Archive for the ‘Retirement’ Category

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

Monday, 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!

 

 

 

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

Saturday, 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

 

Why Work With An Advisor?

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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

 

Retirement Planning: New Year, New Rules

Saturday, 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

 

Review, Retool & Renew

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. –Charles Dickens

 

Was 2011 the best of times or the worst of times? The answer to that depends upon whether your glass was half full or half empty.

 

Review

 

Don’t let frustration cloud the path of renewal. There’s nothing worse than basking in what you didn’t accomplish – look to what worked first.

 

Take out a sheet of paper and draw a big “T” across and down the page. Write WORKING on the left side  and list the things you have in place you’re happy with. Consider whether you want to build further on any of these and make a note to do so.

 

Retool

 

Now write NEEDS WORK on the right side of the paper and list any financial concerns/objectives you’d like to address/reach in the coming year. What simple steps can be taken to start working on these?

 

Savings and cash flow are priority objectives for most people. Here are some easy things to do to rev up for the New Year:

 

Kitty Jar – Throw $5 bucks into a jar each week. A year from now you’ll have an extra $250 to pay bills, invest, or splurge with.

 

Automated Savings Account – Consider opening an automated savings account. Most banks have programs where you can designate a certain amount of money to be automatically transferred from your checking account each month into a savings account.

 

“Keep the Change” accounts are also an easy way to save automatically through your debit card transactions. Every time you buy something, the change is rounded up to the next dollar with the difference automatically deposited into the separate account. An additional amount of money may be required for auto transfer each month too, usually a $25 minimum. If you use your debit card in lieu of cash or check, an account like this can easily add up to far more than you might think over the course of a year.

 

Invested Savings – Mutual fund accounts can be opened for as little as $25 per month and set up on an automated basis. Naturally, this type of account carries no guarantee for positive results but if investing is a goal you have yet to reach, small accounts like these may be the best thing to do to get started.

 

Boost Cash Flow – There are numerous things you can do to increase cash flow: pay down/off revolving debt with the highest billed interest rates first, shop wiser, bag your lunch, etc. Now is also definitely the time to revisit the U.S. tax code. Taking advantage of every exemption, credit and deduction available to you can save hundreds to thousands in taxes. Ear mark your refund (ahead of time) for something on your list this year.

 

Embrace Economic Trends – Economies void of high interest rates of return provide affordable opportunities. Make low interest rates work for you! If you haven’t refinanced you home, do so. Financed items are cheaper now.

 

Renew

 

Work both sides of your “T” sheet and take simple steps to welcome in the New Year, clarity and resilience are on your side.

 

What was and what wasn’t becomes what can and what will in one quick tick tock. It’s really magical when you think about it.

 

We wish you a very Healthy & Prosperous New Year!

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU, ChFC

 

 

Top 3 FAQs on 401(k)s

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

 

The top three questions I am asked most often these days with regard to 401(k) accounts are:

 

Should I leave my 401(k) in a prior employer plan while out of work?

Is it best to roll my account into a new employer plan every time I change jobs?

Can I cash my 401(k) in if I need the money now?


Leave It

The main benefit of leaving 401(k) accounts at your former employer is that you don’t have to do anything. While this method is very convenient, it is not void of drawbacks. 401(k)’s typically come with a limited number of investment choices available to their participants. Leaving your accounts at former employers, may not serve you best, and can get confusing if you leave several or more accounts at various different companies.

 

Bring It

When you do get a new job, one option would be to roll your 401(k) over into the new employer’s retirement plan, if that is an available option. Obviously, this would make keeping track of your assets easier.

 

Some people find this an attractive option when their employer offers employee loan provisions for 401(k) accounts.  (These types of provisions allow employees to borrow against plan assets and pay the loan back via payroll deduction for return of principal and interest.) It is important to note that assets which have been lent out will be deprived of any growth on the loaned portion of the portfolio they would have received has they not taken out a loan.

 

Move It

Whether you leave your accounts at various employers, or bring them all to a new employer, investment options can be limited through workplace plans. Alternatively, there are numerous choices available if you opt to transfer your account into a Rollover IRA. This option gives investors the most flexibility if executed properly.

