Top Tax Tips for 2014

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Dear Mr. Market:

Your whole world is about investing and the stock market. Stick to what you’re good at and leave things like repairing your car, fixing that leaky faucet, or doing your taxes to someone else-

(1) Don’t take investment advice from a CPA and vice versa.

Notice how we practice what we preach. Our first “tax tip” will be to let you know that for specific tax advice you should NOT go to your investment advisor. We’re not CPA’s and even though we understand a great deal about taxation (specifically with regard to investments) our job is to manage investments, not tax codes.

Why is it then that we see so many accountants, tax preparers, CPA’s, and even “enrolled agents” dole out investment advice around this time of year? Investors naturally gravitate to the professional that sees the majority of their financial house and by default it’s typically a CPA. We’re not bashing CPA’s but allow us to be crystal clear on this point: A CPA has no formal training nor better understanding of investments or the portfolio strategy you or your financial advisor has put together.

Look to Tip #2 on what your CPA should know about your investment situation:

(2) If the introduction hasn’t been made yet…Make it happen!

In the case of investments and taxes one old adage couldn’t be more true: ”The right hand should always know what the left hand is doing.”

If your investment advisor has not met or interacted with your CPA an introduction needs to be made. They don’t have to become best friends but your overall financial situation will be enhanced when key professionals that help you know each other.

(3) What type of tax professional do you need?

Do you simply need Continue reading

The New “MyRA” … A Direct Route To Retirement Or A Bad Detour?

Dear Mr. Market:

MyRA#7

If you ask the average hard working American what their top financial concerns is, it’s that that they won’t be able to retire.  We could certainly go on and on about different solutions and how people can get on track to make their dreams a reality but today we will focus on a new program offered from the government.  On January 29th President Obama delivered his State of the Union address.  One of the takeaways from this speech was a new retirement account called MyRA (short for My Retirement Account).

Currently over half of the U.S. workforce is not covered by a retirement plan through their employer.  MyRA is targeted at low to middle-income workers, encouraging them to save for their own retirement.  Contributions will be funded through automatic payroll deductions where individuals can start with as little as $25 and contribute amounts as small as $5.  Individuals would be guaranteed that their account would never go down and they will not pay any fees on the accounts.  Sounds like a great product doesn’t it?!  Well let’s take a step back and dig a bit deeper to really explore what the MyRA is all about….

The MyRA can essentially be viewed as a way to introduce individuals that have not saved or funded a retirement account to the many long-term benefits of doing so. At this point companies are not required to be involved in the program, if President Obama wants to force employers to participate a vote from Congress would be required.  The accounts would be funded with after tax dollars much like a Roth IRA.  While it will be funded with payroll deductions individuals will be able to keep their accounts when they change jobs.  MyRA is subject to Roth IRA income and contributions limits.  Individuals can invest up to $5.500 per year (or $6,500 for investors 50 or older); once the owner reaches the age of 59 ½ they can make withdrawals tax-free.  There are also no required minimum distributions (R.M.D.’s). Continue reading

Who is the ‘Fed’ and what do they do?!

Fed Reserve CartoonDear Mr. Market:

“Who and what is the Fed”?  “What do they do” and “How do I understand what they are really saying and how it will impact me!?”  These are questions that we often hear from investors.  The Federal Reserve frequently dominates economic headlines and although its actions impact us all, very few of us truly understand what “the Fed” is or what it does.

We all hear terms like: “Don’t bet against the Fed”, “Dovish or hawkish sentiment” “Quantitative Easing” and “When will the Fed begin to taper”?  These are just the tip of the iceberg as the press and media attempt to interpret anything and everything released by members of the Fed.  Let’s take a moment and look at the basics of what the Fed is.

