week at historic peaks, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average settled less than 12 points under its all-time record close. The Nasdaq rose 1.74% for the week; the S&P gained 1.47%. The Dow added 1.44%. MSCI’s EAFE benchmark, which measures developed stock market performance outside the U.S. and Canada, improved 0.58%.1,2,3

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Insurance Needs for Empty Nesters and Retirees

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With the children now out of the house, financial priorities become more focused on preparing for retirement. At this stage, you may very likely be at the height of your earning power and fast approaching peak savings as you lay the groundwork for retirement. During this final leg to retirement – and throughout your retirement period – wealth protection is critical.

The preservation of your assets will not be solely a function of your investment strategy, but will include a comprehensive insurance approach to protect you against an array of financial risks, most especially health care.

In addition to wealth protection, you may also now be seriously contemplating a number of important estate and legacy objectives.

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Weekly Economic Update for 10/28/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

The S&P 500 came within 0.1% of a record close Friday. Stocks were lifted last week by positive news on U.S.-China trade negotiations, plus earnings announcements.

The Nasdaq Composite posted the largest weekly gain of the three major U.S. stock indices. It rose 1.90%. Last week also brought gains of 0.70% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and 1.22% for the S&P. The MSCI EAFE, a benchmark for developed stock markets outside the U.S., rose 1.14%.1,2,3

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Making Sense of a Home Warranty

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As a consumer, when you purchase an expensive item, like a car or refrigerator, you expect to receive a warranty that the manufacturer will repair or replace that product if it breaks down.

A warranty makes sense for big-ticket purchases, but what about for a home?

An Overview of Home Warranties. A home warranty typically covers the repairs on specific items in a home, such as heating and air conditioning systems, plumbing, and built-in appliances.1 

A home warranty on a newly built home may be offered by the homebuilder and may cover up to 10 years on structural defects: one year on items like walls and paint, and two years, for HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems. Appliances may only be covered for six months. Typically, the cost of this policy is contained in the price of the home.

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Cybersecurity

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Cybercrime affects both large corporations and private individuals. You’ve likely read about the large data breaches in the business world. These crimes are both expensive and on the rise. The U.S. Identity Theft Resource Center says that these corporate data breaches reached a peak of 1,632 in 2017. The response to the growing need for data protection has been swift and powerful; venture capitalists have invested $5.3 billion into cybersecurity firms.1

That’s good news for the big companies, but what about for the individual at home? What can you do to protect data breaches to your personal accounts? 

For most private individuals, the key idea is to both:

* Know what to do if you’ve had a data breach.

* Know what you can do that might help prevent a data breach.

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Weekly Economic Update for 10/21/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Earnings helped give the Nasdaq Composite and S&P 500 a slight lift last week, offsetting investor disappointment over the small scope of the preliminary U.S.-China trade deal reached on October 11. Blue chips took a small weekly loss.  

The Nasdaq and S&P respectively gained 0.40% and 0.54% on the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average retreated just 0.17%. Outdoing these three benchmarks, the MSCI EAFE index tracking stocks in developed overseas markets rose 1.35%.1,2

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Spotting Credit Trouble

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Americans aged 45 to 54, who have credit card balances, carry an average debt of $9,096 per individual.1

The wise use of credit is a critical skill in today’s world. Used unwisely, however, credit can rapidly turn from a useful tool to a crippling burden. There are several warning signs that you may be approaching credit problems:

Have you used one credit card to pay off another?

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End-Of-The-Year Money Moves - 2019

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What has changed for you in 2019? Did you start a new job or leave a job behind? Did you retire? Did you start a family? If notable changes occurred in your personal or professional life, then you will want to review your finances before this year ends and 2020 begins.

Even if your 2019 has been relatively uneventful, the end of the year is still a good time to get cracking and see where you can manage your tax bill and/or build a little more wealth. 

Keep in mind this article is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for real-life advice. Please consult your tax, legal and accounting professionals before modifying your tax strategy.

