Protection, Benefits & Accountability: Smart Planning for Start Ups and Small Business

August 6th, 2012


Protection, Benefits & Accountability may not be at the forefront of new and small business owners’ minds, but they should be.

 

Often ignored and/or glossed over by startups, these components are an essential part of basic business planning and can make the difference between success growth and failure.

 

You know the old adage: No one plans to fail, they just fail to plan. Use this overview to kick start your protection, benefit and accountability planning:

 

Equity Protection

 

New businesses often start with no consideration for the “What Ifs”.  What if my partner wants/needs to quit the business unexpectedly? What if my partner becomes incapacitated? What if my partner suddenly dies? A lack of planning for unforeseen circumstances such as these can literally ruin a business overnight.

 

In the case of unexpected death, when one partner passes away within a 50/50 ownership agreement, the deceased partner’s heirs would then become entitled to the deceased’s 50% share. Would this be an acceptable arrangement to you as a surviving partner? Typically, this would not be an acceptable arrangement. The last thing a start up business should have to bear is paying out to someone who is not contributing to the business, in this case, heir(s).

 

This is why smart planning also includes Buy Sell Agreements. Buy/Sells are like prenups for business – legal documents which site a buyout price for remaining partner(s) in the event of a departure/disability/death of another partner. They are typically funded by purchasing life and/or disability insurance to cover the predetermined agreed to buyout amounts.

 

►Examine all potential exit reasons thoroughly and be prepared for them.

 

Property and Liability Protection

 

Equally important to insuring buildings, equipment, and product lines, new businesses should make sure they properly protect themselves from lawsuits. People generally embrace adequate property protection but they rarely lend the same credence to liability protection – this goes for individuals too.

 

Unfortunately, in our litigious society, liability protection is something that must not be ignored because situations like these can arise quickly without warning and ultimately have a tremendous impact on your business.

 

A simple example of this type of situation could happen if an employee gets into an accident during working hours. Your company could be found liable – though the accident is no fault of your company – simply because of the employee’s affiliation with your company.

 

Industry statistics provide that businesses will bear the most financial burdens from liability issues versus the costs of property replacement.

 

►Seek the right amount of liability protection needed to fully protect your business.

 

Retirement Planning

 

Most people have heard of the terms: 401(k), IRA, SIMPLE, SEP, and Profit Sharing. For new business start ups, the real question is which one is best for your business?

 

Many plans are specifically designed to appeal to certain demographics. A SIMPLE Plan, for example, is by design targeted to small businesses interested in offering a plan but without the IRS compliance headaches of a 401(k).

 

Depending on the wants and needs of the owners and employees, each plan has a specific list of attributes and drawbacks. It is also tough to think about retirement when you’re just starting a business, but that is exactly when retirement planning should be done.

 

Engage in retirement planning at the onset of your journey.

 

Health Coverage

 

As a new business owner, you now have health insurance considerations to keep in mind. Some new businesses opt to not provide coverage for the employees. However, highly qualified employees often require this benefit in order to consider working for an employer – do not overlook the possibility.

 

Cash Options – Employers can opt to give a cash stipend to employees in lieu of health insurance to be used as they see fit. While this is often a great option for young and healthy employees, it can prove problematic for a potential employee who may not be able to qualify for individually underwritten plans.

 

Group Health Plans – Starting a group health insurance program is the other alternative: group health plans guarantee coverage for all in the group regardless of underlying health conditions. However, it is equally important to understand that insurers can rate the entire group above the standard cost range depending on the underlying conditions of members within the group. Group coverage also requires a certain percentage of eligible employees participate in order for the group to be issued and operated.

 

If you choose to go the group health plan route, the different types of coverage should then be explored: HMO, PPO, Point of Service, Indemnity. Considerations for, optional dental, long-term disability, short-term disability and long-term care should also be made.

 

Select a health plan which best serves your company objectives first.

 

Books, Banking, Tax & Law

 

Technology makes accounting, banking and tax transactions easier to record, budget and track today. Knowing what to look out for and ask about on the other hand, can easily remain under the radar.

