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Death of a Family Member Checklist

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Death of a Family Member Checklist

book_a1Losing a loved one can be a difficult experience. Yet, during this time, you must complete a variety of tasks and make important financial decisions.

You may need to make final arrangements, notify various businesses and government agencies, settle the individual’s estate, and provide for your own financial security.

These important tasks and decisions can be confusing and overwhelming, and you may not know where to begin.

“If you need assistance with some of these tasks and financial decisions, contact us. We have experience and we can help. We can provide peace of mind that these tasks will be addressed properly so you can focus on other important matters.”

Contact Altum Wealth Advisors ❯

The following checklist may help guide you through some of the matters that must be attended to upon the death of a family member.

Note: Some of the following tasks may have to be completed by the estate’s executor or trustee.

Initial tasks

  • Upon the death of your loved one, call close family members, friends, and clergy first–you’ll need their emotional support.
  • Arrange the funeral, burial or cremation, and memorial service. Hopefully, the decedent will have made arrangements ahead of time.
  • Look among his or her papers for a letter of instruction containing final wishes. Such instructions may also be stated in his or her will or other estate planning documents. Arrange any cultural rituals, and make any anatomical gifts.
  • Notify family and friends of the final arrangements.
  • Alert your loved one’s place of work, union, and professional organizations, and any organizations where he or she may have volunteered.
  • Contact your own employer and arrange for bereavement leave.
  • Place an obituary in the local paper.
  • Obtain certified copies of the death certificate. The family doctor or medical examiner should provide you with the death certificate within 24 hours of the death. The funeral home should complete the form and file it with the state. Get several certified copies (photocopies may not be accepted)–you will need them when applying for benefits and settling the estate.
  • Review your family member’s financial affairs, and look for estate planning documents, such as a will and trusts, and other relevant documents, such as deeds and titles. Also locate any marriage certificate, birth or adoption certificates of children, and military discharge papers, which you may need to apply for benefits. These documents may be found in a safe-deposit box, or the decedent’s attorney may have copies.
  • Report the death to Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213. If your loved one was receiving benefits via direct deposit, request that the bank return funds received for the month of death and thereafter to Social Security. Do not cash any Social Security checks received by mail. Return all checks to Social Security as soon as possible. Surviving spouses and other family members may be eligible for a $255 lump-sum death benefit and/or survivor’s benefits. Go to www.ssa.gov for more information.
  • Make a list of the decedent’s assets. Put safeguards in place to protect any property. Make sure mortgage and insurance payments continue to be made while the estate is being settled.
  • Arrange to retrieve your loved one’s belongings from his or her workplace. Collect any salary, vacation, or sick pay owed to your loved one, and be sure to ask about continuing health insurance coverage and potential survivor’s benefits for a spouse or children. Unions and professional organizations may also offer death benefits. If the death was work-related, the decedent’s estate or beneficiaries may be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits.
  • Contact past employers regarding pension plans, and contact any IRA custodians or trustees. Review designated beneficiaries and post-death distribution options.
  • Locate insurance policies. The policies could include individual and group life insurance, mortgage insurance, auto credit life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment, credit card insurance, and annuities. Contact all insurance companies to file claims.
  • Contact all credit card companies and let them know of the death. Cancel all cards unless you’re named on the account and wish to retain the card.
  • Retitle jointly held assets, such as bank accounts, automobiles, stocks and bonds, and real estate.
  • If the decedent owned, controlled, or was a principal in a business, check to see if there are any buy-sell agreements under which his or her interest must be sold.

If your loved one was a veteran, you may be eligible for burial and memorial benefits. Call 1-800-827-1000 to find the nearest VA regional office.

Duplicate copies of marriage and birth certificates are available at the county clerk’s office where the marriage and births occurred. Veterans and the next of kin of deceased veterans can submit an online request for separation documents and other service personnel records via eVetRecs, a service available through the National Archives at www.archives.gov.

If there is no one authorized to open the decedent’s safe-deposit box, petition the probate court for an order to open.

Do not be hasty when settling your loved one’s estate. Important decisions need to be made regarding distributions, which must be made in compliance with the will and applicable laws. Seek an experienced estate planning attorney for advice.

If your family member didn’t already make final arrangements or leave final instructions, go to www.funerals.org for some helpful information about funerals, burials, and memorial services.


If you need assistance in handling some of the important tasks related to the death of a family member, Contact Altum Wealth Advisors


IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES

Altum Wealth Advisors does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice via this website. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, this notice is to inform you that any tax advice included in this communication, including any attachments, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty or promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2018.

Prepared for Altum Wealth Advisors
Miste Cliadakis, CWS®, AIF®, Managing Director, Financial Planner
Steven Cliadakis, MBA, CFP®, AIF®, Managing Director, Financial Planner

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Top Year-End Investment Tips

Just what you need, right? One more time-consuming task to be taken care of between now and the end of the year. But taking a little time out from the holiday chores to make some strategic saving and investing decisions before December 31 can affect not only your long-term ability to meet your financial goals but also the amount of taxes you’ll owe next April.

Look at the forest, not just the trees

book_a1The first step in your year-end investment planning process should be a review of your overall portfolio. That review can tell you whether you need to rebalance. If one type of investment has done well–for example, large-cap stocks–it might now represent a greater percentage of your portfolio than you originally intended. To rebalance, you would sell some of that asset class and use that money to buy other types of investments to bring your overall allocation back to an appropriate balance. Your overall review should also help you decide whether that rebalancing should be done before or after December 31 for tax reasons.

Also, make sure your asset allocation is still appropriate for your time horizon and goals. You might consider being a bit more aggressive if you’re not meeting your financial targets, or more conservative if you’re getting closer to retirement. If you want greater diversification, you might consider adding an asset class that tends to react to market conditions differently than your existing investments do. Or you might look into an investment that you have avoided in the past because of its high valuation if it’s now selling at a more attractive price. Diversification and asset allocation don’t guarantee a profit or insure against a possible loss, of course, but they’re worth reviewing at least once a year.

