Aging gracefully―a blueprint for your future

If you could peek into the future and the final 10-20 years of your life, what would that look like? Do you see yourself traveling, healthy, energetic and excited about experiencing new challenges? Or do you have visions of illness, body pains, lethargy, disengagement and a lonely life?

What if you could manage that trajectory to a more positive future with fewer deficits and more joy? Research is churning out reports on how we can slow down the negative parts of aging and enhance the joyful aspects of our lives.

Throughout my life, I’ve met many people on both sides of aging. It is clear that our attitude drives this journey. It can turn us into victims or champions over our lives. Often it begins with our attitude each day―do we resign ourselves to a self-defeating diagnosis and settle for dissatisfaction? Or do we take daily challenges as an opportunity to remain engaged and positive? Experts in aging are in agreement that we will be much happier as we age if we are comfortable in our chosen lifestyle (that is to say, we are in the habit of doing things that give meaning and value to us) and that we don’t let our “illness” or age-related challenges define our daily lives.

As technology continues its exponential growth, the key to managing and thriving in this ever-faster moving era is our ability to adapt and remain true to ourselves. I believe equally important is to allow ourselves time to unwind and gain perspective. Unfortunately, most of us would likely skip ‘self-time’ (time for meditation or reflection) in pursuit of getting more accomplished.

Though it doesn’t take a financial windfall to have a healthy retirement, it does help tremendously not to have financial worries. Financial plans and conscious financial choices will help minimize financial anxiety and create an opportunity for a healthy retirement. Beyond this opportunity, it is up to us to build lifestyles (and needed financial resources) that give us joy today and throughout our later lives.

Research on aging recommends that we include the following:

  1. Though we are all different and choose different lifestyles, we all benefit from activities that provide us with at least a minimal level of social interactions. It is social engagement, according to these experts, that can add years and quality to our lives. In addition, volunteering has been shown to reduce pain as well as increase endorphins. Even when homebound, it is essential to be active and motivated.
  2. It is no surprise that a graceful happy retired life must also include regular and vigorous mental engagement. Your financial plan should be your guide to attain your goals, but it will be your consistent financial behaviors that will keep you mentally engaged with your money later in life. We are all aware that as we age we have a higher risk of memory loss, dementia and even Alzheimer’s. We can’t control inherited diseases (50% of those over 85 are affected with a dementia-like Alzheimer’s disease but that also means, 50% are not!) but we can rise to the challenge and keep our brains mentally active.
  3. Improving your quality of life includes addressing your physical health and diet. It is recommended that we exercise regularly, including at least 45 minutes of aerobic activity. A diet with reduced portions and elimination of processed foods appears to also be connected with healthier happier lives.
  4. Though sometimes difficult, it is essential that we be able to ‘let go’ of hate, resentment and regret that reinforces negative emotions. Though it’s never easy, experts say that ideally you’ll forgive or ‘walk away’ to attain a healthier life. I find that smiling every day makes me happier and has the added bonus that it makes others smile too.
  5. Finally, stay true to your lifestyle and decision process throughout your life. If you are comfortable in your core values and habits then even the worst challenges will be manageable.

In short, a successful blueprint for a long and rewarding life entails the intentional effort to remain active, engaged and positive.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

The skateboard champion and other stories

As a way to put money away and save on taxes we often think of retirement accounts for the self-employed that include a simplified employee pension plan (SEP), an individual 401K-profit sharing plan (401K-PSP), or Defined Benefit (DB) plan. DB plans are the least used and yet the most powerful at reducing tax liability and quickly increasing your tax-deferred savings. To illustrate how DB plans can be used, I want to share with you how creative individuals were able to leverage their DB plan to save maximally and retire early.

  • The Skateboard Champion – A 30-year-old skateboarder plans ahead and saves $130K per year from winnings and endorsements. He will have saved $2.6M by the time he turns 50 (without considering any market growth).
  • The Lobster Fisherman – A 61-year-old fisherman from Maine pays himself $35K in payroll from his C Corporation and saves $60K per year for the last five years before retiring. His reward: an estimated $300K in accumulated additional savings for his retirement.
  • The Clothing Store Sales Rep – At 57 years of age the rep contributes $150K per year for herself and $12K for her young assistant until retirement at age 65. She accumulates another $1.2M not including growth.
  • The Lobbyist from Virginia – Beginning at age 48, the lobbyist contributes $145K/year for 7 years saving just over $1M by age 55.
  • The University Professor & Guest Speaker – Starting at age 54, the Prof contributes $42K per year from guest speaking engagements. He does this for 12 years and adds $502K in savings (excluding growth) to his already substantial university benefit plans.

