Organizing Your Paperwork for Tax Season

If you haven’t done it, now’s the time.

How prepared are you to prepare your 1040? The earlier you compile and organize the relevant paperwork, the easier things may be for you (or the tax preparer working for you) this winter. Here are some tips to help you get ready:

As a first step, look at your 2013 return. Unless your job, living situation or financial situation has changed notably since you last filed your taxes, chances are you will need the same set of forms, schedules and receipts this year as you did last year. So open that manila folder (or online vault) and make or print a list of the items that accompanied your 2013 return. You should receive the TY 2014 versions of everything you need by early February at the latest.

How much documentation is needed? If you don’t freelance or own a business, your list may be short: W-2(s), 1099-INT(s), perhaps 1099-DIVs or 1099-Bs, a Form 1098 if you pay a mortgage, and maybe not much more. Independent contractors need their 1099-MISCs, and the self-employed need to compile every bit of documentation related to business expenses they can find: store and restaurant receipts, mileage records, utility bills, and so on. And, of course, there’s the Affordable Care Act; if you got coverage through your state or federal marketplace, Form 1095-A is needed to fill out Form 8962.1

In totaling receipts, don’t forget charitable donations. The IRS wants all of them to be documented. A taxpayer who donates $250 or more to a qualified charity needs a written acknowledgment of such a donation. If your own documentation is sufficiently detailed, you may deduct $0.14 for each mile driven on behalf of a volunteer effort for a qualified charity.1

Or medical expenses & out-of-pocket expenses. Collect receipts for any expense for which your employer doesn’t reimburse you, and any medical bills that came your way last year.

If you’re turning to a tax preparer, stand out by being considerate. If you present clean, neat and well-organized documentation to a preparer, that diligence and orderliness will matter. You might get better and speedier service as a result: you are telegraphing that you are a step removed from the clients with missing or inadequate paperwork.

Make sure you give your preparer your federal tax I.D. number (TIN), and remember that joint filers must supply TINs for each spouse. If you claim anyone as a dependent, you will need to supply your preparer with that person’s federal tax I.D. number. Any dependent you claim has to have a TIN, and that goes for newborns, infants and children as well. So if your kids don’t have Social Security numbers yet, apply for them now using Form SS-5 (available online or at your Social Security office). If you claim the Child & Dependent Care Tax Credit, you will need to show the TIN for the person or business that takes care of your kids while you work.1,3

While we’re on the subject of taxes, some other questions are worth examining…

How long should you keep tax returns? The IRS statute of limitations for refunds is 3 years, but if you underreport taxable income, fail to file a return or file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction, it wants you to keep them longer. You may have heard that keeping your returns for 7 years is wise; some tax professionals will tell you to keep them for life. If the tax records are linked to assets, you will want to retain them for when you figure out the depreciation, amortization, or depletion deduction and the gain or loss. Insurers and creditors may want you to keep federal tax returns indefinitely.4

Can you use electronic files as records in audits? Yes. In fact, early in the audit process, the IRS may request accounting software backup files via Form 4564 (the Information Document Request). Form 4564 asks the taxpayer/preparer to supply the file to the IRS on a flash drive, CD or DVD, plus the necessary administrator username and password. Nothing is emailed. The IRS has the ability to read most tax prep software files. For more, search online for “Electronic Accounting Software Records FAQs.” The IRS page should be the top result.5

How do you calculate cost basis for an investment? A whole article could be written about this, and there are many potential variables in the calculation. At the most basic level with regards to stock, the cost basis is original purchase price + any commission on the purchase.

