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Recession Proof Your Life

May 7th, 2008 at 01:25 pm

Concerned about how a business downturn will affect your personal finances? Here are some steps that may help you withstand an oncoming recession as well as any future recessions.

Chapter one of Financial Abundance Guide is entitled “Spend Less Than You Earn.” While this concept appears obvious, many people suffering from personal financial setbacks do not follow this simple precept.

Determine your current financial health

First, prepare an annual budget. For your estimated monthly expenses, track your expenditures for three months. Be sure to include federal, state and FICA taxes. To your estimated monthly expenses add quarterly, semiannual or yearly expenses, such as home and auto insurance, vacations and property taxes. The sum is an estimate of your annual expenses.


Determine your annual “non-retirement income.”

This is your total income less any contributions made to 401(k) plans, IRAs or other retirement accounts. Non-retirement income less annual expenses is the amount of savings that you have available to recession-proof your life.

Ideally, this savings will be at least 10 percent of your non-retirement income. If not, identify some “nice to have” expenses that can be eliminated — like that morning café mocha which can cost over $1,000 per year. In 20 years, with a 5 percent investment return, removing the mocha would provide you with $35,710.

Wipe out any credit card debt

Use savings to pay down one of the most expensive forms of debt available. If you have good credit and equity in your home, consider a home equity line of credit. Use this line to pay off your credit card debt and then pay off your home equity line as quickly as possible.

Get an “emergency fund.”

An emergency fund is a highly liquid account which provides coverage for between six months to one year of your current expenditures. With an emergency fund in place, you can survive a business downturn, job loss or short- term disability without invading your retirement accounts.

Spend that government rebate wisely

If you receive the $600 per person federal tax rebate, use it to pay off credit card debt, increase your emergency fund or to save for educational or retirement expenses. This income can be your first step in recession proofing your life.

Once your credit card debt is eliminated and your emergency fund is in place, use your savings to buy your first house, pay for your children’s education or to better insure an abundant retirement.

When saving for your first house, consider a Roth IRA. Even if you have a company retirement plan, you can contribute up to $5,000 annually to a Roth IRA if you are single and earn less than $101,000 or earn less than $159,000 if you file taxes jointly. Once your Roth IRA has been established for five years, you pay no taxes when withdrawing up to $10,000 of income plus all of your Roth contributions for a down payment on your first house.

If you are saving for your child’s education, consider funding Coverdell Education Savings Plans and Section 529 College Savings Plans. With both plans, the invested funds will grow tax free and can be withdrawn tax free when used for educational expenses.

Most retirement plans provide an immediate tax deduction of the amount contributed and tax free growth of the plan’s funds. If your employer provides matching funds to your retirement plan contribution, always contribute the maximum amount that your employer matches. The matching funds are “free money” that virtually guarantee a high rate of return on your investments.

By following these simple, powerful steps you can achieve financial security. If you do not feel that you can take these steps by yourself, find a knowledgeable and trustworthy financial planner to help you with this journey. While lowering your current spending may cause some short term financial discomfort, the payoff of recession-proofing your life is a reduction of fear and stress.

Breaking the Consumer Addiction

May 4th, 2008 at 02:16 pm

I recently read an article by Henry K. (“Bud”) Hebeler at Bankrate.com. Bud, the former President of Boeing Aerospace, has spent his retirement years helping people prepare for retirement. His popular web site, analyzenow.com, has many helpful retirement tools. Bud was also kind enough to provide a technical edit of my book, before it was published, as well as to write my book’s Foreword.

In his article, Bud shows that the personal savings rates in the US have deteriorated from 10% in 1985 to 5% in 1990 to 2.5% in 2000 to 0 today. Personal savings rates today are the same as they were from 1929 through 1931, after the stock market crash that led to the great depression.

As savings rates have receded, personal consumption has climbed. In inflation adjusted dollars, consumption per capita in the US has climbed 25% from 1985 to today. From these figures, it is easy to see why the average American now saves nothing, compared to a 10% savings rate in 1985.

What you may not realize is why this has occurred. We all know that, until recently, credit was extremely easy to get. Credit cards, interest only mortgages, home equity loans and car loans helped transform us into a society of debtors instead of savers.

