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Zach Abraham

7 Signs You May be Ready for Retirement

By | Retirement

It can be difficult to know when you’re ready to retire, but checking these seven boxes may be a sign that the time is coming.

Preparing yourself for retirement can be scary, as so many variables and questions leave timing up in the air and offer little to no confidence when it comes to selecting the perfect moment to quit your job and spend your time doing what you want to do instead of what you have to do. There are several indicators that may suggest you are on track to retire comfortably. While many savers and pre-retirees set concrete milestones and timetables, only a few of the important signs that you may be ready to retire comfortably have to do with your age. Here are some ways to know that you might be ready to leave the workforce.

  1. You Have Adequate Savings to Cover Your Projected Lifestyle Expenses

The adequate amount of savings will be different for everyone, which is why it can be helpful to consult your financial professional as you make your way toward retirement. They can help you determine a retirement budget that suits your spending habits and desired lifestyle, as well as the longevity of your savings in relation to that estimate. It can also be important to consider that your expenses may rise in retirement, as you might work to check off bucket list items you’ve had for years. It’s all part of the planning process that will be unique to you and your goals.

  1. You Are Debt-Free

Ensuring that you have little to no debt when you enter retirement can be paramount to your ability to live your desired lifestyle and have a secure post-career life. This could mean paying off credit card debt, tackling home loan bills or more. The problem with bringing your debt with you into retirement is that you stop working for your money and you start asking your money to work for you. While that’s the best-case scenario, it doesn’t always work perfectly in, for instance, periods of market downturns, where you may have to potentially turn to your savings for necessities.

  1. You Have Secured Multiple Income Streams

In the modern retirement landscape, it can be helpful to secure multiple income streams that can provide different levels of growth and protection. For example, instead of relying solely on your 401(k), you can add other retirement investment accounts or insurance products that match your goals. Your financial professional should be able to help with this. Additionally, those extra income streams can be helpful if you decide to delay claiming Social Security to maximize your benefit.

  1. Those Income Streams are Diversified Between Tax-Free and Tax-Deferred

Diversification of your retirement portfolio may not guarantee success in retirement, but it could position you to offset certain tax obligations depending on future circumstances and legislation. On one hand, saving vehicles, such as a Roth IRA, can offer tax-free growth and withdrawals. On the other hand, tax-deferred accounts, such as a traditional IRA, are funded with pre-tax dollars then taxed as ordinary income upon withdrawal. While this can present an opportunity for additional income streams, the tax landscape is ever-changing, potentially causing less certainty in how much you’ll have when you retire.

  1. You Have Liquid Savings

The traditional recommendation for an emergency fund is somewhere between three- and six-months’ worth of living expenses, ideally providing you with liquid savings that could prove even more important when living on a fixed income. As we mentioned above, it’s a good idea to clear most if not all your debt prior to entering retirement, but having an emergency fund could help you protect yourself from car or home repairs, medical emergencies, part-time job loss and more.

  1. You Have Hobbies

Your free time is set to skyrocket, and you’ll need a few ways to spend it to avoid immediately becoming bored. Some ideas include traveling, collecting, learning a new skill, picking up a part-time job, starting a business, golfing, volunteering and more. The possibilities are nearly endless, as long as you’re doing something you love and something that drives you to get out of bed in the morning long after the alarm means that it’s time to get ready for work.

  1. You Have a Plan

It’s important to create your plan long before you choose to leave the workforce, and it should cover more than just decumulation and distribution of your various retirement accounts. It’s your comprehensive map that outlines ways you will cover your many expenses, including those that simply bring pleasure. Furthermore, though you’ll certainly want your plan to be malleable, it can be helpful to have an idea of how you’ll use funds, giving you a better grasp of how much you’ll spend and how much you’ll want to save prior to entering retirement.

The perfect time to retire will vary based on your unique circumstances, but we’re here to provide you with the education, tools and preparation you need. To learn more about your options, please call Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

This article is not to be construed as financial advice. It is provided for informational purposes only and it should not be relied upon. It is recommended that you check with your financial advisor, tax professional and legal professionals when making any investment or any change to your retirement plan. Your investments, insurance and savings vehicles should match your risk tolerance and be suitable as well as what’s best for your personal financial situation.

 

Trek 23-657

Investing Alternatives During Periods of Market Volatility

By | Investments

During periods of market volatility, investors may look to alternative vehicles. Here are some options to consider.

2022 was a difficult year for investors, with all three major market indexes dipping simultaneously and taking their biggest hit since the housing crisis of 2008[1,2,3]. Investors are increasingly aware of market volatility and uncertainty, which can influence their investment decisions. While recent market trends have shown positive performance [1,2,3], it is important to consider the potential for volatility and to explore diverse investment options that offer growth potential and risk mitigation.

Though diversification of assets certainly doesn’t guarantee success, it can play a role in potentially mitigating risk and pursuing sustained growth. That’s why it can be a good idea to consider alternative investment and savings options. Here are a few options you may have when looking to diversify your investment portfolio.

Real Estate

Traditionally, investing in real estate involves purchasing property with the potential for rental income or appreciation. This can be a great way to potentially earn steady income. However, it’s important to be aware of the associated risks, such as difficulties finding tenants or temporary softening in the housing market.

Additionally, managing your rental property can be strenuous, whether that’s because of difficult tenants, maintenance costs or other ancillary costs and challenges associated with owning and renting property. It’s important to thoroughly research your investment property and have a plan to cover property costs, as well as a contingency plan in the event that it becomes more difficult to find a reliable tenant or liquidate if you want to sell.

There are vehicles for investing in real estate where you are not involved in day-to-day property management, but these options have other risks to consider and should be undertaken carefully working with trusted financial, tax and legal professionals.

Bank CDs and Treasury Bonds

Certificates of Deposit (CDs) and Treasury bonds are investment options that are often considered conservative in nature. CDs and Treasury bonds are similar in that they function as loans. The difference, however, is to whom your money is being loaned. Bank CDs, or certificates of deposit, are lump sum investments with a bank or credit union that are guaranteed up to $250,000 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or the FDIC [4]. They earn interest for the duration of a predetermined period of time. Treasury bonds, on the other hand, are a loan to the government with specified interest rates for durations of either 20 or 30 years [5].

It’s important to consider that interest rates on CDs are often adjusted by banks during periods of high inflation to attract investors. This can make CDs more appealing during times of both high inflation and high interest rates. At the moment, interest rates are the highest they’ve been since 2008, potentially signaling a good time to purchase CDs [6]. While Treasury bonds also pay a predetermined interest rate over a set period of time, it’s worth noting that when interest rates rise, the value of existing Treasury bonds may decline as newer bonds with higher returns become more attractive. Both CDs and Treasury bonds are commonly regarded as safe and conservative investment options, but it can be a great idea to speak to your financial professional prior to purchasing either.

Annuities

Annuities are contracts between you and an issuing insurance company. Annuity contracts (except variable annuities) typically provide both principal protection and a rate of growth that is guaranteed by the insurance carrier based on that company’s claims-paying ability. Fixed annuities work very similar to CDs but may pay more attractive interest rates. Other annuities, such as fixed indexed annuities, or FIAs, can provide growth linked to a specific market index, such as the S&P 500, while still protecting the principal. This investment option provides the opportunity to potentially benefit from market upswings while aiming to mitigate exposure to market downturns.