Know when to hold ’em

When contemplating a change in your portfolio, don’t forget to consider how long you’ve owned each investment. Assets held for a year or less generate short-term capital gains, which are taxed as ordinary income. Depending on your tax bracket, your ordinary income tax rate could be much higher than the long-term capital gains rate, which applies to the sale of assets held for more than a year. For example, as of tax year 2015, the top marginal tax rate is 39.6%, which applies to any annual taxable income over $413,200 ($464,850 for married individuals filing jointly). By contrast, the long-term capital gains rate owed by taxpayers in the 39.6% tax bracket is 20%. For most investors–those in tax brackets between 25% and 35%–long-term capital gains are taxed at 15%; taxpayers in the lowest tax brackets–15% or less–are taxed at 0% on any long-term capital gains. (Long-term gains on collectibles are different; those are taxed at 28%.)

Your holding period can also affect the treatment of qualified stock dividends, which are taxed at the more favorable long-term capital gains rates. You must have held the stock at least 61 days within the 121-day period that starts 60 days before the stock’s ex-dividend date; preferred stock must be held for 91 days within a 181-day window. The lower rate also depends on when and whether your shares were hedged or optioned.

Three tips on year-end giving

  1. You may be able to sidestep capital gains taxes and get a deduction by making a charitable donation of securities that have risen in value but no longer fit your strategy.
  2. If you make a charitable donation of an investment that’s worth less than you paid, you can only deduct its market value, not what you paid for it. Ask your tax professional if you might be better off selling and deducting the loss.
  3. If you give appreciated securities to a child, keep in mind that the kiddie tax rules may apply, in which case annual investment income over $2,000 ($2,100 in 2015) will be taxed at your rate.

Make lemonade from lemons

glasses_a1Now is the time to consider the tax consequences of any capital gains or losses you’ve experienced this year. Though tax considerations shouldn’t be the primary driver of your investing decisions, there are steps you can take before the end of the year to minimize any tax impact of your investing decisions.

If you have realized capital gains from selling securities at a profit (congratulations!) and you have no tax losses carried forward from previous years, you can sell losing positions to avoid being taxed on some or all of those gains. Any losses over and above the amount of your gains can be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income ($1,500 for a married person filing separately) or carried forward to reduce your taxes in future years. Selling losing positions for the tax benefit they will provide next April is a common financial practice known as “harvesting your losses.”

Example: You sold stock in ABC company this year for $2,500 more than you paid when you bought it four years ago. You decide to sell the XYZ stock that you bought six years ago because it seems unlikely to regain the $20,000 you paid for it. You sell your XYZ shares at a $7,000 loss. You offset your $2,500 capital gain, offset $3,000 of ordinary income tax this year, and carry forward the remaining $1,500 to be applied in future tax years.

Time any trades appropriately

If you’re selling to harvest losses in a stock or mutual fund and intend to repurchase the same security, make sure you wait at least 31 days before buying it again. Otherwise, the trade is considered a “wash sale,” and the tax loss will be disallowed. The wash sale rule also applies if you buy an option on the stock, sell it short, or buy it through your spouse within 30 days before or after the sale.

If you have unrealized losses that you want to capture but still believe in a specific investment, there are a couple of strategies you might think about. If you want to sell but don’t want to be out of the market for even a short period, you could sell your position at a loss, then buy a similar exchange-traded fund (ETF) that invests in the same asset class or industry. Or you could double your holdings, then sell your original shares at a loss after 31 days. You’d end up with the same position, but would have captured the tax loss.

If you’re buying a mutual fund or an ETF in a taxable account, find out when it will distribute any dividends or capital gains. Consider delaying your purchase until after that date, which often is near year-end. If you buy just before the distribution, you’ll owe taxes this year on that money, even if your own shares haven’t appreciated. And if you plan to sell a fund anyway, you may minimize taxes by selling before the distribution date.

Note: Before buying a mutual fund or ETF, don’t forget to consider carefully its investment objectives, risks, fees, and expenses, which can be found in the prospectus available from the fund. Read the prospectus carefully before investing.

A note on AMT

The lower tax rates on long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends apply to alternative minimum tax (AMT) calculations as well. However, because they’re included in calculating alternative minimum taxable income, large long-term gains and qualifying dividends can indirectly increase AMT exposure, and could potentially push you into the phaseout range for AMT exemptions. If this might affect you, talk to a tax professional.

Know where to hold ‘em

Think about which investments make sense to hold in a tax-advantaged account and which might be better for taxable accounts. For example, it’s generally not a good idea to hold tax-free investments, such as municipal bonds, in a tax-deferred account (e.g., a 401(k), IRA, or SEP). Doing so provides no additional tax advantage to compensate you for tax-free investments’ typically lower returns. And doing so generally turns that tax-free income into income that’s taxable at ordinary income tax rates when you withdraw it from the retirement account.

Similarly, if you have mutual funds that trade actively and therefore generate a lot of short-term capital gains, it may make sense to hold them in a tax-advantaged account to defer taxes on those gains, which can occur even if the fund itself has a loss. Finally, when deciding where to hold specific investments, keep in mind that distributions from a tax-deferred retirement plan don’t qualify for the lower tax rate on capital gains and dividends.

Be selective about selling shares

If you own a stock, fund, or ETF and decide to unload some shares, you may be able to maximize your tax advantage. For a mutual fund, the most common way to calculate cost basis is to use the average cost per share. However, you can also request that specific shares be sold–for example, those bought at a certain price. Which shares you choose depends on whether you want to book capital losses to offset gains, or keep gains to a minimum to reduce the tax bite. (This only applies to shares held in a taxable account.) Be aware that you must use the same method when you sell the rest of those shares.

Example: You have invested periodically in a stock for five years, paying various prices, and now want to sell some shares. To minimize the capital gains tax you’ll pay on them, you could decide to sell the least profitable shares, perhaps those that were only slightly lower when purchased. Or if you wanted losses to offset capital gains, you could specify shares bought above the current price.

Depending on when you bought a specific security, your broker may calculate your cost basis for you, and will typically designate a default method to be used. For stocks, the default method is likely to be FIFO (“first in, first out”); the first shares purchased are considered the first shares sold. As noted above, most mutual fund companies use the average cost per share as your default cost basis. With bonds, the default method amortizes any bond premium over the time you own the bond. You must notify your broker if you want to use a method other than the default.


IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES

Altum Wealth Advisors does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice via this website. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, this notice is to inform you that any tax advice included in this communication, including any attachments, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty or promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016.

Prepared for Altum Wealth Advisors, Steven Cliadakis, MBA, CFP®, AIF®, Managing Director, Wealth Strategist.