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Retirement In Sight for October, 2019

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GENERATING RETIREMENT INCOME

Each day, more than 10,000 Americans celebrate their 65th birthday. It’s a milestone, and for some, it signifies the beginning of retirement. Your friends, family, and coworkers may know you’re planning to retire. Some might even ask “When’s the big day?” If you have concerns about maintaining retirement income, you may not know whether you’re ready.1

While it’s ideal to have targets in mind when creating your retirement strategy, there is always the possibility for the unforeseen. If you believe you might come up short, there are some choices for closing the gap.

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Weekly Economic Update for 10/14/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stock prices pushed higher last week, as investors remained hyper-focused on any new developments with the U.S. trade negotiations with China.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average picked up 0.91%, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 0.62%. The Nasdaq Composite index gained 0.93% for the week. The MSCI EAFE index, which tracks developed overseas stock markets, added 2.28%.1,2 

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Universal Life Insurance

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Universal life insurance is permanent life insurance – that is, it remains in force for your whole life as long as the premiums are paid. But universal life insurance has an important difference from other types of permanent insurance: it provides a flexible premium.

That means the policyholder decides how much to put in above a set minimum. By extension, the policyholder also determines the face amount of the policy.

Universal life insurance policies accumulate cash value – cash value that grows tax deferred. Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuing company.

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The Sequence of Returns

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What exactly is the “sequence of returns”? The phrase describes the yearly variation in an investment portfolio’s rate of return. Across 20 or 30 years of saving and investing for the future, what kind of impact do these deviations from the average return have on a portfolio’s final value?

The answer: no impact at all.

Once an investor retires, however, these ups and downs can have an effect on portfolio value – and retirement income.

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Quarterly Economic Update for Q3, 2019

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THE QUARTER IN BRIEF

Summer doldrums? Not exactly. The third quarter brought a number of attention-getting events, and while investors took some cues from them in the short term, Wall Street’s confidence remained – the S&P 500 rose 1.19% in Q3. The abrupt devaluation of the Chinese yuan shocked traders, and shifting Treasury yields also made headlines. Trade negotiations between the U.S. and China broke down, but as the quarter ended, it looked like they would resume in the fall. Manufacturing was giving mixed signals, both here and abroad, breeding concerns about the health of the global economy. Both the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank took steps to ease monetary policy.1

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Weekly Economic Update for 10/7/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

The fourth quarter started with a mixed week for equities. A slip for an index of U.S. manufacturing activity proved to be a market mover, more so than the latest jobs report.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.92% for the week; the S&P 500, 0.33%. In contrast, the Nasdaq Composite improved 0.54%. Overseas stocks pulled back: the MSCI EAFE index dipped 2.60%.1,2

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Monthly Economic Update for October, 2019

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THE MONTH IN BRIEF

September brought an economic event that was widely expected: a quarter-point cut in short-term interest rates by the Federal Reserve. It also brought an attack on two of the world’s largest oil fields that threatened to dent global crude output. A resumption of U.S.-China trade talks was scheduled for October, and White House officials decided to delay some planned tariff increases. Clear signals of an economic slowdown emerged from both the eurozone and China; some of the key U.S. economic indicators looked much better by comparison. While all these events transpired, the S&P 500 gained 1.72% for the month.1

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Raising Healthy Children

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One of the greatest legacies any parent can give a child is a framework for living an enduring, healthy lifestyle.

It is hard to underestimate the power that parents have on their children’s development, which is why parenting is such a profound responsibility.

The attitudes and habits formed in childhood can determine your child’s health in their adult years. Here are some ideas for parents who are looking to raise healthy children who grow up to be healthy adults.

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Weekly Economic Update for 9/30/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stocks retreated last week. Traders worried that the formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump might distract White House officials from their pursuit of a trade deal with China and shift the focus of Congress away from consideration of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Also, news broke Friday that the White House was considering restricting levels of U.S. investment in Chinese firms.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost less than the Nasdaq Composite and S&P 500. Blue chips declined 0.43% week-over-week, while the S&P fell 1.01%, and the Nasdaq dipped 2.19%. The MSCI EAFE index, tracking developed overseas stock markets, lost 0.89%.1,2,3

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Overlooked Tax Deductions for Small Business Owners

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Being a small-business owner isn’t easy. After all, balancing payroll, managing employees, drawing up marketing plans, and handling the bookkeeping can be stressful! Luckily, the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) allows small-business owners to take some surprising deductions, which may help come tax time. Read on to learn more.

