Craig Colley, Author at Coliday | Insurance | Health | Financial - Page 5 of 6
Craig Colley
Author Archives: Craig Colley

How Earnings Affect Social Security

How Earnings Affect Social Security 1

If you begin to receive Social Security retirement (or survivor's) benefits before you reach full retirement age, money you earn over a certain limit will reduce the amount of your Social Security benefit. In 2016, your benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 of earnings in excess of $15,720*

The chart below shows the effect of annual earnings of $10,000, $20,000, and $30,000 on a $12,000 annual Social Security benefit ($1,000 monthly) for someone who hasn't yet reached full retirement age.

Source:  Social Security Administration, 2015

*Special rules apply in both the year you reach full retirement age and the year you retire if you have not reached full retirement age. If you are interested in learning when is the best time to apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits please call us at 949-216-8459 to set up a complimentary appointment to review your situation.

Four Common Questions About Social Security 4

As you near retirement, it's likely you'll have many questions about Social Security. Here are a few of the most common questions and answers about Social Security benefits.

Will Social Security be around when you need it?

You've probably heard media reports about the worrisome financial condition of Social Security, but how heavily should you weigh this information when deciding when to begin receiving benefits? While it's very likely that some changes will be made to Social Security (e.g., payroll taxes may increase or benefits may be reduced by a certain percentage), there's no need to base your decision about when to apply for benefits on this information alone. Although no one knows for certain what will happen, if you're within a few years of retirement, it's probable that you'll receive the benefits you've been expecting all along. If you're still a long way from retirement, it may be wise to consider various scenarios when planning for Social Security income, but keep in mind that there's been no proposal to eliminate Social Security.

If you're divorced, can you receive Social Security retirement benefits based on your former spouse's earnings record?

You may be able to receive benefits based on an ex-spouse's earnings record if you were married at least 10 years, you're currently unmarried, and you're not entitled to a higher benefit based on your own earnings record. You can apply for a reduced spousal benefit as early as age 62 or wait until your full retirement age to receive an unreduced spousal benefit. If you've been divorced for more than two years, you can apply as soon as your ex-spouse becomes eligible for benefits, even if he or she hasn't started receiving them (assuming you're at least 62). However, if you've been divorced for less than two years, you must wait to apply for benefits based on your ex-spouse's earnings record until he or she starts receiving benefits.

If you delay receiving Social Security benefits, should you still sign up for Medicare at age 65?

Even if you plan on waiting until full retirement age or later to take your Social Security retirement benefits, make sure to sign up for Medicare. If you're 65 or older and aren't yet receiving Social Security benefits, you won't be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B.

You can sign up for Medicare when you first become eligible during your seven-month Initial Enrollment Period. This period begins three months before the month you turn 65, includes the month you turn 65, and ends three months after the month you turn 65.

The Social Security Administration recommends contacting them to sign up three months before you reach age 65, because signing up early helps you avoid a delay in coverage. For your Medicare coverage to begin during the month you turn 65, you must sign up during the first three months before the month you turn 65 (the day your coverage will start depends on your birthday). If you enroll later, the start date of your coverage will be delayed. If you don't enroll during your Initial Enrollment Period, you may pay a higher premium for Part B coverage later. Visit the Medicare website, www.medicare.gov to learn more or call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.

Will a retirement pension affect your Social Security benefit?

If your pension is from a job where you paid Social Security taxes, then it won't affect your Social Security benefit. However, if your pension is from a job where you did not pay Social Security taxes (such as certain government jobs) two special provisions may apply.

The first provision, called the government pension offset (GPO), may apply if you're entitled to receive a government pension as well as Social Security spousal retirement or survivor's benefits based on your spouse's (or former spouse's) earnings. Under this provision, your spousal or survivor's benefit may be reduced by two-thirds of your government pension (some exceptions apply).

The windfall elimination provision (WEP) affects how your Social Security retirement or disability benefit is figured if you receive a pension from work not covered by Social Security. The formula used to figure your benefit is modified, resulting in a lower Social Security benefit.5


1 4 5 Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016.2  http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/jack-olantern-history/interactives/halloween-by-the-numbers 3 http://www.recipeboy.com/2014/09/nutella-cheesecake-pumpkin-bread/ 6 http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving  5 gradientfinancialgroup.com Newsletter  Insurance products and services are offered through Craig Colley | Coliday and is not affiliated with Gradient Securities, LLC. Some of these materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Time to Get Focused

Nearing Retirement? Time to Get Focused 1

If you're within 10 years of retirement, you've probably spent some time thinking about this major life change. The transition to retirement can seem a bit daunting, even overwhelming. If you find yourself wondering where to begin, the following points may help you focus.

Reassess your living expenses

A step you will probably take several times between now and retirement--and maybe several more times thereafter--is thinking about how your living expenses could or should change. For example, while commuting and dry cleaning costs may decrease, other budget items such as travel and health care may rise. Try to estimate what your monthly expense budget will look like in the first few years after you stop working. And then continue to reassess this budget as your vision of retirement becomes reality.

Consider all your income sources

Next, review all your possible sources of income. Chances are you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan and maybe an IRA or two. Try to estimate how much they could provide on a monthly basis. If you are married, be sure to include your spouse's retirement accounts as well. If your employer provides a traditional pension plan, contact the plan administrator for an estimate of your monthly benefit amount. >>>

Do you have rental income? Be sure to include that in your calculations. Is there a chance you may continue working in some capacity? Often retirees find they are able to consult, turn a hobby into an income source, or work part-time. Such income can provide a valuable cushion that helps retirees postpone tapping their investment accounts, giving them more time to potentially grow.

