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Advisors Management Group

Mapping Out Your Future with a Financial Plan
Just like a map or a GPS is needed for someone driving a car on a long trip, a financial plan is useful for anyone wondering about their financial future.  A financial plan lets us know if we are heading in the right direction, for example north instead of south.  Much like a long journey, life will have many twists, turns and a few unexpected bumps in the road.  However, with a well-planned route, we can have a clear idea of whether we are heading in the direction of our destination. What is a Financial Plan? A financial plan is a document that evaluates cash flow, assets, goals, and brings the information together in a document that predicts how much money and income you will have in the future. This document will be used to determine if your current strategy will accomplish your goals, or if you need a different one. Who can benefit from a financial plan? Financial plans are useful for people of all ages. A financial plan looks at money that is coming in (wages for most people), assets that you have saved so far, and what you are currently saving. This along with other factors helps to plan a path for your financial future.  This could be saving for a large purchase, paying off debt, or saving for the future (children’s education or retirement).  Financial plans are also helpful for people already in retirement as they can be used to help identify a strategy for creating retirement income, spending down assets, or planning to leave them to heirs. To prepare a financial plan your financial planner will need to gather some information from you. You will likely need to bring the following: Recent paystubs Last year’s tax return Statements for any retirement or investment accounts that you have Information on any pensions that you may have Social Security Statements (get yours at ssa.gov/myaccount ) More complex plans may require information about insurance and/or legal work Your planner will ask some questions to get to know you and find out what is important to you. A good planner will be interested in not just how much money you have, but also in what you would like to accomplish with your money. This conversation along with the data you bring to your appointment will help your planner to craft a financial plan that is specific to your goals. Your planning process will likely consist of several meetings. Costs are generally dependent on the complexity of your plan, and it is even possible that your advisor will provide some basic planning at no cost. Life will continue to change over time, for this reason it is important to revisit your financial plan with your advisor every so often to account for any detours or bumps along the road of life.  Financial plans are working documents that need to be adjusted as circumstances change. You should expect to update your financial plan several times during your working years. Generally, this will be every few years or when a major life change occurs. If you would like to find out more about having your personal financial plan prepared, contact us to set up your no obligation consultation today. Kate Pederson Investment Advisor Representative & Tax Preparer  Kate joined Advisors Management Group in December 2017. Prior to joining the firm, she worked in manufacturing and healthcare during her career as a financial analyst. Advisors Management Group, Inc. is a registered investment adviser whose principal office is located in Wisconsin.   Opinions expressed are those of AMG and are subject to change, not guaranteed, and should not be considered recommendations to buy or sell any security.  Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, and investing involves multiple risks, including, but not limited to, the risk of permanent losses.  Please do not send orders via e-mail as they are not binding and cannot be acted upon.  Please be advised it remains the responsibility of our clients to inform AMG of any changes in their investment objectives and/or financial situation.  This commentary is limited to the dissemination of general information pertaining to AMG’s investment advisory/management services.  Any subsequent, direct communication by AMG  with a prospective client shall be conducted by a representative that is either registered or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from registration in the state where the prospective client resides.  A copy of our current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees continues to remain available for your review upon request.
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Category: Tips

20 Oct 2021

Advisors Management Group

Managing Your Elderly Parents Finances: How to Prepare

The time to get ready is well before the time comes. Here's how to approach some important talks and what you need to cover. Whether the time is now or somewhere down the road, there are steps you can take to make your life — and their lives, too — a little easier. It’s Time for a Chat The first step is talking to your parents. How will you know when it's the right time to do this? Look for indicators like failure to take medication, new health concerns, diminished social interaction, general confusion or even fluctuations in weight. What can make things more difficult is when the parents are unwilling or unable to talk about their future. This can happen for a number of reasons, including fear of becoming dependent, resentment toward you for interfering, reluctance to burden you with their problems, or because they are already incapacitated. Without their cooperation, you may need to do as much planning as you can without them. However, if their safety or health is in danger, you may still need to step in as a caregiver. If you're nervous about talking to your parents, make a list of topics that you need to discuss. This will help ease tension, and you will be less likely to forget anything. If there is some reluctance on the part of your parents, it may be wise to cover your list over several visits so that it doesn’t sound so much like an interrogation. Get Personal Once you've opened the lines of communication, a good next step is to get as much information as you can to prepare a personal data record. This document lists information that you might need in case your parents become incapacitated or die. Here is some information that should be included: Bank and investment accounts Estate documents like wills and trusts Funeral and burial plans Medical information Insurance information Names and phone numbers of professional advisers Real estate documents Be sure to write down the location of documents and any relevant account numbers. It's also a good idea to make copies of all the documents you've gathered and keep them in a safe place. Explore Living Arrangements Eventually you’ll need to have discussions on more sensitive subjects like your parents’ wishes on medical care decisions and future living arrangements. Where your parents eventually live will depend on how healthy they are. As they grow older, their health may deteriorate so much that they can no longer live on their own. At that point, you may need to find them in-home health care, health care within a retirement community or nursing home, or you may insist that they come to live with you. If money is an issue, moving in with you may be the best or only option. Keep in mind this decision will impact your entire family, so talk about it as a family first. Make It a Family Affair The physical and financial responsibility of taking care of elderly parents may fall on several adult children, and usually not all are equally able to bear the burden. The result can be resentment, even hostility, and the breakdown of family cooperation. The key to keeping harmony is communication when caring for your aging parents. Family meetings on a regular basis are key to keeping tensions down and everyone informed. Families can talk over who can pay for care when it's needed, and who can do physical work for a parent. Even if a family member lives at a distance, there are things they can do. Consolidating accounts in one bank, setting up online access to paying bills and overseeing financial management are areas that can be handled from anywhere in the U.S. Ask for Help The key is to not try to care for your parents alone. Besides getting the family involved, there are also many local and national caregiver support groups and community services available to help you cope with caring for aging parents. If you don't know where to find help, contact your state department of elder care services, or call: 1-800-677-1116 to reach the Elder Care Locator, an information and referral service sponsored by the federal government that could direct you to resources available in your area. Source: Kiplinger.com

