Total Eclipse of the Sun

We all spend a lot of time thinking about our Sun.  In the summer, we want to know if clouds or rain will obscure the Sun’s heat and brilliance and perhaps impact our plan for outdoor activities.  We must think about the Sun’s intensity by protecting our skin and our eyes from the powerful UV rays with sunscreen, protective clothing and eyewear.  Sunrise and sunset mark the ebb and flow in our days with beautiful atmospheric displays.  The Sun, as we all know, keeps us alive on this planet!

On August 21st, our moon will pass between the earth and the Sun, throwing shade across a wide path of the United States that includes Charleston, SC.  Temperatures will drop, the sky will darken and animals will be confused about what to do. The Great American Eclipse of 2017 will begin in the Charleston area with the first phase at 1:17 pm, will hit the peak or “totality “ period at 2:46 pm and will finally end around 4:10 pm.  This is the first total solar eclipse to occur in the US since 1979 and is the biggest astronomical event that America has seen in years.

There are five stages to a solar eclipse and there are some interesting features to look for during each phase, for those of you getting ready to participate.  Here are the 5 phases:

1. Partial eclipse begins (1st contact): The Moon starts becoming visible over the Sun’s disk. The Sun looks as if a bite has been taken from it.

2. Total eclipse begins (2nd contact): The entire disk of the Sun is covered by the Moon. Observers in the path of the Moon’s umbra, or shadow, may be able to see Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect, just before totality.  Baily’s beads are the outer edges of the Sun’s corona peeking out from behind the moon and the diamond ring effect occurs when one last spot of the Sun shines like a diamond on a ring before being obscured.

3. Totality and maximum eclipse: The Moon completely covers the disk of the Sun. Only the Sun’s corona, or outer ring, is visible. This is the most dramatic stage of a total solar eclipse. At this time, the sky goes dark, temperatures can fall, and birds and animals often go quiet. The midpoint of time of totality is known as the maximum point of the eclipse. Observers in the path of the Moon’s umbra may be able to see Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect, just after totality ends.

4. Total eclipse ends (3rd contact): The Moon starts moving away, and the Sun reappears.

5. Partial eclipse ends (4th contact): The Moon stops overlapping the Sun’s disk. The eclipse ends at this stage in this location.

Historically, solar eclipses have been significant events and have been recorded dating back to 5,000 BC.  There are writings of mathematical predictions of eclipses from ancient Greece, Babylon and China.  Rulers and leaders often used the predictions of astronomical events to gain power or to offer reassurance to a fearful population.  George Washington was grateful for a heads up about a coming solar eclipse prior to a battle in 1777 so he could alleviate any superstitions that his troops may have.  And scientists have used the opportunity of an eclipse to study the Sun, measure distances and features in the universe and learn about the Earth’s atmosphere.  The discovery of hydrogen can be credited to a solar eclipse and a solar eclipse in 1919 provided observational data for Einstein’s theory of general relativity.  This year, NASA has set up many sites within the path of the eclipse to monitor, measure and capture data to further their knowledge.  There is much to be learned from studying these phenomena.

As we have seen throughout history, the science of astronomy can be used to predict and measure certain events and occurrences with regularity.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there could be more certainty in predicting the ups and downs of the stock market?  One study found that stocks around the world rise on sunnier days!  However, no one can predict the future.  We need to focus on what we can control, including an appropriate asset allocation, diversification and keeping costs low.  That is why actively managed funds underperform the benchmarks and why even the geniuses like Warren Buffet recommend using passive index funds.  At DWM, we think you should stick with your investing plan and not look for the latest fads or trends or even astronomical events to impact your strategy.

We hope that NASA and other scientists learn some spectacular new things from this years’ eclipse.  Here in Charleston, we will be avid, yet passive spectators to the historical occurrence and will use our ISO certified eclipse glasses to watch the once-in-a-lifetime event unfold.   Happy eclipse watching!

Now’s the time to plan your 529!

Summmerrrtttime!  Every day in the summer at our office here in Charleston, we are regaled with the carriage tour drivers’ versions of this famous song from Porgy & Bess.  We end up having that song stuck in our head a lot of the time!  Already the ads for back to school sales are appearing and it reminds us that, while the “livin’ is easy” right now, the hustle of getting kids ready to head back to school isn’t far away.  We hate to interrupt your summer fun, but it is a good idea to get ready for college tuition payments no matter what age those students are!

