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Financial Planning

4 Tips to Save For and Fund Your Child’s College Tuition

By | Financial Planning

College is an investment in your child and your family, but it can come at a hefty price. Here are some tips to save!

 

College and other forms of higher education have always been a vital part of planning a career. The foundation of any resume, a recent study interviewing 500 professional recruiters showed that all 500 look for candidates with a college degree [1]. Some common rebuttals to the argument for college might start with names like Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates and Oprah Winfrey, all who dropped out school. Those four have incredible stories, but they’re the exception, not the rule.

The average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree has a lifetime earnings of $2.8 million while a person who achieved a high school diploma earns an average of $1.6 million over their career[2]. At the same time, that average increase in lifetime earnings can come at a steep price, and that price is only rising. Tuition has climbed 211% for in-state universities over the last 20 years [3], escalating panic in students and their families who are forced to shoulder the burden. Without a plan to tackle them, loans can hang over a student’s head for decades. To alleviate some of that stress, here are a few tips for saving for and funding your child’s college education:

  1. Assess early options

Many high schools around the United States offer Advanced Placement (AP) and dual-enrollment classes. By taking these higher-level courses while still in high school, students can be awarded college credits early, potentially at an even lower cost. AP classes are generally more difficult classes targeting more specific areas of study within a subject. They’re widely accepted and acknowledged throughout U.S. colleges, and they are free to students who elect to take the challenge. End-of-year tests for AP classes do cost $96 per exam [4] in the U.S., but colleges may award credits based on scores that would be evident of the student mastering the material.

Dual-enrollment classes, on the other hand, function as a partnership between high schools and colleges. A dual-enrollment class holds high school students to the college-level standard and curriculum. The students then pay per credit at the partnered college’s rate and receive those credits upon class completion as if they were taking those courses on the college campus. Both types of classes can save students and parents valuable time and money in their pursuit of higher education.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the aid process

There are many types of student aid, and amounts can vary based on a plethora of factors. The most obvious form of assistance provided to students is scholarship money. It can be awarded based on test scores, academic results, athletics or extracurricular activities, and amounts can fluctuate based on a student’s choice of school. There are also opportunities for privately-funded scholarships that can be awarded by foundations, religious groups or other organizations on a need or merit-based basis. Students can typically find these opportunities online and apply if they meet predetermined criteria.

Students should also fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as the FAFSA [5]. The FAFSA uses a student’s information to determine how much aid they might qualify for, including money from grants or state-funded assistance. It can also determine how much a student could qualify for in loans if those become necessary.

  1. Familiarize yourself with current legislation

Legislation is always changing for parents looking to get a jump-start in funding their child’s education. For example, the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020 opened new doors for students trying to qualify for need-based assistance. Prior to the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020, the FAFSA calculated the expected family contribution, or the EFC. The EFC estimated the amount family members would be able to contribute to a student’s education based on income, assets and other benefits. EFC has now been replaced by student aid index, or SAI. Where EFC bottomed out at $0, SAI can go as low as -$1,500, meaning students can qualify for more need-based aid [6]. SAI also simplifies the form itself, cutting down the number of questions and the factors that figure into assistance a student might receive from family.

Where this could truly be a boon to students who need more aid is through family members whose contributions were accounted for in the EFC but are not accounted for in the SAI. The popular 529 plan, which provides tax-advantaged savings for designated beneficiaries, is often used by grandparents to help their grandchildren pay for college. Funds from a 529 plan no longer factor into the expected contributions from family members meaning that they will not have negative implications for the FAFSA’s estimation of how much aid a student requires [7].

  1. Research schools prior to selection

Cost can differ by school selection, and though some students have their hearts set on a specific university, financials could play a large role in deciding on the best fit for your child. For example, students who do not expect to receive much aid from family or scholarship opportunities can opt for community college. Community colleges generally offer favorable per-credit prices for in-state students. The average cost per credit hour at a two-year community college is $141 while a public, four-year university costs $390 per credit hour on average [8].

After two years at a community college, students can usually transfer their credits to a university to finish a four-year degree. Wide-ranging opinions also exist about college selection [9]. Some researchers and surveys suggest that attending a prestigious college could be nothing more than a status symbol. Employers can look for many qualifications such as experience, extracurriculars, ability or the simple fact that a candidate attended any college. At the end of the day, the right choice of school will be different for each student.

If you have any questions about saving or planning to help your family, please give us a call! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

Trek 284

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.ellucian.com/assets/en/white-paper/credential-clout-survey.pdf
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltnietzel/2021/10/11/new-study-college-degree-carries-big-earnings-premium-but-other-factors-matter-too/?sh=6fd5ad4035cd
  3. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2017-09-20/see-20-years-of-tuition-growth-at-national-universities
  4. https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/exam-administration-ordering-scores/ordering-fees/ordering-exam-materials/help/cost-of-exam
  5. https://studentaid.gov/
  6. https://unicreds.com/blog/student-aid-index
  7. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/tips-for-grandparents-using-a-529-plan-to-save-for-college
  8. https://educationdata.org/cost-of-a-college-class-or-credit-hour
  9. https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/does-it-even-matter-where-you-go-college-here-s-n982851

7 Tips for Saving Money at the Pump

By | Financial Planning, Inflation Risk

Gas prices are on the rise. Here are some ways to save a little bit of money.

The surge in gas prices swooped in just in time to dampen the mood in 2022. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine continuing to impact oil prices all around the world, the best solution might be to embrace the climb and start brainstorming some small life changes we can make to compensate.