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13 Oct 2021

Advisors Management Group

Making Health Saving Accounts Work for You

When illness or injuries occur, paying for out-of-pocket medical expenses can be overwhelming for many people. By planning ahead and saving a little bit every month you can feel prepared to deal with unexpected medical costs. If you are a participant in a high deductible HSA eligible health insurance plan, a Health Savings Account can be an important part of your overall financial picture. Which insurance plans are eligible? For 2021, an HSA eligible plan must have a deductible of at least $1,400 for and individual and $2,800 for a family plan. HSA eligible plans require the insured to pay for most expenses out of pocket until the deductible is met.  It is important to understand that not every insurance plan is HSA eligible even if the deductible is high. How do HSA’s work? An HSA account allows you to put pre-tax dollars into a savings account, then use those dollars to pay medical expenses without ever paying any tax on the dollars used for the payment. The maximum annual deferral amount depends upon the type of health insurance coverage you have.  Also, the annual contribution limit usually increases slightly each year so you may want to adjust accordingly. HSA eligible health insurance plans may cost less which may allow you to choose to invest what you are not spending on premiums. How much can I save? For individuals with single health insurance coverage the annual contribution limit is $3,600.  For individuals with family health insurance coverage the annual contribution limit is $7,200.  If you are over the age of 55, you can contribute up to an additional $1,000 per year to increase, your maximum annual contribution to $4,600 or $8,200 depending upon the type of health insurance coverage you have. Contributions can be deductible on your tax return if they are paid out of pocket instead through salary deferral from your employers’ payroll. Additional Benefits Some additional advantages an HSA account provides include: At the age of 65 you can treat your HSA like an IRA and take distributions for purposes other than medical expenses without penalty, although you will pay income tax on the distribution. You can invest the assets in the account no matter what your income is. There are no income limits to be eligible to contribute unlike an IRA.  Once your income goes above a certain level you can no longer make tax deductible contributions to an IRA. For higher income earners an HSA is one of the few ways to save money tax deferred. You can do a once in a lifetime tax free rollover from an IRA to an HSA up to the annual contribution limit. However, you must remain in a high deductible health insurance plan for at least 12 months following the rollover. You are not allowed make rollover contributions to an HSA from a 401(k), 457, or other retirement plan. You can first roll money over to an IRA and then do a rollover from the IRA to the HSA There are options available for those who want to grow their HSA in the equities market. This can be attractive for those who don’t typically spend down their HSA on an annual basis or those who have accumulated a larger balance. Can I use my HSA to pay health insurance premiums? You can only use your HSA to pay health insurance premiums if you are collecting Federal or State unemployment benefits, or you have COBRA continuation health insurance coverage through a former employer. Nathan Deets CFP Investment Advisor Representative & Tax Preparer Nathan joined the firm in 2006. As an Investment Advisor Representative, he is part of the team that designs our clients’ investment portfolios, prepares individual tax returns, and helps our Advisor Team with financial planning for our clients. Advisors Management Group, Inc. is a registered investment adviser whose principal office is located in Wisconsin.   Opinions expressed are those of AMG and are subject to change, not guaranteed, and should not be considered recommendations to buy or sell any security.  Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, and investing involves multiple risks, including, but not limited to, the risk of permanent losses.  Please do not send orders via e-mail as they are not binding and cannot be acted upon.  Please be advised it remains the responsibility of our clients to inform AMG of any changes in their investment objectives and/or financial situation.  This commentary is limited to the dissemination of general information pertaining to AMG’s investment advisory/management services.  Any subsequent, direct communication by AMG  with a prospective client shall be conducted by a representative that is either registered or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from registration in the state where the prospective client resides.  A copy of our current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees continues to remain available for your review upon request.

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14 Dec 2020

Advisors Management Group

5 Tips for Handling Holiday Financial Stress

If you’re like many people, the holidays cause more financial stress than any other time of year. Figuring out how to afford gifts, décor and food for the big feast is often overwhelming. You might never be able to remove all of your holiday money worries, but you can alleviate some of them. Even though your shopping list might continue to grow while your wallet shrinks, you can enjoy this season without breaking the bank. Here are five ways to survive holiday financial stress. Set a budget Review your earnings and expenses, and then decide how much you’re willing to spend on holiday gifts, food and other items. Consider making a list and assigning each item a specific dollar amount. This will help you overcome the temptation to overspend. » MORE: How to Create an Early Holiday Shopping Budget Plan your shopping Whether you’re headed to the grocery store or braving the crowds at the mall, know what you intend to buy and who it’s for. Sticking to your list will also help keep you from buying unnecessary items and prevent overspending. It’s easy to make impulse purchases with all the eye candy in stores this time of the year, but you won’t fall prey to these consumer tricks when you know what you need.   Don’t buy it if you can’t afford it A 2016 report from investment management firm T. Rowe Price showed that 25% of parents have dipped into their emergency savings or 401(k) retirement plan or taken out a payday loan in order to cover holiday expenses. If you can’t afford to buy your children something on their wish lists without taking out a loan or borrowing from another account, the best option is to not buy it — it’s OK to say no. Your children will survive. Shortchanging your savings or going into debt is ultimately more detrimental to your family than skipping a few presents. Get creative with gift giving You can give thoughtful gifts while spending a fraction of the cost. If you’re crafty, handmade presents are extremely thoughtful. And if you’re lacking in artistic abilities, you can always give the gift of your time. Cooking someone a meal, giving new parents a night out while you babysit, or offering to clean someone’s house are gifts that recipients will love and will cost you nothing. Remember what the season is all about It’s easy to be swept up in the consumerism of the season, but remember that it isn’t about money and materialism. Focusing on its religious purpose or enjoying time with your loved ones will keep you from stressing over less important things. With a little planning and creativity, it’s possible to get through the holidays and avoid debt or wiping out your savings account. And you’ll feel even less stress when you reach January in good financial shape. Source: Nerdwallet