Finally, don't forget Social Security. You can get an estimate of your retirement benefit at the Social Security Administration's website, ssa.gov. You can also sign up for a my Social Security account to view your online Social Security Statement, which contains a detailed record of your earnings and estimates of retirement, survivor, and disability benefits.

Manage taxes

As you think about your income strategy, also consider ways to help minimize taxes in retirement. Would it be better to tap taxable or tax-deferred accounts first? Would part-time work result in taxable Social Security benefits? What about state and local taxes? A qualified tax professional can help you develop an appropriate strategy. 

Pay off debt, power up your savings

Once you have an idea of what your possible expenses and income look like, it's time to bring your attention back to the here and now. Draw up a plan to pay off debt and power up your retirement savings before you retire.

Why pay off debt? Entering retirement debt-free--including paying off your mortgage--will put you in a position to modify your monthly expenses in retirement if the need arises. On the other hand, entering retirement with mortgage, loan, and credit card balances will put you at the mercy of those monthly payments. You'll have less of an opportunity to scale back your spending if necessary.

Why power up your savings? In these final few years before retirement, you're likely to be earning the highest salary of your career. Why not save and invest as much as you can in your employer-sponsored retirement savings plan and/or your IRAs? Aim for the maximum allowable contributions.

And remember, if you're 50 or older, you can take advantage of catch-up contributions, which allow you to contribute an additional $6,000 to your employer-sponsored plan and an extra $1,000 to your IRA in 2016.

Account for health care

Finally, health care should get special attention as you plan the transition to retirement. As you age, the portion of your budget consumed by health-related costs will likely increase. Although Medicare will cover a portion of your medical costs, you'll still have deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. Unless you're prepared to pay for these costs out of pocket, you may want to purchase a supplemental insurance policy.

In 2015, the Employee Benefit Research Institute reported that the average 65-year-old married couple would need $213,000 in savings to have at least a 75% chance of meeting their insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health care costs in retirement. And that doesn't include the cost of long-term care, which Medicare does not cover and can vary substantially depending on where you live. For this reason, you might consider a long-term care insurance policy.

4 Ways to Get Rid of Debt 3

It’s no secret that America runs on debt. The amount of outstanding consumer debt as of August last year stood at $3.25 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. And according to a 2012 Experian report, Baby Boomers’ average total debt was $101,951, and those over 66 had a total debt of $38,043.

Even if your debt load is less than the average, it can still feel overwhelming, especially if you’re on fixed income. But help is here. The strategies below can get you on the road to being debt-free fast.

1. Credit card balance

A great way to increase your monthly payments is by transferring your balance to a card with a lower interest rate (so more of your money goes toward your actual balance rather than the interest charges).

2. Mortgage

Unlike other kinds of debt like from credit cards or a car loan, mortgage debt is not necessarily bad to have since you get a tax deduction on the interest you pay and hopefully will one day be able to sell your house at a profit. Of course, refinancing into a lower rate can be a good way to pay off your mortgage faster, but pay attention to the loan term—the shorter it is, the more you save.

3. Hospital/medical bills

Before you even try to pay your bill, check to make sure the fees are correct and reasonable. Always ask for an itemized bill, and challenge anything that doesn’t look right.

4. Student loans

If you’re among the growing number of seniors with federal student loans—student loan debt for seniors rose from $2.8 billion in 2005 to $18.2 billion in 2013, according to the Government Accountability Office—asking for a repayment plan that is income-based could make things more manageable (though you may pay more in total than you would with a standard 10-year repayment plan).5

1Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015. 2http://food52.com/blog/16084-7-types-of-fruit-trees-you-can-grow-in-your-living-room 3  http://www.grandparents.com/money-and-work/family-finance/get-out-of-debt4 http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/berry-lemonade-recipe.html If company does not provide tax planning services, add the following disclosure: CompanyName does not provide tax or legal advice. Please consult a qualified professional for assistance with any tax or legal issues. Coliday / Craig Colley is not affiliated or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any government agency. 5 gradientfinancialgroup.com Newsletter  Insurance products and services are offered through Craig Colley | Coliday and is not affiliated with Gradient Securities, LLC. Some of these materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Bridging the Gap

Resolving Projected Income Shortfalls: Bridging the Gap  1

What is a projected income shortfall?

When you determine your retirement income needs, you make your projections based on the type of lifestyle you plan to have and the desired timing of your retirement. However, you may find that reality is not in sync with your projections and it looks like your retirement income will be insufficient for the rate you plan to spend it. This is called a projected income shortfall. If you find yourself in such a situation, finding the best solution will depend on several factors, including the following:

  • The severity of your projected shortfall
  • The length of time remaining before retirement
  • How long you need your retirement income to last

Several methods of coping with projected income shortfalls are described in the following sections.

Delay retirement

One way of dealing with a projected income shortfall is to stay in the workforce longer than you had planned. This will allow you to continue supporting yourself with a salary rather than dipping into your retirement savings.

What it means

Delaying your retirement could mean that you continue to work longer than you had originally planned. Or it might mean finding a new full- or part-time job and living off the income from this job. By doing so, you can delay taking Social Security benefits or distributions from retirement accounts. The longer you delay tapping into these sources, the longer the money will last when you do begin taking it.

While you might hesitate to start on a new career path late in life, there may actually be certain unique opportunities that would not have been available earlier in life. For example, you might consider entering the consulting field, based on the expertise you have gained through a lifetime of employment. This decision may involve tax issues, so it may be beneficial to review its tax impact with a tax professional.

Effect on Social Security benefits

The Social Security Administration has set a "normal retirement age" which varies between 65 and 67, depending on your date of birth. You can elect to receive Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but if you begin receiving benefits before your normal retirement age, your benefits will be decreased. Conversely, if you elect to delay retirement, you can increase your annual Social Security benefits. There are two reasons for this. First, each additional year that you work adds an additional year of earnings to your Social Security record, resulting in potentially higher retirement benefits. Second, the Social Security Administration gives you a credit for each month you delay retirement, up to age 70.