So in simple terms, if you buy 200 shares of the Little Emerging Company @ $20 a share with a $100 commission, your cost basis = $4,100, or $20.50 per share. If you sell all 200 shares for $4,000 and incur another $100 commission linked to the sale, you lose $200 – the $3,900 you wind up with falls $200 short of your $4,100 cost basis.5

Numerous factors affect cost basis: stock splits, dividend reinvestment, how shares of a security are bought or gifted. Cost basis may also be “stepped up” when an asset is inherited. Since 2011, brokerages have been required to keep track of cost basis for stocks and mutual fund shares, and to report cost basis to investors (and the IRS) when such securities are sold.6

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – bankrate.com/finance/taxes/7-ways-to-get-organized-for-the-tax-year-1.aspx [2/18/15]

2 – bankrate.com/finance/taxes/premium-tax-credit.aspx [1/6/15]

3 – irs.gov/Individuals/International-Taxpayers/Taxpayer-Identification-Numbers-%28TIN%29 [2/2/15]

4 – irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/How-long-should-I-keep-records [1/27/15]

5 – irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Use-of-Electronic-Accounting-Software-Records;-Frequently-Asked-Questions-and-Answers [2/9/15]

6 – turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/Rental-Property/Cost-Basis–Tracking-Your-Tax-Basis/INF12037.html [2014]

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Merck, Glaxosmithkline, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

What’s Your Financial Health Score?

Can a 5-question test predict how wealthy you will become?

In the future, will you become wealthier or poorer? Who knows, right? It seems like you would need a crystal ball to really answer that question given life’s up and downs. What if the answer is right in front of you? What if you can determine it from your present financial behaviors?

Two economists present a brief questionnaire – and an audacious claim. Last month, the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis published an article titled “Five Simple Questions That Reveal Your Financial Health and Wealth.” The authors, William Emmons and Bryan Noeth, argue that your answers to these questions can effectively predict your financial future.1,2

Q: Did you save any money last year?

Q: Did you miss any loan or mortgage payments in the past year?

Q: Did you have a balance on your credit card after the last payment was due?

Q: Do liquid assets make up at least 10% of the value of your total assets?

Q: Is your total debt service (i.e., the cash you devote each month to paying principal and interest) less than 40% of your income?1

The Federal Reserve has actually asked these questions of consumers for decades as part of its Survey of Consumer Finances. Studying the eight SCFs conducted from 1992-2013, Emmons and Noeth looked at the answers respondents provided to these questions and the level of personal wealth they reported. Their assertion: “In summary, good financial health – as measured by our simple five-question scorecard – is highly correlated with the accumulation of wealth.”2

As part of their research, Emmons and Noeth scored the answers. A financially positive answer to a question was assigned 1 point; a financially negative answer, 0 points.2

The average total score (across more than 38,000 households) was 3.01. The highest average score to a question was 0.91 (the one about debt load being less than 40% of income) and the lowest average score to a question was 0.27 (the one about the percentage of liquid assets among total assets).2

There was a surprising conclusion. The authors found that education was no reliable indicator of personal wealth. When it came to being rich or poor, well-educated individuals had no leg up on lesser-educated individuals.2

What’s your score? If you are able to successively answer the above questions with “yes,” “no,” “no,” “yes” and “yes”, your household is probably in pretty good financial shape – or better. In simple terms, those answers would get you a 5.0.

Here’s the bottom line. If you save money consistently and maintain a good cash position, if you make loan and mortgage payments on time and pay off 100% of your credit card debt each billing cycle, if you avoid debts that put a strain on your budget … congratulations. You are doing the right things on behalf of your financial life and promoting your chances to build wealth.

If you’d like to see the precise methodology the researchers used and their definition of a “positive” and “negative” answer for each question, you can go online and download Issue 10 of the St. Louis Fed publication In the Balance (which contains the article and the scorecard) at stlouisfed.org/publications/itb/.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – stlouisfed.org/newsroom/displayNews.cfm?article=2390 [12/15/14]

2 – stlouisfed.org/publications/pub_assets/pdf/2014/In_the_Balance_issue_10.pdf/ [12/14]

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

After the Military: Tips for Your Financial Transition to Civilian Life.

