Articles

Below are articles covering the areas of: 

  • Retirement
  • Investments
  • Estate Planning
  • Insurance
  • College Funding
  • Life Events
  • General Knowledge

These may be browsed to expand your knowledge of the financial industry and how it pertains to you, or to spark an interest you would like to further discuss with a financial advisor.

Do You Owe Estimated Taxes?

If you are self-employed or have additional sources of income outside of your regular job, you may fall into the category of Americans who are required to file their federal taxes not just once a year in April, but four times annually. While no one likes having to pay estimated taxes to the IRS, you can make the process easier by setting aside money regularly and keeping detailed records.

Disability Income Insurance: Protecting Your Most Valuable Asset

Have you ever wondered how you would manage financially if you were to sustain an injury or illness that left you unable to work? How long could you maintain your standard of living, pay your bills, and cover your daily expenses? The likelihood of such an event may be greater than you think. According to the Council for Disability Awareness (2013), Americans underestimate their chances of experiencing a long-term disability: 64% of working Americans believe they have a 2% or less chance of being disabled for 3 months or more during their working years; however, the reality is that the odds of experiencing a long-term disability are about 25%.

Designing an Employee Benefit Plan

When you begin to create an employee benefit plan, you may want to start with a few core benefits, including life insurance, health insurance, and a retirement plan. These benefits form a base from which your company’s benefit plan can grow and evolve in the future. Every year or two, it may be wise to consider the addition of a new benefit to the plan, such as dental insurance or disability income insurance. Rather than bearing the entire burden of cost, you can contribute a portion of the cost, with your employees paying the balance.

Creating a Long-Term Financial Plan

To help manage your personal finances, you can now purchase computer software that will balance your checkbook, figure out your budget, track your investments, and even help take the sting out of filing your income tax return. Even with the best apps available, you still have to take the initiative to create a strategy that will meet your needs while reducing the stress that goes along with financial planning.

Estate Planning: A Team Effort

Estate planning often involves a team consisting of an attorney, a financial professional, an insurance professional, and yourself. However, whether you are establishing a new estate plan or revising an existing one, only you can provide the guidance, direction, and information your estate planning team needs to develop an effective plan.

ESOPs: Rewarding and Motivating Employees

Profit-sharing plans have long been popular with employees because of the opportunity they provide to share in the profitability of a growing firm. Many business owners look beyond shared profitability to shared ownership through employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

Economic Policy and the Fed

While consumers affect the economy by spending according to their own situation and financial pressures, Federal policy decisions also influence the economy. Fiscal policy, enacted by Congress, uses taxation and legislation to boost employment, stabilize prices, and stimulate economic growth. In contrast, monetary policy, which is controlled by the Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed), manipulates short-term interest rates in an effort to spur growth or control inflation.

Get SMART: Tips for Effective Goal Setting

Regardless of which phase of the business life-cycle you’re in, you can get SMART about setting goals to motivate yourself, move forward to grow your business, and track your success.

Free Tax Preparation

Did you know that a free, Federal income tax preparation and electronic filing program called Free File is available to U. S. taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of $58,000 or less?

Financial Recordkeeping for Tax Purpose

Keeping thorough and accurate financial records is one of the less exciting tasks that business owners face, but it is a necessary one. In addition to enabling you to monitor the progress of your business and make informed decisions on a daily basis, keeping good accounting records is essential when it comes time to prepare your tax returns. While the smallest businesses may be able to get by with the “shoebox method,” having in place a reliable and comprehensive financial recordkeeping system is crucial if you want your business to grow.

Filing the FAFSA for Higher Education Costs

Even if you expect to cover your child’s college costs through sources other than Federal aid, it usually worthwhile to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition to determining your family’s eligibility for Federal assistance, the FAFSA is the primary qualifying form used by many college, state, local, and private financial assistance programs.

Estimating Future College Costs

For most people, a child’s college education is the second most expensive purchase (after that of a home) they will ever make. For parents and grandparents who wish to estimate the cost of a college education, the following tables can facilitate an educated guess.

Your Family Business and Estate Planning

If you are like most entrepreneurs, you don’t expect the business you worked so hard to establish to falter when you are no longer here to run it. But sometimes, when business owners die without leaving wills or estate plans, the business must be liquidated to pay the tax liability, or the company collapses because family members have not been sufficiently prepared to take over operations. If you own a family business, you may want to consider taking steps now to help ensure this valuable asset will remain intact for your children, grandchildren, and others.

Important Steps in Preserving Your Estate

If you are like most people, wills, trusts, life insurance, disability income insurance, and advance directives are topics you would just as soon avoid. Yet, timely planning is necessary to preserve the assets you have worked so hard to accumulate and to protect your loved ones. Here are some important steps you can take now to help ease your family’s emotional and financial burden in the event of your death:

Assigning Your Life Insurance Policy

Getting approval for a loan can sometimes depend on, for example, a lender asking a borrower, “How will this loan be repaid in the event of your death?” Your answer may be to assign your life insurance policy, a useful feature that can help provide necessary security for a lender.