 

The first step in properly executing this exchange would be to assure that the account is a custodian to custodian transfer. By doing so, you eliminate the possible tax ramifications of not having the moneys properly transferred within a 60 day period as required by the IRS.

 

It is important to make certain that you do not comingle these funds with separately funded IRA’s you may have if you want to roll them into a new employer plan at some point in time. Comingling will render the account incapable of subsequently rolling back into a 401(k) plan; keeping the funds in a separate IRA Rollover Account will allow redeposit into a current 401(k).

 

Cash It In

If, and that’s a really a big ‘IF’, you really need the money before retiring, you can cash in all or part of your retirement plan. BUT, the IRS will make you pay dearly for early access. The IRS levies a 10 % penalty on anyone under age 59 ½ who cashes in all or part of their retirement plan. On top of that, you will also have to pay Federal Income Taxes on the amount withdrawn.

 

What most people don’t realize is how costly early withdrawal can be. For example, if a 40 year old in the 28% income tax bracket cashes in their $10,000 401(k), the after tax net proceeds would only be $6200. This is because they would owe $1000 in penalty for taking an early distribution plus $2800 in Federal Income Taxes. In reality, the liquidation of this retirement account yields a 62% pay out and a 38% tax and penalty on the total account value.

 

One other thought regarding early withdrawal – there are some situations where the IRS will waive the 10% penalty on early withdrawal. An example of this would be for dire and non-reimbursed medical expenses which do not exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.

 

It is extremely important to tread carefully when manipulating any type of “qualified” account. Check additional rules and exemptions for early distribution on the IRS tax topics page.

 

Kurt Rusch, CLU, ChFC

 

 

New Medicaid Laws May Impact Families

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

 

We just received confirmation from our Elder Care Attorney that the Illinois Medicaid Laws will change January 1, 2012.  Current and future planning needs are now at crucial issue.

 

Why should you care?

 

The current state laws are much more favorable to applicants and their families; the new laws will make it more difficult to receive Medicaid benefits.

 

This is extremely important news for all senior parents and adult children – those with current need and those who have yet to reach that advent.

 

Legislated changes such as these can severely impact assumed expectations. Assisted and higher level care can drain an average middle income estate very quickly; for those without long term care coverage, pre-planning for Medicaid in the event it may be needed should be of paramount consideration.

 

There are many changes to the Medicaid system which will take place in the coming year. These highlights examine the issues of timely application (all assets do not have to be spent down prior to filing a Medicaid application) and asset protection.

 

Applications Filed Prior to January 1, 2012 Will Fall Under Current Medicaid Laws

 

Under the current laws if a nursing home or supportive living resident applies for Medicaid benefits the applicant is required to provide three years for all financial records to verify their assets. This includes all bank, investment, pension and retirement account statements, life insurance policies, and tax returns.

 

Medicaid is particularly concerned with whether the applicant has given anything away during the three year “look back” period, such as a gift to help pay for a grandchild’s college tuition or to a son or daughter in need. The current laws allow any ineligibility created from the gifts to begin tolling immediately when the gift is given. This offers the Medicaid applicant an important advantage in avoiding any penalties which may result from the gift.

 

NOTE: For those who are planning to enter nursing home or supportive living facilities before January 1st,  it is essential to determine if Medicaid application should be filed before the implementation of the changes in Illinois law.

 

Applications Filed After January 1, 2012 Fall Under New Medicaid Laws

 

Applicants will be required to provide five years for all financial records to verify assets. More importantly, gifts will not begin to toll until the applicant is already spent down. This is a significant change between the old and new laws.

 

Under the new law, applicants will likely have to try to recoup any significant gifts that were made within five years of filing a Medicaid application. In the event that the applicant cannot recoup the funds that were given away, then they will have an opportunity to plead for a hardship waiver and hope that the waiver is granted in order to obtain Medicaid benefits. The criterion in which a hardship waiver will be granted is somewhat unclear at this time, but it is anticipated it will be a very difficult process.

 

The current laws allow the spouse (community spouse) of a Medicaid applicant to protect all the assets that the community spouse has held solely in their own name (for three years or more) prior to filing for Medicaid. Current laws also allow applicants and their spouse to divide their joint accounts in half, so that the community spouse can keep half of the joint accounts.