Since the vast majority of our GDP now comes from consumerism, US industry wants you to spend. Our financial institutions make significant profits from credit card interest and other forms of personal indebtedness. Even the government encourages spending over savings by providing tax deductions for mortgage interest while taxing savings interest at the same rate as earned income. State and local governments get much of their income from sales taxes that are placed on the goods and services that you buy.

Our President once said that we are addicted to oil. I would take that a step further and say we are addicted to consuming. Look at how often the media refers to you as a “consumer “ and see if you ever see the US population called savers.

If you have an addiction to consumption, now is the time to break it. As I often recommend, when you get your pay check, pay your self first by saving a portion of your paycheck. If, at age 30, you save $50 per week, with a 7% investment return, that $50 payment will be worth almost $400,000 when you are age 65.

As your pay increases, increase your saving amount until you are “paying yourself” at least 10% of your take home pay. By paying yourself first, you will have adequate resources to live an abundant retirement. This approach will also help you overcome the “consumption addiction” that industry, financial institutions and the government are all hoping that you will never break.

The Tax “Rebate,” Use It or Lose It!

April 29th, 2008 at 01:21 pm

In the next few days you may be receiving a tax “rebate.” How are you going to spend it?

While our elected officials want you to go out and spend your rebate to help “stimulate” the economy, you might want to use it to begin to recession proof your life for the present as well as future recessions. If you would like to begin approaching life from abundance instead of scarcity, here are some possible ways to “spend” your rebate.

1. Use it to pay off your credit card debt, one of the most expensive forms of debt available.

2. Begin funding your “emergency fund.” An emergency fund is a highly liquid account which provides coverage for between six months to one year of your current expenditures. This fund will allow you to survive a business downturn, job loss or short- term disability without invading your retirement accounts.

3. If you are saving for a first house, use it to fund a Roth IRA. Even if you have a company retirement plan, you can contribute up to $5,000 annually to a Roth IRA, if you are single and earn less than $101,000 or earn less than $159,000 if you file taxes jointly. Once your Roth IRA has been established for five years, you pay no taxes when withdrawing up to $10,000 of Roth income plus all of your Roth contributions for a down payment on your first house.

4. If your employer provides matching funds to your company retirement plan contribution, use it to contribute up to the maximum amount that your employer matches. The matching funds are “free money” that virtually guarantee you a high rate of return.

5. If you have children that will one day go to college, use it to fund a Coverdell Education Savings Plans or a Section 529 College Savings Plan. With both plans, the invested funds will grow tax free and can be withdrawn tax free when used for educational expenses.

6. Invest it in either an IRA or Roth IRA for retirement. In future posts, I will demonstrate how you can never have too much for retirement.

You have probably heard the expression “use it or lose it.” If you spend the rebate buying another “thing” you will lose it. If you put it to work for you in one of the ways listed above, you will use it now and in the future.

Was your 2007 Tax bill too high?

April 16th, 2008 at 02:11 pm

Yesterday was the deadline to pay your 2007 taxes. If you are like most people, you probably feel that you paid too much. If so, now is the time to identify ways to lower your 2008 taxes. Every dollar of reduced taxes can be used to help fund educational or retirement expenses.

In Financial Abundance Guide I devote almost 100 pages to strategies for reducing your taxes. To demonstrate that I “eat my own cooking,” I will describe the approaches to tax reduction that my wife and I used in 2007. In parentheses I will put the page of my book on which the referenced strategy can be found.

1. In spite of receiving significant long term capital gains in 2007, we reported gains of less than $1,000 on our tax return. This was accomplished by keeping most of our equity holdings in our IRA or Roth IRA retirement accounts (pages 125 -126).

2. We were able to deduct $7,250 by fully funding our Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) in 2007. Since my wife and I are both over age 55, by setting up separate HSAs, we could each deduct an additional $800 over the normal family deduction of $5,650 (pages 63-66). In 2008, we will be able to contribute (and deduct) a total of $7,600 into our HSAs.

3. Thanks to the expenses involved in writing, publishing and marketing my book in 2007, I had virtually no earned income. However, my wife had more than adequate income to allow for me to fund my IRA as a “spousal IRA” and receive a deduction of $5,000 (page 44-45). Since our AGI was under $159,000 my wife contributed $5,000 to a Roth IRA, even though she was covered by a company sponsored retirement plan (pages 46-47).