 

If you opt for using accounting and payroll services, consistent examination of your records is still a necessity. Regardless of who does your books; your business will bear the liability of errors in reporting, depletion of funds, penalties, etc.

 

Choosing an accommodating bank is imperative: Will they process credit cards for you? Provide a line of credit when you need it? Are they fee crazy? Are they the type of bank known for working with new and small businesses?

 

Pending the legal structure and nature of your business, all potential tax liabilities should be examined at the state, local, and federal levels before you open your doors.

 

Always be aware of how your company records are being booked and tracked.

 

New business owners that can check off these considerations in confidence are heading in the right direction. For those who cannot, do not back burner them – timing can be the difference between success and failure. Seek the professional help you need and build a solid foundation.

 

Additional Reading:

 

Start Up 101 Article Index Inc.com

 

Get a Buy Sell Agreement! Forbes.com

 

5 Tips for Buying Business Insurance Small Business Administration

 

Small Business Healthcare Tax Credit  IRS Newsroom

 

Basic Business Structures Entrepreneur.com

 

Small Business Accounting Library Business Week

 

2012 Business Software Reviews Top Ten Reviews.com

 

Kurt Rusch CLU, ChFC

Questions always welcome!

 

 

 

Disability Insurance Isn’t Sexy!

May 18th, 2012

 

 

We are constantly bombarded with stats about dwindling Social Security funds; especially as they relate to retirement – but what about disability? Every bit as important, disability funding is more relevant for working people because it is a benefit that may help you now.

 

According to statistics sited in National Underwriter Magazine, the year end Federal Disability Trust Fund balance for 2011 was $154 billion in assets, down 15% from last year. Funded by a 1.51% payroll tax, the total amount generated in 2011 was $109 billion, which was down 19% from 2010.

 

These numbers suggest the fund may be depleted as early as 2016, two years earlier than previously projected. Adequate funding is anything but reliable in the long term.

 

More Hurdles to Consider

 

Funding issues aside, if you avoid insuring your family’s income because you can file for and receive benefits, think again.

 

Social Security Disability Insurance is a dicey issue at best. Only 35% of SSDI applicants are approved for benefits on their initial application and an additional 10% are approved after appeal. Translation: over half of all SSDI applicants are denied coverage.

 

Part of the reason for such a high denial rate is the SSDI definition of disability is often more stringent than that of a commercial insurance company. SSDI defines disability as the inability to perform a job due to a medical condition. Conversely, many commercial insurance contracts define disability as the inability to perform the job for which you have been trained or educated to perform.

 

Think about that a moment…

 

Take for example an electrician that is trained to work on business and/or residential electrical systems. If said electrician has a back injury that renders him incapable of physically demanding work that would be required of an electrician, he would most likely qualify for benefits under a commercial disability. That same electrician will most likely not qualify under SSDI if he would still be able to perform another type of work, such as answering telephones.

 

These defining terms can often be the difference between receiving benefits and not receiving them. Bearing this information in mind, it is scary to think of the ramifications attached to the dismissal of addressing these issues. Why then, do so many of us neglect to protect our family?

 

The Cost of Complacency

 

The lack of appropriate planning usually stems from several things. Exasperation at the thought of having to deal with yet another thing definitely plays into it. All we want to do when we get home from work is tune out and relax, right? The last thing on our minds is contemplating the pros and cons of disability insurance. Cost, like with anything else, plays a big role too. Yet cost, in this case, has to do with your family’s security.

 

The cost of protection may be more than you want to spend on the surface, but the cost of complacency in the event the unthinkable becomes reality, can be devastating. We all think it won’t happen to us, but the statistics tell a completely different story.

 

Here are some eye opening stats related to disability and the workforce:

 

1. A 35 year old has a 50% chance of a disability lasting 90 days or longer before turning 65.

 

2. Most people in the US are better prepared for death than a disability even though chances are 3 to 5 times greater that a disability will occur (based on age).