It can be extremely helpful to discuss your annuity options with a financial professional who understands annuities and has access to multiple products and insurance carriers in order to find a product that suits your unique situation and your goals.

Life Insurance

No longer is life insurance solely about the end. Now, it can be a beginning with modern product-development companies working to create customizable, client-oriented policies that can function as vehicles for retirement saving and income. While term life provides a payout upon death in a specific time window, permanent life insurance policies, like whole life and universal life, can come with a cash value portion that can potentially be accessed tax-free.

Based on the claims-paying ability of the issuing company, an indexed universal life policy, or an IUL, offers guarantees similar to a fixed-indexed annuity, such as principal protection and index-linked growth. IULs also offer flexible premiums, meaning that the policyholder can increase or decrease premiums by increasing or decreasing the amount that goes into the cash value portion or increasing or decreasing the insurance death benefit of the policy based on their circumstances while still keeping the policy in force.

Private Equity

Private equity investments can offer unique opportunities to invest in businesses and projects that are not publicly traded. These investments are often made through private companies, and they may provide the potential for greater returns. However, it’s important to be aware that private equity investments typically involve larger investment amounts compared to investing in publicly traded companies.

It’s important to consider the risks associated with private equity investments, including limited liquidity, lack of diversification and the potential for loss of capital. These types of investments may not be suitable for everyone and should be carefully evaluated based on your individual financial goals, risk tolerance and investment time horizon.

We understand the importance of exploring various investment options to meet your unique financial goals. While alternative investments may offer unique features, it’s important to note that no investment can guarantee complete protection from market volatility or downturns. However, we strive to help you navigate various investment choices to develop a well-diversified portfolio tailored to your needs. Give us a call today! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.macrotrends.net/1319/dow-jones-100-year-historical-chart
  2. https://www.macrotrends.net/1320/nasdaq-historical-chart
  3. https://www.macrotrends.net/2324/sp-500-historical-chart-data
  4. https://www.fdic.gov/resources/deposit-insurance/faq/
  5. https://www.treasurydirect.gov/marketable-securities/treasury-bonds/
  6. https://www.macrotrends.net/2015/fed-funds-rate-historical-chart

 

Investment Advisory Services offered through Trek Financial LLC., an (SEC) Registered Investment Advisor.

Information presented is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered specific investment advice, does not take into consideration your specific situation, and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any securities or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and are not guaranteed, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. For specific tax advice on any strategy, consult with a qualified tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein.

*Annuity guarantees are backed by the financial strength and claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company. Financial products and services if recommended may include investment advisory fees, commissions and/or other charges.

This article is not to be construed as investment advice. It is provided for informational purposes only and it should not be relied upon. It is recommended that you check with your financial advisor, tax professional and legal professionals when making any investment or any change to your investment portfolio. Your investments, insurance and savings vehicles should match your risk tolerance and be suitable as well as what’s best for your personal financial situation.

 

Trek 23-602

Are Weddings Worth the Money?

By | Financial Planning

While so many people dream of their special day, it’s worth asking the question: Is it worth the price?

Love conquers all, right? It’s a nice thought, but as the price of having a fantasy wedding continues to soar, so many couples are left wondering if it’s worth it to have a grand showcase and celebration for their first moments bonded in holy matrimony.  In fact, the numbers appear to back these concerns, as the average cost of a wedding in 2022 was $30,000, a $2,000 increase from the 2021 total [1]. When the median household income in the United States is just over $70,000, it’s easy to see how a large wedding can upset the delicate financial balance inside your home [2].

Now, we aren’t telling you to elope, arrange for a courthouse marriage or even forgo the ceremony you’ve been looking forward to since you were young. We are, however, suggesting that there might be areas in which costs can be cut, possibly freeing up funds for potentially more important or desirable expenses and luxuries. The Knot, a popular wedding-planning site, assembled a list of just some of the most common expenses you should expect to incur when planning for your wedding, along with their average price in 2022[1].

-Average cost of reception venue: $11,200
-Average cost of wedding photographer: $2,600
-Average cost of wedding/event planner: $1,900
-Average cost of live band: $3,900
-Average cost of reception DJ: $1,500
-Average cost of florist: $2,400
-Average cost of videographer: $2,100
-Average cost of wedding dress: $1,900
-Average cost of wedding cake: $510
-Average cost of catering: (price per person): $75
-Average cost of transportation: $980
-Average cost of favors: $440
-Average cost of rehearsal dinner: $2,400
-Average cost of engagement ring: $5,800
-Average cost of wedding invitations: $510
-Average cost of hairstylist: $130
-Average cost of makeup artist: $120

While this can add up quickly, it can give you a good idea of where you might spend the majority of your budget as well as where you may be able to make some cuts. First and foremost, the guest list appears to be the best place to start. In 2022, couples hosting weddings with 50 or fewer guests spent an average of nearly $15,000, while couples who invited between 51 and 100 people paid nearly $25,000. The average price for a wedding with more than 100 guests was just over $38,000, so trimming your guest list to only those who absolutely must be there can be helpful if you’re looking to bring down the bill [1].

Obviously for some with larger families, this might not be an option, but the average couple spends roughly $266 per wedding guest, so slicing your guest list by 50 people can save you an average of more than $13,000. It’s also important to know that being more selective with your guest list doesn’t necessarily mean that your wedding will be less significant or impactful. In fact, you might even enjoy the feeling of a more intimate wedding with your closest friends and family whom you expect to be around for the rest of your life.

Another great way to save money is by hiring a wedding planner and using a budgeting tool [3]. While the services of a wedding planner average about $2,000[1], the entire job of the event planner is to remain within budget. They may also know other ways of saving or finding deals that aren’t available to a couple that plans for a wedding just one time. Furthermore, whether you’re keeping tabs or your planner is, a budgeting tool can help you track your spending and ensure that you don’t spend in excess on one particular category. It might also help you get more creative and work within your means and imagination, possibly even making your wedding a more personal experience.

Moreover, if you’re certain you’d like to bring your childhood dreams to life, you can save money by planning early. In addition to increasing your options by aligning your timeline with venues and vendors, you might be able to secure a more buyer-friendly rate while still allowing yourself the flexibility to opt for better or more cost-effective options should they avail themselves in the near future. Remember, pushing out your wedding doesn’t lessen the strength of your bond. Marriage is intended to last forever, and extravagance at the cost of debilitating debt can potentially lead to a more difficult happily ever after.

Additionally, your wedding may be more reflective of your financial circumstances than you even realize. For example, it’s important to communicate and prioritize. Work with your partner to find areas in which you’re willing to compromise and areas in which you aren’t. If you’re a foodie and you want to remember how delicious the various dishes were, it might be a good idea to spring for your top choice in caterers. At the same time, if your family doesn’t drink alcohol, you might be able to save around $2,500 by having a dry wedding [4].