We wanted to highlight the particular advantages of using 529 plans for funding your education purposes, as it is the most cost-effective way to manage the expenses of higher education.  Enacted in 1996, Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code allows an account owner to establish a plan to pay for a beneficiary’s qualified higher education expenses using two types of plans – a pre-paid tuition program or the more popular, state-administered college savings plan.  The beneficiary can be a family member or friend or an owner can set up a 529 account for their own benefit.  Anyone can then donate to the account, regardless of the owner or beneficiary.  Funds can be deposited and used almost immediately (need to wait 10 days) or can be invested and grown until needed.  Surprisingly, according to a Wall Street Journal article recently, only 14% of Americans plan to use 529s to pay for college.

Although there is no allowable federal tax deduction for 529 contributions, the income and gain in the account are not taxable, as long as they are used for qualified education expenses.  These qualified expenses include tuition, room & board, books and, in a 2015 legislative change, payments for many technological expenses like a computer, printer or internet access, even if not specifically required by the educational institution.  The costs for off-campus housing can also qualify, as long as the amount used matches the average cost of resident-living at your university.  Many states, like SC and IL, also allow a tax deduction for 529 contributions to in-state plans.  Another recent legislative change allows for an increase from one to two annual investment selection changes per year, unless there is a rollover and then a change can be made at that time.  This gives the 529 owner a little more benefit, flexibility and control over their accounts.

When funding 529 accounts, we recommend that our clients not fund more than 50% of the total cost of estimated expenses for the education of their student before the student selects and starts college.  One nice feature about 529 plans is that they are transferrable to a sibling or other close family member, if a student doesn’t use or exhaust their entire 529 account.    However, you don’t want to overfund an account and then have some leftover.  Only the gains in the account are taxed, but there is a 10% penalty on the account if the funds are withdrawn and not used for qualified education expenses.  Another reason for not overfunding is that there are many scholarships available – you may have an accomplished science whiz or an amazing athlete that earns scholarship money.  Once final amounts of tuition requirements are determined, 529 account owners can make necessary additional contributions to take advantage of tax benefits.

There are many scholarship opportunities available for those who take the time to look and apply.  Checking with the high school guidance counselor, local civic groups or community organizations about scholarships or awards opportunities can give your high school student some hands on involvement in paying for their own education!  All high school seniors should also fill out the annual FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  There are many opportunities for earning money for college and nothing should be ruled out.

We know that using 529 accounts is the least expensive way to pay for college.  Research shows that the most expensive way to pay is by taking out student loans or paying out of pocket as the student needs it.  At DWM, we want to help you strategize how to save for and pay for any education expenses that you may have before you, no matter when those costs are expected.  We can help you evaluate the various state plans and the investment options in the 529s and calculate an appropriate annual or lump sum amount of savings.  We will be glad to help make your summertime livin’ easy and carefree!  Okay, now back to summer fun…already in progress!

Health Savings Accounts – Understanding the Benefits

Health care is a very hot topic in 2017.  The new administration made it their leading agenda item, though we have yet to see a plan agreeable to both sides of the aisle.  As Republicans contemplate how to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a good alternative, Health Savings Accounts or HSAs are expected to figure prominently.  President Trump has made the expansion of access to HSAs an important measure for his health-care plan and conservative proposals are using expanded eligibility and increased contribution limits as key elements in their plans.   We think it is a good time, therefore, to understand how these plans might fit into an overall health care and investment strategy.

Health care costs are rising and the costs and inflation associated with health care are a tremendous consideration for retirement planning.  There are varying estimates of costs for retirement health care –some estimates show that a 65 year old couple will need an average of $260,000 for 20 years of healthcare spending.  At DWM, we actually look at health care as a separate spending goal in our financial plans because of the higher inflation and importance of adequately preparing for these costs. 

Here is where an HSA may come in.  HSAs offer an opportunity to take advantage of triple tax benefits to pay for some of this cost.  HSA contributions can be deducted or paid pre-tax, there is tax-free compounding while in the account and no tax is paid on qualified withdrawals for health care.  It’s a trifecta of tax advantage!  After age 65, you can make withdrawals for any reason and pay regular income tax just like you would for an IRA, but there are no required minimum distributions.  However, using the funds for non-qualified expenses before you are 65 results in a stiff 20% penalty plus the normal taxes.