4. Our itemized deductions included a $10,000 gift to our “Donor Advised Fund” charitable giving account (pages 81-83). This was a gift of highly appreciated stock that we bought for $4,000 in 1999. By giving the stock to our charitable fund, the $6,000 capital gain was completely tax free, saving us from paying $900 in capital gains taxes (page 80-81).

5. Our daughter, in her third year of college, had tuition bills exceeding $8,000 in 2007. Thanks to the Lifetime Learning Credit, we received a $1,600 tax credit against actual taxes owed (page 38-39).

6. After all deductions and credits, our tax bill would have been $0. Knowing this was likely, I ran a pro forma tax return in early December. I determined that we could convert a significant amount of our IRA savings into a Roth IRA, and pay very little in taxes (pages 48-50). In December 2007, we converted $55,000 of IRA funds to Roth IRA funds. The total tax bill for this conversion was $2,605 for an effective tax rate of 4.7%. These funds can grow on a tax free basis for as long as we live. If we are able to leave an inheritance for our children, inherited Roth funds can continue to grow tax free for our children (page 176-177).

Minimize your taxes is Step 3 of the 7 Steps to Financial Abundance. As I have demonstrated, active tax management can substantially increase your financial abundance. The next time that you are trying to maximize you investment returns, take a few minutes to consider methods of minimizing your taxes. The time spent may provide an “investment return” that far exceeds your expectations.

Politicians for Affordable Health Care?

April 2nd, 2008 at 10:36 am

Politicians, both Democrat and Republican continue to talk about the need to provide affordable health care for all Americans. However, by preparing your 2007 tax return and using Schedule A to itemize deductions, you get a first hand opportunity to witness the hypocrisy of our political class.

If politicians really wanted to reduce health care costs, their first act would be to remove the 7.5% of AGI deduction penalty for health care expenses. If you are married and your combined Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is $100,000, your first $7,500 in medical expenses is not deductible from your taxes. Assuming that you are in the 25% federal tax bracket and pay a 5% state income tax rate, this “health care penalty” will cost you $2,250 in additional taxes. Eliminating this penalty would provide a 30% reduction in health care costs.

The political hypocrisy is even more evident when you consider that all of the mortgage interest that you pay for your house is deductible, but you cannot deduct most, if not all of your health care costs. If you agree that health care costs should get as least as favorable tax treatment as home mortgage costs, join me in contacting your representative to congress and your senators.

If politicians really want more affordable health care, they could easily take the first step by eliminating the “health care penalty” in our tax code.

Reduce your 2007 taxes

March 24th, 2008 at 04:29 pm

While many opportunities to reduce your 2007 taxes ended on December 31, there may still be some last minute steps for lowering your taxes. If you qualify, taking the following actions by April 15 can reduce your current or future taxes.


1. Fund your IRA – If you are under 70 ½ years of age, have earned income and are not covered by a company retirement plan, you may contribute to a traditional IRA the lesser of your earned income amount or $4,000 ($5,000 if you are at least age 50). The IRA contribution is deducted from total income, which lowers your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).

If you are in the 25% federal income tax bracket, your income tax savings (combining federal and state taxes) for a $4,000 contribution is almost $1,200. Since the after tax cost for this investment is approximately $2,800, you receive an immediate investment return of 42% on the $4,000 contribution.

Even with a company sponsored retirement plan, if Modified Adjusted Gross Income is under $52,000 ($83,000 for a joint tax filer), your IRA contribution is fully deductible.

2. Fund a Spousal IRA - Are you aware that if your spouse has no earned income, he/she can still contribute up to $4,000 ($5,000 if at least age 50) to an IRA for 2007?

With a Spousal IRA, if either spouse has earned income, both spouses may be able to fully fund a tax deductible IRA. Even if the income earner has a company sponsored retirement plan, the spouse may contribute to an IRA.

If the Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) on your joint tax return is less than $156,000, the Spousal IRA contribution is fully deductible. If you or your spouse has little or no income, be sure to fund a Spousal IRA.

All IRA contributions grow tax-free until your required withdrawals begin at age 70 ½. If you qualify, fund a traditional IRA by April 15.

3. Fund a Roth IRA – You may contribute $4,000 ($5,000 if at least age 50) to a Roth IRA for 2007, if your AGI is under $99,000 ($156,000 for a joint tax filer). However, the maximum contribution is reduced by any contribution that you make to a traditional IRA.

