Perspective on Inflation, Recession, Stagflation, Deflation

To date, we’ve all seen price increases (inflation) and also shrinkflation (smaller content of a product for the same price) but so far no hyperinflation. As consumers and investors, we participate in this process but seldom acknowledge the interplay. For example, when we decide to spend freely at this point in the economic cycle, we are contributing to inflation but not spending at all can contribute towards deflation.

To me, recessions are a natural cleansing mechanism for the economy. Over the course of economic expansions, companies become flush with excess. Meaning that their processes loosen, they hire too many people, they accumulate too much inventory. Recessions are a business cycle’s ‘diet plan’ for companies that need to shed excess but do so reluctantly – with negative growth. Recessions are never fun (the pain will certainly be felt more by those without adequate resources or with less certain employment), but historically they tend to be short-term interruptions between economic expansions. It is accepted that the greater long-term risk to the economy is not recession, but stagflation (slow growth, increased unemployment, and inflation) or even deflation (drop in demand for goods).

Despite headlines to the contrary the ‘tightening’ of monetary policy by the Federal Reserve is essential to economic recovery, which means raising interest rates have to be tolerated to slow down inflation and hopefully without dramatic increase in unemployment.  With that, it is “quite likely” that the unemployment rate will rise “a fair bit” from  where it is now, at 3.6%. If it rises more than a ‘fair bit,’ we could see a period of stagflation.

You’ll likely see headlines through the next months about the last time the US experienced stagflation. Briefly, in the 1970s the onset of stagflation was blamed on the US Federal Reserve’s unsustainable economic policy during the boom years of the late ‘50s and ‘60s. At the time, the Fed moved to keep unemployment low and to boost overall business demand. However, the unnaturally low unemployment during the decade triggered something called a wage-price spiral and hyperinflation. The impact of inflation on our economy will depend on the differential between the inflation rate and wage growth. This is what the Fed is trying to control as it maneuvers for a ‘soft landing’. The higher the unemployment, the greater potential for stagflation.

Stagflation may happen if a recession sets in before inflation has gone down low enough. For example, if unemployment were to go up to about 5% and consumer price index inflation was also above 5%, then that would be a kind of stagflation, though nothing like the degree experienced in the ‘70s. In the near term, we expect the labor market will more likely just cool, resulting in fewer vacancies rather than unemployment. It is likely that we will enter a recession this year and/or in 2023 but hopefully not stagflation. Much depends on how the economy and businesses react to Fed rate hikes.

Before focusing on the unknown future, we should remind ourselves that in the last 20 years, we’ve seen declining interest rates and low inflation, which in turn caused a seemingly never-ending increase in housing prices. This put extra money into our pockets and drove prices of all assets up, which in turn boosted consumer confidence, as people felt wealthier and were encouraged to spend. In addition, during the last 20-plus years every time the economy stumbled, the Fed worked to bail it out – by lowering interest rates, injecting the market with liquidity. This caused the economy and equity market to recover quickly and without much pain. The pain we were spared was stored, metaphorically speaking, in a pain jar (represented in part as increased debt, income discrepancies) awaiting the next crisis. Today, to prevent inflation turning into hyperinflation, the Fed has no choice but to raise interest rates. We expect that this process will take time and likely be cyclical since the Fed only controls a couple of components. Consumers, by their purchases, will play a role in which companies survive this market cycle. The larger goal is for the business cycle to trim inefficient businesses while avoiding hyperinflation, stagflation, and deflation.

Though price drops are considered a good thing—at least when it comes to your favorite shopping destinations – price drops across the entire economy, however, is called deflation, and that’s a whole other ballgame. Large scale deflation can be really bad news.

While inflation means your dollar doesn’t stretch as far, it also reduces the value of debt, so borrowers keep borrowing and debtors keep paying their bills and the economy continues to grow. Modest inflation is a normal part of the economic cycle—the economy typically experiences inflation of 1% to 3% per year—and a small amount is generally viewed as a sign of healthy economic growth. You might have heard that 2% is the Fed’s target inflation rate.