A drawdown is looming. You’re separating at the end of active service. You’ve decided to retire after a long career. No matter why you’re leaving the military, a big part of preparing for your civilian life is taking steps to proactively address the financial issues you might face. Here are some tips to help ease the transition.

Get your road map ready

An impending separation from service may be both exciting and anxiety-provoking for you and your family. Your lifestyle, income sources, and benefits will be changing. Major decisions that may affect your finances include:

  • Where you decide to live
  • Whether you’ll be selling or purchasing a home
  • Whether you and/or your spouse will need to find new employment
  • Your plans to return to school
  • Your eligibility for benefits (e.g., from the military or a future employer)

To help you prepare for your transition to civilian life, the Department of Defense, along with other agencies, has developed a program called Transition GPS. All servicemembers who are retiring, separating, or being released from a period of at least 180 days of active duty must participate in this program. Transition GPS includes preseparation counseling, briefings, and workshops that cover topics such as education and training, employment and career goals, financial management, and VA benefits. You’ll also prepare an Individual Transition Plan. For more information, visit the DoD Transition Assistance Program (TAP) website at www.dodtap.mil.

Prepare a realistic budget

Having a realistic budget is important. Once you leave the military, it’s likely that your living expenses will increase because you won’t be receiving tax-free allowances, and costs for insurance, housing, groceries, and other day-to-day expenses may be higher. Preparing a budget that reflects your new sources of income and expenses, and adjusting it when necessary, can help you stay on track as you adapt to your new financial circumstances.

Here are some questions to consider as you prepare your working budget:

Income

  • Will you be eligible for separation pay or cashing in unused leave? These can be sources of short-term income if necessary.
  • What about retirement pay? Make sure you understand how much you’ll receive, if applicable, and what other sources of retirement income you’ll be eligible for.
  • What salary can you expect from your new career?
  • Will your spouse be working?
  • Will you be eligible for any veterans benefits that will provide ongoing income?

Here’s a tip: If you’re unable to find a job right away, you may qualify for unemployment compensation, but your eligibility may be affected by any retirement or separation pay you receive. Unemployment benefits vary from state to state, so for more information you’ll need to contact your local unemployment office.

Expenses

  • Will the general cost of living (for example, gas, food, and utilities) be higher in your new location?
  • How will your health expenses change? Will you have access to employer-sponsored health insurance?
  • What will your housing costs include (e.g., rent or mortgage payment, property taxes, and insurance)?
  • Will you need to purchase and insure a vehicle?
  • What about other expenses, such as commuting costs, clothing, and child care?

Here’s a tip: Have a plan in place to reduce your expenses if necessary. Identify items in your budget that you consider discretionary and would be willing to cut at least temporarily. It will likely be much easier to pay off debt now while you have a steady paycheck from the military rather than later when your job situation might be uncertain.

Save for transition expenses

Some of your costs will be covered through transition assistance (for example, storage and shipment of household goods), but it’s likely that you’ll have expenses for which you won’t be reimbursed, such as housing deposits. Having some savings set aside in a transition fund that you can easily access may help you avoid having to dip into your long-term savings and investments to cover unexpected expenses. It will also decrease the odds that you’ll rack up credit-card debt that you’ll have to pay off down the road.

Before leaving the military…

Housing  – Determine how much you can afford to pay for housing, and contact a local real estate agent who can show you properties available to rent or buy. Visit and evaluate the area where you’d like to move.

Health care  – Schedule medical and dental appointments, and review and copy your records. Learn about your postseparation or retirement health insurance options and determine whether you’ll need transitional insurance.

Life insurance  – Review your life insurance needs. Decide whether it’s cost-effective to convert your SGLI policy to VGLI, or whether you should purchase an individual policy. If you have FSGLI coverage for your spouse, remember that it’s not convertible to VGLI, so look at options for replacing your spouse’s coverage.

Estate planning  – Update your estate plan, including your will, powers of attorney, and other documents to reflect your new situation.