The Federal Reserve System (the “Fed”) is essentially the central banking system of the United States.  Through the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 it was created in response to financial uncertainties in the early 1900’s.  Over the last century the responsibilities and roles of the Federal Reserve System have evolved to address the changes in our economy. Continue reading

How Should your Portfolio be Performing now?

outside boxDear Mr. Market:

How is my portfolio doing this year? Am I on track for retirement? Why is the market up big but I’m not? What would my portfolio look like if the market tanked again like it did in 2008? I’m in cash right now because I feel stocks have moved too high but I don’t trust bonds because we all know where they’re headed.

These are some common and very typical questions many investors are asking themselves this year. If any one of these questions applies to you or feels familiar, don’t think you’re alone! One common thread among all these questions or concerns is benchmarking. What exactly is a benchmark and which one is appropriate for you?

Far too often investors compare themselves to other investors, strategies or benchmarks that are completely unrealistic.  Investors need to take the time to truly understand who they are and what their goals are before they compare themselves to anyone or anything!   Let’s put this in perspective…. Let’s say you decided you wanted to start swimming to get in shape.  Would you expect to get in the pool and swim times comparable to Michael Phelps (winner of 22 Olympic medals) within a couple of weeks?  Of course not… that would be ludicrous and clearly not the right athlete to try and compare yourself to!  As crazy as this sounds many investors have similar expectations with their investment portfolio. Continue reading

How to Add 3 Nobel Prizes to your Portfolio

nerd money Dear Mr. Market:

What if you, the investor, had all the knowledge and findings that it took to win a Nobel Prize in Economics? Would you be a better investor? Believe it or not…with the amount of news disseminated in today’s hyper-information and “data dumping” world…you likely already have all it takes to be a more disciplined and well schooled investor.

This past Monday (10/14/2013) the winners of the prestigious Nobel Prize for Economics where announced.  All three winners were American, which marks a trend as at least one American has won the award since 1999.  The winners: Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller were recognized for their outstanding research and work in the financial markets.  While their work does not perfectly align there are several similarities and the bottom line is that you can never trust Mr. Market!

 Summary Of The Winners:

  • Eugene Fama’s research has revealed the efficiency of financial markets. If you’re a financial advisor who makes a living pitching expensive mutual funds or annuity products at clients you won’t likely have a framed portrait of Dr. Fama in your plush office.  Fama basically states that the market absorbs information so quickly that investors simply can’t outperform it consistently.  He is credited for popularizing the use of index funds as an investment option.
  • Lars Peter Hansen works strictly with data (econometrics), creating statistical models in an effort to test competing theories.  His work has allowed researchers to focus on what truly drives the financial markets. Of the three winners Hansen is the least known and popular but he ironically helps connect the other two winners’ work into something investors need to be aware of; you simply need to derive conclusions from what you do AND do not know.
  • Robert Shiller is best known for creating the Case-Shiller Home Price Index Study and now perhaps for the fact that he is married to Janet Yellen, the next Federal Reserve Chairman.  We’re huge fans of behavioral finance so the next time you hear someone talk about a “bubble” you will know who originally broke ground on the concept. His research has shown that investors are irrational and that markets develop bubbles that will eventually burst (he predicted both the Tech and Real Estate Bubbles). Continue reading

Where to find a top advisor?!

Top advisor - magnifying glassSo…if you’re looking for the best financial advisor there is do you simply run a quick search on Google? Would it look something like ” best financial advisor in Denver” or “best financial advisor in Orange County”?  Would you rely on a list that ranks the best financial advisors?

In nearly every aspect of our lives we rank products or services and take pride if we are associated with or use that brand.  How often have you heard that a product has a “Gold Star Rating” or is recommended by ‘Consumer Reports’?  It should be no surprise that the same applies when it comes to the Financial Services industry.  Investors want to work with the best and often rely on rankings issued by various publications and websites for this information.

The key difference is that there are many more variables that need to be taken into consideration when looking at the financial industry and ranking firms or individuals.  In this article we will take a look at a list that is published annually and is highly respected – ‘Barron’s Top 1,000 Advisors List’.  Through our discussion it will become clear why ranking financial professionals is not as easy as ranking cars or laundry detergent and the results need to be looked at closely. Continue reading