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Social Security Claiming Options Ending Soon

Social_Security_CardsThe 2015 Budget Bill, signed into law on November 2nd, will put an end to two popular Social Security claiming loopholes associated with the restricted application and file-and-suspend claiming options.

While Social Security permits claimants age 62 and over to receive the greater of two amounts: up to 50 percent of their spouse’s retirement benefit or their own accrued benefit, loopholes in the law created unintended opportunities that will soon change.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW…

A short window remains open for eligible individuals to take advantage of the two strategies noted below before the new rules go into effect. Social Security recipients who are currently utilizing either strategy will be grandfathered.

Restricted Application (This will be eliminated as of January 2016)

• Today: Legislation passed in 2000 permitted married individuals who reached their full retirement age (65 for those born 1938-1942; 66 for those born 1943-1954) to “claim now, claim more late” by filing a “restricted application.” Doing so allowed the spouse of an individual to collect on a spousal benefit while suspending their own in order to receive a potentially larger payout in the future. Those who elected this scenario could receive a benefit payout through the spousal benefit, while increasing their future individual payout by 8% per year up until age 70 when they would then switch and file for their individual benefit payout.

• As of January 1, 2016: Individuals who are eligible for a spousal benefit, and elect to receive it, will be deemed to have filed for their own retirement benefit, thus losing the option to have their own payout increase while receiving the spousal benefit.

• EXCEPTIONS: Those aged 62 or older by the end of 2015 can still use the “restricted application” strategy. Likewise, spouses who are already collecting benefits on their partner’s earnings record can continue to do so and switch to their own larger retirement benefit at a later date, up until age 70.

File-and-suspend loophole (This will be eliminated effective May 1, 2016)

• Today: Seniors receiving Social Security retirement benefits have the ability to suspend their Social Security benefits, if they choose to go back to work and earn additional credits in order to increase their payout benefits in the future.

• As of May 1, 2016: No one will be able to collect benefits on their earnings record (including a spouse or children) during the period that benefits are suspended.
If you have questions or concerns about navigating the complex Social Security benefit claiming landscape, please contact us at (530) 924-0110.


The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. 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 legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG, LLC, is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2015 FMG Suite.

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Handling Market Volatility

Conventional wisdom says that what goes up must come down. But even if you view market volatility as a normal occurrence, it can be tough to handle when your money is at stake. Though there’s no foolproof way to handle the ups and downs of the stock market, the following common-sense tips can help.

Don’t put your eggs all in one basket

UnknownDiversifying your investment portfolio is one of the key tools for trying to manage market volatility. Because asset classes often perform differently under different market conditions, spreading your assets across a variety of investments such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives has the potential to help reduce your overall risk. Ideally, a decline in one type of asset will be balanced out by a gain in another, though diversification can’t eliminate the possibility of market loss.

One way to diversify your portfolio is through asset allocation. Asset allocation involves identifying the asset classes that are appropriate for you and allocating a certain percentage of your investment dollars to each class (e.g., 70% to stocks, 20% to bonds, 10% to cash alternatives). A worksheet or an interactive tool may suggest a model or sample allocation based on your investment objectives, risk tolerance level, and investment time horizon, but that shouldn’t be a substitute for expert advice.

Focus on the forest, not on the trees

As the market goes up and down, it’s easy to become too focused on day-to-day returns. Instead, keep your eyes on your long-term investing goals and your overall portfolio. Although only you can decide how much investment risk you can handle, if you still have years to invest, don’t overestimate the effect of short-term price fluctuations on your portfolio.

Look before you leap

Unknown-1When the market goes down and investment losses pile up, you may be tempted to pull out of the stock market altogether and look for less volatile investments. The modest returns that typically accompany low-risk investments may seem attractive when more risky investments are posting negative returns.

But before you leap into a different investment strategy, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. How you choose to invest your money should be consistent with your goals and time horizon.

For instance, putting a larger percentage of your investment dollars into vehicles that offer safety of principal and liquidity (the opportunity to easily access your funds) may be the right strategy for you if your investment goals are short term and you’ll need the money soon, or if you’re growing close to reaching a long-term goal such as retirement. But if you still have years to invest, keep in mind that stocks have historically outperformed stable-value investments over time, although past performance is no guarantee of future results. If you move most or all of your investment dollars into conservative investments, you’ve not only locked in any losses you might have, but you’ve also sacrificed the potential for higher returns.

Look for the silver lining

Unknown-2A down market, like every cloud, has a silver lining. The silver lining of a down market is the opportunity to buy shares of stock at lower prices.

One of the ways you can do this is by using dollar-cost averaging. With dollar-cost averaging, you don’t try to “time the market” by buying shares at the moment when the price is lowest. In fact, you don’t worry about price at all. Instead, you invest a specific amount of money at regular intervals over time. When the price is higher, your investment dollars buy fewer shares of an investment, but when the price is lower, the same dollar amount will buy you more shares. A workplace savings plan, such as a 401(k) plan in which the same amount is deducted from each paycheck and invested through the plan, is one of the most well-known examples of dollar cost averaging in action.

For example, let’s say that you decided to invest $300 each month. As the illustration shows, your regular monthly investment of $300 bought more shares when the price was low and fewer shares when the price was high:

Unknown-3Although dollar-cost averaging can’t guarantee you a profit or avoid a loss, a regular fixed dollar investment may result in a lower average price per share over time, assuming you continue to invest through all types of market conditions.
(This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the performance of any particular investment. Actual results will vary.)

Making dollar-cost averaging work for you

• Get started as soon as possible. The longer you have to ride out the ups and downs of the market, the more opportunity you have to build a sizable investment account over time.
• Stick with it. Dollar-cost averaging is a long-term investment strategy. Make sure you have the financial resources and the discipline to invest continuously through all types of market conditions, regardless of price fluctuations.
• Take advantage of automatic deductions. Having your investment contributions deducted and invested automatically makes the process easy and convenient.

Don’t stick your head in the sand

While focusing too much on short-term gains or losses is unwise, so is ignoring your investments. You should check your portfolio at least once a year–more frequently if the market is particularly volatile or when there have been significant changes in your life. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring it back n line with your investment goals and risk tolerance.