According to AAA, the United States hit its highest average price per gallon Mar. 11 at $4.33 [1]. By adjusting, it’s possible to save hundreds, or even thousands, each month [2], and that money could go right back into your pocket. Fewer trips to the pump mean more money in your wallet, which means more money that you can spend, save or invest in your future. Here are seven tips to save money on gas as the prices rise:

  1. Use public transportation

This option might depend upon your geographic location and living situation, but you may be able to save on gas by taking public transportation. It may not be an option in widely-sprawling metro areas or cities without public transportation systems, but in major cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia or Seattle, one household could save $10,000 or more each year by opting to use public transit [2]. That total could depend upon other factors, like the type of car you drive, insurance and parking, but gas and rising prices certainly figure into your possible savings.

  1. Start carpooling

For those who have longer work commutes or don’t live in cities with public transit systems, carpooling can be a great option. By finding a work friend who lives nearby and makes a similar commute, you might be able to cut your gas expenditure in half. Those savings can multiply if you decide to invite more people into your car pool, and it might even be a great option for those looking for more social outlets. Carpooling can also help the environment by reducing emissions, and it saves you time by cutting traffic and giving you access to the glorious high occupancy vehicle lane.

  1. Download price-viewing apps

Gas prices fluctuate based on location and company. Don’t you hate it when you get gas, then drive one mile down the road and see prices 30 cents cheaper than the price you just paid? Luckily, there is an easy fix for that problem. Phone apps, like GasBuddy [3], list prices for nearly every filling station in your immediate area. Users update the information to ensure that the prices you see are accurate, and you can pinpoint the cheapest gas with just a few taps. Simply checking nearby gas prices or rates in a specific city or zip code is free, but GasBuddy also offers premium, fee-based options that can help users rack up even more savings.

  1. Become a member of wholesale stores

Wholesale stores, like Costco, may feature lower gas prices depending on your area. Granted, a membership to Costco might cost you $60 annually [4], but we can do some quick math to see just how that membership fee has the potential to pay for itself. Prior to the pandemic, the average American filled their gas tank roughly once per week [5]. According to GasBuddy searches, in large metro areas like Los Angeles, Costco’s average price per gallon might be somewhere between 25 cents and 50 cents per gallon less than the average price in the area [6]. If you fill up your 12-gallon tank once per week, the lower end of the scale results in a savings of $3 per full tank. That may not sound like much, but for one person, the $60 annual membership fee is covered in 20 weeks, or less than half a year. Furthermore, Costco’s most basic package, the Gold Star membership, includes a second membership at no additional cost for someone over the age of 18 living in your household. Let’s say, for example, your spouse also fills their 12-gallon tank once per week. The membership would be paid for in just 10 weeks, and you could still get cheaper gas for the rest of the year.

  1. Work from home

This isn’t an option for everyone, but it’s no secret that the best way to save gas is by simply not using it. According to the Pew Research Center, 59% of workers in the United States who are able to work from home are taking advantage of that opportunity [7]. The reevaluation of work circumstances truly kicked into gear during the pandemic, but even as the spread of the virus wanes, it can be a great option for those still looking to cut down costs at the gas station.

  1. Pay cash

Not all gas stations offer savings for paying with cash, but some do. In our transition to a cashless world, you might not carry cash as often as you used to, but a quick stop at your local ATM on your way to fill up might prove to be beneficial. Apps like GasBuddy may be able to show whether or not a gas station provides a discounted rate for customers who pay with cash [8]. Another easy way to tell if a station takes cash is if a sign clearly states that the rate per gallon is for cash payments. Some stations even have signs that flash between two prices, showing the price per gallon for payments with card versus the price per gallon for payments with cash.

  1. Find alternatives to long-distance hobbies

We would never advise that you give up your hobbies, but if you’re concerned about surging gas prices, staying home can be a good option. Weekend vacations or one-day getaways can easily be turned into staycations, and in 2022, there are so many great options for at-home activities. You can rent a recent movie, listen to music, play board games, grill out, invite friends over for a gathering, work out or play with your pets. The pandemic also opened the door for events like virtual happy hours and video hangouts, so if you just can’t reach your friends and family because of distance, you can still see them and interact with them extremely easily, all without spending a nickel on fuel.

If you have any questions about this article or how to protect your retirement plan during times of high inflation, please give us a call! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

Sources

  1. https://gasprices.aaa.com/
  2. https://www.moneycrashers.com/benefits-public-transportation-travel-for-less/
  3. https://www.gasbuddy.com/home
  4. https://www.costco.com/join-costco.html
  5. https://www.reviews.com/insurance/car/drivers-fueling-behavior-after-covid/#:~:text=Over%2082%25%20of%20US%20drivers,decrease%20in%20consumer%20gas%20purchases
  6. https://www.gasbuddy.com/home?search=los%20angeles&fuel=1&brandId=38&maxAge=0&method=all
  7. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2022/02/16/covid-19-pandemic-continues-to-reshape-work-in-america/
  8. https://www.tmj4.com/news/local-news/if-discount-is-offered-using-cash-and-not-plastic-can-help-you-save-at-the-pump

6 Facts About Taxes

By | Financial Planning, Tax Planning

Individual income tax returns for 2021 will be due April 18th, 2022 [1]. In preparation as we head into the tax season, here are some facts to consider.

