Focusing on Football and Finances

 

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We started an activity in our office recently that we call “reverse-mentoring”. Historically, of course, the mentoring comes from the most experienced on down to the least experienced and the teacher and the student do not often change places. However, this informal program allows our youngest team members to teach the older team members what the world looks like from a Millennial perspective. We get to hear how the world looks through the kaleidoscope of a post-911 and post 2008 recession view. The impact of the explosion of internet and social media influence is something the younger generation can’t necessarily comprehend – they have always just had it. It seems all the older generation can do is play catch up and learn all they can from the younger crowd. The reverse-mentoring helps us look through a new and changing lens and we all enjoy hearing about the different generational perspectives.

The most significant difference in generational experience is the impact of the speed of information access and communication. It is mind-boggling how quickly news spreads, how widely social, political or economic information will travel. It is the age of near-constant distraction. We have hundreds of cable channels, apps on your phone with real-time sports scores, stock market quotes or breaking weather and news. We are constantly interrupted by texts, emails or alerts. My favorite example of over-the-top multi-tasking is the NFL Red-Zone cable channel. They move from game to game, finding the games with teams that are currently in the “Red Zone” or 20 yards from a scoring opportunity. They will sometimes show a split screen with several games at the same time so you don’t miss the exciting plays from every NFL game currently being televised! It will give you a headache trying to watch all of the action at once.

A Wall Street Journal article recently talked about how information “overload” is “leading us to make bad choices about our money”. The article suggests that our shortened attention span prevents us from fully digesting all of the pertinent information we need to make informed financial decisions. As much as we are now bombarded with data and information, if we can fully concentrate on the task at hand, we can also use some of these information tools to enhance our decision-making! Our smart-phones or IPads offer convenient ways to manage our banking, credit and investments. Here are some of the tips from the article to help you avoid the pitfalls of making poor financial choices.

Avoid multitasking: Multitasking can lead to ineffective completion of any of the tasks you are trying to accomplish. One business journal recently advised business owners that multitasking in the workplace should be discouraged and instead task completion should be the focus in order to have a successful business. As the article points out, trying to multitask makes us worse at most tasks!

Pick the Right Time of Day: Be sure that you have enough time to analyze information or make decisions. Try to choose a time when interruptions will be minimal and you can concentrate on one thing at a time.

Focus on the most relevant and not just the most available information: Try not to make snap judgements based on the most immediately available information. Taking time to do necessary research will allow you to make more informed choices. The latest information is not necessarily the whole story!

Look at the Big Picture: There are apps that can help monitor bills, payments, account balances and can help you track trends or payment schedules to take some of the work out of these tasks. Take the time to put the whole picture together before making a decision about one piece of your financial picture.

Keep away from the Phone: That small computer in your hand is a big culprit in causing distraction. One of our reverse-mentors told us about the latest Apple IOS 12 update which now shows how much screen time you spent in any given period and also will track the activities that you spent time on. If you saw that you spent 5 hours on your phone one day, with about 3 of those on FaceBook, Twitter or checking your Fantasy Football standings, it might prompt some restraint and help you to lessen your screen time each day. That is a useful tool!

We want all of our DWM clients to feel confident that, as your financial “quarterback”, we are paying very close and undistracted attention to your financial health. We try to carefully review all of the information at hand to make informed financial decisions on your behalf. We want our clients to worry as little as possible about financial decisions and we always welcome any questions or requests for assistance. We hope that when making your own decisions, you can slow down and take time to carefully determine the best path. Also, our dependence on constant information and interaction truly can take away from the wonderful experiences in our lives. So put down the phone, enjoy time spent on your favorite activities and with your favorite people. Watch one football game at a time! We think this will enhance your financial health and help you focus on the important things in your life.

Your “Hidden Brain” Impacts Your Politics

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Hopefully, all of us will vote in the midterms on 11/6 or before. Roughly half the country will vote for Republicans (conservatives) and half will vote for Democrats (liberals.). Did you know that your choices are not only impacted by your upbringing and experiences, but also very specifically by your genes? We’re hard-wired from birth for much of our political views.

Shankar Vedantam is one of my favorite authors and commentators. He is NPR’s social science correspondent and before that a journalist at The Washington Post. His 2010 book “The Hidden Brain: How our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save our Lives” describes how our unconscious biases influence us. I highly recommend it.

Mr. Vedantam relates the story that on a regular basis, right before an election, someone will share an article with him about how science proves that the brains of a liberal are stunted or that Republicans are less intelligent than Democrats. While those claims likely have no merit, Mr. Vedantam contends that there are “genuine psychological differences between liberals and conservatives.”

