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On Donor Advised Funds

 

More on DAFs

By Rick Kahler CFP®

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens has a scene where two charity workers raising funds for the poor approach Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve.

” What shall I put you down for?”
   “Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
   “You wish to be anonymous?”
   “I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge.

Scrooge may not be alone in his desire to be left alone. With 60% of Americans supporting presidential candidates’ proposals for wealth taxes, financial transaction taxes, higher capital gains tax rates, and increases in income taxes, many of our affluent neighbors are just not feeling the love this Christmas.

Nevertheless, there are still millions more who want to give. Charitable giving, though, can be more complicated than it was in Scrooge’s time. For example:

  • Are you bunching your itemized deductions into every other year and would like to give a substantial amount to charities this year, but you haven’t had time to research which charity you want to support or you want to spread the giving out over time as opposed to giving it all this month?
  • Do you support a number of charities and would like to support even more, but find the IRS requirements for documenting your gifts to be burdensome?
  • Would you like to set aside a sum of money for your favorite charities that could generate an annual income forever, but forming a foundation or charitable trust is beyond your reach?

All the above are possible with a donor-advised fund.

Let’s say you wanted to give small amounts to fifty different charities. Rather than write fifty checks and obtain fifty receipts, you can make one gift to the fund, which distributes the money to the fifty charities. You only have to provide one receipt to the IRS.

You can also make a charitable gift to the donor-advised fund that qualifies as a deduction on your 2019 tax return, but you can delay the distribution of the funds until sometime in the future. This gives you time to explore the various causes you may want to support.

What really sets a donor-advised fund apart from other types of charitable giving is that you can decide how your donations are used, much as you would if you set up your own foundation. You can even create either an endowed or a nonpermanent fund for a particular purpose, such as a specifically-designated scholarship fund in memory of a loved one.

***

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Case Example:

One example of a donor-advised fund is the Black Hills Area Community Foundation. The BHACF supports scores of local charities and special projects. However, almost all financial institutions like Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, and Schwab have relationships with donor-advised funds.

While DAFs create an easy-to-establish, low-cost, flexible vehicle for charitable giving as an alternative to an expensive and complex private foundation, they are not hassle-free or without costs. Many charge a combination of fixed quarterly fees and an annual percentage of the undistributed funds. There is also a reasonable amount of administrative work involved. One DAF that I use assesses a penalty of $500 if the account is closed in under a year. They work best when a person anticipates significant contributions and a long-term giving plan.

Every donor-advised fund has different charities, minimums, processes, and costs, so it’s important to do your homework. Research whether the fund approves of the charities you want to support, as well as the costs involved.

Assessment

A donor advised fund may be a good way to take a large deduction this year, reduce the administrative hassles and costs of setting up a foundation, and still give to causes you choose to support.

Your thoughts are appreciated.

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Who Owns Your Credit Card Reward Points?

Do your credit card reward points belong to you?

By Rick Kahler CFP®

For frequent travelers, who often choose credit cards based on reward programs, accumulated points can be worth thousands of dollars. Whether points are an asset that can be transferred to an heir is another matter.

I recently received this question: “Our friend whose husband recently passed away lost over a million points with Capital One because her husband was the primary on the account and she was just an authorized user, not a joint owner. Capital One closed the credit card since he passed and all the points were forfeited. Do you have any ideas on how to get the points back?”

Unfortunately, not much can be done after the fact. Most credit cards offering points that can be redeemed for travel expense say that points have no cash value and are not actually the property of the account owner but rather belong to the reward’s program. Most card programs’ terms and conditions say that points outstanding upon the card holder’s death are permanently forfeited.

An appeal to the issuing bank would be worth trying. Surprisingly, some will show compassion and allow the points to transfer to another account or credit their value against any outstanding balances on the card, usually at one cent per point.

Considering this issue ahead of time, however, might allow surviving spouses to avoid losing all of a loved one’s hard-earned points.

First, try to find a rewards card that will allow you to own the account jointly with your spouse rather than being an authorized user. If one spouse passes away, the points will remain in the account and the other joint owner will have full access to them. An authorized user has no risk or obligation to pay any debt, and therefore has no claim on any points that remain in the account after the death of the primary cardholder.