DB plans provide the highest contribution amounts particularly when combined with a 401K. To take full advantage of this type of plan, a business must have sufficient profit and cash flow. DB plans, like a 401k, must be established in the same year and have specific requirements including annual tax filings. DB plans are not limited by the fixed maximum contribution found in SEP or 401K plans but instead are based on age, payroll and future benefit. This year, the maximum annual future benefit is up to $210K (this can amount to substantially more than a $210K contribution in any one year).

If you have a side business or are starting your own full time business consider the DB plan. Even though these are powerful, the best type of retirement savings plan for you is dependent on your business’ current and projected cash flow. As you can tell from the stories above, a well-designed DB Plan is not just for those over 50 or those with large earnings. It can be a very smart way to defer taxes today and provide for your lifestyle in the future.

Defined Benefit plans are not appropriate for everyone but I’ve seen them work for so many different people in unexpected situations that I thought I’d share some success stories with you.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Start of the Year Planning

I’m often asked “how do I make sure that I (and my family) stay on track with
our finances?” Following are a few pointers to start the New Year off right.
Keep in mind, this isn’t about making resolutions (we all know how that goes), but
rather, building sound financial habits that will set you, and your family, in
good stead, now and in the future.

(1) TAKE STOCK. If you haven’t done so already, the first place to start is to
take stock of what was actually accomplished in 2015. This will be easier if you combine it with your preparations for filing your income tax. As a family, tally all of your statements (we send you a summary of the investments we manage but we’re willing to help you summarize your other assets as long as you send a year-end statement). This shouldn’t just be one person’s job – the point is to use the opportunity to enhance everyone’s awareness of how the money was earned and spent last year. It is also a time to see how well the reality matched the goals set at the start of 2015. Before you move forward you need to take stock of those items you can control. Don’t get too hung up on performance—the markets behave as they will and you’ll come out ahead as long as you have a low cost, high quality, diversified portfolio. Once you have such a portfolio, it is MORE important to determine how well you enjoyed the year than just
analyzing your spending habits.

Was this a good year for you? If so, what made it good or what made it less
enjoyable? As a family, what would you keep and what would you avoid
earning/spending if you had a choice? Life is about learning from what we do
and what we value but it should be based on your reality and your values.
Come away knowing how the year met with your expectations for a good life.

(2) DON’T GO IT ALONE. Think about how you can include others in this
process. This is particularly important in families where one person takes a
larger share of the family’s financial responsibilities. This “Start of the
Year” planning is an opportunity to develop closer communication
with anyone who is important to your financial future. First share
what was accomplished in 2015 and then decide what the family might want
or need in 2016. Do not forget that once you have set your goals you might
want to include financial professional(s) to ensure that you maximize and
implement all that is available. The power of building a strong financial
rapport over years will become evident during annual planning and when life
reveals unusual financial challenges.

You might also want to use this opportunity to share relevant annual decisions
and your process with any dependents so that they become participants in
helping the family attain goals for each year. For children this can be an
excellent learning experience and evidence of how finances are discussed and
handled in a family.

(3) GET BUY IN AND ACCOUNTABILITY. It is best to commit to
writing what was accomplished in 2015 and what you are targeting
in 2016. You should set a quarterly check-in to be sure that everyone is
committed throughout the year to what is decided at the start (this is most
important for the first couple of years and until this process becomes habit). The aim is to keep everyone on track and to determine if the goals and objectives are indeed
attainable.

(4) TRACK YOUR PROGRESS. Ideally you’ll let us help you track your
progress throughout the year by checking in with us, but we also encourage
you to make it a habit in your home.
Making financial decisions can be challenging at the best of times, if only
because they tend to have a ripple effect that isn’t always predictable.
Remember—when taking stock and making plans, it helps to keep the lines of
communication open, control what you can and target those things you value.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Identifying Your “Retirement Paradise”

For most of our clients their ideal retirement location or “Retirement Paradise” is in the Bay Area (or other high cost areas), near family and friends and a stimulating environment, but high taxes and the cost of living cause many to re-evaluate.
For those choosing to remain in the Bay Area, the purchase of a smaller home (downsizing) is often used as a way to reduce expenses or to make their home better suited for independent at-home aging.  To remain in the Bay Area (or other high cost areas) retirement saving goals must be very aggressive and fully funded to support the same lifestyle during retirement.