Retirement planning  – Decide what to do with your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account, if you’ve contributed. If you’re seeking employment in the civilian sector, learn about any new options for retirement savings, such as contributing to a tax-deferred employer sponsored retirement plan. If you’re retiring, consider how your military retirement pay fits into your overall retirement income plan.

Education planning  – Make sure you understand your education benefits that can help you pay for college or vocational training. Consider transferring Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to dependents. While you’re still on active duty, take tests that can help you earn college credit or a license or certification, and find out whether any of your military training may be substituted for college credit.

Career planning  – Attend relevant employment workshops and counseling. Attend job fairs and network with potential employers and recruiters. Military spouses can connect with the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program for career planning help at www.militaryonesource.mil/seco.

Here’s a tip: Don’t wait until the last minute. Make saving for your transition a priority, and start as far ahead of time as possible to ensure that you have several months of savings set aside to cover transition expenses.

Review and revisit

After your transition is complete and your income and expenses have stabilized, update your budget to reflect your new circumstances. It’s also a good time to review your financial goals. Now that your focus has shifted from your short-term priorities, you can refocus on pursuing your long-term goals to prepare for your next stage in life.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, Hughes, access.att.com, AT&T, Qwest, ING Retirement, Chevron, Northrop Grumman, Merck, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Common Deductions Taxpayers Overlook

Make sure you give them a look as you prepare your 1040.

Every year, taxpayers leave money on the table. They don’t mean to, but as a result of oversight, they miss some great chances for federal income tax deductions.

While the IRS has occasionally fixed taxpayer mistakes in the past for taxpayer benefit, you can’t count on such benevolence. As a reminder, here are some potential tax breaks that often go unnoticed – and this is by no means the whole list.

Expenses related to a job search. Did you find a new job in the same line of work last year? If you itemize, you can deduct the job-hunting costs as miscellaneous expenses. The deductions can’t surpass 2% of your adjusted gross income. Even if you didn’t land a new job last year, you can still write off qualified job search expenses. Many expenses qualify: overnight lodging, mileage, cab fares, resume printing, headhunter fees and more. Didn’t keep track of these expenses? You and your CPA can estimate them. If your new job prompted you to relocate 50 or more miles from your previous residence last year, you can take a deduction for job-related moving expenses even if you don’t itemize.1

Home office expenses. Do you work from home? If so, first figure out what percentage of the square footage in your house is used for work-related activities. (Bathrooms and other “break areas” can count in the calculation.) If you use 15% of your home’s square footage for business, then 15% of your homeowners insurance, home maintenance costs, utility bills, ISP bills, property tax and mortgage/rent may be deducted.2

State sales taxes. If you live in a state that collects no income tax from its residents, you have the option to deduct state sales taxes paid the previous year.1

Student loan interest paid by parents. Did you happen to make student loan payments on behalf of your son or daughter last year? If so (and if you can’t claim your son or daughter as a dependent), that child may be able to write off up to $2,500 of student-loan interest. Itemizing the deduction isn’t necessary.1

Education & training expenses. Did you take any classes related to your career last year? How about courses that added value to your business or potentially increased your employability? You can deduct the tuition paid and the related textbook and travel costs.3,4

Those small charitable contributions. We all seem to make out-of-pocket charitable donations, and we can fully deduct them (although few of us ask for receipts needed to itemize them). However, we can also itemize expenses incurred in the course of charitable work (i.e., volunteering at a toy drive, soup kitchen, relief effort, etc.) and mileage accumulated in such efforts ($0.14 per mile, and tolls and parking fees qualify as well).1

Armed forces reserve travel expenses. Are you a reservist or a member of the National Guard? Did you travel more than 100 miles from home and spend one or more nights away from home to drill or attend meetings? If that is the case, you may write off 100% of related lodging costs and 50% of meal costs  and take a mileage deduction ($0.56 per mile plus tolls and parking fees).1

