The Stock Market Just Dropped Over 1100 Points. What Should I Do?????

The stock market has been in the news a lot lately, but the story flipped in the last few days.  Since late 2016, media reports have practically been gushing about new market highs and how each 1,000 point gain in the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been faster than any previous 1,000 point gain in history.  Then, there were two sharp declines last week, followed by a decline of 1,175 points today – the largest one-day point drop in history.

At this point, it is perfectly logical to be asking, “What does this mean and what should I do about it?”  If you are invested in the stock market, especially in a retirement plan, the ups and downs are unsettling.  This is money you need for real things – money to fund a secure retirement, college educations for children, or a new house.  While the upside surges may be encouraging, the sudden shift to a drop is unsettling.

The first thing we want to point out is that this happens.  While the point drop on Monday was severe, the 4.6% drop in the Dow and 4.1% drop in the Standard and Poor’s 500 (the index that probably matters more to your retirement plan results) aren’t that uncommon.  There was a much larger single day drop in August 2011 – 5.6% on the Dow and 6.7% on the S&P.  The point drop that day wasn’t as high as this week because the indices have increased more than 100% in the 6-1/2 years since then.   So that drop wasn’t a sign of impending doom.

But sometimes a bad day is a sign of a larger, longer market decline.  The large single-day declines in the fall of 1929 and the fall of 2008 were signs that the stock market was in real trouble and were followed by further losses as the economy unraveled.  Many models of stock market valuation have been indicating that stock prices are historically high, so this could be the start of a real shift in market prices and a real decline in stock prices of 20% or more.

If that is true, then what should you do?

The first question to answer is whether you have an asset allocation plan.  What is that?  It is a long-term strategy for allocating your money to cash, bonds, and stocks.  This plan should consider your age; ongoing income; the size of your investment portfolio; when you will need money from your investments; and how changes in the value of your investments affect your emotions.  That last point is important.  An asset plan can check all the boxes set by a computer program or an investment advisor, but if it leads to changes in value that leave you unable to sleep then it didn’t work.

If you don’t have an asset allocation plan, now would be a good time to sit down with a financial planner who will help you develop one.  It might have been good to do it before a market decline, but “late” is definitely better than never.   Developing a plan that can work for you can help improve your financial future and prepare for the next shock in the markets – whether that shock is a stock mania or a panic.

If you do have a target asset allocation, that still isn’t a “set and forget” answer.

The first thing you need to do is balance back to that allocation on a regular basis.  If you haven’t been resetting your investment accounts over the last couple of years, you probably own more stocks than the target in your plan even after the declines of the last week.   This would still be a good time to rebalance, so the risk in your investments is back to the level you prefer.  That won’t mean you are immune from stock market declines, but they should lead to losses that don’t derail you from meeting your goals.

And if you recently rebalanced and have less money in stocks than your asset allocation plan indicates, congratulations; you lost less today than you would have.  But don’t count on your timing being this good regularly.  If you want to wait a bit to see how the market settles out before balancing back into stocks, that isn’t a bad idea.  Looking at the long term, being under-allocated to stocks for a few months isn’t a tragedy, since the market goes up more slowly than it goes down.

The other thing to consider about your asset allocation plan is that the targets shouldn’t stay fixed over time.  As you get closer to needing the money in your investments for, well, living, your allocation to safer investments can increase.  The long term return to stocks has been higher than for other investments (including gold, Beanie Babies, and Bitcoin), but stocks can lose a lot of value in a very short time, as we saw again today.  It’s not good to have $1,000 converted to $800 when you will really need the $1,000 in the next couple of years.  Your target allocation may not change between ages 30 and 40, but as you approach retirement, you really should talk with a financial planner about what you need to do to reset your targets to reflect how soon you may need the money.  You may be able to avoid this step if most or all of your investments are in “target date” mutual funds from providers like Vanguard, Fidelity, and others.  These funds should be automatically shifting their target asset allocations as they approach the target retirement date in the fund’s name.

As the ads for financial products say, always talk to your financial advisor before making an investment decision.  If we are your financial advisors, we would be happy to talk with you.  If not, we’d like to be.  Call 513-794-1829 or email jim@1taxfinancial.com to get started.

Jim Iverson, CFA®

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Banking on Student Loan Forgiveness? Do this.

This CNBC Money article has up-to-date advice on how to be sure your forgiveness plan will work:

  1. Make sure you’re in a William D. Ford Direct Loan Program — the key word is “direct.”  You may be able to consolidate other federal loans into a direct loan.
  2. You must be in an income-driven repayment plan.  Graduated & extended plans don’t qualify.
  3. Your employer must qualify: government at any level, 501(c)(3) nonprofits and some others.
  4. Forgiveness is only available after 120 payments, not necessarily consecutively.
  5. Submit the Employment Certification Form annually.  See here.  While not required, it may head off problems.

Call or email if you want to talk about the implications for your personal financial plan!

 

Has my identity been hacked? What should I do?