On a recent Hidden Brain telecast, Mr. Vedantam hosted political scientist Dr. John Hibbing to the show. Dr. Hibbing is co-author of “Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives and The Biology of Political Differences.” Dr. Hibbing pointed out that differences between partisans are not limited to politics. There are generally differences in food choices, living spaces, and temperaments. Conservatives generally like meat and potatoes; liberals are more likely to prefer ethnic food. Conservatives tend to have organized rooms with things like sports memorabilia, while liberals tend to have lots more books and may not be as tidy. As far as temperament, conservatives tend to favor order and tradition and liberals tend to be more comfortable with ambiguity and change.

Then, there’s a huge difference between conservatives and liberals when it comes to threats and danger. According to Dr. Hibbing, conservatives tend to see the world with its terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, and immigrants as a very dangerous and threatening place.   Liberals tend to believe they live in a relatively safe society.   Conservatives therefore want and need the government to help them “protect themselves and their family, limit immigration, and put lots of money into defense and law and order.” Liberals, on the other hand, are reinvigorated by immigrants coming to our country, don’t see the need to spend so much money on defense and support gun control. Conservatives and liberals read about events of the world and they simply don’t respond to them in the same way.

Mr. Vedantam chimed in: “There is a very powerful illusion that we have that the rest of the world sees the world the way we see the world. And, if they come to a different conclusion, it must be because they’re being deliberately obtuse or somehow deliberately biased, as opposed to the idea that people are actually seeing the world the same way, but reacting to it differently.” Psychologists call it a case of “false consensus” that we assume others will see the world the way we do.

People are wired differently. Roughly 30-40% of our political views come from genetics based on research by Dr. Hibbing. 60-70% comes from our environment. Mr. Vedantam has described how researchers separate the effects of biology from those of the environment. They look at fraternal and identical twins. Both sets of twins have identical initial environments, but the fraternal twins have similar but not identical genes. Data from thousands and thousands of twin pairs supports the conclusion that political views are quite “inheritable.”

Finally, brain activation patterns of liberals and conservatives are different. Dr. Hibbing has conducted tens of thousands of experiments in which he showed various pictures to individuals whose brain was being scanned. Liberals’ brains would highly activate at times much differently than when conservatives’ brains were highly active. The brain scan results alone proved “incredibly accurate in determining whether an individual was a conservative or liberal.”

Frankly, I find it very helpful to learn that political views are at least, in part, biological. Years ago, left-handers (like both my mother and father) were thought to be lazy and had their hands hit with a wooden ruler to make them write “correctly,” using their right hand. People saw left-handers as a flaw, something that needed to be driven out. Now, of course, we understand that being left-handed is very biological. Similarly with politics. Dr. Hibbing concludes: “If we recognize that others, virtually half the country, are oriented to the world in a different fashion, maybe we would be a bit more tolerant to them. This is the only way we’re going to get anywhere if we at least understand where they are coming from even if we might deeply disagree with their conclusions.”

As we approach the midterms with the vitriol rising, let’s all remember our hidden brains and those of others, particularly family and friends and show tolerance and respect to all. We may see the same world differently: our unique genes, unconscious biases and life experiences may produce different conclusions and different political preferences. Yet, we’re all Americans and we and our country will all do better if we work together.

The Life Insurance Puzzle

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We read an article last month in Investment News that suggests that life insurance should not be used as a savings vehicle. As you might imagine, there was some uproar among the life insurance industry readers that heartily disagreed with the premise of the “Guestblog” by Blair Duquesnay.   Ms. Duquesnay believes that there are certainly appropriate purposes for life insurance, but saving for retirement is not one of them. She stated in a follow-up that “life insurance is an instrument of protection, not accumulation.” We wanted to look a little closer into this to understand both sides of the argument.

First, let’s start with some of the universally acceptable reasons for having a life insurance policy. As Ms. Duquesnay says, life insurance should be purchased, in general, “because there will be a financial impact” on a business or family if someone dies. Certainly, protecting our loved ones or business partners is prudent and responsible. If something happens to you, you might want to provide a benefit for regular or special spending needs, potential increased child care costs, a mortgage payoff or other debt relief. Similarly, a death benefit might help cover college costs or provide a lifetime of comfortable support to our dependents. Some policies can be used for estate planning, long-term care or asset protection. It is also true that, in general, the need for a life insurance death benefit may decline over time, as your life circumstances change.

