HOT TOPIC: Rediscovering Fossil Fuels: Could Energy Boom Transform the Economy?
The nation is producing more natural gas than ever before. This article discusses how fossil fuel discoveries and shifts in electricity production, auto engineering, and manufacturing could affect supplies and prices in the future as well as the potential implications for consumers, businesses, and the U.S. economy.
How Much Life Insurance Do You Need?
A recent study indicates that 40% of consumers believe they do not have enough life insurance to meet their families’ long-term needs. But how much is enough? This article presents guidelines to determine how much life insurance may be appropriate
Becoming a More Rational Investor
Studies have indicated that investors’ willingness to assume risk tends to rise and fall with the stock market. This article looks at how and why investors react to gains and losses given recent research in behavioral finance and neuroscience.
Consider These TIPS
Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once said that “Inflation is taxation without legislation.” You’re probably aware of how taxes reduce your earnings, but have you thought about the effect of inflation?
Surprise! It’s Retirement Time
In a 2012 survey, 50% of current retirees said they retired earlier than planned, up from 45% in 2011. This article presents some of the key issues that pre-retirees should consider to ease the transition into retirement.
Small-business owners and independent contractors may be more likely than other taxpayers to benefit from the home-office tax deduction, which has an average value of more than $2,600. But some taxpayers are hesitant to claim this potential tax benefit, fearing that it could trigger an IRS audit. This article may help taxpayers evaluate their eligibility for the home-office deduction.
HOT TOPIC: The Affordable Care Act: Where Do We Go from Here?
The Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act may be one of the most significant legal decisions in the long history of the court. This article will examine the court’s decision and its potential effects on health care and the economy as well as on the fundamental issues of state rights and taxation.
The Benefits of Giving
A recent international survey suggests that spending money for the benefit of others may promote a feeling of happiness in the giver. Three-fourths of Americans donate to charities, and while doing so could help ease your tax burden, it’s important to understand the rules and keep appropriate records.
Understanding Your Social Security Options
About half of all retirees file for Social Security benefits when they first become eligible at age 62, but those who do may be missing out on the potential for higher benefits. This article presents strategies for increasing monthly and lifetime Social Security benefits based on various situations.
Inherited IRAs Come with Critical Choices
Inherited IRAs offer an opportunity to continue tax-deferred growth of IRA or workplace saving plan assets, but the rules and available choices differ depending on the heir’s relationship to the original owner. This article explains how inherited IRAs work and discusses some common strategies for spouses, children, and others.
Following the Leading Index
The Conference Board’s Index of Leading Indicators is designed to help economists and investors assess the U.S. economic outlook for the next three to six months. Earlier this year, the research group that publishes the index replaced several outdated components with others that may be more accurate indicators in light of recent structural shifts in the U.S. economy.
The ABCs of Business Structure
When a small business grows quickly, the owner may consider changing its form of ownership to a C or S corporation so it can take on additional investors. And some states now recognize benefit corporations, which tend to appeal to “social entrepreneurs.” This article compares the different options for incorporating your new or growing business.
HOT TOPIC: Coming to America: Foreign Travelers Boost U.S. Economy
International visitors spent a record $153 billion visiting the United States in 2011, an increase of 14% over 2010. As the overall U.S. trade deficit continued to grow, foreign tourism produced a trade surplus of $42.8 billion. This article examines the growing U.S. travel and tourism industry and what it may mean to the domestic economy.
What’s Your Retirement Vision?
It’s disappointing to dream about a comfortable retirement and then find yourself with limited financial resources, unable to enjoy travel or hobbies due to high daily living expenses and needs. Workers of all ages should factor the kind of retirement lifestyle they want into their saving and investment strategy.
Investing When Rates Are Low
Interest rates have been exceptionally low for three years – and are expected to remain so through the end of 2014. For investors approaching retirement, capital preservation is typically very important, but portfolios should also outpace inflation in order to last. This article presents considerations for investing in the current low-interest-rate environment.