 

3. About 1 in 7 people between ages 35 and 65 can expect to be disabled for 5 years or longer.

 

4. About 110 million people have NO long term disability insurance.

 

5. Benefits from disability insurance from an employer sponsored plan are usually taxable while benefits from a privately purchased plan are tax free.

 

Take Away

 

What we spend our money on is a direct reflection of how we choose to allocate it. Cost, in reality, is truly not the deciding factor. Who isn’t a master at finding ways to buy things when you’ve got a big hankering for something?

 

Disability insurance isn’t sexy; it’s not something you’ll ever have a ‘hankering’ for, nor is it mandatory, like auto insurance. When it comes to spending money on things we can’t see, touch or feel immediately, our normal inclination is to back burner it.

 

When you move protecting your ability to earn income to the front burner, the good news is, cost is a very flexible thing. Personally tailored planning will provide you with protection conformed to budget.

 

Kurt Rusch CLU, ChFC

Federal Tax Laws: More Change Coming

March 26th, 2012


There are many changes  in the Federal Income Tax Laws that have been implemented already or will be soon. Some expired last January others will expire by year end. Tax increases are also on the horizon.

 

Newly Expired Tax Laws

 

The first five were temporary tax relief items that expired January 1st of this year are:

 

1. The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Patch – This expiration will subject many more taxpayers with tax preferential items such as, tax free income or substantial itemized deductions, to be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax.

 

2. Charitable Contribution of IRA Assets – The exception allowed taxpayers to transfer assets directly from their qualified accounts to charity without paying income tax. With the expiration of this provision, taxpayers must now first pay Federal Income Tax on the withdrawal and then may transfer an amount to the charity.

 

3. State Sales Tax Deduction – The deduction was an alternative which allowed taxpayers to take the higher of their state sales taxes or income taxes paid as an itemized deduction. The change will mostly affect people living in states without state income taxes and seniors in states where retirement income is not subject to state income taxes and therefore not deducted.

 

4. Home Energy Tax Credit – This was a credit available for windows, doors, heating systems, cooling systems, etc. After January 1, 2012, these improvements no longer qualify for a tax credit.

 

5. School Teachers Expenses Deduction of $250 – School teachers who have been dipping into their own pockets for items used in their classrooms, used to be to take a $250 deduction to account for these expenses.

 

Year End Expiring Tax Laws

 

The next impending batch of tax laws which are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012, barring any intervening Congressional actions, are:

 

1. Payroll Tax Cut of Two Percentage Points – This is a reduction in the amount of social security taxes that has been withheld from employee paychecks. The expiration of this cut will result in the resumption of the scheduled 6.2% withholding for FICA taxes.

 

2. Top Income Tax Rate Cap – The rate will increase from 35% to 39.6%.

 

3. Capital Gains Tax – Both the 0% and 15% tax brackets will disappear. They will be replaced by a single 20% bracket.

 

4. Qualified Dividends Tax Rate – No longer will dividends that meet the qualifications of this category be taxed at 15%. These are scheduled to revert to ordinary income tax status.

 

5. American Opportunity Education Credit – This credit (up to $2500), was available to offset some of the costs of post secondary education, is also set to expire 12/31/2012 as well.

 

January 2013 Tax Increases

 

There is also several tax increases scheduled to become effective on January 1, 2013. Among the most noteworthy:

 

1. Net Investment Income Tax – There will be an additional tax of 3.8% for individuals with Adjusted Gross Incomes of $200,000 and couples with AGI’s greater than $250,000. The purpose of this additional tax will be for additional Medicare funding.

 

2. Phase-out of Personal Exemption – For higher income taxpayers, the amount of their personal exemptions will be phased out as income increases.

 

3. Itemized Deductions Limit – These deductions will be limited for taxpayers with incomes exceeding $150,000.

 

4. Flexible Spending Accounts – FSA funding is being cut from $5000 to $2500.

 

With this plethora of changes already in place or on the horizon, what is a taxpayer to do? The answer to that is as individual as the person reading the question.