Let’s talk about the different types of life insurance:

1.Term Life, or annually renewable life insurance, offers an affordable premium to buy a particular level of insurance for a specific period of time. Maybe you use it, maybe you won’t and maybe you keep it going, maybe you don’t, but, either way, at the end of the term, the policy expires and, generally, there is no longer a need to have it. There is no additional value to the policy beyond the safety net of the death benefit.

2.Whole Life is the most common form of permanent life insurance, which means the benefit coverages will be around for your lifetime, as long as you pay the premiums. There are two parts to it – an investment portion (cash value) and an insurance portion (face value or death benefit). Premiums are fixed and are considerably higher than term policies, with high mortality charges for keeping the guaranteed death benefit. These products are designed to stay in force for your lifetime and come with steep surrender charges if you terminate the policy early. There are also substantial up-front commissions and fees for investing part of your premiums in a tax-deferred account. You can access your cash value by taking a loan out with the insurance company against the account value in the policy and they will charge you interest. If you stop paying the premiums, you may be able to switch to a paid-up policy that will be worth the existing cash value, but in general, these products are expensive to keep in place.

3. Universal Life is designed to also be a permanent insurance policy, but is considered adjustable because the policy offers the flexibility of changing premium amounts and having a fixed or increasing death benefit. If you need to stop paying or reduce premiums, your accumulated cash value can be used to keep the policy from lapsing. Once the policy value goes to zero, the policy and death benefit lapse forever. There can be steep surrender charges if terminating or withdrawing from your account, which will reduce any accumulated cash value. Like Whole life policies, your premium pays a portion to a high-interest cash value account and a portion for a death benefit. The growth is dependent on the performance in the accounts, on investment earnings (or losses) and on the amount of your premium contributions. The flexibility can be beneficial, but the policy value can deteriorate and lapse and the fees and costs are much higher than a term policy.

4. Variable Life – these are policies built like Universal life contracts (there are also hybrid Variable Universal Life policies, just to make it more confusing), but the investments are kept in managed mutual fund sub accounts with investments selected from a menu. This gives the policy holder more investment choice (and risk) for the cash value account in the policy. However, like Universal life, the same risk applies – the accumulation is dependent on the amount paid with your premium and the performance of the investments in the cash value account. The flexibility might be attractive, but it also increases the risk to the policy. Again, once the policy value goes to zero, the policy and death benefit lapse forever.

There are more insurance products and deeper complexities to the above definitions, but this is a basic outline of some of the life insurance choices. As you can see, the “permanent” life insurance policies and their saving (or investment) option can be costly and will allow for less flexibility in the growth of your investment savings than using standard investment accounts not tied to insurance. We generally find that the expensive fees, commissions and surrender charges keep us from recommending these products as a saving vehicle. “Buy term and invest the rest” is the motto of most fee-only advisors. The insurance industry is always working to improve these products and find the sweet spot for combining protection with accumulation. We certainly agree that there may be appropriate circumstances for using the more complex insurance products. At DWM, we don’t sell any of these insurance products, but we are happy to review your current policies or insurance needs to help you find the sweet spot for you and your family!

DWM 3Q18 MARKET COMMENTARY

Get yourself fit! A diversified portfolio is like a well-balanced diet. You need all major asset classes/food groups for proper nutrition. Think of the major asset classes (equities, fixed income, alts) as your protein, carbs, and fats. If you were to load up in one particular area (e.g. carb loading), you might feel better in the short-term, but it could seriously affect your health in the long-term. And it’s the same way with investing: if you “overindulged” in any one particular area for too long; you are bound to get ill at some point. Which is a good segway for this quarter’s market commentary. Yes, US stocks – those in the large cap growth area in particular – ended the third quarter near records, but now is not the time to be one-dimensional.

But, before we dive into a proper nutritional program, let’s see how the major asset classes fared in 3q18:

Equities: Let’s start with the spicy lasagna…the S&P500, the hot index right now, which climbed 7.7% in the quarter and up 10.6% for the calendar year. However, most don’t realize that just three companies (Apple, Amazon, & Microsoft) make up one-quarter of those year-to-date (“YTD”) gains. Besides these outliers, returns in general for equities are more muted as represented by the MSCI AC World Index registering a 3.9% 3q18 & 3.65% YTD return. Emerging Markets* continue to be the cold broccoli, down 1.1% for the quarter and now -7.7% for the year. In other words, even though the headlines – which like to focus on domestic big-cap stocks, like the ones in the S&P500 and Dow – are flashing big numbers; in reality, the disparity amongst equity benchmark returns is huge this year with some areas up sizably and some areas down sizably.

