Healthcare Flexible Spending Account

by Glenn J. Downing, MBA, CFP®

Do you have a Flexible Spending Account available to you through work?  These can offer tremendous tax savings.  As you do your research, note that FSAs are of two sorts:  The Healthcare FSA and the Dependent Care FSA.  

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)

A flexible spending account (FSA) is offered as an elective benefit by many employers.  This is part one of a two-part series. Here I describe the healthcare flexible spending account. You’ll find my post on the dependent care FSA here.

The Healthcare FSA

This account allows workers to contribute, through payroll deduction, to accounts that are designated for qualifying medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance. All amounts contributed are pretax and funds are not taxed when spent on qualifying health care costs – this is a big tax advantage. The FSA owner can use the funds for deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance for the employee’s...

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A Fresh Perspective on the Budget

 

by Jonathan G. Cameron, CFP®

All financial planning begins with cash flow planning – your budget, in other words.  Sometimes people recoil from that word - budget.  To them the word is fraught with negative connotation:  I can't spend!  Not in my budget!  I'll have to deny myself!  Life will become intolerable!

Turn this around, though.  If you have a cash flow plan, i.e budget, you have freedom within the form.  This spending plan keeps you focused on working toward achieving your financial goals. You know exactly how much you can spend on eating out this month, in other words, and still achieve your monthly savings goal to retire with an income of $X at age 67.  

Here's How to Do It

Establish and quantify financial goals

Think this through carefully: How much do I need in my emergency fund? How much debt do I have to repay? What interest rates am I being charged? How much should I accumulate in my retirement...

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The Advice Industry

by Glenn J. Downing, MBA, CFP®

In this post I’d like to give a little history and background on the advice industry. It may not grab you right off as being the most compelling reading, but please stick with it. I have some valuable points to develop.  In Part II I go into some of the changes in our regulatory environment.  

A Visit to the Stockbroker

When I was a young teen I remember going with my father to visit his stockbroker. Dad used the occasion to teach me what owning common stock means (an ownership stake in a publicly-traded company). He explained that the broker brings buyers and sellers of securities together, and facilitates trades. For this service there is a fee on each trade – a fee on both the buy and the sell, paid by the customer to the broker.

Looking back on it, Dad was explaining to me that I, the buyer, and the broker, had a conflict of interest. My interest was getting the cheapest price for the shares. The brokers interest was...

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2 Things You Need to Know About the Roth IRA

by Jonathan G. Cameron, CFP®

One of the most popular ways to save for retirement is in a Roth Individual Retirement Account.  Roth IRAs was first made available in 1997, after they were championed by former Senator William V. Roth of Delaware.

What is a Roth IRA?

Tax-wise, a Roth IRA is like a Traditional IRA in reverse. It may help to compare the two registrations.

In a Traditional IRA, as well as in a 401k, most people get tax deductions for contributing dollars up to certain limits every year. The account accumulates funds over time, perhaps generating some nice earnings, tax-deferred. When it’s time to retire, the full amount of the distribution is taxable at your marginal tax bracket at that time. Using simple math, if your tax bracket at retirement is 24% and you distribute $100 from your Traditional IRA you will get to keep $76. Remember, distributions from a Traditional IRA are fully taxable. Contributions are made before tax.

#1 A Roth IRA Has Tremendous Tax...

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Student Loan Stress

 

by Jonathan G. Cameron, CFP®

According to CNBC, there is more than $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, owed by 40 million borrowers, who have an average balance of $29,000. * Do you have student loan stress?

Do You Have Student Loan Stress?

Large student loan balances can be a significant cause of stress. Stress over loans can lead to resignation. “I’ll have student debt forever” is a refrain I hear from some clients. Resignation leads to denial and even inaction. Are you in this progression? Does this sound like you or someone you know? Are you a number of years out college or graduate school, yet it doesn’t seem like your loan balance is coming down?

Student Loan Stress: Don’t Deny it; Own it

Your mindset about student loans is crucial. Most importantly, own it. The loans are yours. You chose to make a strategic investment in yourself by taking on student loans. Accept this fact, and make a plan of attack to repay the loans. The #...