 

If, you are in an effected tax bracket and are contemplating liquidating an equity position that you currently own, it may be in your best interest to consider this transaction in 2012 before the increased tax rates will diminish your after tax return. If there is a way to pay for itemized deductions this year, if you are possibly in jeopardy of getting them phased out next, that may be a good choice for you.

 

The bottom line is to keep these changes in mind when making financial decisions in the upcoming year.

 

Kurt Rusch CLU,ChFC

 

Why Most American Workers Do NOT Participate in 401(k) s

March 10th, 2012


67 percent of Americans workers aged 21-64 with access to employer-sponsored 401(k)’s do not participate in the pre-tax retirement plan.

 

I was absolutely floored when I read this stat published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. There had to be a typo in there somewhere. (I double checked; there wasn’t.) Virtually then, more than two thirds of the working population (with access), don’t do 401(k)’s?

 

Know Thy “K”

 

While I often resist approaching this subject at the risk of “beating a dead horse”, it is now crystal clear; the horse is nowhere near the end of its days. Next question: Why isn’t the majority of the working population taking advantage of this benefit?

 

After much consideration, my ventured guess is this: employees opt out because there is a lack of true understanding for the machinations of 401(k) plans, benefits of participation, and costs. Of these, perceived cost may be the biggest stumbling block.

 

Deductions & Reductions

 

Deductions taken from your pay check will reduce your take home pay, but it will not reduce it in the dollar for dollar manner many assume. Because these employee contributions are made on a pretax basis, any amount contributed to the plan will reduce your taxable income. Therefore, every dollar contributed to a 401(k) will result in a reduction in take home pay of 72 cents for an employee in the 28% Federal Income Tax bracket: $1.00 – $ .28 = $ .72. Think about how that multiplies.

 

Many states will also compute their income taxes based on this adjusted figure. In Illinois, if you are in a 28% Federal Tax bracket and the 5% State Tax bracket, the true cost of your dollar contribution would be 67 cents. ($1.00 – $ .28 – $ .05 = $ .67.) Federal Tax Credits available to lower income people may reduce these relative costs even further.

 

Market Ease

 

I also believe many people opt out because they don’t understand the markets, how to invest, or much of anything having to do with finances. While that used to be a somewhat valid excuse, modern day benefit management methods are proving otherwise.

 

Investment programs have become much more automated than they used to be. Most plans now offer portfolio programs professionally managed to selected specifications. For example,  the direction of your plan can be focused on the actual target date you have in mind to begin withdrawing funds when you retire.

 

Current benefit management systems take the task of portfolio construction out of your hands and into those of professionals who balance risk and reward within the elected set of demographics. The days of having to select individual market accounts and balancing them yourself are over.

 

Deferred Advantage

 

In addition to paycheck reductions and managed assistance, another major benefit of 401(k) plans is tax deferrals.

 

All growth in these products is deferred until they are withdrawn from the account. Therefore, if you contribute $3000 per year for thirty years, a total contribution of $90,000 would have been made. If the account balance is $500,000 after this time, none of the additional $410,000 would have been taxed as it was growing.

 

Keep in mind these funds will become federally taxable as ordinary income in retirement. State treatment of retirement income varies; Illinois does not tax retirement income from 401(k)’s.

 

Bonus Benefit

 

Because most people are in a higher tax bracket while working than they are in retirement, 401(k) participation is even more beneficial.

 

Contributions for participants who fall into this norm will: allow deductions from taxable income at a relatively higher tax rate and have receipt in retirement at a relatively lower tax rate. Ultimately, you’ll be paying less tax on the income you earned.

 

One Final Nay

 

Take advantage of employer match plans! (I.e. When employers offer matching contributions to your fund when you elect to participate.) Not taking advantage of this is literally passing up free money. Opt in now and cash in later!

