Where Are You Spending Your Money?

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We are less than two weeks away from the end of 2020 (which we can all agree, probably can’t come soon enough!). As the year wraps up, now is a good time to review your budgeting and expenses over the past 12 months and see where, and how, you spent your funds. If you had a budget you were working in, did you meet your benchmarks? Did you spend more than intended in certain areas or less? Where there legitimate reasons for overspending? If you don’t have a budget, did you find yourself spending more than you thought on particular items/services? Do you want to get your expenses in order or under control? Use the answers to these questions to help guide you as you prepare your finances for 2021. If you find your expenses or spending habits make you a bit uncomfortable, you may want to consider getting more serious about budgeting. If you need help with getting your finances in order, I encourage you to meet with a certified financial planner or wealth manager who can help you both organize your money as well as place it in a spot where it can grow or help your future.

Need Money? Time Is Running Out on CRDs

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If you’ve been staying on top of stimulus bill talk over the past 10 months or so, then maybe you’ve heard the phrase Coronavirus Related Distribution (CRD) and are aware that they are penalty free distributions from your retirement accounts. I think I’ve mentioned them a few times in past blogposts as well. If you have been considering taking advantage of a CRD due to hard times, then you should do so as soon as possible. The deadline to take a CRD is December 30, 2020, which is a little less than two weeks away at this time. Now, I am not encouraging you to take a CRD as I am against taking money out of a retirement account early unless it is the absolute last resort. However, if you find yourself in certain situations that meet CRD requirements–such as being diagnosed with Coronavirus or having lost a job because of it–then you may want to consider a CRD to tide you over for just a short time. And remember, there’s only a couple weeks to do so, so you need to make that decision soon! If you do consider taking a CRD, I encourage you to read up about them or speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager about it to make sure it’s really the best decision for you.

Talking QCDs in the Giving Season

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Many Americans choose to make charitable donations with their retirement funds. For some it’s a way to give back to the community, while others use it as a way to support causes that are important to them. Whatever the reason for donating–if you choose to do so–you should understand the ramifications of that decision as well as the most efficient way to make a donation. It’s been a while since I’ve written about it, but qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) are probably the most efficient and effective way to make a charitable donation from your retirement funds. In case you forgot what a QCD is, it’s a charitable donation of up to $100,000 to a qualified 501(c)(3) charity made from an IRA. A QCD can offset any RMDs that need to be made for that year, but can only be made if you are 70 1/2 years old. QCDs offer a similar tax outcome to itemizing your charitable giving, if that matters to you. And yes, QCDs are allowed this year even though RMDs are suspended. Which leads me to my next part of charitable giving–the tax implications. While I cannot offer tax advice, I can advise you to speak with a tax professional if you are making substantial charitable donations in the hopes of taking advantage of tax incentives for doing so. That goes for whether you are over 70 1/2 and are making a QCD or are not yet retired, but want to make a substantial donation to your favorite charity. A tax professional should be able to give you a good idea as to how a donation may impact your taxes and whether it’s overall a good idea. However, if you want to know how a QCD or other charitable giving might affect your nest egg or financial plans, you will want to also speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager.

What’s Your Worst Case Retirement Scenario?

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While I try to be somewhat positive with what I write in this blog, sometimes I find that I have to be real and that being real sometimes requires being a little cynical. This is one of those “being real” blogposts. Retirement doesn’t always happen how you want it to and, with that in mind, sometimes you need to think about those worst case scenarios. For example, how much would an early retirement change your plans? What if you are forced to retire sooner than anticipated due to injury or downsizing–can you handle tapping into your nest egg sooner than expected? These are things you need to think about and, ideally, have a plan to handle such situations. In fact, you probably should think of at least a few “worst case scenario” situations regarding retirement and make plans for how you would tackle them if they occurred. For example, if you were forced to retire early are there assets you could sell or tap into to make ends meet before reaching into your nest egg? What if you find yourself in the opposite type of scenario and don’t have enough saved for when you plan on retiring? Will you work longer or change your retirement plans? Thinking about these worst case scenario situations won’t be pleasant, but it is an important part of planning. You need to be prepared for whatever may come your way and at least thinking about such bad situations is a part of that. If you need help with planning for retirement or want to discuss having a backup plan, of course I always encourage you to speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager. What’s your worst case retirement scenario?