 Let’s look at how HSAs currently operate.  You are eligible to contribute to a Health Savings Account if you are part of a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) and as long as you have not signed up for Medicare.  There is an annual contribution maximum and, for 2017, it is $3,400 for an individual and $6,750 for families.  A HDHP, in 2017, means your deductibles must be at least $1,300 for an individual and $2,600 for a family with maximum out-of-pocket expense requirements of $6,550 for an individual or $13,100 for a family policy.  The lower premiums charged for this kind of coverage have attracted consumers and employers alike.  Given the ACA’s requirements that certain preventive screenings, annual visits or prescription drugs be covered regardless of deductibles, these policies are now more attractive and palatable to average health care consumers.  These plans are also becoming more popular as employers look for ways to manage their employee benefit costs. 

You can make withdrawals from the Health Savings Account for many traditional healthcare expenses and the qualified expenses can also include things that you normally pay for with after-tax dollars, like vision or dental care and supplies.  It might be a good way to pay for braces for your child or eye exams that might not be otherwise covered.  This might be one way to use HSAs – as a tax-free payment for the costs of the deductibles on the HDHP, as well as some additional medical expenses.  The other beneficial use is as an extra savings vehicle to be used in retirement for those future retirement health costs, including some of the long-term care costs that Medicare doesn’t pay. Also, the pre-tax contributions that you are allowed to make to these accounts can be in addition to your contribution maximums for other qualified accounts.  You can also, like IRAs at age 50, make $1,000 “catch-up” contributions to your HSA at age 55.  

There are some downsides to these accounts.  High deductible plans might not be the right choice for everyone; each individual or family will have to evaluate their situation carefully.  Also, the HSAs are not offered by every financial institution and the investment choices and administrative costs should be investigated before committing to one.  It also takes disciplined saving to make the most of the tax advantages. 

We do think there could be a place for these accounts in certain circumstances and, as the political negotiations continue to unfold, it is good to understand their pros and cons. We recognize the importance that health care costs play in preparing for financial independence.   As your holistic financial advocate, we would be glad to help you evaluate how a health savings account might fit into your overall plan to help you reach your goals.  

The Oracle’s Wager

When Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., discusses investing, most everyone in the financial industry pays attention.  No one can disagree with his success or business acumen and few seem to be better at picking stocks.  However, when Mr. Buffett criticized hedge funds back in 2007 for their heavy fees, one hedge fund manager decided to challenge him to an investment duel.  With a hefty bet of $500,000 on the line for charity, the wager was made to determine which strategy could perform better over a 10-year time frame – passive index funds or actively managed hedge fund strategies.  Articles in the WSJ and Fortune last week are spotlighting the performance battle, which will conclude at the end of 2017.  Mr. Buffett picked a low-cost S&P 500 index fund run by Vanguard and the former hedge fund manager, Ted Seides from Protégé Partners on Wall Street, chose five unnamed hedge funds.  While Mr. Seides agreed that over time the expenses from active management would eat into the returns to investors, he believed that an “unusually well-managed hedge fund portfolio” could be superior over time.

According to Fortune, who reports annually on the bet, the results, at this point, are not even close!  The index fund has recorded an annual increase of 7.1% for a total of 85.4% since the start of the bet.  The hedge fund has registered gains of an annual 2.2% or total average gains of 22%.  The discrepancies have been aided since 2007 by an extended bull market and poor hedge fund performance overall.  As Mr. Buffett states in his letter to his stockholders from February 25th, 2017, the performance average of the 5 hedge funds “were really dismal.”  Apparently, short of a complete market-meltdown, Girls Inc. of Omaha, Nebraska will get a nice contribution from Protégé Partners, thanks to Mr. Buffett.

As the WSJ points out, though, Mr. Buffett made his fortune by savvy investing in individual companies and undervalued stocks with his own brand of active management.  Not exactly a shining example for passive investing!  Mr. Buffett, also known as the Oracle of Omaha, releases an annual shareholders’ letter that is always highly anticipated.  One of his themes this year is passive investing versus active investing and his belief that “passive will beat active over time”.  Mr. Buffett has been critical in the past of investment managers for charging high management fees even when their funds underperform.  He encourages investors to use low-cost index funds and states in his letter from last week – “The bottom line: When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients. Both large and small investors should stick with low-cost index funds.”  At DWM, we completely agree with Mr. Buffett on the benefits of passive vs. active investing for traditional asset classes like equities and fixed income.