 

  1. Where your tax dollars go.

In 2021, the federal government spent $6.82 trillion, which equals 30% of the nation’s gross domestic product. Three significant areas of spending make up the majority of the budget. Medicare accounted for $696.5 billion, or 10%. Defense spending made up $754.8 billion, or 11% of the budget, was paid for defense and security-related international activities. Seventeen percent of the budget, or $1.1 trillion, was paid for Social Security, which provided monthly retirement benefits averaging $1,497 to 46 million retired workers [2].

 

  1. How long you should keep tax documents.

The IRS provides the following recommended timelines for retaining financial documents [3]:

  1. You should keep your tax records for three years if #4 and #5 below do not apply to you.
  2. You should keep records for three years from the original filing date of your return or two years from the date you paid your taxes. Select whichever is the later date. This is if you claimed a credit or refund after you filed your return.
  3. You should keep your records for seven years if you claimed a loss from worthless securities or a bad debt deduction.
  4. You should keep your records for six years if you failed to report income that you should have, and the income was more than 25% of the gross income listed on your return.
  5. Keep records indefinitely if you do not file a return.
  6. You should keep employment tax records for at least four years after the due date on the taxes or after you paid the taxes. Select whichever is later.

 

  1. Tax brackets for 2021 individual income tax returns.[4]

NOTE: These tax rates are scheduled to expire in 2025 unless Congress acts to make them permanent [9].

 

  1. Tax brackets for 2022.

When it comes to taxes, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead. In November 2021, The Internal Revenue Service announced that it is boosting federal tax brackets for 2022 due to faster inflation. Below is a breakdown of the new thresholds for the seven tax brackets in 2022 [5]:

10%: Single individuals earning up to $10,275 and married couples filing jointly earning up to $20,550.

12%: Single filers earning more than $10,275 and married couples filing jointly earning over $20,550.

22%: Single filers earning more than $41,775 and married couples filing jointly earning over $83,550.

24%: Single filers earning more than $89,075 and married couples filing jointly earning over $178,150.

32%: Single filers earning more than $170,050 and married couples filing jointly earning over $340,100.

35%: Single filers earning more than $215,950 and married couples filing jointly earning over $431,900.

37%: Single filers earning more than $539,900 and married couples filing jointly earning over $647,850.

 

  1. Standard deductions.

Here is an overview of the standard deductions since 2019, including the standard deduction for the 2021 tax season [6]:

For 2022, the IRS is increasing standard deductions due to faster inflation:

The standard deduction for married couples filing jointly will rise 3.2 percent to $25,900 next year for the 2022 tax year, an increase of $800 from the prior year. The standard deduction for single taxpayers and married individuals filing separately rises to $12,950 for tax year 2022, up $400 from tax year 2021. For heads of households, the standard deduction will be $19,400, up $600 [7].

 

  1. You can still contribute for the 2021 tax year.

If you have not already contributed fully to your individual retirement account for 2021, April 15 is your last chance to fund a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA [8]. Please call us if you have any questions about setting up or contributing to a traditional or Roth IRA.

 

This information is for general purposes only and is not to be relied upon or considered as financial or tax advice. It is recommended that you work with your tax professional to complete your tax returns based on your unique situation.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/2022-tax-filing-season-begins-jan-24-irs-outlines-refund-timing-and-what-to-expect-in-advance-of-april-18-tax-deadline
  2. https://datalab.usaspending.gov/americas-finance-guide/spending/categories/
  3. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/how-long-should-i-keep-records#:~:text=Keep%20records%20for%203%20years%20from%20the%20date%20you%20filed,securities%20or%20bad%20debt%20deduction
  4. https://www.kiplinger.com/taxes/tax-brackets/602222/income-tax-brackets
  5. https://www.newsweek.com/irs-adjusting-2022-standard-deductions-due-inflation-what-that-means-you-1648767
  6. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-provides-tax-inflation-adjustments-for-tax-year-2021
  7. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-provides-tax-inflation-adjustments-for-tax-year-2022
  8. https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/ira-year-end-reminders
  9. https://smartasset.com/taxes/trump-tax-brackets
  10. https://www.irs.gov/
  11. https://www.ssa.gov/

 

Your Year-End Financial Checklist

By | Financial Planning, Retirement, Tax Planning

The end of the year can help remind us of last-minute things we need to address as well as the goals we want to pursue and get serious about. To that end, here are some aspects of your financial life to contemplate as this year leads into 2022. 

Your investments. Set up a meeting to review your investments with your financial professional. You’ll want to come away from the meeting with an understanding of your portfolio positions and a revisit of your asset allocation based on your age, desires and personal circumstances. Remember, asset allocation and diversification are approaches to help manage investment risk, they do not guarantee against stock market drops or equities losses. Make sure your portfolio reflects your desire for protection and safety as well as growth.

Your retirement strategy. You may want to consider contributing the maximum to your retirement accounts—this may be a great time to decide on making catch-up contributions if you are 50 or older. It’s also a good idea to review any retirement accounts you may have through your work to see if your selections are still suitable for you. If you are getting close to retirement, you’ll want to start considering your Social Security filing strategy in advance, since that will dovetail with your overall retirement income plan.

Your tax situation. It’s a good idea to check in with your tax or legal professional before the year ends, especially if you have questions about an expense or deduction from this year. Also, it may be a good idea to review any sales of property as well as both realized and unrealized losses and gains. Look back at last year’s loss carryforwards. If you’ve sold securities, gather up cost-basis information. As always, bringing all this information to your financial professional as well as your tax professional is a smart move.