So, to answer the original question of whether or not a wedding is worth the money, yes, but it’s probably only worth it if you plan within your means, which can depend on your unique situation, your relationship and your goals. If a grand wedding is within your budget, you aren’t interested in sparing any expense and your pursuit of other goals isn’t hindered, it may be worthwhile to invite extra people or tack on an open bar. However, if you’re looking for a more cost-effective way to show your love, you can explore other avenues or cut costs without sacrificing or devaluing your marriage.

Whether you are planning on paying for your own wedding—or helping your grown children or grandchildren pay for theirs—let’s talk about how a wedding fits into your financial plan. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.theknot.com/content/average-wedding-cost
  2. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2022/demo/p60-276.html
  3. https://www.theknot.com/content/ways-to-save-money-on-wedding
  4. https://www.theknot.com/content/average-cost-wedding-alcohol

 

7 Strategies to Reduce Taxes

By | Tax Planning

No matter which phase of life you’re in, you might be looking for ways to trim your tax bill. Here are some strategies to consider!

Nothing is certain but death and taxes. Perhaps a phrase most known for being spoken by Benjamin Franklin, the old adage seems to have held up over the course of centuries as a constant, dogmatic idea that sticks with investors and consumers. Nevertheless, each year around tax time, most of us wonder how we can pay less in income taxes, and the answer to that question is always, “It depends.” Each person’s situation is completely unique to them, and the strategies that may be able to be employed to mitigate or reduce tax obligation vary based on goals and circumstances.

That’s why it can be so important to find an advisor and a tax professional who can work together as a team to help you determine strategies that can lower your bill. To that end, we’d like to share seven strategies for pre-retirees and retirees that you should be aware of but may not apply to your particular situation. Remember, while we don’t handle tax returns, we often function as part of a team alongside a client’s CPA when it comes to future tax-planning scenarios, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.

If You’re Working

Beef Up Your Traditional 401(k) [1]

In general, for those who are able to participate in an employer-sponsored group retirement plan like a traditional 401(k), contributing more to that account can lower your taxes in a given earning year. Contributions to a traditional 401(k) account are made on a pre-tax basis, meaning that they do not count as taxable income. This could lessen your tax obligation, potentially even dropping you into a lower tax bracket for the year. You should see that reflected on your annual W-2 from your employer.

It is important to remember that these contributions are tax-deferred, meaning that you will pay taxes upon withdrawal. There are also limits to how much you can contribute. For 2023, you are allowed to contribute up to $22,500 to your 401(k) plan, plus an additional catch-up contribution amount of $7,500 if you are age 50 or older. If your company provides a matching amount for contributions, in many cases you should consider contributing at least that amount to receive the full match.

Contribute to a Traditional IRA [1]

A traditional individual retirement account, otherwise known as a traditional IRA, is an account independent of your employer that allows you to contribute funds to save and invest for retirement. In terms of tax savings, depending on your income level—or whether or not you or your spouse contributes to a 401(k) or similar plan at work—you may be able to deduct traditional IRA contributions from your taxes.

For those who are married and filing jointly in 2023, you can deduct your traditional IRA contribution if your joint income is $116,000 or less. For 2023, you are allowed to contribute up to $6,500* to your own traditional IRA, plus an additional catch-up contribution amount of $1,000 if you are age 50 or older.

Contribute to a Roth IRA [2]

Though Roth IRA accounts have the same contribution limits as traditional IRAs, they typically function differently and are subject to a few different rules. For example, contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax-deductible because account holders fund their accounts with post-tax dollars. The benefit of paying taxes on the amount contributed is that gains are made and withdrawals are taken tax-free, slicing tax obligation later on.

In 2023, you can contribute the full $6,500*/$1,000 catch-up limit to a Roth IRA if your single-filing income is $138,000 or less or your married-filing-jointly income is $218,000 or less. Single filers and those who are married filing jointly can contribute partial amounts with income of up to $153,000 and $228,000, respectively. You can’t contribute to a Roth IRA if your single-filing income is more than $153,000 or your married-filing-jointly income is more than $228,000.

*In any given year, you can contribute to a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA or a combination of both only up to the $6,500/$1,000 catch-up limit.

If You Have Taxable Investments

Tax-Loss Harvesting [3]

Tax-loss harvesting is a strategy typically used by investors who have experienced losses in their investments. It involves selling those positions while they’re at a lower point, realizing a loss and then using those losses to offset taxable gains. In a given year, investors can claim losses of up to $3,000 to lower their taxable income; however, losses can be carried forward into future years. Oftentimes, investments are sold during market downturns, then proceeds are reinvested with a new allocation.

This has the potential to significantly decrease an investor’s tax obligation while improving overall portfolio returns. It is, however, important to note that, as always, tax-loss harvesting should be undertaken with the help of a financial advisor or professional with experience in investing and tax planning. It is a more complex method of cutting your tax bill and exposes an investor to many variables, including the uncertainty of the market. We’d always advise consulting and working closely with your financial professional who understands your goals and plan.

For Those Close to Retirement

Consider Roth Conversions

A Roth conversion can be a helpful long-term strategy to convert tax-deferred retirement funds into tax-free funds. This allows you to withdraw that money without tax obligation in retirement. The one caveat to this strategy is that you will owe taxes on the converted funds in the tax year that you complete any conversion. That’s why this can be a helpful strategy for low earning years, or for those close to or already in retirement. Retirees may earn less taxable income than they did when they were collecting salary, meaning that taxes owed on converted funds could be taxed in a lower income bracket.

Additionally, those close to retirement can use a series of conversions to avoid being pushed into higher income tax brackets and paying a larger percentage of their funds in taxes later, when annual RMDs (required minimum distributions) begin. Roth conversions allow you to experience all of the perks of Roth accounts, like tax-free growth and withdrawals, no required minimum distributions, flexibility and certainty in future tax legislation, and tax-free passing of assets. It is, however, important to remember that Roth conversions cannot be undone, so it’s always a good idea to speak to your advisor and tax professional before performing one or a series of conversions.

Annuities and Permanent Life Insurance [4]

Annuities and life insurance policies can be a great way to cut your tax obligation if you’re close to retirement or already retired. However, depending on how you fund your annuity, your payments may be taxed differently. For example, if you purchase your annuity with non-qualified money, or money you’ve already paid taxes on, the interest grows and is credited on a tax-deferred basis, so only gains will be taxed at the time of payment. On the other hand, if you purchase an annuity with qualified money, such as money from a traditional 401(k) or IRA, your annuity payments are entirely taxable as ordinary income. Even if you owe income tax on your annuity payments, they will not be counted as part of your combined income by the Social Security Administration, so you won’t pay taxes out of your Social Security benefit for annuities. (NOTE: Yes, you can be taxed on your Social Security benefit—up to 85%!)

Life insurance policies also offer tax benefits to help policyholders and beneficiaries. For instance, the classic death benefit is typically paid out tax-free to heirs, often granting them a nice lump sum to help recover from the loss of their loved one. Furthermore, modern life insurance policies offer benefits to the policyholders themselves. Because permanent policies with a cash value portion, such as whole and indexed universal life policies, are funded with post-tax dollars, they usually allow policyholders to borrow from the cash value of the policy tax-free in retirement, and these amounts are not counted as income by the Social Security Administration either.