 

Under the new laws, joint accounts will not be permitted to be divided between spouses. The community spouse will be allowed to retain a specified amount of account funds (currently $109,560). This amount is also subject to change from year to year.

 

For many families, it may be extremely advantageous to file a Medicaid application prior to the law change from an asset protection planning standpoint. After January 1st, asset protection will become more difficult to navigate under the new rules.

 

Please consider these options now and do not hesitate to contact me if you are unsure of the timing regarding your family situation at hand.

 

Kurt Rusch CLU, ChFC

 

Many thanks to John Belconis, JD, for his help in sharing this information with us.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Static Planning: The Need for Review

Friday, October 21st, 2011

 

In a perfect world planning would be easy. You would figure out how much of a resource you would need at a specific time and allocate assets either in a lump sum or systematically over time until this goal was reached. The account would grow steadily over time until the mark was reached – perfect indeed and static.

 

Enter my ism for today: static planning.  Something static doesn’t move; static planning is planning that doesn’t take into consideration market gyrations and changes in business. Static scenarios and the real world do not resemble each other much. Reality dictates that different times call for different assumptions and actions.

 

Here are two real world situations which at different times would have greatly skewed static planning assumptions and results:

 

MORTGAGE LOANS

The average interest rate on a 30 year fixed rate mortgage on October 19, 1981 was 18.45%.  The interest rate on that same 30 year fixed rate mortgage on October 13, 2011 was 4.12%.

 

The difference in these two figures is staggering. Where it would have taken regular monthly mortgage payments of $1,544 to pay off the mortgage under the previous figures, that payment would only require principal and interest payments of $484 per month currently to retire the same $100,000 balance over thirty years. Staggering!

 

MARKET INVESTMENTS

 

Market investments are far from a steady growing figure. For example, so far in 2011, the first four months of the year saw the S & P 500 average increase by 9.1%. Subsequently, that same average fell 18.6% through October 3rd. In the following nine days, the market rallied to 11.5% providing a return total of -1.1% for the year as of 10/14/2011.

 

Volatility like this is certainly not for the faint of heart. That being said, short term bank interest rates of less than 1% hardly seem the place to park assets in hopes of reaching long term goals.

 

MORAL OF THE STORY

 

These are but two examples of the need to revisit plans to see if they are still living up to wants and needs. While everyone is bullish in a good market (just ask them) reality indicates that many people are not anywhere near the risk takers they thought they were. Typical investors have a difficult time allocating enough resources to meet long term goals utilizing low fixed rate products.

 

This is precisely why all types of financial considerations, mortgages, retirement plans, investment strategies and the like, should be regularly reviewed. Advisors are trained to assess different economic environments and tailor them to investor profiles. Can you walk the walk or do you have commitment issues? Matching goals with disposition and financial change requires trained and routine review.

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU,ChFC

Proactive Retirement Planning

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

 

I just read an article entitled, “5 Biggest Planning Retirement Mistakes”. The problem with titles like these in general is they are negative, and many times, as misleading as they are disheartening.

 

Proactive retirement planning on the other hand, is a different workhorse (pardon the pun) altogether. It should be ongoing and positive, starting over the course of your working years and cultivated throughout your retirement years. It also involves deliberate consideration beyond the lone act of making regular payments to employee contribution plans.

 

What type of proactive things should you be doing to plan for a life of leisure? Consider these 5 things now (even if you’re still working):

 

1.      VALUATION  

 

Project your current retirement programs forward to see how big of a lump sum you will have when you reach retirement and begin systematic liquidation.  While this may seem a monumental undertaking with market upheavals and historic lows in fixed income options, getting to that number will provide the baseline figure you need to work with.

 

If you tend to be risk averse, project your account balances into the future by using rates of return that could be obtained using less volatile investment choices. The worst case scenario here is that things change and you receive a higher rate of return netting a larger sum of distributable retirement funds.

 

On the other side of the coin, the market tends to be a lot more dependable over long periods of time than generally assumed. Utilizing these returns has not historically been as risky as you may think.  A volatile market is, in reality, a friend to those systematically investing via retirement plans at work and independently because: fixed amounts invested on a regular basis will always purchase more when the markets are at their lows and less when they are at their highs. This system allows you to buy low without ever having to consciously make investment decisions.