Don’t hesitate to get expert help if you need it to decide which investment options are right for you.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

As the market recovers from a down cycle, elation quickly sets in. If the upswing lasts long enough, it’s easy to believe that investing in the stock market is a sure thing. But, of course, it never is. As many investors have learned the hard way, becoming overly optimistic about investing during the good times can be as detrimental as worrying too much during the bad times. The right approach during all kinds of markets is to be realistic. Have a plan, stick with it, and strike a comfortable balance between risk and return.

Don’t forget that while they are sound strategies, asset allocation and diversification can’t guarantee a profit or protect against the possibility of loss. All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The right approach during all kinds of markets is to be realistic. Have a plan, stick with it, and strike a comfortable balance between risk and return.


IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES

Altum Wealth Advisors does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice via this website. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, this notice is to inform you that any tax advice included in this communication, including any attachments, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty or promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015.

Prepared for Altum Wealth Advisors, Steven Cliadakis, MBA, CWS®, Managing Director, Wealth Strategist.

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Eleven Ways to Help Yourself Stay Sane in a Crazy Market

UnknownKeeping your cool can be hard to do when the market goes on one of its periodic roller-coaster rides. It’s useful to have strategies in place that prepare you both financially and psychologically to handle market volatility. Here are 11 ways to help keep yourself from making hasty decisions that could have a long-term impact on your ability to achieve your financial goals.

1. Have a game plan

Having predetermined guidelines that recognize the potential for turbulent times can help prevent emotion from dictating your decisions. For example, you might take a core-and-satellite approach, combining the use of buy-and-hold principles for the bulk of your portfolio with tactical investing based on a shorter-term market outlook. You also can use diversification to try to offset the risks of certain holdings with those of others. Diversification may not ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss, but it can help you understand and balance your risk in advance. And if you’re an active investor, a trading discipline can help you stick to a long-term strategy. For example, you might determine in advance that you will take profits when a security or index rises by a certain percentage, and buy when it has fallen by a set percentage.

2. Know what you own and why you own it

When the market goes off the tracks, knowing why you originally made a specific investment can help you evaluate whether your reasons still hold, regardless of what the overall market is doing. Understanding how a specific holding fits in your portfolio also can help you consider whether a lower price might actually represent a buying opportunity.

And if you don’t understand why a security is in your portfolio, find out. That knowledge can be particularly important when the market goes south, especially if you’re considering replacing your current holding with another investment.

3. Remember that everything is relative

Most of the variance in the returns of different portfolios can generally be attributed to their asset allocations. If you’ve got a well-diversified portfolio that includes multiple asset classes, it could be useful to compare its overall performance to relevant benchmarks. If you find that your investments are performing in line with those benchmarks, that realization might help you feel better about your overall strategy.

Even a diversified portfolio is no guarantee that you won’t suffer losses, of course. But diversification means that just because the S&P 500 might have dropped 10% or 20% doesn’t necessarily mean your overall portfolio is down by the same amount.

4. Tell yourself that this too shall pass

The financial markets are historically cyclical. Even if you wish you had sold at what turned out to be a market peak, or regret having sat out a buying opportunity, you may well get another chance at some point. Even if you’re considering changes, a volatile market can be an inopportune time to turn your portfolio inside out. A well-thought-out asset allocation is still the basis of good investment planning.

5. Be willing to learn from your mistakes

Anyone can look good during bull markets; smart investors are produced by the inevitable rough patches. Even the best investors aren’t right all the time. If an earlier choice now seems rash, sometimes the best strategy is to take a tax loss, learn from the experience, and apply the lesson to future decisions. Expert help can prepare you and your portfolio to both weather and take advantage of the market’s ups and downs.

6. Consider playing defense

During volatile periods in the stock market, many investors reexamine their allocation to such defensive sectors as consumer staples or utilities (though like all stocks, those sectors involve their own risks, and are not necessarily immune from overall market movements). Dividends also can help cushion the impact of price swings. According to Standard & Poor’s, dividend income has represented roughly one-third of the monthly total return on the S&P 500 since 1926, ranging from a high of 53% during the 1940s to a low of 14% in the 1990s, when investors focused on growth.

7. Stay on course by continuing to save

Unknown-1Even if the value of your holdings fluctuates, regularly adding to an account designed for a long-term goal may cushion the emotional impact of market swings. If losses are offset even in part by new savings, your bottom-line number might not be quite so discouraging.

If you’re using dollar-cost averaging–investing a specific amount regularly regardless of fluctuating price levels–you may be getting a bargain by buying when prices are down. However, dollar cost averaging can’t guarantee a profit or protect against a loss. Also consider your ability to continue purchases through market slumps; systematic investing doesn’t work if you stop when prices are down. Finally, remember that the return and principal value of your investments will fluctuate with changes in market conditions, and shares may be worth more or less than their original cost when you sell them.

8. Use cash to help manage your mind-set

Cash can be the financial equivalent of taking deep breaths to relax. It can enhance your ability to make thoughtful decisions instead of impulsive ones. If you’ve established an appropriate asset allocation, you should have resources on hand to prevent having to sell stocks to meet ordinary expenses or, if you’ve used leverage, a margin call. Having a cash cushion coupled with a disciplined investing strategy can change your perspective on market volatility. Knowing that you’re positioned to take advantage of a downturn by picking up bargains may increase your ability to be patient.

9. Remember your road map

Solid asset allocation is the basis of sound investing. One of the reasons a diversified portfolio is so important is that strong performance of some investments may help offset poor performance by others. Even with an appropriate asset allocation, some parts of a portfolio may struggle at any given time. Timing the market can be challenging under the best of circumstances; wildly volatile markets can magnify the impact of making a wrong decision just as the market is about to move in an unexpected direction, either up or down. Make sure your asset allocation is appropriate before making drastic changes.

10. Look in the rear-view mirror

If you’re investing long term, sometimes it helps to take a look back and see how far you’ve come. If your portfolio is down this year, it can be easy to forget any progress you may already have made over the years. Though past performance is no guarantee of future returns, of course, the stock market’s long-term direction has historically been up. With stocks, it’s important to remember that having an investing strategy is only half the battle; the other half is being able to stick to it. Even if you’re able to avoid losses by being out of the market, will you know when to get back in? If patience has helped you build a nest egg, it just might be useful now, too.

11. Take it easy

If you feel you need to make changes in your portfolio, there are ways to do so short of a total makeover. You could test the waters by redirecting a small percentage of one asset class to another. You could put any new money into investments you feel are well-positioned for the future, but leave the rest as is. You could set a stop-loss order to prevent an investment from falling below a certain level, or have an informal threshold below which you will not allow an investment to fall before selling. Even if you need or want to adjust your portfolio during a period of turmoil, those changes can–and probably should–happen in gradual steps. Taking gradual steps is one way to spread your risk over time, as well as over a variety of asset classes.

