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Archive for financial management

Year-End Financial Checklist

As we near the end of the year, it is time to look back at what has happened and see how it will affect your financial future. Check off these important items so that you can start the new year’s finances with peace of mind.

Review your tax withholdings.
Have you had a major life change (employment change, marriage/divorce, a new child) that affects your income tax? Check to make sure your tax withholdings have been properly adjusted. Having low withholdings can lead to tax penalties, while having too high of withholdings prevents you from accessing your money until your tax return is filed.

Donate to charity as a way to reduce taxes.
You can lower taxable income by 50 or 30 percent with a gift to a public charity or by 30 or 20 percent with a gift to a private foundation. If your gift exceeds these limits, you can roll over the excess deduction for up to five years.

Reduce your estate through gifts. 
You are permitted to give up to $14,000 ($28,000 for married couples) a year per recipient as an untaxed gift. Gifts above this value will consume part of your lifetime gift/estate tax exemption amount ($5,490,000 in 2016). If a gift directly funds education tuition or pays for qualified medical expenses, it will go untaxed no matter what the value.

Check to see when you last rebalanced your portfolio.
Although you don’t need to update your investments every year, many people go far too long without making necessary adjustments as they age. As GuideStream clients, we monitor your account and rebalance your portfolio a minimum of once per year.

If you are retired, make sure you have taken all necessary required minimum distributions (RMDs).
RMDs may be one of the most important items to review when going over your finances at the end of the year. Standard IRAs require these distributions be taken annually after the year you turn 70 ½; standard 401(k)s require them annually after you retire or turn 70 ½ (whichever is earlier). Failure to take an RMD will trigger a 50 percent excise tax on the value of the RMD. At GuideStream, we strive to be proactive in helping our client’s awareness of their RMDs. However, if you ever have questions, please contact us immediately.

Max contributions to an IRA and employer retirement plan for the year.
Both IRAs and 401(k)s have annual contribution limits. If you find you have excess savings and have not reached your annual limit, it may be a good idea to make additional contributions. Similarly, you may also consider making greater monthly contributions to your accounts next year, spreading out the cost of contribution. The deadline for IRA contributions is usually April 15 of the following year, though this may vary; 401(k) deadlines may be restricted to the calendar year, depending on your employer. If you would like to make a contribution, we are always available to help.

Check your flexible savings account (FSA).
The government only permits a $500 annual rollover in an FSA; any excess funds disappear if unused by the end of the year. If you have extra money in your FSA, you may want to schedule necessary medical or dental procedures before the end of the year.

Check your health savings account (HSA).
HSA funds don’t disappear at the end of each year like with an FSA; however, many with few medical needs discover money accumulating in their HSAs much faster than they are using it, which is a good thing.  Consider increasing contributions as this is the only savings option where both contributions and distributions for health related purposes are tax free. 

Consider contributions to a 529 plan to fund your children’s/grandchildren’s education.
529 Plans allow for you to make contributions to a tax-free account that may be used to pay for qualifying secondary education expenses. (Investors should consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses associated with 529 plans before using them. Information about 

How money affects couples

It is no secret that money is a hot-button issue for most couples. Discussing finances can be uncomfortable, and some couples may avoid these conversations altogether. Financial issues may also cause some to avoid marriage entirely as individuals may be worried about sharing debts and assets or justifying their ingrained spending habits to each other. 

Whether you are recently married, celebrating an anniversary, or simply thinking about taking the next step in your romantic (and financial) life, consider these suggestions to the common financial challenges that most couples face.

If you marry your financial opposite
While most people say they want to find a mate that has similar spending habits to their own, what we want and what we choose may be vastly different. Some research suggests that when it comes to spenders and savers, opposites attract. This could be attributed to the fact that we sometimes seek out those who have opposite characteristics of what we find unappealing about ourselves. Regardless of the reason, if you find yourself a spender married to a saver, it can quickly lead to conflict.