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03 Nov 2020

Advisors Management Group

How Parents Can Serve Financial Sense At Thanksgiving Table

The Thanksgiving dinner table offers a great opportunity for parents to tutor their children towards future success. As you pass the mashed potatoes, consider passing along family stories—your stories—of planning, saving and frugal spending. Make the stories lively and real. Give your kids a reason to believe your stories could someday be their own stories. Here’s a sampling of subject-course pairs you might find useful in your never-ending quest to boost your child’s success aptitude: Appetizer Things start off light, usually a raw vegetable tray or a bowl of fruit topped with a dollop of raspberry sherbet. It’s really just a tease for what’s to come. This is the course when the youngest of children are most engaged. Capture that enthusiasm with tales from your youthful exploits of lemonade stands, paper routes or the equivalent. Don’t emphasize the work (but don’t ignore it, either). Instead, glorify the fruits of that labor. The money you earned as a kid might seem like small change now, but it was a wad of cash back then. What joys did you convert it into? Do your kids have similar wants? How might they acquire those goods without writing a check on the Bank of Mommy or Daddy? Soup There’s nothing like a light broth to warm your insides without filling you up before the main course. The younger kids might begin to sway here, but the serious always appreciate this delicious portion. Liquidity is a common need at almost all stages of life. Do you remember a time when you thought you’d get by on credit only to find the check-out counter said “cash only”? What did you do? What lesson did you take away from that? How did that experience better prepare you for the next time? When was the next time and how important was it for you to have ready cash at that point? Remember, you’re telling a personal story involving money, but it should evoke more feeling and less finance. Your kids will retain it better when they are entertained by your vivid emotion than lectured with your dour experience. No matter how solid the plan, there’s always room for contingency. That’s what the extra cash is for. Plan on it, even if you’ve never used it. Salad Unlike the previous courses, the salad has a more tactile impression. It’s so real you can hear it crunch in your mouth. And the sweet vinegar base of its dressing tingles in your mouth. It’s a savory sensation. Everybody likes salad—or at least they say they do. Here’s your chance to regale them with the grandness of green. And by “green,” make it obvious you mean money. This is the story of the grand slam, your biggest success, the time you took a chance and reaped a much larger reward. Yes, risk is OK. It’s more than OK. It’s a requirement. The Pilgrims took a risk. Weave the Thanksgiving celebration into your own story of the risk you took to get the green. Go ahead, add some croutons to the dish if you like. And don’t worry if some of your retellings include a turkey or two. After all, sometimes the best way to learn is to make mistakes first. The bonus for your kids is they don’t have to make the same mistakes you did. They can make their own mistakes and then accomplish more than you did! Entrée We’ve now arrived to the meat and potatoes of the meal. These represent the heavy-duty nutrients, the headliners on this cavalcade of culinary stars. Sure, you’ve got a few green beans and a cranberry concoction on the side, as well as some rolls and butter to further fill your belly. But the actual attractions are the turkey, stuffing and sweet (and/or mashed) potatoes. Everything before this was just practice. Now comes the real thing. The road to success contains many enjoyable and satisfying side dishes. The road, however, remains the main dish. It is the spine of your success. It may contain multiple careers in different industries, but it always has one common thread: you. If you’ve primed them properly, your children will yearn to hear those events which have framed your success. They’ll now be ready to absorb your adventures in the jungles of long hours, hard work and corporate competition. They want to listen to your winning strategies because they’ll wonder if they’re made of the same stuff. Over the years, as they grow more confident, they’ll pay rapt attention to those same stories again in hopes of determining how to employ similar strategies in their own lives. Don’t hesitate to allow them to extract the nitty gritty details from you. Be proud of what you’ve done. Be more proud of what your kids will do. Dessert At this point, everyone sits sated, too filled to move. Yet, the sweet temptation of pumpkin (or apple, or cherry, or chocolate banana or even lemon meringue) pie calls you. And you cannot deny it. You casually nibble at small, bite-sized pieces in a relaxed, elongated way. This being the final course, there’s no rush, there’s no deadline. There’s only calm, easy, comfort surrounded by those you love most. Isn’t that what retirement is all about? Doesn’t this part of the meal offer the perfect metaphor for a life well lived, the epitome of success? Let your children know of your retirement plans, how they came to be and how you’ve prepared for them over your entire working life. Excite them by showing your own excitement for retirement. Describe how it represents a new beginning, one that you’ve long looked forward to. You’re either on the cusp or well within demonstrable financial success. You are the role model for your children. No one else is. No one else can be. No one else should be. Embrace this duty and share your success with your children. Heck, if you’ve succeeded in getting them pumped up to achieve their own financial success, the time is ripe to bring up the idea of having them start on the road to a comfortable retirement by showing them how to establish a Child IRA. Finally, as they sip from their glass and you drink from your cup remind them of this crucial fact: drinks are a separate charge. That’s when that contingency cash in your pocket comes in most handy.   Source: Forbes