Analyzing Investment Styles: Growth vs. Value

Growth or value—what’s your style? Growth investors look for stocks that will grow at a high rate for a relatively short period of time or mutual funds that focus on growth stock. Value investors look for stocks that are currently undervalued and are expected to increase to their true value over a longer time horizon or mutual funds that focus on value stock.

An Introduction to Split-Dollar Life Insurance

Contrary to what you may think, split-dollar life insurance is not an insurance policy, at least not in the classic sense. It is a type of arrangement that allows two parties, typically an employer and an employee, to split life insurance protection costs and benefits. The premium payments, rights of ownership, and proceeds payable on the death of the insured are often split between the company and a key employee. In many situations, however, the employer pays all or a greater part of the premiums in exchange for an interest in the policy’s cash value and death benefit. Cash values accumulate, providing repayment security for the employer, who is paying the majority of the premium. In this scenario, business owners have the opportunity to provide an executive with life insurance benefits at a low cost. Another option for companies to consider is to use split-dollar policies in place of insurance-funded nonqualified deferred compensation plans.

A Financial Review Can Pay Off at Year End

Today, many people find themselves bombarded by a constant stream of financial news from television, radio, and the Internet. Yet, does all this “information age” data really help you manage your finances any better now than in the past? Often, what are considered old-fashioned practices, such as performing periodic financial reviews, can lead to greater success in the long run. Why not spend a few hours reviewing your finances? The changes you make today could result in increased savings. Consider the following seven important items:

A Budget May Help Boost Your Savings

Whether you have substantial resources or live close to your means, a budget may be an effective foundation for a savings program. It can help you monitor your personal and household expenditures, potentially freeing up income that can be redirected toward savings. Consider the following:

Budget Basics for College Students

One extracurricular activity that every student can master while in college is personal money management. Typically, a student’s daily spending is done on an improvised basis, meaning that overspending is often the norm rather than the exception.

Countdown to Retirement: Strategies for Saving in Your 50s

The Baby Boom generation is about to enter another era: retirement. Never known for accepting the status quo, Baby Boomers are ready to redefine the “golden years.” Forget about endless days of leisure. This generation seeks adventure, travel, and new business pursuits. While these changes may redefine retirement, will Boomers be able to finance their plans? Today, many people age 50 and older have not begun to save for retirement or have yet to accumulate sufficient funds.

Control Your Runaway Expenses

For many of us, the cost of living has risen faster than our income has. In some cases, consumption has increased, as well. If you are looking for ways to control both rising expenses and increasing consumption, here are some timely suggestions.

Choosing the Right Retirement Plan for Your Business

You’re an entrepreneur and you’re not looking back. You’ve opened your own business, whether alone or with partners, and you’ve achieved success. Now you’re thinking about retirement, not just for you, but also for your employees. Offering a retirement plan can help your business attract and retain employees, while making it easier for you to save for your own retirement. Here are some of the options available to business owners:

Charitable Giving: Good for the Heart and Your 1040!

It may be better to give than to receive, but it may be even better to give and see your generosity rewarded. Charitable giving can play a valuable role in your financial and tax strategies. A well-planned gift to charity could provide an income tax deduction and a reduction of estate taxes. Your donation could also help you maintain financial security, exercise control over assets both during your lifetime and after death, as well as provide for your heirs in the manner you choose.

Life Insurance: Adapting to Changing Needs

When Jennifer purchased her life insurance policy 10 years ago, she assumed that her life insurance planning was complete. She thought that if she just paid her premiums on time, she could sit back and not worry about life insurance any more. Jennifer’s policy has provided protection for herself and her family over the years. But letting her insurance program run on autopilot may not be the best route to take in the long run.

Simplifying Retirement

Retirement planning can seem complex and intimidating, which explains why some people delay doing it. However, with the appropriate help from a knowledgeable financial advisor, preparation can be a straightforward process that produces a sound strategy and a sense of security. To simplify your planning, consider pursuing these 10 steps:

Inflation and Your Retirement

Even if your retirement is years away, it’s important to understand how inflation can affect your retirement savings. You probably know that inflation can depreciate your savings over time.

The Importance of Minimizing Your Retirement Risks

With the median net worth of American families showing signs of stagnation and traditional pension plans disappearing, even as the growing number of retirees places pressure on the Social Security system, workers who are currently trying to plan for retirement are facing an uphill battle, according to a report released by the Society of Actuaries Committee on Post Retirement Needs and Risks (CPRNR), the Urban Institute, and the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER).arrangements.