Fixed Income: The Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index, was basically unchanged for the quarter and down 1.6% YTD. The Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index fell 0.9% and now down 2.4% YTD. Pretty unappetizing. The shorter duration, i.e. the weighted average of the times until the fixed cash flows within your bond portfolio are received, the better your return. It’s a challenging environment when interest rates go up, but the Fed continues to do so in a gradual and transparent manner. Last week, the Fed raised its benchmark federal-funds rate to a range between 2% and 2.25%. We could see another four rate hikes, one for each Fed quarterly meeting, before they stop/pause for a while.

Alternatives: The Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, increased +0.7% for the quarter and now off only 1.2% for the year. Alts come in many different shapes and forms so we’ll highlight just a few here. Gold** continued to drop, down 4.9% for qtr and now off 8.6% for year. Oil*** continues to rise, up 4.7% 3q18 & 27.5% YTD. MLPs**** jumped 6.4% on the quarter and now +5.0% for 2018. Whereas alts have not been “zesty” as of late, think of them like your morning yogurt: a great source of probiotics, a friendly bacteria that can improve your health when other harmful bacteria emerge.

So after a decent 3q18 for most investors, where do we go from here and what should be part of one’s nutritional program?

Let’s first talk about the economy. It’s been on a buttery roll as of late. The Tax Cut & Jobs Act of 2017 has created a current environment for US companies that has rarely been more scrumptious, as evidenced by earnings per share growth of 27% year-over-year (“YOY”). Unemployment clicked in at last measure at 3.9% and most likely will continue to drop in the near future. With the economy this strong, many may find it surprising to see the lack in wage growth and inflation. Wages are only up 2.8% and core inflation is up only up 2.0% YOY. Wages are staying under control as the Baby Boomers and their higher salaries exit the work field, replaced by lower-salaried Millennials and Gen Z. Part of the lack of inflation growth is because of the internet/technology that gives so much information to the Buyer at the tip of their fingers, keeping a lid on prices. Trade talk/tariffs, have been a big headliner as of late creating a lot of volatility; but that story only seems to be improving with the revised NAFTA taking shape with Mexico and Canada. Some type of agreement with China could be on the near horizon too.

This is all delectable news, but the tax stimulus effect will peak in mid-2019 and companies will have to perform almost perfectly to remain at their current record profit margin levels. With earnings a major component of valuation, any knock to them could affect stock prices. Further, the S&P500 is now trading at a forward PE ratio of 16.8x, which is north of its 16.1x 25-year average. This is not the case in other areas of the world – Europe, Japan, Emerging Markets – where valuations are actually lower than averages. If you haven’t done so already, time to put those on your menu.

It’s not only a good diet you want for your portfolio; you also want to make sure of proper fitness/maintenance, i.e. rebalancing back to established long-term asset allocation mix targets. Time to bank some of those equity gains and reinvest those into the undervalued areas if you haven’t already done so recently. Regular portfolio rebalancing helps reduce downside investment risk and instills discipline so that investors avoid “buying high” and “selling low”, a savory way to keeping you and your portfolio healthy.

In conclusion, we are in interesting times. The economy is peppery-hot, but incapable of keeping this pace. A slowdown is inevitable. The question is two-fold: how big will that slow-down be, and are you prepared for it? Now is the time to revisit your risk tolerance and compare that to how much risk is in your current portfolio. That spicy lasagna, aka the S&P500, has been a delicious meal as of late, but don’t let too much of it ruin your diet. Make sure your portfolio is diversified in a well-balanced manner. Stay healthy and in good shape by working with a wealth manager like DWM who can keep your portfolio as fit as a triathlete.

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT

 

*represented by the MSCI Emerging Markets Index

**represented by the iShares Gold Trust

***represented by the Morningstar Brent Crude Commodity ER USD

****represented by the UBS AG London BRH ETracs Alerian MLP ETF

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS: 10 YEARS LATER

On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers imploded; filing a $691 billion bankruptcy that sent stock markets into a deep dive of 40% or more. The global financial crisis ultimately would destroy trillions of dollars in wealth- $70,000 for every single American. The deep financial trough produced the Great Recession.

Now, 10 years later, how are we doing and what lessons have we learned?

How are we doing?

Official economic statistics would say that the American economy is fully recovered. We are in a 9+ year bull market with a cumulative total return of 350%. The total combined output of the American economy, known as our gross domestic product (“G.D.P.”) has risen 20% since the Lehman crisis. The unemployment rate is lower than it was before the financial crisis. These key measurements, now a century old tradition, however, don’t tell the whole story. The official numbers are accurate, but not that meaningful.