Remember, the information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult a professional with legal or tax expertise for specific information regarding your individual situation.

Employ your personal cell phone. The I.R.S. allows small-business owners to deduct the cost of the time spent on business calls made while using their personal mobile device. The key is to make sure you keep an itemized monthly phone bill for your records.1 Assuming an $80-per-month phone bill and a 50% deduction, you may be able to deduct $480 from your state and federal tax returns! The best way to track your business call time? Try a using separate number for your business, which automatically routes to your phone. This way, it will be easy to see your business versus personal phone usage. 

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Annual Financial To-Do List

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What financial, business, or life priorities do you need to address for the coming year? Now is a good time to think about the investing, saving, or budgeting methods you could employ toward specific objectives, from building your retirement fund to managing your taxes. You have plenty of choices. Here are a few ideas to consider:

Can you contribute more to your retirement plans this year? In 2020, the contribution limit for a Roth or traditional individual retirement account (IRA) remains at $6,000 ($7,000 for those making “catch-up” contributions). Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) may affect how much you can put into a Roth IRA: singles and heads of household with MAGI above $139,000 and joint filers with MAGI above $206,000 cannot make 2020 Roth contributions.1 

Before making any changes, remember that withdrawals from traditional IRAs are taxed as ordinary income, and if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. To qualify for the tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal of earnings, Roth IRA distributions must meet a five-year holding requirement and occur after age 59½.

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Avoiding Large Losses in Your Portfolio

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Risk is a factor in any investment decision that you make. Your tolerance for risk is something that you will want to consider when you make decisions alongside your trusted financial professional. Your risk tolerance is balanced against your time horizon, meaning the time between now and your anticipated retirement date.

But is it possible to avoid a loss? No, not completely, but you can take steps to manage that risk when investing. This is where conversations about your risk tolerance are critical.

What would you rather have, $500 right now or a 50% chance at $2,000? Many people go for the $2,000 and rightfully so. Since you have a 50/50 chance, a decision tree shows the $2,000 answer carries a potential value of $1,000.

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Rebalancing Your Portfolio

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Everyone loves a winner. If an investment is successful, most people naturally want to stick with it. But is that the best approach?

It may sound counterintuitive, but it may be possible to have too much of a good thing. Over time, the performance of different investments can shift a portfolio’s intent as well as its risk profile. It’s a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “risk creep,” and it happens when a portfolio’s risk profile shifts over time.

Balancing. When deciding how to allocate investments, many begin by considering their time horizon, risk tolerance, and specific goals. Next, individual investments are selected that pursue the overall objective. If all the investments selected had the same return, that balance – that allocation – would remain steady for a time. But if the investments have varying returns, over time, the portfolio may bear little resemblance to its original allocation.1

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How Medigap Choices Are Changing

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Soon, two types of Medigap policies will no longer be sold. Seniors who enroll in Medicare in 2020 or later will be unable to buy Medigap Plan F or Plan C. These are the two Medicare Supplement policies that cover Medicare’s Part B deductible (currently $185).1,2

This change only impacts new Medicare enrollees. If you already receive Medicare and you already have Plan F or Plan C coverage, you can keep that coverage after 2019.1

What if you are eligible for Medicare before January 1, 2020, but not yet enrolled? If that is the case, then “you may be able to buy one of these plans,” according to Medicare.gov.1

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Systematic Withdrawal Strategies

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Some retirees wish they could simplify money management. Estimating investment income, annual retirement plan distributions, and quarterly taxes can be a chore. 

This is why some retirees choose to make systematic withdrawals. Just as they contributed a set amount per month to their retirement accounts while working, they now withdraw a set amount from their accounts each month, quarter, or year.

The simplicity of this may appeal to you. The potential drawback is that a systematic withdrawal strategy can risk oversimplifying the complex matter of retirement income distribution.