The downside of a joint account is that each cardholder is equally liable for any amounts the other charges to the account. If your marriage is transparent and without any financial infidelity going on, this shouldn’t be a problem. If the card is a business card, joint ownership could be more problematic.

Banks that I found that will allow joint accounts are US Bank and PNC Bank. Specific rewards cards that allow joint ownership are Bank of America Cash Rewards, Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa, and Discover it Cash Back. Obviously, with only three rewards cards allowing joint ownership, that option isn’t widely available.

The next best choice is to be sure both partners have the login information for the account. This would allow a survivor to log on and redeem or transfer points. Many cards will allow transferring points to an airline or hotel rewards programs for 1.5 to 2.3 cents per point. Of course, both partners need to have access to those accounts as well, which generally isn’t a problem with most programs.


This is also the recommended method of accessing points with a specific airline. According to a September 19, 2019, article by Richard Kerr at thepointsguy.com, giving your next of kin access to all your airline and hotel awards accounts gives them “all the information needed to continue using the points and miles without alerting the airline.”

Including airline reward points in a will may be worthwhile. It might not make a difference with every airline or bank, but some programs will transfer such designated points without a fee.

Assessment:

Travel reward points may be a relatively minor asset. Still, a little planning can make them readily available without adding stress for a surviving spouse during a difficult time.

Conclusion

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***

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When Will You Retire?

Where Will Your Money Come From?

By Rick Kahler CFP®

The list is fairly short: Social Security, a pension, working, your assets, children, or public assistance.

According to an April 22, 2019 Bloomberg article by Suzanne Woolley, entitled “America’s Elderly Are Twice as Likely to Work Now Than in 1985“, only twenty percent of those age 65 or older are working. The rest either can’t work physically, can’t find work, or don’t want to work. According to the ADA National Network, over 30 percent of people over 65 are disabled in some manner.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security provides the majority of income for most elderly Americans. It provides at least 50% of income for about half of seniors and at least 90% of income for about one-fourth of seniors. The average Social Security retirement benefit isn’t as high as many people think. In June 2019 it was about $1,470 a month, or about $17,640 a year.

And, as per the Pension Rights Center, around 35% of Americans receive a pension or VA benefits. The greatest percentage of pensions are government. This would include retired state and federal workers like teachers, police, firefighters, military, and civil service workers. In 2017 the median state or local government pension benefit was $17,894 a year, the median federal pension was $28,868, and the median military pension was $21,441.

Working provides the highest source of retirement income for the 20 percent of those who are over 65 and are still working. According to SmartAsset.com, Americans aged 65 and older earn an average of $48,685 per year. However, in a NewRetirement.com article dated February 26, 2019, “Average Retirement Income 2019, How Do You Compare“, Kathleen Coxwell cites a figure from AARP that the median retirement income earned from employment is $25,000 a year.

About 3% of retirees receive public assistance.

This leaves around 20% of those over 65 who depend partially or fully for their retirement income on money they set aside during their working years. According to TheStreet.com, “What Is the Average Retirement Savings in 2019“, by Eric Reed, updated on Mar 3, 2019, the average retirement account for those age 65 to 74 totals $358,000. That amount will safely provide around $15,000 a year for most retirees’ lifetime. The median savings is $120,000, which will produce only about $5,000 a year. In order to retire at age 65 with an annual investment income of $30,000 to $40,000, someone would need a retirement nest egg of over $1 million.

***

***

My conclusion from this data is that most Americans are woefully underprepared to live a comfortable lifestyle when they can no longer work. Between Social Security, pensions, and retirement savings, a retiree can expect a median income of $18,000 to a maximum of $52,000 a year. According to data I compiled from NewRetirement.com, the average median retirement income of those over age 65 is around $40,000.

What are some things you can do to increase your chances of enjoying a comfortable retirement income?

If you are under age 50, begin setting aside 15% to 25% of your income for retirement.

If you are over 60, keep working as long as you can. If you retire early, your monthly Social Security benefit is lower for the rest of your life.