For many Americans, the financial crisis of 2008-2009 isn’t over. It left millions of people-who were already just “getting by”- even more anxious and angry about their future. The issue is inequality. A small, affluent segment of the population receives the bulk of the economy’s harvest. It was true 10 years ago and is even more so today. So, while major statistics look good, they really don’t measure our country’s “human well-being.”

The stock market is now 60% higher than when the crisis began in 2007. While the top 10% of Americans own 84% of the stocks, the other 90% are much more dependent on their homes for their overall net worth. The net worth of the median (not the “average”) household is still 20% lower than it was in 2007, despite the record highs for the stock markets.

The unemployment rate, currently at 3.9%, does not take into account two major items. First, the number of idle working-age adults has swelled. Many of them would like to work, but they can’t find a decent job and have given up looking. Currently, 15% of men aged 25-54 are not working and not even looking; therefore, they are not considered “unemployed.” Second, many Americans are working at or near the federal minimum hourly wage- which has been $7.25 per hour since July 2009. Neither group is benefitting from low, low unemployment rates.

There is a movement to change these metrics to something more meaningful.   A team of economists, Messrs. Zucman, Saez and Piketty, have begun publishing a version of G.D.P. that separates out the share of national income flowing to rich, middle class and poor. At the same time, the Labor Department could modify the monthly jobs report to give more attention to other unemployment numbers. The Federal Reserve could publish quarterly estimates of household wealth by economic class. Such reports could change the way the country communicates about the economy. Economist and Nobel Laureate Simon Kuznets, who oversaw the first G.D.P. calculation in 1873, cautioned people not to confuse G.D.P. with “economic welfare.”

What lessons have we learned?

Mohammed A. El-Erian, the chief economic adviser at Allianz, the corporate parent of PIMCO, recently summarized, in the “Investment News,” some key lessons learned from the crisis.

Accomplishments:

  • A safer banking system due to strengthened capital buffers, more responsible approaches to balance sheets and better liquidity management
  • A more robust payment and settlement system to minimize the risk of “sudden stops” in counterpart payments
  • Smarter international cooperation including improved harmonization, stronger regulation and supervision and better monitoring

Still outstanding issues:

  • Long-term growth still relying on quick fixes rather than structural and secular components
  • Misaligned internal incentives encouraging some institutions who are still taking pockets of improper risk-taking
  • The big banks got bigger and the small got more complex through the gradual hollowing out of the medium-sized financial firms
  • Reduced policy flexibility in the event of a crisis because interest rates in most of the advanced world, outside of the U.S., are still near zero and world-wide debt is significantly higher than 10 years ago.

Yes, we’ve made some good progress in the last 10 years since the financial crisis. But, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Financial Literacy: Money Matters!

As you all know, we provide proactive financial advice on matters such as investment management and value-added services such as tax planning, risk management and estate planning to name a few.  Something you probably didn’t know is that earlier this year, we launched a campaign to promote financial literacy for children and young adults!  It is called the Young Investors program.  Some of our clients have recently become the first recipients of this new program!

Financial literacy is a person’s ability to recognize and use the money and other resources he or she has to get what is needed and wanted.  Another way of saying this is that financial literacy is being able to set goals for using financial resources, make plans, and use the plans to meet financial demands and achieve goals.  To achieve financial literacy, a person needs to have experiences with money.  That is why it is important that children begin to learn about money and its use when they are young.

You might not know this, but financial literacy availability for young children is scarce, primarily because the school systems lack time and budget resources to incorporate financial education into the curriculums.  In fact, only 16 states require any instruction in economics between Kindergarten and 12th grade.  Even worse, only 7 states require students to take courses in personal finance.

There’s been a greater awareness of this educational need in the past 10 years and some financial-literacy advocacy groups have begun to take some steps to fill this educational void.  Some have responded by offering summer camps to young children whose parents want to teach their children the basics of money management.  Feedback from many of the attendees is that, believe it or not, they had fun!  Of course, we want to join in on the fun, and we are also excited to be a part of the solution.

We know that a financial foundation is best achieved when started early, reviewed, as well as reinforced often.  It’s important to teach young children even before they are in school about the concept of money, and that it’s not all about spending!  For example, something simple that a parent can start as early as age 3 can have lasting effects for the future.  Consider this:

Activity: Tell your toddler that you’ll give him a cookie now if he wants it, but you’ll give him two cookies if he waits an extra ten minutes. See what he chooses and try to encourage him to wait for the extra cookie.

Lesson Learned: Be patient and wait for a bigger payoff, rather than always going for instant gratification.

Although it might not look like much, it sets the stage for a less impulsive, more thoughtful response, and hopefully not just one involving money in the future!