Mapping the Road to Retirement

It makes sense to periodically review your financial strategy along the road to retirement to make sure you are taking advantage of all available tools and resources that may help build your retirement income. Your ability to save more now, before retirement, will provide you with a nest egg that will help support a comfortable retirement. You may want to consider these five steps to stay on track toward reaching your retirement goals:

Life Insurance and Divorce: Protecting Your Family’s Future

Sometimes in life, things don’t work out as planned. One of the most trying examples is when a couple decides they can’t make their marriage work and, subsequently, files for divorce. Divorce can take a significant financial and emotional toll on a couple, their children, and other family members. In the midst of immediate financial and legal concerns, couples also need to consider ways to help protect their individual financial futures and that of their children’s in the event of death. Life insurance may offer a solution.

“Gifting” Your Way to Estate Tax Savings

If you have been fortunate enough to accumulate substantial assets during your lifetime, do you know that estate taxes could reduce the amount you will be able to pass on to your heirs? Federal estate tax rates can reach as high as 35% for estates greater than $5.12 million in 2012. Unless Congress takes further legislative action, starting in 2013, the top estate and gift tax rates will revert to 55%, with exclusion amounts of $1 million. Therefore, it is important to develop an estate planning strategy that helps reduce the impact of estate taxes. By making gifts of existing assets during your lifetime, you can help reduce the size of your estate and lessen your family’s future estate tax burden. .

Location Matters When Choosing a Retirement Home

Retirees have many options when choosing where to live. While climate, proximity to family, and the cost of housing will likely factor into the decision about where to retire, prospective retirees should also take into account the amount of taxes they will owe in the state and town where they have their primary residence.

Working with a Financial Advisor: Six Steps to Help You Get the Most Out of the Relationship

Would you trust your medical diagnosis to a casual acquaintance? Do you cut your own hair or dry clean your own clothes? For some services, it makes more sense to pay a professional who has the expertise to deliver the appropriate results. A professional financial advisor can help you build a sound estate plan, designed to help you toward your long-term financial planning goals. These six steps can help you locate and get the most out of this important relationship.

Retirement Savings: Do Yours Measure Up?

When you envision retirement, do you picture yourself living in a warm climate, traveling to exotic places, or doing whatever suits you on any given day? It might surprise you to learn that, regardless of your age or circumstance, a "lifestyle plan" is an important part of retirement planning.

Traditional IRAs vs Roth IRAs

Currently, there are two popular Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) vying for your attention: the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA. While both are long-term savings vehicles with tax benefits, each has different rules concerning contributions, age, and income that may change from one year to the next.

Social Security and Retirement

When contemplating retirement, you, like many other people today, may be counting on Social Security benefits to provide you with a basic level of income. The age at which you choose to retire is an important part of the equation. In addition, there are many other issues to consider when making that choice.

Over 50? Strategies for Retirement Savings

The baby boom generation is about to enter another era: retirement. Never known for accepting the status quo, baby boomers are ready to redefine the "golden years." Forget about endless days of leisure. This generation seeks adventure, travel, and new business pursuits. While these changes may redefine retirement, will boomers be able to finance their plans? Today, many people age 50 and older have not begun to save for retirement or have yet to accumulate sufficient funds.

Lease or Buy: Understanding the Basics

As leasing continues to grow in popularity, many new car buyers wonder how the option of leasing compares to buying. Let’s look at a hypothetical couple, Peggy and Stan, who have always purchased their vehicles. After hearing friends and relatives tout the benefits of leasing, they now wonder whether it is better to lease or buy.

The Reality of Early Retirement

Is early retirement on your wish list? Do you envision a relaxing lifestyle in a warmer climate or the leisurely pursuit of a personal hobby? Unfortunately, retiring later than anticipated, rather than sooner, is becoming more and more commonplace. But some people are still managing to retire early. You may be asking yourself, “How do they do it?”

Retirement Saving: Let the Journey Begin!

We've all heard the old adage, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." The same concept applies to saving for your retirement. It's up to you to take that first step. If you wait until you have "enough" money to begin saving, you may never start at all. Instead, focus on the first step. Then, you can begin transforming that thousand-mile journey into smaller, more manageable goals.

Planning for a Long Retirement

Americans are living longer than ever, thanks to advances in health care, improved diets and better exercise. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95, according to data from the Social Security Administration.

Annuities: A Retirement Planning Tool To Consider

When it comes to deferring taxes, people normally think of retirement accounts like 401(k)s, Keoghs, SEPs, and IRAs. But there’s another way to defer taxes on your investment earnings until you reach retirement: by purchasing an annuity.

Think Twice About Your 401(k)

Does your 401(k) account include shares of your employer’s stock that have grown a lot since you acquired them? If so, you may be able to make use of a “net unrealized appreciation” (NUA) strategy when you retire or otherwise leave your employer.