Effect on IRA and employer-sponsored retirement plan distributions

The longer you delay retirement, the longer you can contribute to your IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan. However, if you have a traditional IRA, you must start taking required minimum distributions (and stop contributing) when you reach age 70½. If you fail to take the minimum distribution, you will be subject to a 50 percent penalty on the amount that should have been distributed. If you have a Roth IRA, you are not required to take any distributions while you are alive, and you can continue to make contributions after age 70½ if you are still working. Minimum distribution rules do not apply to money in qualified retirement plans until you reach age 70½ or retire (whichever occurs later), unless you own 5 percent or more of your employer. >

Save more money

You may be able to deal with projected retirement income shortfalls by adjusting your spending habits, thus allowing you to save more money for retirement. Depending on how many years you have before retirement, you may be able to get by with only minor changes to your spending habits. However, if retirement is fast approaching, drastic changes may be needed.

Make major changes to your spending pattern

If you expect to fall far short of your retirement income needs or if retirement is only a few years away, you may need to change your spending patterns drastically to save enough to cover the shortfall.

You should create a written budget so you can easily see where your money goes and where you can reduce your spending. The following are some suggested changes you may choose to implement:

  • Consolidate your loans to reduce your interest rate and/or monthly payment. Consider using home equity financing for this purpose.
  • Reduce your housing expenses by moving to a less expensive home or apartment.
  • Sell your second car, especially if it is only used occasionally.

Make minor changes to your spending patterns

Minor changes can also make a difference. You'd be surprised how quickly your savings add up when you implement several small changes to your spending patterns. The following are several areas you might consider when adjusting your spending patterns:

  • Consider buying a well-maintained used car instead of a new car.
  • Get books and movies from your local library instead of buying or renting them.
  • Plan your expenditures and avoid impulse buying.

Continue saving during your retirement

Don't think of your retirement date as your deadline for saving. Instead, continue to save money throughout your retirement years. Saving may become more difficult after retirement as a result of reduced income and potentially increased medical expenses. Putting away just a little each month can make a significant difference in how long your money will last.

Note that some of the powerful tax-deferred savings vehicles you took advantage of while working may no longer be available to you during retirement. To participate in a 401(k), for example, you must be employed by a company that offers such a plan and must meet the employer's eligibility requirements (e.g., length of service). IRAs only allow you to contribute earned income (i.e., job earnings) and generally don't permit any contributions after age 70½ (except in the case of Roth IRAs).

Re-evaluate your standard of living in retirement

If your projected income shortfall is severe enough or if time is too tight, you may realize that no matter what measures you take, you will not be able to afford the lifestyle you want during your retirement years. You may simply have to accept the fact that your retirement will not be the jet-setting, luxurious, permanent vacation you had envisioned. Recognize the difference between the things you want and the things you need and you'll have an easier time deciding where you can make adjustments. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Reduce your housing expectations
  • Cut down on travel plans
  • Consider a less expensive automobile
  • Lower household expenses

How much money should I keep in a savings account for emergencies?

Answer: You might consider putting away three to six months' worth of living expenses for emergencies. If you lose your job, or become disabled and don't have adequate disability insurance, you'll need that money to pay your regular monthly expenses, such as mortgage payments, insurance premiums, groceries, and car payments, until you can find another job. Similarly, if your car breaks down or your spouse has a medical emergency, you'll want to have the necessary cash to pay the bills. You don't want to be faced with an immediate need for cash, only to discover that you don't have any.

You may have already set up an emergency fund. Did you put the cash in a five-year certificate of deposit (CD) or other long-term investment? In an emergency, you will need to get at those funds immediately. You can certainly pull your money out of the CD early, but you'll pay a penalty. It's better to keep some funds more liquid, in a traditional savings account, a money market deposit account, or a six-month CD, for example. That way, the cash will be readily available when you need it.

Finally, keep your emergency fund separate from your everyday accounts. You might even want to use a different bank. Unless you are extremely disciplined, you'll be tempted to spend those extra funds if you keep them in your checking account. Remember, if you can put off an expense until next week, it is probably not an emergency.5


1 3Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015. 2 http://www.womansday.com/home/organizing-cleaning/tips/a109/100-ways-to-get-organized 4 http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/quinoa-salad-recipe0.html  5 gradientfinancialgroup.com Newsletter  Insurance products and services are offered through Craig Colley | Coliday and is not affiliated with Gradient Securities, LLC. Some of these materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

 

Which Birthdays Are Financial Milestones?

Quiz: Which Birthdays Are Financial Milestones?  4

When it comes to your finances, some birthdays are more important than others. Take this quiz to see if you can identify the ages that might trigger financial changes.

Questions

1. Eligibility for Medicare coverage begins at what age?

a. 62

b. 65

c. 66

2. A child can stay on a parent's health insurance plan until what age?

a. 18

b. 21

c. 26

3. At this age individuals who are making contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA or an employer-sponsored retirement plan can begin making "catch-up" contributions.

a. 50

b. 55

c. 60

d. 66

4. This age is most often associated with drops in auto insurance premiums.

a. 18

b. 25

c. 40

d. 50

5. Individuals who have contributed enough to Social Security to qualify for retirement benefits become eligible to begin collecting reduced benefits starting at what age?

a. 62

b. 65

c. 66

d. 70

Quiz Answers

1. b. 65. Medicare eligibility begins at age 65, although people with certain conditions or disabilities may be able to enroll at a younger age. You'll be automatically enrolled in Medicare when you turn 65 if you're already receiving Social Security benefits, or you can sign up on your own if you meet eligibility requirements.