Words to ponder

“Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies. And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”
–Warren Buffett

“Most of the time common stocks are subject to irrational and excessive price fluctuations in both directions as the consequence of the ingrained tendency of most people to speculate or gamble … to give way to hope, fear and greed.”
–Benjamin Graham

“In this business if you’re good, you’re right six times out of ten. You’re never going to be right nine times out of ten.”
–Peter Lynch


IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES

Altum Wealth Advisors does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice via this website. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, this notice is to inform you that any tax advice included in this communication, including any attachments, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty or promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015.

Prepared for Altum Wealth Advisors, Steven Cliadakis, MBA, CWS®, Managing Director, Wealth Strategist.

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Financial Planning: Helping You See the Big Picture

Do you picture yourself owning a new home, starting a business, or retiring comfortably? These are a few of the financial goals that may be important to you, and each comes with a price tag attached.

That’s where financial planning comes in. Financial planning is a process that can help you target your goals by evaluating your whole financial picture, then outlining strategies that are tailored to your individual needs and available resources.

Why is financial planning important?

A comprehensive financial plan serves as a framework for organizing the pieces of your financial picture. With a financial plan in place, you’ll be better able to focus on your goals and understand what it will take to reach them.

FinancialPlanningPieChart_Figure

One of the main benefits of having a financial plan is that it can help you balance competing financial priorities. A financial plan will clearly show you how your financial goals are related–for example, how saving for your children’s college education might impact your ability to save for retirement. Then you can use the information you’ve gleaned to decide how to prioritize your goals, implement specific strategies, and choose suitable products or services. Best of all, you’ll know that your financial life is headed in the right direction.

*There is no assurance that working with a financial professional will improve investment results.

  • Common financial goals
  • Saving and investing for retirement
  • Saving and investing for college
  • Establishing an emergency fund
  • Providing for your family in the event of your death
  • Minimizing income or estate taxes

The financial planning process

Creating and implementing a comprehensive financial plan generally involves working with financial professionals to:

  • Develop a clear picture of your current financial situation by reviewing your income, assets, and liabilities, and evaluating your insurance coverage, your investment portfolio, your tax exposure, and your estate plan
  • Establish and prioritize financial goals and time frames for achieving these goals
  • Implement strategies that address your current financial weaknesses and build on your financial strengths
  • Choose specific products and services that are tailored to help meet your financial objectives*
  • Monitor your plan, making adjustments as your goals, time frames, or circumstances change

Some members of the team

family_framedThe financial planning process can involve a number of professionals.

Financial planners typically play a central role in the process, focusing on your overall financial plan, and often coordinating the activities of other professionals who have expertise in specific areas.

Accountants or tax attorneys provide advice on federal and state tax issues.

Estate planning attorneys help you plan your estate and give advice on transferring and managing your assets before and after your death.

Insurance professionals evaluate insurance needs and recommend appropriate products and strategies.

Investment advisors provide advice about investment options and asset allocation, and can help you plan a strategy to manage your investment portfolio.

The most important member of the team, however, is you. Your needs and objectives drive the team, and once you’ve carefully considered any recommendations, all decisions lie in your hands.

Why can’t I do it myself?

You can, if you have enough time and knowledge, but developing a comprehensive financial plan may require expertise in several areas. A financial professional can give you objective information and help you weigh your alternatives, saving you time and ensuring that all angles of your financial picture are covered.

Staying on track

The financial planning process doesn’t end once your initial plan has been created. Your plan should generally be reviewed at least once a year to make sure that it’s up-to-date. It’s also possible that you’ll need to modify your plan due to changes in your personal circumstances or the economy. Here are some of the events that might trigger a review of your financial plan:

  • Your goals or time horizons change
  • You experience a life-changing event such as marriage, the birth of a child, health problems, or a job loss
  • You have a specific or immediate financial planning need (e.g., drafting a will, managing a distribution from a retirement account, paying long-term care expenses)
  • Your income or expenses substantially increase or decrease
  • Your portfolio hasn’t performed as expected
  • You’re affected by changes to the economy or tax laws

Common questions about financial planning

What if I’m too busy?

Don’t wait until you’re in the midst of a financial crisis before beginning the planning process. The sooner you start, the more options you may have.

Is the financial planning process complicated?

Each financial plan is tailored to the needs of the individual, so how complicated the process will be depends on your individual circumstances. But no matter what type of help you need, a financial professional will work hard to make the process as easy as possible, and will gladly answer all of your questions.

What if my spouse and I disagree?

A financial professional is trained to listen to your concerns, identify any underlying issues, and help you find common ground.

Can I still control my own finances?

Financial planning professionals make recommendations, not decisions. You retain control over your finances. Recommendations will be based on your needs, values, goals, and time frames. You decide which recommendations to follow, then work with a financial professional to implement them.


IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES
Altum Wealth Advisors does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice via this website. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, this notice is to inform you that any tax advice included in this communication, including any attachments, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty or promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2014.

Prepared for Altum Wealth Advisors.

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Estate Planning–An Introduction

EstatePlanning_AnIntroduction_02By definition, estate planning is a process designed to help you manage and preserve your assets while you are alive, and to conserve and control their distribution after your death according to your goals and objectives. But what estate planning means to you specifically depends on who you are. Your age, health, wealth, lifestyle, life stage, goals, and many other factors determine your particular estate planning needs. For example, you may have a small estate and may be concerned only that certain people receive particular things. A simple will is probably all you’ll need. Or, you may have a large estate, and minimizing any potential estate tax impact is your foremost goal. Here, you’ll need to use more sophisticated techniques in your estate plan, such as a trust. To help you understand what estate planning means to you, the following sections address some estate planning needs that are common among some very broad groups of individuals. Think of these suggestions as simply a point in the right direction, and then seek professional advice to implement the right plan for you. By definition, estate planning is a process designed to help you manage and preserve your assets while you are alive, and to conserve and control their distribution after your death according to your goals and objectives.