Your charitable gifting goals. Plan charitable contributions or contributions to education accounts and make any desired cash gifts to family members. The annual federal gift tax exclusion allows you to give away up to $15,000 in 2021, meaning you can gift as much as $15,000 to as many individuals as you like this year. Such gifts do not count against the lifetime estate tax exemption amount, as long as they stay beneath the annual federal gift tax exclusion threshold. Besides outright gifts, you can explore creating and funding trusts on behalf of your family. The end of the year is also a good time to review any trusts you have in place. Using a trust involves a complex set of tax rules and regulations. Before moving forward with a trust, it’s important to work with a professional who is familiar with the rules and regulations.

Your life insurance coverage. The end of the year is an excellent time to double-check that your policies and beneficiaries are up to date. Don’t forget to review premium costs and beneficiaries and think about whether your insurance needs have changed. Several factors could impact the cost and availability of life insurance, such as age, health, and the type of insurance purchased, as well as the amount purchased. Life insurance policies have expenses, including mortality and other charges. If a policy is surrendered prematurely, you may pay surrender charges, which could have income tax implications. You should consider determining whether you are insurable before implementing a strategy involving life insurance. Finally, don’t forget that any guarantees associated with a policy are dependent on the ability of the issuing insurance company to continue making claim payments.

Life events. Here are some questions to ask yourself when evaluating any large life changes in the last year: Did you happen to get married or divorced this year? Did you move or change jobs? Did you buy a home or business? Was there a new addition to your family this year? Did you receive an inheritance or a gift? All these circumstances can have a financial impact on your life as well as the way you invest and plan for retirement and wind down your career or business.

Keep in mind, this article is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for real-life advice. Make certain to contact a tax or legal professional before modifying your tax strategy. The ideas presented are not intended to provide specific advice.

If you would like to discuss your year-end checklist items, please give us a call. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

5 Reasons to Consider Life Insurance

By | Financial Planning, Life Insurance

September is “Life Insurance Awareness Month.” Is your family using life insurance in the right ways as part of your comprehensive financial plan? Here are five reasons you should consider life insurance.

  1. You Have a Young Family1

Even though the pandemic has shown us all the need for financial protection for the family from sudden death or disability, there are roughly 102 million uninsured and underinsured Americans, representing 40% of the adult population according to the 2021 Insurance Barometer Study by LIMRA. One of the reasons cited was a lack of basic information about life insurance; less than a third of consumers said they were “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable about it.

Life insurance policies have completely changed in the last two decades. According to LIMRA research, simplified underwriting means that many term life policies don’t even require a medical exam anymore, depending on your age and general health. Term life insurance can be much less expensive than you think; the research showed that healthy 30-year-olds often overestimate costs by 5x.

Another reason people say they don’t pursue life insurance is that they have a policy through work. But even though you may have a small policy at your workplace, usually $20,000 or so according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these policies are often in place to help with burial costs and final expenses. In order to cover your family’s finances adequately, consider mortgage costs, existing debt, health care, living expenses for your spouse and children, and future college expenses for your children in order to get an idea of how much protection you should have.

  1. You Need More Tax-Advantaged Wealth Transfer2

Depending on your situation, if you are a business owner or person of high net worth, you may want to consider life insurance as an option as part of your succession and/or estate plan. Most of the time, life insurance passes to beneficiaries and heirs tax-free, and there are many different strategies to help mitigate taxes and provide other benefits by using life insurance policies. Here are some ideas.

  1. You Are Looking for Tax-Advantaged Retirement Income2

A permanent life insurance policy with cash value can provide a stream of income if necessary, depending on how the policy is structured. The cash value in the policy can build up and be borrowed against to pay for college expenses, retirement, or other costs during your lifetime, usually without any taxes owed if all IRS rules are followed.

  1. You Want to Protect Your Spouse2

Many people don’t realize that when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse only gets one Social Security check (the larger one) from that point forward. Permanent life insurance can protect your spouse’s lifestyle in the event of your passing.

  1. You Want Long-Term Care Insurance3, 4, 5

Some of today’s life insurance policies are called “hybrid” policies because they cover additional potential adverse events in addition to death, such as disability or the need for long-term care. These extra coverages may be part of the policy itself, or be available as optional insurance policy “riders” depending on the way an insurance company structures their contracts.

According to the 2020 Insurance Barometer study conducted by Life Happens and LIMRA, hybrid policies have become more popular than traditional long-term care (LTC) insurance policies because they offer a long-term care benefit that kicks in if you need it, or a death benefit that remains if you don’t. (One of the drawbacks of traditional LTC insurance is that you may end up paying a lot for something you may never need.)

If you do end up needing long-term care at home or in a nursing facility, it’s expensive. The average cost of a semi-private room in a nursing facility is $7,756 per month according to Genworth.

Remember, Medicare pays for short stays in nursing care facilities, but it does not pay for long-term care. Medicaid pays for long-term care, but qualifying for Medicaid requires a complete spend-down of assets, leaving your spouse and heirs with virtually nothing.

 

Do you have questions about life insurance? Call us! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395. 

 

Sources:

1 https://insurance-forums.com/life-insurance/study-reveals-common-misconceptions-that-prevent-americans-from-getting-life-insurance-they-know-they-need/

2 https://www.investopedia.com/articles/financial-advisors/111215/why-wealthy-should-buy-lots-life-insurance.asp

3 https://www.forbes.com/advisor/life-insurance/long-term-care-hybrid/

4 https://www.limra.com/en/research/research-abstracts-public/2020/2020-insurance-barometer-study/

5 https://www.genworth.com/aging-and-you/finances/cost-of-care.html

Retirement Saving at Each Age

By | Financial Planning, Retirement

While it’s true that each person is unique and every financial plan should be customized according to their situation, it is generally accepted that people should start saving for retirement early in their lives so they can take advantage of compounding returns.