The Equifax hack on top of all the others has many of us anxious.  As the internet meme goes “They had one job.”  (They failed.)  Equifax, as a credit reporting agency, held what I call the “ID theft kit,” name, date of birth, Social Security Number, birthdate, driver’s license, addresses current & prior, and credit account numbers.  I have pretty much the same quality of data.  That’s why I’m so careful with my security procedures!

People are asking how to find out if they were affected.  You can ask Equifax on their website or phone, but they’re making up the answers (see media reports).  If it’s 143,000,000+ people, I think it’s reasonable to assume that we all were.  The US population of 300 million includes children, seniors and folks who have no credit records.  The Equifax hack could cover pretty much everybody else.

So, what now?  All your information is out there for sale on the dark web.  A Yahoo! Finance story indicates there’s proof of an uptick in fraud attempts already.

My suggestions:

  • The key step to take now is to put a CREDIT FREEZE on your accounts with Equifax, Experian, TransUnion and CBC Innovis.
    • It’s not free, except at Equifax (for the next 30 days). Expect to pay $5-10 each unless you’re already an ID theft victim or 62+.
    • Keep the PIN you’re assigned in order to remove the freeze or “thaw” it.
    • You will need to thaw in order to apply for credit – a car, a house, a credit card — but it just takes a few minutes. So if you’re shopping right now, hold off, but get back & do it soon.

Equifax: 1-800-685-1111 (3) or www.freeze.equifax.com

TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872 or TransUnion.com/securityfreeze

Experian: 1-888-397-3742 Experian.com/freeze

Innovis: 1-800-540-2505 www.innovis.com/securityFreeze/index

 

  • Equifax has offered “free” ID theft protection for one year, but is taking credit cards for auto renewal. I don’t see a reason to pay them – or to trust them.  I’m skipping it.  You can buy ID theft monitoring from Lifelock or one of the other players, but count me unconvinced. (http://www.reviews.com/identity-theft-protection-services/)
  • Check your credit report free at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. Under federal law, you’re entitled to a report every year from each of the 3 major bureaus.  If you cycle them one every 4 months, you can be on top of it.
  • Then, don’t make it any worse. Practice safe habits yourself:
    • Password protect your computers, cellphones & tablets. Treat them like cash in public; don’t turn your back.  Then take care disposing of them and their stored data when they die.
    • Enable auto update to keep all software updated – especially operating system (eg. Windows) & browsers.
    • Password protect your modem & routers. Don’t use public wi-fi to access secure sites.
    • Use strong (long, complex, random) passwords and use them once. (Try a PW manager:  https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp)
    • Maintain anti-virus & anti-malware programs on all devices. (Yes, you might need to pay for that: https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2372364,00.asp.)
    • Set your browser to advise you of risky sites & then don’t visit them. Don’t click on pop-ups.
    • Don’t use unsecured email for sensitive information like SS numbers!
    • Never open email attachments unless you know exactly what they are and you’re expecting them from that person. Learn how to check the sender (http://www.phishing.org/what-is-phishing).
    • Use 2-factor authentication (which requires a texted or emailed code) on bank & investment accounts & anything really critical.
    • Back up your files periodically somewhere secure: on an encrypted drive or online.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has lots of good info:

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft

Please feel free to query me about my security procedures. And ask at your doctor’s office and *anywhere* anybody asks for your SS number or anything else sensitive!  I’ve seen incredibly sloppy procedures in the medical and banking fields  — and they have the “ID Theft kit” too.

Be careful out there.

 

 

FAFSA Season is Here Again! It’s a good time to think about college if you have kids.

For those of you with children in college or approaching college, the season for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is here.  They’ve eliminated the last-minute scramble to file your tax return!  The 2017-2018 FAFSA will use information from your 2015 tax return.

If 1TaxFinancial prepared your 2015 return, we can provide a worksheet that makes completing the form a snap.  If you need one — or help filling out the FAFSA, please call.  The worksheet can also be completed for new clients with your 2015 return.

Note that if your income has changed significantly from the 2015 tax year, we can assist with an appeal for a professional judgment review in the financial aid department.

But even before you need to fill out the FAFSA, there are things to think about in getting financially ready for your child to attend college.  These issues are complicated:  college choice, income, and assets are all factors that determine how much you and your child will be expected to pay.  Now 1TaxFinancial can help with this process.  We have software that can estimate your expected contribution to your student’s education, and provide detailed college-specific information on the colleges your student is considering.  Reports start with the “sticker price” of attending each college and the need-based aid you can expect PLUS college-specific merit scholarships, tuition discounts, and other incentives offered.  These awards and discounts can be substantial and the information difficult for you to collect.  Having the full picture can help you make a better decision on the affordability of the college or colleges you are considering.

If you are a little further away from your student entering college, we can help then, too.  We can help you look at the potential costs and the best ways to save to help pay those costs.  The sooner you start putting money aside, the better your savings can put a dent in those expenses when your child is ready to start college.

Our basic college consulting service starts at $200, including the analysis of one college as discussed above.  Come work with us if your child is 2, 12, 16 or 20, but prime time for the detailed analysis is probably junior year of high school.

