SECURE – Update on New Retirement System Legislation

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Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives almost unanimously passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, adopting their version of long-awaited retirement legislation that can now be introduced for deliberation on the Senate side and ultimately head to the President’s desk.   While Congress has discussed this for many years, these policy changes come at a time when life expectancy has increased and a greater number of American retirees must ensure that they don’t outlast their savings. The bill is now in the Senate Finance Committee, where action has slowed as a handful of Finance Committee members have some issues they want addressed before agreeing to vote on it.  

The marquee provisions in the House bill, estimated to cost $16.8 billion over 10 years, include providing tax credits and removing barriers for small businesses to offer retirement plans and boosting the minimum age for required minimum distributions (RMDs) to begin from 70½ to 72 years old. Other significant changes written in the House bill would make it easier for tax-deferred retirement plans, like 401(k)s, to offer annuities and also repeals the age cap for contributing to individual retirement accounts, currently 70 ½. There are also beneficial measures for part-time workers, parents, home-care workers and employees at small businesses, as well.

As reported by the May 23rd WSJ article, the House legislation also repeals a 2017 change to the “Kiddie Tax” that can boost tax rates on unearned income for low and middle income families that had caused surprise tax increases for many, including many military families of deceased active-duty service members . This policy change would also benefit survivors of first responders and college students receiving scholarships. This provision helped accelerate the passage of the bill to resolve a problem for military families right before Memorial Day.

To help pay for these changes, the House bill limits the “stretch IRA” provisions for beneficiaries of inherited IRAs. Currently, beneficiaries can liquidate those accounts over their own lifetimes to stretch out the RMD income and tax payments. The House bill would cut the time down to 10 years, with some exemptions for surviving spouses and minor children.  

A handful of Republican Senate members have some concerns about the House bill, including the House’s resistance to a provision that allows 529 accounts to pay for home-schooling costs. The Senate Finance Committee has introduced a bill closely resembling the House legislation – the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act. Republican Senators are considering whether to make even broader policy changes than the House bill.

Here are the key items included in the House bill that are of most interest for our DWM clients:

IRAs if you are over 70 ½ – This bill would increase the age for the required minimum distributions (RMD) to begin from 70 ½ to 72. This will allow the accounts to grow and save taxes on the income until age 72. Also, there would no longer be an age restriction on IRA savings for people with taxable compensation – the age had previously been 70 1/2.

401(k)s – Small business employers would be allowed under this legislation to band together to offer 401(k) Plans to their employees, if they don’t offer one already. Long-standing part-time workers would now be eligible to participate in their employer’s Plan and new parents would be allowed to take up to $5,000 from 401(k)s or IRAs within a year of the birth or adoption of a child. Employers would also be required to provide more comprehensive retirement income disclosures on the employee statements and it would be easier for employers to offer annuity options in their 401(k) Plans.

Student Loans/529s – The House version of the bill would allow up to a $10,000 withdrawal from a 529 to be used for student loan repayment.  

At DWM, we are always watching for legislative changes that might affect our clients and will continue to report on these important developments. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments!

The Beauty in Roth Accounts

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The most common type of retirement accounts are traditional Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and company sponsored traditional 401(k) plans, both of which are funded using pre-taxed dollars. The goal of these accounts is to accumulate retirement assets by deferring current year taxes and reducing your taxable income. Later, when funds are withdrawn, either voluntary or as part of a required minimum distribution upon reaching age 70.5, the accumulated earnings and contributions are subject to ordinary income tax. In addition to this, if you are below age 59.5 and you withdraw funds you could be subject to an additional 10% tax penalty.

“Cue the Roth IRA.” One alternative to popular IRAs and traditional 401(k) plans is the Roth IRA and Roth 401(k) (“Roths”). Contributions to both consist of after-tax funds. The accumulated earnings and contributions are not subject to income tax upon withdrawal. In addition to this, there are no required minimum distributions for Roths until the account has reached a non-spouse beneficiary. Although no current tax break is received, there are several arguments as to why Roth accounts can be a significant attribute to your portfolio and to your estate planning. As we will discuss below, the Roth has the ability to grow income tax-free for future generations.

 Contributions:

Funding a Roth account can occur in one of two ways; either through yearly contributions, currently limited to $6,000 per year if below age 50 and $7,000 if above age 50 for 2019 Roth IRA accounts. In addition to this, contributions may be limited for Roth IRAs if your income is between $193,000 and $203,000, for married filing jointly, and you are ineligible to contribute if your income is higher than these figures. Roth 401(k) contributions limitations are currently set at $19,000 per year per employee, with an available catch-up contribution of up to an additional $6,000 if age 50 or older. Contributions to Roths are typically more beneficial for young people because these funds will likely grow tax-free for a longer period of time and they generally have a lower current income tax bracket.