To better understand it, NUA is the difference between the market value of your company’s shares on the date they are distributed to you and the date they were originally added to your plan account. In general, to use the NUA strategy, you have to: Leave your company, receive a lump-sum distribution of your account’s entire balance in a single year, and choose to take all or some of your company stock “in kind.” That means you take the actual shares instead of a distribution check for their value, rolling them into another employee plan, or rolling them over into an individual retirement account (IRA). This requires a transfer of shares received to a taxable brokerage account and not a roll over into an individual retirement account or qualified plan.

Are Your Assets Really Diversified?

You've heard the old investment adage, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." It's good advice. A diversified portfolio should be at the core of any well-planned investment strategy. While a worthy goal at any age, it's especially desirable as your net worth grows over the years.

How Much Will You Need to Retire?

How much money will it take for you to retire in style? Will $1 million do the trick? How about $5 million? Or perhaps you can get by on less.

If the question leaves you scratching your head, you’re not alone. Just 36 percent of American workers have talked with a financial advisor about retirement planning, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute. One of the biggest risks retirees may face is running out of money while they’re alive. It’s an all-too-possible scenario, even if you have substantial assets.

How to Make the Most of Your IRA

With so much media attention spotlighting retirement planning these days, you’d think the United States is a nation of hardcore investors, well-versed in the intricacies of all sorts of financial products. But the truth is most Americans know relatively little about one of the most effective tools for securing their financial futures: the Individual Retirement Account.

Paying for College with Help from Uncle Sam

When thinking about funding sources for your children’s college education, you may assume your family earns too much to qualify for Federal grants, loans, and work-study job assistance. However, families with higher incomes are frequently eligible to receive some form of financial aid from the Federal government.

Combining Charitable Giving With Smart Tax Planning

Are you hanging on to some low-basis, highly appreciated assets that you would gladly sell if you could somehow avoid losing much of the value to taxes? One solution might be an estate planning arrangement known as a charitable remainder trust. This type of trust may provide you with income tax deductions and other tax breaks, while enabling you to convert an appreciated asset -- such as stocks or bonds, real estate or a work of art -- into an income stream for life.

Managing an Inheritance

An inheritance in the form of cash, real property, jewelry or stocks can enrich your life in many ways. Oftentimes, bequests from an estate are intended to help move the heir forward financially, or to keep a prized possession within the family. To fully realize the value of an inheritance, consider how the assets affect your overall financial plan.

Variable Annuities: Another Retirement Savings Tool

From time to time, we all take stock in our lives and resolve to make positive changes going forward. However, this personal evaluation doesn’t always include a hard look at our own retirement strategy. No matter how investor's envision their retirement years, one thing is certain – investors will want to make sure that they have adequate savings and investments to enjoy their future.

Key Employees: Protecting Your Most Valuable Assets

Suppose you arrive at your company one morning and discover that a key employee died unexpectedly the night before. Have you ever considered how such a turn of events may affect your company? Along with losing a valued member of your team, you may also be losing knowledge, skill, and important professional relationships cultivated over many years.

Trimming Your Taxes While Saving for Retirement

Contributing to tax-advantaged retirement plans is one of the most effective financial planning strategies available to U.S. taxpayers: Saving money in a 401(k), IRA, or a Roth IRA account can trim your tax bill, while helping you prepare for the future. Even if you are already contributing to a retirement plan, you should review your retirement savings strategy regularly to ensure that you are making the most of the tax breaks you qualify for.

Understanding Life Insurance Beneficiary Designations

In the language of life insurance, a beneficiary is the recipient of the proceeds of a policy when the named insured dies. The owner of a life insurance policy has a great deal of flexibility in naming beneficiaries and can generally name anyone he or she chooses. However, it is important to understand the different types of designations and methods of distribution before choosing your beneficiaries.

Understanding Interest Rates and Your Financial Situation

When discussing bank accounts, investments, loans, and mortgages, it is important to understand the concept of interest rates. Interest is the price you pay for the temporary use of someone else's funds; an interest rate is the percentage of a borrowed amount that is attributable to interest. Whether you are a lender, a borrower, or both, it is important to consider how interest rates may affect your financial decisions.

Understanding the Consumer Price Index

The highs and lows of the economy affect people and markets in a variety of ways. While some sectors may be thriving, others may be sluggish. One economic indicator used to gauge the state of the American economy is the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the rate of inflation in the United States.

Subtract Inflation and It All Adds Up!

Some of us may remember the “good old days,” when gasoline prices were as low as 25¢ per gallon. Others may recall when a can of soda cost 15¢. But prices tend to rise over time—sometimes steadily and sometimes abruptly. In the years ahead, inflation will most likely decrease the purchasing power of your money, which means that during retirement, your dollars will buy less than they do today.