Inflation is also something consumers with assets/resources can protect themselves against, to some extent. Investing in equity markets, for instance, grows your earnings faster than inflation, helping you retain and grow your purchasing power. Protecting yourself against deflation is trickier because debt becomes more expensive, leading people and businesses to avoid new debt. They instead payoff increasingly pricey variable rate debts from prior purchases and avoid new purchases, decreasing growth.

During periods of deflation, the best place for people to hold money is generally in cash investments, which don’t earn much. Other types of investments, like stocks, corporate bonds, and real estate investments, become riskier when there’s deflation because businesses (even businesses with good market performance but with high debt) can face very difficult times or fail entirely.

Overall, in the USA we’ve primarily experienced inflation, not deflation.

As consumers and investors, we don’t control these market components, so what might we do? We focus on what we can control and work to feed the economy while trimming our excess spending.

This is actually a really good time to revisit your financial fundamentals. Do you still have a reasonable emergency fund? Are you spending consciously and aligned with your values and budget? This is certainly a time to re-examine any adjustable-rate debt and determine how to best lock them in. It is also a great time to examine your career and ensure you are professionally valued and not likely in any potential layoff pool. Most importantly, this is a time to get comfortable with what you value and control.

Do not let fear derail what you do. Instead prepare your finances to take advantage of whatever situation presents itself.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Family Loans

Lending money to family is often intended to be a gift of love and to provide assistance, but it is also rife with perils, for both the lender and the borrower.  It goes without saying that lending money should only be considered when permitted by your financial plan. In other words, don’t give money away at the expense of your future cash flow.

If all goes well, the loan will be repaid in a timely manner and will be a win-win for the lender and the borrower. In our experience, this is not usually the case.

In fact, most family loans are forgiven and often turn into gifts. In some cases, family discord and financial stress derail the family relationship when the borrower is unable to repay, and the lender needs the funds for their financial well-being. At other times the loan repayment is not the issue, but other squabbles (like unequal lending to family members) arise which can cause defaults and family resentments.

Lending money to a family member in exchange for a promissory note must follow IRS rules. The IRS requirements are clear, the loan must charge a minimum interest rate, must document transactions, and require repayments. If it is instead a gift (no repayment expected), then it must be stated as such and recorded for gift tax purposes (and may require filing an IRS Gift Tax Form).

The recent highly publicized case of Bank of America independent director David Yost’s daughter’s divorce is an appropriate example. Yost appears to have made $8M in loans to the couple years earlier and on divorce demanded repayment from his soon to be ex-son-in-law. The ex- claimed they were not loans but gifts that Yost made to appear as loans to evade taxes. This landed both families in court with suits on both sides and the IRS watching from the sideline.

It is common for highly affluent families to make private loans with assets they do not need in their retirement. It is particularly beneficial when loans are used to purchase assets for the next generation without tax liability and to simultaneously reduce the size of the lender’s estate while avoiding future estate taxes (currently, this estate tax reduction strategy is relevant for families with estates greater than $12M).

My concern over family loans arise when the financial plan doesn’t comfortably cover the loan and yet the lender feels emotionally inclined to make the loan despite the projected shortfall in future cash flow. I find that lenders who are family members do not recognize that despite best intentions the possibility exists that the money will not be repaid, and money not market invested is missing out on gain that will be needed later in retirement. In addition, most are not aware that without proper documentation the IRS can label this transaction as a tax avoidance technique.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Manipulative Investment Products:  Politics and Emotion

The investment world frequently capitalizes on emotions by creating products (funds) that cater to the latest fads or emotionally charged topic. A recent trend has been to create funds that filter companies based on political views.

A recently concocted fund demonstrates this trend precisely. The adviser ostensibly boycotts certain companies in the S&P 500 perceived to be too liberal and calls it a new fund. The fund’s very name is designed to excite and exploit political passions, irrespective of what the client might need in their portfolio. In addition, defining one company as “left-leaning” or another as being “more Conservative” is not only arbitrary in practice, but also contrary to the entire idea of diversification, and the “rational investor.” The marketing pitch captures people who believe that filtering using personal conservative ideals, beliefs, and values will yield needed market returns while investing in companies they think fit with their political beliefs. This is not likely to have the expected outcome since markets seldom behave how we want or expect them. They are encouraged to invest dollars without regard to capital market behavior or diversification. Amazingly they do claim to be ‘diversified’ and not to compromise performance without much history.