However, here is where we see things differently.  Mr. Buffett is a billionaire and certainly has a monumental tolerance for risk.  Mr. Buffett has a history of making his fortune investing in exactly the companies included in this Vanguard index fund – the 500 top U.S. large-cap entities.  In contrast to the performance for the last 9+ years, had the bet occurred in the decade prior, Mr. Buffett would be the one on the losing end of the battle.  Since even the Oracle himself cannot predict how the market will perform going forward, at DWM, we believe in the low-cost benefit of passive index funds, but we also strongly believe in asset class and asset style diversification that will protect our clients who do not have the risk tolerance profile of Mr. Buffett.  We use index funds from several classes of equities, not just the S&P 500.  We use a diversified mix of domestic and international small and large cap funds.  We also use other asset classes to “hedge” our exposure to equities by using fixed income funds and alternatives.  We want to protect the assets of our clients, participating when the markets are up like in 2016, but protecting against downturns like in 2008.   A client portfolio with a balanced allocation might be a couple of percentage points below Mr. Buffett’s choice of index fund in various short term time periods, but our use of diversification instead of this concentrated investment style should lead to smoother returns, less downside, and ultimately better long-term results.

Mr. Buffett is an example of business leadership and financial prowess.  In his case, we think his advice to put your investments in low-cost and passive index funds is solid.  He is, however, an example of “do what I say, not what I do” in his investing style and we believe that trying to emulate the investing career of Warren Buffett should come with a warning label – don’t try this at home!  However, we applaud his advice on passive investments, but want to add that, unless you are a billionaire and can weather that amount of risk, diversification is critical to your success.  A strong mix of passive investments and diversification will do better over time.  You can bet on it!

Feliz Jubilación!

We loved recently learning the word for retirement in Spanish …Jubilación!  It has a much more festive ring to it than “retirement” or even “financial independence”, as we say in the U.S.  In France, they use the word for retreat or “retraite” to define this time of life.  We don’t think many of us want to retreat, exactly, or hide away from anything!  And in England or Italy, they use a derivative of pension to describe a ‘retiree’ – ‘pensioner’ or ‘pensionato’, while in Spanish, you are a ‘jubilado’!  While they all mean the same general thing, we think this transition in life should be celebratory and warmly anticipated without any anxiety or trepidation.  As wealth managers at DWM, our goal is to make this transition so easy that you are indeed… jubilant!

So how can this transition truly be smooth and worry-free?  We do think that there are some things that you can do for yourself and then some things where your financial advocate, like DWM, can be very helpful.  Let’s start with some of the administrative items that come up at “a certain age”.  In fact, at DWM, we keep track of the important dates and significant milestones in our clients’ lives so we can remind them of the things that they will soon want to do.  For example, at age 50, you can start increasing your IRA or 401(k) contributions each year.  At 55, we like to discuss the pros and cons of long term care for you and your family and around age 60 or 62, we like to discuss Social Security strategies and help you with plans to start thinking about Medicare sign-ups.  We are always available to help analyze the proper benefits, help you schedule sign-ups or meet with professionals to assist you.  We also help with tax strategies and account transitions as you leave your job and need to understand your employer retirement benefits packages.  And when you hit 70 and it is almost time to start taking your required minimum distributions from your IRA’s, we are also here to guide you and manage this.  There are a few things that need to be done, but we like to educate our clients on the process and then help to guide them through it.

It is also important to make sure that your resources are protected and wisely invested to maximize your success in achieving your goals.  Assessing your resources and making a realistic plan will allow you to make the best choices for your future.  As wealth managers, we are always mindful of taxes, asset allocations, estate planning and risk management, as we look for ways to make the most of what you have.  We want to help you realize your goals with a comprehensive financial plan and a roadmap to success.  Money certainly isn’t everything, but having your finances in order and the details understood can make this transition much more worry-free and enjoyable.  Looking at all of your goals and assets with honest and realistic expectations will allow your plan to reach its highest potential.

The other question to ask yourself is what is your passion?  How would you like to spend your time, now that it is yours to spend?  Will you continue working?  Will you travel? Will you move to a new home?  Some people find that they can now spend their time doing exactly what they have always wanted to be doing, but just aren’t sure what that may be!  There are many things to investigate and you can now take some time to explore your options – whether it is continuing to work, volunteer, travel or take up a hobby that might have always interested you.  The goal here is to look at it as a wonderful opportunity where you embrace the change and get excited to find a happy “new normal”.  It may take some time and some patience to make this adjustment smoothly.  Staying healthy, active and engaged with others are all great tips to helping with the emotional transition.  You may have to adjust to your new identity and staying busy and connected with others can definitely support you through this process.

This should be a wonderful time in your life and we are here to help in any way we can as you move forward into “retirement”.  Just remember, you have earned the ability to celebrate – this is your lifetime achievement award!   As your financial advisor, we look forward to helping you look at this time with joyous and resounding JUBILATION!