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21 Sep 2020

Advisors Management Group

How to Save on Streaming Services

Americans have slashed spending on restaurants, travel and live entertainment. But we’re spending more on subscription services—especially video-streaming subscriptions. A recent survey on digital media trends by Deloitte, the tax and business consulting firm, found that not only have more consumers signed up for video-streaming services since the COVID shutdowns began, but the average streamer pays for more services than ever. “In the early days of the coronavirus, there was a significant shift in viewership in all kinds of TV,” says Bruce Leichtman, of Leichtman Research Group, which surveys TV-consumer behavior. With 80% of Americans owning internet-capable TVs, the vast majority have both a pay TV service (meaning cable or satellite TV, or live TV streaming over the internet) and a streaming video-on-demand service (such as Netflix or Hulu), according to Leichtman. Since the pandemic hit the U.S., nearly 10% of consumers have both added and canceled at least one paid video-streaming service, according to the Deloitte survey, suggesting that more churn is in store as consumers seek more value. And as more media providers join the fray—including Disney+, Apple TV+ and HBO Max—competition is growing and putting pressure on providers to expand content and reduce prices. How to save on streaming With so many streaming choices, it’s tempting to load up on subscriptions—but the cost can quickly add up. If you already have a few streaming services, consider canceling the ones that you use the least. You can always re-subscribe when a service releases new content or adds a feature that makes it more worthwhile. And with the pandemic pressing pause on many sports, you may not need to subscribe to a live TV service if you originally signed up primarily to watch games. A digital antenna may be all you need for access to local channels. Sharing subscriptions is another way to save. Some services make this easier than others—the Netflix premium plan (which allows four simultaneous log-ons) and Hulu (with the $9.99-per-month unlimited screens add-on) are particularly family-and-friends friendly. If you want access to a single show, you may be better off paying per view than subscribing to a service. For example, an HBO Max subscription costs $14.99 per month, but one episode of Game of Thrones on Amazon’s Prime Video costs $3.99—or $24.99 for the entire season. Bundling services is another way to trim costs, and the savings are even greater if you are willing to put up with some ads. The ad-free Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN+ bundle goes for $18.99 per month, but you can also do the same bundle with the ad-supported Hulu version for a monthly charge of $12.99. Take advantage of free viewing, such as Peacock TV’s standard plan, as well as free trials. Netflix offers a 30-day trial, and most other services let you sign up free for a week. You can find longer free trials with certain services if you download them from a particular device or if you also subscribe to another related service. With AT&T TV Now, for instance, you can get a free trial of HBO Max for 30 days, rather than the standard seven days. And you can get a free year-long subscription to Apple TV+ with the purchase of an iPhone,  iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Mac. Sprint includes Netflix subscriptions with some of its cell phone plans. Video on demand Streaming services have expanded, especially with the introduction of newcomers HBO Max and Disney+. But with all of the available choices, it’s tougher to figure out what gives you the most bang for your buck. Look at the options and piece together what works best for you based on the content you value most, your budget and what you can get for free, suggests Dan Rayburn, a streaming-media expert. While there are many options, the following streaming services are the major players. Amazon Video This is a good choice to sample a wide variety of TV shows and movies, as well as a host of popular original content a la carte. Recent hits include the Emmy-award-winning series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.   Amazon Prime members ($12.99 per month or $119 per year) get access to Amazon’s streaming video library, or you can choose a stand-alone Amazon Video subscription ($8.99 per month). Apple TV+ Apple releases new original content every month. Popular titles include dramas inspired by true events, such as The Morning Show and The Banker. For kids and families, Apple TV+ offers such titles as Snoopy in Space, Helpsters (from the makers of Sesame Street) and the Apple original Ghostwriters. Apple TV+ also has a wide array of documentary films and original series. If you buy an Apple device, Apple TV+ is included free for one year. A monthly subscription is $4.99 per month after a free seven-day trial. You can also share your subscription with up to five family members. Disney+ The arrival earlier this year of Disney+ from the media Goliath caused existential angst among the other streaming services. That’s because a subscription gets you access to the full library of Disney and Pixar classics, Marvel epics, and the Star Wars sagas. The live-action film version of the musical Hamilton arrived on July 3, and Beyoncé’s digital album, Black Is King, was released on Disney+ on July 31. You can also watch Artemis Fowl, a sci-fi fantasy based on the popular series of young adult books, originally intended for release in theaters this year. This fall, Disney is set to release The Right Stuff, a series about the early days of the NASA space program based on Tom Wolfe’s bestseller. The standard Disney+ plan costs $6.99 a month. It is no longer offering a free trial. HBO Max Unlike HBO Now and HBO Go, HBO Max is a stand-alone streaming platform on which you can stream all HBO titles, plus other popular series and blockbuster movies. HBO Max also plans to unveil new, exclusive originals for everyone in the family. The service has an expansive library of TV favorites, such as Friends and Adventure Time, combined with the full HBO library of exclusive originals like Game of Thrones and Westworld, plus classic movies like Casablanca and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. HBO Max costs $14.99 per month. You can sign up for a seven-day free trial. Hulu Hulu also streams popular TV shows, films and a wide range of exclusive content, including critically acclaimed TV series and films. For example, The Handmaid’s Tale and the 2020 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Parasite, are Hulu exclusives. Upcoming original releases include The Dropout, starring Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon, based on the ABC News investigative podcast, as well as the book-to-screen adaptation of Nine Perfect Strangers, starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy. Hulu offers two options for video-on-demand subscriptions. The base price is $5.99 a month for streaming with advertising, but for $11.99 a month you can get the same service without ads. Hulu subscribers can stream from no more than two screens simultaneously, but you can add unlimited screens to either Hulu plan for $9.99 per month. Netflix The 23-year-old subscription service offers a wide variety of award-winning TV shows, movies, anime and documentaries, all commercial-free. Net­flix dominated the Emmy awards this year, surpassing HBO for the record for most nominations ever—among them Ozark, The Crown, Stranger Things and Unorthodox. The service also recently added some notable Oscar winners to its streaming library, including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Jurassic Park. Netflix offers three plans, all of which grant access to the full library and can be canceled at any time. The premium plan goes for $15.99 a month and offers Ultra HD streaming quality and the ability to watch content on four devices at a time. The standard plan, for $12.99 a month, offers high-definition streaming, and you can watch on two devices at a time. The basic plan, at $8.99 a month, will get you standard-definition streaming limited to one device at a time. If you have not previously subscribed or it has been a while since you have, you can sign up for a 30-day free trial. Live TV streaming services Internet live TV streaming services, a subcategory of pay TV, offer an alternative to consumers who want to forgo expensive cable or satellite TV but still want access to live content, such as sports, news and local channels. Sometimes referred to as “skinny TV,” live TV streaming services generally offer fewer channels than traditional pay TV but at lower prices and without locking you into a contract. Subscribers to traditional pay TV pay upward of $100 a month, on average, according to a survey by Leichtman Research Group. Internet live TV streaming services typically cost from $30 to $65 a month (with no installation fees). AT&T TV Now AT&T offers two versions of its streaming service, Plus and Max. Both let you stream live prime-time favorites, breaking news, nonstop sports and thousands of on-demand titles. At $55 per month, Plus offers more than 45 channels, while Max, at $80 per month, offers more than 60 channels and considerably more sports coverage. Both services provide ESPN and NBCSN, but Max more than triples the number of sports channels and includes HBO Max. Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Cartoon Network and the three Disney channels are available on both versions. Fubo TV For $54.99 a month, you get 110 channels of live news, sports and entertainment, as well as 30 hours of DVR space and streaming on two screens at once. The family package ($59.99 per month) adds 500 hours of DVR space and an extra screen. The Ultra package ($84.99 per month) builds on the family plan with Sports Plus—24 additional sports channels, including international offerings beIN Sports and TUDN—as well as extra news and entertainment channels. Fubo also recently added ABC, Disney, ESPN and National Geographic to each plan. Hulu+ Live TV You get live sports, news and programming on more than 60 channels, including ABC, CBS, CNN, ESPN, Fox and MSNBC, plus local news channels in many cities. You can stream live games (when available) from major college and pro leagues, including the NCAA, NBA, NHL, NFL and English Premier League (football). For kids and family, Hulu+ Live TV also offers a Kids profile, which consolidates kids’ channels such as Disney and Cartoon Network in one place. And Hulu+ Live TV offers full access to the Hulu streaming library (the ad-supported version). The monthly charge is $54.99, after a one-week free trial. You can watch on two screens at a time or pay an additional $9.99 per month for the unlimited-screens add-on. You can add on DVR storage of up to 200 hours with full fast-forward capability for $9.99 a month (otherwise you’re limited to 50 hours with no skipping past ads). Peacock TV NBC’s new service gathers content from the network’s various channels in one place. The standard account (free, with no credit card required) has live news from NBC News, CNBC, MSNBC and E! News. You also get a handful of live TV features and a library of movies and TV shows for on-demand streaming, including kids’ shows and movies. Peacock Premium costs $4.99 per month after a seven-day free trial and offers full access to Peacock’s original content; the ad-free Premium option costs $9.99 per month. Both Premium versions also have live sports, including English Premier League football games. Sling Sling has two options, each for $30 a month. Sling Blue offers 45 channels that are more focused on news and entertainment, including Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and Bravo. Sling Orange, with 30 channels, has more sports coverage and family-friendly fare, including ESPN, HGTV, CNN, A&E and the Food Network. Free trials last only three days, but Sling is also promising a one-year price guarantee at sign-up. For kids and family, Sling Blue offers Nick Jr., Sling Orange has Disney, and both have Cartoon Network. YouTube TV With more than 85 channels and unlimited cloud DVR storage, YouTube TV is the Cadillac (or Tesla) of live TV streaming, at the upscale price of $64.99 a month. You can have up to six accounts per household and watch on up to three screens simultaneously. Content-wise, YouTube TV gets you wide access across a broad range of categories. For sports, it offers the NBA and MLB networks, the Tennis Channel, the Golf Channel, ESPN, and NBC Sports. You can also tune in to PBS, BET, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, in addition to local channels and ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. For kids and family, YouTube TV offers three Disney channels—Disney, Disney XD and Disney Junior—as well as Cartoon Network and PBS Kids. Source: Kiplinger