Whether “pro Right” or “pro Left”, I consider this trend more insidious than other marketing techniques because it encourages investors to use politics and emotions to select investments for a retirement portfolio. Retirement portfolio allocation shouldn’t be derailed by fads or emotions but capture gains when others react emotionally.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Market Volatility – Panic has a Price

Market volatility is part of the deal when investing for the long-term. Currently, some of the volatility is due to inflation and the invasion of Ukraine but most of the volatility is from fear of the unknown (by market participants). We’ve had many periods that generated panic and each time an emotional reaction or seeking ‘safety’ had a price.

Since 1960, the markets have dropped more than 30% during seven crises.

Instead of seeking ‘safety’ during a crisis, we encourage you to let us do what we do best and make the most of these crises and instead focus on things that you directly control.  The best way to handle market volatility is to have a plan in place and let it be executed without ‘fear’.

So, what should you do during periods of volatility?

  1. Take care of your health by not over focusing on media hype – crises are a bonanza for media outlets. For example, CNN searches were up from 89% to 193% during March of 2020. ‘Googling’ trending topics only makes us more anxious. Online searches will not guide you to how your portfolio and your finances should be managed to get you to your goals.
  2. Do not check your portfolio every day but do evaluate your anxiety level – if you find that you are overly anxious then we need to re-examine your asset allocation once the market recovers. Keep in mind that unless you depend on the portfolio for cash support, what happens in the market today is not relevant.
  3. Monitor your cash flow – ensure that you have the cash flow you need and that you have the necessary emergency fund.
  4. If you have a long-term horizon (meaning that you are not planning to draw from your portfolio over the next 3 years) then view the volatility as dips that we will use to reallocate your portfolio.
  5. If you depend on the portfolio for ongoing cash flow and we developed a distribution plan for you then you have a withdrawal plan for the next 3-5 years regardless of the market dip. Stay within planned spending.

I don’t deny that there is good reason to be anxious about the war in Ukraine and the impact it will have on our lives and the economy. Even so, this is not the time to decide that you want to make your portfolio ‘safer’. ‘Safer’ often means going to cash or bonds but the time to move to cash is when markets are doing well not during a crisis. During a crisis the ideal action is to use cash to buy positions that will benefit your portfolio in the long-term even if they underperform in the short-term.

The graph below illustrates how a hypothetical “fearful” investor, who chose safety during market downturns of 30%, missed gains time and time again during market recoveries. This investor traded long-term results for short-term comfort likely because the constant drumbeat of negative news made it difficult to stay true to the investment plan.

But how about market timing? Research shows that market timing strategies do not work well for individual investors. Dalbar’s Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior measured the effects of individual investors moving into and out of mutual funds. They found that the average individual investor returns are less—in many cases, much less—than market indices return held through the crisis.

But how about, “it is different this time”? Of course, each crisis is different BUT the US has experienced 26 bear markets since 1929 and the markets recovered all 26 times though some took a long period of time to recover. The key to market recovery is that businesses must continue to make profits.
If you find that you are overly anxious about your portfolio, then record this in your Aikapa folder and let us seriously address your portfolio allocation and the tradeoff to your long-term goals once the market has recovered.

If you find you have unexpected/unplanned cash flow needs from your portfolio, then let’s talk about it and find ways to provide what you need today minimizing damage to your long-term plans.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

The American Rescue Plan of 2021: Highlights

The details of the American Rescue Plan 2021 are still being processed BUT we know
that it doesn’t include RMD relief for 2021 nor increased minimum wage. It does
provide both 2020 and 2021 tax filing items. Below, I’ve outlined those that I found
most significant so far.

