Yearly Archives: 2013

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Planning for the Uncertainty of Health Care Reform

Those working in the health care field are being impacted on multiple levels when it comes to health care reform, as the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a Obamacare) touches both your personal and professional lives. Yet, so many of the changes and their effects are largely out of your direct control.

With the tremendous uncertainty of the long-term effects of health care reform, you may do better by looking within — control what you can to help bring peace to your world. Begin by taking inventory of your assets, liabilities, income and expenses. Understanding where you stand financially will help you respond to changes and make decisions based on facts rather than emotions.

Focus on protecting your income. Network and talk with your peers to learn what they may be doing. Evaluate your alternatives and consider ways to diversify your revenue where possible. Purchasing disability insurance is essential, as well as life insurance if others depend on you and your income.

Following are four areas of your financial life that you can control, even in the face of broader uncertainty.

Cash Management

If you have steady employment, set aside at least three months of your after-tax expenses in a checking or savings account as an emergency fund. If you are self-employed with a variable income, increase this number to at least six months.

Debt Management

Debt and stress are often correlated. Reducing your debt can help reduce the financial stress caused by uncertainty in other areas. For existing debt, look for ways to consolidate loans and reduce interest rates. Pay down loans where possible.

Do not take on new debt for depreciating assets such as cars and vacations. If you don’t have the excess cash, you may want to reconsider whether the purchase makes sense for you at this time. Also, if possible, avoid taking on new debt to upgrade your house (whether for a remodel or a move), particularly if you are 50 years or age and older.

Expense Management

Many people cringe at the suggestion of creating a budget, but the truth is that a budget can bring tremendous peace of mind.

Review your current and ongoing expenses to evaluate those items that are no longer important to you (subscriptions perhaps). Trips that are normally planned on late notice can be less expensive with more advance planning. And many entertainment choices can be pared back financially by 10 to 20 percent without reducing their enjoyment.

Asset Management

Do you have your nest egg taking the appropriate amount of risk for your situation? Greater uncertainty in your income could be offset by more certainty with your investments.

Working with a qualified financial planner can help you determine your personal and financial goals, needs and priorities; outline a time frame for achieving results; and understand your tolerance for financial risk. An advisor with a comprehensive knowledge of diverse financial issues — such as taxes, investments, retirement planning, estate planning and insurance — can help you understand long-term planning and the big picture, which in turn can help put your mind at ease.

By |December 17th, 2013|Financial Planning, Health Care, Insurance|

Income Tax Insights for Same-Sex Marriage

Guest article by Andrew Mark, CPA

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court overturned parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. Lost in the ruling was that it was really a tax case. The ruling means that same-sex couples, who are legally married, under the laws of either their state or a foreign country, are afforded many federal tax benefits, but also drawbacks, which were previously only allowed to opposite-sex couples.

Same-sex couples will be treated as married for federal income, estate and gift tax purposes. Going forward, same-sex couples will be required to file their federal tax return using the married filing jointly or married filing separately status; they will no longer be able to file as single. They also have an option to amend previous year returns. This federal filing status is required regardless of whether or not the couple lives in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. However, the ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, states are still allowed to do what they want, and since the laws regarding marriage vary widely from state to state, many unanswered questions remain. Arizona for example has stated it will not allow joint returns to be filed. This means same sex couples in Arizona will have to file a married federal return and a single or head of household state return. California on the other hand will require joint filings.

Andrew Mark is a Certified Public Accountant in private practice and a board member of the National Association of Tax Professionals Arizona Chapter. Visit his website at http://ajmarkcpa.com/ to learn more about his income tax preparation services.

By |December 3rd, 2013|Current Affairs, Taxes|

Your Personality Affects Your Financial Decisions

If you’re working with a financial planner for the first time, one of the first things he or she will do is ask you fill out a risk analysis questionnaire.

Why is risk analysis important before you make decisions with your money? Risk tolerance is an important part of investing – everyone knows that. But the real value of answering a lot of questions about your risk tolerance is to tell you what you don’t know – how the sources of your money, the way you made it, how outside forces have shaped your view of it and how you’re handling it now will inform every decision you make about it in the future.

The most important thing a risk questionnaire can tell is what’s important about money to you. Trained financial advisers can determine your money personality through a process of questioning discovery. Planners can then guide investors within their money personality. Do you want certainty, or are you willing to take a little risk and let it roll because “you can always make more of it?”

A financial planner tries to see through the static to find out what you really need to create a solid financial life. But it might make sense to ask yourself a few questions before you and your planner sit down:

  1. What’s important about money?
  2. What do I do with my money?
  3. If money was absolutely not an issue, what would I do with my life?
  4. Has the way I’ve made my money – through work, marriage or inheritance – affected the way I think about it in a particular way?
  5. How much debt do I have and how do I feel about it?
  6. Am I more concerned about maintaining the value of my initial investment or making a profit from it?
  7. Am I willing to give up that stability for the chance at long-term growth?
  8. What am I most likely to enjoy spending money on?
  9. How would I feel if the value of my investment dropped for several months?
  10. How would I feel if the value of my investment dropped for several years?
  11. If I had to list three things I really wanted to do with my money, what would they be?
  12. What does retirement mean to me? Does it mean quitting work entirely and doing whatever I want to do or working in a new career full- or part-time?
  13. Do I want kids? Do I understand the financial commitment?
  14. If I have kids, do I expect them to pay their own way through college or will I pay all or part of it? What kind of shape am I in to afford their college education?
  15. How’s my health and my health insurance coverage?
  16. What kind of physical and financial shape are my parents in?

 

One of the toughest aspects of getting a financial plan going is recognizing how your personal style, mindset and life situation might affect your investment decisions. A financial professional will understand this challenge and can help you think through your choices. Your resulting portfolio should feel like a perfect fit for you.

This column is produced by the Financial Planning Association, the membership organization for the financial planning community, and is provided as a courtesy by Perspective Financial, a local member of FPA.
By |November 21st, 2013|Advisors, Financial Planning|

Tax Planning Reminders for Year-End and the Year Ahead

Guest article by Andrew Mark, CPA

At the beginning of the year, as part of the federal government’s “fiscal cliff” negotiations, capital gain rates for higher income taxpayers (those with taxable incomes more than $400,000 ($450,000 if married) increased by 5 percent. Taxpayers with incomes more than $250,000 ($300,000 if married) also had their exemptions and deductions cut. So it is quite possible that higher income taxpayers with substantial investment income will see a tax increase of 10 percent more for 2013 than in 2012.

If you are in this category, speak with your investment advisor about year-end strategies that may help reduce your tax burden.

Looking ahead, a number of provisions that were also part of the fiscal cliff deal are set to expire at the end of this tax year. This will set up some unknowns starting in January. A few expiring provisions you may want to be aware of as you embark on the new year include:

  •  The $250 deduction for teacher classroom expenses;
  • Excluding income on debt cancellation for foreclosure/short sale of a principal residence;
  • Mortgage insurance premiums deduction;
  • The election to claim an itemized deduction for state and local sales tax; and
  • The rule allowing tax-free IRA distributions (for taxpayers over age 70½) of up to $100,000 if donated to charity.

Andrew Mark is a Certified Public Accountant in private practice and a board member of the National Association of Tax Professionals Arizona Chapter. Visit his website at http://ajmarkcpa.com/ to learn more about his income tax preparation services.

By |November 12th, 2013|Current Affairs, Taxes|