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20 May 2020

Advisors Management Group

8 Steps to Appeal Your Property Tax Bill

Home values rose across the country in 2019, which means many homeowners' property taxes are now going up, too. The taxes can hit particularly hard in states with the highest effective property tax rates -- New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, Vermont and Connecticut -- now that federal deductions for state and local taxes are capped at $10,000. If you’ve lost your job or suffered other financial setbacks because of the coronavirus pandemic, check with your county or other jurisdiction for property-tax relief. A number of states and counties have extended deadlines for property tax payments or offered other forms of relief. For example, several counties in Washington have delayed the first of two annual property tax payments from April 30 to June 1. West Virginia extended the deadline for payments for the second half of 2019 from April 1 to May 1. Iowa has suspended interest and penalties on late property tax payments. If you’re unable to pay on time and your state or county hasn’t extended the deadline, contact your property tax office. You may qualify for a program that will waive fees or interest on late payments. If your property tax bill has increased significantly, you may have grounds for an appeal, particularly if the increase seems out of line with overall appreciation in your area. Most jurisdictions give you 90 days after you receive a new assessment to appeal, although some close the appeals window after 30 days, says Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union. Some lawyers handle property tax appeals on a contingency basis, but most homeowners can appeal on their own, Sepp says. Plenty of property owners challenge their assessments each year, and between 20% and 40% of them win lower assessments and lower property tax bills. The following steps will show you the way to success.   Step 1: Know the Rules Schedules vary, but local governments commonly send assessment notices to homeowners in the first few months of the year. As soon as you get yours—or even before—check the deadline for challenging the value. You may have just a few weeks. And be sure you know how your locality assesses property. Some set the tax assessment at a percentage of market value—80%, for example—so don't be smug if you get a $90,000 assessment on a home you think is worth at least $100,000.   Step 2: Catch a Break When you get your property tax bill, check it for your tax rate, assessment figures and payment schedule, and make sure that you're getting the tax breaks you deserve. Some states allow anyone who owns and lives in a primary home to shield a portion of its value from taxation. You may be eligible for credits based on your income or status as a senior citizen, veteran or disabled person. In Florida, for example, all homeowners are eligible for a homestead exemption of up to $50,000; those 65 and over who meet certain income limits can claim an additional $50,000. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed legislation that will make it easier for seniors in Cook County—which includes Chicago and is the state's most populous jurisdiction—to apply for a property tax break of up to $8,000 a year. Rebates and other property tax breaks aren't automatic: you usually have to apply for them and show proof of eligibility. Contact your state's department of taxation or visit its Web site to see what breaks are available to you.   Step 3: Set the Record Straight Check your property's record card, which you'll find at your assessor's office or possibly on its Web site. This is the official description of your house, and if you see an outright error—indicating four bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms for your two-bedroom bungalow, for example—the assessor may fix the problem on the spot, reduce the assessed value and your tax bill. That'll save you the trouble of a formal appeal.   Step 4: Size Up the Neighbors We'd never tell you to keep up with the Joneses, but comparing your property to similar ones in your neighborhood will determine whether you have a solid case. Pull up property cards of several homes of similar age and square footage and with the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms to see how their assessments line up with yours.   Step 5: Build Your Case If you find that your assessed value is considerably higher than several similar homes, you may have grounds for appeal. But even if the assessment falls into the middle of the pack, it's not necessarily fair. Maybe your house has a leaky basement or lousy grading that doesn't allow you to have a garden. The assessment should be based on the market value of your home; if your place has issues that would turn off buyers, now's the time to own up to them   Step 6: Fight City Hall The process varies by locality, but you'll likely send your appeal and your evidence—data on comparable properties, blueprints, photographs, repair estimates—to the assessor for review. You should get a verdict within a couple of months. If you're dissatisfied, take your case to the appeals board and put your persuasive skills to work. Don't whine, and save your opinions on politics and tax rates for elected representatives who vote on those matters.   Step 7: Enlist Troops If you don't have time, or the stomach, to do battle yourself, get a hired gun to do the legwork for you. A professional appraiser can provide the strongest evidence of your property's worth. If your community allows outside appraisals—and if you're willing spend at least $250 -- find an appraiser with national certification, such as through the Appraisal Institute or the American Society of Appraisers. Don't fall for solicitations from law firms or other services saying they'll assist you in return for a high percentage of the savings on your bill—it's not worth the cost.   Step 8: Reap the Rewards If you need added incentive to bring a skeptical eye to your real estate appraisal, remember this: A successful appeal is truly the gift that keeps on giving, year after year. Raise a toast to your success.   Source: Kiplinger

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03 Dec 2019

Advisors Management Group

Top 10 Survival Tips for Holiday Travel

Wherever you're heading, if you're traveling during the holiday season, you need to realize that everyone else in the world is, too. But don't let invasive security scanners, terrible drivers and long lines at the airports get you down. We're giving you tips to survive the holiday travel season without a Frosty the Snowman-size meltdown. 1: Do Your Research Plan alternative trips if traffic makes your way home too overwhelming. Is there a scenic drive that might be longer but have less traffic? Break up a long drive by finding a few places to stop that will get the kids more excited than a truck rest stop. When flying, make sure you check the airline's restrictions ahead of time on carry-on luggage and fees for checked bags. 2: Stay Connected Stock up on the latest travel apps before you leave home. GateGuru gives you approximate times you'll spend in security. Heading out on the road? Find the cheapest gas and cleanest bathrooms on the road with GasBuddy and SitOrSquat. 3: Pack Light Avoid checking bags altogether if you can. You won't have to wait for your luggage on the conveyor belt, and you won't have to worry about your mom's Christmas present getting lost in the Airport. If you do check luggage, make sure you have all your medications, important documents and a change of clothes in your carry-on just in case your luggage gets lost.  4: Pack Earplugs Short of doing yoga in the airport, the best way to mentally escape your stressful holiday travel surroundings is to turn the volume down. And the easiest way to do that is with earplugs. Crying baby next seat over on the plane? Earplugs. Sister's music in the car driving you mad? Earplugs. And if you really want to check out for a bit? Bring an eye mask (as long as you aren't driving). 5: Don't Get Hangry When your tummy growls, your mind can't think straight, and you could unknowingly get in the wrong line, take the wrong turn, or worse, upset an innocent flight attendant. Pack snacks and drinks, so you and your family will be fueled up for a road trip. If you're flying, definitely get some grub before you board the plane, so you won't have to rely on airline food if you're sitting on the tarmac for hours. 6: Ship Gifts or Give Gift Cards TSA suggests to ship wrapped gifts or wait until you reach your destination to wrap them, as they might have to unwrap a present to inspect it. Ship gifts ahead of time or bring the gift that can't go wrong: gift cards to their favorite store or an Amazon card. 7: Travel on Off-Peak Days The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year and can also cause you the biggest meltdown of the year. A better option is to leave early on Thanksgiving Day and avoid the record traffic the night before. Same goes with flying: If you fly on the actual holiday itself you’ll be avoiding the long lines and hoards of travelers. 8: Travel Early or Late in the Day Flight statistics show that planes traveling earlier in the day have a better on-time performance. And if your flight is canceled, you will have the option of taking a flight later in the day. Also, there will be fewer lines at security. Best time to hit the road? When everyone else is asleep — early morning or late at night. You can always take a nap when you arrive at your destination or on the ride there (if you aren’t the driver, of course). 9: Plan for the Unexpected Have only a half-hour before connecting to another flight? Traveling to Rochester, N.Y., during snow season? Think ahead and plan accordingly. Leave extra time before flights to deal with security, extra time between connections and, for road trips, pack tire chains for snowy conditions, flashlights, and of course, a few bandages never hurt either. 10: Inhale and Exhale The overly friendly person next to you on the plane, the canceled flights, the luggage that fell off in the middle of the highway? All of it will make for great stories over dinner when you finally make it to your destination. After all, holiday travel stress is just as much of a tradition as pumpkin pie and regifting. Source: Travel Channel  