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The Solo 401(k)

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Do you work for yourself? Then take a look at the solo 401(k), which marries a traditional employee retirement savings account to a small business profit-sharing plan. To have a solo 401(k), you must either be the lone worker at your business, or its only full-time employee.1

Imagine nearly tripling your retirement savings potential. With a solo 401(k), you have a chance to ramp up your retirement savings and reduce your tax bill at the same time. Here are the details:

*As an employee, you can defer up to $19,000 of your compensation into a solo 401(k). The yearly limit is $25,000 if you are 50 or older, for catch-up contributions are allowed for these plans. (Your annual employee contribution cannot surpass your earned income or salary.)1,2

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That First RMD From Your IRA

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When you reach age 70½, the Internal Revenue Service instructs you to start making withdrawals from your traditional IRA(s). These withdrawals are also called Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). You will make them, annually, from now on.1

If you fail to take your annual RMD or take out less than the required amount, the I.R.S. will notice. You will not only owe income taxes on the amount not withdrawn, you will owe 50% more. (The 50% penalty can be waived if you can show the I.R.S. that the shortfall resulted from a “reasonable error” instead of negligence.)1

Many IRA owners have questions about the rules related to their initial RMDs, so let’s answer a few.

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Weekly Economic Update for 9/23/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Investors reacted to two major news items last week, one far more of a surprise than the other. The Federal Reserve did indeed make a rate cut, matching Wall Street expectations. Drone strikes on two of the world’s largest oil fields brought a shock to the global oil market.  

At Friday’s closing bell, stocks wound up with weekly losses after news broke that Chinese trade officials were heading home from the U.S. sooner than planned. The S&P 500 retreated 0.51% week-over-week; the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1.05%, and the Nasdaq Composite dipped 0.72%. In developed foreign markets, shares tracked by the MSCI EAFE index fell 0.31%.1,2,3

ANOTHER QUARTER-POINT CUT

Wednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee voted 7-3 to lower the benchmark interest rate by another 0.25%, to a range of 1.75% to 2.00%.

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Understanding the Alternate Valuation Date

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When an individual dies, the executor is faced with an important decision that has the potential to impact the taxes owed by the estate and its heirs. The executor will have the option of valuing the estate on the date of death, or on the six-month anniversary of death – the “Alternate Valuation Date.”1 

This situation assumes the deceased has a valid will and has named an executor, who is responsible for carrying out the directions of the will. If a person dies intestate, it means that a valid will has not been executed. Without a valid will, a person’s property will be distributed to the heirs as defined by the state law.

Pick a Date. It may seem like an obvious decision and simple choice, but it’s not. Here’s why.

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72t Distributions

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Do you need to access your retirement money early? Maybe you just want to retire before you turn 60 and plan a lifelong income stream from the money you have saved and invested. You may be surprised to know that the Internal Revenue Service allows you a way to do this, provided you do it carefully.

Usually, anyone who takes money out of an IRA or a retirement plan prior to age 59½ faces a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the distribution. That isn’t always the case, however. You may be able to avoid the requisite penalty by taking distributions compliant with Internal Revenue Code Section 72(t), section 2.1

While any money you take out of the plan will amount to taxable income, you can position yourself to avoid that extra 10% tax hit by breaking that early IRA or retirement plan distribution down into a series of substantially equal periodic payments (SEPPs). These periodic withdrawals must occur at least once a year, and they must continue for at least 5 full years or until you turn 59½, whichever period is longer. (Optionally, you can make SEPP withdrawals on a monthly basis.)1,2

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Drone Attacks Disrupt Saudi Oil Output

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Strikes hit Saudi oil fields. A coordinated series of drone strikes on Saturday morning set off explosions at two of the world’s biggest oil producing facilities in Saudi Arabia.1 

Oil prices spiked during Monday’s trading session. Brent crude futures, the international benchmark, surged a staggering 19.5% at the open of trading.2 Prices eased as the trading session progressed, however.

The Wall Street Journal says the damage from the strikes threatens to set back world oil output by about 5%. Saudi officials believe it will be weeks before these oil fields can resume producing at full capacity.1

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Weekly Economic Update for 9/16/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stocks edged toward all-time peaks during a relatively calm week marked by easing trade tensions. Friday marked the eighth straight daily advance for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.1

Small-cap shares, as tracked by the Russell 2000 index, rose 4.85% in five days. The S&P 500 improved 0.96% for the week, while the Dow and Nasdaq Composite respectively advanced 1.57% and 0.91%. Foreign shares added 1.22%, according to the MSCI EAFE index.2-4

A DELAY FOR PLANNED OCTOBER TARIFF HIKES

Existing tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports were slated to rise from 25% to 30% on October 1, but the White House decided Thursday to postpone the increase until October 15, in a “gesture of good will” honoring a request from Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.