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU, ChFC

 

How to Interview a Planner

February 29th, 2012

 

Staying away from illegal interview questions is vital according to a recent CBS News blog. Do not screen people for: race, color, sex, religion, national origin, birthplace, age, marriage and disability status. You can, however, “re-work some legal alternatives”.

 

If you want to know how old someone is, ask them if they’re “over the age of 18”. If you want to know if they have kids, ask them if they’re “willing to travel”. That last one is interesting, because it naturally assumes people with kids don’t want to travel – who does, really? (For work, that is.)

 

Keeping these guidelines in mind, what should you ask the person you may ultimately entrust with your personal and confidential information?

 

Query Their Professional Age

 

You do want to know how long this person has been working in the business. Short of “carding” them, ask them to tell you about their work experience. How long have they worked with the carrier(s) and brokerage house(s) they represent? When did they get their accreditation(s) and how long have they held each of their industry licenses?

 

A word of caution: If you run into someone who advertises or speaks in terms of “big returns”, “no risk”, or “guaranteed appreciation”, run for the hills! The SEC and a slew of other governing agencies haven’t caught up with them yet.

 

The financial services industry is strictly regulated with regard to the way financial professionals are allowed to talk about their services. This pertains to anyone handling: stock/bond/commodity trades, life insurance, annuities, retirement accounts and the like.

 

Get a Complete Service List

 

When you hire a professional advisor, look for one who can shed light on your big picture. Those who handle life, health and property insurance, in addition to financial services will be able to serve your interests best with a complete profile in hand.

 

The key theme here is to avoid the pitfalls of mixing apples and oranges. The last thing you want to do is spend more than you have to with cross over coverage or waste money on products you don’t really need. Working your complete profile will also avoid the demise of ineffective protection and planning.

 

Fee or Free?

 

Many planners market themselves on the premise that charging fees guarantees honest service. They say this because charging you like an attorney demonstrates they are not beholden to any one service provider.

 

Working with a Planner/Advisor that is a Broker (who won’t charge you fees upfront) can also provide objective placement on your behalf. Professional planners who are brokers contract with multiple insurance carriers and investment houses that pay them commission on orders they place. (Keep that in mind if you opt to work with a fee based planner – use it to negotiate cheaper billing rates.)

 

On the opposite side of the spectrum are “captive agents” – those who work for (and are beholden to) a single carrier or investment house. While they do not charge fees for their services they are employees.

 

In recent years some insurance carriers such as, Allstate, have branched into financial product lines. To date, however, they do not provide one advisor to serve their customers’ multiple needs. In this scenario, finding the best advisor for your needs is left to chance.

 

Take Away

 

Look for someone with professional designations licensed in multiple product lines. Ask them to share their experience with you and request a complete list of services.

 

Work freely with a Broker Advisor. Planners who are brokers have access to numerous companies which gives them an edge on finding the best solutions for their clients.

 

If your Cousin Joey is a captive agent with State Farm, don’t shy away from working with a professional planner. Just make sure to let your advisor know about everything you have in place.

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU, ChFC

 

Follow Your Money For Answers

February 27th, 2012

 

 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of the money we spend goes to housing and transportation. Reading about the breakdown of consumer spending, started me wondering…

 

1)      Why do we naturally bristle at the thought of saving money?

2)      Why does the discipline of wise money management overwhelm us?

3)      Why are we so great at finagling funds for fun, funky and frivolous stuff?

 

If you can relate (and honestly, who can’t?), you might be interested in knowing there is quite a plethora of documented theory that speaks to these questions and more published under “Behavioral Economics” and “Behavioral Finance”.  In simple terms, these theories address how social, cognitive and emotional factors affect our economic decisions. If you care to read historical timelines and academy, find them here: Wikipedia, AOBF and Neuroeconomics – yes, there is such a thing as Neuroeconomics – it is a focus for explaining “human decision making”.

 

 

Mental Accounting

 

Investopedia.com offers insights as to why we do and don’t spend certain resources under the auspice of, “Mental Accounting”. This concept suggests that much can be learned from the way we separate and allocate our money.