2. c. 26. Under the Affordable Care Act, a child may retain his or her status as a dependent on a parent's health insurance plan until age 26. If your child is covered by your employer-based plan, coverage will typically end during the month of your child's 26th birthday. Check with the plan or your employer to find out exactly when coverage ends.

3. a. 50. If you're 50 or older, you may be able to make contributions to your IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan above the normal contribution limit. These "catch-up" contributions are designed to help you make up a retirement savings shortfall by bumping up the amount you can save in the years leading up to retirement. If you participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, check plan rules--not all plans allow catch-up contributions.

4. b. 25. By age 25, drivers generally see their premiums decrease because, statistically, drivers younger than this age have higher accident rates. Gaining experience and maintaining a clean driving record should lead to lower premiums over time. However, there's no age when auto insurance rates automatically drop because rates are based on many factors, including type of vehicle and claims history, and vary by state and insurer; each individual's situation is unique.

5. a. 62. You can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, your benefits will be reduced by as much as 30% below what you would have received if you had waited until your full retirement age (66 to 67, depending on your year of birth).5


1 3 4Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015. 5 gradientfinancialgroup.com Newsletter  Insurance products and services are offered through Craig Colley | Coliday and is not affiliated with Gradient Securities, LLC. Some of these materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Changes to Social Security Claiming Strategies

Changes to Social Security Claiming Strategies  1

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 included a section titled "Closure of Unintended Loopholes" that ends two Social Security claiming strategies that have become increasingly popular over the last several years. These two strategies, known as "file and suspend" and "restricted application" for a spousal benefit, have often been used to optimize Social Security income for married couples.

If you have not yet filed for Social Security, it's important to understand how these new rules could affect your retirement strategy. Depending on your age, you may still be able to take advantage of the expiring claiming options. The changes should not affect current Social Security beneficiaries and do not apply to survivor benefits.

File and suspend

Under the previous rules, an individual who had reached full retirement age could file for retired worker benefits--typically to enable a spouse to file for spousal benefits--and then suspend his or her benefit. By doing so, the individual would earn delayed retirement credits (up to 8% annually) and claim a higher worker benefit at a later date, up to age 70. Meanwhile, his or her spouse could be receiving spousal benefits. For some married couples, especially those with dual incomes, this strategy increased their total combined lifetime benefits.

Under the new rules, which are effective as of April 30, 2016, a worker who reaches full retirement age can still file and suspend, but no one can collect benefits on the worker's earnings record during the suspension period. This strategy effectively ends the file-and-suspend strategy for couples and families.

The new rules also mean that a worker cannot later request a retroactive lump-sum payment for the entire period during which benefits were suspended. (This previously available claiming option was helpful to someone who faced a change of circumstances, such as a serious illness.)

Tip: If you are age 66 or older before the new rules take effect, you may still be able to take advantage of the combined file-and-suspend and spousal/dependent filing strategy.

Restricted application

Under the previous rules, a married person who had reached full retirement age could file a "restricted application" for spousal benefits after the other spouse had filed for Social Security worker benefits. This allowed the individual to collect spousal benefits while earning delayed retirement credits on his or her own work record. In combination with the file-and-suspend option, this enabled both spouses to earn delayed retirement credits while one spouse received a spousal benefit, a type of "double dipping" that was not intended by the original legislation.

Under the new rules, an individual eligible for both a spousal benefit and a worker benefit will be "deemed" to be filing for whichever benefit is higher and will not be able to change from one to the other later.

Tip: If you reached age 62 before the end of December 2015, you are grandfathered under the old rules. If your spouse has filed for Social Security worker benefits, you can still file a restricted application for spouse-only benefits at full retirement age and claim your own worker benefit at a later date.

Basic Social Security claiming options remain unchanged. You can file for a permanently reduced benefit starting at age 62, receive your full benefit at full retirement age, or postpone filing for benefits and earn delayed retirement credits, up to age 70.

Although some claiming options are going away, plenty of planning opportunities remain, and you may benefit from taking the time to make an informed decision about when to file for Social Security.

Call us at 949-216-8459 to request your personalized Social Security Report. Even if we have provided you with a report in the past these changes may impact the outcome of that report!

What Are ​Required Minimum Distributions3

Traditional IRAs and employer retirement plans such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s offer several tax advantages, including the ability to defer income taxes on both contributions and earnings until they're distributed from the plan.

But, unfortunately, you can't keep your money in these retirement accounts forever. The law requires that you begin taking distributions, called "required minimum distributions" or RMDs, when you reach age 70½ (or in some cases, when you retire), whether you need the money or not. (Minimum distributions are not required from Roth IRAs during your lifetime.)

Your IRA trustee or custodian must either tell you the required amount each year or offer to calculate it for you. For an employer plan, the plan administrator will generally calculate the RMD. But you're ultimately responsible for determining the correct amount. It's easy to do. The IRS, in Publication 590-B, provides a chart called the Uniform Lifetime Table. In most cases, you simply find the distribution period for your age and then divide your account balance as of the end of the prior year by the distribution period to arrive at your RMD for the year.

For example, if you turn 76 in 2016, your distribution period under the Uniform Lifetime Table is 22 years. You divide your account balance as of December 31, 2015, by 22 to arrive at your RMD for 2016.

The only exception is if you're married and your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you. If this special situation applies, use IRS Table II (also found in Publication 590-B) instead of the Uniform Lifetime Table. Table II provides a distribution period that's based on the joint life expectancy of you and your spouse.