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Dollar Cost Averaging

by Glenn J. Downing, MBA, CFP®

Can I Time the Markets? You can certainly try.  But remember the expression:  one man's ceiling is another man's floor.  
When the stock market becomes volatile, people often wonder, Is this a good time to go in? Or should I sell out?  What they are doing is trying to time the markets – they are making educated (or emotional) guesses as to market peaks and valleys, and investing accordingly. I’d put it to you that market timing doesn’t work, at least not consistently over time.  If you look at a line graph in the first quadrant, there is nothing to say that the next data point will be above the last point, at the last point, or below the last point. Trends are real and visible, but they change.

We certainly understand the impetus behind market timing. You as an investor don’t want to put your money in on what turned out to be a high day for the year, and conversely you don’t want to have...

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Investment Frequently Asked Questions

 

Glenn J. Downing, MBA, CFP®

In what should I be invested?

We make no recommendations before completing our due diligence. Only after we have a clear picture of your risk tolerance, income needs, tax situation, time horizon, and cash flow position do we make any investment recommendation.
There’s no such thing as a perfect investment. Each investment product on the market was designed to accomplish a specific purpose and has its own risk and reward characteristics. Whether it is a managed account with mutual funds, ETFs, individual securities, bonds, annuities and insurance products, our job is to match you with the appropriate vehicle.

Will you do socially responsible investing for me?

Yes of course. There are several mutual fund companies that screen their underlying investments by various social and/or religious criteria. 

How much do I need to retire?

We can do a projection for you. For example, say you want to retire 10 years from now; you want to have an income of...

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Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account

By Glenn J. Downing, MBA, CFP®

A flexible spending account (FSA) is an elective benefit offered by many employers. There are generally two types: the FSA for healthcare expenses, and the FSA for dependent care expenses. This is part two of a two-part series. Here I describe the dependent care flexible spending account. You’ll find my post on the healthcare FSA here.

Dependent care flexible spending account

The Dependent Care FSA is a great way to fund, on a pre-tax basis, childcare expense incurred so that the parent can go to work. You must claim the child as a dependent on your tax return. Also, the child must be under age 13. The maximum tax-free reimbursement under a dependent care FSA is $5000/year. If married, both spouses must work in order to benefit. There is an exception if the non-working spouse is a student or disabled. If one spouse earns less than $5000, the benefit is limited to the earnings of that spouse.

What are the eligible expenses?

There are many....

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Why I Don’t Like an Annuity in an IRA

by Jonathan G. Cameron, CFP®

To me an annuity in an IRA is usually a dead giveaway that the client worked with a salesperson and not a financial planner.

Annuities, like any other tool, are not inherently bad. They work best when they do the job they were designed to do – and that job is income distribution.  The job of a retirement account, however, is asset accumulation. 

Where are Annuities Best Used?

Annuities can be a useful accumulation vehicle for those with a conservative investing outlook.  If you can accept absolutely no investment risk then a fixed annuity is for you.  If you have non-qualified money to invest (that is, not retirement funds) and you're in a high tax bracket, then an annuity might be a good option for you to defer current income taxation.  

As a distribution vehicle, an annuity is also a safe way to create a perpetual stream of income without market risk.  A pension payment is simply another name for an...

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The Advice Industry, Part II

By Glenn J. Downing, MBA, CFP®

A lot has happened in our regulatory world since I posted the original blog piece, The Advice Industry. The DOL rule is void. The SEC is now working on final new rules for standards of client care.  

The government regulates this industry – investments, advice, and insurance – via the Securities and Exchange Commission (the original 1940 Investment Advisers Act), the Department of Labor (ERISA comes under DOL, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act), and the insurance commissioners of the 50 states. Just as it takes a team to give a client comprehensive advice (financial planner, investment adviser, estate attorney, accountant, and maybe more), apparently it takes a team of government agencies to regulate all of us in the industry to their satisfaction.

The Now-Dead DOL Rule

The 1940 SEC Act requires a fiduciary standard of client care for investment advisers. The SEC made concessions to the brokerage industry, known...

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