Estate tax on income in respect of a decedent. Have you inherited an IRA? Was the estate of the original IRA owner large enough to be subject to federal estate tax? If so, you have the option to claim a federal income tax write-off for the amount of the estate tax paid on those inherited IRA assets. If you inherited a $100,000 IRA that was part of the original IRA owner’s taxable estate and thereby hit with $40,000 in death taxes, you can deduct that $40,000 on Schedule A as you withdraw that $100,000 from the inherited IRA, $20,000 on Schedule A as you withdraw $50,000 from the inherited IRA, and so on.1

The child care credit. If you paid for child care while you worked last year, you can qualify for a tax credit worth 20-35% of that amount. (The child, or children, must be no older than 12.) Tax credits are superior to tax deductions, as they cut your tax bill dollar-for-dollar.1

Reinvested dividends. If your mutual fund dividends are routinely used to purchase further shares, don’t forget that this incrementally increases your tax basis in the fund. If you do forget to include the reinvested dividends in your basis, you leave yourself open for a double hit – your dividends will be taxed once at payout and immediate reinvestment, and then taxed again at some future point when they are counted as proceeds of sale. Remember that as your basis in the fund grows, the taxable capital gain when you redeem shares will be reduced. (Or if the fund is a loser, the tax-saving loss is increased.)1

As a precaution, check with your tax professional before claiming the above deductions on your federal income tax return.

This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – kiplinger.com/article/taxes/T054-C000-S001-the-most-overlooked-tax-deductions.html [1/7/15]

2 – irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Home-Office-Deduction [1/9/15]

3 – irs.gov/publications/p970/ch06.html [2015]

4 – irs.gov/publications/p970/ch12.html [2015]

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Merck, Qwest, ING Retirement, AT&T, Glaxosmithkline, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

2015 IRA Deadlines Are Approaching

Here is what you need to know.

Financially, many of us associate April with taxes – but we should also associate April with important IRA deadlines.

*April 1 is the absolute deadline to take your first Required Mandatory Distribution (RMD) from your traditional IRA(s).

*April 15 is the deadline for making annual contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA.1

Let’s discuss the contribution deadline first, and then the deadline for that first RMD (which affects only those IRA owners who turned 70½ last year).

The earlier you make your annual IRA contribution, the better. You can make a yearly Roth or traditional IRA contribution anytime between January 1 of the current year and April 15 of the next year. So the contribution window for 2014 is January 1, 2014- April 15, 2015. You can make your IRA contribution for 2015 anytime from January 1, 2015-April 15, 2016.2

You have more than 15 months to make your IRA contribution for a given year, but why wait? Savvy IRA owners contribute as early as they can to give those dollars more months to grow and compound. (After all, who wants less time to amass retirement savings?)

You cut your income tax bill by contributing to a deductible traditional IRA. That’s because you are funding it with after-tax dollars. To get the full tax deduction for your 2015 traditional IRA contribution, you have to meet one or more of these financial conditions:

*You aren’t eligible to participate in a workplace retirement plan.

*You are eligible to participate in a workplace retirement plan, but you are a single filer or head of household with modified adjusted gross income of $61,000 or less. (Or if you file jointly with your spouse, your combined MAGI is $98,000 or less.)

*You aren’t eligible to participate in a workplace retirement plan, but your spouse is eligible and your combined 2015 gross income is $183,000 or less.3

If you are the original owner of a traditional IRA, by law you must stop contributing to it starting in the year you turn 70½. If you are the initial owner of a Roth IRA, you can contribute to it as long as you live provided you have taxable compensation and MAGI below a certain level (see below).1,3

If you are making a 2014 IRA contribution in early 2015, be aware of this fact. You must tell the investment company hosting the IRA account what year the contribution is for. If you fail to indicate the tax year that the contribution applies to, the custodian firm may make a default assumption that the contribution is for the current year (and note exactly that to the IRS).4

So, write “2015 IRA contribution” or “2014 IRA contribution” as applicable in the memo area of your check, plainly and simply. Be sure to write your account number on the check. Should you make your contribution electronically, double-check that these details are communicated.

