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Retirement Planning for Small Businesses

Planning for retirement as a small business owner is important for you and your employees. Small businesses have unique needs. Thankfully, you have various options when it comes to retirement plans and a little bit of exploration can help you find a solution that best fits the needs of you and your employees. 

Some of your retirement plan options include:  

  • SEP IRAs
  • SIMPLE IRAs
  • Traditional or Safe Harbor 401(k)s
  • Profit-sharing plans

Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRAis funded by employer contributions. Benefits for all employees must be uniform (ie: the same percentage of compensation). Contributions are limited to the lesser of either 25% of the employee’s compensation or $55,000 per year. SEP IRAs allow you a relatively low-maintenance way to contribute to your employees’ retirement, and contributions are deductible by the employer for income tax purposes. 

Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA allows for both employer and employee contributions. Employee contributions are limited to $12,500 per year, and employers have to either match up to 3% of employee contributions or contribute 2% of the employee’s salary. 

Like a SIMPLE IRA, a401(k) Plansallow employees to save money in a tax-deferred account for retirement. Traditional 401k plans hold “pre-tax” money, so the money will be taxed when it’s withdrawn from the account for retirement expenses. 401k plans can be set up to allow Roth (or “after-tax”) contributions as well. Employees can contribute a regular amount into the account, straight out of their paycheck. 401k contribution limits are significantly higher than Traditional IRA limits. An employee could defer $18,500 for 2018, plus an additional $6000 if he/she is age 50 or over. Employers can choose to match funds contributed by employees. Keep in mind that 401k plans require a bit more administrative work and legal documentation. A Safe Harbor 401k plan mandates employer contributions. 

Profit-sharing Plangives employees a portion of company profits. Employers have a great deal of latitude when it comes to contributions: employers can give as much as they want (up to the annual contribution limit, which is the lesser of $55,000 per year or 100% of the employee’s compensation) or none at all, depending on the year’s profits. Contributions do have to be distributed proportionately to the employees. The administration of a profit-sharing plan can be burdensome for some employers, depending on the number of participants in the plan. 

There are two major things to consider when selecting a plan: contributions and administration. If you’re considering starting a plan for yourself and your employees, you should discuss your options in detail with your financial advisor and your CPA.  

 

*information adapted from an article written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to GuideStream Financial. 

Life Insurance: Term, Whole & Universal

Buying life insurance is a way for an individual to protect their dependents from unpaid liabilities and uncovered expenses in the event of their own death. The benefits of a life insurance policy can be unclear and may lead to challenges when trying to determine which policy is the best for different situations. In this article, we will examine each of the types of life insurance, what they cover, and when individuals typically use them.

Term vs. Permanent
All life insurance falls under one of two categories: term and permanent. Term life insurance only covers a pre-set amount of time, whereas permanent life insurance can cover the duration of the insured’s life. 

Term Life Insurance
Term life insurance is a policy that lasts for a relatively short period of time—usually 10-20 years—and comes with a death benefit.  Once the term ends, policies can typically be renewed, though usually at a higher cost (because the policyholder is older and inherently comes with higher health risks). Applicants usually need to pass a medical examination to qualify for term life insurance.

Term life insurance is typically the most affordable type of life insurance because it has a limited duration and no cash value that can be accessed. If the policyholder dies within the term, then beneficiaries will get a payment that they can use to cover lost income or to protect themselves from liabilities, such as a mortgage or outstanding personal debt. While this makes term life policies an efficient way to mitigate the biggest financial problems caused by early death, their temporary nature prevents them from being used in most long-term estate plans. 

Whole Life Insurance
Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance that guarantees a death benefit for the duration of the policyholder’s lifetime, provided that all premium payments are made. Due to the lifelong coverage period, this policy is better equipped for estate planning and charitable giving strategies than term life insurance. While most whole life policies feature fixed premiums that will not increase over time, their premiums are much higher than those for term life. This is because whole life insurance both provides a death benefit and accumulates a useable cash value. 