  1. “Stimulus Checks” For individuals: $1,400 per eligible individual for
    all dependents with stricter phaseout that start at $75K for individuals and at
    $150K for those married filing jointly (MFJ). File early if your 2019 tax filing
    does not qualify you for this stimulus.
  2. Expansion of Child Tax Credit: It provides an increased amount of child
    tax credit for those under $150K (MFJ) AND an increase to $400K (MFJ) in
    earnings for the base credits. In 2021 there should be an opportunity to
    receive more child tax credits for up to $400K.
  3. Extension of Unemployment Compensation: An additional weekly
    $300 Unemployment benefit was added, and coverage was extended until
    September 6th, 2021.
  4. 2020 Tax-free Unemployment Insurance income: For those receiving
    Unemployment Insurance in 2020, up to $10,200 of those earnings will be
    tax-free.
  5. Increased Premium Credit Assistance: Healthcare premium assistance
    extended from 2020 through 2021 with higher earnings.
  6. Tax Credit for Employers to cover COBRA for 3 months: Any
    employee involuntarily laid off will have free full COBRA coverage for 3
    months by the employer who will receive credits for paying their COBRA.
  7. Tax-free student loan forgiveness for the future – if a student loan is
    forgiven by 2025, it will be tax-free.

It will take time to distill what will be relevant for 2021 taxes particularly since we are
all still trying to understand and work through CARES 2020 tax rules and implications
for 2020. For now, it makes sense to slow down the 2020 tax filing and
ensure that your CPA is aware of all of the CARES 2020 and TARP 2021
rules before filing – luckily, we all now have until May 17th.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Preparing Your Family Finances and Our Role

How do we prepare for the loss of someone who plays a lead role in your family’s financial life? This can be a partner, a spouse, a parent, or even yourself. Aikapa’s role during such a crisis focuses on ensuring that the family will have the available cash flow until the transfer of the estate is completed AND on providing the information that the Estate attorney and CPA require to transition the estate efficiently. Below, I’ve outlined how we can prepare for such a loss.
1. Short-Term Cash Flow: Make certain that emergency accounts have enough cash to support family expenses for 6 months and that the account is available to those left behind. That means that the family has access to the login information and that the account is titled properly (T.O.D., Joint or Trust are the usual titles).
2. Consolidate Financial and Legal Records:  It is useful if the family has access to financial and legal records.
a. We can easily generate financial information needed for accounts that we directly manage.
b. It would be useful for the family to also have original financial records for accounts or finances not under our purview.
c. Similarly, we would benefit from information on former and current employer benefits and contact information.
d. Finally, the estate documents should also be easily available by the family or we should have a copy filed with us for reference.
3. Verify that you have the Appropriate Account Titling:  The accounts that take more effort to transfer are those titled under the individual’s name unless they have a wrapper to make them non-probate assets. We will use a T.O.D. (Transfer On Death) wrapper that bypasses Probate Court if your Estate plan doesn’t indicate otherwise.
a. We can easily adjust the title for those accounts that we directly manage. We regularly review these against your wishes and your Estate plan. 
b. Accounts held at other institutions AND under an individual’s name will need your management and update (check with us if unsure). We will consult with your Estate plan and make recommendations, but it will be up to you to ensure these are implemented. Example of accounts that we find are often missed include checking accounts, savings accounts, employer stock accounts, options, 529 and inherited accounts held at other institutions.
c. Other assets, such as real estate, need to be titled correctly as specified in your Estate plan. We can guide you, but you must implement these yourself.
4. Complete and Update Beneficiary: We sometimes find that although everyone is well intentioned, beneficiary designations are missed. Though we find this most often with employer accounts, we do see it also with other accounts.
a. We can easily review and update beneficiaries on accounts under our management and we do so regularly.
b. Accounts at your employer require that you check and make any needed changes yourself. Ideally you will also keep a copy of your beneficiary selection with your financial records.
c. Your home or other real estate may also need a beneficiary designation, but we follow your Estate plan since different states use different rules.
d. Accounts held at other institutions will also need to be updated with beneficiaries.
5. Availability of All Logins and Passwords. It is essential for the family to have access to login and passwords. This includes your computer, phone and online passwords. If you would prefer not to share this information then let us know WHERE the information is located, and we’ll share the location with family when and if needed.
As you would expect, we each respond in our own way to the death of someone close to us. Some focus on getting things done while others find themselves unable to function. The range of reactions spans the full spectrum of emotions. This is the way it should be and ideally, we strive to let them take the time to grieve without anxiety over finances. If we know all is in order, we can delay most of the initial tasks and allow the family the peace they need to deal with the loss while we create what will be needed by the Estate attorney. Once we know that the family has cash to support spending for 3-6 months, we work on generating a list of assets that are part of the decedent’s estate. We generate this initial information from our records (based on the financial plan and visual asset map). We then work with the family to update this information, but it is only after the family obtains death certificates that we can reach out and obtain exact information on items on this asset list. We need to ensure that we have the correct information on the title, beneficiary on record, total account balance and custodian for each asset. The Estate attorney will be able to begin their work only after they are provided with death certificates, estate documents, and our detailed list of assets. They will create an action plan, outline the process, estimate the costs and provide a potential timeline to settle the estate. The Estate attorney is the one responsible for legal filings and letting us know when the assets are ready for transfer. We are responsible for the actual transfer and settling of accounts. Dependent on the time of the year and with the guidance from the Estate attorney, we may want to delay the involvement of the CPA or bring them on immediately.