Over 18

Since incapacity can strike anyone at anytime, all adults over 18 should consider having: A durable power of attorney: This document lets you name someone to manage your property for you in case you become incapacitated and cannot do so. An advanced medical directive: The three main types of advanced medical directives are (1) a living will, (2) a durable power of attorney for health care (also known as a health-care proxy), and (3) a Do Not Resuscitate order. Be aware that not all states allow each kind of medical directive, so make sure you execute one that will be effective for you. Young and single If you’re young and single, you may not need much estate planning. But if you have some material possessions, you should at least write a will. If you don’t, the wealth you leave behind if you die will likely go to your parents, and that might not be what you would want. A will lets you leave your possessions to anyone you choose (e.g., your significant other, siblings, other relatives, or favorite charity). EstatePlanning_AnIntroduction_03

Unmarried couples

You’ve committed to a life partner but aren’t legally married. For you, a will is essential if you want your property to pass to your partner at your death. Without a will, state law directs that only your closest relatives will inherit your property, and your partner may get nothing. If you share certain property, such as a house or car, you might consider owning the property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. That way, when one of you dies, the jointly held property will pass to the surviving partner automatically.

Married couples

For many years, married couples had to do careful estate planning, such as the creation of a credit shelter trust, in order to take advantage of their combined federal estate tax exclusions. A new law passed in 2010 allows the executor of a deceased spouse’s estate to transfer any unused estate tax exclusion amount to the surviving spouse without such planning. This provision is effective for estates of decedents dying in 2011 and later years. You may be inclined to rely on these portability rules for estate tax avoidance, using outright bequests to your spouse instead of traditional trust planning. However, portability should not be relied upon solely for utilization of the first to die’s estate tax exemption, and a credit shelter trust created at the first spouse’s death may still be advantageous for several reasons:

  • Portability may be lost if the surviving spouse remarries and is later widowed again
  • The trust can protect any appreciation of assets from estate tax at the second spouse’s death
  • The trust can provide protection of assets from the reach of the surviving spouse’s creditors

Portability does not apply to the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax, so the trust may be needed to fully leverage the GST exemptions of both spouses Married couples where one spouse is not a U.S. citizen have special planning concerns. The marital deduction is not allowed if the recipient spouse is a non-citizen spouse, but a $145,000 (in 2014, $143,000 in 2013) annual exclusion is allowed. If certain requirements are met, however, a transfer to a qualified domestic trust (QDOT) will qualify for the marital deduction.

Married with children

If you’re married and have children, you and your spouse should each have your own will. For you, wills are vital because you can name a guardian for your minor children in case both of you die simultaneously. If you fail to name a guardian in your will, a court may appoint someone you might not have chosen. Furthermore, without a will, some states dictate that at your death some of your property goes to your children and not to your spouse. If minor children inherit directly, the surviving parent will need court permission to manage the money for them. You may also want to consult an attorney about establishing a trust to manage your children’s assets. You may also need life insurance. Your surviving spouse may not be able to support the family on his or her own and may need to replace your earnings to maintain the family.

Comfortable and looking forward to retirement

You’ve accumulated some wealth and you’re thinking about retirement. Here’s where estate planning overlaps with retirement planning. It’s just as important to plan to care for yourself during your retirement as it is to plan to provide for your beneficiaries after your death. You should keep in mind that even though Social Security may be around when you retire, those benefits alone may not provide enough income for your retirement years. Consider saving some of your accumulated wealth using other retirement and deferred vehicles, such as an individual retirement account (IRA).

Wealthy and worried

Depending on the size of your estate, you may need to be concerned about estate taxes. Estates of $5,340,000 (in 2014, $5,250,000 in 2013) are effectively exempt from the federal gift and estate tax. Estates over that amount may be subject to the tax at a top rate of 40 percent. Similarly, there is another tax, called the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax, that is imposed on transfers of wealth that are made to grandchildren (and lower generations). The GST tax exemption is $5,340,000 (in 2014, $5,250,000 in 2013) and the GST tax rate is 40 percent. Whether your estate will be subject to state death taxes depends on the size of your estate and the tax laws in effect in the state in which you are domiciled.

Elderly or ill

If you’re elderly or ill, you’ll want to write a will or update your existing one, consider a revocable living trust, and make sure you have a durable power of attorney and a health-care directive. Talk with your family about your wishes, and make sure they have copies of your important papers or know where to locate them.


IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES Altum Wealth Advisors does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice via this website. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, this notice is to inform you that any tax advice included in this communication, including any attachments, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty or promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter. Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2014. Prepared for Altum Wealth Advisors.

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I just learned that my credit- and debit-card information was part of a data breach. What should I do?

creditCards_sq_139899019Now, more than ever, consumers are relying on the convenience of credit and debit cards to make everyday purchases, such as gas and groceries, and to make online purchases. With this convenience, however, comes the risk of having your account information compromised by a data breach.

In recent years, data breaches at major retailers have become commonplace across the United States. Currently, most retailers use the magnetic strips on the backs of credit and debit cards to access account information. Unfortunately, the account information that is held on these magnetic strips is also easily accessed by computer hackers.

While many U.S. banks and financial institutions are in the process of replacing the older magnetic strips with more sophisticated and secure embedded microchips, it will take time for both card issuers and retailers to get up to speed on these latest card security measures.

In the meantime, if you find that your account information is at risk due to a data breach, you should make it a priority to periodically review your credit card and bank account activity. If you typically wait for your monthly statement to arrive in the mail, consider signing up for online access to your accounts–that way you can monitor your accounts as often as needed. If you see suspicious charges or account activity, you should contact your bank or credit-card company as soon as possible.

In most cases, your bank or credit-card company will automatically issue you a new card and card number. If not, request to have new cards and card numbers issued in your name. As an additional precaution, you should also change the PIN associated with the cards.

Whether you will be held liable for the unauthorized charges depends on whether the charges were made to your credit- or debit-card account and how quickly you report them.

For more information on your rights if you are affected by a data breach, visit the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau websites.


IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES
Altum Wealth Advisors does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice via this website. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, this notice is to inform you that any tax advice included in this communication, including any attachments, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty or promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2014.

Prepared for Altum Wealth Advisors.

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Distribution Funds: Putting Income on Autopilot

TP-IV-30_01As baby boomers retire, they begin to focus less on accumulating assets and more on how those assets can be converted into an ongoing stream of income. Distribution funds are one way to simplify that process.