Costs of Caregiving
More than 65 million Americans – about one in three adults – provide unpaid care for someone who is ill, disabled, or aged. Caregivers may incur substantial financial burdens but could also face risks to their own physical and mental health. It may be prudent to consider the cost of long-term care into your retirement plans.
Following the Federal Reserve
This primer on the central bank discusses the Fed’s recent policy moves, including the unprecedented actions it has taken to help prop up the banking system and spur the economy in the wake of the financial crisis, and how Chairman Bernanke has promoted greater transparency.
What Is Your Business Worth?
The market for selling small businesses improved slightly in 2011, but buyers still had the upper hand. This article addresses some reasons why a precise professional valuation could be useful for effective business, tax, and retirement planning.
HOT TOPIC: Watching for Weakness in the Global Economy
Economic growth has weakened more than expected recently in some of the world’s largest economies but there are differences in the economic challenges facing these nations. Global economic conditions and expanded world trade have made the fates of many large economies more interdependent, which could affect the United States.
To Convert or Not to Convert? That’s the Roth Question
Many investors may not understand the potential long-term advantages of converting tax-deferred retirement plan assets to a Roth IRA. This article focuses on factors to consider, such as current and future tax implications, avoidance of mandatory distributions, and weighing the current value of assets versus their converted tax-free growth potential.
Help Protect Your Assets
From 1951 through 2009, the cost of torts rose at more than double the annual rate of general inflation. Standard homeowners and auto insurance policies offer limited liability coverage, whereas an umbrella liability insurance policy not only provides additional coverage but often cover situations not included in standard policies.
Socially Responsible Investing Joins the Mainstream
Assets in socially responsible investments (SRIs) have climbed in recent years as more investors seek to invest according to their personal beliefs. This article looks at the different types of socially responsible, green, and sustainable investments available and reminds readers to consider traditional portfolio fundamentals when selecting SRIs.
Hanging the “Help Wanted” Sign
Business owners need to consider not only wages when hiring new staff, but also the potential costs involving benefits, recruiting, training, and compliance. Accompanying chart shows median recruiting costs per hire, by industry.
Rebalancing World Trade
Healthy U.S. exports have been an important contributor to economic growth during the recovery. Investors may be interested in following some important developments in the international trade arena.
HOT TOPIC: American Manufacturing: Rebound or Renaissance?
During the last decade, U.S. manufacturing lost millions of jobs to foreign competition. The sector appears to be coming back strong, adding almost half a million jobs since 2010 as productivity rises. This article examines the conditions that originally caused the exodus of U.S. industrial production and those that may bode well for its future.
Investing in the Future
Due to the fiscal struggles of state governments, in-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities rose dramatically for the 2011-12 school year. The cost of private institutions also continues to increase. This article presents information on the cost of a college education and how a 529 plan may be a helpful savings vehicle.
Averaging Ups and Downs
Stock market volatility was the norm in 2011, and that can be hard on an investor’s nerves. Utilizing a dollar-cost averaging strategy may help even out your portfolio’s ups and downs, as explained in this article.
Pick Up This Split for Long-Term Retirement Income
The number of Americans aged 90 or older almost tripled from 1980 through 2010 and is projected to quadruple by 2050. As people live longer they may need to fund a longer-than-expected retirement. This article discusses how a split-annuity strategy could help provide a long-term income stream.
Designating Retirement Plan Beneficiaries
IRAs and defined-contribution plans have become an important component of personal wealth for households. Designating account beneficiaries and keeping the designations current can be a complex — but important — process to perform on a regular basis as certain life events and tax situations can necessitate a change.
Small Companies Face Costly Cybersecurity Threats
For many small businesses, the Internet is an important tool, but cybersecuity risks are growing. 40% of all targeted Internet attacks are now directed toward companies with fewer than 500 employees, and just over half of small businesses have a basic cybersecurity plan. This article provides tips to the small business owner about how to shore up their online defenses.