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Retirement Wellness

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How healthy a retirement do you think you will have? If you can stay active as a senior and curb or avoid certain habits, you could potentially reduce one type of retirement expense.

Each year, Fidelity Investments presents an analysis of retiree health care costs. In 2019, Fidelity projected that the average 65-year-old couple would spend around $285,000 on health care during retirement, including about $11,000 in the first year. Both projections took Medicare benefits into account.1,2

Could healthy behaviors help you save retirement dollars? Maybe. From another point of view, ceasing unhealthy habits certainly would. For example, the average pack of cigarettes now costs $6.28, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That adds up to $2,292 annually. A decade of pack-a-day smoking therefore projects to $22,920 in expenses (and that does not even consider inflation or the possibility of new state or local cigarette taxes). If you could invest $2,292 a year for 20 years and realize a 7% annual return on that money, your sustained investment would grow to more than $100,000.

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Types of Stock Market Analysis

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The majority of stock market analysis can be lumped into three broad groups: fundamental, technical, and sentimental. Here’s a closer look at each.

Fundamental Analysis. The goal of fundamental analysis is to determine whether a company’s future value is accurately reflected in its current stock price.

Fundamental analysis attempts to estimate the value of a stock based on a variety of factors, such as the current finances of the company and the prevailing economic environment. Fundamental analysis also may include speaking with a company’s management team and assessing how the company’s products are received in the marketplace.

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Retirement In Sight for September, 2019

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SUNNIER PROSPECTS FOR WORKING AS A SENIOR

In recent years, a steady stream of articles has appeared, questioning baby boomers’ hopes to keep working part time in their retirement years. These articles have tended to take a skeptical view of such ambitions. Well, maybe it is time to sweep some of the skepticism away.

In August, the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute published a study on a group of Americans aged 55 to 71 who had either retired within the last two years or planned to retire in the next two years. Twenty-seven percent of pre-retirees thought they would keep working part time after their careers ended; 17% anticipated they would gradually phase out of working. These assumptions are not far off from reality: among the retirees surveyed, 19% were working part time, and 17% said that they were cutting down their work hours on their way to a traditional retirement. Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, told PBS’ Next Avenue website in September that she was encouraged by the results, noting that “that the gap between pre-retirees’ vision of transitioning into retirement compared with the experience of recent retirees is finally starting to close.” She theorizes that the job market is becoming “more conducive to workers extending their working lives, and pre-retirees planning a transition to retirement.”1,2

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Weekly Economic Update for 9/9/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stocks rose last week, with help from two developments: the announcement of further U.S.-China trade talks as well as August hiring and manufacturing numbers that seemed to bolster the argument for a rate cut by the Federal Reserve. 

The broad U.S. equity market, as represented by the S&P 500, added 1.79% during a 4-day trading week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average improved 1.49%; the Nasdaq Composite, 1.76%. Foreign shares tracked by the MSCI EAFE index gained 1.69%.1-3

TRADE TALKS POISED TO RESTART

Trade representatives from the U.S. and China are planning to head back to the negotiating table early next month. This news came Thursday from China’s ministry of commerce, which confirmed a verbal agreement among Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. 

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Inventorying Your Possessions

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It’s great to have insurance against damage and loss, but if you can’t show proof of your possessions, it may result in a protracted settlement process with your insurance company.1

Four Tips for Creating an Inventory. Creating an inventory may take a bit of upfront work, but it can pay future benefits in smoothing the claims settlement process with your insurer as well as increase the potential of receiving the maximum payment possible.

Tip #1 – Make a Video of Your Possessions. A visual record of your possessions is the best proof of ownership. When videoing your home contents, make sure you are methodical and thorough in going through all your rooms and storage spaces. Speak while you are taping to describe each item; include any relevant information (e.g., “this is a signed first edition of “Moby Dick.”).