Distribution funds are actively managed mutual funds that focus not on maximizing asset growth but on making regularly scheduled payments to investors. Distribution funds were primarily designed to give retirees an easy way to receive income. For example, early retirees might use one to provide income until they reach full retirement age. They also can be used to complement a pension or other income sources.

How distribution funds work

A distribution fund basically functions much like a systematic withdrawal plan. Its annual payout (either a percentage of assets or a specific dollar amount) is divided into equal payments that are scheduled to be made at regular intervals (typically monthly or quarterly).

As with so-called lifestyle or lifecycle funds, distribution funds typically are offered as part of a group. All funds in the group use a similar investing methodology, but each fund has a different payout target or distribution rate. For example, one fund in the group might offer a 3% annual payout. Another fund in the same group might target a 4% payout, and a third might aim for 6%.

One size doesn’t fit all

Even though funds within a given series are consistent in their approach to income distribution, methods used by various families of distribution funds to generate returns and calculate payments vary widely. For example, one series might differentiate its funds based on the annual percentage each one distributes. Another group of funds might determine annual income levels and asset allocation based on how long each fund’s portfolio is intended to last. The shorter a fund’s time horizon, the higher the targeted annual payout.

A fund by any other name

Distribution funds also may be referred to as:

• Managed income funds
• Retirement income funds
• Income replacement funds
• Managed payout funds
• Retirement distribution funds

Some distribution funds are managed so that all capital is exhausted by the end of a designated time period, generally getting more conservative as that end date gets closer. Others are designed to preserve capital and make payouts primarily from earnings; these typically have no time frame attached. Regardless of how the targeted payout rate is derived for a given fund series, it’s based on what is considered a sustainable withdrawal rate given the fund’s objectives, planned asset allocation, and time frame (if applicable). Also, in some cases, the amount of the payout is adjusted to keep pace with inflation.

A distribution fund’s method of providing its targeted income is generally based on historical rates of return for various types of investments in both good and bad markets. Each fund’s strategy is intended to minimize the impact of market fluctuations on its income payout. However, there is no guarantee a fund’s payout will remain the same from year to year. Also, it’s important to remember that all investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there can be no assurance that any investment strategy will be successful.

Questions to ask about a distribution fund:

• How are monthly payments determined?
• Does the fund make payments from earnings only, or from both earnings and principal?
• What is the proposed withdrawal rate?
• How much risk does the fund take in trying to achieve its targeted distribution rate?
• What are the fund’s underlying investments?
• What is the fund’s current asset allocation, and how may that allocation change over time?

A distribution fund is generally structured as a fund of funds, meaning that it is comprised of other mutual funds. However, some also include other types of investments.

Distribution funds aren’t annuities

Because of their focus on income, distribution funds are designed to fill a role in retirement that is somewhat similar to that of annuity payments. However, there are some key differences. Perhaps the most important is that distribution funds offer no guarantees of the payout levels they offer; annuities generally do (subject to the claims-paying ability of the annuity’s issuer). Also, a mutual fund is not an insurance contract, as an annuity is. And annuities often are designed to ensure an income that lasts throughout an individual’s lifetime, and/or that of a spouse. Though an investor can attempt to provide that with an appropriate distribution fund, no fund can guarantee income for life.

Advantages of distribution funds

A distribution fund can simplify and streamline the process of receiving ongoing income. You don’t have to worry about constructing that diversified portfolio yourself, shifting its asset allocation over time, or rebalancing it periodically. Also, the concept of a distribution fund may be easier to understand than an insurance contract that has many riders and variables. In addition, a targeted payout rate may make it easier to estimate how long your savings will last than if you were to try to manage your portfolio on your own.

Distribution funds also offer a great deal of flexibility. Even though you receive regularly scheduled payments, you can withdraw additional amounts from your principal at any time. That means you can adjust your annual retirement income from year to year, or make withdrawals to take care of unexpected costs. Investments that guarantee a regular income stream typically restrict the use of your principal.
Because distribution funds were intended as low-cost alternatives to annuities, expense ratios tend to be comparatively low.

Tradeoffs with distribution funds

As mentioned previously, a distribution fund may strive to provide a certain level of income, but there are no guarantees that it will do so. Depending on how a fund is structured and managed, a steep or prolonged market decline could affect the amount of the scheduled payments from year to year, or how long your investment will last. If you cannot afford either possibility, a distribution fund may mean more uncertainty–either long term or short term–than you’re comfortable with.

If you are willing and able to structure and administer a systematic withdrawal program independently, you may be able to replicate many of the advantages of a distribution fund with a well-diversified portfolio. That would give you greater ability to customize payouts to your individual situation. For example, you could shift investments based on what’s happening in the financial markets or your own life, and manage your tax situation from year to year.

Distribution funds are designed for individuals who plan to stay invested in a given fund for an extended period of time. If you’re an active trader or might withdraw your money relatively quickly, you may want to think twice; in-and-out investing will undercut the very reason for choosing a distribution fund. And be aware that even though you can withdraw amounts over and above your scheduled payments, those withdrawals will reduce future earnings that would have supported distributions in later years. That could leave you vulnerable to longevity risk–the possibility of outlasting your savings.

You also may need to consider any projected distribution fund payouts in the context of other retirement income concerns, such as the tax consequences of those payouts, or required minimum distributions from a qualified retirement plan or IRA.

One of many choices

Before investing in a distribution fund, carefully consider its investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses, which can be found in the prospectus available from the fund. Read the prospectus carefully before investing. As with most investment options, a distribution fund may not fill all your retirement income needs. Don’t hesitate to get expert advice on whether one might be useful for part of your portfolio, or for a specific purpose.

Note: Past performance is no guarantee of future results and asset allocation alone can’t guarantee a profit or prevent a loss.


IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES
Altum Wealth Advisors does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice via this website. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, this notice is to inform you that any tax advice included in this communication, including any attachments, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty or promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2014.

Prepared for Altum Wealth Advisors, Steven Cliadakis, MBA, CWS®, Managing Director, Wealth Strategist.

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2013 Year-End Tax Planning Basics

You don’t want to pay any more in tax than you have to. That means taking advantage of every strategy, deduction, and credit that you’re entitled to. However, the window of opportunity for many tax-saving moves closes on December 31, so it’s important to evaluate your tax situation now, while there’s still time to affect your bottom line for the 2013 tax year.

