Economic Updates & Financial Articles

Economic Updates & Financial Articles

Economic Updates:

Retirement in Sight Newsletter:

Financial Articles:

 


Weekly Economic Update for 2/10/2020

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stocks advanced four days out of five during the past market week, erasing the losses of the week before.

The Nasdaq Composite surged 4.04%, the S&P 500 3.17%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average 3.00%. Foreign stocks also rallied: the MSCI EAFE index added 2.21%.1,2

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Retirement Is a Beginning

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How do you know you are psychologically ready to retire? As a start, ask yourself four questions.

One, is your work meaningful? If it is emotionally and psychologically fulfilling, if it gives you a strong sense of purpose and identity, there may be a voice inside your head telling you not to retire yet. You may want to listen to it.

It can be tempting to see retirement as a “finish line”: no more long workdays, long commutes, or stressful deadlines. But it is really a starting line: the start of a new phase of life. Ideally, you cross the “finish line” knowing what comes next, what will be important to you in the future.

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Monthly Economic Update for February, 2020

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THE MONTH IN BRIEF

Early January gains gave way to late January losses as the coronavirus emerged as a global health concern, and correspondingly, a concern for the investment markets. The S&P 500 ended up retreating 0.16% for the month. The coronavirus outbreak was just one of the big stories in January: President Trump signed one trade deal while Congress approved another, Brexit occurred, oil prices temporarily jumped as tensions between America and Iran heightened, and stocks hit record highs again.1

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Weekly Economic Update for 2/3/2020

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stock benchmarks declined for a second straight week as coronavirus news tempered risk appetite.

The S&P 500 fell 2.14% on the week. The Nasdaq Composite dipped 1.76%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 2.55%. Away from North America, developed markets slumped 2.24%, according to MSCI’s EAFE index.1,2

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Weekly Economic Update for 1/27/2020

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stock prices fell last week as investors considered the potential health and economic risks of the flu-like coronavirus.

Foreign stock markets, as tracked by the broad MSCI EAFE index, fell 1.03% for the week. Coincidentally, the S&P 500 lost exactly that much across a 4-day Wall Street trading week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 1.22%, the Nasdaq Composite 0.79%.1,2

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ABLE Accounts for Loved Ones with Disabilities

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Families with special needs children have a new tax-deferred savings option. The ABLE account, also called a 529A savings account, is patterned after the popular 529 savings plan, created to help parents save for a child’s higher education. Like 529 plans, ABLE accounts are run by states rather than the federal government. These plans emerged after the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014.1

ABLE accounts address an underpublicized financial need. While some families open college savings accounts, comparatively few start discrete savings accounts or trusts for children with disabilities. That difference may be partly due to the presumption that “the money will be there” when the child becomes an adult.

The money may not be there; at least, not as much of it as many families hope. State agencies and nonprofit groups helping the disabled face ongoing funding challenges, including pressure to limit the “entitlements” they distribute. Social Security, which provides Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to millions of disabled adults, faces its own set of issues.

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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 59½.2

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Weekly Economic Update for 1/20/2020

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Traders were in an upbeat mood last week, reacting to news out of Washington: the signing of the phase-one trade deal between the U.S. and China as well as the Senate passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). In addition, a new earnings season started. Risk appetite grew and spurred all three of the major Wall Street averages to record settlements on Friday.1

For the week, the Nasdaq Composite rose 2.29%; the S&P 500, 1.97%; the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 1.82%. International stocks improved 0.40%, according to MSCI’s EAFE index.2,3

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Tremendous Gains Since 2009

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Where were you on March 9, 2009? Do you remember the headwinds hitting Wall Street then? When the closing bell rang at the New York Stock Exchange that Monday afternoon, it marked the end of another down day for equities. Just hours earlier, the Wall Street Journal had asked: “How Low Can Stocks Go?”1

The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index answered that question by sinking to 676.53, even with mergers and acquisitions making headlines. The index was under 700 for the first time since 1996. The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled to a closing low of 6,547.05.2

To quote Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the bottom of the bear market – and it was also the best time, in a generation, to buy stocks.2

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Ways to Fund Special Needs Trusts

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If you have a child with special needs, a trust may be a financial priority. There are many crucial goods and services that Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income might not pay for, and a special needs trust may be used to address those financial challenges. Most importantly, a special needs trust may help provide for your disabled child in case you're no longer able to care for them.