Conversions:

The IRS allows you to convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs without limitation. You simply have to include the converted amount as ordinary income and pay the tax. Converting traditional IRA funds to Roth is certainly not for everyone. Generally speaking, conversions may only be considered beneficial if you are currently in a lower tax bracket now, than when the funds will be distributed in the future. If you are in the highest tax bracket, it may not make sense to complete a Roth conversion. If you do not have available taxable funds, non-IRA funds, to pay applicable taxes, then a conversion may not be the best strategy for you. Lastly, conversion strategies are not usually recommended if you will have a need for your traditional IRA or Roth funds during the course of your lifetime(s).

Example:

In the right circumstances, a Roth conversion strategy may hold great potential to transfer large sums of after-tax wealth to future generations of your family. For example, let’s assume a conversion of an $800,000 traditional IRA. Of course, this would typically be done over the course of several years to limit the amount of taxes paid on the conversion. However, following the completion of the conversion, these funds will continue to grow tax-free over the course of the converters’ lifetime (and spouse’s lifetime). Assuming a 30 year lifespan, at an average rate of 5% per year, this would amount to close to $3,500,000 at the end of 30 years; a $2.7 million tax-free gain. For the purpose of this example, let’s also assume these Roth funds skip over the converters’ children to a future generation of four potential grandchildren. Split evenly, each grandchild would hypothetically receive $875,000. At this point, the grandchildren generally would be required to take a small required distribution, however, the bulk of these Roth funds would grow-tax free until the grandchild reaches 85 years of age.  Assuming they receive these Roth funds at age 30, it’s possible each grandchild could receive $5,600,000 of tax-free growth, assuming a 6% average yearly returns. For this example, the estimated federal tax cost of converting $800,000 in IRA funds may be close to $180,000, assuming conversions remain within the 24% tax bracket year-over-year. An estimated state tax cost may vary by state, however, some states such as IL, TN and FL do not tax IRA conversions. Now, if we multiply the $5.6 million times 4 (for each hypothetical grandchild) and add the $2.7 million of appreciation during the first 30 years, this is a total of $25.1 million of potential tax-free growth over 85 years. This obviously has the potential to be a truly amazing strategy. Note that because of the rules that enable people to stretch out distributions of an inherited Roth, the people who benefit the most are young.

To review if Roth strategies may be a good addition to your overall planning, please contact DWM and allow us to assist you in this process.

What will be Your Legacy?

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In the last few years, Elise and I have really gotten into our own family histories. Both sides of Elise’s family came from England, one in the 1830s and one at the turn of the century. My family tree is more diverse. I am 25% German, 25% Finnish, 25% Italian, and, I just recently found out, 25% Jewish. My German ancestors came to America in 1855 and the others came at the turn of the century.

As Elise and I looked back at not only the DNA of our forefathers and foremothers, but also the culture, traditions, stories and values passed on to us, we realize what wonderful legacies we have been given. In a way, we’re all standing on the shoulders of our ancestors.

In the past few years, there’s been a huge increase in people exploring their family history. Ancestry.com sold 1.5 million DNA kits a year ago on Black Friday. The DNA test uncovers your origins. And, Ancestry.com and others have huge online databases and have put together family trees that you can review and expand. This search has caused us to again look at our potential legacy and what it will be. Do you wonder what your legacy will be?

Legacy is defined as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor from the past.” In the simplest terms, it is everything you have worked for in your life. Certainly, that includes money and property, but it’s much more than that. It includes what you have achieved in your work life and your family life, as well as other social relationships and achievements that you ultimately leave behind.

Your estate, on the other hand, is the sum total of everything you own-all of your property (real, tangible and intangible). Your estate requires an “estate plan” to provide for your desired succession of assets, while minimizing taxes and administrative hassles.   If you desire to pass on more than just your assets and transfer your spiritual, intellectual, relational and social capital, you need a “legacy plan.”

The question is not “Will you leave a legacy,” but “What kind of legacy will you leave?” Why not be proactive and intentional in creating your legacy? Why not structure your life in a manner that helps you achieve your purpose and greatest success and safeguards those accomplishments for transfer to future generations? Why not develop and maintain your legacy plan?

If we think of our legacy as a gift, it places an emphasis on the thoughtful, meaningful, and intentional aspects of legacy, as the consequences of what we do will outlive us. What we leave behind is the summation of the choices and actions we make in this life and our spiritual and moral values.