It’s a Stressful Time to Be Saving for Retirement

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I don’t mean to state the obvious with the title, but I feel like it’s worth mentioning, especially as we head into a winter that may be like none other that we have seen. The next few months seem to be on course to create a lot of anxiety for many Americans. We are currently in the middle of a pandemic that many healthcare professionals are predicting will see a second wave of infections over the next month or so. There is also a transitional period occurring politically that is fraught with unpredictability. And then there is the added stress of the holiday season. Those first two stress points have the ability to shake up the markets and have impacts on the investments that could further impact your portfolio. The third stress point is always there, but could be further complicated by job losses or worry about what the future may hold for your nest egg. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it can be a bit scary, especially when you don’t know what might happen to send the stock market on a wild ride. While I don’t have any magic solution to your anxiety, I do want to make sure you realize that you are not alone in your worries. Sometimes there’s not much you can do aside from track your investments, make necessary changes and adjustments, and keep living life. We will get through this and we will eventually return to normal. It may be a “new” normal, but it will be much more normal than what we have been going through for most of 2020. Now, as you head into this holiday season, I suggest you focus your time and energy on family and friends and the people who mean the most to you. Yes, you can check your portfolio daily and adjust as needed, but try not to let it be all you think about. Take some time to think enjoy what’s around you and don’t let fear or stress overpower you. Of course, if you do have concerns about your retirement plans, I suggest you speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager who should be able to relieve any concerns or answer any questions you may have.

The Student Loan Financial Discussion

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Did you know that the total amount of student loans held by Americans is larger than that of credit card debt? That may be a bit surprising to some. While I am well aware that most of my clients and readers of this blog are beyond their student years and probably paid off their student loan debts years ago, it’s still worth talking a bit about as the topic has become relevant over the past few years, particularly during the recent election season. There has been a lot of discussion centering around how much student loan debt has impacted the spending habits of younger generations and possibly hindered their interest in buying homes and starting families, as well as spending on big ticket items in general. Heck, there’s a really good chance that you have a child or grandchild currently paying off students debts, so for some of my readers it might just be a personal topic. Ideally, those younger generations would find jobs that pay enough to efficiently pay down those debts and allow them to save up for those big “adult” purchases (i.e. a car, a house, etc.). However, more often than not and for a number of different reasons, that is not the case. So, what does this have to do with you and your financial/retirement planning? Well, probably nothing, but it is worth noting. Furthermore, it may have long-term impacts such as slower economic growth as fewer younger people are spending on the large ticket items that can help fuel booms. Furthermore, if you have kids and grandkids weighed down by student debt, you may want to talk with them about their situation and educate them about what they can do to better their situations. Maybe they need a second job or maybe they need some guidance on smart spending habits. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to help them get on the right path. Also, if you were planning on relying on your children to help with your retirement, such as moving in with them or having them pay for some of your needs, you may want to know whether their student loan debt early in their adult lives may have long term impacts (i.e. they aren’t able to save enough for the future). Lastly, if you are a retiree considering going back to school–and yes, they do exist–you will want to know whether taking on any student loan debt is doable. Obviously, you really only want to go back if you can do so without taking out any loans, but if you can do so for a small amount, it may be worth considering. Again, while you may not be directly impacted by student loans, it may have a long-term impact on the economy that affects your portfolio and investments, especially if it takes markets and the economy longer to recover from downturns due to enough people not spending. So, what do you know about the student debt situation and does it impact you?

If You Can’t Meet Your Retirement Goals, Consider Tweaking Them

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Many financial advisors and wealth managers encourage their clients to have goals when it comes to retirement. Of course, that can mean different strokes to different folks. For example, one person may have a goal of saving a certain amount of money for retirement. Another person may want to save up to buy a retirement home in a warm weather locale. Another may want to have enough saved up to take a big trip every year. Whatever it is, it’s good to set a goal to work towards. However, the road to retirement can be long and along the way things can change. Layoffs happen. Unexpected bills occur. Having children and a family can add some costs along the path to your post-working life. Thus, those retirement goals and benchmarks you set out with can change. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a good thing to reassess your retirement goals every so often. Maybe living far away from children and grandchildren doesn’t sound so appetizing. Or maybe you realize that you’re saving more than you anticipated and have a little more freedom with retirement to get a little more fancy with your goals. Or maybe you realize you need to save more. Whatever you find, don’t be afraid to change your retirement goals and use those new goals and benchmarks moving forward. If you need help with your current goals or want to make a change, don’t be afraid to speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager to get some advice.