HOT TOPIC: Could High Oil and Gas Prices Derail the Recovery?
Gas prices began the year higher than normal and increased sharply. The forecast is for prices to rise to record highs by summer. But it’s not just drivers who are feeling pain at the pump. This article will explain some possible reasons why gas prices have been rising and discuss the potential implications for consumers, businesses, and the broader U.S. economy.
Tax Changes for 2012
Mandatory annual inflation adjustments generally affect federal income tax brackets, retirement plan contribution limits, and estate tax exemption levels. Here are some of the major changes that could affect readers in 2012, with a table showing 2012 income thresholds for the six federal income tax brackets.
Doing Your Heirs a Favor
Although a will and a trust specify disposition of assets, many other details of an individual’s final wishes might be explained in a letter of instructions. This article offers some topics to consider addressing in the letter to help loved ones make decisions and take care of final arrangements.
There’s Still Time to Catch Up
Worker confidence in affording a comfortable retirement fell to a record low in 2011, but investors aged 50 and older may be able to make up for lost time by maximizing contributions to retirement plans and taking advantage of catch-up contribution limits. The accompanying chart shows the potential difference in accumulation by taking advantage of catch-up contributions.
Understanding the Appeal of Share Buybacks
The amount of money devoted to corporate stock buybacks surged throughout 2010 and 2011 as large companies sought ways to spend their cash stockpiles and reward shareholders. This article looks at how corporate buybacks work, why they have become more common in the current economic climate, and what they typically mean for investors.
Preparing to Turn the Corner
What happens to a multiple-owner business when one of them chooses to retire or must leave suddenly for some other reason? Death, disability, divorce, & bankruptcy are just a few of the events that can affect one owner and threaten the future of the business. This article discusses the reasons why it may make sense for a small business to have a buy-sell agreement in place.
HOT TOPIC: Breaking Down the Proposed FY 2013 Budget
The 2013 budget released by the White House on February 13 contains proposed fiscal measures that could affect the business and investment climate, the income tax code, and government spending. Considering that Congress will debate and discuss the budget in detail, many of these measures are unlikely to become law as proposed, but they may indicate future developments.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
Only 35% of Americans have a will, yet it’s a relatively simple legal document that every adult should have, regardless of wealth or age. Dying without a will can lead to unwanted outcomes and potential problems for heirs. This article discusses the importance of a will and other estate conservation documents.
Diving into Dividends
Dividends have traditionally been considered a source of income, but they also can be a powerful way to help build savings. A recent study found that dividends contributed 44% of S&P 500 total returns from 1930 through September 2010. This article explains how dividends work and the role that dividends could play in an investor’s savings strategy.
Balancing Stability and Growth
An investor who is 2 or 3 decades from retirement could decide to be more aggressive in pursuing investment growth than someone approaching retirement. Even though investors address this by transitioning to a more conservative asset allocation, they still need to seek growth while balancing the desire for principal preservation. This article offers some factors to consider.
Rethinking the Role of Household Debt
Many people aspire to pay off their home mortgages before retirement, but the housing situation and a weak economy have taken a toll on the finances of many older Americans. There are some compelling reasons why pre-retirees might want to consider maximizing their retirement plan contributions and avoid carrying large amounts of debt into retirement.
Lessons from a Perilous Year
In retrospect, 2011 was a formidable year for catastrophes. Small businesses can be hit hard when extreme weather or a natural disaster causes damage or forces a temporary closure. This article considers the importance of adequate insurance protection and ways to help reduce uninsured losses.
HOT TOPIC: Why Watch the Employment Situation
Labor reports showed some signs of improvement in the second half of 2011. This article takes a closer look at the official reports that track employment, factors that held back job creation after the recession officially ended, and whether recent gains are enough to spark more robust growth.
GDP: Measuring the Economy
It’s likely you’ve heard a lot about the gross domestic product (GDP) if you follow the news. But what is its impact on the national economy and how has the Great Recession impacted the GDP? This primer explains the numbers behind the GDP and what it ultimately tells us about the economic health of the nation.