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Monthly Economic Update for September, 2019

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THE MONTH IN BRIEF

The stock market had a tumultuous August, reacting to the sudden devaluation of the Chinese yuan and the escalation of the trade dispute between the U.S. and China. Ultimately, investors seemed more interested in risk aversion: the S&P 500 lost 1.81% for the month. Demand for bonds helped to send Treasury yields lower; prices of precious metals climbed. Away from the markets, monthly personal spending and retail sales gains were strong.1

DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH

Tariffs and trade issues remained front and center in the Wall Street conversation. On August 1, the White House announced a 10% import tax on an additional $300 billion of Chinese goods coming to U.S. shores. (Most of these products are so-called “final” consumer goods, like clothing and shoes.) In a nod to importers and retailers, the White House stated on August 13 that this 10% tariff would be delayed until December 15 for certain products: toys, consumer electronics, and other items that are big sellers during the holiday shopping season. Effective December 15, tariffs will impact nearly all Chinese imports to the U.S.2

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Weekly Economic Update for 9/2/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Fears of an impasse in the U.S.-China trade dispute lessened last week. While additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports were scheduled to take effect on September 1, China’s government communicated that it would refrain from taking retaliatory measures for the moment.

U.S. stock benchmarks advanced during the week. The S&P 500 rose 2.79% across five trading days, and the Nasdaq Composite and Dow Jones Industrial Average respectively gained 2.72% and 3.02%. The MSCI EAFE international index added just 0.25%.1,2

POSITIVE NEWS IN THE TRADE DISPUTE

Thursday, a spokesman for China’s commerce ministry said that negotiations could resume this month, and that discussions need to focus on “removing the new tariffs to prevent escalation.” 

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Your Changing Definition of Risk in Retirement

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During your accumulation years, you may have categorized your risk as “conservative,” “moderate,” or “aggressive,” and that guided how your portfolio was built. Maybe you concerned yourself with finding the “best-performing funds,” even though you knew past performance does not guarantee future results.

What occurs with many retirees is a change in mindset – it’s less about finding the “best-performing fund” and more about consistent performance. It may be less about a risk continuum – that stretches from conservative to aggressive – and more about balancing the objectives of maximizing your income and sustaining it for a lifetime.

You may even find yourself willing to forgo return potential for steady income.

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Your Extended Care Strategy

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Do you have an extra $33,000 to $100,000 to spare this year? How about next year, and the year after that? Your answer to these questions is probably “no.”

What could possibly cost so much? Eldercare.  

According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, a year of in-home care for a senior costs roughly $33,000. A year at an assisted living facility? About $45,000. A year in a nursing home? Approximately $100,000.1

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Weekly Economic Update for 8/26/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Traders assumed that the week’s biggest news event would be Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s speech at the annual Jackson Hole banking conference. Instead, China seized the headlines by announcing new tariffs on U.S. goods.

Domestic stocks ended up lower for the week. The Nasdaq Composite fell 1.83%; the S&P 500, 1.44%; the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 0.99%. International stocks posted a weekly gain: the MSCI EAFE benchmark rose 0.96%.1,2

BEIJING PLANS NEW TARIFFS

Friday morning, China’s finance ministry stated it would levy import taxes of 5-10% on an additional $75 billion of American imports. One set of tariffs is slated to start September 1, targeting U.S. crops, meats, and seafood. A second set, effective December 15, will put tariffs on U.S.-made cars and car parts. In total, these taxes are scheduled for more than 5,000 American products.

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Cash Balance Plans

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In corporate America, pension plans are fading away. Only 16% of Fortune 500 companies offered them to full-time employees in 2018, according to Willis Towers Watson research. In contrast, legal, medical, accounting, and engineering firms are keeping the spirit of the traditional pension plan alive by adopting cash balance plans.1

Owners and partners of these highly profitable businesses sometimes get a late start on retirement planning. Cash balance plans give them a chance to catch up. These defined benefit plans are age-weighted: the older you are, the more you can potentially sock away each year for retirement. In 2019, a 45-year-old can defer as much as $168,000 annually into a cash balance plan; a 55-year-old, as much as $255,000.2

These plans are not for every business as they demand consistent contributions from the plan sponsor. Even so, they offer significantly greater funding flexibility and employee benefits compared to a standard defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k).2

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Insurance Needs when Married with Children

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A growing family, by definition, means growing financial obligations – both in the present and in the future. Raising children can increase your insurance needs and heightens the urgency for being properly prepared.