Here is some general information and things to consider about saving for retirement for each age group.

Gen Z

Roth IRA accounts. As soon as children or grandchildren have earned income, either you or they can open and contribute to a Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account) in their name. Roth IRA contributions can’t exceed the child’s earned income and the maximum amount that can be contributed for the year is $6,000 for 2021. The benefit is that Roth accounts grow tax-free as long as all IRS rules are followed. After the account has been open for five years, any amount contributed can be borrowed or taken out for any reason without any taxes or tax penalties due. (But Roth IRA account earnings—meaning returns or interest credited—can’t be taken out before age 59-1/2 without a 10% penalty.) That means your child could have a very flexible way to borrow for college, down payment on a house or any other purpose—including retirement—later on.

Permanent life insurance. Another option to help children, teens and young adults save for retirement is permanent life insurance. New types of life insurance policies can be a tax-advantaged way to save and borrow later from the policy for retirement, college or any other purpose. Often the cost of insurance is very low for healthy young people.

Gen Y

Workplace retirement plans. People in their mid-20s to 40s are often pursuing careers where their employers provide 401(k) or similar retirement plans with a “match” for contributions. One rule of thumb says to max out pre-tax contributions during these years up to the maximum match by your employer; you get the added benefit of lowering your taxable income.

Traditional IRA accounts, Roth IRAs, permanent life insurance, investment portfolios. For those who don’t have a workplace retirement plan, or for those that want to invest beyond their employer’s group retirement offering, traditional pre-tax IRAs are available depending on your income level while providing a tax write-off, while tax-advantaged Roth IRAs and permanent life insurance can offer other benefits. Once you reach the maximums on retirement savings, you may want to begin to invest in stocks and bonds, forming your first investment portfolio. If possible, hire a financial professional to help you create a complete financial plan which can be updated and reviewed every year.

Gen X

Save, invest, and save some more. People in their 40s and early 50s can be sandwiched between providing for their older children’s expensive needs—like transportation, health care and college—while caring for their parents as they get older. Yet it is incredibly important for Gen X to begin to maximize their retirement savings. All of the possibilities discussed for younger ages also apply to Gen X, and after age 50, you can contribute $7,000 per year ($1,000 extra) to an IRA or Roth IRA in 2021, depending on your income and IRS rules. Some permanent life insurance or deferred income annuity products can allow you to save for retirement while providing other optional benefits like disability, long-term care insurance or spousal protection should you need it. Find efficient ways to pay for your kids’ college, and as you make more money, use it for retirement investing while keeping your spending on housing, automobiles and similar items as low as you can. Work closely with your financial professional to make sure you are on track to achieve your retirement goals.

Baby Boomers

How much money will you need to retire? If you are 55 or older, it is probably time to get serious about what you want your retirement lifestyle to be so that you can get some idea of what kind of retirement savings you will need to support yourself after you are no longer receiving a paycheck. For instance, someone who wants to do a lot of international traveling will need a lot more saved than someone who plans to stay close to home during retirement. Retirement planning is essential, since pulling money out of your portfolio is much different than putting money in as you have been used to. Make sure your financial professional is focused on retirement; retirement planning is a distinct specialty.

Claiming Social Security. It’s time to start learning about Social Security. The Social Security Administration recently changed the design of your statement to show you how much your benefit will be at the earliest time you can file (age 62), at full retirement age (around age 66 or 67 depending on your birth year) and at age 70, when your benefit amount stops growing. You can obtain your latest statement here. Important: Remember that Medicare is not free; premiums come out of your Social Security check.

Consider taxation. Remember that if you have the majority of your retirement savings held in taxable accounts like traditional 401(k)s, you will owe income taxes on that money. Depending on your tax bracket, your savings may actually be from 22% to 35% less after you pay income taxes. As an example, someone with $500,000 saved for retirement may actually only have $385,000 if they are in the 23% tax bracket. Current tax law requires you to start withdrawing money and paying income taxes on taxable, tax-deferred retirement accounts every year beginning at age 72. Start working with your financial professional early, because there may be ways to save on taxes for the long-term using strategies over the five to 10 years preceding retirement.

Multigenerational Wealth

As part of retirement planning, it is important that each member of the family works together for tax-efficient wealth transfer in the future, minimizing the chance for strife, confusion or excess taxation during family transitions or adverse events. New legislation—the SECURE Act—changed the rules about inherited traditional IRA accounts, and potential tax impacts should be addressed now rather than later.

The family that plans together, stays happy together, hopefully for the long-term. Whenever possible, everyone should be involved in financial, retirement and estate planning matters working hand-in-hand with a trusted financial professional, tax professional and estate attorney to document inheritance matters, final wishes, health care directives, wills and trusts.

If you have any questions about this article, please call us. We’re happy to help you and your family members. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395. 

7 Budgeting Tips For July

By | Financial Literacy, Financial Planning
Budgeting can help you achieve your goals faster.

Once you realize that budgeting can help you achieve the goals you’ve set out for yourself, you may find the process inspiring.

  1. Think of your budget as a spending plan

Think of your budget as your “how-to” plan for spending your money rather than what you “can’t” spend. The upside is that by budgeting for short- and long-term expenditures, you can spend money without feeling guilty about it, because you’ve actually planned to spend it!