Teach Your Children Well

As parents, we want what is best for our kids and want to prepare them to be independent and successful adults.  Two of my three children are in college now and, from my experience both as a parent and working at DWM, I have learned there are some gaps in the financial education and understanding of money in our young people, including my kids.  Money isn’t everything and certainly should be kept in perspective related to other pursuits in life.  That would be my first tip for the young adults in my life.  However, money is a means to an end and it is important for them to understand their own unique balance sheet and learn strategies to successfully manage all the variables that will affect their financial future.

1. Protect and Grow your Most Valuable Asset – YOU!

One of the most important things for college-age or young working adults to realize is that by far their most valuable asset is themselves!  For a young adult, the ability to generate income for the next 40 or so years is their most phenomenal asset.  Understanding the value of this asset can encourage them to look for ways to magnify that potential earning power and minimize the risks to it. Will additional education improve that income potential?  It is also smart for young people to realize that the future is uncertain.   We need to teach them to prepare for any risks, like economic downturns, that may reduce asset growth or increase their liabilities.  This can help them recognize that using resources to maintain adequate disability or life insurance can be as important as insuring your car or home.  Creating good habits in saving, tax-planning and budgeting are important to protect against unanticipated variables.

2. Diversify your Assets

When evaluating net worth, most people tend to think of some of the obvious current assets that you might include – a house or a car, for example.  Looking more deeply, though, will show some differences in those assets.  This is another area where younger people may need some education.  A car’s value, for example, should be considered against the taxes, maintenance, gas and depreciation that essentially makes it worth much less over time.  Same with a boat.  Real estate is usually considered a good asset to offer diversification, if it is appreciating at or above inflation.   An interesting article from the Wall Street Journal notes that as wealth increases, the percentage of net worth represented by a principal residence declines.  Young adults should understand that diversification is an important strategy and having a good mix of assets will make you financially stronger, especially over the long-term.

3. Spend Wisely

In general, a personal balance sheet should include the value of everything you have and everything you owe, even if some of those are intangible.  When you put the potential value of a career’s worth of income in real dollars in one column against the future costs of loans or other debts, it makes the impact more visible.   This strategy can help spotlight the real costs for student loans, houses, cars, trips, credit cards or luxury purchases.  An Investment News article recently quoted a study that found more than half of college bound students had failed to estimate their student loan costs adequately and regretted the decision to take out those loans, once their repayment programs had begun.  Certainly, when evaluating the merits of an educational program or even a business investment, it would be smart to consider potential income benefits against the costs for that investment.  Weighing the purchase of a new flat screen TV or expensive pair of shoes against the value of income needed to finance that goal might make anyone think twice!

4. Save and Invest Early

Finally, it is significant for young people to know that they can really maximize the potential on their balance sheet by saving and investing as early and as fully as possible.  Learning the value of compounding in real terms can be a wonderful eye-opener and understanding the effect of inflation on a dollar over time can be equally enlightening.  Not all saving is created equal.  A penny saved is worth more than a penny earned, when you factor in taxes and compound interest!  It is important to maximize retirement investments and practice the “pay yourself first” philosophy of saving and investing to create a good financial plan.

Also, young workers should be encouraged to immediately sign up for employer retirement plans, like 401(k)’s, and to maximize their contributions to take advantage of any match programs offered by their employer.  If their job doesn’t offer one, opening an IRA or Roth IRA might be a good solution.  Starting a Roth at a young age allows the investor to take advantage of making after-tax contributions while in a lower tax bracket and creating an account that can grow and offer tax free funds for use later in life.  As an example, a 25 year old who makes the maximum allowable annual contribution of $5,500 annually to an investment vehicle that averages a 5% return could have around $700,000 by the time they are ready to retire.

The biggest lesson that our kids and other young adults should be taught is that the most important key for success in wealth management, as in most things, is discipline.  We love to educate our clients and their families.  Please let us know if we can help teach your kids good financial habits.

In America We Trust

trust-3

Americans have some major trust issues as we approach November 8th. We are mired in distrust of our Presidential candidates, Congress, the media and each other!  It is election week and the biggest hurdle facing both of our Presidential candidates is their inability to inspire the trust of the American voters.  Poll after poll highlights this seemingly national concern and has been fodder for debate all year.  In a September Wall Street Journal poll, far less than half the voters believe that either of the major party candidates are trustworthy.  A recent CBS/NYT poll showed that 2/3 of likely voters view both candidates as untrustworthy.  Not only that, but we don’t even trust each other.  A Gallup poll, also in September, showed that only 56% of us have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that our fellow Americans will make good judgments about the issues facing our country.  Wow!  Not surprisingly, the same poll shows that only 32% of us have even a fair amount of trust in the media and 57% have little or no confidence or trust in those currently in office or running for office.  That is an awful lot of American cynicism!