Tracking the Rise of Target-Date Funds
Investments in target-date funds have grown during the last decade. They are often the default choice in employer-sponsored retirement plans and viewed favorably by some investors for their helpful approach to asset allocation. This article explains the advantages and disadvantages of these funds and cautions potential investors about several common misconceptions.
Keeping Pace with Social Security
In 2012, Social Security beneficiaries will receive a 3.6% cost of living increase for the first time in three years. But a recent study suggests that benefits are lagging far behind real expenses. This article explains how Social Security benefits are indexed and what older workers and retirees might expect from the program in the future.
Retirement Plans for Small Businesses
With standard 401(k) plans, the amount a company’s owners can contribute to their own retirement account is often restricted by how much other employees contribute to the plan. With the safe harbor option, owners may be able to make larger contributions for themselves in exchange for making tax-deductible contributions or “matches” for employees.
Do You Have Enough Disability Coverage
Disability can affect anyone without notice, and a well-paid professional in the midst of a productive career has much to lose if he or she suffers a medical problem and is unable to work. But there are ways that high earners can expand their coverage and help ensure that their income, assets, and lifestyle are not at risk from a potential disability.
HOT TOPIC: Looking Ahead in 2012
2011 was a year of slow economic recovery, market volatility, and political conflict over the budget, the national debt, and taxes. All of these challenges continue to face us as we begin the new year. This article presents an overview of some of the issues that bear watching in 2012.
Growth, Value, or Both
The average annual return for large-cap value stocks was about 2.1% higher than for large-cap growth stocks, yet growth stocks outperformed value stocks in 13 out of 30 years. This article examines the difference between the two approaches and describes why holding both may help investors take advantage of a variety of market conditions.
Insurance for Two Could Benefit Your Heirs
Survivorship life insurance offers a way to help a couple’s heirs pay estate taxes, probate costs, and other final expenses — and could be especially important after 2012 when the federal estate tax is scheduled to be significantly higher. Even if the estate tax doesn’t apply to an estate, the insurance proceeds could benefit heirs or a favorite charity.
For Better, For Worse: Communicating About Retirement
A recent study indicates that couples are not communicating clearly about retirement goals and strategies, even as they approach retirement age. This article offers suggestions to open a dialogue and encourages couples to discuss their retirement needs and desires with each other and with their financial advisor.
Are Consumers Holding the Keys to a Better Economy?
Consumer spending still accounts for about 70% of gross domestic product, but some government statistics suggest that consumers may have reduced spending drastically in recent years, especially on discretionary items. High unemployment, household debt, and a general lack of confidence can affect consumers’ ability and willingness to spend.
Retaining MVPs with Executive Bonus Life Insurance
An economic recovery is likely to bring more job opportunities to top performers, but it could prove costly for businesses to replace productive employees who decide to leave. An executive bonus plan funded with cash-value life insurance can be used to reward and retain an organization’s most valuable employees.
HOT TOPIC: European News Causes Market Mood Swings
In recent weeks, the yields on Italian bonds spiked to more than 7%, suggesting the sovereign debt crisis was spreading to a much larger economy and eluding the European Union’s efforts to contain it. The U.S. stock and bond markets have responded to the headlines coming out of Europe. This article explores the role of political risk in U.S. financial market volatility.
Be Ready for a Change in Interest Rates
Fluctuating interest rates can be challenging for bond investors who want to reinvest their principal. When rates are low, they may have to accept lower yields; when rates rise when principal is tied up, they may not be able to benefit. One strategy to help manage reinvestment risk is to build a bond ladder.
Leaving Your Home Out of the Retirement Equation
Plummeting home prices and increased borrowing cut U.S. home equity by more than 60% during the Great Recession — and housing prices have not yet recovered. This article considers the potential drawbacks of depending on home equity to help fund retirement.