With a budget, you will simply be allocating all your expenditures with a means to an end, whether it’s getting out of debt, keeping your food bill down, having some fun in life, or saving for retirement. You may even discover that you have more money than you thought. Once you become intentional about what you’re spending, you may realize that your gym membership or all those monthly subscriptions you’re not using won’t be missed and you’ll have more cash free for other purposes, like the occasional Starbucks run or other little treat that makes you happy.

  1. Try using a zero-sum approach

A zero-sum budget means that every penny you have coming in each month gets allocated to a category. The goal is that your monthly income minus your allocations equals zero, so that you’ve put every dollar you have to use.

Start your zero-sum budget by figuring out your monthly net take-home pay or income amount, then allocate all of it to either savings, investments, bills, expenses or debt payoff. This forces you to be accountable for every penny, which puts you in control.

  1. Start with the most important categories first

Start with your true necessities, like mortgage, utilities, food and transportation. Make sure savings is a top priority. Then you can fill in the other categories that are discretionary.

  1. Strive to save 20-30% of your net for short- and long-term goals, and limit housing costs to 30%

So how does this break out? If your net income is $4,000 per month, you should strive to save $800 – $1,200 per month towards short- and long-term goals* and limit your mortgage or rent to $1,200 per month or less.

*Your short-term goals might include a vacation, wedding or down payment for a home. Long-term goals might be accumulating an emergency fund that equals six months’ expenses, getting out of debt, or saving for college or retirement.

  1. Label savings

Rather than have a lump savings account that includes everything you are saving for, try to use separate accounts or find a way to label them using a software program. That way you can see at a glance how close you are getting to each individual goal, like your vacation fund, emergency fund, etc.

Labeled savings accounts can help you keep track of progress toward your goals separately and feel a sense of accomplishment as you achieve each one.

  1. Remember each month’s varying expenses

Your spouse’s birthday, your birthday, holidays, back-to-school, annual car or home maintenance, Christmas each December—don’t forget to include varying annual expenses in each month’s budget. Not having money allocated for special occasions or annual expenses can take the joy out of life, while planning for them can do the opposite.

  1. Create a buffer, and use cash for problem areas

Create a buffer of cash that’s available; think of it as a little temporary augment to your emergency fund until you’ve been budgeting for a year or more. That way if something you forgot comes up, you’ll have the money for it—and you can put it in the regular budget for next time.

If you run into problem areas—for example, maybe you always grab extra unplanned items at the grocery store—consider using cash for problem categories rather than a credit card. Envelopes with cash can hold you more accountable because when the cash runs out, you have to stop spending.

 

If you’d like to discuss this or any other financial matter, please call us. We’re here to help. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395. 

5 Ways to Give Your Finances a $pring Cleaning

By | Financial Planning

Spring is here! Time to get your finances in shipshape condition. Here are five ideas to get you started.

 

  1. Check your credit reports.

While you’re reviewing your expenses and debts in order to see how you are faring in terms of staying within your personal budget, make sure that there aren’t any expenses or debts on your credit report that aren’t yours.

It’s free to check your credit reports once a year to ensure no one has used your name or identity to make unauthorized purchases. Here is what to do: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports

 

  1. Consider banking / credit card changes.

If you find yourself with open accounts at multiple banks, it may be time to consolidate, depending on your total balance/s. (FDIC insures each account up to $250,000.) By consolidating, you may be in a better position to negotiate for lower fees and better interest rates.

You may find that you want to move your banking life online in order to reduce clutter and find a bank paying the highest rates / charging no fees. But be sure to download and back up your statements (and make backups of the backups) since most banks only keep them around for 12-18 months.

While you’re taking stock of your banking situation, take a look at your credit cards and assess whether or not you’re getting the best deals. It’s easy to do a little online investigating about cards have the best cash back benefits. (But make sure you pay off the balances monthly.)

 

  1. Home maintenance to save money in the long run.

Your home is often one of your bigger assets, so consider putting these important home maintenance projects on your financial to-do list:

  • Repair any roof leaks the minute you spot them to help prevent mold, structural damage and loss of personal property. Make sure your gutters and downspouts are clean and debris-free every year.
  • Water on the ground can cause even more expensive problems. Grading and drainage issues need to be dealt with lest they damage your home’s foundation or cause flooding, often not covered by insurance.
  • Deal with plumbing leaks immediately. Inspect and caulk around showers and tubs as well as windows and doors on a regular basis. Caulk is cheap, but water damage is very expensive.
  • Just like you remove lint from your dryer vent with each load of laundry, you should change your HVAC filter monthly to prevent system problems as well as reduce monthly electric bills.
  • Take immediate measures to eliminate pests like termites, roaches, ants or rodents if they take up residence. Waiting can only lead to more damage.

 

  1. Tax changes / tax record storage.

Very importantly this year, get up to speed on the new tax changes and how they might affect you by meeting with your financial advisor and tax specialist. The two disciplines often have different perspectives and you can often benefit by including both of them in your discussions. Make sure you review your retirement tax distribution plan in terms of RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions) which start at age 72, because there may be ways to mitigate income taxes for the long term if you start early.

In terms of tax document storage, Kiplinger recommends keeping your tax returns indefinitely, and supporting documentation for seven years. If you decide to clean out old tax supporting documents, make sure to shred them to reduce the possibility of identity theft.