In planning a special needs trust, one of the most pressing questions is: when it comes to funding the trust, what are the options?

There are four basic ways to build up a third-party special needs trust. One method is simply to pour in personal assets, perhaps from immediate or extended family members. Another possibility is to fund the trust with permanent life insurance. Proceeds from a settlement or lawsuit can also serve as the core of the trust assets. Lastly, an inheritance can provide the financial footing to start and fund this kind of trust.

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Retirement In Sight for January, 2020

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HOW THE SECURE ACT IMPACTS RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS

A new federal law, the Setting Up Every Community for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, directly affects retirees and retirement savers. It changes the rules regarding “stretching” an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) as well as longstanding retirement account rules keyed to age 70½.

Under the SECURE ACT, in most circumstances, once you reach age 72, you must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and most other employer-sponsored retirement plans. (This new RMD rule applies only to those who will turn 70½ in 2020 or later.) The SECURE ACT also lets seniors contribute to traditional retirement accounts after age 70½, as long as they have earned income; previously, this was forbidden. Both these changes have big implications for savers; large account balances can potentially grow and compound a little more before being drawn down, and amounts contributed after age 70½ could have a chance to compound as well. Turning to the workplace, the SECURE ACT allows employer-sponsored retirement plans the option to include insurance products, offering the potential for lifelong income. It also opens a door for small businesses to join multi-employer group retirement plans (MEPs). 

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Weekly Economic Update for 1/13/2020

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

The market had a choppy five days, with traders reacting to geopolitical developments and weaker-than-expected jobs data. Even so, the three major U.S. equity indices posted weekly gains and continued their strong start to the new year. During Friday’s trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 29,000 for the first time.

Rising 1.75% for the week, the Nasdaq Composite outgained both the Dow (up 0.66%) and the S&P 500 (up 0.94%). The story for foreign stocks was different: the MSCI EAFE index declined 0.30%.1,2

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Investing for Impact

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SRI (Socially Responsible Investing), Impact Investing, and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) Investing belong to a growing category of investment choices that use traditional investing practices to responsibly impact society.

In the past, these investment strategies were viewed as too restrictive for most investors. But over time, improved evaluative data and competitive returns have pushed these strategies into the mainstream. Even though SRI, ESG investing, and impact investing share many similarities, they differ in some fundamental ways. Read on to learn more.1

ESG Investing assesses how specific criteria of an investment, such as its environmental, social, and governance practices, may impact its performance. These factors are used in an evaluative capacity. In the United States alone, there are more than 350 ESG mutual funds and ETFs available.2,3,4

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Quarterly Economic Update for 4Q 2019

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THE QUARTER IN BRIEF

Movement in U.S.-China trade negotiations, an accommodative Federal Reserve, evidence of decent economic growth – all this brought some fourth-quarter tailwinds to Wall Street. The S&P 500 advanced 8.53% in the final three months of the year. Foreign stock markets also posted Q4 gains, and some clarity emerged regarding the Brexit. Gold and oil both posted Q4 gains. Home buying tapered off. As the quarter ended, a new federal law was passed, affecting both retirement savers and retirees.1

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Weekly Economic Update for 1/6/2020

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

Stocks descended from record highs Friday, as traders reacted to a U.S. drone strike that killed Iran’s top military officer. Oil prices rose more than 3% following the breaking news.1

Wall Street benchmarks ended up having a sideways week, shortened by the New Year’s Day holiday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.04% across four trading sessions; the S&P 500, 0.16%. In contrast, the Nasdaq Composite rose 0.16%. The MSCI EAFE index, benchmarking developed overseas stock markets, added 0.30%.2-3

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Monthly Economic Update for January, 2020

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THE MONTH IN BRIEF

Stocks rallied in December, closing out a decidedly positive year on Wall Street. The S&P 500 added another 2.86% last month, rising 28.88% for 2019. What helped the market? The trade dispute between the U.S. and China cooled a bit, as both nations took what was characterized as an initial step toward a potentially larger trade accord. Also, some fundamental indicators hinted that the economy might be picking up rather than slowing down. These factors put investors in a buying mood as the year ended. In Washington, the Federal Reserve left interest rates alone, and a new law was passed impacting retirement accounts. A considerable number of overseas stock markets advanced, and the broad commodities sector fared well. 