Remember, you can always withdraw more than the required amount, but if you withdraw less you will be hit with a penalty tax equal to 50% of the amount you failed to withdraw.6

1 3 4Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015.
2
http://mentalfloss.com/article/55599/15-delightful-facts-about-saint-patricks-day 5 http://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/bacon-and-cheese-quiche/19288cf4-0cdc-46cc-bc86-4c9bfa799695 
6 gradientfinancialgroup.com Newsletter  Insurance products and services are offered through Craig Colley | Coliday and is not affiliated with Gradient Securities, LLC. Some of these materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Give Your Retirement Plan an Annual Checkup

Give Your Retirement Plan an Annual Checkup  1

At Coliday Insurance, Health & Financial, we recommend that you review your retirement savings plan annually and when major life changes occur. If you haven’t already revisited your plan, the beginning of a new year may be the ideal time to do so.

Re-examine your risk tolerance

This past year saw moments that would try even the most resilient investor's resolve. When you hear media reports about stock market volatility, is your immediate reaction to consider selling some of the stock investments in your plan? If that's the case, you might begin your annual review by re-examining your risk tolerance.

Risk tolerance refers to how well you can ride out fluctuations in the value of your investments while pursuing your long-term goals. An assessment of your risk tolerance considers, among other factors, your investment time horizon, your accumulation goal, and assets you may have outside of your plan account. Your retirement plan's educational materials likely include tools to help you evaluate your risk tolerance, typically worksheets that ask a series of questions. After answering the questions, you will likely be assigned a risk tolerance ranking from conservative to aggressive. In addition, suggested asset allocations are often provided for consideration.

Have you experienced any life changes?

Since your last retirement plan review, did you get married or divorced, buy or sell a house, have a baby, or send a child to college? Perhaps you or your spouse changed jobs, received a promotion, or left the workforce entirely. Has someone in your family experienced a change in health? Or maybe you inherited a sum of money that has had a material impact on your net worth. Any of these situations can affect both your current and future financial situation.

In addition, if your marital situation has changed, you may want to review the beneficiary designations in your plan account to make sure they reflect your current wishes. With many employer-sponsored plans, your spouse is automatically your plan beneficiary unless he or she waives that right in writing.

Re-assess your retirement income needs

After you evaluate your risk tolerance and consider any life changes, you may want to take another look at the future. Have your dreams for retirement changed at all? And if so, will those changes affect how much money you will need to live on? Maybe you've reconsidered plans to relocate or travel extensively, or now plan to start a business or work part-time during retirement.

All of these factors can affect your retirement income needs, which in turn affects how much you need to save and how you invest today.

Is your asset allocation still on track?

Once you have assessed your current situation related to your risk tolerance, life changes, and retirement income needs, a good next step is to revisit the asset allocation in your plan. Is your investment mix still appropriate? Should you aim for a higher or lower percentage of aggressive investments, such as stocks? Or maybe your original target is still on track, but your portfolio calls for a little rebalancing.

There are two ways to rebalance your retirement plan portfolio. The quickest way is to sell investments in which you are over-weighted and invest the proceeds in under-weighted assets until you hit your target. For example, if your target allocation is 75% stocks, 20% bonds, and 5% cash but your current allocation is 80% stocks, 15% bonds, and 5% cash, then you'd likely sell some stock investments and invest the proceeds in bonds. Another way to rebalance is to direct new investments into the under-weighted assets until the target is achieved. In the example above, you would direct new money into bond investments until you reach your 75/20/5 target allocation.

Revisit your plan rules and features

Finally, an annual review is also a good time to take a fresh look at your employer-sponsored plan documents and plan features. For example, if your plan offers a Roth account and you haven't investigated its potential benefits, you might consider whether directing a portion of your contributions into it might be a good idea. Also consider how much you're contributing in relation to plan maximums. Could you add a little more each pay period? If you're 50 or older, you might also review the rules for catch-up contributions, which allow those approaching retirement to contribute more than younger employees.

Although it's generally not a good idea to monitor your employer-sponsored retirement plan on a daily, or even monthly, basis, it's important to take a look at least once a year. With a little annual maintenance, you can help your plan keep working for you.

Organizing Important Records and Documents 3

A record keeping system is a systematic approach to retaining and filing documents in a way that makes them easy to find when needed, even if it's several years later. Record keeping systems range from simple to elaborate and from basic to comprehensive. The ideal system is designed to fit your personal and family situation and lifestyle.

Some record keeping is mandatory; good record keeping is important

The most important thing to know about record keeping is that doing it well will save you a lot of time and money during your lifetime. Conversely, poor record keeping is sure to cost you in terms of money, time, and aggravation, perhaps dearly. For instance, assuming that you've been generally honest with the IRS, the only reason to fear a tax audit is that your records are incomplete or in disarray. If so, the IRS could find that you owe more tax than you paid. Insurance and legal claims frequently require supporting documents as well.

Record keeping is also important for estate planning purposes. After you pass away, your family and the executor of your estate will be grateful to find your records complete and in a meaningful order.

It is up to you to decide what your record keeping system will include

The items you decide to retain in your record keeping system will depend on several factors, including:

  • Your personal and family situation
  • The nature of your assets and investments
  • Your household's number and type of income sources
  • Your tolerance for risk
  • The time you'll realistically devote to keeping records systematically

In addition to financial documents, you'll probably want your system to retain other types of important documents, such as insurance policies; health and employment records; property titles; certificates of birth, death, and citizenship; and product and service guarantees. Today, it is also common to videotape personal property for potential use as evidence in an insurance claim.