For Any Phase of Life

Charitable Giving [5]

Charitable giving can be a great way to help an organization or a cause you care about while also reducing your tax obligation. The rules for charitable giving are relatively simple, as the gifts or donations must simply be made to or for the use of a qualified organization, which generally includes charities, religious organizations and private foundations with tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status. Those making charitable donations also have many options when it comes to the type of gift, such as cash, property, stock holdings or other any other assets that have a determinable market value.

As you may expect, there are limits on deductions for charitable giving. Deductions on long-term capital gains are limited to 30% of a person’s adjusted gross income, while deductions for other contributions are limited to 60% of a person’s adjusted gross income. In retirement, if you don’t need the money and don’t want your income taxes to go up, you can contribute your RMD amount (called a QCD or qualified charitable donation) directly to a charity—up to $100,000 of qualified, pre-tax retirement money can be donated. (After 2023, this QCD limit will be indexed to inflation under the new SECURE Act 2.0.)

You may be able to find effective strategies to cut your tax bill no matter which stage of life you’re currently in. If you have questions about any of these tax strategies which may apply to you, please give us a call to discuss. We are happy to work as a team with your tax professional to help you. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/401k-limit-increases-to-22500-for-2023-ira-limit-rises-to-6500
  2. https://www.fidelity.com/retirement-ira/ira-rules-faq
  3. https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc409
  4. https://www.annuity.org/annuities/taxation/
  5. https://www.fidelitycharitable.org/faqs/all/charitable-deduction-limitations.html

 

This article is provided for general information only and is not to be construed as financial or tax advice. It is recommended that you work with your financial advisor, tax professional and/or attorneys when tax planning.

Trek 23-555

What To Do with Inherited Money

By | Financial Planning

Whether planned or unplanned, many are unsure of how to proceed after inheriting money. Here are a few steps you can take to make the most of it.

So, you’ve inherited money. Depending on the circumstances, it may have been expected or unexpected, and it may or may not have come with a great deal of heartache. Nevertheless, too few people know what to do when they inherit large sums of money, imposing more pressure than they might have imagined. Here are a few things you should consider when you inherit money.

  1. Take a Brief Moment to Think

When you first inherit money, it can be overwhelming, but it’s a good idea to take a moment to consider all of your options. Although it’s a myth that all lottery winners end up destitute, there is some truth to the fact that it’s easy to spend too much of a good thing too fast and blow through money that could have cleared debt, funded college costs or paid for your retirement. Know that your hand isn’t forced, and you don’t have to make a decision as to what you’re going to do with it or how you will allocate it on a timeline that you aren’t comfortable with. Additionally, the time at which you inherit money is naturally stressful, and making decisions under duress can cause unforced errors and complications. Take some time to determine a course of action you feel comfortable with and confident in.

  1. Familiarize Yourself with Tax and Inheritance Laws [1,2]

Once you’ve let the initial pressure of the situation dissolve, it’s a great idea to understand the implications of your inheritance. Whether those implications are determined by the terms of your inheritance or the tax obligations on the funds, it’s crucial that you know how the money may or may not be used. For example, even if your inheritance comes with no tax obligations, it can come with time requirements or required minimum distributions. As of the signing of The SECURE Act of 2019, non-spousal beneficiaries must drain an inherited traditional IRA, 401(k) or similar tax-deferred retirement account within 10 years, and that money is taxed as ordinary income unless it is a Roth IRA, potentially pushing you into a higher tax bracket.

It’s important to be aware of the implications of retirement accounts subject to income taxes, but depending on the amount you inherit, you may also owe federal or state estate taxes. The federal estate tax exclusion is currently $12.92 million per person, but it is set to drop back down to 2017 levels of around $6.8 million in 2026. Some states’ estate tax threshold amounts are much lower than federal levels; for example, from $1 million in Oregon and Massachusetts to $9.1 million in Connecticut. It’s important to check with a tax professional familiar with both federal and state tax laws.

  1. Pay Outstanding Debt [3]

After knowing what you’re obligated to do with the money, you can start to explore some of the freedom offered by coming into extra funds. One option that many tend to lead with is paying outstanding debt. Debt can hang over the heads of investors, pre-retirees and retirees, causing stress and potentially getting in the way of greater saving and investing goals. It can be extremely helpful to pay off debt, especially if it comes with higher-than-average interest rates. For instance, while personal loans, credit cards and student loans can be beneficial in the short term, they can be accompanied by unfavorable repayment terms. Paying them off can be a great way to prevent interest from piling up even further. If you are getting close to retirement, paying off your mortgage may also make sense depending on your situation.

  1. Establish an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund can offer flexibility when unexpected expenses arise, and while having one can be extremely beneficial, for some it can be difficult to grow the balance of your emergency fund while trying to maintain your current lifestyle. Committing at least a portion of your inheritance to an emergency fund can mean that you can easily tap into a flexible and liquid account to pay the deductible for a new roof after a storm, replace an appliance that goes bad or afford an unexpected auto repair. Most experts advise putting away at least three to six months’ worth of expenses, but you may want to put away more depending on your age and employment situation.

  1. Invest in Your Future

This can truly mean anything, whether you’re looking to grow your investment portfolio, you want to pay for classes to grow one of your skills or you’d like to provide yourself with the financing you need to start a new business venture. The opportunities for investing in your own future are virtually endless. A larger sum of money can also give you the opportunity to employ different investing strategies, like further diversifying your portfolio. Furthermore, freeing up cashflow so that you can contribute the maximum amounts to your 401(k) and IRA accounts might be a great idea depending on your circumstances, and other retirement strategies could offer lifetime monthly income that could allow you to retire sooner. There’s no doubt that inherited funds can offer you more flexibility and options.

  1. Finance Higher Education [4]

Higher education, attending college or pursuing an advanced degree can offer a leg up, both in the job market and with general skills; however, it can be an extremely expensive endeavor. Using inherited money to fund that further education can be a great way to avoid student loans and achieve the skills you’ll use for the rest of your life. Moreover, it doesn’t necessarily have to be for your own education. There are options like 529 plans for grandparents and permanent life insurance with cash value that can help pay for your children’s or grandchildren’s educational expenses, too—without causing them to qualify for less financial aid.

  1. Speak to Your Financial Advisor

It’s always best to speak with your financial advisor—as well as attorneys and tax professionals—before making any major financial decisions about inherited money. Your team of advisors should work together and have a good grasp on your goals so that they can offer custom-tailored advice that can best benefit you and your family now and in the future.

If you have any questions about inherited money, please give us a call. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

Sources:

  1. https://www.unionbank.com/private-banking/perspectives/protecting-your-assets/inherited-ira-rules-cutting-through-the-confusion
  2. https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2022/12/07/the-estate-and-gift-tax-exclusion-shrinks-in-2026-whats-an-advisor-to-do/
  3. https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/good-debt-vs-bad-debt
  4. https://www.savingforcollege.com/intro-to-529s/what-is-a-529-plan

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This article is provided for general information only and is not to be construed as financial or tax advice. It is recommended that you work with your financial advisor, tax professional and/or attorneys when you inherit money.