Some consider moving to lower cost US states and even overseas. The idea of downsizing away from California (or your home state), as a way to reduce expenses and bolster available retirement funds may not be as easy as selecting the lowest tax or lowest cost location.  Keeping in mind that retirement is not one uniform event, but a series of phases, let’s cover a few of the financial implications.

Relocating may indeed reduce some costs, but there are ramifications that are often overlooked.  For example, moving away from higher cost areas can reduce income taxes, but this may not offset the increased cost of travel, other taxes (such as real estate), services, and costs associated with changes to lifestyle.

We suggest that you give the town, state or country that you intend to relocate to a try for extended periods of time and at various seasons of the year with an eye toward evaluating how you will spend your retirement and what costs will be incurred. How does it feel to revisit the same place over several years? Can you see yourself developing the supporting network you’ll need as you grow older? How will your budget be changed?

Don’t underestimate the value of a community that can provide stimulating events that you would be interested in attending (the opera, symphony, music, college courses).  What about your family and friends? Will you want to be close to them while you age? What healthcare do you need and how does your future community support it?  Some areas have low taxes, but do they provide the services that you’ll need as you age?

If you enjoy particular hobbies, you’ll probably want to check out the ease of access to your interests, but don’t neglect other priorities such as transportation and communication. As you age, travel becomes more difficult, especially if you develop special needs. Give thought to public transit and convenience to major airports or rail lines. In our experience, clients will deliberately choose a populated community to move to (later in retirement) with well developed public transit.  Access to quality internet is also your lifeline to friends and family and to future independence.

Some states do not tax retiree income and some states provide extensive retiree services. Look to see which location provides benefits that you will need. Often states that do not tax an individual’s income have higher sales and property taxes, so you must do the numbers. Be mindful of Medigap policy costs and Medicare Part D (drug coverage) in your potential retirement paradise. Premiums can be lower in areas that have a lower cost of living or more retirees. The prohibitively high cost for healthcare and lack of services in some counties will likely surprise you.

It may seem a little pre-mature, but you should give some thought and consideration during the process of making your first retirement move to the possibility of a later move in life to be near loved ones or to an assisted-living facility. As we age, the process of moving becomes more challenging – though early in retirement it can be very exciting. You’ll find this stress can be reduced or avoided with some early planning and coordination.

A few words now about moving to a foreign country for some or all of your retirement years.  It is likely that you can find countries with a lower cost of living than the US and where you can maintain or enlarge your lifestyle, but you’d be well advised to examine this option over several extended trips.  If you are planning to remain abroad through only part of your retirement, you will need to determine how to fund your eventual return, or else how you will handle all retirement phases if you intend to remain permanently out-of-country.

All US “persons” (that’s the legal term for anyone deemed subject to US taxation authority) must file taxes annually. Typically the US has a treaty with other countries so that your earnings will not be double taxed, but most retirees do not work so double taxation is not a large concern. There are rules on what is or is not taxable to you as a resident of the foreign country and what is payable to the IRS. Consider that you will have to pay taxes on all pre-tax accounts, social security, pensions even while living overseas but you will likely avoid state tax. As a US person, you will have annual administrative financial filings (known as FBAR) while not residing in the US.  Healthcare is often an issue later in retirement (Medicare does NOT cover foreign health care costs) unless you verify that the services and specialties needed as you age are easily available in your new home.  Finally, currency differences will provide you with more purchasing power while the dollar is high. However, when the dollar drops, there may be a need to return to the US or find some other way to make up the shortfall.  These contingencies need to be planned for early so that you’ll have a framework regarding your choices later in retirement.

When planning for your retirement paradise, bear in mind the most important principle—to think beyond today and prepare as best you can for contingencies throughout all phases in retirement. As always, we’re here to listen and to help outline the implications of your choices for the various stages of retirement. Working together, we can examine financially realistic options so that you can make the best choices today while preparing for the realities of your “Retirement Paradise”.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

What do you do if your mortgage is denied?

How do you prepare for a mortgage application? What do you do if your mortgage application is denied?

As of August of 2011 lenders rejected about 50% of received applications for mortgage refinance (according to the Mortgage Bankers Association).

We recommend to always know and improve your credit history before you apply for a mortgage or refi. – the key is to improve your credit score.  If the mortgage is still rejected then we look at the lender – was this because they are the wrong type of lender or is there something else going on?

Why might you not qualify for a mortgage?