How much can you put into an IRA this year? You can contribute up to $5,500 to a Roth or traditional IRA for the 2015 tax year, $6,500 if you will be 50 or older this year. (The same applies for the 2014 tax year). If you have multiple IRAs, you can contribute up to a total of $5,500/$6,500 across the various accounts. Should you make an IRA contribution exceeding these limits, you will not be rewarded for it: you will have until the following April 15 to correct the contribution with the help of an IRS form, and if you don’t, the amount of the excess contribution will be taxed at 6% each year the correction is avoided.1,4

If you earn a lot of money, your maximum contribution to a Roth IRA may be reduced because of MAGI phase-outs, which kick in as follows.3

2014 Tax Year 2015 Tax Year
Single/head of household: $114,000 – $129,000 Single/head of household: $116,000 – $131,000
Married filing jointly: $181,000 – $191,000 Married filing jointly: $183,000 – $193,000
Married filing separately: $0 – $10,000 Married filing separately: $0 – $10,000

If your MAGI falls within the applicable phase-out range, you may make a partial contribution.3

A last-chance RMD deadline rolls around on April 1. If you turned 70½ in 2014, the IRS gave you a choice: you could a) take your first Required Minimum Distribution from your traditional IRA before December 31, 2014, or b) postpone it until as late as April 1, 2015.1

If you chose b), you will have to take two RMDs this year – one by April 1, 2014 and another by December 31, 2014. (For subsequent years, your annual RMD deadline will be December 31.) The investment firm hosting your IRA should have already notified you of this consequence, and the RMD amount(s) – in fact, they have probably calculated the RMD(s) for you.5

Original owners of Roth IRAs will never face this issue – they are not required to take RMDs.1

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Traditional-and-Roth-IRAs [11/3/14]

2 – dailyfinance.com/2014/12/06/time-running-out-end-year-retirement-planning/ [12/6/14]

3 – asppa.org/News/Browse-Topics/Sales-Marketing/Article/ArticleID/3594 [10/23/14]

4 – investopedia.com/articles/retirement/05/021505.asp [1/21/15]

5 – schwab.com/public/schwab/nn/articles/IRA-Tax-Traps [6/6/14]

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Merck, Pfizer, Chevron, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Hughes,ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

How Women Are Planning Their Financial Futures

From assorted survey data, an interesting snapshot emerges.

Women are taking action to approach retirement with greater confidence. Some recent, intriguing survey data indicates that women are planning their financial futures with some degree of pragmatism, but also with considerable motivation.

One of the key motivations, it seems, is receiving financial advice.

Results from a new TIAA-CREF survey (and other studies) bear this out. The retirement services giant polled a random, national sample of 1,000 men and women age 18 and older for its 2014 Advice Matters Survey, and it found that 81% of women who had obtained financial advice were more likely to feel informed about retirement planning and retirement saving than women who hadn’t. Additionally, 63% of women who had received financial advice felt confident that they were saving sufficiently for retirement.1

What kind of difference does financial advice make? A significant difference, it seems. In the big picture, 87% of the women surveyed by TIAA-CREF this summer said they had taken “positive steps” in their financial lives as a consequence. In particular, 64% altered spending habits and 53% took an organized approach to managing debt.1,2

In addition, 51% of the women had created an emergency fund and 57% had increased monthly saving rates since getting advice – and that leads us toward another interesting statistic.2

One study suggests women are more dedicated to retirement saving than men. Looking back at 2013, Vanguard discovered that 79% of women earning between $50,000-75,000 were participating in its employer-sponsored retirement plans; only 60% of men in that income group were.2

Another notable difference appeared, this one across all income levels. Examining data from all of its retirement plans, Vanguard found that women saved for retirement at rates ranging from 6-12% greater than men. The message that women need more money for (a potentially longer) retirement than men is being heard loud and clear, it seems.2