On a positive note, compromising on personal spending habits can lead to healthy, moderate spending habits as a couple. By setting common spending goals together and establishing a system for working toward those goals, you can focus on something beyond the everyday sacrifices or splurges you try to avoid. The important thing is to set a clear budget that keeps both of you accountable to something other than each other.

If one of you makes more money 
It would be rare to meet a couple who made the same amount of money; chances are, either you or your spouse are pulling in the larger income. Whether the discrepancy is small or large, a difference in pay could cause tensions in how money is saved, spent, and earned.

It is important to remember, however, that whether you are the higher earning spouse or not, you both ultimately share responsibility for your family. 
Your importance to your family and the role you play in your loved ones’ lives is not completely tethered to your paycheck.

If you enter marriage with a hefty combined debt 
For Millennials, this is becoming more and more common. According to a Federal Reserve Report, approximately 40 percent of adults under the age of 30 have student loan debt, averaging $32,731 per borrower. That means that Millennials may be starting their marriages with about $65,000 in debt, and with the average cost of a wedding exceeding $35,000 in 2016, getting married may put you even further in the hole. 

Unfortunately, this debt burden may be scaring Millennials off from marriage altogether. According to a 2013 survey by the American Student Assistance, 29 percent of Millennials said they have postponed marriage to deal with their student debt. Conversations about debt may range from whether you will pay off your debt separately or together to how much should be spent on a fancy ceremony or new home. By establishing “debt goals,” you can make sure both you and your future spouse are on the same page and that you start your life together with a plan to reduce your loans in the future. 

If your marriage is the victim of financial infidelity
One in three adults who have combined their finances in a relationship admitted to lying about a financial issue, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education. 
While lying about money may be relatively common, these “little” money lies truly do matter; 76 percent of those who lied about a financial issue said that it affected their relationship. To avoid letting financial infidelity get the best of your relationship, it is important to talk with your spouse about what each of you considers financial infidelity. Something that one of you sees as a minor financial setback may sound like a financial disaster to the other. Establishing financial thresholds from the beginning can keep you both aligned on budgeting goals and foster better transparency when setbacks do occur.

If you are reluctant to combine finances 
If your spouse does not want to combine your finances right after your wedding, it may make you feel like they do not trust you. Try to remember that there is no unilateral approach to finances, and there may be practical reasons for keeping your finances separated. If this is the case, one option is to have both joint and separate accounts until you find out which works better in your marriage. If you are hesitant to merge finances, you may find comfort in the fact that there are certain aspects of your financial life that will not merge when you get married. For example, your credit report is yours and yours alone (although if you apply for a home loan or a joint account, both of your scores will be considered).

The most important thing to realize is that disagreements over money are often manifestations of deeper communication struggles. Money represents complex feelings for a lot of people — feelings about power, trust, or self-esteem that may be masked in a fight over your shopping budget for the month. Just recognizing which of these common issues may be causing friction is a key first step in resolving these common interpersonal challenges. The positives of transparent financial communication can impact far more than just your new joint checking account.

Protecting Your Identity


In September, Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus in the United States, announced that the company had been the target of a massive data breach. As a result of the breach, an estimated 143 million Americans have had their information exposed. In light of this massive security issue, here are a few ways you can minimize the risk of having your identity compromised.

Regularly monitor your credit
You can get one free annual credit report from each of the three main credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion). It will likely be wise to space out when you receive the reports from each of the three agencies in order to help you catch any fraudulent activity throughout the year.

Regularly check accounts
Be sure to frequently check your bank statements and other personal information. If possible, enable automatic notifications to be alerted whenever suspicious activity occurs in your accounts.

Use complex passwords
Utilize complex passwords to minimize the possibility of your accounts getting hacked. Additionally, put encryption methods on your mobile device to ensure security in the event of loss or theft.

Utilize anti-virus software
By utilizing anti-virus software, you can better protect yourself from invasive software that can steal your information.

Personal Finance Ratios

There are seemingly countless ways to measure financial health for both individuals and corporations. In earnings reports, companies use complicated calculations and ratios to inform investors—and the general public—regarding the health of their business. However, the average American can use these principles to assess their own financial health.