A whole life policy’s cash value can be used to produce dividends for its policyholder (typically at a predetermined rate) or can be borrowed against if the policyholder is in financial need. It is important to note that insurers put restrictions on borrowing against a policy and that any withdrawals will decrease the policy’s cash value.

Universal Life Insurance
Universal life insurance is another type of permanent life insurance that typically acts as a more flexible version of whole life. You are able to choose the length of guaranteed protection and the schedule for premium payments in advance. Both are guaranteed to remain unchanged (unless you choose to change them) so long as the premiums are paid on time and in full. As with whole life insurance, universal life provides both coverage and a cash value, so its premiums will tend to be higher than those for term life. However, universal life insurance policies typically offer more control over their cash value than whole life policies. Universal life insurance policyholders can increase their premiums to boost the policy’s cash value or can use their accumulated value to cover premium payments. To qualify for most universal life insurance plans, individuals must pass a medical exam. 

Variable Life Insurance
Variable life insurance, which is a variation of either whole or universal life insurance, permanently offers a death benefit to a beneficiary in the event of the policyholder’s death. However, variable life insurance offers the ability to change premiums to adjust the amount of coverage. Like other forms of permanent life insurance, variable universal life insurance takes a portion of the premiums and invests them in a tax-deferred account. The investments are allocated in mutual-fund-type accounts and are therefore subject to market volatility, which will likely affect the total cash value of the account.

Insurance can be an important part of a comprehensive financial plan. However, different individuals have varying needs, and no single policy will be most appropriate for everyone. Ask your trusted advisor at GuideStream Financial how a life insurance policy can best be integrated into your financial planning.  

What to Expect With Probate

Probate is the legal process of distributing a deceased person’s estate according to their last will and testament and paying off any debt owed to their creditors. This process typically lasts four to six months but depends largely on the complexity of the will and size of the estate.

Preliminary
In order to begin the process, there must be an individual named as the executor of the will. In many cases, the decedent’s will explicitly appoints an executor. An application must then be submitted with the will and the death certificate in the county in which the decedent lived during the time of death. In some cases, such as an unexpected death, there may be no executor named in the will or no will at all. This would require a court-supervised probate process to appoint one.

Prove validity of the will
Once an executor has been named, they must supply the courts with evidence that the will is valid. In most states, this requires two witnesses, which the law prefers to not be heirs under the will. This ensures the will was made in proper capacity and was done freely. 

Initial hearing 
An initial hearing is a formality to begin the legal process and usually doesn’t require attendance. Formal legal notice must be sent to all beneficiaries named in the will prior to the hearing. This step can lengthen if beneficiaries dispute the executor’s appointment or others included in the will.

Alert creditors
In order to move forward with the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, all debts and liabilities due on the estate must first be paid. This involves alerting all creditors of the decedent’s passing and posting a death notice in the local newspaper for any unknown creditors.

Posting bond
In some cases, executors may be required to post a bond before handling an estate. This is because an executor is considered a fiduciary of the estate and the bond helps prevent fraud or mismanagement of assets. The bail amount will vary depending on the size of the estate and will be returned once the estate is closed without issues.

Evaluating the estate
While the probate is being processed by the courts, a bank account should be opened in the name of the estate. Assets should be gathered and funneled into this bank account so they can be used to pay off any liabilities to creditors. A list of these assets must be provided to the court, which may need to be appraised to determine the value of the estate. Court approval may be needed before selling assets to pay off liabilities.

Distributing assets 
The process of distributing assets to beneficiaries can vary from case to case and may be subject to court approval. Due to potential time constraints, such as money for students currently enrolled in college, the process may need to be expedited.

Dividing assets
For hard assets that can’t be evenly distributed, such as homes and cars, a meeting with family members will determine how the asset with be handled. This commonly results in selling the asset and evenly distributing the proceeds. If an individual wants to take ownership of a hard asset, they must facilitate how to fairly compensate others.