7 Ways SECURE Act 2.0 Could Affect Your Retirement

By | Legislation, Retirement

SECURE Act 2.0 was signed into law at the end of 2022. Here are a few ways it could affect your retirement.

After consumers throughout America were forced to endure a harsh financial storm in 2022, the year came to a close with President Biden signing a bill intending to increase and enhance the capabilities of retirement accounts. The bill is commonly referred to as SECURE Act 2.0, and it is the follow up to the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019. It is expected to assist retirees and pre-retirees even further in the pursuit of a comfortable and sustainable retirement. Let’s go over the biggest changes that have already taken effect as well as ones that will roll out over the course of the next decade.

  1. Pushed Back RMDs [1,2]

As of the beginning of 2023, the age at which retirees must begin taking required minimum distributions from their qualified retirement accounts is 73. Previously it was 72, meaning that retirees will now have an extra year to plan for the distribution of their accounts or enact a strategy to minimize taxes on tax-deferred accounts. Furthermore, the RMD age will move back to 75 in 2033; however, in all cases, if you have already begun taking RMDs, you must continue to take them.

Ed Slott, an American financial expert, a CPA and the president of Ed Slott & Co., looks to simplify dates a bit with a quick guide. He says those born in 1950 or earlier should use age 72 as their expected RMD age, while those born between 1951 and 1959 should use age 73, and those born in 1960 or later should use age 75.

  1. Lowered Penalties for RMD Failures [2]

Prior to SECURE Act 2.0, failure to take required minimum distributions 1) in the right amounts, 2) from the correct accounts 3) by the deadline of midnight, December 31st each year could cause you to incur an additional 50% penalty on the amount not withdrawn, a hefty price on what may be your most precious assets in retirement. Now, the penalty for not withdrawing the minimum amount has been reduced to just 25% with the potential to drop to 10% if corrected in a timely manner, which Ed Slott says typically means within a two-year timeframe.

  1. Increased Catch-Up Contributions [1,3,6]

Currently, those over the age of 50 can make catch-up contributions of $7,500—up from $6,500 in 2022—to employer-sponsored plans like 401(k)s, while catch-up contributions of $1,000 (above the total contribution limit of $6,500 for 2023) can be made to either traditional or Roth IRAs by those age 50-plus. It’s also important to know that individuals in higher income brackets may not be able to contribute to IRAs.

Beginning in 2025, those age 60 to 63 will be able to make catch-up contributions of $10,000 to employer-sponsored plans, and the limit will be indexed to inflation thereafter. Additionally, catch-up limits for individuals age 50 or older for both traditional and Roth IRAs will be indexed to inflation beginning in 2024. Ideally, this should give those nearing retirement a chance to grow their accounts as they close in on that important stage of their lives.

  1. Increased Options for Employer Matches [1]

Prior to SECURE Act 2.0, even if employers offered a Roth option for their 401(k) or similar plan, the employer match amount was required to be made on a pre-tax basis to a traditional account, meaning taxes would be owed when that portion of the money was withdrawn. The SECURE Act 2.0 allows employers to offer post-tax matches to Roth accounts, meaning employees pay taxes now but the match amounts can grow and distribute tax-free later.

Additionally, beginning in 2024, employers may match student loan payments with contributions into retirement accounts. For example, if a qualifying student makes a student loan payment of $500, that payment is able to be matched and contributed to a retirement account if it’s within the matching capabilities of the plan, allowing it to grow for the future. This allows students who may be buried deep in student debt to still achieve their employer match in a retirement account, meaning they won’t miss out on valuable contributions due to student loan obligations.

  1. Auto-Enrollment into Employer-Sponsored Plans [1]

Enrollment into new employer-sponsored plans, such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans, will be automatic beginning in 2025. Upon hiring or upon the inception of the 401(k) plan, employees will automatically be added at a rate of at least 3% but no higher than 10%. Despite automatic enrollment, employees will still have the ability to opt out of the plan.

Employers already have the right to remove former employees with low balances from their retirement plans by cutting them a check for the remaining amount if the employee has taken no action to move their money. Beginning in 2024, the definition of a low balance will be more than $1,000 but less than $7,000, and SECURE Act 2.0 portability provisions will allow employers to make a tax-free rollover distribution of a low balance account into an account in the former employee’s name at their new job without their permission.

Other SECURE 2.0 Act provisions include the establishment of the nation’s first lost-and-found database for retirement accounts which will be undertaken by the U.S. Labor Department at some point in the future.

Ideally, all of these changes could help people end up with higher savings when they retire.

  1. New Options for 529 Plans [4]

Beginning in 2024, unused funds from 529 plans, which are tax-advantaged accounts traditionally used by grandparents and parents to help a beneficiary pay for college, can now be rolled over into a Roth IRA on behalf of the plan’s beneficiary.

This could provide a small boost to an individual’s Roth IRA, but you may want to look out for a few distinct limitations to this new option. First and foremost, the 529 account must have been established and in place for at least 15 years. There is a $35,000 limit on funds able to be converted, and that is an overall total, not an annual total.

Furthermore, rollovers will be subject to the IRA contribution limit, which for 2023 is $6,500 (plus $1,000 if age 50 or older), and the beneficiary must have earned income of at least that amount in the year the rollover is completed.

There are still a lot of questions about this provision of SECURE Act 2.0 which must be clarified by lawmakers or the IRS, including the naming or changing of beneficiaries. Prior to SECURE Act 2.0, beneficiaries of 529 plans could easily be changed, and account owners could even name themselves as beneficiaries as long as funds were used for legitimate education expenses.

  1. Increased Flexibility in Annuities [1,5]

Annuities, which are a contract with an insurance company rather than a direct investment in the market, can offer principal protection and a rate of growth guaranteed by the issuing carrier. They have the potential to allow you to participate in stock market upside without experiencing market decline.

SECURE Act 2.0 offers a bit more flexibility in the purchase of qualified longevity annuity contracts, or QLACs, with funds held in qualified retirement accounts. Previous limits held premiums to 25% of an account’s balance and capped them at $145,000, but SECURE Act 2.0 has eliminated the 25% rule and increased the total cap to $200,000, giving retirees more options in the diversification of their portfolios.

If you have any questions about how SECURE Act 2.0 might affect your retirement, please give us a call.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.fidelity.com/learning-center/personal-finance/secure-act-2
  2. https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2023/01/04/ed-slott-pay-attention-secure-2-0-dates-are-all-over-the-place/
  3. https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/retirement-topics-catch-up-contributions
  4. https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2023/01/30/ed-slott-529-to-roth-ira-rollover-is-no-planning-panacea/
  5. https://www.annuity.org/annuities/qlac/
  6. https://www.schwab.com/ira/roth-ira/contribution-limits

 

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This article is for informational purposes only and is accurate to the best of our knowledge. It is not to be taken as investment or tax advice. in all cases we recommend that you work with financial, tax and legal professionals to find the strategies best suited to your individual situation.

6 Ways to Protect Yourself From Financial Downturn

By | Financial Planning

Though the United States may avoid a full-fledged recession, it’s undoubtedly a difficult time to be a consumer. Here are some ways to protect yourself.