Are these political campaign season statistics and events unprecedented in history?  Nope.  Even the Founding Fathers were full of distrust.  The framers of the Constitution created the Electoral College to decide the presidential election. Instead of allowing for “one person, one vote” presidential elections — as the democratic process would imply — the founders opted to place the responsibility in the hands of a select few who “will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite so complicated an investigation,” or so wrote Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist, No. 68 [source: League of Women Voters].

Because Electoral College voting does not necessarily reflect the vote of the American people, a president can be elected without receiving the majority vote. Looking back in history, we have had a few disputed outcomes to our Presidential elections that caused distrust on all sides.  For example, in 2000, George W. Bush won the presidential election by winning in Electoral College votes even though neither Bush nor Al Gore, Jr. had a clear popular vote victory – remember the hanging chads in Florida?  In 1824, Andrew Jackson charged that a corrupt deal led Congress to award the Presidency to John Quincy Adams when no candidate received enough Electoral College votes.  Sometimes we don’t even trust our democratic process!

Of course, the financial services industry is under perennial scrutiny, especially this year with some of the banking industry issues we have seen.  In order to restore a sense of trust, the Department of Labor rule defining fiduciary responsibility will begin taking effect in 2017. It will require that financial institutions and advisors give advice in the “best interest” of the client and that they comply with a professional and reasonable standard of conduct and compensation.  See our previous blog:  http://www.dwmgmt.com/fiduciary-standard-closing-in-on-reps-and-brokers.   DWM welcomes these changes and believes it is the right way to do business.  As members of NAPFA, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, we have always adhered to these principles.

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) is the country’s leading professional association of Fee-Only financial advisors—highly trained professionals who are committed to working in the best interests of those they serve. Since 1983, Americans across the country have looked to NAPFA for access to financial professionals who meet the highest membership standards for professional competency, client-focused financial planning, and Fee-Only compensation.”    http://www.napfa.org/

 

One thing we can trust is that, once this election is over, there will be a renewal of the iconic American optimism, no matter who wins.   We certainly hope that, as Americans, we can begin to re-establish a belief in our democratic process, in our leaders, in the media, the financial services sector and in each other.  At DWM, we are confident that we have earned the trust of our clients and will continue to operate with the integrity that you have come to expect.  Happy Election Day-please make sure to vote!!

Save the Fan: Reviewing Property and Casualty Insurance

ceiling_fan_cleaningThere is a salty saying by an author perhaps intentionally unknown which is, “A little risk management saves a lot of fan cleaning.”  Our lives today demand that we all have varying amounts and styles of insurance.  We all know we need it, we just don’t necessarily know how much or what kind.  And if a catastrophe or accident occurs, the last thing we want to discover is that we are not covered as well as we thought, or worse, that we aren’t covered at all.  Properly insuring yourself, your family and your personal assets from a variety of risks is a necessary consideration nowadays and it can be confusing to decipher the particulars.  At DWM, we believe regularly evaluating your risk management is a fundamental element in your total financial picture.  As our clients know, we include a regular review as part of our on-going total wealth management process.

It is always important to do a routine annual assessment. Certain life events may trigger a need for policy updates.  My daughter recently got her driver’s license, now my third household driver under 20, so I am particularly aware of how a new driver or change of automobile status can trigger a painful review of auto insurance costs!  With homeowner’s insurance, everyone understands that when you move you will need to investigate property insurance.  It is also a good idea to watch for the renewal notices and review each policy before it is due to renew.  It can be easy to forget about property insurance when it is buried in an escrow payment, so you can check with your mortgage lender or insurance agent to keep track of the renewal date.  There are other events that should make you think about your insurance as well.   Perhaps you added some significant jewelry or art that may need to be covered.  Maybe you did some renovations or improvements to your home recently, like an added security feature, a new roof or upgraded windows.  Other triggers might be changes in lifestyle – marriage, birth, divorce or death can all affect your insurance requirements.  Even sending kids off to college or landing a new job with added responsibility can increase your need for coverage.  All of these changes can impact your property and casualty insurance policies and should be evaluated by an insurance professional.