Jim Iverson CFA®
1TaxFinancial
Cincinnati, OH 45213
513-794-1829 (o)
513-378-2203 (c)

 

Yes, you need an “Estate Plan”

What is an estate plan?

You say, “I don’t have an estate.  I just have a house the bank owns, a car the credit union owns, a bunch of furniture, oh, and a spouse and 3 kids, none of whom listen when I plan anything but maybe vacations!”

An estate plan isn’t just for rich people; it’s the overall design for what happens to your stuff  — and the people who depend upon you – when  you die or can no longer manage your own affairs.  Included are:

  • Beneficiary Designations
  • A Will;
  • A Power of Attorney;
  • A Living Will and Health Care Proxy (Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare); and
  • Maybe a Trust

Retirement plans and life insurance pass to heirs outside the estate process.  Bank accounts titled with Right of Survivorship or Payable On Death also don’t need probate.  Make certain that your beneficiaries are up-to-date; avoid leaving assets to an ex-spouse, or a previously deceased person.  All professionals have stories of too much tax paid or less-than-ideal designations.  For most people, pension plans are their largest assets.  There are multiple ways to plan beneficiaries to optimize tax benefits, and a professional can help.

If you don’t leave a will, your state of residence will allocate your stuff  by law.  Maybe that’s fine, but maybe not.  If you have an unmarried partner, they will not receive anything.  Your spouse might have to split what you leave with your children; maybe some of it will go to distant relatives.  Clearly this is not a thing to leave to chance.  Even if you’re single, you have some cool stuff; you want to decide who gets to enjoy it when you can’t.

Your will also needs to designate guardian(s) for your minor children or other dependents.  If you don’t, local Children’s Services and the courts will.  If you had a bad experience in your family of origin, that’s what you’re consigning your children to.  Think this one through, and put it in writing.  Many of us have informal agreements with siblings or friends, but if it’s not in your will, there’s no certainty the courts will observe your wishes.  Also, if you are leaving substantial assets (like life insurance proceeds) for dependent support, you need to decide if the guardian(s) you’ve selected are the best managers of the money.  You may need a Trust.  Especially if the children are going out of state, a judge might otherwise impose ongoing financial reporting and/or permissions. You want to avoid court involvement; it’s a hassle and costly.  A standard trust for minor children can be included in your will.

A Power of Attorney authorizes a designated person to manage your financial affairs while you are alive.   Choose someone you can trust to pay your bills and do whatever’s needed when you can’t – up to and including selling your house and investments, and entering into contracts for your care.

Over the years there have been horror stories about people who haven’t made their wishes clear about end-of-life issues.  Many of us have lived with them in our own families.  As we live longer and are more dependent upon medical care at the end of life, we all need to think about these issues.  While intensely personal and involving our religious beliefs, we cannot afford to recognize that in fact, the doctors can “play God,” in letting us die or keeping us alive. There may be a time when we cannot control for ourselves what is done for and with us.  We need someone we trust and with whom we have discussed our feelings.  Don’t put it off.

Living Trusts to avoid probate and limit estate tax have been very popular for several decades.  Contrary to popular belief, trusts don’t eliminate tax, they’re just vehicles to structure financial relationships in ways that might reduce tax – if there is any to pay.  With the federal estate tax eliminated on those who die with less than $5million and most state taxes repealed, very few of us need to worry about the tax.  Probate may be an issue for you because you want privacy or because your state’s requirements are onerous.  Otherwise, you probably don’t need a trust.

There may be other reasons you need a trust – like a Special Needs dependent.  These are very specialized instruments which require an experienced attorney.

Please feel free to contact me anytime to discuss these issues.  If you don’t have an attorney, I have several excellent recommendations.

Are You Married?

Today the IRS released the ruling on “Same-Sex Marriage,” or as we like to call it around here, “Marriage.”   LGBT families & financial professionals have been waiting for months to see what IRS will do with the Supreme Court’s June decision in Windsor v. U.S., the so-called DOMA decision.

They said “…same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes.”   Unlike the Social Security Administration, which is so far holding to its Domicile rule, this would include both marriages where you formerly lived, and vacation marriages in the U.S., Canada, or elsewhere.   However, it does not include civil unions, registered domestic partnerships or similar state-recognized relationships.  (More information here:  tinyurl.com/IRS-Marriage)

So, if you are legally married, let me be the first to congratulate you on IRS’ (belated) recognition!  And you need to contact your tax & financial advisors immediately to discuss the implications.   You will be required to file a 2013 federal income tax return as “Married” – either jointly or separately.  Some of you will save taxes.  Many of you will pay more, and you need to correct your withholding now to avoid an unpleasant April surprise.

Also, you will have the opportunity to amend returns back to 2010 (or perhaps 2009 if you contact me immediately), if the change to married status will result in a refund.

Of course, barring some unlikely event in the next few months, your marital status in Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana will not change, so planning is multi-tiered.

This is a huge planning opportunity – for good or ill!  Feel free to share this message with your friends, who may need professional preparation & planning advice now more than ever.

As always, contact me at 1TaxFinancial anytime via email or phone with your tax & financial questions and concerns.