Where are women getting their financial advice from? TIAA-CREF’s survey asked this question, but it only counted online sources. Back in 2012, 20% of women in TIAA-CREF’s 2012 survey said they went to financial websites for advice; this year, that rose to 41%.2

Most telling is that 49% of the women TIAA-CREF polled felt that it would be helpful to turn to a real person online with their basic personal financial questions. In fact, 61% of women respondents in the survey reported relying on financial services providers (and presumably, the financial professionals who work for them) for advice.1

Still, 66% of the women answering TIAA-CREF’s questions indicated that it was hard for them to determine what sources of financial advice to trust. (That was across all women surveyed, including those who had not sought advice.)2

Women may put more importance on long term care planning than men. Or so suggests Genworth’s 2014 Online Consumer Survey. The insurer collected responses from 1,200+ U.S. adults age 18 and older during October, and 64% of women respondents said they were motivated to plan for long term care needs. Only 40% of men responding said they were concerned about that. Even so, Genworth discovered that less than 30% of respondents had talked with their loved ones about planning for eldercare or aging issues.3

Long term care insurance is getting costlier as the baby boom generation matures, and it may get more expensive for women in the near future than for men: as Morningstar columnist Mark Miller recently noted, gender-based pricing is quickly emerging and may become standard practice.4

Single women need to plan & save aggressively for the years ahead. The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies recently surveyed American workers 50 and older and found that the median retirement savings for single women was only $35,000. (For single men, the median was $70,000; for married women, it was $153,000.) Women living alone anticipated a financial struggle: 48% of those surveyed believed they would retire to a lower standard of living, and 52% assumed their main income resource would be Social Security. Perhaps most troubling, 56% of these single women expected to work into their seventies or never retire.4

The takeaways here for a single woman: save early, save consistently, exploit Social Security claiming strategies for any potential advantage, and find a social support network that can help you look after yourself as you age.

Advice promotes action. As you amass financial knowledge, you gain perspective. When you run the numbers and estimate the level of retirement savings and income you will need, you are able to set goals and timelines for your financial future. Planning the financial future starts with a commitment – and following through on that commitment is critical.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – tiaa-cref.org/public/about/press/about_us/releases/articles/pressrelease534.html [10/29/14]

2 – mainstreet.com/article/more-women-want-financial-advice-but-two-thirds-dont-know-whom-to-trust [11/4/14]

3 – tinyurl.com/m49oo52 [11/13/14]

4 – news.morningstar.com/articlenet/article.aspx?id=670479 [10/31/14]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Merck, Pfizer, Glaxosmithkline, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Understanding Bond Yields and the Yield Curve

When it comes to investing in bonds, one of the first factors to consider is yield. But what exactly is “yield?” The answer depends on how the term is being used. In the broadest sense, an investment’s yield is the return you get on the money you’ve invested. However, there are many different ways to calculate yield. Comparing yields can be a good way to evaluate bond investments, as long as you know what yields you’re comparing and why.

Current yield

People sometimes confuse a bond’s yield with its coupon rate (the interest rate that is specified in the bond agreement). A bond’s coupon rate represents the amount of interest you earn annually, expressed as a percentage of its face (par) value. If a $1,000 bond pays $50 a year in interest, its coupon rate would be 5%.

Current yield is a bit different. It represents those annual interest payments as a percentage of the bond’s market value, which may be higher or lower than par. As a bond’s price goes up and down in response to what’s happening in the marketplace, its current yield will vary also. For example, if you were to buy that same $1,000 bond on the open market for $900, its current yield would be 5.55% ($50 divided by $900).

If you buy a bond at par and hold it to maturity, the current yield and the coupon rate are the same. However, for a bond purchased at a premium or a discount to its face value, the yield and the coupon rate are different.

If you’re concerned only with the amount of current income a bond can provide each year, then calculating the current yield may give you enough information to decide whether you should purchase that bond. However, if you’re interested in a bond’s performance as an investment over a period of years, or want to compare it to another bond or some other income-producing investment, the current yield will not give you enough information. In that case, yield to maturity will be more useful.