Create a record keeping system that works best for you

If throwing all your receipts, bills, and paycheck stubs into the proverbial shoe box until tax time is the best you can manage, then it will have to do. However, devising a systematic approach to retaining and filing your important documents will bring rewards you will appreciate in the future. If you can find little time for record keeping, then a simple system may be the answer. On the other hand, a more complex system that retains and files all potentially necessary documents on a weekly or monthly basis assures that when a need arises, you'll be able to retrieve whatever you need promptly and without fuss. You might view this as pay now or pay later.5

When it comes to a safe and secure method of storing your documents and records, we have the solution! Generational Vault is a virtual safe deposit box that allows you to store your important files, pictures and other items. Additionally, the Vault offers a comprehensive view of your financial picture. Better yet, your stored data is accessible anywhere you have an Internet connection – 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Call our office at 949-216-8459.


1 3Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015.
2
http://list25.com/25-interesting-facts-valentines-day/  4 http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/cocoa-brownies-recipe.html?oc=linkback

 5 gradientfinancialgroup.com Newsletter  Insurance products and services are offered through Craig Colley | Coliday and is not affiliated with Gradient Securities, LLC. Some of these materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these 
materials may change at any time and without notice.


Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft  1

Whether they're snatching your purse, diving into your dumpster, stealing your mail, or hacking into your computer, they're out to get you. Who are they? Identity thieves.

Identity thieves can empty your bank account, max out your credit cards, open new accounts in your name, and purchase furniture, cars, and even homes using your credit history. If they give your personal information to the police during an arrest and then don't show up for a court date, you may be subsequently arrested and jailed.

And what will you get for their efforts? You'll get the headache and expense of cleaning up the mess they leave behind.

You may never be able to completely prevent your identity from being stolen, but here are some steps you can take to help protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Check yourself out
It's important to review your credit report periodically. Check to make sure that all the information contained in it is correct, and be on the lookout for any fraudulent activity.

You may get your credit report for free once a year. To do so, visit www.annualcreditreport.com.

If you need to correct any information or dispute any entries, contact the three national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Secure your number
Your most important personal identifier is your Social Security number (SSN). Guard it carefully. Never carry your Social Security card with you unless you'll need it. The same goes for other forms of identification (for example, health insurance cards) that display your SSN. If your state uses your SSN as your driver's license number, request an alternate number. Don't have your SSN preprinted on your checks, and don't let merchants write it on your checks.

Don't give it out over the phone unless you initiate the call to an organization you trust. Ask the three major credit reporting agencies to truncate it on your credit reports. Try to avoid listing it on employment applications; offer instead to provide it during a job interview.

Don't leave home with it

Most of us carry our checkbooks and credit cards, debit cards, and telephone cards with us all the time. That's a bad idea; if your wallet or purse is stolen, the thief will have a treasure chest of new toys to play with.

Carry only the cards and/or checks you'll need for any one trip. And keep a written record of all your account numbers, credit card expiration dates, and the telephone numbers of the customer service and fraud departments in a secure place--at home.

Keep your receipts

When you make a purchase with a credit or debit card, you're given a receipt. Don't throw it away or leave it behind; it may contain your credit or debit card number. And don't leave it in the shopping bag inside your car while you continue shopping; if your car is broken into and the item you bought is stolen, your identity may be as well.

Save your receipts until you can check them against your monthly credit card and bank statements and watch your statements for purchases you didn't make.

When you toss it, shred it

Before you throw out any financial records such as credit or debit card receipts and statements, cancelled checks, or even offers for credit you receive in the mail, shred the documents, preferably with a cross-cut shredder. If you don't, you may find the panhandler going through your dumpster was looking for more than discarded leftovers.

Keep a low profile

The more your personal information is available to others, the more likely you are to be victimized by identity theft. While you don't need to become a hermit in a cave, there are steps you can take to help minimize your exposure:

  • To stop telephone calls from national telemarketers, list your telephone number with the Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call Registry by registering online at www.donotcall.gov
  • To remove your name from most national mailing and e-mailing lists, as well as most telemarketing lists register online with the Direct Marketing Association at www.dmachoice.org
  • To remove your name from marketing lists prepared by the three national consumer reporting agencies, register online at www.optoutprescreen.com
  • When given the opportunity to do so by your bank, investment firm, insurance company, and credit card companies, opt out of allowing them to share your financial information with other organizations
  • You may even want to consider having your name and address removed from the telephone book and reverse directories

Take a byte out of crime

Whatever else you may want your computer to do, you don't want it to inadvertently reveal your personal information to others. Take steps to help assure that this won't happen.

Install a firewall to prevent hackers from obtaining information from your hard drive or hijacking your computer to use it for committing other crimes. This is especially important if you use a high-speed connection that leaves you continuously connected to the Internet. Moreover, install virus protection software and update it on a regular basis.

Try to avoid storing personal and financial information on a laptop; if it's stolen, the thief may obtain more than your computer. If you must store such information on your laptop, make things as difficult as possible for a thief by protecting these files with a strong password--one that's six to eight characters long, and that contains letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols.

"If a stranger calls don't answer." Opening e-mails from people you don't know, especially if you download attached files or click on hyperlinks within the message, can expose you to viruses, infect your computer with "spyware" that captures information by recording your keystrokes, or lead you to "spoofs" (websites that replicate legitimate business sites) designed to trick you into revealing personal information that can be used to steal your identity.

If you wish to visit a business's legitimate website, use your stored bookmark or type the URL address directly into the browser. If you provide personal or financial information about yourself over the Internet, do so only at secure websites; to determine if a site is secure, look for a URL that begins with "https" (instead of "http") or a lock icon on the browser's status bar.


And when it comes time to upgrade to a new computer, remove all your personal information from the old one before you dispose of it. Using the "delete" function isn't sufficient to do the job; overwrite the hard drive by using a "wipe" utility program. The minimal cost of investing in this software may save you from being wiped out later by an identity thief.5

1 3Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015.
2http://www.newsday.com/news/nation/top-10-new-year-s-resolutions-for-2015-and-how-to-keep-them-1.9753461 
5 gradientfinancialgroup.com Newsletter  
Insurance products and services are offered through Craig Colley | Coliday and is not affiliated with Gradient Securities, LLC.