Cost & Timing of Home Remodeling

As with many large purchases, timing matters when remodeling a home. Each season holds advantages for different types of projects based on price and availability.  Consider these tips to take advantage of potential savings:

Fall: Pools, kitchens, and appliances
Though pools and summer are tightly linked, waiting until fall for installation can bring worthwhile savings. With the average cost of installing an in-ground pool at $49,224, those savings may be worth the wait.

Kitchen remodeling is among the most popular renovation projects and can be done at any time of the year. Scheduling this project for the fall capitalizes on a slower season for contractors, which can result in lower labor prices. Also, in terms of convenience, tearing apart the kitchen might be easier once children are back in school. While some kitchen renovations can fall in the $10,000 to $15,000 range, expect closer to the average of $22,530.

Fall can also be an ideal time for purchasing new appliances. In preparation for the holiday shopping season, most manufacturers will introduce their new models in the fall, resulting in sales on previous models. 

Winter: Decks, bathrooms, and air conditioning
Ideally, you’ll want a new deck ready to go once the weather warms up but winter is actually the best time to schedule the preliminary planning and design process. This is a dead season for deck contractors and allows your project to be their top priority once the ground softens in the spring. While the cost of building a new deck varies with size, expect anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000.

Competing with the kitchen for the most popular home renovation is the bathroom. Again, indoor work such as this can be completed at any time of the year, but lower rates are more likely during contractors’ slow winters. This should make it easier to schedule the contractor and may lead to a quicker completion. Homeowners tend to spend an average of $10,167 on a new-look bathroom.

While air conditioning is likely the last thought on most consumers’ minds during the winter, this is the time for big savings on both repairs and replacements. Once spring and summer heatwaves kick in, rates will jump back up. The average cost for an A/C repair is $342, while a replacement is $5,465.

Spring: Windows and flooring
Window replacements become common in summer once homeowners start running the A/C, but getting ahead of the curve will help score a deal on installation. Be on the lookout for window companies offering sales to kick off the season and ideally schedule installation once it warms up to over 50 degrees. Prices vary widely based on home size, amount of windows, and type of windows. The average cost for a single-story home with 10 windows is between $3,000 and $7,000.

Late spring is also a great time to pull the trigger on flooring. Early spring can be busy for flooring companies as homeowners begin spending their tax returns, causing tighter scheduling. May is the sweet spot, being right in between this tax-return season and summer’s peak home buying season. Hardwood flooring averages between eight and $10 per square foot with installation while carpeting averages around $3.50 per square foot with installation.

Summer: Paint, landscaping, and furnaces
Demand for almost every renovation project increases during the summer, but there are still deals to be scored. As high school and college students take a break from the classroom, many of them will look towards the popular student painting services for employment. Student-operated painting crews boast substantial savings compared to the labor of professional crews, which should help trim down the $4,000 average cost of an exterior paint job.

Additionally, landscaping and yard work make the most sense to be completed during the summer when the work will be most visible. Though it may be tough to find any deals with the high demand, long summer days allow for more DIY opportunities to cut costs.

Lastly, like air conditioning in the winter, savings can be found on furnace repair and replacement in the summer. Average furnace repair costs are a little less than A/C, coming in at $287, while replacement costs an average of $4,237.

Jackson:  A Prime Location to Build a Life Around What Matters Most
by Mark Olson

Imagine the benefits if we committed to slowing down long enough to identify what matters the most to us in this lifetime.  

While we are all different, there is a high probability that thoughts related to faith, family and friends would rise to the surface.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has surveyed 100,000 people around the globe since 2011 and asked, “What matters most?”  Significant responses in the developed world emphasized health and work / life balance.   

The Full Frame Initiative is a social change organization that also provides perspectives on what matters most.  Two important elements they highlight are social connectedness and meaningful access to relevant resources.  

Those inputs provide the following cross section of what many of us might include on our list of what matters most.