Is an Annuity Right for You?

When it comes to your retirement, there are three factors that you may want to take into account when planning for your retirement income needs.

Planning Your Estate before Remarriage

Despite the best intentions, marriages may not last forever. If you are divorced or widowed, and planning to remarry, you may want to take the opportunity to review and revise your estate conservation strategies. This is especially important if you and your future spouse have children from previous marriages.

Analyzing Investment Styles: Growth vs. Value

Growth or value-what's your style? Growth investors look for stocks that will grow at a high rate for a relatively short period of time or mutual funds that focus on growth stock. Value investors look for stocks that are currently undervalued and are expected to increase to their true value over a longer time horizon or mutual funds that focus on value stock.

Points for Business Succession Planning

  1. Start now—address the issue of business succession—don’t put it off!

The Basics of Financing Your New Home

If you are in the market for a new home, interest rates are favorable, and good deals are not difficult to find in many areas of the country. Buying a home is the single largest purchase most people will ever make, and for first-time homebuyers especially, the financing process can appear complicated. The following information provides you with some preliminary information to understand how mortgages work.

First-Time Homebuyers: Items to Consider

Contemplating whether or not to buy your first home can be an exciting and time-consuming process. For many, the purchase of a home is the largest purchase they will ever make. Therefore, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. If you feel that you will be better off financially as an owner instead of a renter, one question remains: What mortgage amount can you afford?

Is Your Life Insurance Policy On Track?

Few things are as important as ensuring that your heirs will be in good financial shape should you die unexpectedly. Life insurance, and the death benefit it pays out, is critical for achieving that financial shape - albeit one that is often avoided because it elicits undesirable emotions. After all, most of us don't want to think about anything related to the death of a loved one.

Key-Person Insurance: Small Business Life Line

Would you hesitate to buy fire insurance for your lab or office building? Of course not. What about liability insurance in case someone slips on your steps? Same answer. But have you insured what could be your most valuable asset -- your top employees? If not, you should consider "key-person" insurance.

The Costs of Living Longer

As Americans live longer, they are spending more of their later years in need of custodial medical care. Is long-term care insurance the best choice to alleviate the costs?

In general, Americans are living longer. While that’s good news, it means more are going to live out a substantial part of their later years in need of a large measure of custodial medical care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that at least 70% of people over the age of 65 will require long-term care (LTC) in the future, including services like home visits by healthcare professionals, stays in a nursing home and 24-hour medical support.1

Don’t Let Health Care Costs Crack Your Nest Egg

Escalating health care costs can undermine the best-laid retirement plans. One of the biggest risks lies in the cost of long-term care. Unfortunately, health care costs in general have been outpacing inflation, and this trend to may continue.

Even if you’re currently in good health, you can’t guarantee that it’ll continue in your later years. Not being prepared can be very expensive. According to data from Lincoln Financial Group’s long-term care website, current national averages for full-time long-term care services can range from $2,860 per month to $14,386, depending on the setting and level of care required1. At that rate, it wouldn’t take long to put a sizable dent into most nest eggs.

Solidify Your Future: Use Advance Directives

Traditionally, estate planning has focused on minimizing estate taxes and directing the disposition of your assets after death. Today, managing your financial well-being often includes the potential need for long-term health care. If you were to sustain a debilitating illness, or become mentally incapacitated, which can occur gradually due to a progressive medical condition, or suddenly, from an unexpected accident, who would make your important legal, financial, and health care decisions, and on what authority?

Securing a Business Loan with Term Life

As a business owner, you have probably worked long and hard to build a successful company. Yet, even when profit projections look promising and a project is backed by a sound business plan, your banker may be reluctant to lend the funds necessary for expansion, particularly if the success of your venture depends too heavily on you.

Transferring Wealth the Right Way

One of the most rewarding benefits of wealth is the ability to make a lasting impact long after you're gone. To this end, you could set up trusts that provide a financial cushion, pay educational costs or provide business seed capital for multiple generations of family members. Maybe you want to have your name on a library or to fund scholarships at your alma mater. Perhaps there is medical research or another cause that you strongly support.

Flexibility and Incentive Trusts

Grantors who are leery about passing their hard-earned wealth to heirs with relaxed lifestyles and spending habits may find incentive trusts to be useful. Uncertain about the future behavior of their heirs, wealthy families can use incentive trusts to motivate beneficiaries to act in a particular way to earn future benefits.

Maximizing Giving While Helping to Reduce Taxes

These days, many Americans are donating to their favorite charities or to their communities. But let's face it: unless you are Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, your charitable decisions need to take into account plans to leave a legacy for your children - while making sure you have enough money to help meet your own needs. Fortunately, there are ways you can do meaningful philanthropic work while simultaneously saving on taxes and transferring wealth to your heirs.