Handling Market Volatility

Conventional wisdom says that what goes up must come down. But even if you view market volatility as a normal occurrence, it can be tough to handle when your money is at stake. Though there's no foolproof way to handle the ups and downs of the stock market, the following common-sense tips can help.

Don't put your eggs all in one basket

Diversifying your investment portfolio is one of the key tools for trying to manage market volatility. Because asset classes often perform differently under different market conditions, spreading your assets across a variety of investments such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives has the potential to help reduce your overall risk. Ideally, a decline in one type of asset will be balanced out by a gain in another, though diversification can't eliminate the possibility of market loss. One way to diversify your portfolio is through asset allocation. Asset allocation involves identifying the asset classes that are appropriate for you and allocating a certain percentage of your investment dollars to each class (e.g., 70% to stocks, 20% to bonds, 10% to cash alternatives).

Focus on the forest, not on the trees

As the market goes up and down, it's easy to become too focused on day-to-day returns. Instead, keep your eyes on your long-term investing goals and your overall portfolio. Although only you can decide how much investment risk you can handle, if you still have years to invest, don't overestimate the effect of short-term price fluctuations on your portfolio.

Look before you leap

When the market goes down and investment losses pile up, you may be tempted to pull out of the stock market altogether and look for less volatile investments. The modest returns that typically accompany low-risk investments may seem attractive when more risky investments are posting negative returns. But before you leap into a different investment strategy, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. How you choose to invest your money should be consistent with your goals and time horizon.

For instance, putting a larger percentage of your investment dollars into vehicles that offer asset preservation and liquidity (the opportunity to easily access your funds) may be the right strategy for you if your investment goals are short term and you'll need the money soon, or if you're growing close to reaching a long-term goal such as retirement. But if you still have years to invest, keep in mind that stocks have historically outperformed stable-value investments over time, although past performance is no guarantee of future results. If you move most or all of your investment dollars into conservative investments, you've not only locked in any losses you might have, but you've also sacrificed the potential for higher returns. Investments seeking to achieve higher rates of return also involve a higher degree of risk.

Look for the silver lining

A down market, like every cloud, has a silver lining. The silver lining of a down market is the opportunity to buy shares of stock at lower prices. One of the ways you can do this is by using dollar-cost averaging. With dollar-cost averaging, you don't try to "time the market" by buying shares at the moment when the price is lowest. In fact, you don't worry about price at all. Instead, you invest a specific amount of money at regular intervals over time. When the price is higher, your investment dollars buy fewer shares of an investment, but when the price is lower, the same dollar amount will buy you more shares. A workplace savings plan, such as a 401(k) plan in which the same amount is deducted from each paycheck and invested through the plan, is one of the most well-known examples of dollar cost averaging in action. For example, let's say that you decided to invest $300 each month. As the illustration shows, your regular monthly investment of $300 bought more shares when the price was low and fewer shares when the price was high:

(This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the performance of any particular investment. Actual results will vary.)

Although dollar-cost averaging can't guarantee you a profit or avoid a loss, a regular fixed dollar investment may result in a lower average price per share over time, assuming you continue to invest through all types of market conditions.

Making dollar-cost averaging work for you
  • Get started as soon as possible. The longer you have to ride out the ups and downs of the market, the more opportunity you have to build a sizable investment account over time.
  • Stick with it. Dollar-cost averaging is a long-term investment strategy. Make sure you have the financial resources and the discipline to invest continuously through all types of market conditions, regardless of price fluctuations.
  • Take advantage of automatic deductions. Having your investment contributions deducted and invested automatically makes the process easy and convenient.
Don't stick your head in the sand

While focusing too much on short-term gains or losses is unwise, so is ignoring your investments. You should check your portfolio at least once a year--more frequently if the market is particularly volatile or when there have been significant changes in your life. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring it back in line with your investment goals and risk tolerance. Rebalancing involves selling some investments in order to buy others. Investors should keep in mind that selling investments could result in a tax liability. Don't hesitate to get expert help if you need it to decide which investment options are right for you.

Don't count your chickens before they hatch
As the market recovers from a down cycle,elation quickly sets in. If the upswing lasts long enough, it's easy to believe that investing in the stock market is a sure thing. But, of course, it never is. As many investors have learned the hard way, becoming overly optimistic about investing during the good times can be as detrimental as worrying too much during the bad times. The right approach during all kinds of markets is to be realistic. Have a plan, stick with it, and strike a comfortable balance between risk and return. 

5 Article content

Insurance products and services are offered through Craig Colley | Coliday and is not affiliated with Gradient Securities, LLC.

Alternatives to Low Paying Bank CD’s

Guaranteed-income-Graph-1-400pxIn a time when many financial experts are predicting another major correction in the stock market, there is a safe alternative to seriously consider; Fixed-Indexed Annuities. Now before you make a snap judgement (as many do when they see the word annuity) take a moment and find out just how much this program can provide in retirement. If you are like most retiree’s, you probably share the number one fear which is running out of money. So let’s look at what a fixed-indexed annuity is and how it can benefit you.  

What is a fixed-index annuity?

A relatively new financial option offered by insurance companies, the fixed-index annuity was created in 1994 as an alternative financial product to CD’s, mutual funds, and stocks. Participating in a fixed-index annuity offers tax deferred growth and a guarantee against loss of principal and options for gains when the market does well.

Safe Money

Many life insurance companies that only offered variable annuities are now offering fixed-index annuities as a very attractive and safer option to their clients. Unlike variable annuities that invest in different mutual funds, the performance of fixed-index annuities are tied and mirror the performance of a single index such as the S&P 500.