Auto. When a child becomes a new driver, one option is to add the teenager to the parents' policy. You may want to discuss with your auto insurer ways to reduce the additional premium that accompanies a new driver.1

Home. You should periodically review your homeowners policy for three primary reasons.

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Weekly Economic Update for 8/19/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

U.S. stock indices saw significant ups and downs last week, with traders looking for economic cues from Treasury yields and also developments in the tariff fight between the U.S. and China. 

The S&P 500 lost 1.03% on the week; the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite respectively declined 1.53% and 0.79%. Overseas shares also retreated: the MSCI EAFE index lost 2.34%.1,2

ATTENTION ON THE BOND MARKET

Wednesday, the yield of the 2-year Treasury bond briefly exceeded that of the 10-year Treasury bond. When this circumstance occurs, it signals that institutional investors are less confident about the near-term economy. That view is not uniform. Asked whether the U.S. was on the verge of an economic slowdown, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told Fox Business “the answer is most likely no,” noting that the economy “has enough strength” to avoid one. 

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Global vs. International: What’s the Difference?

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For investors who are looking to diversify their portfolio with exposure to companies located outside the U.S., there exist two basic choices: a global mutual fund or an international mutual fund.

By definition, international funds invest in non-U.S. markets, while global funds may invest in U.S. stocks alongside non-U.S. stocks.

Keep in mind that diversification is an approach to help manage investment risk. It does not eliminate the risk of loss if security prices decline. Also, international investments carry additional risks, which include differences in financial reporting standards, currency exchange rates, political risks unique to a specific country, foreign taxes and regulations, and the potential for illiquid markets. These factors may result in greater price volatility.1

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A Bucket Plan to Go with Your Bucket List

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The baby boomers redefined everything they touched, from music to marriage to parenting and even what “old” means – 60 is the new 50! Longer, healthier living, however, can put greater stress on the sustainability of retirement assets.

There is no easy answer to this challenge, but let’s begin by discussing one idea – a bucket approach to building your retirement income plan.

The Bucket Strategy can take two forms.

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Weekly Economic Update for 8/12/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stocks spent much of last week rebounding from a Monday drop that reflected nervousness about the U.S.-China trade fight. By Thursday’s closing bell, the S&P 500 had regained all its Monday losses, but it descended again on Friday.

The three big U.S. equity benchmarks finished the week lower: the S&P declined 0.46%; the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 0.75%; the Nasdaq Composite, 0.56%. A broad index of foreign shares, the MSCI EAFE, lost 0.95%.1,2

CHINA DEVALUES ITS CURRENCY

Last Monday, stocks fell 3% in reaction to the overnight weakening of the Chinese yuan. A weaker yuan makes Chinese exports cheaper for buyers who pay for them in dollars.

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Understanding Long-Term Care

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Addressing the potential threat of long-term care expenses may be one of the biggest financial challenges for individuals who are developing a retirement strategy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 69% of people over age 65 can expect to need extended care services at some point in their lives. So, understanding the various types of long-term care services – and what those services may cost – is critical as you consider your retirement approach.1

What Is Long-Term Care? Long-term care is not a single activity. It refers to a variety of medical and non-medical services needed by those who have a chronic illness or disability that is most commonly associated with aging. 

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Your Diversified Portfolio vs. the S&P 500

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“Why is my portfolio underperforming the market?” This question may be on your mind. It is a question that investors sometimes ask after stocks shatter records or return exceptionally well in a quarter.

The short answer is that even when Wall Street rallies, international markets and intermediate and long-term bonds may underperform and exert a drag on overall portfolio performance. A little elaboration will help explain things further.

A diversified portfolio necessarily includes a range of asset classes. This will always be the case, and while investors may wish for an all-equities portfolio when stocks are surging, a 100% stock allocation is obviously fraught with risk.

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Retirement In Sight for August, 2019

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THINKING ABOUT LEAVING WORK A LITTLE EARLY?