What do you want to leave for your family, the community, your partner or the world? Your legacy can be huge; perhaps a world-changing cause. But it doesn’t need to be a grandiose concept. Instead of wanting to leave a legacy that inspires people to help starving children in the world, you, for example, may relate more with leaving a legacy with your family and friends of how you were kind, accepting and open to others, which might help inspire them to do the same.

A good place to start is to think about the ancestors, mentors and associates whose legacy you admire. What actions can you take to inspire others in the same way?

We encourage you to give some thought to your legacy plan. We’re all creating our legacy every day, whether we realize it or not. And, here at DWM, we’re focused on protecting and enhancing not only your net worth, but your legacy as well.

 

 

It’s beginning to “cost” a lot like Christmas!

 

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It’s beginning to “cost” a lot like Christmas! It’s a fun play on the popular holiday song, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, originally written by Meredith Wilson in 1951. Though times have certainly changed since the 1950s, the spirit of gifting and giving during the holidays has always remained the same. According to the National Retail Federation, the average American spends an average of $1,000 during the holiday season!

It’s not uncommon, as we approach the holiday season, that you might find yourself feeling grateful, compassionate and more charitable than any other time of the year. Now is the time people eagerly give to their loved ones and generously give back to those in need. Here’s a look into new and exciting ways people are giving and gifting in 2018:

529 College Savings Plans

As the total student loan debt in the U.S. approaches the $1.5 trillion mark, 529 college saving plans have grown in popularity. Unlike ordinary gift checks, a 529 savings plan can an act as an investment in a child’s future that has the ability to grow, tax-free, for the use of qualified educational expenses (K-12 tuition included under the new tax law). While college savings may not be the most riveting gift for a young child to receive at the time, the potential to alleviate the future burden of student loans, all or in part, will be one gift they won’t soon forget.

Custodial Investment Accounts

There are two main forms of custodial investment accounts, UGMA (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act) and UTMA (Uniform Transfers to Minors Act) accounts. They are virtually identical aside from the ability of UTMA accounts to hold real estate. Custodial accounts can be a great way to teach children about investments while limiting their access to investment funds. Depending on your state, access to custodial accounts is limited to minors until the child has obtained ages 18-21.

In 2018, individual gifts are limited to the annual $15,000 gift-tax-exemption limit ($30,000 for married couples). Family and friends can contribute directly to custodial accounts of another person. If these accounts are properly titled as retirement accounts, such as a Custodial Roth Account, contributions must be made indirectly, limited to $5,500 for 2018, and the donee must have earned an income equal to or greater than the contribution made.

Charitable Gifts

Did you know you can complete charitable gifts in the name of a friend or family member and still capture the tax deduction? Assuming you itemize, funds given to charity can come from any taxable account (or qualified, see below) of your choosing and may list a donor of your choosing. For example, one can give to St. Judes Children’s Hospital using their own personal funds, receive a tax deduction for doing so, and list the donor as someone other than themselves, like a grandson or other relative. So long as you can prove the funds used came from you, i.e. your name is listed on the account used, you should receive a deduction for these forms of charitable contributions.

There are several ways to give back to charity, one of the more tax efficient ways is by way of Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs). This is an alternative to Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) that you are required to take from your IRA upon obtaining age 70 1/2. A QCD allows you to give a portion or all of the amount that you otherwise would be required to take from your IRA to charity. The benefit of doing so is to exclude these funds from your taxable income. This process can be especially beneficial if, under the new tax reform, you will be using the new increased standard deduction, $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married filing jointly, as opposed to itemizing.

There are many forms of giving. Integrating both charitable giving and family giving can be an intricate part of your overall plan, and it doesn’t always have to “cost you an arm and a leg.” Ensuring your gestures are both sustainable and tax-efficient are good questions to ask. At DWM we are always looking for new ways to give back to our clients and friends by assisting in these areas. Please, never hesitate to reach out to us in regards to new ways to give back to your family, friends and charitable organizations.

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.

Rates keep going up! Should I Still Buy That McMansion I’ve Been Dreaming of??

BMIFeature-Rising-Rates-Minimal.pngThe ultra-inexpensive era of mortgage rates is coming to an end, and quickly. Mortgage rates have reached unprecedented 7-year highs. The average 30-year mortgage this week will cost consumers 4.7%, up nearly a full 1% from 2016.

While a 1% increase may not seem like the end of the world, it is important to realize the effect this may have over the course of a mortgage. Consider a consumer who purchased a home with a $200,000 mortgage in 2016. Assuming a 3.7% interest rate, this would amount to a principal and interest monthly payment of $921. In today’s environment, the same consumer may have a monthly payment of $1,037. Over the life of a conventional 30-year mortgage, today’s consumers may pay $41,760 more than those who locked in a rate in 2016.