If your mortgage application is denied, always find out exactly why the lender turned you down.  The law states that you have the right to receive a disclosure letter – but you want more than those general letters – so use the fact that you have the right of disclosure to find out the ‘real’ reason from the front person you worked with.

The best way is to take the disclosure letter to your loan officer and ask for an explanation that makes sense to you, something that you can do something about.  The front person is a great source of answers as to how your loan is perceived at that institution.

What reasons are there for rejecting a mortgage application:

1) Appraisal was too low to back the amount of loan requested – declined due to LTV (loan-to-value). Lowball appraisals kill many purchases and refinances, but if you are certain that it is a low appraisal it is worth reapplying with a different lender.  Try to find a mortgage lender that is local and uses local appraisals to ensure that they know the market value for your home.  One of our clients had an appraisal at $1.2M and yet it came in at $2.1M with a local appraisal – not a small discrepancy between appraisals!

2) Credit history problems should always be resolved before you apply because some credit fixes can take time (6-12 months).  If your credit score is slightly lower there may be quick fixes like paying off credit card balances but even they will take 3 months before they show up in all three credit scores.

Some lenders will do a rapid rescore to get a new score soon after you know that the three credit history companies receive your changes – but this can still take time.

3) A too high Debt-to-income ratio will require that you pay off debt so that your monthly payment obligations are low enough compared to the income you earn.  Although unusual some times we find that clients have not included all of their income. In most cases, we help clients select the best assets that will be sold to pay off debt and lower their monthly debt payments.

Most lenders follow Fannie Mae (45%) and Freddie Mac guidelines some have more stringent requirements (35-38%).  Forty-five percent is a very high DTI and we recommend that despite the allowed DTI you not exceed 35% DTI.  If you are trying to get a mortgage with a DTI above 35% consider carefully if you have the capacity to maintain this debt load if  you have an emergency or unexpected financial shortfall.

4) When selecting your mortgage consider the size of the lending institution.  Often we find that community banks and credit unions have more flexible underwriting standards.  This is particularly important for those who are self-employed.

5) Do not take mortgage rejection personally.  At times it is not ‘the right time for you’ to refinance or purchase a home.  It will be the right time for you if you take the opportunity to manage your finances, pay off debt responsibly and keep adding to your earning history.  Always get your finances in order 6 to 12 months ahead if you are planning to buy a home.  For many, this is their largest debt they will obtain in their lives.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Taxes prior to Debt Super Committee Vote

2012-13 Tax Planning
– Prior to Debt Super Committee meeting deadline (Nov 23rd)

There are at least 60 income tax provisions scheduled to expire at the end of 2011 but even if they do the most significant income tax changes are expected in 2013.

The Bush tax cuts are set to expire and income tax rates rise in 2013. At that time, itemized deductions would once again be partially phased out, the estate tax exemption will drop precipitously and the estate tax rate will jump unless they are re-enacted.  At the same time we’ll begin the new healthcare surtax in 2013 that will result in 3.8% tax increase on
certain types of investment income and a tax of almost 1% on wages above a specified threshold.
Between now and 2013, we expect much talk about changes but the Congressional bipartisan ‘supercommittee’ is considering controversial revenue-raising measures, such as limiting itemized deductions for high income tax payers and other altered tax treatments. The vote & recommendations on November 23rd will play a large part in our confidence that our economy will begin to grow soon before the tax increases in 2013.

Our long term success still remain with business growth and ability to create and support well paying jobs.

What does this mean for investors? That we plan for what we know, not what might happen.  But we keep our eye on what changes are approved so that we can adjust and still reach your personal and professional goals.

This year and next year (are consistent with 2010) present us with tactical and strategic decisions that may require action before those rules expire.

Here are two lapsing provisions:
AMT Patch was extended from 2010 to 2011. If Congress
does not extend it, the AMT exemption for 2012 would
return to earlier, lower levels and will result in more tax owed.

The portion of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax that goes to Social Security was reduced temporarily in
2011 from 6.2% to 4.2%. With no extension, the higher rate
returns in 2012.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Readings: Two is Enough

Edi’s Book Readings
Two is Enough
by Laura S Scott

I was fortunate to share an evening with seven wonderful women who had read and wanted to discuss this book.  We shared a drink and our thoughts.

I want to share and recommend this book for you to read or scan as a general education for everyone to understand different groups in our society.  I think it is particularly a good read for anyone starting or considering having children.  Children are a wonderful addition to a family that welcomes and is prepared to provide for them.  All agreed that having children should be a very conscious thoughtful decision for every couple.