  • Faith
  • Family 
  • Friends
  • Health
  • Work / life balance
  • Social connectedness
  • Meaningful access to relevant resources

When all these factors are considered, I hope there is a dawning awareness that Jackson County, Michigan, provides a prime location for building a life around what matters most.  The combination of qualities we find here in Jackson County are rare and significant:

  • Uncongested- Did you ever consider putting a value on the daily time you save just getting around Jackson versus any major city?
  • Natural beauty- You can drive two miles to the country and find abundant trees, water and farmland.  Did you know that Jackson County sits on one of the largest aquifers in North America and that there are 133 lakes and 200 miles of river waterways inside our county?  These are ideal places to rise above the urgent and focus on the important!  
  • Diverse faith communities-  There are 162 different congregations ministering throughout the county.
  • Low cost of living- According to demographic expert Bert Sperling’s Best Places database, our total cost of living index is 16% lower than the Michigan average and 26% lower than the national average.  Our median home costs are less than 50% of the national average!
  • Growing business community–  In January, Crain’s Communications featured thriving businesses and highlighted Jackson based Commonwealth Associates, Peak Manufacturing Local Logic Media and TransPharm Preclinical Solutions.
  • Assorted recreational opportunities-  Something for everyone! Did you know that Golf Digest ranked Jackson as the fourth-best area to play golf in the nation? 
  • Ample learning opportunities-  To enhance learning at every stage of life our county has a wide range of excellent public and private educational institutions, including two colleges and one university.
  • Innovative community health- We are fortunate to be served by Henry Ford Allegiance Health and it’s continually advancing capabilities.  Did you know that Allegiance Health founded the Health Improvement Organization (HIO) that connects 30 local agencies in championing a culture of health in our community?  These pioneering efforts are receiving national attention. 

Jackson County also excels in the “meaningful access to relevant resources” category:

  • 45 minutes to all the retail, restaurant, academic and athletic options in Ann Arbor and Lansing.
  • 60 minutes to one of the finest airport terminals in the country with nonstop links to major cities and destinations around the world.
  • 1.3 hours to all the urban, cultural, marine and sporting opportunities in Detroit.
  • 1.8 hours to Lake Michigan.
  • 3.3 hours to Chicago, the nation’s 3rdlargest city.

We would be wise to pause in gratitude and recommit ourselves to leveraging these often-overlooked benefits.  Jackson County is a prime location to build a life around what matters most.

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.

To understand how America saves for retirement, let's examine savings patterns by various cohorts. The following information is taken from "The State of American Retirement" report by the Economic Policy Institute. 

 

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.

Don’t Take Our Word For It

Thoughts from your GuideStream Team

Any professional has a built-in bias for their work due to their passion and understanding of their industry. Ours is no different. However, if we ask everyday people about retirement planning, it is interesting to hear what they share. 

MoneyTips (an online financial forum) recently surveyed retirees about the advice they would give those still working and how retirement has differed from what they expected. We think their answers are insightful and we want to offer a few suggestions as well. 

When asked, “What is the best advice you would give to people planning to retire?” 

36.8% said to “start planning today” o Time is your friend when it comes to money. It is much harder to save later in life which often leads to working longer than planned. 

28.7% said to “save more than you think you need” o General rule of thumb is save 15% of your income. If you have contribution matching from your employer, that is a great way to start earning an instant return on your savings. 

26% said to “take care of your health” o We only get one life and it is easier to keep it healthy than try to get it back once lost. We consider food and exercise an investment equally as important as saving for your retirement. Don’t neglect it. 

Literally, 91.5% of retirees listed one of these 3 pieces of advice as the MOST important thing regarding their FUTURE retirement lives. We agree with them and help clients think about these things. 

Second question was, “What are your biggest miscalculations about retirement?” 

20.9% answered, “how unhealthy I would be” o This is the one area of retirement where it can seriously jeopardize the best prepared plans. Healthcare is a huge expense and unless properly planed for; can financially ruin people. Medicare and Supplemental insurance are key. 