Besides changes in your lifestyle, it is worth reviewing your policy to look for coverage problems.  Some coastal homeowners’ policies may have very high deductibles for wind & hail insurance.  This includes hurricane damage, but also can include a thunderstorm knocking a tree onto your house.  You might prefer to have a high deductible on the “named storm” coverage and keep the regular wind events covered in the lower amount of your “all other perils” deductible.  Most homeowner insurance coverage uses a standard cost for satisfying replacement or repair claims.  You may want to look for policies with extended replacement cost coverage for custom home features or for inflated costs of goods and services during a large impact event.  Lastly, it is a good idea to be sure you aren’t over-insured.

We also think it is important to watch for changes in the marketplace and keep up with new products or services that might be available to our clients.  We have recently learned more about a company called PURE (Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange), a mutual company owned by its ‘members’ or policyholders rather than public shareholders.  Their niche model specializes in offering exceptional coverage and savings to “responsible” owners of the “finest built homes” and allows PURE to offer competitive rates for property & casualty insurance, often with premiums at 20% less than their competition.  The idea is to provide competitive coverage to successful families who are motivated to take care of their properties and who value the premium customer service offered to the PURE members.  The PURE founders came from the high net-worth programs at AIG and Chubb and have been inspired, in part, by the successful member exchange concept at USAA.  PURE believes in a client-centric service model with financial transparency and customized and detailed risk management assessment.  PURE writes insurance around the country for high-value properties worth $1 Million or more.  We don’t endorse particular companies, but we think PURE does a good job of acting as a fiduciary for the insurance coverage of their clients.  If you fit their profile, it is worth getting a quote from an agent.

Sorting through all of the coverage levels, intricate policy choices and evaluating your personal insurance requirements can be daunting and time-consuming.  At DWM, we are happy to sort through the details on all of your insurance, including property & casualty, health, life, disability or long term care.  We work with trusted insurance professionals to ensure you have the most appropriate coverage at the best possible price.   We think it is important for all of us to work together to make sure your risk is well-managed.  We hate to see our clients have any fans to clean!

Your Health Matters

healthcare_costs_2[1]How are you feeling today?  At DWM, we hope you are feeling your best and enjoy robust good health every day.  As financial advisors, we certainly pay attention to your financial health and look for ways to maintain and improve your overall financial well-being.  And with the cost of health care these days, the state of your physical health has become inextricably linked with your financial well-being.  A recent WSJ article about health expenses in retirement noted that excellent health can actually raise an individual’s lifetime health spending needs because of the likelihood that they will live longer.  So good health may actually cost you more!  At DWM, we want to make sure we help you plan for these costs and analyze ways to save.

There are many changes occurring in the healthcare industry.  Aging populations and longer life-spans will strain the existing resources.  The industry is evolving to invent strategies and plans for preventive medicine and new technology to make healthcare more efficient.  As consumers, we are able to be pro-active in managing our own health care.  We can now download health apps, consult a medical practitioner by email and use strap on devices to monitor our own vitals.  Technological health advances in diagnostic tools and treatment options are ever-changing and, when we have medical questions, we will likely hit the internet and educate ourselves before calling the doctor.  As consumers in the marketplace, we can select from a vast menu of insurance options and many health care providers are offering innovative ways to finance even traditional medical services.  Welcome to the new health economy!

There is also a cost to new medicines, better technology and a shift from traditional strategies.  According to reports by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which published its projections last August in the policy journal Health Affairs, spending on healthcare is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.8 % over the next decade.  Another report from the Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) Health Research Institute estimates those costs growing at 6.5% per year.  Some estimates for Medicare Part B and Part D are over 7%!  WSJ quoted a report by HealthView Services Inc that says a healthy 65-year old couple can expect to pay, on average, $266,589 for insurance premiums and $128,365 for related expenses (dental, vision, copays and out-of-pocket bills) over their lifetime.  These figures show that healthcare costs are far outpacing cost-of-living increases of 1-3% and have made us take notice of how these increasing healthcare costs will affect your future financial health.

With these rising health care costs, mandatory Medicare premiums can account for a larger share of retirement spending than even recreation or housing.  And few people realize that your annual Medicare premiums are based on your retirement income, according to Mary Beth Franklin of Investment News.  It makes good financial sense, therefore, to understand your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and plan withdrawal strategies with income targets in mind.  Even moving one tax bracket can result in significant savings in Medicare costs.  You really need to put the ‘microscope’ on your health care expenses and make sure you are doing everything you can to minimize their impact on your financial plan.

Recently, we discussed the upgraded, newly released version of MoneyGuidePro – MGP4- and highlighted some of the new features in our blog (http://www.dwmgmt.com/mgp-4-).  MGP4 has added a new healthcare spending goal, a tool which allows us to isolate the rising health care spending needs in your financial plan results and make sure that your plan can successfully accommodate this spending.  There is a worksheet for including your actual expenses or estimates for Medicare Part B, Part D for prescriptions, supplemental or Medigap policies and out-of-pocket spending.  This will be a great tool for us to use to make sure our clients are prepared.