Consider ways to stretch your retirement income by downsizing, sharing housing, or relocating to an area of the US or even outside the country with a lower cost of living.

Research what you can reasonably expect from Social Security and other sources of retirement income. Base your retirement expectations on informed planning, not on vaguely optimistic expectations.

Assessment: Your thoughts are appreciated.

Conclusion

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***

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The Middle Class Cost of M-4-A

Medicare for All

By Rick Kahler MSFS CFP

The concept of “Medicare for All” is getting a lot of attention in the 2020 Presidential race. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s promise that it will not cost the middle-class “one penny” has much appeal.

While most Americans support providing free medical care to those who need it most, making it with no additional cost to the middle class would be something never before accomplished by any country that has universal health care. The middle class in those countries pay income taxes of up to 40% and a national sales tax equivalent of 15% to 25%.

Recently, Senator Warren revealed how she will finance her plan. She estimates the cost over a decade at $20 trillion in new federal spending. Estimates by six independent financial organizations are higher, ranging from $28 trillion to $36 trillion.

Here are some of the general provisions of her plan.

1.                            She would tax both employers and employees an amount equivalent to what they currently pay in health insurance premiums. This will bring in $11 trillion.

2.                            She would increase taxes on the top 1% of individuals and large corporations to generate $7 trillion.

3.                            The balance of the money needed, $2 to $18 trillion (depending on whether you believe Ms. Warren’s numbers or the other six independent estimates) would come from new-found efficiencies, tax enforcement, and reductions in wasteful spending. There is widespread doubt that this is even remotely possible.

A Forbes article describing the tax increases aimed at wealthy individuals caught my attention. These increases include:

·                                 Adding a wealth tax of 2% to 6% on household net worth above $50 million

·                                 Eliminating the favorable tax rate on capital gains

·                                 Increasing the “Obamacare” tax from 3.8% to 14.8% on net investment income above $250,000

·                                 Eliminating the step-up in basis for inheritors

·                                 Increasing the salary subject to Social Security from $132,900 to $250,000

·                                 Lowering the estate tax exemption from $12 million to $7 million

·                                 Establishing a financial transaction tax of 0.10%.

The capital gains tax increase, the step-up in basis, and the financial transaction tax will all affect middle class investors, potentially including anyone with a 401(k) or an IRA. The American Retirement Association estimates that the financial transaction tax alone will cost the average 401k and IRA investor over $1,500 a year.

Diann Howland, vice president of legislative affairs at the American Benefits Council, cited in an article in InvestmentNews, called the proposal “not a great thing to do to the middle class.”

The 0.1% financial transaction tax is more damaging than it might seem at first glance. It applies to all the securities sold and purchased within a mutual fund or ETF, as well as the purchase and sale of the funds by investors. By my calculations it can easily add a cost of 0.20% to 0.30% a year to every fund investment. Given that some index mutual funds only charge 0.10% in total expenses, that’s a cost increase of 200% to 300%.

Eliminating the step-up in basis on inheritances and the favorable capital gains tax rate will also affect the middle class. According to a 2013 survey by HSBC Bank, retirees expected to leave their heirs an average of $177,000. If the average basis is one-half of what’s inherited, the elimination of step-up in basis and capital gains tax will cost middle class inheritors $10,000 to $20,000 more in taxes.

Senator Warren’s proposed tax increases will affect the middle class as well as the wealthy. They also fall short of covering the estimated cost of her plan. Assuming, then, that Medicare for All could be implemented with no increase in federal income or sales taxes for the middle class may well be a pipe dream.

Conclusion

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Are Bonds Worth Some Excitement?

Bonds an Investment Class Worth Some Excitement, Today?

By Rick Kahler CFP®

“One thing I definitely don’t want in my portfolio is bonds,” a prospective client told me a few weeks ago. “Bonds are boring and don’t give good returns.”

Her confidence in her money script that bonds had no place in her portfolio was palpable. However, her understanding of the role bonds play in a portfolio was incomplete. I restrained myself from launching into a lecture on the importance of bonds and simply replied, “While it is true bonds can be boring, sometimes they can be phenomenally exciting.”