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03 Dec 2019

Advisors Management Group

Holiday Budgeting 2019: 8 Tips to Save More

The holiday season can be a stressful time as consumers ramp up their spending on gifts and travel and face extra bills in the new year. Shoppers are planning to spend an average of $1,047.83 this year, which is a 4% increase from last year, based on the survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, and Prosper Insights & Analytics. Consumers 35 to 44 years old are likely to spend the most during the holiday season, at a total of $1,158.63. Shoppers will spend the most money on gifts for their friends, family, and co-workers at an average of $658.55. They plan to also purchase greeting cards, decorations, candy, and food, totaling an average of $227.26. Consumers said they will spend another $162.02 on sales and deals during the season. Here are eight tips on how you can save money during the holiday season so you can enjoy them and spend less time worrying about those credit card bills. 2019 Holiday Budgeting Tips  1:  Secret Santa Instead of buying all of your family and friends gifts for the holidays, start a Secret Santa. Being surprised is more fun and you will spend less money. Ron McCoy, CEO of Freedom Capital Advisors in Clermont, Florida, is trying it out with his family for the first time this year. "It's ridiculous for people to go out and spend money they don't have just because our culture is to spend, spend, spend," he said. "My young adult children love the idea of not spending a fortune this Christmas. I still believe it's the thought that counts, not how much you spend." 2: Shop Online Avoid shopping at the mall or at shopping centers because you are more prone to spontaneous purchases or deals that seem to be too good to pass up. You can also save money on parking and tolls. When you're shopping online, watch out for hidden costs associated with shipping, said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization. "The sale price of the item may be unbeatable, but some merchants pack in high shipping costs that could erase most of the savings," McClary said. Shopping online means you can avoid the madness of trying to find a coveted parking spot, avoid the rush of the crowds and buying mania, said Daren Blonski, managing partner of Sonoma Wealth Advisors in Sonoma, California. "Online shopping allows you to control your spending and not get sucked into those last-minute 'have-to-have' purchases. Although, watch out for those nasty pop-up ads in your social networking feeds." 3: Make a List Shoppers who make a list of gifts to purchase are more likely to not exceed their budget. "Plan ahead to avoid any surprise expenses that could drain your savings or lead to unmanageable debt," McClary said. "This means making a complete list and sticking with your plan. The list should be based on what you can afford without interfering with necessary living expenses or existing debt obligations." 4. Give Gifts of Service If you cannot afford gifts for everyone on your list, another option is to provide gifts of services like babysitting or dog sitting. "It can be anything that shows you care and has value while not costing you a lot of money," said Jim Triggs, CEO of Money Management International, a Sugar Land, Texas-based non-profit debt counseling organization. "You can make baked goods or make inexpensive crafts to give away as gifts. Print out some of the pictures of you and your loved ones that you may have on your phone. This can be inexpensive and a very thoughtful gift." 5. Regift Holidays don't have to set you back, put you into debt or a financial crisis, Triggs said. If you receive a gift that you do not want or need and you know a friend or family member would enjoy the gift, don't "feel bad about regifting it if you're on a tight budget," he said. "Most friends and family do not want to see their loved ones going into debt during the holiday season," Triggs said. 6. Use Reward Points and Miles  Instead of shelling out your hard-earned money, a good way to save money is to examine your existing rewards points and miles. Bankrate.com recently asked people how many they had and while many people didn't know, the ones who kept track had impressive stockpiles, said Ted Rossman, an analyst for Creditcards.com and Bankrate. Even at a conservative valuation of one cent per point or mile, Bankrate found the average frequent flyer account balance is worth about $340, the average hoard of hotel points equals approximately $230 and the average credit card rewards stash is $160. "You might already be sitting on a considerable amount of value that you could turn into free or discounted travel, cash back, gift cards or merchandise," he said. 7. Shop Through Credit Card and Airline Portals Consumers can also save hundreds of dollars by shopping through credit card and airline portals during the holiday season. "This is an excellent double-dip opportunity," Rossman said. "Whenever you buy something online, don't go directly to that retailer's website." Instead, log into a website like the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, the American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping mall or Rakuten. These examples all allow you to earn bonus points or cashback. "Pay with the right rewards credit card for an added boost," he said. "For example, if you click through the American Airlines, you'll get eight AAdvantage miles per dollar plus whatever you earn from your credit card company. A good choice would be the Chase Freedom, which offers 5% cashback at department stores this quarter." 8. Treat Yourself Give yourself some leeway to spend on things you don't anticipate, Blonski said. "Just like when you're trying to live on a diet, it seems to help when you allow for a little 'cheat meal,' -- it takes the drudgery out of the process," he said. "If it's a planned frivolous spend, you don't have to shame yourself for it." Source: The Street