Once this process begins, it is imperative that we keep the lines of communication open throughout the process as the Estate settles and assets transition. There are time constraints associated with certain filings and activities related to settling the estate which makes it doubly important to work together. But it all begins with having your documents available, titled correctly, and beneficiaries clearly stated. We will focus on reviewing your estate documents during 2021 meetings.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

New tax rules (Secure Act of 2019)

As you know, we believe strongly that managing tax liability is essential to building wealth. The Secure Act of 2019 has made significant changes which we will use to create and action strategies best suited for each of you.
Everyone, near retirement, is aware that there was an extension to the Required Minimum Distribution (i.e., RMD) from age 70.5 to age 72. This is good for many since it gives you more control over your tax liability early in retirement, but it also has made the Roth accounts an even more powerful tool for some.

Sadly, the Secure Act of 2019 has made inherited IRAs a big tax burden for beneficiaries, particularly trust beneficiaries. Because of this, IRA accounts that use a trust as a beneficiary may need to be re-examined to ensure that the language allows beneficiaries to minimize their tax liability.
Let me know if these topics are of interest and we’ll include them at our next financial planning meeting.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Your Portfolio Allocation and Emotional Reactions: The Coronavirus and Portfolio Discipline

Here we go again – we’ve been down a similar road before, so none of this is news to those who have been with us through prior overreactions by market participants.

Volatility is part and parcel of participating in the market. When fear grips the market, selloffs by those who react to that fear provide portfolio opportunities for those who understand and adhere to a strategy. It is AIKAPA’s strategy to maintain your risk allocation and either ride out the volatile times or rebalance into them. Meaning that if you don’t need cash in the short-term, we buy when everyone else is selling.

As news of the Coronavirus (or other events outside of our control) stokes fear and uncertainty on a variety of fronts, it is only natural to wonder if we should make adjustments to your portfolio. If you are reacting to fear, then the answer is a resounding NO. On the other hand, if you are applying our strategy in combination with an understanding of the impact on business, then the answer is likely YES. When an adjustment is indicated we look for value and BUY while selling positions that are relatively over-valued. If the market continues to respond fearfully (without a change in value) then we will likely continue to buy equities and may sell bonds to fund those purchases. The only caveats to this strategy are that we must know that you don’t have short-term cash flow needs, that we stay within your risk tolerance, and that we are buying based on current value (keep in mind that value is based on facts not fear).

