Our Children Are Our Future

This Holy Week in the Christian world is an excellent time to put last Saturday’s “March for Our Lives” in perspective. While millions of Americans found the marches for gun control inspiring, many others were skeptical wondering “What do these kids know?” Older people have been groaning about the young in politics for centuries. Yet, in the late 19th century, during a very dark political time for the U.S., the young people helped save democracy. Can they do it again?

Young people have always been involved in American politics, primarily as unpaid labor doing work behind the scenes; making posters, handing out campaign information, running errands and other unglamorous jobs. The young were never allowed to champion themselves or their opinions, being told by established politicians to simply follow the party’s platform.

At the end of the 19th century, according to John Grinspan, Smithsonian historian and author, young people cried out to be heard on their issues. A new generation of young people denounced current leaders and partisanship. They demanded reforms. In 1898, one New Yorker summarized their movement as “the younger generation hates both parties equally.”

At the start of the 20th century, the youth movement put an end to extreme polarization; forcing both parties to pursue its issues and concerns. Independent young voters became a decisive third force, with enough clout to swing close elections. Politicians supported them and their agenda, creating the Progressive Era, which included cleaning up cities and passing laws protecting workers. Though unable to personally vote, women played a key role. Women worked to refocus American life toward social issues, built schools and fought child labor.

Mr. Grinspan argues that the key to understanding youth politics is that young people can’t “focus simply on benefits for the young.” Youth is temporary and gains are passed on. The high school seniors who marched Saturday across the country will hopefully make their schools safer well after they have graduated. Mr. Grinspan concludes that the young should set the nation’s political agenda as they will be here much longer than the rest of us.

Today’s young have much work to do. The solutions the marchers want certainly depend on winning elections. Ultimately, it’s not about standing up to be heard, but about accomplishing political change. These kids didn’t spontaneously emerge from Florida a month ago. They and millions like them were born after 9/11. They have grown up with the worry of guns in their classrooms and the threat of terrorism for their entire lifetime. Many have perceived that our grown-up generations have been stripping our nation’s resources, allowed or assisted in the destruction of the middle class, added trillions of dollars of debt to our nation’s finances and have allowed politics to sink into tribalism. They’ve been watching us and our mistakes and they’ve decided it’s not for them. We all have much to learn from these children and their perspective and they deserve our support.

In honor of Holy Week, it seems a very appropriate time to read Matthew 19:13-14 (from the new living translation): “Then the little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them; and the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.’”

DWM wishes you and your family a wonderful Easter weekend!!

Data Breach Deja Vu

facebook-data-dislikeSocial media behemoth Facebook landed itself in hot water this week when it was revealed that the company allowed a third-party firm to gain access to user data. This latest scandal comes amid a slew of serious data concerns and shows just how careful we need to be with our information in this digital age. In the world of mobile devices, social media, and the cloud, it can be disconcerting to think that your personal information might just be floating around out there.

The data firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA), accessed information from tens of millions of Facebook users without their permission and “improperly” stored this data for years, despite CA’s claim that the sensitive data had been destroyed. Furthermore, CA, who is known for supplying marketing data for political campaigns, is believed to have harvested this information for political campaigns after 2013.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook bears a huge amount of blame for allowing CA to get its data to begin with. However, reports calling CA’s data harvesting a “leak,” a “hack,” or a serious violation of Facebook policy are all, unfortunately, incorrect. All of the information collected by the company was information that Facebook had freely allowed app developers to access.

Now, an investigation is being launched to find out exactly who knew about this large-scale improper data usage and when they knew about it. According to Facebook, this serious slipup should not be considered a data breach, because the data firm abused user data that was openly shared with third parties. However, I think we can all agree that sharing user data with third-party firms opened up the floodgates for illegal data breaches and abuse of personal information – as seen by Equifax in June of 2017. While Facebook’s stock takes a nosedive and the company tries desperately to get out in front of this PR nightmare, the rest of us are left reflecting on how our sensitive data is being handled and what measures are being taken to protect it.