Yield to maturity

Yield to maturity is a more accurate reflection of the return on a bond if you hold it until its maturity date. It takes into account not only the bond’s interest rate, principal, time to maturity, and purchase price, but also the value of the interest payments as you receive them over the life of the bond.

If you buy a bond at a discount to its face value, its yield to maturity will be higher than its current yield. Why? Because in addition to receiving interest, you would be able to redeem the bond for more than you paid for it. The reverse is true if you buy a bond at a premium (more than its face value). Its value at maturity would be less than you paid for it, which would affect your yield.

Example: If you paid $960 for a $1,000 bond and held it to maturity, you would receive the full $1,000 principal. That $40 profit is included in the calculation of a bond’s yield to maturity. Conversely, if you bought the bond at a $40 premium, meaning you paid $1,040 for it, that premium would reduce the bond’s yield because the bond would be redeemed for $40 less than its purchase price.

Yield to maturity lets you accurately compare bonds with different maturities and coupon rates. It’s particularly helpful when you’re comparing older bonds being sold in the secondary market that are priced at a discount or at a premium rather than at face value. It’s also especially important when looking at a zero-coupon bond, which typically sells at a deep discount to its face value but makes no periodic interest payments. Because all of a zero’s return comes at maturity, when its principal is repaid, any yield quoted for a zero-coupon bond is always a yield to maturity.

Yield to call

When it comes to helping you estimate your return on a callable bond (one whose issuer can choose to repay the principal before maturity), yield to maturity has a flaw. If the bond is called, the par value will be repaid and interest payments will come to an end, thus reducing its overall yield to the investor. Therefore, for a callable bond, you also need to know what the yield would be if the bond were called at the earliest date possible. That figure is known as its yield to call. The calculation is the same as with yield to maturity, except that the first call date is substituted for the maturity date.

A bond issuer will generally call a bond only if it’s profitable for the issuer to do so. For example, if interest rates fall below a bond’s coupon rate, the issuer is likely to recall the bond and borrow money at the new, lower rate. The larger the spread between current interest rates and the original coupon rate, and the earlier the first date the bond can be called, the more important yield to call becomes.

After-tax yield

It’s also important to consider a bond’s after-tax yield–the rate of return after taking into account taxes (if any) on the income received. A tax-exempt bond typically pays a lower interest rate than its taxable equivalent, but may have a higher after-tax yield, depending on your tax bracket and state tax laws.

Example: Bond A is a tax-exempt bond paying 4%; Bond B is a taxable bond paying 6%. For purposes of this illustration, let’s say you’re in the 35% federal tax bracket and pay no state taxes. Bond A’s after-tax yield is 4%, but Bond B’s yield is only 3.9% once taxes have been deducted. Bond A has a higher after-tax yield.

Watching the yield curve

Bond maturities and their yields are related. Typically, bonds with longer maturities pay higher yields. Why? Because the longer a bondholder must wait for the bond’s principal to be repaid, the greater the risk compared to an identical bond with a shorter maturity, and the more reward investors demand.

On a chart that compares the yields of, say, Treasury securities with various maturities, you would typically see a line that slopes upward as maturities lengthen and yields increase. The greater the difference between short and long maturities, the steeper that slope. A steep yield curve often occurs when investors expect a faster-growth economy and rising interest rates; they want greater compensation for tying up their money for longer periods. A flat yield curve means that economic projections are relatively stable, so there is little difference between short and long maturities.

Sometimes the yield curve can become inverted when short-term interest rates are higher than long-term rates. For example, in 2004 the Federal Reserve Board began increasing short-term rates, but long-term rates didn’t rise as quickly. A yield curve that stays inverted for a period of time is believed to indicate that a recession is likely to occur soon.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, Chevron, Hughes, access.att.com, AT&T, Qwest, ING Retirement, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.