Certainly stocks, commodities, and real estate investments are generally much more exciting. They are many times more volatile than bonds; in just a year it’s possible they might even gain or decline 50% in value. Meanwhile, individually held bonds and their mutual funds can crank out predictable coupon yields quarter after quarter after quarter, with one-third of the volatility of stocks. The cost of the lower volatility is that the long-term returns on bonds tend to be half to a third that of stocks.

However, the bond market right now is anything but boring. So far this year, while stocks are back to prices roughly where they were in early 2018, a sharp fall in interest rates has caused bond investors to reap some significant capital gains. Bonds have an inverse relationship with interest rates. The value of most bonds increases when interest rates decline and go down when interest rates rise.

***

Bonds

***

How significant are the gains in bonds?

Since the beginning of 2019, investors in the 30-year Treasury bond have seen gains (interest plus price appreciation) of 26.4%. That would be an outstanding full year’s return for stocks. According to the Bloomberg Barclay’s U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, long-term bonds overall have generated a 23.5% return. Investment grade corporate bonds have returned 14.1%, while the 10-year Treasury note has gained 12.6%.

Market observers have predicted for the last decade or so that bond rates have nowhere to go but up. What we’re seeing currently is a yield on the ten-year Treasury note of just under 1.47%. At the end of 2018 it was more than 3%.

Will we see more of the same? It’s very hard to imagine that same 10-year Treasury falling another 1.5%—to zero yield. So the smart money says that most of the gains have already been taken, and anybody looking for 20-plus percent returns in long bonds going forward is just chasing them after the fact when returns are dropping.

But how smart is smart?

Just in case you agree and think interest rates have nowhere to go but up, consider that many countries in Europe actually have negative interest rates, where the investor or depositor pays to loan their money to organizations or banks. Another 1.5% fall to 0% interest rates could deliver similar 20% bond returns.

Lessons Learned

The lesson here is that even if you think of bonds as the boring part of your portfolio, there are times when they can add a little more kick to your returns than you might have expected. And in times of falling equity markets, they are an invaluable buffer against big losses. Still, with the long term probability that bonds produce a return half that of equities, there is a significant chance that they won’t sustain the 20-plus percent returns as rates stabilize and increase at some point in the future.

Unlike the misinformed prospect I visited with, most investors over the age of 40 can benefit by having a substantial slice of their investment portfolio in bonds. Whether their returns are typically boring or occasionally exciting, bonds are an important asset class for diversified investors.

Assessment: Your thoughts are appreciated.

***

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Annuities Do Not Belong In 401(k) Plans

Here is Why?

By Rick Kahler CFP

Several weeks ago I wrote about the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, which will reform various aspects of US retirement laws. The Act was passed by the House in May and is currently stalled in the Senate.

One of the most troubling of the SECURE Act’s 29 provisions is that it will ease regulations to make it easier for financial salespeople to sell annuities to 401(k) plan participants.

This is alarming, as the act creates a safe harbor for annuities inside 401(k) plans. That means companies choosing to offer annuities would be shielded from liability—no matter how terrible an investment the annuity products may be. This provision has great potential for harm.

Annuities seem always to be a hot financial product in the market place. It’s rare when I interview a new client that they don’t have at least one in their portfolio. Often, it’s the only investment they own. Annuities are not hot because consumers are clamoring to buy them, but rather because annuity sales people love to sell them.

While I rarely recommend them, there are some good things about annuities, especially that earnings grow tax deferred until distributed. They can be useful in this regard in special situations—when stripped of their high fees and commissions. Therein lies the problem.

Sales

Most annuities sold by salespeople inherently contain high fees, big commissions, and high penalties to consumers for taking money out early. What that means for the investor is low returns. For those reasons, the negative aspects of annuities far outweigh any good.

Even worse, annuities have no place being owned by an IRA or, as the SECURE Act would allow, a 401(k) plan. Regardless of fees or commissions, no annuity belongs in a retirement plan. One of my top pet peeves as a financial planner is so-called “financial advisors” who sell people fixed and variable annuities for a retirement account. This makes no sense.