 

  1. Beneficiary review: Insurance policy / retirement accounts / estate plans.

You may not realize that the beneficiaries you have listed on your insurance policies and retirement accounts take precedence over wills and trusts. It’s really important to keep all of your documents, including your estate documents, up to date at all times. Life changes, and so does your family. You probably don’t want an ex-spouse receiving your 401(k) money if you pass.

If you have a lot of assets and a very large estate, you may want to meet with your financial advisor and estate attorney since the new, higher estate tax exclusion sunsets in 2026 (or may be changed sooner by Congress under the new Biden Administration.)

 

If you want to discuss any of these ideas, or have questions about your financial or retirement plan, please don’t hesitate to contact us. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395. 

7 Tips to Resolve Financial Issues Between Couples

By | Financial Planning

No matter how long you have been together, financial issues can wreak havoc on a committed relationship. According to Investopedia, some of the top money issues between partners include money/personality style clashes, debt, personal spending, children, and extended family differences.

When couples don’t agree about spending and saving habits, it can lead to stress, arguments and resentment. Here are seven ways you can address financial issues positively, preferably before they arise.

  1. Understand Your Money Styles

Think of some extreme examples of money styles in your circle. Like your friend, the foodie, who won’t touch a bottle of wine that costs less than $75. Your sister who constantly surfs Amazon with boxes showing up at the doorstep day and night. Your mom who washes aluminum foil, folds and reuses it. And your stepdad who always insists on buying everything for the grandkids, fixing his own 30-year-old car, and keeping his handwritten savings ledger to the penny.

Everyone has a money style, and it’s helpful to talk about it without any name-calling or labeling involved. Understanding your partner’s spending habits often involves a deep-dive into money fears, scarcity memories and childhood traumas. Empathizing with your partner while freeing yourselves from negative patterns can be done if you work together. The most important thing is to come up with a spending plan that works for both of you, and hold yourselves accountable to work the plan together.

It’s also very important to check any power plays that may be happening at the conscious or subconscious level. The biggest money-earner shouldn’t think they have the largest say or the only right to dictate how the money gets spent; a marriage should be equally balanced. The partner who earns less and the partner who earns more both need to cooperate as a team to create a spending plan that’s fair for both of them.

So, check your ego at the door. It’s true that money is power, and few things build resentment faster than being made to feel inferior. The person earning more should take great care to act with empathy while taking care of their own needs reasonably rather than selfishly.

  1. Decide How to Divvy Up Bills…and Save for Future Goals

There are several ways to pay the bills. You can both put all your earnings in a joint account and pay everything out of that. You can divide bills based on a percentage of your earnings. Or you can split bills down the middle and keep the rest of your own earnings for yourselves.

Once you have decided how the bills get paid, you need to devise a plan for saving for your long-term goals—like purchasing a home or securing your retirement. Remember that you need to work closely together as life changes arise—such as one of you losing a job, cutting back on hours to care for a parent, or one of you becoming disabled. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that contingency plans are always advisable. Putting together a financial plan for your future is a great first step toward a financially healthy future.

  1. Create Personal Spending Allowances…That Stay Personal

Having some personal money that’s designated just for you each month can really help how you feel about your relationship. It can also help avoid relationship-ruining behavior like “financial infidelity,” when one spouse hides money or purchases from the other. The personal spending allowance gives each partner the chance to spend their money however they wish, no questions asked—including gifts to each other, a new pair of shoes, or coffee every day on the way to the office. In most cases, the personal monthly spending allowance amount should be equal for both of you so that resentments can’t arise.

  1. Compromise on Spending for Children and Family Members

On average, it costs $233,610 to raise a child to age 18, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That doesn’t include expenses for grown children, helping them with the purchase of cars or homes, or funding other (expensive) needs that might arise for them.

Furthermore, spending related to the extended family on both sides can also be tricky, especially as your expectations can be very different from your spouse’s when it comes to helping family members out or getting involved with costly family vacations or activities.

Addressing these discretionary expenses and agreeing on them before to committing to children or other family members is critical.

  1. Face and Eliminate Undesirable Debt

Some debt may be necessary or even advisable depending on your tax situation, for instance, some people need or want a mortgage interest write-off. Other debt should be paid off following a plan that you both agree upon—be it credit card, car loan or student loan debt.

In most states, debts brought into a marriage stay with the person who incurred them and are not extended to a spouse, but debts incurred together after marriage are owed by both spouses. Debts incurred individually married are still owed by the individual, with the exception of child care, housing, and food, which are all considered joint debt no matter what.

There are nine states where all debts (and property) are shared after marriage regardless of individual or joint account status. These states include Arizona, California, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin. In these states you are not liable for most of your spouse’s debt that was incurred before marriage, but any debt incurred after the wedding is automatically shared—even when applied for individually.

Both partners should have an honest discussion about curtailing bad spending or financial habits. Couples should also employ a strategy to pay off debt—such as paying off the higher-interest debt first or paying off the smallest loans first (the snowball method).

  1. Set a Budget You Can Both Live With

One of the best ways to keep in sync with your partner when it comes to finances is to have a budget as part of your overall financial plan. The budget includes your household bills, your personal spending allowance, your debt-paying strategy, and your monthly budget for long-term goals like retirement.

  1. Communicate Honestly

Lack of communication is the source of many marital issues, and talking regularly, honestly, and without judgment is where the hard work of marriage comes in. Some couples may even find it helpful to actually schedule a time once a month or once a quarter to revisit short- and long-term goals with each other, and meet at least once a year to discuss objectives with their financial advisor.