The so-called “FIRE” movement (FIRE stands for financial independence, retire early) has garnered so much attention lately, even those who anticipate retiring in their sixties are wondering if they should make a sacrifice or two to exit their careers or businesses a bit earlier. A poll, commissioned by personal finance website FinanceBuzz, highlights what some pre-retirees would be willing to give up, so they could do just that – at least, in theory.

Thirty-six percent of the poll respondents indicated that they would cut household spending to the bone and buy only the most-essential consumer goods for as long as two years if it would hasten their retirement. Twelve percent said that they would refrain from starting a family if being child free would help them retire earlier, and 11% would avoid having a pet. Six percent said that they would live without a vehicle if that would contribute to their ability to retire sooner. Are measures like these really necessary? Perhaps not, for there are other ways to potentially arrange an earlier entry into retirement. A part-time business could be built from a hobby, pastime, or passion, and the income derived from such a business could possibly help your retirement savings grow. Also, living below your means during your working years may free up more cash to direct into your retirement savings, and that may help you reach your savings goals earlier in life.1

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Monthly Economic Update for August, 2019

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THE MONTH IN BRIEF

July was a positive month for stocks and a notable month for news impacting the financial markets. The S&P 500 topped the 3,000 level for the first time. The Federal Reserve cut the country’s benchmark interest rate. Consumer confidence remained strong. Trade representatives from China and the U.S. once again sat down at the negotiating table, as new data showed China’s economy lagging. In Europe, Brexit advocate Boris Johnson was elected as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the European Central Bank indicated that it was open to using various options to stimulate economic activity.1

DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH

On July 31, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the first time in more than a decade. The Federal Open Market Committee approved a quarter-point reduction to the federal funds rate by a vote of 8-2. Typically, the central bank eases borrowing costs when it senses the business cycle is slowing. As the country has gone ten years without a recession, some analysts viewed this rate cut as a preventative measure. Speaking to the media, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell characterized the cut as a “mid-cycle adjustment.”2

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Weekly Economic Update for 8/5/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Last week, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the first time in more than a decade, in line with Wall Street’s expectations. Ironically, stocks had their worst week of 2019.

The S&P 500 finished the week 3.10% lower. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite also posted weekly losses; the blue chips fell 2.60%, while the premier tech benchmark slumped 3.92%. International stocks tracked by MSCI’s EAFE index dipped 1.06%.1-3

FED CUTS BENCHMARK INTEREST RATE

On Wednesday, the central bank reduced the federal funds rate by 0.25%. The latest Fed policy statement noted that “global developments” and “muted inflation” influenced the decision.

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A Retirement Fact Sheet

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Does your vision of retirement align with the facts? Here are some noteworthy financial and lifestyle facts about life after 50 that might surprise you. 

Up to 85% of a retiree’s Social Security income can be taxed. Some retirees are taken aback when they discover this. In addition to the Internal Revenue Service, 13 states levy taxes on some or all Social Security retirement benefits: Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia. (It is worth mentioning that the I.R.S. offers free tax advice to people 60 and older through its Tax Counseling for the Elderly program.)1

Retirees get a slightly larger standard deduction on their federal taxes. Actually, this is true for all taxpayers aged 65 and older, whether they are retired or not. Right now, the standard deduction for an individual taxpayer in this age bracket is $13,500, compared to $12,200 for those 64 or younger.2

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A Bucket Plan to Go with Your Bucket List

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The baby boomers redefined everything they touched, from music to marriage to parenting and even what “old” means – 60 is the new 50! Longer, healthier living, however, can put greater stress on the sustainability of retirement assets.

There is no easy answer to this challenge, but let’s begin by discussing one idea – a bucket approach to building your retirement income plan.

The Bucket Strategy can take two forms.

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When Alzheimer's Disease Is Diagnosed

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Imagine the outlook for your life changing in minutes. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can be that stunning. If your parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, how can you help them as they strive to make the most of the years ahead?

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis may bring stages of grief and anxiety – when and how should your parent share the diagnosis with loved ones, friends, and colleagues?

Sharing the news is part of coping with the news. If Mom or Dad tries to hide their Alzheimer’s from family members, friends, or even coworkers (if they are still working), it could inevitably lead to tension and stress. They may already have a diagnosis, or at the very least, be suspicious of one.

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