An annuity is a tax-deferred container to put investments in, not an investment itself. It’s what investments are inside it that matters. The same is true of  IRAs and 401(k) retirement plans. Since a retirement plan is already a tax-deferred investment container, it makes no sense to put an annuity—another tax-deferred investment container—inside of it. The silliness of this is obvious to even the most casual observer, unless your livelihood comes from selling these products.

Agents and their companies spare no expense in developing convincing storylines, half-truths, and slight-of-hand explanations of why it makes perfect sense for a retirement plan to own an annuity.

The bottom line is that annuities are sold, they are not bought. The only reason annuities are purchased in someone’s retirement account is because the salesperson receives a much higher commission from the transaction than selling a mutual fund, individual stocks, or CDs.

Why?

So why did our Representatives vote 417-3 to open up investors’ 401(k) plans to these high-cost, high-commissioned, financially disastrous products? I can only surmise that most of them didn’t fully understand what they were voting on and that the insurance lobby did their normal amazing job of selling the alleged benefits of annuities. Oh, and maybe there was a campaign contribution or two.

Assessment

Most annuities are expensive investment vehicles that benefit the salesperson and the company far more than they benefit you. If you are thinking of buying one, or in the future your 401(k) offers the option of buying an annuity, do some digging before you sign on the dotted line. Make sure you get advice first from someone other than the annuity salesperson—someone with no vested interest in selling you this product.

Your thoughts are appreciated.

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On Prioriting Money Beliefs

“Money is supposed to be spent!” “Money is supposed to be saved!”

By Rick Kahler CFP®

We may not hear talk-show participants shouting these opposing views at each other with the same level of anger that characterizes some of our political rhetoric. Yet the core polarization that pervades so much of today’s society also shows up in people’s beliefs about money.

I saw this polarization recently in a conversation with a group of friends in Europe. The topic of money came up, as it usually does when people find out one of my specialties as a financial advisor is financial therapy. The thinking of my friends was that money is meant to be spent, not saved. They felt that people who saved money were faithless and greedy hoarders who by their saving threatened the economic system.

At the other extreme, I know other people who strongly believe a person’s first duty is to save and invest. According to them, those who don’t save as much as possible for emergencies and retirement are foolish, deluded, irresponsible, and destined to live out their last days in poverty.

My friends who embrace the money script that “money is to be spent, not saved” are likely to also hold a money script that “the universe will provide.” They tend to fall into a category we label Money Avoiders. Those who embrace the money scripts that “money is to be saved and not spent,” who also believe “one can never really have enough money,” are in the category of Money Worshipers.

Like most other forms of polarized thinking, neither of these extremes is right. Nor is either belief wrong.

Money does need to be spent. The health of our economic system depends on transactions. It’s important that money flows through the selling and buying of goods and services. When a significant number of consumers stop spending, economic activity grinds to a halt. We saw the effect of this in the financial crises of 2008. It’s also important to spend money to take care of ourselves and our families. Saving or investing money to a point that we go without adequate food, shelter, health care, or similar necessities is not healthy.

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Money also needs to be saved to provide a cushion against emergencies and to provide for our needs in retirement. My European friends enjoy a higher certainty of adequate income in retirement. For them, this is the universe providing, a strong government security net. However, those that live in many Asian countries are assured very little, if anything, in the way of retirement income. For them, the universe comes up short and depends upon the generosity of family to provide. Saving in an Asian culture is therefore much more important than if you live in a Scandinavian country.

Saving and investing for retirement is important for those of us in the US, as well. Without it, we face two dubious prospects: we can depend on family to provide or we can eke out a meager living on a Social Security payment of around $2,000 a month in retirement.

Those who are not polarized around money understand that both spending and saving are important for financial health. They can balance their spending and saving, applying both when necessary in their own lives.

Assessment

Ideally, from this balanced middle ground, someone can also see past the limitations of others who are polarized. Those who believe “Money is meant to be spent” or “Money is meant to be saved” have a world view that results in such an extreme position. Labeling them as “wrong” is not a useful way to try to shift anyone’s polarized beliefs.

Conclusion: Your thoughts are appreciated.

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Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™8Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

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