Another Year, Another AMT Patch
The 2010 Tax Relief Act adjusted AMT exemption levels for 2010 and 2011 to help prevent an estimated 21 million middle-income taxpayers from being subject to the alternative minimum tax. Will Congress enact another patch for 2012?
The Financial State of the States
Many state and local governments have struggled with lower tax receipts and large budget deficits — during and after the recession. This article offers a closer look at the financial pressures facing the states and how the methods used to address budget shortfalls could ultimately serve as a drag on the national economy.
Help Chart the Future of Your Family Business
The transition from one generation to the next is considered to be one of the biggest risks to the survival of a family-owned business. A thoughtful succession strategy not only outlines when and how ownership should be transferred but also takes tax implications, family relationships, and other sensitive issues into account.
HOT TOPIC: Understanding the Three New U.S. Trade Agreements
Congress recently approved trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia, and Panama. They are the first U.S. trade agreements in four years. This article examines the pros and cons of the agreements and how they may stimulate the U.S. economy.
To Roll or Not to Roll: It’s Your Choice
Some employers are encouraging departing employees to leave their retirement savings in their employer plans. But employees should make any decisions based on their own needs and concerns, not the former employer’s. Read about the pros and cons of rolling over retirement plan assets to an IRA.
Giving Strategies That Can Give Back
Americans gave more than $290 billion to charity in 2010, despite the slow economy. About 73% of charitable donations came directly from individuals. This article explains how a charitable remainder trust and a charitable lead trust could be used to provide more control over gifts while potentially benefiting the giver and his or her heirs.
Variable Annuities and Your Retirement Strategy
An insurance product may appeal to pre-retirees who want to invest more of their current incomes for retirement and defer taxes on market gains. A variable annuity enables investors to pursue investment gains with the option to purchase guarantees (for an additional cost) to help protect against the downside risks of investing in the markets.
The Dynamics That Can Drive Inflation
High unemployment and slow wage growth seem to have kept consumer spending and core inflation from growing very rapidly in the first half of 2011. This article reminds investors to keep the potential risk of inflation in mind, because even modest price increases compounded over time can erode the purchasing power of the assets in their portfolios.
Is Your Business Ready for a Structure Change
Periodically, business owners may want to reconsider whether their current business structure is meeting the needs of their companies. For business owners seeking to expand their operations and reduce their exposure to risk, a popular entity has been the limited liability company. This article describes some additional benefits associated with LLCs.
HOT TOPIC: Will Federal Reserve Tactics Help the Ailing U.S. Economy?
This article looks at policy tools that the Federal Reserve has used in the past and may use going forward in its attempts to spur economic growth. It also explains the possible implications of a long-term, low-interest-rate environment for investors, savers, and retirees.
Ways to Save More
About two out of three American workers are saving for retirement, but less than half are confident that they will save enough money to live comfortably during their retirement years. This article includes suggestions for readers to take small steps that could make a big difference when they are ready to retire.
ETFs for the Conservative Investor
The number of exchange-traded funds has grown rapidly in the last decade. Total ETF assets exceeded $1 trillion in March 2011, an increase of more than $200 million over the previous year. This article explains the potential benefits of ETFs and why some of them might appeal to the risk-averse.
New Opportunity Under the Federal Gift Tax
The 2010 Tax Relief Act raised the lifetime gift-tax exclusion to $5 million. This means it could be a good time to make the most of tax-free gift transfers. If so, it’s important to understand the annual and lifetime gift exemption limits, as well as which gifts might not be subject to them.
Tax-Efficient Investments for the Tax-Averse
Raising taxes is one of many ideas that have been proposed to help reduce mounting federal budget deficits. Readers who are concerned about the prospect of higher taxes in the future may want to consider the tax advantages associated with municipal bonds and tax-exempt mutual funds.
Protection from a Range of Liability Claims
It’s projected that American companies will face $183 billion in tort costs in 2011, and $152 billion of that will land on the books of small businesses. Fortunately, there are several forms of business liability insurance that can help offset these unforeseen costs.