What persists with me even today is that 20% of couples may be childless – sounds like a fairly large group. Do the individuals share enough in common?  They do if we consider their financial and retirement planning needs.

In the US singles and couples without children are not usually addressed as a group and I thought this book did a good job at educating all of us on why couples choose or don’t choose to have children.  For me it was enlightening to see that we’re past the idea that having children is a requirement to have a life well lived.

If you get a chance to read it  – let me know your thoughts.

Edi

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

What Legacy Will You Leave?

What Legacy Will You Leave?

Aviva Shiff Boedecker, J.D.
www.asbcharitableplanning.com

 Retirement plans are the most heavily taxed assets in most people’s estates because when heirs withdraw the funds, they must pay income tax, in addition to any estate tax that may have already been paid. By designating a charity, school, religious organization or other nonprofit as a beneficiary of your retirement plan, you can reduce or eliminate taxes, retain complete flexibility and control over all your assets, and leave a legacy that will have a lasting impact.

You and your heirs can avoid both income and estate tax on your retirement account when you give the remainder of the plan to one or more tax-exempt organizations and leave your heirs other, less-taxed property.

With a simple designation of beneficiary form, which is available from your plan administrator, and without impacting your own or your family’s security, you can make the gift of a lifetime.

For more information about making a flexible and tax-wise legacy gift to the organization(s) of your choice, contact Edi or Aviva.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

2010 and the Year ahead

Life Happens, so enjoy it! Regularly you should track your finances BUT do enjoy and appreciate the wonders of life in the moment. Do remain centered on your family and personal goals and don’t keep up with the Jones’s or act on water-cooler investment advice.

Always work on understanding & visualizing your goals.Try to live within your existing budget even as your income improves. Consider using software like mint.com or Quicken to track your spending. Always save for a rainy day because when those days arrive you need to be well prepared to ensure you don’t drown.

Negotiate everything from cable bills to credit card fees to rent. You never know until you ask. Many service providers will work with you. Always be polite and ask for a reduced rate but don’t divulge your finances.

Employee benefits. Many firms have begun offering Roth 401Ks and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and firm equity. Review these benefits within your entire financial plan. Are these benefits part of your wealth building plan?

Tax rates. Capital gains and dividend tax rates are low in 2010, but are expected to rise in 2011. This may be a time to sell investments you are planning to sell in the next few years. Consider a Roth, it will likely benefit you to put some of your IRA money into it as long as you can handle the tax consequences all in 2010. Since we don’t know the tax rates in 2011 consider carefully any suggestions to defer Roth tax payments to 2011 and 2012.

Cash. Always evaluate your cash needs and only leave enough in cash that is not earmarked for shortterm uses or emergency savings. You might want to keep your cash in the best earning conservative vehicle and the remainder should be in bond or may even be better used to pay down mortgage – you’ll need to check your overall plan and do the numbers to make sure which is the best choice for you.

Rebalance regularly. The market continues to show us that we can’t predict when it will have sudden changes so don’t attempt to time the market, but do time your rebalancing to your portfolio allocation. This should give you opportunities to remove excess earnings from a winning security and buy those that are inexpensive.

Each year manage your credit report. If you have not already, implement a regular schedule of requesting your free annual credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com. When making this request make sure that you are NOT paying a fee. Carefully navigate the website and get one free report each year from each of the three main credit reporting agencies, make sure to request a different agency every four months. Always check the report for errors.

Keep an eye on fees and expenses. Pay attention to commissions, fund management and other expenses incurred on your investments, banking and other services/products. Make sure that the fees are appropriate with the service/results experienced. Watch for hidden fees that are not providing you with value.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

 

Begin 2010 with a plan in mind!

2010 has begun and you should have received our annual financial planning calendar.

You should review the calendar adding your own important dates and family target dates. Post it somewhere that will be visible daily. This will help you enjoy the inspirational views from around the world as well as regularly target you and your family to think of the financial consequences of our actions.

Don’t forget to mark your personal financial review/planning times as well as your family meetings. We recommend that financial family meetings be set quarter or semi-annually. Allow for enough time to prepare your financial data for these family financial planning meetings.

Engage our help if you need a third party to run or coach you to run these family meetings.

I encourage you to focus on your career, family life and worthy causes with a solid financial plan/structure for you and your family. Although we live in an interconnected world it is up to us to ensure that we keep moving towards our goals and dreams.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com