The fear of a recession looms large, and though it isn’t certain that we’ll enter recession territory in 2023, there’s no doubt we’re in a period of constraint for consumers. Inflation is still high despite the efforts of the Federal Reserve to cut spending with interest rate increases, and 2022 brought the worst annual performance for all three major indexes since 2008[1,2,3].

Understandably, this can cause panic among American consumers and pre-retirees, whether they have assets invested in the market or they’re simply looking to continue with their current lifestyle. With the times, however, our behavior and spending habits must change to give us the best chance to protect ourselves during periods of financial downturn. Here are some things you can do to counter volatile markets and economic declines.

  1. Cut Unnecessary Spending

One of the best ways to avoid a financial crisis is to cut unnecessary spending. That could mean more trips to the grocery store instead of your favorite restaurant, fewer luxury purchases or delaying your upcoming vacation. A properly structured and maintained budget typically accounts for all of your incoming and outgoing funds, so it can likely be a great place to start when looking for places to cut back. You may be forced to make some hard decisions, but the idea is for those decisions to pay dividends in the long run.

  1. Build an Emergency Fund

While an emergency fund might be seen as the most obvious form of protection against difficult financial times, nearly one-in-four consumers don’t have one [4]. Furthermore, 39% have less than a month’s worth of income saved in an emergency fund, and less than half would be able to cover a surprise $1,000 expense. A general recommendation is to have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved in your emergency bucket, giving you some flexibility if you’re forced to access that money. Additionally, you don’t need to make one lump sum contribution to your emergency fund. You can build it gradually, adding little by little until you have a balance you’re comfortable with.

  1. Pick Up an Extra Job

One way to supplement the difference in difficult times is to pick up an extra job to increase your total income. Though your finances often seem cut-and-dried, this is one area where you have the freedom to be a bit flexible and creative. Some ideas for an extra job include freelance or contract work, consulting, starting your own business, or even finding a part-time role at a local establishment where you already enjoy spending time, like a golf course. The possibilities are nearly endless, allowing you to have some fun with this secondary source of income. And who knows? It could lead you down a different career path that leaves you even more satisfied than your primary source of income does.

  1. Prioritize Financial Obligations

Market volatility, inflation, high interest rates, supply chain issues and other economic factors can be scary, but they’re even scarier when compounded with outstanding debt. It can always be a good idea to tackle debt to avoid falling into a situation where you’re beholden to that debt, seemingly allowing you little-to-no flexibility with your income. The sooner you enact a plan and clear that debt, the sooner you can begin building your emergency fund, making larger contributions to your retirement accounts or enjoying the perks of increased financial freedom.

  1. Look for Advantageous Investment Opportunities

While there are certainly no guarantees when it comes to investing in the market and no current iron-clad ways to dictate market performance or protect yourself from declines, opportunistic investors with a long time-horizon to retirement can take advantage of dips. Investors may be able to utilize these periods to their benefit by entering the market at a low point, or they could use a strategy called dollar cost averaging to continue investing or putting away money in their 401(k) at consistent intervals, thereby lowering their average cost per share. Though the big three indexes were down in 2022, they have a sustained history of long-term growth, potentially making declines a favorable time to enter the market.

  1. Use Protection-Based Strategies

Though growth can be enticing, sometimes protection for what you already have can be even more important. Diversifying your portfolio with a protection-based asset class, such as an annuity or a permanent life insurance policy, could be helpful through guaranteeing principal protection and index-linked growth. Despite allowing you to participate in market upside, these policies are not investments. Rather, they’re contracts with issuing insurance companies, and the guarantees are made by the claims-paying ability of those companies. These products and strategies can help you create a tax-free stream of income in retirement while protecting you from market volatility on the way there. If you think a protection-based approach may be the right strategy for you, we can help you decide based on your unique circumstances.

If you have any questions about protecting yourself from financial downturn, please give us a call. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

  1. https://www.macrotrends.net/2526/sp-500-historical-annual-returns
  2. https://www.macrotrends.net/1319/dow-jones-100-year-historical-chart
  3. https://www.macrotrends.net/1320/nasdaq-historical-chart
  4. https://www.marketwatch.com/picks/this-is-the-surprising-generation-least-likely-to-have-even-1-000-in-savings-and-heres-what-they-need-to-do-about-it-01650321688

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This article is for informational purposes only and is accurate to the best of our knowledge. It is not to be taken as investment or tax advice. in all cases we recommend that you work with financial, tax and legal professionals to find the strategies best suited to your individual situation.

 

5 Common Mistakes to Avoid with Medicare

By | Retirement

Medicare can be tricky. Here are some common mistakes to avoid!

The Medicare open enrollment period has begun, so we thought it would be a great time to discuss some of the most common mistakes retirees make when it comes to their healthcare. Along with your streams of income that you’ve created for yourself during your career, Medicare is one of your most important tools in retirement. It can protect you against medical emergencies that could be financially devastating, especially when you’re living on a fixed income.

It is, however, important to know that Medicare has its limitations, potentially making you susceptible to mistakes when signing up and choosing a plan. Far too often we visit with and hear about retirees who aren’t aware of how Medicare works or how to correctly utilize it as a tool for protection. We believe that many of the headaches could be avoided simply by knowing the obstacles that may present themselves along the way, thereby allowing you to prepare for what’s ahead. Let’s go over the five most common Medicare mistakes, as well as a few ways to avoid them.

  1. Not Understanding What It Is

In 2021, two-thirds of Americans were covered by a private insurance plan, meaning that they were either part of a group plan through their employer, or they sought out coverage from an insurance company on their own [1]. While private insurance plans may differ on a case-by-case basis, they generally function similarly with premiums, deductibles and various amounts of coverage in each plan. In comparison with the healthcare insurance you may have had during your career, Medicare has slight yet key differences.

For example, Medicare has four parts: A, B, C and D. Parts A and B are usually referred to as Original Medicare, with Part A covering visits to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities as well as hospice care and some home-based healthcare. It is free for those who qualify, which includes those age 65 and older who have contributed Medicare taxes for 10 years or longer.

There are, however, monthly premiums for Part B, the portion of Medicare that covers the cost of outpatient care, such as standard visits to a general practitioner.

Parts C and D can be a bit trickier for those first signing up for Medicare. Part C is commonly known as a Medicare Advantage or Medigap plan, and these plans generally replace Parts A and B (and often Part D) with a plan through a private insurance company which gets subsidized by the government. Part C Medicare Advantage or Medigap plans can also include extra coverage like dental, vision and hearing.

Part D is prescription drug coverage, which is not included in Original Medicare Parts A and B but can be added for an additional premium amount.

No matter which plans you choose, Medicare premiums typically come directly out of your Social Security benefit, and it is important to account for those deductions when figuring your Social Security benefit into your net income.

  1. Overestimating Its Capabilities

As we mentioned above, Part A of Medicare is free to those who qualify, potentially generating the common misconception that Medicare as a whole is free for those in retirement. In reality, only premiums for Part A come at no cost to the insured, which still doesn’t include 2023’s $1,600 deductible for hospital visits [2]. Part B comes with a standard monthly premium which will be $164.90 per month in 2023. Increasing and enhancing your coverage with a Medicare Advantage plan can also hike your rates, and the cost of Part D can increase with a penalty for missing your initial enrollment period.