TP-TX-23_01Timing is everything

Consider any opportunities you have to defer income to 2014. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus, or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may allow you to put off paying tax on the income until next year. If there’s a chance that you’ll be in a lower income tax bracket next year, deferring income could mean paying less tax on the income as well.

Similarly, consider ways to accelerate deductions into 2013. If you itemize deductions, you might accelerate some deductible expenses like medical expenses, qualifying interest, or state and local taxes by making payments before year-end. Or, you might consider making next year’s charitable contribution this year instead.

What if you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in 2014?

If you know that you’ll be paying taxes at a higher rate in 2014 (say, for example, that an out-of-work spouse will be reentering the workforce in January), you might take the opposite tack. Consider whether it makes sense to try to accelerate income into 2013, and to postpone deductible expenses until 2014.

Factor in the AMT

Make sure that you factor in the alternative minimum tax (AMT). If you’re subject to AMT, traditional year-end maneuvers, like deferring income and accelerating deductions, can have a negative effect. That’s because the AMT–essentially a separate federal income tax system with its own rates and rules–effectively disallows a number of itemized deductions. For example, if you’re subject to the AMT in 2013, prepaying 2014 state and local taxes won’t help your 2013 tax situation, but could hurt your 2014 bottom line.

AMT triggers

You’re more likely to be subject to the AMT if you claim a large number of personal exemptions, deductible medical expenses, state and local taxes, and miscellaneous itemized deductions. Other common triggers include home equity loan interest when proceeds aren’t used to buy, build, or improve your home, and the exercise of incentive stock options.

Landscape has changed for higher-income individuals

TP-TX-23_02

Most individuals will pay federal income taxes for 2013 based on the same federal income tax rate brackets (10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%) that applied for 2012. The same goes for the maximum tax rate that generally applies to long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends (for those in the 10% or 15% marginal income tax brackets, a special 0% rate generally applies; for those in the 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35% brackets, a 15% maximum rate will generally apply).

Starting this year, however, a new 39.6% federal income tax rate applies if your taxable income exceeds $400,000 ($450,000 if married filing jointly, $225,000 if married filing separately, $425,000 if filing as head of household). If your income crosses that threshold, you’ll also be subject to a new 20% maximum tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends.

You could see a difference even if your income doesn’t reach that level. That’s because, if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is more than $250,000 ($300,000 if married filing jointly, $150,000 if married filing separately, $275,000 if filing as head of household), your personal and dependency exemptions may be phased out this year, and your itemized deductions may be limited.

Two new Medicare taxes need to be accounted for this year as well. If your wages exceed $200,000 this year ($250,000 if married filing jointly or $125,000 if married filing separately), the hospital insurance (HI) portion of the payroll tax–commonly referred to as the Medicare portion–is increased by 0.9%. Also, a new 3.8% Medicare contribution tax now generally applies to some or all of your net investment income if your modified adjusted gross income exceeds those dollar thresholds.

Required minimum distributions

Once you reach age 70½, you’re generally required to start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (special rules apply if you’re still working and participating in your employer’s retirement plan). You have to make the required withdrawals by the date required–the end of the year for most individuals–or a 50% penalty tax applies.

Absent new legislation, 2013 will be the last year that you’ll be able to make qualified charitable contributions (QCDs) of up to $100,000 from an IRA directly to a qualified charity if you’re 70½ or older. Such distributions may be excluded from income and count toward satisfying any RMDs you would otherwise have to receive from your IRA in 2013.

IRAs and retirement plans a key part of planning

Make sure that you’re taking full advantage of tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles. Traditional IRAs (assuming that you qualify to make deductible contributions) and employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k) plans allow you to contribute funds pretax, reducing your 2013 taxable income. Contributions you make to a Roth IRA (assuming you meet the income requirements) or a Roth 401(k) aren’t deductible, so there’s no tax benefit for 2013, but qualified Roth distributions are completely free from federal income tax–making these retirement savings vehicles very appealing.

For 2013, you can contribute up to $17,500 to a 401(k) plan ($23,000 if you’re age 50 or older), and up to $5,500 to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA ($6,500 if age 50 or older). The window to make 2013 contributions to an employer plan typically closes at the end of the year, while you generally have until the due date of your 2013 federal income tax return to make 2013 IRA contributions.

Big changes to note

Home office deduction rules: Starting with the 2013 tax year, those who qualify to claim a home office deduction can elect to use a new simplified calculation method; under this optional method, instead of determining and allocating actual expenses, the square footage of the home office is simply multiplied by $5. There’s a cap of 300 square feet, so the maximum deduction under this method is $1,500. Not everyone can use the optional method, and there are some potential disadvantages, but for many the new simplified calculation method will be a welcome alternative.

Same-sex married couples: Same-sex couples legally married in jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage will be treated as married for all federal income tax purposes, even if the couple lives in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage. If this applies to you, and you’re legally married on the last day of the year, you’ll generally have to file your federal income tax return as a married couple–either married filing jointly, or married filing separately. This affects only your federal income tax return–make sure you understand your state’s income tax filing requirements.

More health-care reform changes take effect in 2014: Beginning in 2014, you’ll generally be required to have adequate health-care coverage or face a penalty tax (a number of exceptions apply). A new premium tax credit will also be available to qualifying individuals.
Expiring provisions

A number of key provisions are scheduled to expire at the end of 2013, including:

Increased Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 179 expense limits and “bonus” depreciation provisions end.

The increased 100% exclusion of capital gain from the sale or exchange of qualified small business stock (provided certain requirements, including a five-year holding period, are met) will not apply to qualified small business stock issued and acquired after 2013.

The above-the-line deductions for qualified higher education expenses, and for up to $250 of out-of-pocket classroom expenses paid by education professionals, will not be available after the 2013 tax year.

If you itemize deductions, 2013 will be the last year you’ll be able to deduct state and local sales tax in lieu of state and local income tax.

Talk to a professional

When it comes to year-end tax planning, there’s always a lot to think about. A financial professional can help you evaluate your situation, keep you apprised of any legislative changes, and determine if any year-end moves make sense for you.


IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES

Altum Wealth Advisors does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice via this website. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, this notice is to inform you that any tax advice included in this communication, including any attachments, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty or promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2014.

Prepared for Altum Wealth Advisors, Steven Cliadakis, MBA, CWS®, Managing Director, Wealth Strategist. Chico, CA, San Francisco, CA.

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