Contact us at 913.451.7526
Contact us at 913.451.7526

March 2015

Four Steps to a Simpler Financial Life

For many Americans, financial life seems to be getting more and more complicated. Perhaps that’s because more workers bear responsibility for their own retirement savings thanks to the proliferation of 401(k) and other plans. Or maybe it’s because there’s so much information and so many investment choices to sort through. Whatever the case, here are some suggestions that may help to simplify your financial life.


 

1. Start with a Plan

A little time spent planning now can benefit you later. First, determine short-term financial goals. Do you want to purchase a home in five years? Are your kids heading off to college soon? Is buying a car a top priority next year? Next, think about long-term goals, such as saving for retirement and, if your children are young, college expenses. Estimate how much money you’ll need to meet each of these goals.


 

2. Build a Better Budget

Next, look at your current monthly net income and then set up a budget. Creating a budget allows you to see exactly where all your money goes and to determine where you can scale back. After making cuts, invest that money to help pursue your financial goals.


 

3. Invest Systematically

You can take time and guesswork out of investing with a systematic investing program. With mutual funds, for example, you can make arrangements to automatically invest a specific amount of money on a regular (e.g., monthly) basis, a strategy also known as dollar cost averaging.* In addition to making investing easier, dollar cost averaging could potentially save you money. You’ll buy more shares when prices are low and fewer shares when they’re high. Over time, the average cost you pay for the shares may be less than the average price.


 

4. Rely on an Investment Professional

While the financial world is far more complex than it was just a few years ago, you don’t have to go it alone. Think about tapping into your investment professional’s expertise before making any major change in your investments. He or she can help you to evaluate how new tax rules and changing market conditions may affect your portfolio and, in turn, your financial goals.

*Dollar cost averaging involves regular, periodic investments in securities regardless of price levels. You should consider your financial ability to continue purchasing shares through periods of high and low prices. This plan does not assure a profit and does not protect against loss in declining markets.

© 2011 Standard & Poor’s Financial Communications. All rights reserved.

Five Ways to Help Measure Investment Risk

Investors who are concerned about market volatility should examine their investment choices from all angles when constructing a portfolio — evaluating not only return, but risk too.

There are a variety of risk measures that may come in handy. Of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they may help you determine whether owning a particular investment is consistent with your personal risk tolerance. You and your financial advisor may want to review the following risk measures:

1. Alpha is a measure of investment performance that factors in the risk associated with the specific security or portfolio, rather than the overall market (or correlated benchmark). It is a way of calculating so-called “excess return” — that portion of investment performance that exceeds the expectations set by the market as well as the security’s/portfolio’s inherent price sensitivity to the market. Alpha is a common way to assess an active manager’s performance as it measures portfolio return in excess of a benchmark index. In this regard, a portfolio manager’s added value is his/her ability to generate “alpha.”

2. Beta is the statistical measure of the relative volatility of a security (such as a stock or mutual fund) compared to the market as a whole. The beta for the market (usually represented by the S&P 500) is 1.00. A security with a beta above 1.0 is considered to be more volatile (or risky) than the market. One with a beta of less than 1.0 is considered to be less volatile.

3. R-squared (R2) quantifies how closely a fund’s performance has mirrored a benchmark index. The value of R2 ranges between 0 and 100. The closer it is to 0, the less the fund’s returns “correlate” to its benchmark. The closer it is to 100, the more the two have moved in tandem. For example, you may expect the returns of a large-cap fund to be closely aligned with the S&P 500 and thus to have an R2 closer to 100.

4. The Sharpe ratio is a tool for measuring how well the return of an investment rewards the investor given the amount of risk taken. For example, a Sharpe ratio of 1 indicates one unit of return per unit of risk, 2 indicates two units of return per unit of risk, and so on. A negative value indicates loss or that a disproportionate amount of risk was taken to generate a positive return. The Sharpe ratio is useful in examining risk and return, because although an investment may earn higher returns than its peers, it is only a good investment if those higher returns do not come with too much additional risk. The higher a portfolio’s Sharpe ratio, the better its risk-adjusted performance has been.

