Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Rusch’

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!

 

 

 

Federal Tax Laws: More Change Coming

Monday, 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

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

 

How to Interview a Planner

Wednesday, 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

Monday, 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?

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

 

Get a Competitve Edge on Auto Insurance

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011


I recently shared an article I read on “12 Tips to Saving Money on Auto Insurance” with my wife; her first response was, “How much can you save if you make these changes?” Half of any insurance equation is always cost; unfortunately, the answer is more convoluted.

 

Since there are so many factors affecting the pricing of each and every type of insurance, the cumulative effect on changing one or more of the rating factors will vary accordingly. Overall, there is no set formula or even “rule of thumb” that insurance companies have for setting rates based on different risk factors. Every company will assign rates based on actuarial analysis of their current policy holders.

 

There are numerous possible discounts credited by most if not all companies today. Because urban drivers typically pay higher premiums than rural drivers, cost savings will be easier to accumulate for an urban driver. Here are the top things to consider and/or modify when seeking lower premiums:

 

 

Vehicle Choice

 

A major factor in determining rates for auto insurance is the type of vehicle being insured.

 

Obviously, a high performance car will typically be more prohibitive to insure than a family sedan. You may also be surprised to know that some relatively inexpensive autos are much more costly to insure than one may think because their repair costs are relatively high.  If you are looking to buy a car and insurance premiums are a major concern, contact a broker to determine which vehicles will have a lower premium to insure.

 

Clean Record 

 

One of the most important insurance rating factors is your driving record including tickets, accidents and any other claims filed. In general, the less activity, the better the rates.

 

Miles & Usage

 

There are separate rating categories for usage and annual miles driven; if you use your vehicle for  business the premium will be more substantial than if it is being used to run errands on the weekend. The same holds true for the annual mileage driven. The more you drive, the higher the premium.

 

Raise the Roof

 

Consider raising your deductible (the amount you would pay before the insurance pays the balance of a claim). Doing this can be a huge money saving plan, however, review the savings potential before blindly implementing a change – often times raising a deductible by an additional $500 will result in a minute change in premium. Determine whether the cost savings warrants the increased exposure.

 

Good Credit

 

Your credit rating can affect your premium; this is a rating factor that is not typically known to insureds. Most companies are now using credit ratings as one of the determining factors in rating contracts.

 

Location, Location, Location

 

Are you geographically undesirable when it comes to auto insurance? Location plays a huge part when determining premiums for insurance. Actuarially, companies have found that the congestion in urban areas lead to a statistically higher probability of having a claim.

 

Drop the Baggage

 

Get rid of unnecessary coverage. A good example of this would be to drop coverage on an older vehicle. As your vehicle declines in value, the amount that an insurance company will give you in the event of a total loss will also decrease accordingly. At a certain point in time, it becomes illogical to retain comprehensive and collision coverage on the vehicle.  

 

Crime Busting

 

Install anti-theft devices; in some instances the savings in premium will validate the initial outlay of cash to install such a device. Even if this takes a couple of years, it may be a wise move financially.

 

Combine & Conquer

 

Insurance companies typically will reward you for loyalty. They will give discounts for insuring all of your vehicles on one policy. They will also offer discounts if you have other insurance with their company such as homeowners, umbrella, and/or life insurance coverage.

 

Other Considerations

 

There are many company-specific discounts that may also be available. Examples of these would be discounts for college-degreed individuals, good students, military, employees of specific companies, and specific occupations.

 

For Illinois Seniors, there is a defensive driving program called 55 and Alive which teaches aging drivers how to adjust their driving to compensate for slowing reaction times etc.  Many senior centers offer these programs and taking these courses can help senior rated drivers.

 

Wrap Up

 

There is no one size fits all in the auto insurance market. Due to the number of companies doing business in this market, it is a must to shop around. If nothing else, it gives you a chance to review whether your existing limits remain adequate or whether they should be adjusted to better protect you and your family.

 

Shopping around will also help you determine whether or not your current insurer is still providing a good value for you. Are you truly receiving great value for the premium dollars that are being expended?

 

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

 

 

Mature Health: Time Sensitive Changes

Friday, September 30th, 2011


This is a MUST READ for Adults 65 & Up, Caregivers, Adult Children and Estate Managers!

 

New Changes to Part D Enrollment Period

 

The Annual Enrollment Period (AED) has changed for Medicare Part D plans. This is a big deal for anyone 65 and older because failure to make changes within this period will result in Part D benefits remaining the same as were elected in 2011. While this may not affect some people, it will be vital to others.

 

Historically, the Part D Annual Enrollment Period ran from November 15th through December 31st each year. However, plan changes with an effective date of January 1, 2012 must be executed within the new AED time frame: October 15th through December 7th.

 

 

EHealthInsurance reports that 65 percent of seniors are not aware of these enrollment date changes. It is imperative to review and revise any and all Part D information within this time frame to assure that current plans are still preferable or amended accordingly.

 

 

 

 

Medicare Advantage Premiums

 

The Department of Health & Human Services announced that enrollees will see their Medicare Advantage premium shrink 4 percent next year. Prescription drug premiums will not change.

 

Drug Deductibles

 

Part D Deductibles will increase by $10 from $310 to $320 in 2012. It is also important to keep in mind that the lists of formulary drugs are constantly changing. There is no safe assumption that  prescriptions will continue to be treated in the same manner from one year to the next.

 

Cost of Living Adjustment

 

The Annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security is predicted to rise in 2012 by a few percent; this would be the first increase in three years. If the increase does come through as expected, it may not automatically translate into additional pocket dollars for beneficiaries.

 

The links between changes in Social Security and Medicare each year are complex – that’s putting it mildly. There are numerous factors involved. For example, your annual income and the date when you began Medicare, could ultimately squash much or all of the COLA gains from higher Medicare premiums. (Help Link: 10 Ways to Boost Your Social Security Checks.)

 

The many moving parts within the machinations of Medicare, Supplements, Part D and Social Security, must be reviewed annually. This is not an option, but a necessity to assure consistent and proper coverage. Please feel free to contact me for assistance in maneuvering the healthcare minefield.

 

Kurt Rusch, CLU, ChFC