Thinking about the scenario above, in an article I read the other day from the Wall Street Journal on personal finance summer camps, a 12 year old boy cited some camp attendance takeaways such as stopping and pausing before making purchases and long term planning!  I suppose it’s true that small things do matter!  And more interesting feedback from the camp directors is that many children ages 10-14 didn’t know what stock and bonds were.  Some thought the investments were a form of real estate.  Clearly, more attention needs to be given to this area.

We love the opportunities these summer camps offer and hope to provide some of our own financial education to our client families year round.  With our financial literacy agenda, our Young Investor program is structured with several tiers of age appropriate interactions and dialogue starters on financial matters for our clients to have with their children or grandchildren.  Age appropriate financial suggestions, tools, links to pertinent financial articles and fun activities to engage their minds are some of the content we will be sharing.  With the importance of starting as early as possible, we literally start at the very beginning, with newly born children/grandchildren, and capture all ages through the early 20s.  Specifically, we break out the tiers in roughly 5 year intervals, so age 0-5 years is the first group, 5-10 years is next, then 10-15 years, with 15-20ish years being the last group.  Our goal is that by age 25, the child or grandchild will be more than ready to begin a lifetime of investing!

Even after your children and grandchildren start their careers, it is our hope that they will join our Emerging Investor program, where they can establish their own brokerage accounts with Charles Schwab and have some of the same great DWM advantages and services as their parents and grandparents.  We are happy to help them by protecting and growing a diversified portfolio to preserve assets and provide moderate growth with minimal risk.

With our help, the young children of today will come to ask for financial assistance and have some of the best mentors in their lives, YOU!  And we all know that money is not an elective in life, so let’s keep the dialogue going with our young generation and keep providing them with good ‘sense’!  We hope you find this program to be a valuable experience.  As always, please let us know your thoughts or if you need financial assistance with a young investor in your life.

Tax Efficient Investing

Think of these opposites:  Good/Bad.  Rich/Poor.  Gain/Loss. Joy/Sadness.  Investment Returns/Income Taxes.  Yes, Uncle Sam is happy to take all the joy out of your investment returns and tax them.  That’s why tax efficient investing is so important.

You have three types of investment accounts: taxable, tax deferred or tax exempt.  For taxable accounts, you must pay taxes in the year income is received.  Retirement accounts, IRAs and annuities are examples of tax deferred accounts, in which you pay tax on the income when you take it out. Tax-exempt accounts, like Roth IRAs and Roth 401ks, are not taxed even at withdrawal.

Strategy #1:  Know Your Bracket.  The tax brackets have changed for 2018.  The top federal marginal rate of 37% will hit taxpayers of $500,000 and higher for single filers and $600,000 for married couples filing jointly.  There can be a huge difference between taxes on current ordinary income and taxes on long-term capital gains. Capital gains are the appreciation on your holdings over time and often represent a very significant portion of your total investment return.  Securities held for over a year generally qualify for long-term capital gain taxes, which are taxed at 0% to 20%, with most investors paying 15%. The difference between ordinary and capital gains taxes on your investment income can be substantial.

Strategy #2:  Asset Allocation includes Asset “Location.”  Tax efficient investments should be in taxable accounts, tax inefficient investments should be in tax deferred or tax-exempt accounts.  For example, bonds are tax inefficient.  Interest earned on bonds in taxable accounts is income in the year received and is taxed at ordinary income tax rates.  However, bond interest earned in a tax deferred account is also taxed as ordinary income, but only at withdrawal, when presumably you might be at lower income and tax levels.  Hence, bonds should generally be located in tax deferred accounts, such as IRAs and 401ks.

Stocks are more tax efficient. First, the qualified dividends received on stocks are taxed at the capital gains tax rate, which is likely less than your ordinary income tax rate. And, second, the largest part of your investment return on equities is often your capital gain, which is also generally at 15% tax and is only paid when you sell a security.  Hence, stocks and equity funds are tax efficient and generally should be located in taxable accounts.  Conversely, holding equities in retirement accounts is not generally a good idea because even though the tax is deferred, the ultimate withdrawals will be taxed at ordinary rates, not capital gains.

Alternative investments, which are designed to be non-correlated with bonds and stocks, may generate more ordinary income than tax-efficient income.  Hence, they should generally be located in tax deferred accounts.  Tax-exempt accounts, such as Roth accounts, can hold tax efficient and tax inefficient holdings. Hence, tax-exempt accounts are already tax efficient and can hold all three asset classes; equity, fixed income and alternatives, in appropriate asset allocations without any income tax cost.