5. Standard deviation is a measure of investment risk that looks at how much an investment’s return has fluctuated from its own longer-term average. Higher standard deviation typically indicates greater volatility, but not necessarily greater risk. That is because standard deviation quantifies the variance of returns, it does not differentiate between gains and losses. Consistency of returns is what matters most. For instance, if an investment declined 2% a month for a series of months, it would earn a low (positive) standard deviation. But if an investment earned 8% one month and 12% the next, it would have a much higher standard deviation, even though by most accounts it would be the preferred investment.

Using a variety of risk measures may give you a more complete picture than any single gauge. Your financial advisor can help you decide which ones will serve your needs and assess the risks and potential rewards associated with your portfolio.

Financial Planning Tips for Unmarried Couples

Today’s “modern family” is decidedly nontraditional. According to the latest Census data, fewer than 25% of American households currently consist of married couples with dependent children, while more than 40% of unmarried couples have children under the age of 18. Even the term “married” can be defined differently depending on where you live. Some states allow and recognize same-sex marriage, but the majority of states and federal government do not. Therefore, it’s important for domestic partners to ensure they have legal protections in place to protect their families and themselves.

 

Legal Protections

Unmarried partners lack many of the legal protections granted to spouses in the event of divorce or death. Although most states will consider a claim by an unmarried partner, there is no specific legal precedent in the absence of a written contract. Domestic partners may wish to consider creating a domestic-partnership agreement that details the sharing of expenses as well as the ownership and distribution of assets should the relationship end. Unmarried couples with children should consider signing a written agreement acknowledging parental rights and responsibilities and having each partner name the other as primary guardian in wills.


 

Retirement Considerations

Unmarried couples are not eligible for their partner’s Social Security benefits and, in some cases, employer-sponsored retirement plan distributions. The IRS allows a nonspousal beneficiary of an IRA to take required distributions over his or her lifetime rather than in a lump sum, allowing for potential tax-deferred growth over a longer period of time. Domestic partners who can afford to do so may want to contribute the annual maximum to an IRA to capitalize on this benefit.


 

Estate Planning Issues

If an unmarried individual dies without a will, the state may distribute assets to his or her closest blood relatives, leaving the surviving domestic partner out in the cold. To help rebut a challenge to a will, domestic partners may want to videotape their wishes in the presence of an attorney.


Federal tax law allows all assets to pass to a spouse tax free and no applicable estate taxes are due until the second spouse dies. Unmarried couples, however, do not enjoy this tax advantage. For those with significant taxable assets, it will be necessary to pursue other avenues to avoid estate tax. One strategy is to purchase life insurance to pay any potential federal and state estate taxes. The surviving partner must own the insurance to avoid it becoming part of the estate of the deceased. Therefore, each partner should own enough insurance to pay anticipated taxes on the assets of his or her partner.


 

This communication is not intended to be legal and/or tax advice and should not be treated as such. Each individual’s situation is different. You should contact your legal and/or tax professional to discuss your personal situation.


© 2011 McGraw-Hill Financial Communications. All rights reserved.

The Basics of Long-Term Care Insurance

Thinking about the need and the costs of long-term care is enough to make anyone uncomfortable. But while it’s a difficult subject to talk about, it’s also a topic that often generates lots of questions and misunderstanding.

Consider this: The average cost of nursing home care in the United States now exceeds $87,000 per year, with wide-ranging variations from state to state.*

Who Pays?
For the most part, those who need long-term care are left to foot the bill on their own. Neither Medicare, nor Medicare supplemental coverage (“Medigap”), nor standard health insurance policies cover long-term care unless you are impoverished. That’s why long-term care insurance is so important. Since premium costs are based on your age and health at the time of purchase, the younger and healthier you are when you purchase a policy, the lower the premium you’re apt to pay during the life of the plan.