 

Mental Accounting is a subjective view of money. For example, when we earmark paychecks for monthly living expenses but think of “found” or unexpected money, such as tax refunds and lottery winnings, as money that can be freely spent, it is a subjective allocation.

 

Conversely, unemotional and logical money management does not recognize a difference between a $2,000 paycheck and a $2,000 winning lottery ticket – $2,000 dollars is $2,000 dollars regardless of source. (See the full tutorial here.)

 

Follow the Money

 

How can we nip Mental Accounting in the bud? Try following your money around for the next month in words – literally. If you’ve ever dieted, you know how helpful keeping a food diary is. No one likes doing them, but it is the most telling tool you can give yourself. Write down what you spend, allocate, and save every day – what, where, and why you spent it too. This includes the checks you write on your monthly bills.

 

At the end of the month you will be able to detect the way you think about money and possibly find some red flags you hadn’t seen (or thought of as such) before. For example, are you holding onto low interest bearing accounts and making high interest rate credit card payments? Could you pay off a small debt right away by using some of your ‘fun’ money? Are you keeping spare change in a can or buying dollar scratch offs?

 

Brace yourself, all those trips to Starbucks, Subway and Super K may just rise up and slap you silly across the face. Good luck.

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU,ChFC

 

Why Work With An Advisor?

February 16th, 2012

 

There is nothing worse than a home improvement project gone wrong. You waste a ton of time running back and forth to Menards because you know you can do-it-yourself and end up wasting way more money in the long run more often than not. (Been there, done that, more times than I want to admit.) That’s exactly what I thought of when I read this stat from a recent Franklin Templeton survey:

 

78 percent of 35-44 year olds are concerned about managing their retirement plans to cover expense, yet only 23 percent work with a financial advisor.

 

Findings like these are a red flag in my industry. When I read reports like this I get the same look on my face that our handyman gets when he sees something I tried to do on my own. On second thought, that’s not true because he usually laughs at what I try to do and I’m not smiling right now.

 

66 percent of those who map out retirement strategies with an advisor understand what they will need to withdraw each year in retirement.

 

Now, I’m smiling.

 

No Wealth Requirements

 

Ask 10 different people why they don’t work with a financial advisor directly and you’ll get 10 different answers. Reasons, beliefs and excuses come in all kinds of shapes and sizes:

 

41 percent of those who don’t use an advisor say it is because they think they don’t have enough money to do so.

 

Now, I’m mad. Having enough money is what this is all about. Planning is building, and we all start from different places. There is no level we have to reach before we can seek help.

 

So, why would the surveyed respondents feel this way?

 

There are three reasons I can think of: 1) It’s just one those many (erroneous) assumptions we make about things, 2) They met an advisor who only works with high value accounts – strictly a business prerogative, or 3) A carnival barker told them so. Enough said.

 

No Instruction Manuals

 

Unlike putting in a new sink, planning for retirement, or any other monetary based goal, does not come with an instruction manual. Variables affect money management:

 

65 percent of Americans aged 65 or older said they will have to work between one and 10 more years before being able to retire.

 

The top two retirement concerns cited in the survey, after “running out of money”, were healthcare expense and changes to Social Security that would reduce or delay benefits. Both variables; add to these: societal change, market fluctuation, the cost of living, interest rates, and job opportunities.

 

30% percent of people who don’t use an advisor say it is because they want to do it themselves.

 

If I were to give the number reason why you should work with a financial advisor, it would be because of variables. Professional advisors understand actuarial concerns as well as they do the concerns of their clients. Matching peoples’ personal needs and goals with the right mix of financial instruments is tricky. There is no one size fits all approach; nor should there be.

 

Navigate the variables with the help of a financial advisor and put a smile on your/my face!

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU, ChFC

 

Defined Benefit VS. Defined Contribution

February 1st, 2012


In speaking with a client recently, I was asked to describe the difference between Defined Benefit Plans and Defined Contributions Plans. I was a bit taken a back because I assumed these were commonly understood concepts.

