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The “Good Deal Exemption” for Financial Advisors is No Joke

The “Rules”

[By Rick Kahler CFP®]

In the business of selling financial products, the “good deal exemption” may be one of the most widely used “rules” most people have never heard of. You can’t find it in any rule book or statute. Even Google has never heard of it. Yet it is used on a daily basis.

The rules and laws surrounding the sale of financial products are complex and voluminous. Even with the best of intentions, it isn’t hard to run afoul of a rule.

Under the good deal exemption, however, a licensee can violate any rule or statute as long as the investment sold to the customer turns out to be a “good deal.” This is a tongue-in-cheek way of saying you can violate any rule you want as long as the customer doesn’t file a complaint or sue you. Which they will rarely do if the deal turns out to make them loads of money.

It’s when investments go bad that customers often complain or sue, not because they were aware of any securities violations, but because they lost money. It’s the ensuing investigation by the regulating body and the customer’s attorney that uncovers any violations.

Example:

Recently, I came across a perfect example of the good deal exemption. A married couple I knew, Arnie and Audrey, invested with Bernie (not his real name) 30 years ago as they neared retirement. He put their entire savings of about $310,000 into mutual funds that invested in common stocks. Because of a pension and Social Security, they didn’t need any income from their investments.

At the same time, Arnie put his investments into a revocable living trust, naming Audrey as the trustee and beneficiary. Eleven years later, when Audrey was 80, Arnie died.

Losing her husband’s pension income and one Social Security check, Audrey needed to start drawing $2,000 a month from the portfolio. While most advisors would have recommended reducing the risk and volatility of the portfolio by investing less in stocks and more in bonds, Bernie kept Audrey invested 100% in stocks. This is aggressive for any 80-year-old needing income from a portfolio. He made no changes as the years went by.

At 85, Audrey started showing signs of dementia. Bernie rightly suggested appointing someone other than herself as trustee. But rather than naming one of her three children (who didn’t trust Bernie and may have transferred the accounts), he convinced her to appoint his wife, who also worked in his office, as trustee. In any broker’s books, this was a serious ethics violation.

In the great recession of 2008-2009, when Audrey was 89, her portfolio lost just under half of its value, falling from $832,507 to $478,820. Had Bernie reallocated the portfolio before the crash to a mix of 50% stocks and 50% bonds, the loss would have been cut in half. To his credit, Bernie told her to stay the course and not sell out.

Recently, at age 99, Audrey died. Her account had done phenomenally well, being 100% invested in US stocks, which for the last 10 years was the best investment class on the planet. Her $478,820 had grown to $1,300,000, providing her a $2000 monthly income and a substantial estate that she left to her children.

Assessment

Despite the inappropriately risky investments and the ethics violations, Bernie and his wife are probably protected by the good deal exemption. Given their substantial inheritance, Audrey’s children are unlikely to sue.

This happy ending was due primarily to luck. Audrey lived long enough and at the right time so her portfolio recovered. However, if luck were a sound investment strategy, Las Vegas would be full of millionaires happily retired on their winnings.

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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On the Unintended Consequences of High Taxes on the Rich

On the two types of tax increases

[By Rick Kahler CFP®]

Two types of tax increases are being promoted by several presidential candidates and members of Congress. The less common idea, which I wrote about recently, is a wealth tax on net worth. The more common proposal is a significant increase in income taxes.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders favors a progressive income tax that tops out at 54.2% on incomes over $10 million. Not to be outdone, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supports increasing the income tax on the same group to 70%.

If you think these proposals are so radical that only the most liberal of voters would support them, a poll conducted by Hill-HarrisX in January 2019 found that 59% of all voters favored a 70% tax bracket. The survey asked 1001 registered voters if they favored a 70% top rate for “the 10 millionth dollar and beyond for individuals making $10 million a year or more in reportable income.” While predictably most Democrats polled—71%—favored the steep increase, 60% of Independents and 45% of Republicans also supported it.

When you consider how popular the notion of a 70% top income bracket is, it isn’t a stretch by any means to imagine these same voters in the 2020 election giving control of Congress and the Presidency to politicians favorable to hiking taxes. The chance of seeing such massive increases on the wealthy goes from a remote possibility to a real probability.

Promoters of the anticipated windfall revenues from such a tax want to redistribute the proceeds to fund things like free college education, affordable health care for all, high speed rail trains, and converting existing buildings to comply with “green” regulations.