As you evaluate long-term care insurance, keep the following variables in mind:

  • Coverage Parameters. Policies will differ in the types of services they support. Be sure to choose a policy that best meets your particular needs.
  • Benefits Payout. How much does the policy pay per day for care in a particular setting? How does the policy pay out? (e.g., a fixed daily amount, as reimbursement for the cost of care up to a daily maximum?) Does the policy have a maximum lifetime limit?
  • Eligibility. Does the policy use certain “triggers” to determine benefits eligibility, such as the formal diagnosis of an illness or disability? What is the maximum issue age for the policy?
  • Women May Need More. Longer life spans for women may signal the need for additional coverage.

Finally, keep in mind that most long-term care policies sold today are federally tax qualified, which means premiums paid and out-of-pocket expenses are deductible. Also, long-term care benefits received are not taxed as income up to certain limits.

*Source: MetLife Market Survey of Nursing Home and Assisted Living Costs, 2011.

© 2012 S&P Capital IQ Financial Communications. All rights reserved.

Using an FSA to Help Pay for Medical Expenses

A flexible spending account (FSA), offered as an elective benefit by many employers, permits workers to contribute, through payroll deduction, to accounts that are designated for specific qualified medical or dental expenses not covered under your health insurance plan. All amounts contributed are pretax and funds are not taxed when spent on qualified health care costs.

FSAs are employer-based; self-employed individuals are not eligible. To participate, you usually must enroll through your employer each year, even if you do not want your deduction amounts to change from year to year. Employers generally offer enrollment during open enrollment periods when you enroll for the entire plan year. If you want to change or revoke your election before the end of the plan year, you typically can do so only if your plan permits a change due to circumstances in your employment or family status.

Before contributing to an FSA, you must first designate how much you want to contribute for the year, based on an estimate of your expected out-of-pocket costs. Your employer will then deduct amounts from your paycheck in accordance with your annual election. Although there is no IRS limit on the amount of money you or your employer can contribute to the accounts, each plan prescribes either a maximum dollar amount or a maximum percentage of your salary that can be contributed.

Some key considerations:

  • You do not pay federal income tax or employment taxes on the salary you contribute or on any amounts your employer may contribute to the FSA. However, amounts contributed that are not spent by the end of the plan year are forfeited. For this reason, it is important not to overestimate the qualifying expenses you expect to incur during the year.
  • Eligible expenses include most of the out-of-pocket costs not fully covered by your health plan, including copayments, deductibles, vision care, prescriptions, dental care, tests, and medical supplies, among others. Over-the-counter medications are no longer eligible, except for insulin. See IRS Publication 502 at www.irs.gov for a more detailed list of qualifying expenses.
  • In order to use funds set aside in your FSA, you must either submit claims for reimbursement or use the debit card, credit card, or stored value card provided by the vendor overseeing the FSA. For more information on reimbursement procedures or how to file claims, talk to your employee benefits administrator.

Not for Everybody

Whether an FSA will suit your needs depends largely on the out-of-pocket costs you expect to incur and how accurately you can predict them. If you expect to incur no more than a few hundred dollars over the course of the year, it may not be worth the trouble of setting up an FSA. On the other hand, for those with predictable medical costs or ongoing treatments that are not covered by an employer-sponsored medical plan, an FSA can be a good way to set aside funds while lowering your tax bill. Ultimately, the decision boils down to your particular circumstances and needs.
© 2011 McGraw-Hill Financial Communications. All rights reserved.

Securities offered through LPL Financial, member FINRA / SIPC.
Investment advice offered through Personal Financial Group, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor and separate entity from LPL Financial.
The LPL Financial Registered Representatives associated wtih this site may only discuss and/or transact securities business with residents of the following states:
AL, AZ, CA, CO, DC, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, LA, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, NE, NJ, NV, NY, OH, OK, SD, TN, TX, WA.
© Copyright 2016 | Personal Financial Group