New RMD Tables For 2022 Are Out. Get Them While They’re Hot?

There are probably very, very, (very) few people out there excited for the announcement of new life expectancy tables used to determine required minimum distribution (RMD). I mean, let’s be honest, nobody is every really gets excited for IRS announcements. While I can’t say this announcement made my day, I did think it was some really good information worth sharing with you as it could have a substantial impact on your retirement savings and financial plans. Furthermore, the IRS does not normally revise their RMD tables, so this was notable (In fact, it’s been almost 20 years since the last revision). As you probably well know, RMDs are waived for 2020 and 2021 RMDs will follow the existing RMD tables. Again, these RMD changes won’t go into effect until 2022 so, of course, I encourage you to start thinking about it now when it comes to what you want to do with your RMDs and whether your current retirement plans might be impact by an RMD change. If you aren’t familiar with life expectancy tables, there are three that the IRS uses when determining RMDs for those old enough to take them and their beneficiaries: The Uniform Lifetime Table (used to calculate YOUR lifetime RMDs), the Joint and Last Survivor Table (used for when your spouse is your sole beneficiary and is more than 10 years younger than you), and the Single Life Table (when used by an “eligible designated beneficiary” such as a minor child or a surviving spouse). The new changes will most likely lower RMDs for most Americans, which also means lower taxes on your RMDs. Lower taxes means you can spend more of your nest egg on retirement and you. Maybe some IRS announcements aren’t so bad after all.

Markets Going Boom May Also Go Bust Someday

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If you’ve been following the stock market over the past 30 years or so, then you are probably well aware of the fact that bubbles occur and eventually they burst. It happened a little over 15 years ago with the tech bubble, followed less than 5 years after that by the housing bubble. Those bursts were felt throughout the markets and the country. billions of dollars were lost during those bubble bursts, along with jobs in many sectors and homes in many regions. Why am I bringing this up? Well, I’m using it as a reminder that despite how good things may be–and let’s not kid ourselves, the stock market is still trending upwards–there will come a time when the fun ends. After all, what goes up, eventually comes down. So what can you, as a retirement investor do to take advantage of the good fortunes while also protecting yourself (as best as possible) from the bad? Diversify and make sure to review your investments at multiple periods throughout the year or when you hear of market changes. Diversification spreads the risk around and prevents all your money from going into one area of the market. If you diversify, you can limit the damage that a downturn in one market sector can do to your portfolio as a whole. Of course, along with diversifying, you want to track your investments. That means checking your portfolio at regular intervals and checking it when you hear of changes within market sectors that you are invested in. Tech companies struggling? Make sure your tech investments are safe. Homebuilding ramping up? Maybe you should look to make some investments in that area. Those are just a couple of examples. If you need help with your portfolio or just want to talk about your risk appetite, you should of course speak with a certified financial planner, wealth manager, or investment professional.

Do You Know Some of the 10% Penalty Exceptions?

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If you are an educated retirement saver, then you are probably well aware of the 10% penalty you can get hit with if you take a withdrawal from your IRA or employer retirement plan before age 59 1/2. For many Americans–particularly those hit hard financially over the past 8 months–it can be tempting to take that early withdrawal to stay afloat. However, you’re a smart saver and you’ve most likely put yourself in a situation where you don’t need to hit your nest egg. That said, though, you should be aware of the exceptions to the 10% penalty. Now, I’ve mentioned these exceptions in the past, but I feel the need to mention them again as it’s been a while. There are a few exceptions, though, when you can take that early withdrawal and not have to worry about the 10% penalty. Buying your first home? Take that early withdrawal with no penalty. Want to help out a child with college tuition? Take that penalty free withdrawal. Lose your job and need help affording health insurance? Again, take the withdrawal and not worry about the penalty. These tend to be commonly used exceptions to the 10% early withdrawal penalty. Now, before you go taking huge early withdrawals from your retirement savings accounts, make sure it’s the right decision above all else. If you can get the funds you need from other places (ideally, an emergency savings account) that may be the wiser route to go. Remember, your retirement savings accounts should be an absolute last resort when it comes to taking early withdrawals. You should also meet with a certified financial planner or wealth manager to make sure you are making the best decision for you and your future and to ensure you take the proper steps when taking that early withdrawal.