Personal savings
Formally known as “average propensity to save,” the personal savings ratio is the amount of income saved for an individual or household. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the average saving rate was just under 5 percent for Americans in 2016. Historically, the average savings rate in any given year since 1959 has been about 8.5 percent.

Debt-to-income
As its name would indicate, a debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is the proportion of an individual’s monthly debt payments in relation to his or her gross monthly income. Many lenders use DTI as a primary indicator of worthiness of loans because it gauges the individual’s ability to cover loan payments. Though there is no consistent, unilateral recommended ratio, it is popular convention that a DTI over 40 percent will make it more difficult to secure a loan.

Liquidity
This ratio is used to determine how an individual is able to make ends meet in the event of an emergency. Liquidity is calculated by taking all liquid assets (such as non-qualified accounts and cash) divided by fixed monthly expenses (like debt payments). It is commonly suggested that an individual should have 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in liquid assets.

Debt-to-asset
The debt-to-asset ratio is calculated by taking an individual’s total debt divided by their total assets. Though this ratio is primarily used in relation to a company’s finances, it is used to help lenders understand an individual’s borrowing habits, specifically how much of their net worth is tied up in hard assets.

Keep Reaching For Your Financial Goals

Few things are able to motivate us like self-improvement. However, despite initial enthusiasm, our personal goals can seem like impossible challenges after just a few days.

Financial goals are particularly difficult to accomplish. Spending money is inherent in modern life, and financial goals can easily get lost in other money issues. What’s worse, the feedback from financial goals is blunt and immediate. As soon as we get started, our finances begin to define our success with clear positives and negatives. Financial goals also remember our mistakes. A one-time slip-up, like a costly purchase, can disrupt progress towards a goal for months or even years.

The success of a goal often comes down to the strategies and tools used to support them. However, valuable techniques are often abandoned as soon as a little bit of progress is made. Use some of these steps to help make your goal a reality:

Be reasonable – It’s always important to be realistic; In regards to financial goals, it is essential. If you make your goals too extreme, you set yourself up for frustration and disappointment. It’s better to have an attainable goal you can more easily reach than an impossible goal that discourages you and could lead to giving up on the goal entirely. Once you have a little success, you can raise your expectations.

Set solid milestones and celebrate them – Milestones are a great way to track progress and boost your morale, but you need to make them an important part of your life. If you’ve made it halfway to your goal, celebrate in some way and give yourself a taste of what success will feel like. Stay positive; milestones are meant to show you how far you’ve come, not how far you still have to go.

Find some accountability – Telling someone else about your goals and having them check up on your progress can massively boost your discipline. Even if your confidant only asks for occasional updates, being accountable for your actions can provide a lot of encouragement to stick to your plan.

Automate what you can – Constantly trying to make the right choices can wear down your motivation. Automating your target savings or debt payments can help you avoid the potential mistakes and will allow you to save your energy for other challenges.

Break and build habits – It’s often said that it takes 21 days to break a habit or build a new one. While the psychology isn’t exact, it’s clear that our habits are a lot easier to change than we usually imagine. If you can force yourself to stick to a plan for just three weeks, progress should become much easier.

Limit the number of goals – Reaching goals can be difficult, so don’t try to accomplish several of them simultaneously. Only start one or two financial goals at a time and don’t create new ones until your current efforts have become second nature.

Bend so that you don’t break – Interruptions are inevitable. Much like setting a realistic goal, it’s important to have realistic expectations for your progress. If there is an unavoidable problem, adjust your goal accordingly and keep trying. Don’t give up on a goal just because of an unplanned setback.

Reaching goals is a skill that takes practice and experience. In accomplishing one goal, you learn which strategies work best with your personality. Even when you fail, you’ve learned more about what it takes to reach success. The important thing is being willing to try again.

Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser.