As a common rule of thumb, it should be noted that you should never keep sensitive information on any social media platform. This includes but not limited to phone numbers, addresses and even email addresses. While your email address, and sometimes phone numbers, are needed for the account setup in many social media platforms, this information should never be made viewable by friends or followers on any social media platform

With DWM, you don’t have to spend any sleepless nights wondering about how your personal and financial information is being handled. Our firm and our preferred custodian, Charles Schwab, would never jeopardize our clients’ information by handing out data to third parties. You can feel confident knowing that your information will never be released to any outside parties for any reason (except with your explicit permission).

You may want to consider deactivating your Facebook account, but you can rest assured that your financial information with DWM is safe and secure.

LOOKING THROUGH THE GENDER LENS

Woman_with_wealth.jpgLast week, we celebrated International Women’s Day. Adopted by the UN in 1975, we recognize this global day of advocacy to celebrate women’s work and to promote women’s rights. It has been a troubling year hearing women’s stories of facing sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere, but yet a momentous year of watching women gain a collective voice against this treatment. The #Me Too movement has catapulted women’s rights to one of the top national conversations and focused attention on the goal to removing gender bias in many aspects of our culture. You’ve come a long way, baby, indeed!!

This conversation has also put the spotlight on the gender gap for pay and hiring practices. According to an article in Businessweek, working women still earn between 57% – 80% of the salary of a working man, depending on whether they are white, black or Hispanic. Women’s pay is catching up, but is predicted not to achieve equal status until 2058. This affects all of us, as women have less opportunity to save, contribute to Social Security and participate in the economy. Saving adequate retirement savings is harder for women. Women are able to save less for several reasons, the gap in pay being one of them. There may be career interruptions for children, a need to pay for child care while in the workplace, higher healthcare costs and, of course, women live longer, which all puts a strain on women’s ability to save for retirement and have adequate means when older.

Adding to the difficulty in obtaining adequate saving levels, research has shown that women are, on average, less risk tolerant in their financial decisions than men. According to Associate Professor from the University of Missouri Rui Yao, women and men do not think of investment risk differently, but income uncertainty affects women differently from men. That uncertainty may result in women keeping funds in asset allocations with lower expected returns to “buffer the risk of negative income shocks”. This can be a concern for any investor with low levels of risk tolerance, as they might have greater difficulty reaching their financial goals and building adequate retirement wealth because they are less likely to invest in more growth-oriented asset classes with bigger returns, like equities. “Risk tolerance is one of the most important factors that contributes to wealth accumulation and retirement,” said Rui Yao. At DWM, we review the risk tolerance of all of our clients very carefully. We make sure that their investment strategy matches well with their capacity for risk, as well as their tolerance for it, while making sure that they can achieve their goals for financial independence.

Despite fighting issues of sexual harassment and glass ceilings in the workplace, women have made some remarkable gains in their financial status. In 40% of American families, the primary breadwinner is a woman and, for the first time in history, women control the majority of personal wealth in the U.S. In fact 48% of all millionaires are women. Also, women will benefit immensely in the future transfer of wealth – from husbands who are older and die sooner or parents who now bestow equal inheritances to sons and daughters. Breadwinner women may control more wealth, but there is still a shortfall in other areas.

There are many arguments for equalizing our gender dynamics at home and at work – there is no doubt that enabling women to achieve their full potential is certainly better for women and their families. There is also a universal financial argument to be made. By some estimates, according to Sallie Krawchek of Ellevate Network, if women were fully engaged in the economy, GDP would increase by 9%! Ms. Krawchek’s article also cites multiple studies that conclude “companies with diverse leadership teams” outperform other companies on metrics including higher returns on capital, lower risk and greater innovation. This translates into healthier corporate environments that are rewarded on the bottom line. That is good for men, women and families! All of the reasons for closing the gender gap are important, but the financial benefits for everyone are significant and certainly can’t be considered controversial. As someone once said, “It’s the economy, stupid”!