When planning your retirement, it’s important to know that those with higher incomes pay more for Medicare, and there is a two-year look-back on your income per your tax returns when determining how much you will pay.

It’s also important to know that Medicare does not cover long-term care. While no one likes to think about the prospect of leaving their home, their possessions and their loved ones behind, 70% of today’s retirees will need some type of long-term care, and 20% will need it for longer than five years [3]. When the national annual median cost of a private room in a nursing home can top $100,000[4], it’s easy to see where the problem lies. It may be helpful to look elsewhere for long-term care coverage, including into a long-term care insurance policy or a life insurance hybrid policy that includes assistance to pay for long-term care if you need it or a death benefit for your beneficiaries if you don’t.

  1. Signing Up Outside the Initial Enrollment Period

You are not automatically enrolled when you qualify for Medicare at age 65, you must enroll yourself. There is a seven-month enrollment window which starts from the three months before your 65th birthday, the month of your 65th birthday and the three months following your 65th birthday.

Failure to enroll during that period could cause you to incur permanent surcharges.

For instance, with Part D prescription drug coverage, you may incur a penalty. That penalty is calculated by taking 1% of the “national base beneficiary premium,” which is $32.74 in 2023[5], and multiplying it by the total number of full months you’ve gone beyond your initial enrollment period. For example, with next year’s national base beneficiary premium, if you delayed enrollment for Part D by 12 months, your premium would be an additional $3.93 per month.

  1. Picking the Wrong Plan

In the same way that your healthcare plan during your career probably had limited coverage, Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D plans cover different providers and prescription drugs [6].

That’s why when you’re considering Medicare options, it’s important to have a list of your doctors and medications in hand. Consider working with a Medicare specialist who can help you choose between multiple carriers rather than going it alone.

  1. Neglecting to Revisit the Plan During the Open Enrollment Period

Medicare open enrollment runs annually from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, so now is the perfect time to review your options. And remember, as you get older, your needs will likely change. You may move. You may begin to see different specialists or healthcare providers. Almost certainly, your need for different prescription drugs will change. As those needs change, so can your Medicare plan.

The open enrollment period gives Medicare beneficiaries a plethora of options in changing their coverage to tailor it to their unique circumstances. For example, you can opt to change your Original Medicare plan to a Medicare Advantage plan, or vice versa. Furthermore, you can change your Medicare Advantage plan to a different one that offers more complete coverage for your care. Finally, it gives you the ability to customize your Part D coverage, whether you’re adding it to your current plan, removing it from your plan or changing it to accommodate your needs [7].

Too often, Medicare beneficiaries have improper coverage, leaving them scrambling to pay for their care. You can revisit your plan each year during the open enrollment period to help ensure that you aren’t stuck with medical bills you could have avoided.

If you have any questions about retirement issues like Medicare, please give us a call! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

Sources:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/insur202205.pdf
  2. https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/2023-medicare-parts-b-premiums-and-deductibles-2023-medicare-part-d-income-related-monthly
  3. https://acl.gov/ltc/basic-needs/how-much-care-will-you-need
  4. https://health.usnews.com/best-nursing-homes/articles/how-to-pay-for-nursing-home-costs
  5. https://www.medicare.gov/drug-coverage-part-d/costs-for-medicare-drug-coverage/part-d-late-enrollment-penalty
  6. https://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-2019/common-medicare-mistakes.html
  7. https://www.investopedia.com/medicare-open-enrollment-guide-5205470#toc-what-can-you-change-during-medicare-open-enrollment

 

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Investment Advisory Services offered through Trek Financial LLC., an (SEC) Registered Investment Advisor.

Information presented is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered specific investment advice, does not take into consideration your specific situation, and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any securities or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and are not guaranteed, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. For specific tax advice on any strategy, consult with a qualified tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein.

The Importance of Having an Estate Plan

By | Estate Planning

A proper estate plan can protect your assets and your family. Here are some answers to questions you may have!

October is National Estate Planning Awareness Month, so now is the perfect time to discuss the importance of having an estate plan. We get it. It’s something nobody wants to think about, especially your loved ones, who can’t imagine living without you. But estate planning is a necessary part of the financial planning process. It helps ensure that everything you’ve worked so hard to accumulate gets passed on according to your desires in the most tax-advantaged manner possible.

Moreover, no financial plan is truly complete without an estate plan. The ideal financial plan preserves and protects your assets throughout your life all the way through your retirement, helping ensure that you don’t outlive your resources, but it also accounts for your legacy and wealth transfer at the end of your life. Without an estate plan, your assets, whether that be money, real estate, possessions or even precious family heirlooms, could end up in the wrong hands.

Let’s go over some commonly asked questions to make the estate planning process more understandable and easier to approach.

What is an estate plan?

An estate plan is a detailed, documented plan for what will happen to your assets when you’re gone. It’s intended to ease the transition following death by directing the transfer of your things. The most commonly known document in an estate plan is your last will and testament, which specifically lists and designates all of your assets to your beneficiaries. It also names an executor who is in charge of making sure the beneficiaries listed in the last will and testament receive what they are entitled to and that all of your final affairs and financial matters are settled. In the case of minor children, your last will and testament also specifies who you wish to raise your children in the event that both you and your spouse have passed away.

Additionally, an estate plan can contain other documents like trusts, health care directives or living wills, and powers of attorney. Your comprehensive estate plan is essentially a plan for the worst, should you be unresponsive, unable to make a decision or deceased [1].

Why is it important for me to have one?

There are many reasons to have an estate plan, the most important of which likely being the bequeathing of your assets to specific beneficiaries. Without proper documentation, the best-case scenario sees the correct distribution left up to chance, the courts and your heirs. The worst-case scenario means all-out war inside your surviving family.

An estate plan can also save your family from unnecessary tax burden. Oftentimes estate plans and financial plans come together to determine the most tax-efficient distribution of your property and accounts. You’ve worked so hard your entire life, both for your family and for yourself. Chances are, you’d love to see that money in the hands of those you love rather than in the pockets of the IRS [2].

Aren’t estate plans only for the ultra-rich?

A common misconception is that estate plans are exclusively for those with multiple million-dollar estates, priceless artwork or valuable shares in major companies. But that just isn’t true. In fact, those with fewer assets may have an even greater need for tax-efficient estate planning so that their families are protected during a potentially financially devastating time.

But even the rich are often unprepared. The unfortunate truth is that 67% of Americans don’t have an estate plan [3], but anyone with a family or assets should plan for the future, whether you’re handing down the majority stake in a large corporation, a vacation home or the remaining balances of your retirement accounts.

No matter the amount of assets, an estate plan can save your family headaches, time and tears by predetermining ownership before they are thrust into one of the most stressful endeavors of their lives. It’s worth it to strategize in life so that when your time comes, your family can spend their time properly grieving instead of worrying—or fighting—about how to split your belongings.

Things will sort themselves out, even if I don’t have a plan, right?