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014-2017 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

The Expert in Anything Was Once A Beginner

-by Caitlin Koppelman-

A few years back, a friend and coworker gave me a print out as a gift to hang in my office. It has this quote on it: “The expert in anything was once a beginner”. When she first gave it to me, I was almost offended by the phrase. I thought to myself, “Oh yeah? Well, maybe that applies to some people, but I’m no beginner. I’m the exception.  I’ve got this!”. I realize now what a lack of maturity that was on my part. You see, my wise friend knew that I’d just taken an important risk in my career. She knew that I’d need the day-by-day encouragement of this little piece of paper to keep me from being afraid to fail. There was only one problem: I hadn’t actually failed at anything …yet. Mostly because I hadn’t really tried.

Those first few weeks, it was easy to slide by – hiding behind other responsibilities in my job, and avoiding those new things I knew would be difficult for me and increase my probability of failure. Eventually it started to bother me: I wasn’t even trying to be the professional I had said I wanted to be. I was hiding. Strangely enough, this fact didn’t seem to bother anyone else. It was clear that I couldn’t wait for others to motivate me beyond the fear of failing. The only solution was to grab some courage, mix it with some integrity, and take a leap!

Risking in private is one thing, but risking with witnesses --- that’s character development. Expertise is gained by repeated practice. Failure is the most common result of practice. It sounds like an unfortunate and bothersome byproduct, but failure builds the character necessary to maintain success. A favorite saying of a colleague of mine is, “it took me 30 years to be an overnight success”.

Risk has rewards. Failure is a sharp tool and though it’s often painful, it’s quite efficient. You can’t avoid it and achieve growth - might as well embrace it and hang on for the ride! Keep others by your side who have also embraced this ability to “fail-forward”. They’ll help you process the failure correctly and remind you to get back up when you feel like giving up. Oh, and it is true, no expert started out that way. 

By the Numbers: Back to School

Summer is winding down, which means school is about to be back in session. Now that both students and parents alike are getting into the scholastic mindset, let’s take a look at a few statistics concerning education in the United States.

Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser.

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014-2017 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

Retiring Early

It seems as if there has been increasing coverage in the media recently regarding early retirement. The prospect of having an extended retirement is incredibly appealing for many Americans.—However, with pensions becoming increasingly less common in the workplace, workers are required to be more autonomous in how they plan for their retirement; for many, the need to bolster self-directed savings makes the prospect of an early retirement seem more like a pipedream than a possibility. Though everyone has varying financial situations and future expectations, here are a few things to keep in mind when working towards your own early retirement.

Create a current household budget
Before you solidify a plan of action for retiring early, you need to take inventory of your current expenses and general spending habits. If your spending habits inhibit you from saving a sizable portion of your earnings in pre-retirement, it will be incredibly difficult to retire early. If possible, try to find ways to cut discretionary expenses and evaluate your saving habits. By developing a budget, you will put yourself in an advantageous situation. In fact, maintaining a household budget will put you in the minority of American adults; according to a Gallup poll, only one in three Americans maintain a detailed household budget.

Forecast future needs
In addition to considering how inflation will affect your budget in the future, it will be wise to also consider that certain costs, such as healthcare, will increase significantly in retirement. When calculating your needs in retirement, be sure to include rising costs and unforeseen expenses. Failure to account for increasing needs could potentially leave you short of cash at a time when you may not be physically fit enough to work the hours required to cover the shortfalls.

Stay disciplined
Cutting out your favorite guilty pleasures in order to save for the future can be difficult, especially when those around you might be going on lavish vacations and buying luxury cars. By saving your money in the meantime and remaining focused on your goal, you will significantly improve the likelihood of being able to retire early.

Consider investing
Though everyone has a different financial situation and tolerance for risk with their money, investing in the stock market has historically produced higher returns over a long timeline than keeping money in a bank. Given low interest rates on most bank accounts, a savings account may not grow your money significantly enough, especially if your retirement plan is predicated on seeing significant growth on your savings. Though investing in the stock market inherently carries risk of potential losses, investing long-term has historically proven beneficial to investors.