If you feel compelled to do something, then consider the following:

  1. Contact your mortgage broker and see if it makes sense to refinance (likely rates will drop soon after a significant market decline).
  2. Seriously examine the impact this has on your life today and let’s talk about changing your allocation once markets recover.
  3. Review the money you’ve set aside for emergencies and prepare for potential disruptions if these are likely.
  4. Business owners should consider the impact (if any) on their business, vendors and employees. Particularly important will be to maintain communication with all stake holders and retain a good cash flow to sustain the business if there is a possibility of disruptions.
  5. Regarding your portfolio, if you have cash/savings that you want to invest, this is a good time to transfer it to your account and have us buy into the market decline.

Market changes are a normal part of investing. Risk and return are linked. To earn the higher returns offered by investing in stocks, it is necessary to accept investment risk, which manifests itself through stock price volatility. Large downturns are a common feature of the stock market. Despite these downturns the stock market does tend to trend upwards over the long-term, driven by economics, inflation, and corporate profit growth. To earn the attractive long-term returns offered by stock market investing, one must stay invested for the long-term and resist the urge to jump in and out of the market. It has been proven many times that we can’t time stock market behavior consistently and must instead maintain portfolio discipline (if you want a historical overview of markets, see the “Market Uncertainty and You” video on our website www.aikapa.com/education.htm).

It is your long-term goals and risk tolerance that provide us with our guide to rebalancing and adjusting your portfolio, not short-term political, economic or market emotional reactions. In your globally diversified portfolio, we will take every opportunity to rebalance and capture value during portfolio gyrations. This IS the benefit of diversification and working with AIKAPA.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

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

Cost effective implementation of Long Term Care insurance

Long Term Care (LTC) decisions form a critical part of all retirement plans. That said, we can’t properly address individual LTC needs until a retirement plan is designed and participants are able to quantify the aspect of Long Term Care they will fund. If LTC insurance is part of their ideal LTC plan then we must identify the best policy and the most cost effective way to pay for it. This article is intended to review LTC and layout how a business can help pay for LTC insurance in a cost effective manner.

(1) Long Term Care – a review
Long-term care (https://longtermcare.acl.gov) is a range of services and supports needed to meet personal care which is not included in healthcare. About 2/3 of the population will need LTC after age 65 (and 1/3 before 65). Of those reaching age 65, 70% will need LTC or assistance with activities important to life. LTC includes everything from social services, physical and emotional support, finances, housing, a myriad of legal decisions, family interaction and social dynamics. LTC should include all assistance with tasks that will allow for productive, engaged and enthusiastic daily life. It should include assistance with routine tasks such as housework, money management, taking medication, shopping, traveling, caring for pets, responding to emergencies (these are known as Instrumental ADLs) and NOT just the “basic” Activities of Daily Living (ADLs, such as assistance with bathing or eating).

Currently, 80% of all LTC needs provided in the home are supported by unpaid family, friends or neighbors. The average support needed in the home is about 20 hours per week. Fortunately, as services develop, we find an increase in community support services. These include adult care services, transportation services, and home care that is round the clock or as needed.

If you require or prefer the use of LTC services provided by an institution or facility you will need to investigate Assisted Living, board and care homes, or Continuing Care retirement communities, not just nursing homes.

(2) What is LTC insurance?
LTC insurance is a contract to pay premiums every year for care you may need in the future. It will pay out an agreed daily amount for your care only if you are unable to do a certain number of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). These are the basic ADLs (includes bathing, eating and dressing). LTC insurance is not usually available if there are pre-existing conditions. Benefits are provided for a set number of years of care based on a daily dollar amount dependent on local costs and total maximum benefits (these are usually capped at around $350K). But how many years of LTC will be needed is unique to the individual, though we have past indications that males need at least 2 and females 4 years. Three years is the standard, but we know that 20% of those over 65 years will need ADL assistance for longer than 5 years. For these reasons we recommend this insurance purchase be made based on your retirement plan.

Naturally, LTC insurance premiums are less expensive for the young (and healthy) but starting early will cost more over time and is not advisable if your personal cash flow can’t support this expense throughout your life.