Navigating the Top Five Retirement Risks

Longer lives and better health translate into longer retirements and new concepts of what retirement should be. Many of today’s retirees view retirement as a time to shift gears but not necessarily to slow down.

They keep their skills sharp in new job roles or by starting businesses. They continue learning new skills by going back to school as both teachers and students. Some choose to serve on boards of directors or to pursue creative and artistic passions.

Your Estate and Life Insurance: It All Adds Up

It can be fairly easy to underestimate your net worth. After all, predicting the future value of your home and savings is merely hypothetical. On the other hand, you can rely on the fixed amount of the death benefit provided by your life insurance policy. However, adding this often significant sum to your asset pool could expose your estate to the Federal estate tax.

The ABCs Of Beneficiaries

When you buy life insurance or an annuity, join an employer’s retirement plan, or open an Individual Retirement Account, you’ll be asked to designate a primary beneficiary to receive the proceeds or benefits at your death. Too often, people give little thought to this decision. They simply jot down whoever seems the most logical choice at the time — generally a spouse or child — or sometimes they don’t designate a beneficiary at all. However, the beneficiary you name can make a big difference in how the benefits will be distributed and how much your beneficiary will receive.

Rent or Own: You Decide

If you’re considering whether or not to buy your first home, it can be an exciting and time-consuming process. For many, the purchase of a home is the largest purchase they will ever make. Therefore, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. If you feel that you will be better off financially as an owner instead of a renter, one important question remains: What mortgage amount could you afford?

Leaving a Legacy

For millions of Americans, “charity begins at home.” Many have decided to make a difference by donating money to local religious, educational, social, or cultural organizations. In addition to the immense satisfaction that comes from giving to others, charitable giving can provide tax benefits for the donor and his or her heirs when done as part of an overall estate plan.

Preparing your Estate Plan for the Changes in Tax Rules

Federal estate tax laws have changed extensively over the past decade, and this constant flux can make it hard to know when to adjust your estate plan and what changes to make.

The Importance of Advance Directives

Traditionally, estate planning has focused on minimizing estate taxes and directing the disposition of your assets after death. Today, managing your affairs often includes the issue of long-term health care. What would happen if you were to experience a debilitating illness or become incapable of managing your own affairs? Such a situation could occur gradually, due to a progressive medical condition, or suddenly, due to an unexpected accident or illness. If such an event were to happen, who would make important legal, financial, and health care decisions and on what authority?

The "Value" of an Appraisal

Television shows featuring auctions and appraisal fairs have ushered the art of appraising into the limelight with fascinating stories—an ancient artifact unknowingly passed down from generation to generation, a rare trinket picked up at a yard sale, or an historic relic found tucked away in the corner of the attic. While appraisals occasionally lead to surprising discoveries, they more often play a key role in developing financial strategies.

Tax Planning for A Move Abroad

Many Americans are considering moving abroad to take advantage of professional and personal opportunities in a global economy. But as a U.S. citizen living in a foreign country, your tax situation may become more complex, especially because the U.S. requires all of its citizens and green card holders living abroad to continue to file returns in the U.S., and pay taxes on their worldwide income. Depending on the source and level of your income, however, you may be entitled to a number of tax breaks, chiefly designed to keep you from being taxed doubly by your adopted country, as well as in the United States. Whether you actually come out ahead on taxes will depend on which country you work in and its tax rates, along with your individual financial and employment situations.

Ten Tips for Creating an Effective Estate Plan

Whether your estate plan is simple or complicated, many details can undermine the effectiveness of your plan. But, there are also ways to ensure the effectiveness of your plan. Here are 10 steps to help remedy or avoid some common estate planning mistakes:

Top College Funding Mistakes Parents Make

Paying for your children's college educations should actually be placed quite low on the totem pole of financial priorities. Why? There are several reasons for this, such as the availability of tools to pay for college, such as financial aid in the forms of student loans, grants and other programs where loans are forgiven in exchange for public service in low-income communities. But ultimately, it's also because focusing too much on college savings can jeopardize a family's overall financial planning strategy.

Easing the Estate Tax Burden

One of the great joys of building wealth is the knowledge that your heirs may benefit for generations. But without proper planning during your lifetime, the federal government could tax as much as 40% currently of an estate upon death. There are strategies to lessen the burden, and putting them to use now will help ensure more of your assets will get to your heirs rather than be used to pay estate taxes.

A Trust Made for Marriages

One of the things that made the now iconic TV show The Brady Bunch stand out when it first hit the airwaves in the late 1960s was that it depicted what was, at least at the time, a very unusual family dynamic: a second marriage bringing together six children—three from each parent—under one roof.

Building Your Financial Foundation

Regardless of the path your life takes, money will play an important role at every turn. Certain events, especially graduating from college, entering the work world, getting married, having children, and retiring all require targeted financial strategies. Good habits developed now can go a long way toward helping you achieve your financial goals.