19.4% answered, “how much more I needed to save” o Understanding future cash flows is critical. Social Security should be considered as one piece of your plan, not your entire plan. We help people understand the savings and expected portfolio returns ‘math’ and how it helps fund their retirement. 

14.3% answered, “how bored I would be” o Retirement can be a great time to volunteer, help with grandkids, write about your childhood for your children and grandchildren, teach someone something or learn something new with your spouse. Just get involved doing something you enjoy or find fulfilling. 

10.1% answered, “how much longer I would live” o This is called Longevity Risk and it is real. Advances in medicine continue to improve lives and longevity. If retired at age 67, your life expectance is 85 if male and 87 if female. Many will live into their 90’s, therefore it is best to plan for it. 

Nothing about our future can be predicted with 100% accuracy, however, by understanding what decisions and situations we may face helps us take appropriate action today. That is the true power and value in planning and we recommend having a trusted guide by your side through the journey.

*MoneyTips Retirement Survey Findings January 12, 2018

2017 Market Recap

For nearly all of the 2017 calendar year, major news outlets were consistently publishing articles about the remarkable performance of the stock market. It seemed like every week the Dow Jones Industrial average (DJIA) broke a new threshold or the S&P 500 closed at all-time high.

Now that the calendar has flipped, it is a good time to look back at how major stock market indices performed in 2017 and what it all means for the U.S. and its citizens.

What the stock market is - and what it is not

Before defining what the stock market is comprised of, it is important to note that the performance of stock market indices is not necessarily synonymous with the health of the American economy. Most economists and financial professionals measure the health of an economy based on a variety of factors, including gross domestic product, unemployment rates, and the consumer price index. Though a stock market index can certainly point to the general health of an economy, it is ultimately investors and speculators that dictate stock prices.

In the past, tulip bulbs, beanie babies, and dot-com stocks all saw sudden, dramatic increases in value due to a widespread uptick in demand. In the end, however, these meteoric rises often saw equally significant decreases in valuation once excitement wore off and the reality of the long-term sustainability of the investments set in. 

This is not to say that the growth major indices experienced last year was a fluke. It is important, however, to carefully examine the more tangible aspects of the companies whose stocks saw increases in value - such as debt-to-equity ratio, return on equity, return on assets, and operating margins.

What made the markets newsworthy in 2017?

The DJIA experienced an increase of more than 25 percent from the previous year, its second-best year since the beginning of the Great Recession. There have been only seven instances since 1976 where the DJIA has increased by at least 25 percent in a calendar year. When compared to the historical average of about 7.75 percent growth, the DJIA far outpaced what most investors come to expect from a year's worth of growth. Additionally, the DJIA did not experience a net loss in value in any calendar month in 2017, which had previously never happened. For all intents and purposes, stockholders saw truly remarkable growth in their investments, adding trillions of dollars to the aggregate net worth of Americans.

Who does the stock market affect the most?

The individuals most affected by stock market fluctuations are those who directly own stock - which, according to a Gallup poll released in May 2017, is only about half of American households. A closer examination reveals that stock ownership increases in lockstep with earnings. In 2017, only 21 percent of those making less than $30,000 invested in the stock market. Conversely, 89 percent of individuals making $100,000 or more own stock.
A well-performing stock market is undoubtedly beneficial for those who own stocks, and the resulting effects create positive ripples across the economic landscape of the U.S. Keep in mind that a successful stock market, however, does not offer as significant of a direct benefit to those who have below-average earning power.

Conclusion

America is in the midst of one of the longest bull markets of all time, as the DJIA has risen by about 300 percent since hitting its nadir in March 2009. While history has shown that bull markets eventually fizzle out, investors are enjoying an incredibly lucrative period in the history of the stock market.

 

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Name: GuideStream Financial, Inc.
Phone: 800-325-8975
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