Don’t talk about things when you’re tired, angry or have had too much to drink—organize and adhere to clearheaded discussions for success. Honest communication can help you both face and conquer the financial challenges of life, changing course and adjusting along the way.

 

If you have any questions, or would like to review your finances together as a couple, call us! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395. 

 

Sources:

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/09/marriage-killing-money-issues.asp

https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/01/13/cost-raising-child

https://www.kiplinger.com/personal-finance/602036/a-marriage-starter-plan-for-finances-even-if-youre-late-to-the-party

https://www.marriage.com/advice/finance/how-to-overcome-financial-conflict/#:~:text=Married%20couples%20fighting%20over%20financial,couples%20fail%20to%20do%20so.

 

 

Your Annual Financial To-Do List

By | Financial Planning

Things you can do for your future as the year unfolds.

What financial, business, or life priorities do you need to address for the coming year? Now is an excellent time to think about the investing, saving, or budgeting methods you could employ toward specific objectives, from building your retirement fund to managing your taxes. You have plenty of choices. Here are a few ideas to consider:

 

Can you contribute more to your retirement plans this year? In 2021, the contribution limit for a Roth or traditional individual retirement account (IRA) is expected to remain at $6,000 ($7,000 for those making “catch-up” contributions). Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) may affect how much you can put into a Roth IRA. With a traditional IRA, you can contribute if you (or your spouse if filing jointly) have taxable compensation, but income limits are one factor in determining whether the contribution is tax-deductible.

Remember, withdrawals from traditional IRAs are taxed as ordinary income, and if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty starting again in 2021 because the CARES Act ends December 31, 2020. Roth IRA distributions must meet a five-year holding requirement and occur after age 59½ to qualify for tax-exempt and penalty-free withdrawal. Tax-free and penalty-free withdrawals from Roth IRAs can also be taken under certain other circumstances, such as a result of the owner’s death.

Keep in mind, this article is for informational purposes only, and not a replacement for real-life advice. Also, tax rules are constantly changing, and there is no guarantee that the tax landscape will remain the same in years ahead.

 

Make a charitable gift. You can claim the deduction on your tax return, provided you follow the Internal Review Service (I.R.S.) guidelines and itemize your deductions with Schedule A. The paper trail is important here. If you give cash, you should consider documenting it. Some contributions can be demonstrated by a bank record, payroll deduction record, credit card statement, or written communication from the charity with the date and amount. Incidentally, the I.R.S. does not equate a pledge with a donation. If you pledge $2,000 to a charity this year but only end up gifting $500, you can only deduct $500.  You must write the check or make the gift using a credit card by the end of December.

These are hypothetical examples and are not a replacement for real-life advice. Make certain to consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional before modifying your record-keeping approach or your strategy for making charitable gifts.

 

See if you can take a home office deduction for your small business. If you are a small-business owner, you may want to investigate this. You may be able to write off expenses linked to the portion of your home used to conduct your business. Using your home office as a business expense involves a complex set of tax rules and regulations. Before moving forward, consider working with a professional who is familiar with home-based businesses.

  

Open an HSA. A Health Savings Account (HSA) works a bit like your workplace retirement account. There are also some HSA rules and limitations to consider. You are limited to a $3,600 contribution for 2021 if you are single; $7,200 if you have a spouse or family. Those limits jump by a $1,000 “catch-up” limit for each person in the household over age 55.

If you spend your HSA funds for non-medical expenses before age 65, you may be required to pay ordinary income tax as well as a 20% penalty. After age 65, you may be required to pay ordinary income taxes on HSA funds used for nonmedical expenses. HSA contributions are exempt from federal income tax; however, they are not exempt from state taxes in certain states.

 

Review your withholding status. Should it be adjusted due to any of the following factors?

* You tend to pay the federal or state government at the end of each year.

* You tend to get a federal tax refund each year.

* You recently married or divorced.

* You have a new job, and your earnings have been adjusted.

These are general guidelines and are not a replacement for real-life advice. Make certain to consult your tax, human resources, or accounting professional before modifying your withholding status.

 

Did you get married in 2020? If so, it may be an excellent time to consider reviewing the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts and other assets. The same goes for your insurance coverage. If you are preparing to have a new last name in 2021, you may want to get a new Social Security card. Additionally, retirement accounts may need to be revised or adjusted?

 

Consider the tax impact of any upcoming transactions. Are you planning to sell any real estate this year? Are you starting a business? Might any commissions or bonuses come your way in 2021? Do you anticipate selling an investment that is held outside of a tax-deferred account?

 

If you are retired and in your 70s, remember your RMDs. In other words, Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from retirement accounts. Under the SECURE ACT, in most circumstances, once you reach age 72, you must begin taking RMDs from most types of these accounts.

 

Vow to focus on your overall health and practice sound financial habits in 2021. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals who understand your individual situation. Give us a call if you would like to discuss. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management in the Seattle area at 253.509.0395.

 

 

Sources:

https://thefinancebuff.com/401k-403b-ira-contribution-limits.html

https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/iras/articles/what-is-the-secure-act

https://www.irs.gov/publications/p590b

https://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/consumers/2020/11/22/these-tax-laws-charitable-donations-were-changed-help-pandemic/6295115002/

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/tax/09/self-employed-tax-deductions.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/082914/rules-having-health-savings-account-hsa.asp#:~:text=You%20can%20only%20open%20and,as%20a%20catch%2Dup%20contribution.

https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2020/11/29/10-tax-tips-to-take-by-year-end/