Reviewing rates in today’s environment may leave some consumers discouraged. However, in comparison to many historical rates, today’s rates are actually relatively low. Take 1981, for example, when the average 30-year mortgage rate was 16.64%. Using a 16.64% interest rate, a $200,000 mortgage in 1981 would cost the consumer $2,793 per month, or, over the course of 30 years, $632,160 more than a consumer today.

For those looking to purchase a new home, the question remains: Is now a good time to buy? The answer is not so simple. There are a few factors to consider before determining if it’s the right time to buy for you.

First of all, as the economy improves overall, mortgage rates are likely to continue to increase. The culprit behind increased mortgage rates is actually surging wage growth. According to the Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, average household income is at an all-time high, while mortgage rates have been laying low—until now. As wage growth continues to increase the money supply to consumers, consumer spending power increases. Unfortunately, increased consumer spending also increases demand for goods and will ultimately raise the price of goods–inflation.

With the expectation of rising inflation comes a steady increase in the yield of the 10-year Treasury note. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which usually affects the 30-year mortgage rate, has risen to its highest close since 2011, ending up at just over 3.1%.

In addition, the Federal Reserve has indicated that it will be raising short-term rates at least three to four times this year alone, and potentially several more times in the coming years.

Current home owners should also not expect to refinance anytime soon. As rates rise, the group of homeowners who would benefit from or be eligible for mortgage refinancing has decreased drastically by 46% this year, according to Black Knight Inc.—the smallest group since 2008.

But with mortgage rates trending upward and no sign of lowering again in sight, many people are choosing to strike while they still have the chance.

Overall, your decision depends on if you want to wait it out and hope that mortgages rates will decrease again, or if you want to buy now while the rates are still relatively low, even with the 1% jump. One effective tip to help counteract for the increase in mortgage rates is to lower your price range accordingly and look for a house priced lower than what you would have pursued had mortgage rates remained at their lowest point.

Of course, there are many other factors besides mortgage rates which may affect a consumer’s decision to purchase a home. For example, economic factors such as rising rents, home appreciation, and predictable monthly housing payments.

Bottom line: Rising rates are expected to continue for some time, so it is important to weigh all factors at play and make the decision that’s right for you today and in the future.

The Money Talk

It’s no secret that today’s standard high school and college curriculums are missing a few very important details. One of the most overlooked areas is basic financial education. Discussing finances with your children can be a difficult topic to broach, but it is critical to their success in the long run.

One common misconception of having “the money talk” is the idea that kids must be sheltered from financial issues. In some instances this is absolutely true, but having a basic discussion about finances and instilling good values in your children is important. “The money talk” shouldn’t be seen as taboo, but rather as an opportunity to guide your kids and help them navigate potentially tricky financial issues and decisions that arise.

Here are some tips to help as you approach “the money talk.”

 

1.Be honest.

 

Chances are that at some point in your life, you’ve experienced highs and lows in your finances. No need to hide it! These experiences provide a learning opportunity for your kids and allow you to be open and frank about the reality of financial decisions—they can handle it.

If you ran up debts in your past and had difficulty paying these back, this serves as an excellent teaching moment. Learning from those you respect can be just as effective as learning the lesson on your own.

Also, this may go without saying, but be careful not to spread falsehoods about your current financial situation. Remember, your kids can handle it and will almost always know when you’re not being completely honest with them.

 

2. Talk in values, not figures.

 

If you’re hesitant to share your financial situation with your children, that is normal. You are certainly not alone on this, but it doesn’t have to be scary. The good news is your kids don’t always want to know (or need to know) every detail of your financial life. Don’t sweat the small stuff—instead, focus on teaching them the basics. Ask yourself, what do they need to know, and what is often missed in standard education? Children should have a solid understanding of concepts such as saving, budgeting, paying down debt, developing healthy spending habits, and compounding interest.

 

3. Use real-world experiences.

 

Life is full of sporadic but important financial lessons that can be found in everyday experiences. It’s up to you to look for these opportunities and expand on them with your children.

If you’re going to the bank, you may consider taking your children with you. This is a great time to demonstrate how transactions work and, if applicable, how an ATM works. To take it a step further, you may even begin the discussion on how money can generate interest.

When your children start their first jobs and start receiving paychecks, this is a convenient time to discuss the importance of budgeting, paying bills, and taxes. Talk through what their goals are for each paycheck and how much they may need to save in order to accomplish these goals.