The Tax Implications of Changing Jobs

Whether you are moving to another employer because of a new opportunity or because you were laid off from your previous position, changing jobs can have major tax implications, both for the amount of taxes owed in the year you start a new position, and for your long-term retirement planning.

Why a Home May Still Be Your Best Investment

While everyone’s situation is different, buying a home that you plan to live in for many years may still be one of the best investments you can make. An uncertain market should not necessarily deter prospective buyers, but rather prompt them to develop a more realistic perspective on homeownership.

Top 10 Financial Resolutions for the New Year

The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are a time to eat, drink and be merry. Reality typically sets in on New Year’s Day, which leads to the traditional round of resolution-making. This year (in addition to pledging to eat better and exercise more), you may want to consider these 10 resolutions to help put your financial house in order.

EAPs Help Employees Cope with Personal Challenges

Otherwise dedicated and productive employees can feel overwhelmed by domestic hardships, the death of a family member, mental or physical health issues, financial concerns, substance abuse, or severe work-related stress, which can interfere with their ability to perform effectively on the job. Therefore, a growing number of companies are adding employee assistance programs (EAPs) to their benefit packages to offer professional help. Compared with other types of benefits, EAPs may be relatively inexpensive.

College Admissions: Thinking Outside the Box

If you were asked how best to prepare your child for college, you might say that a well-rounded high school curriculum would be a good start. It may be true that your child needs to be a good student in order to get a foot in the door of higher education. Today, however, getting to college and finishing college are two distinct challenges.

The Value of an Appraisal

Television shows featuring auctions and appraisal fairs have ushered the art of appraising into the limelight with fascinating stories—an ancient artifact unknowingly passed down from generation to generation, a rare trinket picked up at a yard sale, or an historic relic found tucked away in the corner of the attic. While appraisals occasionally lead to surprising discoveries, they more often play a key role in developing financial strategies.

Tax Breaks for Elder Care

Like many Americans, you may find yourself having to help cover the medical costs and caregiving expenses of an aging parent or other close relative. If you and your parent meet certain criteria set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you may qualify for tax breaks that can ease the financial burden of paying for care, even if your parent does not live in your home.

You’ve Graduated: Now It’s “Payback” Time

It takes four years, on average, to graduate from most colleges and universities. During that time, students can accumulate a large amount of debt. For most, the degree is worth the burden of paying off student loans long after graduation. However, these questions remain: How should the debt be repaid? Are there any plans that can help make “payback” easier? What if a student can’t find a job right away?

Trusts and Your Estate Plan

Arranging for the distribution of assets after death is not a task most people approach eagerly. It is, however, a necessary task. That's where trusts can come into play. A trust, simply defined, is an arrangement whereby one person holds legal title to an asset and manages it for the benefit of another. For estate planning, trusts may be used in several ways.

Tax Advantages of Turning a Hobby into a Business

Many people dream of turning their passionate pursuit into a money-making venture. Creating a successful and profitable business is seldom easy, but the Federal government offers tax incentives to business owners that could make converting an avocation into a business start-up an effective part of your overall tax planning strategy. If you are thinking about turning your hobby into a business, you would need to realistically appraise your chances of building a profitable enterprise before you declare yourself a business owner.

Estate Planning and the Importance of Drafting a Will

The prospect of writing a will can often bring up uncomfortable feelings. Yet, drafting a will is one of the most important components of estate planning. Having a will in place ensures that your heirs will be provided for and your wishes for asset distribution will be met. Like many people, have you postponed writing a will? Or, is it time to review and update it?

The Four Forms of Property Co Ownership

Owning property with another individual or partner may create a complicated relationship. Due to the complexity of the situation, the way in which you take title or ownership must be determined in advance. Consulting with your legal professional can help you establish the form of ownership in such a way that will benefit you and your future heirs. The four forms of co-ownership, one of which will likely be better suited to your circumstances, are as follows:

Protect Your Estate with an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust

Many estate planning practitioners view the irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) as a flexible and useful tool that can provide a number of benefits to their clients. Because the question of where the ILIT fits into the overall estate planning process can be somewhat confusing, a closer look at its potential advantages may prove helpful.

Plan Carefully When Choosing Your Executor

One important decision you will need to make when writing your will is selecting an estate executor. Ideally, your executor should possess the tact of a diplomat and the administrative skills of a professional executive. You may want to choose someone who knows you and your family well enough to faithfully carry out your wishes, but who also has the necessary objectivity to handle any conflicts that may arise.