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02 Dec 2019

Advisors Management Group

2019 Holiday Shopping Report

Even though many Americans are worried about the possibility of a recession, most are still planning to purchase holiday gifts. Check out our 2019 holiday shopping report below. Not much — including unease about the nation’s economy —  stands in the way of holiday shopping in the U.S. Over 223 million Americans (88%) plan to purchase gifts this holiday season, spending an estimated $184 billion, even as many believe we’re bound for a recession, according to a new NerdWallet survey. Nearly 2 in 5 (37%) Americans believe the U.S. is headed toward a recession. Three of 10 holiday shoppers (those planning to shop for gifts during the 2019 holiday season) — or 66 million Americans — say they’ll spend less due to their perception of the current state of the economy, according to a NerdWallet survey of 2,023 U.S. adults, conducted online by The Harris Poll. “For most Americans, the urge to spend at the holidays is strong, even in the face of economic uncertainty. But there are ways to spend and celebrate the season without creating additional financial stress at home,” says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet. Holiday Shopping Key Findings Economic perceptions will affect holiday spending. Nearly two in five (37%) Americans say the U.S. economy is headed toward a recession, and 30% of those planning to purchase gifts this holiday season say they’ll spend less because of their view of the current economy. Higher prices expected. Nearly half (48%) of Americans believe holiday gifts will cost more this year compared with years past as a result of new tariffs on imports from China. Millions still paying off 2018 holiday debt. Roughly 48 million Americans are still paying off credit card debt from the 2018 holiday season, far more than the 39.4 million who were paying off 2017 debt when we asked last year. Planned spending up slightly. Holiday shoppers plan to spend $825 on gifts, on average, this season, a 6% increase over 2018. With 88% of Americans planning to shop for gifts, that’s roughly $184 billion in 2019 holiday spending. Credit cards and digital wallets poised and ready. Just over 7 in 10 (71%) holiday shoppers plan to use a credit card on gift purchases this year, and 32% will use digital wallet apps. Midsummer sales a big draw for early holiday shoppers. Nearly 1 in 5 (18%) 2019 holiday shoppers completed most of their holiday shopping during midsummer sales. Many Will Spend Less Due to Their View of the Economy Mixed messages about the economy lead to mixed opinions. Nearly 2 in 5 (37%) Americans say the U.S. economy is headed toward a recession, according to the survey, while 43% say the economy is currently stable and about 1 in 5 (19%) characterize it as “booming.” But perhaps more important than their perception is how it could affect shoppers’ holiday spending this season — healthy consumer spending is a boon to the economy. While over half (60%) of holiday shoppers say their perception of the economy will not affect how much they spend on gifts this year, 3 in 10 (30%) say they’ll spend less because of it. For perspective, that’s 66 million Americans who are tightening their purse strings in response to their perception of the economy. Further, many indicate they believe the money spent on gifts won’t go as far — 48% of Americans believe holiday gifts will cost more this year compared with years past as a result of new tariffs on imports from China. Women are more likely than men to believe the U.S. economy is headed toward a recession (42% vs. 32%). And female holiday shoppers are more likely to say they plan to spend less this year because of their perception of the economy (36% vs. 24% of male shoppers). Millions Still Paying Off 2018 Holiday Debt Nearly 3 in 5 (59%) 2018 holiday shoppers incurred some credit card debt during the 2018 holiday season, and 35% of those who did say they’re still working to get it paid off, according to the survey. That’s 48 million Americans still paying off credit card debt from the 2018 holiday season. Last year, when we asked the same question, 28% of 2017 holiday shoppers were still paying off debt from the 2017 holiday season. Only 24% of those who incurred credit card debt from last year’s holiday shopping paid it off with the first statement. “The fact that holiday spending is sending more people into long-term debt suggests overspending is endemic to the season. Unfortunately, it can drag down a household’s finances long after the gifts are opened,” Palmer says. Savvy Holiday Shopping Tip:  If holiday debt is an annual tradition, start a new one. Every year, begin saving for holiday shopping several months in advance, so you can pay outright when it’s time to shop or pay off any credit card transactions with the first statement. Planned Spending Still Up from Last Year Even with some saying they’ll spend less this year, overall anticipated spending is up, albeit slightly. On average, 2019 holiday shoppers plan to spend $825 on gifts this season, 6% more than last year. With 88% of Americans expecting to shop for gifts, the economy could get a $184 billion infusion. Like last year, Generation X is planning to spend the most on holiday gifts, but they anticipate spending less, on average, than last year, when they estimated they’d fork over $992. Most Shoppers Plan to Use Credit Cards Despite the fact that some 2018 holiday shoppers are still in debt from last year, 71% of 2019 holiday shoppers are poised to use their credit cards this holiday season, according to the survey. On average, they anticipate charging $660 of their gifts and estimate they’ll take 3.7 months to pay off that balance. At that rate, they’ll pay roughly $22 in interest over that nearly four-month period, according to NerdWallet analysis. If, however, they make only minimum payments on the debt, it could cost them $239 in interest and take nearly four years to pay off. Savvy Holiday Shopping Tip:  “Instead of taking on debt into the new year, use credit cards strategically at the holiday season by paying off your balance each month and accruing cashback or points to help stretch your holiday budget. You can use your rewards for holiday travel, to buy gift cards, or as cash to help fund other expenses,” Palmer says. Taking Steps to Save Fewer Americans plan on using coupons and promo codes to save on shopping, in general, this holiday season than last (48% vs. 54%), but that doesn’t mean holiday shoppers aren’t looking for a deal. Nearly 1 in 5 (18%) 2019 holiday shoppers completed most of their holiday shopping during midsummer sales, according to the survey, and about 7 in 10 (71%) Americans plan to shop on Black Friday, one of the biggest deal days of the year. Savvy Holiday Shopping Tip:  ”Tracking prices and making purchases when they dip, whether it’s months before the holidays or at the last minute, can help stretch your budget,” Palmer says. “Apps like ShopSavvy and browser add-ons like Honey can help you get the best price.” Most Will Shop Online, Some to Pick Up In-Store Though NerdWallet began asking shoppers in 2016 whether they’d be in-store or online for most of their holiday shopping, this marks the first year we asked about ordering online for in-store pickup. More than 1 in 10 (11%) holiday shoppers say they plan to order online and pick up in store for the majority of their shopping while half (50%) will order online for delivery and 37% will do the majority of their shopping in-store. One-quarter (25%) of those who plan to shop on Black Friday this year say they’ll order online for in-store pickup vs. 60% who plan to order online for delivery and 50% who will shop in-store on that day. What and Whom Shoppers will Spend On When asked what categories they’ll be spending the most on this year, the top one 2019 holiday shoppers cite is clothing and accessories (58%). Gift cards were a close second, with 52% saying they’d spend the most on gift cards and leave the gift-buying to the recipient. “Gifts cards tend to be most appreciated, and most likely to be used when they are given to a store or a restaurant that the recipient already frequents and enjoys. If you’re not sure, then cash might be a better choice, and there’s less of a chance it will go to waste,” Palmer says. Some shoppers may be busting their budget to create a special holiday season. Just 8% of those who ever shop during the holidays say they don’t splurge on anyone during the season, according to the survey.  “There’s nothing wrong with splurging a little at the holidays, but make sure that splurge fits into your broader spending plan so you start 2020 feeling more confident about your finances,” Palmer says. Source: NerdWallet  