Strategy #3:  Grow your Roth Assets.  Because Roth assets are tax-exempt and, therefore, 100% tax efficient, they are the most valuable investment asset you can own; both in your lifetime and your heirs.  Roths only have investment returns, no taxes.  Furthermore, Roth accounts, unlike traditional IRA accounts, do not require minimum distributions when you and/or your spouse reach 70 ½.  Upon your passing, the beneficiaries of your Roth assets can “stretch them” by allowing them to continue to grow them tax-free. However, the heirs will be required to take minimum distributions.

Roths can be funded in a number of ways.  If you have earnings, you can make Roth contributions of $5,500 per year ($6,500 if you are 50 or over) if your income is below a certain threshold.  In addition, if you are working for a company with a 401k plan, that plan may allow Roth 401k contributions. In this case, there are no earnings limitations and you can contribute $18,500 ($24,500 if you are 50 or over.)  You can also convert IRAs to Roths.  This is done by paying income tax on the difference between the amount converted and the cost basis of the IRA. There is no limit of the amount you can convert.  The concept is “pay tax once, have the Roth grow tax-free forever.” Oftentimes this conversion takes place after retirement but before age 70 ½ and is done in an annual installment amount to keep the tax implications within a given tax bracket.   We encourage you and/or your CPA to look at this possibility.

Strategy #4:  Do an Income Tax Projection.  Tax projections are really important, particularly in 2018, with all the new changes brought on by tax reform.  The projection provides information as to your income, deductions, tax bracket, estimated taxes (to minimize surprises and penalties) and, hopefully, also possibilities for tax savings.  We prepare “unofficial” tax projections for our clients for these very reasons.  Investment management must consider income taxes.

Ultimately, your return on investments is your gross return less the income taxes.  Therefore, we encourage you to make your investment portfolio operate as tax efficiently as possible and accentuate the positive; good, rich, gain, joy and investment returns.  Rather than the negative; bad, poor, loss, sad and income taxes.  You should make yourself happy, not Uncle Sam.

Labor Day- A Holiday and a Time to Reflect on the American Dream

Hamdi_Ulukaya.jpgWe hope everyone had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. We certainly did. Labor Day always marks the “unofficial” end of summer. Time for school and work to begin in earnest. It’s also an excellent time to remember the contributions and achievements of American workers and to reflect on their chances of achieving the American Dream, which is “the ideal that every U.S. citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination and initiative.”

Last week, I read a very engaging interview in the NYT about Chobani yogurt’s founder, Mr. Hamdi Ulukaya (pictured above) and his quest of the American dream for himself and others.

Hamdi Ulukaya grew up in eastern Turkey with sheep, goats and cows. He and his family spent the spring, summer and fall in the mountains; herding animals and producing yogurt and cheese. They came back to their village in winter time. Hamdi went to a boarding school, but didn’t like it. He left school, got in trouble and then thought he should leave Turkey. A stranger suggested, “Why don’t you go to the United States?” Hamdi wasn’t sure, but decided to take the plunge in 1994, at age 22, and came to America with $3,000 in his pocket.

After several years of university study and odd jobs, in 2002 Mr. Ulukaya was encouraged by his father to start making feta cheese. Years of hard work and struggle ensued with little success. One day, Mr. Ulukaya saw an ad for a fully equipped yogurt plant for sale. Kraft was closing the operation in the dairy region of NY, near where Mr. Ulukaya lived. His attorney checked into it and reported back, “They’re looking for an idiot to unload this on. They probably have environmental issues. And, if they thought yogurt was a good business, they would not be getting out of it.” This was 2005 and at that time Greek yogurt represented about ½ of 1% of the yogurt market.

But, Mr. Ulukaya was convinced he could make it work. He pursued the deal and, on August 17, 2005, he had the “key” to the factory. Today, Greek yogurt is over 50% of the yogurt market. Chobani, which means “shepherd”, went from no sales in 2005 to over $1 billion per year by 2012. It continues to grow as the #1-best-selling Greek yogurt in America. BTW, it’s my favorite.

Chobani started with a few people and now employs thousands. They are known for offering generous wages and benefits and recently gave away equity to its employees. Mr. Ulukaya tells why: “Look, my background is a working-class background. One of my dreams was to make this company a place where everybody’s a partner, and the employees deserved a portion of what they have helped to build. If you make $7 or even $9 per hour, you can’t have a house. You can’t have good food for the kids. Forget vacations.” He continues: “Especially for rural communities, we (the employers) have to start worrying about our own employees, their families and their children’s well-being, and the school, and the firehouse and the baseball field. You have to get involved.”