Work with your financial professional
In addition to personally taking measures to ensure an early retirement, remember that your trusted financial professional is dedicated to working with you to help achieve your goal. Reach out to your Guidestream Financial, Inc. professional to help you work towards achieving your dream.

Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser.

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014-2017 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

  • June 15, 2017
  • By admin
  • Comments Off on Three Financial Myths and the Straightforward Truth
  • in financial management

Three Financial Myths and the Straightforward Truth

-by Mark Olson-

Mark Olson, MBA, CIMA®
President/COO
GuideStream Financial

A myth is a popular belief that is false or unsupported.  I have observed the following three financial myths and appreciate this opportunity to highlight and counter each one.

Myth #1:   I don’t need a financial plan

The straightforward truth is everyone needs a financial plan.  A financial plan is one of the most powerful yet neglected tools available for managing your resources.

Effective planning defines what matters most.  It answers important questions and provides guidance for decision making.  Appropriate investment allocations naturally roll out of a well-crafted plan.  Byproducts of a thoughtful plan include increased understanding, harmony and a sense of peace.  Who can’t use more of those in their life?

Unfortunately, we all have behavioral tendencies that often keep us from doing what is best.  While most conscientious individuals sincerely intend to focus on the big picture and develop some type of plan in the future, the inertia of the status quo normally prevails.

To increase the probability of acting on your good intentions, get some help.  There is wisdom in listening to and taking good advice.   Identify and contact a qualified, experienced, unconflicted financial planner to begin a conversation and develop a plan.

 

Myth #2:   A competent investment advisor should have the insight to consistently predict the market

The straightforward truth is the most knowledgeable and sophisticated investment advisors humbly acknowledge market timing is not successful over the long term.  They allocate portfolio holdings across the broad range of asset classes.  Those asset classes include non-US developed equities, emerging market equities, US equities, real estate, fixed income and often hedge strategies plus other alternative investments.  Each of these asset classes provide different sources of return which all help capture returns and mitigate risk.

Despite the steady flow of inputs from the media regarding attention-grabbing, timing related investment tactics, disciplined asset allocation remains the wisest approach over the long term.  Thoughtful asset allocation is like the quote about democracy attributed to Winston Churchill. He stated emphatically, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.”  Asset allocation, like democracy, is far from perfect, but over the long term provides an extraordinary way to generate returns and manage risk that surpasses all the other schemes.

 

Myth #3:   Giving decreases wealth

The straightforward truth is giving increases wealth because true wealth is linked with well-being. 

Giving is perhaps the most powerful antidote for the toxic elements of self-indulgence and self-promotion permeating our culture.   Giving is an investment that benefits the giver as much or more than the receiver.  An added dividend for true givers is a dawning awareness of contentment that develops along the way. 

Unfortunately, fear and anxiety often restrict openness to giving opportunities and options.  The long-term solution for increasing the level of giving is to develop a financial plan.  The plan will help clarify values, priorities and giving potential.

 

Conclusion:

To better manage your resources, be a planner, invest in well allocated portfolios that flow out of your plan, and be a giver.  If you embrace those initiatives, you will never regret it and most likely will be surprised by joy along the way.

 

How Americans are Saving for Retirement

Recent estimates indicate that the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of its surplus in 2034. Once this occurs, program payouts are expected to be worth only about 77 percent of current benefits. Unfortunately, one-third of retirees rely on social security payments for at least 90 percent of their retirement income. With social security payouts likely headed for significant reduction, contributing to self-directed retirement accounts is more crucial than ever. Just how are Americans doing when it comes to saving for their future?

How America Saves
According to a TransAmerica Center survey, the typical American expects to retire at 67 but actually ends up retiring five years earlier than anticipated.
A shortened career means less time for earning and saving, as well as more time spent withdrawing from accounts. This further emphasizes how saving for retirement is even more crucial than some Americans might assume.

 

Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser.

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014-2017 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

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Name: GuideStream Financial, Inc.
Phone: 800-325-8975
Fax: 517-750-2752
Address: 8050 Spring Arbor Rd., PO Box 580, Spring Arbor, Michigan 49283