CD alternative

A safe investment, but with today’s all time low interest rates certificates of deposit are paying less than half the amount of a percent 10-year Treasury Bills which is less than 3 percent. With a fixed-index annuity, there is usually a guaranteed minimum rate of return. You can also earn a substantially higher return if the index does well.

Mutual fund alternative

Diversifying through mutual funds does not protect you when the market declines. Mutual funds may be less risky than individual stocks but you can still lose money in a bear market as 401K plans dropped by more than 30% in 2008.

Stock market alternative

Older individuals do not have time on their side in a volatile stock market to recover from losses and are hesitant to put their hard earned retirement savings into the market. The bear market that existed from the end of 2007 and into early 2009 may have also affected those who are younger to think about other options.

Preserve capital

The goal is to preserve capital and a fixed-index annuity is an alternative to a risky stock market or mutual funds for anyone who cannot afford to lose money. Upon the purchase of this type of annuity the contractual agreement will guarantee that you will not lose any of your principal (and potential interest credits) and will usually have a minimum interest rate earned for every year while you hold the investment.

Looking for extra money you want and need?

An excellent feature of a fixed-index annuity (if you are tied to the S&P 500) is if the stock market and/or index should fall you do not lose any money in that year. Similar to a CD in a retirement account, a fixed-index annuity will not only earn you a base interest rate but also allows you to participate in the positive index returns.

Typically, you only receive approximately 75% of an increase on an annual basis, starting from the purchase date of the annuity, but a substantial difference in earnings can still be made in that year. Based on the performance of the index, there may be a cap on the maximum amount of extra interest earned.

Guaranteed income for life

Another great option of some fixed-indexed annuities are the Guaranteed Income for Life riders. For those individuals looking for income for life (similar to how social security benefits work), many programs offer a separate income growth option that is different from the cash value of the annuity, which can have a guaranteed interest rate of 7 to 10% on your initial premium or principle payment for up to 10 years. You then draw a guaranteed amount from that income growth (based on your age and if you have an individual or joint account) based on the percentage determined in your policy.

Market performance is always unknown

A fixed-interest annuity makes sense for people who want to participate at a lower level of risk in the stock market without  investing directly in the market.  You will not earn as much as an index fund outside of an annuity in good markets but your money will be safe if the markets turn bad or bearish.

In conclusion fixed-indexed annuities might be the best fit for anyone who is looking for financial gains from the upside of the market and cannot afford to lose a dime if the market has another major down turn (which many experts predict will happen). Life time income benefits are also very attractive in providing peace of mind in retirement.

Finding a reputable and trusted partner to assist you with your financial & insurance needs is of vital importance.  I will work hard to find the best programs, coverage and rates that fits your budget and your needs. Contact me at 949-495-2016 or ccolley@coliday.com

 

It’s not too late to maximize Social Security benefits

A look at how some couples can still use the ‘file and suspend’ strategy and other issues

Question: I will be 66 in April, and my wife will be turning 65 in July. Given the new Social Security rules, what would be the most effective strategy to optimize our benefits? My wife devoted herself to a career as a full-time mother, which unfortunately means that, in the eyes of the Social Security Administration, she doesn’t qualify for retirement benefits.

Answer: Given your ages, you can still take advantage of a claiming strategy that has largely been curtailed. But you would need to act quickly. First, some background.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, enacted in November, puts an end, in most instances, to two Social Security filing strategies: “file and suspend” and a “restricted application” for spousal benefits. You can find a summary of the changes at new Social Security rules change claiming strategies.

In the months since, we have heard from numerous readers who have asked, in effect, the same question: What do I do now?

Broadly speaking, there are still steps that would-be beneficiaries can take to “optimize,” or maximize, their benefits in retirement. (Example: Each year you delay collecting Social Security between ages 62 and 70, your payout increases about 7%.) The best way to do the math is to take advantage of the growing number of tools and online advisory services that help identify an individual’s (or couple’s) optimal claiming strategy.

At this point, most services have updated their computer coding to account for the new rules. Among them: SSAnalyze!; and MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com, SocialSecurityChoices.com and SocialSecuritySolutions.com. The latter three all charge a fee.

As for this specific question, the Budget Act has several grandfather clauses, one of which allows a person who has reached full retirement age to file and suspend—as long as the request to do so is received before April 30.

If you turn 66 before that date, you could file and suspend, which would allow your wife to begin collecting a spousal benefit. (If you plan to do this, I would book an appointment immediately with your local Social Security office, or apply online. You can do so four months before turning 66.) Meanwhile, your benefit, when you eventually claim it, will have grown in size, thanks to “delayed retirement credits.”

But again — and without knowing the specifics of your financial situation — I would urge you to run the numbers through an advisory service. Social Security remains far too complicated to try this on your own.

Q: In an earlier column and question about Social Security, you mentioned a “restricted application.” My wife and I are both 63 years old. She is planning to retire at 66, her full retirement age, and I plan to continue to work for an indeterminate amount of time, possibly until I turn 70. Is a restricted application still available in our situation?

A: Yes, you can still take advantage of this strategy—but only because you have already passed your 62nd birthday.

Under the changes in Social Security claiming strategies, workers who reached age 62 before the end of 2015 are still able to file a restricted application when they reach full retirement age. This means a person could file for just a spousal benefit, instead of his or her own benefit.

Let’s say your wife claims a benefit of $2,000 a month at her full retirement age. When you reach your full retirement age, you could claim a spousal benefit of $1,000 (half of your wife’s benefit) and defer claiming your own benefit to, say, age 70.

 

The article “A strategy to maximize social security benefits” first appeared on WSJ.com.