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The SECURE Act

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The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act is now law. With it, comes some of the biggest changes to retirement savings law in recent years. While the new rules don’t appear to amount to a massive upheaval, the SECURE Act will require a change in strategy for many Americans. For others, it may reveal new opportunities.

Limits on Stretch IRAs. The legislation “modifies” the required minimum distribution rules in regard to defined contribution plans and Individual Retirement Account (IRA) balances upon the death of the account owner. Under the new rules, distributions to individuals are generally required to be distributed by the end of the 10th calendar year following the year of the account owner’s death.1

Penalties may occur for missed RMDs. Any RMDs due for the original owner must be taken by their deadlines to avoid penalties. A surviving spouse of the IRA owner, disabled or chronically ill individuals, individuals who are not more than 10 years younger than the IRA owner, and child of the IRA owner who has not reached the age of majority may have other minimum distribution requirements. 

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Weekly Economic Update for 12/30/2019

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WHAT DROVE THE MARKETS?

Four factors influenced investment performance in 2019: a shift in U.S. monetary policy, the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China, earnings, and the economy. 

Stocks reached record highs in 2019. The S&P 500 climbed above 3,000 for the first time. The benchmark ended Friday’s trading session up 29.25% for the year. At Friday’s close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average showed a year-to-date advance of 22.95%, while the Nasdaq Composite was up 35.74% YTD. The MSCI EAFE index, representing foreign stocks, was up 18.10% YTD through December 27.1,2

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IRA Deadlines Are Approaching

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Financially, many of us associate April with taxes – but we should also associate April with important IRA deadlines.

April 1, 2020 is the deadline to take your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from certain individual retirement accounts.

April 15, 2020 is the deadline for making annual contributions to a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, and certain other retirement accounts.1

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Buy-Sell Agreements for Businesses

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For most, creating an estate strategy is important to make sure your loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone. But it may be just as important to have an estate strategy for your business. Whether you’re a sole proprietor who will be passing on your business to your heirs or your business partners will take over for you, having a plan in place might ensure that your business legacy continues to live on.

One way to potentially safeguard a business is to create a buy-sell agreement. A buy-sell agreement is a contract between different entities within a corporation to buy out the interests of a deceased or disabled partner. A buy-sell agreement can also protect the business from loss of revenue and cover the expenses of finding and training a replacement.

When is the right time to implement a buy-sell agreement? While a buy-sell agreement can be put into place at any time, it often makes sense to set one up at a critical point in your business, such as bringing in a new partner.1

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Health Care Costs Are Cutting Into Retirement Preparations

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You may have seen this statistic before or one resembling it: the average 65-year-old retiring couple can now expect to pay more than $250,000 in health care expenses during the rest of their lives.

In fact, Fidelity Investments now projects this cost at $285,000. The effort to prepare for these potential expenses is changing the big picture of retirement planning.1

Individual retirement savings strategies have been altered. How many people retire with a dedicated account or lump sum meant to address future health costs? Very few. Most retirees end up winging it, paying their out-of-pocket costs out of income, Social Security benefits, and savings.

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The Major Retirement Planning Mistakes

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Much is out there about the classic financial mistakes that plague start-ups, family businesses, corporations, and charities. Aside from these blunders, some classic financial missteps plague retirees.

Calling them “mistakes” may be a bit harsh, as not all of them represent errors in judgment. Yet whether they result from ignorance or fate, we need to be aware of them as we plan for and enter retirement.

Leaving work too early. As Social Security benefits rise about 8% for every year you delay receiving them, waiting a few years to apply for benefits can position you for higher retirement income. Filing for your monthly benefits before you reach Social Security’s Full Retirement Age (FRA) can mean comparatively smaller monthly payments. Meanwhile, if you can delay claiming Social Security, that positions you for more significant monthly benefits.1

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Weekly Economic Update for 12/16/2019

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THE WEEK ON WALL STREET

The U.S. and China announced a limited trade agreement last week. That news lifted U.S. and foreign stocks, leading to weekly gains.

Advancing 0.91% on the week, the Nasdaq Composite outperformed the S&P 500 (up 0.73%) and Dow Jones Industrial Average (up 0.43%). The MSCI EAFE index, measuring the performance of developed markets overseas, improved 0.42%.1,2

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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 currently 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. (West Virginia, incidentally, is phasing out such taxation.)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 a single filer in this age bracket is $13,850, compared to $12,200 for those 64 or younger. It is scheduled to rise to $14,050 in 2020.2

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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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