At DWM, we can help you manage and budget for a changing health care environment and the costs you will face in the future.  So get enough sleep, eat right and exercise…we want you to stay healthy and enjoy your life.  Your health matters!

MGP 4 – The Next Generation of Financial Planning

MGP logo onlyThe financial industry is seeing some interesting changes spurred by the recently-enacted DOL fiduciary rule (see our recent blog at http://www.dwmgmt.com/fiduciary-standard-closing-in-on-reps-and-brokers/ ). At DWM, we welcome these changes as it now requires financial advisors to adhere to a rule that we have been following from the beginning…which is to make investment and planning recommendations with the client’s best interests in mind.  We always put the client first and always remain committed to this philosophy.

 

Last week, MoneyGuidePro, our chosen software provider, came out with a new version of their financial planning tool called MGP 4.  It is the next generation of financial planning software and the updates are specifically intended to help the financial advisor stay in line with the new rules.  The changes have made the software more “conversational” so advisor and client can spend more time discussing goals and retirement requirements, something we have always focused on.  We have spent some time reviewing the new features and there is a small learning curve with it.  We do think in the long run, it’s a nice update.  If you have recently logged on and were surprised or frustrated with it, you are not alone.  We want to describe some of the basics to you and, of course, we are always available for questions.

 

The biggest change is in the presentation and some of the familiar indexes are set up in new locations.  The updated format takes you to a My Plans landing page where you will have access to your financial plan.  Once the plan is selected, you will be on the page with personal information, similar to the previous version.  If you look at the top of this page, there is a progression line with three circles on it. The circle on the left is marked “About You” and is green at this stage. Once you click on the circle, the dropdown has all the items from the previous version grouped in four categories- Personal, Goals, Money and Risk and Allocation.  Click on each of these for details. ‘Personal’ shows personal information and has a new area for expectations and concerns.  ‘Goals’ has a retirement schedule and a place to include your goals, including one for health care, a newly-established feature to help us understand and track the costs that health care may have on your financial plan.  When you click on ‘Money’, you will see the familiar drop-down categories from the old version – including investments, retirement income and net worth.  Finally the ‘Risk and Allocation’ section will help us evaluate your risk tolerance and allocation strategy so we can see if they are in line with your goals.  You can always skip a category by returning to the “progression line” at the top and selecting your choice.   Everything is here, it just may take an extra step to get there.

 

*Tech Tip:  If you want to have an abbreviated look at your plan, you can select the ‘My Snapshot’ tab on the first page to have quick access to some of the most popular features like net worth, goals and results.

 

Once you finish ‘Risk & Allocation’, you are ready to move to the ‘Results’ circle.  You’ve seen these headings before. We suggest you click on ‘recommended scenario’.  Once on that page, look at the left side and you’ll see blue rectangles with personalized strategy tabs based on your goals.  One new, exciting feature is the Social Security tab which allows you to calculate your best strategy drawing benefits, if you haven’t already begun.  You can also choose the “What if Worksheet”. Here is where we modify certain predictors for the future like rates of return, inflation or living longer.  You can look under the recommended scenario or under the ‘What if worksheet’ Monte Carlo simulation graphs and you will see the blue rectangle “explore”.  Click on explore and then scroll down to “combined details.”    You’re now into the results page and graph, which all of our clients have seen before and shows the annual and linear progression of the value of your future portfolio.  This chart starts with the current value of your investment portfolio and shows how the additions, earnings, taxes and spending or goals might impact it going forward.  You can follow it to the wonderfully euphemized “end of your plan”!  We always find that amusing…

 

There are many other features hidden in this financial planning software and we invite you to “play” with this program any time. There is something for everyone in here.  In the play zone, you can add any number of crazy or exciting goals to see if you can make them come true.  Or if you want to prepare for the worst, you can stress test for challenges in the “what are you afraid of” feature. There are strategy tools, a budget feature and you can print your net worth report anytime. The ‘Finish’ tab includes the reports area which is not as intuitive as before, so if you have questions, please call us.  We are always glad to help…or run them for you!  And don’t worry, when you are finished playing with your plan, we always keep the original copy that is our constant.  DWM wants you to understand and participate in your financial planning and be as educated and knowledgeable as possible.  After all, that is our fiduciary responsibility and we always put our clients first!