Well, technically, yes. Things will sort themselves out. But you’ve spent your entire life in the driver’s seat, making decisions that matter for you and your family. If you pass away without an estate plan and legal documents, small decisions are left to your extremely emotional family, and major decisions are left to probate court in what is usually a very costly and lengthy process.

In distributing your assets, courts can often be more expensive and time-consuming than need be. Tack on the fact that the legal system doesn’t understand your family’s history or dynamic, and it becomes a recipe for trouble. As someone who does understand how your family operates, which members deserve which assets and which members are able to be responsible for what they inherit, you can simplify the process by organizing an estate plan while still alive and sound of mind.

How do I start the conversation?

Determining how your family proceeds when you’re gone is no easy task. It can be just as difficult, or maybe even more difficult, for your children who have never been forced to live without you and the support you offer.

In our experience, we’ve found that the earlier the conversation begins, the easier it is to have. It’s always simpler to plan out of luxury than necessity, and estate planning is no different.

Communication is key. Talk to your heirs and loved ones about what your desires are, and ask them about theirs. You may be surprised to find out that it’s the sentimental items they want rather than the expensive ones. By having a clear plan that’s communicated well beforehand, years prior to any eventuality, you can avoid permanent family rifts and resentments later.

How can I get started with my estate plan?

Once you’ve consulted your heirs, or your parents if you are the heir, it’s important to accept that you’ll need help to complete a legally-recognized estate plan.

Ideally, your financial professional and your estate attorney should work together. Your financial professional can bring an estate planning attorney to the table, or work in conjunction with yours. What the financial professional does is find tax-advantaged vehicles and efficient ways to transfer wealth that an attorney may not know about or have access to, while the attorney brings the legal expertise, knowledge of state laws, and ability to generate all the needed legal documents.

Remember that it’s equally important to revisit and review your estate plan periodically, preferably every year. Life continually evolves as you acquire new assets and your family grows and changes.

If you have any questions about your estate plan, please give us a call! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/what-is-estate-planning#what-are-the-main-steps-in-estate-planning
  2. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/wealth-management/122915/4-reasons-estate-planning-so-important.asp
  3. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/11/67percent-of-americans-have-no-estate-plan-heres-how-to-get-started-on-one.html

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Investment Advisory Services offered through Trek Financial LLC., an (SEC) Registered Investment Advisor.

Information presented is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered specific investment advice, does not take into consideration your specific situation, and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any securities or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and are not guaranteed, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. For specific tax advice on any strategy, consult with a qualified tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein.

4 Recent Innovations in Life Insurance Policies

By | Risk Management

Life insurance is no longer constrained to the inflexible policies our parents held. Here are some of the latest additions and innovations to give you more options than ever.

Today’s life insurance policies are not the policies our parents and grandparents grew up with and purchased. They offer more features and more customization, at a price lower than many consumers expect to pay.

In fact, a recent study showed that more than 50% of people assume that the cost of life insurance is three times higher than it actually is [1]. Furthermore, 44% of millennials, a group whose net worth continues to rise more rapidly than any other generation [2], overestimate the cost of term life insurance by more than six times.

Price, however, isn’t the only barrier holding people back from looking at what life insurance has to offer. Lack of information, explanation and time to research options, combined with the fact that no one enjoys thinking about and planning ahead for their own death, can make life insurance a tough subject.

New life insurance policy features are designed to quell those worries, as insurance companies look for more ways to build client-oriented policies. Here are some of the latest innovations in the life insurance industry:

  1. Cash Value Component and Living Benefits

Life insurance used to be exactly what it might sound like: insurance for your life. In the event of their unexpected death, policyholders wanted to protect their families, usually by purchasing term life insurance. Term life insurance covers policyholders for a predetermined period of time, typically for a low monthly rate.

Now, carriers offer whole and universal life insurance, which are permanent policies with a tax-deferred cash value component that allows retirement planners to create another avenue to build a nest egg, or savers to save for other things, like college or self-funding a business startup venture. Though the cash value component often increases the monthly premium costs, with these types of policies, the cash value can grow at a rate guaranteed by the claims-paying ability of the insurance company.

One advantage of universal life as opposed to whole life is flexible premiums, allowing you to increase or decrease your premium and the amount that goes toward your cash value. Indexed universal life, a type of universal life insurance, can offer principal protection with market upside potential in correlation with a market index or indexes. (It’s important to understand that indexed universal life is a contract between a consumer and an insurance company, and unlike variable life insurance, isn’t actually subject to stock market risk.)

Permanent life insurance policies that can build cash value can be a good option for healthy younger investors with time and low likelihood of death in the near future. Depending on their situation, healthy retirees can also sometimes benefit from single-premium permanent life insurance which can provide tax-advantaged retirement income.

  1. Long-Term Care Hybrid Policies

Just as no one enjoys planning for their own death, no one likes to imagine needing long-term care. Unfortunately, 70% of people currently age 65 or older in America will need long-term care, with 20% needing support for longer than five years [3}. Additionally, Medicare does not cover long-term care, necessitating some sort of plan to pay for long-term care to avoid the accelerated depletion of funds in retirement.

One solution to the problem is a modern life insurance and long-term care hybrid plan. Obviously, the main sticking point and fear when it came to traditional long-term care insurance was the potential for not needing long-term care, and that fear was completely rational and well-founded. Older policies were “use-it-or-lose-it.” If you didn’t end up needing long-term care, all of those premiums you paid through the years were for nothing.

Now, hybrid policies provide flexibility. Policyholders have the ability to use their benefit to fund long-term care if they need it. If they don’t need it, it becomes a death benefit provided to their beneficiaries.

  1. Riders

One of the biggest expansions in life insurance is in the way you can customize a policy to your needs using a wide array of options available as riders that can be added to an insurance policy. A guaranteed insurability rider, for example, allows the policyholder to purchase more coverage without additional medical examination. It can be helpful to have a guaranteed insurability rider if you expect changes in circumstances that would have affected your original premiums.

Accidental death riders are also common, usually doubling the death benefit in the event that the policyholder dies in an accident. Additionally, accelerated death benefit riders can give the policyholder access to the death benefit if diagnosed with a terminal illness [4]. The amount accessed is typically subtracted from the death benefit, meaning that the policyholder’s beneficiaries receive a smaller death benefit, but it’s yet another example of a feature allowing access to funds during life.

  1. Better Support for Policyholders

Whether it be because of life insurance riders or enhanced operations, life insurance does not have to be difficult to obtain. Modern technology, increased access to better medical information and simplified underwriting have helped innovative companies that are always looking for ways to reach broader audiences with better products.

With an independent financial advisor who works with multiple insurance companies, you can find the insurance policy that suits your own unique situation and budget, with the most beneficial features and/or riders for your needs.

If you have any questions about life insurance and the latest advancements, please give us a call! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

Sources:

  1. https://lifehappens.org/research/life-insurance-is-on-peoples-minds/
  2. https://www.cerulli.com/press-releases/millennials-want-more-advice-and-are-willing-to-pay-for-it
  3. https://www.annuity.org/retirement/planning/average-retirement-income/
  4. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/07/life_insurance_rider.asp

 

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