Strategies for Making Tax-Free Gifts to Loved Ones

Prospective insurance buyers are often confused about disability income insurance because the features and benefits can vary widely from one policy to another. Essentially, there are a few key elements that could make a big difference when you make your choice. If you are in the market for disability income insurance, here are some significant points to consider:

Retirement Planning: Keeping Pace with Change

Planning ahead for retirement means setting long- and short-term goals, while deciding how they will be met, within the framework of a changing financial picture. As your golden years approach, consider these factors to better position yourself to enjoy your retirement years:

Taxes and Your Estate: Reconcile Your Domicile

Increased mobility in today’s society has changed the ways in which we live, work, and play. Compared to previous generations, it is now quite common for work and recreational activities to cross state lines, resulting in ownership of property and formal relationships in more than one state. However, the expanded opportunities created by mobility may come at a price: the increased likelihood that several states may be able to tax your estate when you die. If you were to die today, do you know if more than one state would attempt to levy taxes on your estate?

Newlyweds: Get a Financial Head Start

If you are newly married with no children, you may have a special opportunity to build your savings and investments. Financially, a married couple can be more than the sum of its parts. One spouse can work steadily, while the other studies for a college degree or launches a promising business. Or, if both spouses hold jobs, you can try to live on one paycheck and save or invest the other paycheck.

Private Foundations—An Alternative to Charitable Giving

For many individuals with accumulated wealth, occasional gifts to a favorite charity may satisfy their charitable inclinations. The added incentive of an often-substantial tax deduction, coupled with various estate planning benefits, can be the driving force behind such charitable gifts. However, for some individuals, philanthropy is a far more serious endeavor, often involving a succession of substantial gifts of at least $5 to $10 million, which may necessitate an amount of control and general oversight. In these situations, a

private foundation can be an ideal venue for managing a large, ongoing charitable giving program.

Teach Your Children the Basics of Money Management

A four- or five-year-old child may seem too young to grasp the concept of money management, but even at an early age, children waiting in a supermarket checkout line can see that money buys things. Therefore, it is important to begin as early as possible to help your child understand the value of money.

Making Your Finances Picture Perfect

While most people find the notion of creating a budget about as appealing as cleaning out closets, most would agree that the result—a well-crafted and useful budget—is worth the work

Tips for Getting and Staying Out of Debt

Debt management is a practice that is always “in style,” whether economic times are good or bad. Effectively managing your debt prepares you to weather tough economic times, as well as to capitalize on a more robust economy. Here are some tips to help you get out, and stay out, of debt:

Planning for Your Financial Future

Regardless of the path your life takes, money will play an important role at every turn. Certain events, especially graduating from college, entering the work world, getting married, having children, and retiring all require targeted financial strategies. Developing good financial habits now can go a long way toward helping you achieve your future financial goals.

Controlling Your Runaway Expenses

For most of us, the cost of living has risen more quickly than our income. In many cases, consumption has increased, as well. If you are looking for ways to control both rising expenses and increasing consumption, here are some timely suggestions.

Protecting Your Financial Information Online

More consumers are conducting financial transactions online and may become vulnerable to tracking, hacking, identity theft, phishing scams, and other cyberspace risks. While nothing can guarantee complete safety on the Internet, understanding how to protect your privacy can help minimize your exposure to risk.

It’s Your Money. . .Who Decides How Your Charitable $$ will be Spent?

When you give $100 to your favorite charity, you are probably not overly concerned about how your donation is spent, as long as it advances the mission of the charity. On the other hand, if you are making a large donation, it is more likely that you have specific goals in mind, whether to fund a particular program or support another endeavor. This desire to specify exactly where your donation dollars will go may jeopardize your ability to claim an income tax deduction. Therefore, proper planning is essential.

Women and Retirement

According to a study by the National Center for Women and Retirement, nine out of 10 women will be solely responsible for their finances at some point in their lifetime. Women living in affluence may feel at ease with the resources they will have in retirement. However, this ease may lend a false sense of security if they don’t realize that wealth must be strategically managed to last a lifetime.

Important Considerations for Workplace Monitoring

Many large U.S. companies and organizations have some form of workplace surveillance system in place for monitoring security. But with advances in technology, workplace monitoring has come of age and is also available to small business owners, to closely observe employee behavior. While many employers may use workplace monitoring for what they believe to be legitimate purposes, such as checking employee productivity, performing business-related quality control, or tracking sources of leaks in confidential company information, companies need to formulate specific guidelines—and adhere to them—for the proper usage of security systems, in order to abide by existing laws that help protect employee privacy.

Keep Your Estate Plan on Track

For today's business owner, death can mark the beginning of a significant tax problem. The investment and sweat that went into building your business year after year could add up to a whopping federal estate tax bill for your heirs – up to 40% in 2016 of the combined value of your company and other assets.

With careful estate planning however, there are still ways to reduce the estate tax burden on your loved ones, while keeping the business intact. The following gives an overview of some available estate planning options.