If you are planning a family trip, consider letting them in on the budgeting. Showing them your budget, planning activities you want to accomplish with this budget, and building a trip around this information will help make financial planning seem tangible to them. This may also be a good time to remind your kids that goals often require sacrifice, and not every trip activity will be accomplished.

Try giving your kids an allowance and taking them to the grocery store. The grocery store can be a clear example of “needs” vs. “wants.” Your children need nutrients but most certainly would like to have a few candies as well. However, with a set allowance, they won’t be able to afford them all!

In closing, whether you realize it or not, you play an important role in your children’s financial future. In their early years, they rely heavily on you for financial advice to help them form healthy financial habits (and the occasional $20 bill for the movies). At DWM, we feel it is essential to educate your children about finances early on, so they can be better prepared for the future. That’s why we created our new Emerging Investor program to help younger folks invest early on and get started on the path to financial freedom! To learn more about this exciting new program, check out the full description here: http://dwmgmt.com/blogs/123-2017-11-29-20-49-47.html.

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.

The Other Side of the Bitcoin

With the rise of new technologies, each one more advanced than the last, a new form of electronic payment has emerged.
Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency created for efficient electronic payments. It is run and controlled by what is known as a ‘blockchain’, a public ledger of all transactions in the bitcoin network. A ‘blockchain’ is essentially a company-wide spreadsheet that can be accessed by all. The purpose of the ‘blockchain’ is to determine legitimate transactions and deter attempts to re-spend coins that have already been spent.
Bitcoin works similarly to a check in that there are two different numbers per transaction: your personal private key (or account number) and a signature that confirms your transaction on the above mentioned ‘blockchain’. The digital currency can be spent in a number of different ways, but can only be held in two forms. A bitcoin user can hold an electronic wallet (e-wallet) via a web wallet or a software wallet by using a downloadable software. An e-wallet is essentially an online bank account that allows you to receive bitcoins, store them, and send them to others. A software wallet is a downloadable software that allows the consumer to be the custodian of their bitcoins. Often the latter leads to more liability for the consumer.
It all sounds pretty enticing, and maybe you are wondering if you should jump into this next innovative technological trend. But the rapid growth of bitcoin has many people concluding that it’s just another bubble waiting to burst.
Markets have seen many different financial bubbles over the years, and none of them have ended particularly well. A financial bubble occurs when market participants drive prices above market value. This investment behavior can be attributed to herd mentality, where people think that because everyone else is investing in a certain entity and seeing short-term success, that means it’s a good investment. Inevitably, these financial bubbles can’t be sustained long term and they burst.
The first documented economic bubble in history occurred in the 17th century, when Dutch tulips were all the rage. The contract prices of the newly introduced and popular bulbs grew to an outrageous high, eventually leading to a dramatic collapse or “burst” in February of 1637. Today this is known as “tulipmania.” More recent examples include the dot-com bubble of the late ‘90s and the housing bubble in the 2000s. I’m sure we all remember how those financial bubbles ended, and the repercussions that followed those bursts.
Looking back on all of these events, it’s easy to see now how these bubbles formed, so we can use these prior experiences to better predict financial bubbles. Today, the cause for concern is bitcoin, and it’s more the question of when the bubble will burst rather than if it will.
Bitcoin got its humble start six years ago at $2. Three years later it was at $300 and last week it topped off at $11,000. With a 1000% increase so far this year alone, it’s easy to see why many people are raising the alarm or joining the frenzy, depending on the person!
With its frequent surges and sharp price moves, bitcoin is as volatile as they come. In other words, if you think you want to give bitcoin a shot, it’s best to assume that you’ve already lost that money. Everything we’ve learned about financial bubbles over the past four centuries points to an imminent burst in this digital currency’s future, and you and your money don’t want to be caught in a tight spot when it does.
There is also speculation that regulators will step in at some point because of the potentially disastrous economic consequences associated with the runaway bitcoin prices. The first concern is as we’ve outlined above, the bubble will burst and cause devastating losses. Additionally, future contracts are opening bets for bitcoin, and some funds are set to take form in early 2018 to pitch bitcoin to more mainstream investors. The more bitcoin gets wrapped up in our financial system, the worse it will be for everyone when it bursts.
The other major consequence presents the other side of the “bitcoin”: what if the bubble doesn’t ever burst, and bitcoin becomes an alternative, or worse, a replacement for standard U.S. currency? We cannot see regulators allowing what to happen, so it’s safe to say that even if this bubble miraculously doesn’t burst, it will most likely lose traction one way or another.
As many of you know, at DWM we don’t try to time the markets, and when it comes to speculative investments that require you to do so, it’s best to avoid them altogether.