 

2.      DISRUPTION   

 

No one can possibly plan for every “what if?” in life, but addressing the types of disruptions to retirement income streams which may occur is essential.

 

Case in point; what would you do if Social Security changed drastically by the time you were counting on receiving it? Currently, with no modifications or adjustments, the Social Security Administration projects that by 2036 the Social Security Trust Fund will only be able to pay 75% of their obligations.  Would you be able to handle this decrease? Or any other type of unplanned reductions? If not, have you considered what you can do to make up possible shortfalls?

 

If you begin making up the gap sooner rather than later, the amount that would need to be set aside on a regular basis would be comparatively small. Conversely, if this gap is left unaddressed, the magnitude of future contributions could be daunting. Remember: Compound interest (really) is the Eighth Wonder of the World.

 

3.      VISUALIZATION 

 

Envision (literally) your retirement and what you (actually) want it to look like. While there are numerous statistics and figures utilized in planning, the best way to assure that you are planning for YOUR retirement is to personalize it.

 

Some people may think this silly but if you’ve never really taken a moment to think about how you’d like to see yourself in this future, you may be surprised what comes to mind. Are you planning on traveling a lot? Are you planning on working? If so, what is the magnitude of your commitment to work? What do you envision your living situation as being?

 

These kinds of questions and many more will affect the dynamics of your retirement plan. For example, if extensive travel is part of your plan, you must put more money aside than someone without these ambitions. On the other hand, if you plan on working, that may decrease the amount that must be set aside to meet expenses in retirement.

 

Housing will also greatly affect your financial situation. Many people “downsize” in retirement. Downsizing can often free up funds that can be invested to subsidize other plans already in place. These are just a few examples to consider.

 

4.      SAFEGUARDING

 

Have you safeguarded your plan for longevity?

 

If a husband and wife have plans in place as a couple in retirement, will they still be okay if one of them was no longer around? Upon passing, a surviving spouse will receive the higher of the two spouses’ Social Security payment. Would you be able to live the retirement lifestyle you envisioned without the aid of dual Social Security payments? Beyond Social Security, pension options must also be reviewed closely.

 

Pensions generally have irrevocable options that must be elected at the time of retirement. A sample of the array of these types of elections would include a single life option for the pensioner. This option would yield the highest monthly payment because it would continue only for the life of the pensioner. There would be no continuation of payment to a surviving spouse if the pensioner predeceased him/her.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, is a spousal option paying the surviving spouse 100% of the pensioner’s payment at the time of the pensioner’s death. This option would yield the lowest monthly payment to the recipient because essentially this pension plan is buying life insurance on the pensioner to be used to continue payments in the event of predeceasing their spouse. Examination of these costs should be made to see if the pensioner would be better off financially to receive the higher single life pension payment in combination with a taking out a private life policy to provide for the surviving spouse. This would also provide the flexibility to drop the policy or change beneficiaries to children in the event of the spouse predeceasing the pensioner.

 

5.      INCAPACITY   

 

Have you addressed the possibility of incapacity? While this is a very distasteful subject to broach, statistics indicate that up to 75% of couples will have at least one spouse needing some sort of long term care within their lifetimes. Given the state of rising healthcare costs, this situation can devastate a retirement plan very, very quickly.

 

Those who elect not to address the subject make a default decision to self-insure. This works out well only if you remain healthy without the need for support services. It is also a risky choice to make for the time period in your life when your options for financially rectifying an error in planning will be drastically limited.

 

Chicago nursing home costs currently run about $200 per day. For those who assume that this will be handled by Medicare, you are mostly incorrect. Medicare only covers follow up treatment after release from a hospital. There is no provision for convalescent care (long term daily living) from Medicare.

 

Coverage for long term care is available through Medicaid but to qualify, your assets must be liquidated and spent down. This radically limits your future choices. Home health care is also not covered by Medicaid. Many of the better nursing facilities may also refuse admittance to people   already on Medicaid. The last thing your loved ones need to face at a time like that is the challenge  of finding a geographically desirable and decent facility to take you in.

 

Valuation, Disruption, Visualization, Safeguarding and Incapacity are all key factors in planning for life after work. Safe, secure and solid navigation of this terrain should be done with the assistance of a licensed professional.

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU, ChFC