 

Investigating further, I discovered my assumption was wrong. The differences between Defined Benefit Plans and Defined Contribution Plans are not very well comprehended – even among many astute financial people.

 

Defined Benefit Plans

 

DBP’s are typically thought of as “old school” pension plans. When you enroll in these plans, the employer makes a promise to make specific payments based on formulas with variables such as number of years with the company, wages, age at retirement etc.

 

Companies will then fund these plans according to their own formula. Some companies have 100% company contributions to fund these plans while others will require employee contributions.

 

One of the main differences between these plans and Defined Contribution Plans is that the burden of investment return is with the employer. Any shortfall in the contractually promised benefit must be made up by additional contributions in a defined benefit plan. Contrarily, any surplus can be utilized to reduce future contributions to meet these obligations. These plans are becoming less and less prevalent as employers look to avoid the extra liability of making up contributions if investment returns lag.

 

Defined Contribution Plans

 

DCP’s are the plans with growing popularity. An example of these types of plans would be: SIMPLE, 401(k), 403(b), and Section 457 plans. Employees are able to set aside a portion of their pay on a before tax basis. In some cases the employer will have a matching contribution that will be added in addition to the employer contribution.

 

The employee contributions are always 100% vested if that employee leaves employment. The employer contribution usually has a vesting schedule where a portion of the employer contribution will be forfeited by the employee if their years of service are not sufficient.

 

Other Comparisons

 

Defined Benefit Plans typically promise a lifetime of contractual income once you enter retirement. Defined Contribution Plans offer no such promises. Once your funds are depleted, your income stream is over. On the other hand, Defined Contribution plans will generally have a beneficiary designation where any remaining funds in the account can be passed to a beneficiary upon death.

 

Defined Benefit Plans provide choices as to how you prefer your lifetime income would be paid out. For example, you could receive the highest payout if you select a lifetime option with no provision for spousal continuation. You can also typically select a lesser amount with the remainder paid to a spouse if they survive you. These plans have no provision for leaving unused assets to non-spouse beneficiaries.

 

Retirees can select payment options as they see fit with Defined Contribution Plans. People can choose to take as little as is required by the IRS minimum distribution requirements all the way up to redeeming the entire account. Defined Contribution Plans offer the opportunity to pass assets along to beneficiaries for any unused balances.

 

Take Away

 

The biggest difference between DBP’s and DCP’s lies in the responsibility for investment return. In a Defined Contribution Plan, the onus of return lies with the employee. If their returns are not sufficient, it is up to them to increase their contribution rate or have fewer funds available at retirement.

 

Minding today’s terminology is half the battle.

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU, ChFC

 

The Need for Self Reliant Health Care

January 24th, 2012

 

I came across one of the best articles I’ve seen regarding Medicare funds or rather, the dissension thereof. For anyone over the age of 40, the issues at hand matter – a lot.

 

The biggest takeaway I got from the article? It is seemingly apparent relying on Medicare to provide like coverage in perpetuity is not very plausible. While it is difficult/annoying/painful for most of us to think 20 and 30 years beyond today, the potential for future health and financial challenges in our lives dictates otherwise.

 

One of the hardest hitting highlights of the article was an example about disbursements made using an average salary of $43,500 per year. A recently retired couple with that salary would have paid in almost $120,000 in Medicare taxes during their working lives. But according to the Urban Institute the medical benefits this couple would receive will average $357,000. Needless to say, this is not a sustainable model.

 

Another cited concern provided that 1 in 5 doctors restrict the number of Medicare patients they will take on at any given time. This number jumps to 31% for primary care physicians. The AMA reasons this is due to low reimbursement rates and that Medicare is deemed to be an unreliable payer by the medical profession.

 

Compounding these exasperating facts and figures is fictitious recipients. In 2010, it is reported that Medicare Part D paid $3.6 million to deceased beneficiaries. Similarly, 142,000 procedures on 5,000 dead people were paid for between 2004 and 2008 to the tune of $33 million.