While there remain roadblocks to women achieving equality in their financial status with men, we do think having these national conversations and educating both women and men on the benefits of empowering women will begin to make progress. We agree that deficiencies in retirement savings and the economic engagement of women are highly related and we hope changes are coming. At DWM, we look at the total wealth management for all of our clients equally and with consideration for every one of their life situations. We know that anything that has a positive effect on the financial success of women is good for us all.

HOW TO AVOID A 2018 INCOME TAX SHOCK

Did your paycheck get a nice bump in the last few weeks? Employers are just starting to use the newly issued IRS withholding tables for 2018. All things being equal, employees may see a 5%-15% reduction in their federal tax withholding, resulting in a boost in their take home pay. Who doesn’t love that? However, the question is, when you file your 2018 tax return a year from now, will you owe a substantial amount? Has your withholding been reduced too much? How do you avoid a tax shock?

The various changes of tax reform passed in December plus lower withholding may lead to unexpected results. Itemized deductions were generally reduced; in some cases, in major ways. Standard deductions were doubled. Income tax rates were lowered. Exemptions were eliminated. Lots of moving pieces to consider.

Let’s take a look at an example, as presented by the WSJ last Saturday. Sarah is a New York resident. For 2017, she had $200,000 of wages and other income and $33,000 of itemized deductions, including $28,000 for state and local income taxes. Her federal tax, including AMT, was $41,400. Her withholding was set at $41,500, so that she would receive a tax refund of about $100.

For 2018, Sarah has the same income and deductions, and she doesn’t adjust her withholding certificate, even though her itemized deductions are reduced by $18,000 to $15,000. Using the 2018 withholding tables and her withholding certificate (W-4) from 2017, her employer reduces her withholding and increases her take-home pay by $5,300, about $100 per week.

Here’s the problem: Because her deductions were greatly reduced and she lost her personal exemption, her income taxes will only be reduced by $500 in 2018. She’ll owe $4,700 (plus a penalty for underpayment) come April 2019.

All taxpayers, even those that don’t get paychecks, need to get ahead of curve and project their income taxes for 2018 and review how tax reform is going to impact them. You need to do it early. Sarah can change her withholding now (by increasing withholding $100 per week-back to what it was) to avoid a big tax shock in April 2019. In addition, as you and your tax professional review the elements of your 2018 projection, you may identify some changes that made now could reduce your ultimate 2018 income taxes.

The IRS has put together a withholding calculator, https://www.irs.gov/individuals/irs-withholding-calculator that seems to work fairly well with simple returns. It’s a “black box” with little detail of the calculations.

At DWM, we consider our role in tax planning a very important element of the value we provide to our Total Wealth Management clients. We don’t prepare returns. However, since our inception, we’ve been doing projections focused on eliminating surprises and often finding potential tax savings ideas to review with our clients and their CPAs. This year we are using BNA Income Tax Planner software to make sure that all the new tax provisions are being considered and calculated properly as we are doing the projections. We’ve done about dozen so far.

We’ve already seen some major eliminations of itemized deductions on projections we’ve done. One couple lost over $100,000 of itemized deductions, primarily due to the new $10,000 cap on state and local income taxes and elimination of miscellaneous deductions. Similar to the example above, without a change in their W-4s and, therefore, a change in their withholding, they would have owed over $30,000 in federal taxes in April 2019.

Tax reform didn’t have much impact on IL income taxes, as taxes are passed primarily on adjusted gross income. However, the full year tax rate of 4.95% in IL is roughly 16% more than the effective 2017 rate. In SC, where the state tax is based on taxable income, the tax will generally be going up for those taxpayers with large itemized deductions in the past. SC tax in 2018 will likely rise at the rate of 7% of the amount of lowered deductions and exemptions as compared to 2017, all other items being equal.

We encourage you to prepare or get assistance to prepare a 2018 income tax projection now and check it in the fall as well. Even if you haven’t received a larger paycheck recently, it’s really important to go through this process to avoid tax shocks and, maybe, even find some opportunities to reduce your taxes for 2018.