Chobani needed people for its growth. Coincidentally, at this time people from different parts of the world were being settled in the Utica, NY area near the Chobani plant. Mr. Ulukaya, an immigrant himself, decided to start hiring them: “These are hardworking people-they’ve gone through a lot.” Today roughly 20% (500 to 600 people) of the Chobani workforce are immigrants from 19 different countries. In April 2016, Mr. Ulukaya gave his employees 10% of the shares of Chobani.

Labor Day is a perfect time for a holiday and perfect time to reflect on the American dream. Chobani’s Hamdi Ulukaya is a shining example that the American dream is alive and well. Mr. Ulukaya, now 45 years old, is worth $1.7 billion and is an owner, investor and philanthropist. And, as importantly, Chobani is helping keep the flame of the American Dream alive for its employees; by providing generous wages and benefits, including equity.   All 2,500 Chobani employees, some of them newcomers to the United States from other parts of the world and some whose families have been here for generations, could all celebrate in a very special way on Labor Day. The American dream is alive and well, particularly with entrepreneurs like Hamdi Ulukaya leading the way.

Happy Labor Day: Fun Facts!

Labor Day in the 21st century means time for beaches, BBQ, ballgames and quality time with family and friends. For many, Labor Day signifies the last days of summer. But don’t worry, the official end of summer is September 21st so you still have some time to catch some waves and rays. Although Labor Day always falls on the first Monday of every September, there is a lot more to this holiday weekend than an extra day off from work and great sales. From a survey done by WalletHub, here are 10 facts about Labor Day that you may not know:

  1. 133 million Americans will enjoy a BBQ this Labor Day

 

  1. The average Labor Day shopper will spend $58

 

  1. 25% of Americans plan to get out of town

 

  1. The top three Labor Day destinations include New York City, Chicago, and Las Vegas

 

  1. Labor Day is America’s third favorite holiday behind Christmas/Chanukah and Memorial Day

 

  1. There are approximately 89 running races held over Labor Day weekend

 

  1. The number one hardest working city in America is San Francisco with an 8 hour average work day, and the laziest city in America is Columbia, SC with an average work day of 7.3 hours

 

  1. Labor Day is the unofficial end of hot dog season in America. From Memorial Day to Labor Day there are 818 hot dogs eaten per second

 

  1. Most Americans believe Labor Day is only an American holiday when really it was started in Canada

 

  1. Last but not least, yes, you really can wear white after Labor Day!

From everyone here at DWM, have a great Labor Day Weekend and enjoy some time with the family!

The End of Signing on the Dotted Line

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We all lead busy lives, so it’s important to save time and maximize efficiency whenever we can. The new eSignature feature from Charles Schwab allows you to review, electronically sign, and send back eligible forms to us, making a variety of processes quicker and easier than ever before.

At DWM, we always stay up to date with the latest technology and keep you informed, so we can ensure the best possible experience for our clients. As we learn more about today’s changing technology and the need to stay on top of cybersecurity, going digital allows sensitive client material to remain safely guarded, as well as providing an easier, less burdensome and more accurate onboarding process for everyone.

eSignature is accepted on many new account applications, maintenance forms, and managed account forms, such as:

  • Schwab One Personal accounts
  • Schwab One Trust Accounts
  • Company Retirement Accounts (CRA/Pension Trust)
  • Custodial/Minor IRA Applications
  • Account Closure Forms
  • Designated Beneficiary Plan Agreements
  • Investor Checking Accounts
  • IRA Distribution Forms
  • MoneyLink Applications
  • Transfer Your Account (Into or Out of Charles Schwab)

For a full list of eligible forms, click here. This time-saving eSignature feature is extremely efficient, and it’s easy to use, too! Simply follow the steps below and you’ll be well on your way to mastering electronic signatures.

1)When expecting a form for eSignature, keep an eye out for an email from Charles Schwab that states “Documents for Your Electronic Signature.”

2)Click “Review Documents” at the bottom of that email.

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3)Log into your Schwab account using your Schwab Alliance when prompted. If you don’t know your account information, let us know or contact Schwab Alliance at 1-800-515-2157.

4)Click “Agree/Continue” to agree to the eSignature terms and conditions.

5)Review the document and ensure that it is accurate before signing.

6)When you are ready, choose from two signing options: automatic signature or draw, in which you digitally “draw” your own signature.

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7)Click “Sign” in all places where signature or initial is needed.

8)Click “Finish” to complete the process. DWM will be notified promptly and you will then receive a confirmation email.

 

We could all use some time back in our day, so if you’d like to learn more about eSignature, reach out to us at any time or contact Schwab Alliance at 1-800-515-2157 for more information.