(3) Best ways to pay for LTC insurance
How do we pay for LTC insurance if we think it fits within our retirement plan? It should be clear that healthcare or Medicare (except for very short periods of time and only in specific emergency situations) do not cover LTC costs. On the other hand, Medicaid does cover LTC but has very strict requirements to qualify. If you are fortunate to qualify, LTC coverage is provided by the Older American Act (OAA) and Department of Veteran Affairs.

The most common way to pay for basic LTC needs is through insurance or out of the personal or family budget. Other ways include a reverse mortgage, annuities, other assets, and income from a dedicated source (such as rental income).

LTC insurance premium costs are based on your age, your location, your wishes for level and amount of care. The premiums are not usually a burden on a yearly basis but they take a toll over time. These premiums must remain in effect for life. Additionally, policy premiums today can increase by more than inflation (over the last year we’ve seen 18% to 90%[!] increases in premiums for existing policies).

Long Term Care Purchasing Options

There are at least 2 ways to pay for a new LTC insurance policy – as an individual or as a business. The advantage of an individual LTC insurance policy is that it is based on your needs and can be tailored to you. The advantage of a business LTC insurance plan is that it can be paid by the business and therefore tax deductible. If you are the business owner it can also be tailored to your wishes (see the chart below assembled by Aikapa).

LTC insurance premiums are supposed to be deductible but we find that most of our clients with high AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) and low medical expenses are not able to deduct their premiums on their annual IRS tax filings (Schedule A has a 10% AGI floor). In addition, the deduction is also limited to age specific maximums (see table below) regardless of actual cost for the purchased LTC insurance policy. To help you understand the implications I’ll outline at LTC insurance for three separate age scenarios (ages 55, 61, and 71):

Currently a basic 3-year policy with $150 benefit per day would have an annual premium of around $2,100 at age 55, $2,900 at age 61, and $6,900 at age 71 (quotes may differ given different assumptions and are likely to be lower for males and couples but may be higher or not available based on health history).

Long Term Care Deductible Limits

To help understand how tax deductions actually work if buying this insurance individually, I’ll use the three LTC examples outlined above: To allow for this comparison, I’ve assumed that the cost of the above three policies are the only tax deductible medical expense. This is important because the deductibility is dependent on exceeding a 10% floor based on AGI. Anyone with an AGI (i.e. number at the bottom of the first page of your 1040 IRS filing) of more than $60K would not be able to deduct their LTC premium under any of these scenarios unless there were other deductible medical expenses. Most of our clients that purchase an individual policy are not able to deduct premiums. In retirement deductible medical expenses rise and then some of these premiums are tax-deductible.

On the other hand, the same insurance policy purchased by a business provides tax deduction of LTC insurance premiums up to age limits and may even cover the entire premium (see below for details).

Sole Proprietors, Partnerships, S Corporations, and LLCs can provide owners and spouses with LTC premium tax-deductions that are only limited by age specific maximums (see above table – which shows that at a business can pay up to $1,530 for an owner’s (aged 51-60) LTC premium tax-free). If we look at the same three examples AND purchase the policy using one of these firms the tax deduction in 2017 for the 55 year old would be $1,530 (less than the cost for a base policy of $2,100), the 61 year old would have their premium fully paid tax-free (since their premium of $2,900 is less than the maximum limit of $4,090 for her age group), and the 71 year-old would pay no tax on $5,110 (though premium total was $6,900).

C Corporation and non-profits may cover LTC insurance premiums  for owners or members tax-free (without age limits mentioned above).

Using the same three examples AND having the C Corporation or the nonprofit pay for the premiums, then the entire LTC insurance premium for all age groups would be tax-free.

In summary, Long Term Care planning involves much more than just buying a LTC insurance policy. It encompasses consideration of a myriad of integrated services and support that should be aligned with your wishes both early and later in life. LTC insurance is one way to cover basic ADLs. Before making a purchase of LTC insurance you must have calculated what you wish to cover yourself and what will be paid for by insurance benefits. It is more cost effective if LTC insurance is provided by an employer (with no cost to you) and even better if you are the employer. As the employer you can design a policy that best fits your plan and offers tax-free premiums.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com