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01 Dec 2019

Advisors Management Group

It’s Time For Year-End Financial Planning

Getting your finances ready for the end of the calendar year takes time, so it’s wise to start thinking about your financial to-do list now. Since most year-end financial planning opportunities have firm deadlines—often December 31st—acting now can help ensure you don’t leave money on the table. It’s not all upside though: failing to take certain actions can mean hefty penalties in some cases. Financial Planning 1:Check Your Tax Withholding Even individuals with only W-2 income from a regular paycheck can be caught off guard by a surprise tax bill and/or an underpayment penalty. That's why it's important to start your financial planning. After the new tax law went into effect in 2018, the withholding tables changed, leaving some taxpayers with a big bill. Estimating your annual income at the beginning of the year can be difficult for individuals with lumpy or unpredictable income, such as business owners or employees working on commission. Recalculating your withholding using the IRS withholding calculator closer to the end of the year could help some workers avoid an underpayment penalty or surprise tax bill come April. Here’s how: if taxes are withheld through a payroll deduction, those tax payments are always deemed to be timely paid. This enables some individuals to catch up on any previous under-withholding once they have more concrete income estimates near year-end. If you make quarterly tax payments instead, be aware that even if you increase estimated tax payments during the year, it may still not be enough to avoid penalties if any previous payments are deemed to have been 'underpaid' based on your actual income at the end of the year. To avoid an underpayment penalty, taxpayers can make quarterly payments of at least 110% of last year's tax liability (if their adjusted gross income is over $150,000).   Financial Planning 2: Consider Refinancing a Mortgage or Student Loans Interest rates have generally been on lower this year due to the uncertainty around the trade war and rate cuts by the Federal Reserve. If you’ve been putting off the decision to refinance a mortgage or student loans, now may be the time to start planning. Before reaching out to a lender, there are several considerations to be aware of. Mortgages As you move through your fixed mortgage term, the proportion of your monthly payment that’s allocated to the principal will increase and your interest expense will decrease. If you’re well into your loan, it may not make sense to refinance after considering closing costs. Also, consider whether it’s beneficial to refinance into a different type of mortgage. If you bought a home with an adjustable-rate mortgage because you didn’t expect to own the house for very long, but now your plans have changed, it may make sense to switch to a conventional fixed 15 or 30-year mortgage. Alternatively, if you’re 10 years into a mortgage and decide to refinance, consider the pros and cons of an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) if you’re planning to sell before the interest rate becomes variable. Just keep being aware of the risks should your plans change. Student Loans Graduates with significant student loans can sometimes find relief by refinancing. Assuming your income and credit score is strong, it can be possible to shave a few points of your rate. Be aware that refinancing student loans may require a shorter loan period, even as little as five years. Refinancing from a federal loan to private lenders can also mean sacrificing some benefits, such as loan deferment, forbearance, and loan forgiveness (for those who qualify). If you have multiple loans, you can always consider refinancing only the ones with the highest interest rates, to help make it more affordable given the truncated payback period. Financial Planning 3: Give Your 401(k) a Checkup This is an easy one to forget in your financial planning goals. Often enough we set it and forget it…but it's great to check it at least once a year! This fall spend some time making sure your 401(k) plan is properly configured. If you’re not already on track to meet the annual contribution limit and are able to, consider increasing your election while there’s still time. In 2019, the maximum is $19,000/year though investors age 50 and older have an additional $6,000 catch-up contribution. Once the 2020 IRS contributions have been announced, you’ll want to update your contribution strategy for next year. Also, review the 401(k) investment options as the fund lineup will change periodically. Assuming you are comfortable with your asset allocation, make sure your account doesn’t need to be rebalanced. Periodic rebalancing helps maintain your target asset allocation over time as some asset classes will outperform others. Financial Planning 4: Plan Charitable Contributions Two of the major changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that passed at the end of 2017 was the near doubling of the standard deduction and new $10,000 cap on state, local, and property taxes (SALT). The result is that far fewer taxpayers benefit from itemizing their tax deductions, which includes cash gifts to qualified charities. Due to these changes, other strategies have become more popular to help ensure charitably inclined individuals can still benefit from their gifts. If you give cash, consider whether it’s advantageous to ‘bunch’ cash donations in one tax year instead of spreading them out equally over two. For example, a couple has $10,000 in state, local, and property taxes (the maximum), $5,000 in mortgage interest expense, and $8,000 in cash donations to qualified public charities for a total of $23,000 in itemizable deductions. In 2019, the standard deduction for married taxpayers filing jointly is $24,400, so the couple will not benefit from itemizing their tax deductions. If the couple bunched their charitable contributions, they’d make a gift of $16,000 in 2019, bringing their itemized deductions to $31,000, well over the standard deduction. In 2020, they would make no cash gifts to charity and claim the standard deduction. Considering the changes to itemized deductions, it may be advantageous to consider which charitable giving strategies offer the best tax benefits. Other planned giving strategies, including donating highly-appreciated securities and gifting a required minimum distribution, may be advantageous over cash gifts. Financial Planning 5: Watch the Timing of 529 Plan Distributions The end of the calendar year is also a break between college semesters. Before the new semester begins in January, colleges send out tuition bills for parents and students to pay. Here’s where problems can occur: if you take funds from a 529 plan in December for a tuition bill paid in January, a portion of your 529 plan funds could be classified as a non-qualified distribution and potentially subject to income tax and a 10% penalty if total 529 plan withdrawals for the year were more than the qualified higher education expenses paid. Since the calendar year, qualified expenses must align to the calendar year 529 plan withdrawals, issues could also arise if a distribution was made in January to cover expenses paid in December. There’s a lot to keep in mind, so consult the financial aid office to help ensure you’re using the appropriate expense figures and not double-counting any tax benefits, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit, or expenses covered by tax-free scholarships.  Financial Planning 6: Flexible Spending Accounts: Use it Before You Lose it There are two types of flexible spending accounts (FSAs) your employer can sponsor medical and dependent care. With a medical FSA, you can pay for (or get reimbursed for) certain qualifying medical expenses using pre-tax dollars. Since your annual FSA election was based on your projected medical costs for the year, over-contributing is common. Depending on the plan rules, your medical FSA must either be fully depleted during the calendar year or up to $500 can be rolled over to next year. Otherwise, your contributions will be forfeited. In a dependent care FSA, pre-tax contributions can be used to reimburse parents for qualified childcare expenses that are incurred to enable you (and a spouse, if married) to work, look for work, or enroll in school full time. Although there are instances where adults can be claimed as a dependent, for most, qualified dependents are your children under age 13. The contribution limit in 2019 is $5,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly. Unlike medical FSAs, there is currently no rollover provision for unused balances in dependent care FSAs. The end of the year can be hectic. Considering how challenging it can be to tackle routine financial tasks throughout the year, don’t procrastinate these important financial planning moves—the deadlines are no longer self-imposed. Source: Forbes

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