While all these outcomes are well intended, perhaps even desirous, before we forge ahead it may be a good idea to consider unforeseen consequences. Let’s look at how past attempts to fund massive government benefits by raising taxes on the rich have worked.

France

In 2012 France raised the top tax bracket to 75% on individuals earning over $1 million. French economist Thomas Piketty, who really wanted to see the tax at 80%, was so exuberant about the move that he predicted many other countries would follow suit.

Government officials estimated that tax revenues would soar to 30 billion euros in 2013. They were roughly half right: revenues came in at 16 billion euros. One of the reasons the tax revenue windfall didn’t develop was a consequence that politicians had not considered. The wealthy packed their bags and moved, taking their investments and income with them.

By 2015, around 2.5 million French citizens lived in the U.K., Belgium, Singapore, and other countries that had much more competitive tax rates. The French economy ground to a halt, growth stagnated, and unemployment soared to 10%. In 2015 France repealed the ill-fated tax.

England

According to The Times of London in March 2019, one-third of British billionaires have left the country because of high taxes, most in the last ten years.

Maryland

The state of Maryland has had a similar experience due to high state and municipal taxes. In October 2013, the Maryland Public Policy Institute reported on throngs of wealthy retirees  “moving out of Maryland to save money on taxes and leave more to their children. This is costing the state millions in tax revenue.”

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Assessment

If the U.S. enacts a similar tax, it is foolish to assume the outcome will be any different. A plethora of other countries with great amenities and competitive tax rates will appeal to those affected by the tax. Tax policies that regard the wealthy primarily as sources of revenue rather than investors in their communities do little to keep those citizens anchored at home.

And so, your thoughts are appreciated.

***

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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More on Medical Practice Business Costs

Unknown and Under-Appreciated by Many

By Rick Kahler CFP®

I recently talked with an administrator of a private medical practice about some of the financial challenges she faces in dealing with the medical system, insurers, and patients.

Some of the insights she gave me into the realities that private physicians face in providing medical care were rather disturbing.

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Here are a few of them.

Let’s start with the insurers who account for the bulk of their revenue. Many payments for procedures from insurance companies (including Medicare) are below the cost of providing the service. This forces physicians to make up the difference on other procedures or find other sources of income to sustain the profitability of the practice.

Conversely, in markets that have just one hospital, the insurance companies have no leverage. If the insurers won’t pay what the hospitals demand, the hospitals can threaten to drop out of the network, leaving the insurers with nowhere to send their insureds in those markets. The insurers end up agreeing to pay the hospitals more.

Charges for services provided in-house at the hospital can end up being substantially higher than those same services done by outside providers.

Example:

She gave me an example of a lab test that cost $1,500 to $2,000 at the hospital lab but $35 to $80 at an independent lab. Patients do have the option to direct the hospital to use an independent lab. But, how many people know that and will have the presence of mind to make the request? While it makes financial sense to price-shop if you have a high deductible HSA plan, there isn’t much incentive if your plan has low deductibles.

Collections

Another challenge is collecting from patients. She says a surprising percentage of Americans maintain checking accounts with no money or keep checks from accounts which have long been closed. While writing bad checks is a crime, those who game the system know they can probably get by with writing a low-dollar check because the cost of pursuing justice is much more than the check is worth.

Most companies would never do business with such a person again. Healthcare professionals tend to have a bias toward giving everyone services, so these same people do return requesting care. She said she and her physician employer have had huge internal arguments about this. Her position is that these people take advantage of the physician in a premeditated fashion and don’t deserve to be extended services. The physician argues that everyone, even deadbeats, deserves healthcare. Since the practice doesn’t provide life-and-death services, she was able to get the physician to agree that if someone has an outstanding bill they need to settle it upfront, in cash, before any new services are provided.

Then there are those who use credit cards and then fraudulently dispute the charges. Some providers let this go because of the difficulty of proving that the charge is legitimate. It requires photographs of customers during the transaction, copies of driver’s licenses, customers’ signatures on the paperwork, and notarized statements from the provider verifying that this was the person who received services and presented the credit card.

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SSNs

A final interesting point concerned patients’ Social Security numbers. She said the only time these are ever needed is when an outstanding bill is sent for collection. Otherwise, they are never accessed or used.

Assessment

Finally, she was quick to add that only a small fraction of their patients premeditate stealing from them. She also stressed that not all insurance companies or hospitals behave unethically, and some do wonderful, humane acts of kindness. Nevertheless, the lack of integrity that does occur on both sides is infuriating and adds to the cost of health services.

Conclusion

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