 

According to the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, “The United States spends over $2.5 trillion on health care every year. Of that amount, NHCAA estimates that tens of billions of dollars are lost to health care fraud.” Mismanagement to say the least is costly and cannot be tolerated in any organization let alone one facing financial crisis.

 

Much is also written about “the gap in coverage” regarding prescription drugs. Yet the biggest gap occurs in long term care costs for home care, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Ironically, while our current system reimburses the deceased, it does not provide for the most financially devastating expenses the (still) living can incur.

 

This article is a major eye-opener to the current state of a program many of us are depending upon for health care services in retirement. Reading it should at the very least provoke further consideration for yourself and your family. Check out the entire article at Smart Money.

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU, ChFC

Retirement Planning: New Year, New Rules

January 21st, 2012

 

A plethora of legislative change became effective on the first of the year. Some of these changes will affect individuals planning for retirement as well as those already retired.

Here, is the short list:

 

1. Social Security checks will be getting larger. Recipients can expect to see their gross check increase by 3.6% with only small increases in their Medicare Premiums.

 

2. Standard Medicare Part B coverage will increase to $99.90 for 2012. This is an increase of $3.50 per month. For Part B enrollees who signed up in 2010 or 2011 and were charged an initial premium of $110.50 or $115.40, their premiums will decrease to the standard $99.90.

 

High Income recipients will continue to pay a higher portion of their Part B premiums with their rates being anywhere from $40.00 to $219.80 per month higher than the standard rate. (High Income Recipients are defined as: an individual with Adjusted Gross Income over $85,000 or couples with Adjusted Gross Income over $170,000.)

 

3. The Part D donut hole gap is shrinking. The biggest complaint about the Medicare Part D is the fear of hitting the donut hole where coverage is limited severely versus coverage prior to and after the hole.

 

Previously, drugs were discounted by 50% for brand name and 7% for generics while in the donut hole. These percentages are rising to reflect a 50% discount for brand name and 14% for generics in 2012. Eventually the donut hole is scheduled to be phased out.

 

4. Income subject to Social Security Taxes will increase. For 2012, Social Security will be incurred on earned income of up to $110,100, up from $106,800 in 2011. However, at least for January and February, Social Security withholding rates for the employee will continue to be 4.2%.

 

5. 401(k), 403(b) and Federal Government Thrift Plan contribution limits will increase. The 2012 limit will be $17,000, up from $16,500. The catch up provision available for employees 50 and older remains $5500.

 

6. IRA contribution limits will remain the same but the threshold for income to make these deductible contributions will increase. Contributions of up to $5000 or $6000 if aged 50 and older, will be fully deductible if the modified adjusted gross income is under $58,000 for individuals or $92,000 for couples.

 

A phase out occurs between $58,000 and $68,000 for individuals and $92,000 and $112,000 for couples where only a portion of a contribution will be deductible. For individuals without a retirement plan at work, the income limits are set at under $173,000 for full contribution to fully phased out at $183,000.

 

7. Roth IRA income limits will also remain the same with contributions of up to $5000 or $6000 for aged 50 and older. However, these will also see an increase in the income limits that will be able to participate. Individuals with adjusted gross incomes of up to $110,000 will be able to fully contribute to a Roth for 2012.

 

There will also be a phase out of the amount of contributions that can be made until no contribution can be made if income exceeds $125,000. For couples, the thresholds are income under $173,000 and phased out until income reaches $183,000 where a Roth IRA will not be a viable option.

 

8. Qualifying income limits for the Saver’s Credit will increase for 2012. This credit which can amount up to $1000 for individuals and $2000 for couples, will now be available to individual taxpayers with an AGI under $28,750, for Heads of Household with an AGI under $43,125, and for couples with an AGI under $57,500. The credit will apply to contributions to retirement plans whether individual or employer based.

 

This overview may provide changes which could affect your planning for this year and beyond. The uncertainty of anyone’s future, combined with changing laws and financial environments, dictates the need for dedicated and diligent review.

 

Kurt Rusch CLU, ChFC