While funds contributed to a Roth IRA do not immediately reduce your taxes, the contributions will grow tax free and are not taxed when they are withdrawn.

If you hope to leave any assets for your kids, Roth IRAs are perfect. Your children can roll them into an inherited Roth IRA and make withdrawals based on their life expectancy. With this approach, Roth IRAs can provide decades of tax free growth.

If you are over age 70½ or you are covered by a company retirement plan and your MAGI is over $52,000 ($83,000 for a joint tax filer), you may only contribute to a Roth IRA. If you cannot fund a traditional IRA, but qualify for a Roth IRA, be sure to fund it by April 15.

4. Fund a Health Savings Account (HSA) – If you had a qualified High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) throughout 2007, you can contribute $2,850 to an HSA for an individual health plan or $5,650 for a family plan. You may contribute an addition $800, if you are age 55 or over. For tax payers in the 25% tax bracket, the $5,650 HSA contribution costs only $3,975 after federal and state taxes, providing an immediate 42% investment return.

With an HSA, you may use funds to pay current medical bills or you can invest the funds for long-term, tax-free growth. By investing the HSA funds until retirement, you will have years of tax free growth and can withdraw all of the funds tax-free for medical expenses. The HSA funds could pay for most, if not all of your medical expenses during retirement.

Other savings plans that can be funded between now and April 15 include a SEP IRA, if you are self employed, and a Coverdell ESA for you children’s educational expenses. If you qualify for any of these plans, contributions by April 15 can save on taxes, either now or in the future.

The Dollar in Freefall

March 18th, 2008 at 04:33 pm

While the market had its usual positive reaction to the Fed lowering the federal funds rate to 2.25%, over the long term, lowering the Fed rate will continue to lower the value of the dollar, leading to higher inflation and a weaker US economy.

In 2001, the Fed began lowering interest rates. By the end of 2001, the Fed funds rate was below 2% and it stayed below 2% until the end of 2004. During that same time period, the dollar went from being worth 1.12 Euros to a value of .75 Euros, a 33% decease in its value. As the Fed raised interest rates in 2005, the dollar increased in value, hitting a high of .85 Euros in late 2005.

Even with higher Fed rates, the dollar continued to decline in 2006, going to .75 Euros in mid 2007. However, since the banking debacle and the recent dramatic lowering of the Fed rates, the dollar is once again in rapid decline, trading at just .64 Euros.

To give a slightly different perspective, if the dollar was as strong today as it was in 2001, we would be paying $62 per barrel instead of $109 and gasoline would be $1.80/ gallon instead of $3.15.

So what can the average investor do in this time of sinking stock prices and short term interest rates that are below the rate of inflation?

Before Christmas, I recommended gold as an inflation hedge and as protection against the continued decline of the dollar. Since the beginning of 2008, gold is up over 17%. With the present Fed approach to devaluing the dollar through lower interest rates, I still believe that gold has upside potential. An easy way to own gold is through the ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) GLD.

Another approach is to buy stocks in high quality companies with high yields. While the stock market will probably continue to decline in 2008, a quality company such a GE, which yields 3.7%, will likely pay off in the long term. In the meantime, you will receive a yield that is higher than money market rates and that is taxed at a maximum of 15%.

I do not recommend buying any financial institutions stock at this juncture. The picture is still too clouded, and no one knows if another Bear Stearns is around the corner. However, if you are willing to take some risk, you might consider a Business Development Company. My favorite is Kohlberg Capital (KCAP). KCAP has an expense ratio of just 2.5% vs an industry average of 5.7%. It is trading at a 35% discount off of its Net Asset Value (NAV) and is yielding over 15% annually.

Regardless of how you decide to invest in these challenging times, remember to stay well diversified and not to chase the latest investment fad.

Until we see a different approach from the Fed, it is wise to plan for a continued dollar deterioration combined with higher inflation. This combination will lead to lower real rates of return on bonds and money market funds, providing a challenge to all investors.

The Stimulus Scam

February 19th, 2008 at 06:16 pm

Congress recently approved the “economic stimulus package,” which will provide every single tax filer with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $75,000 or less with $600 and every joint filer with AGI under $150,000 with $1,200. If you have dependent children, you get an additional $300 for each dependent child.

The reason for this program is to get us to spend the funds to help “revive” the US economy. From my perspective, the long term results of this program will not revive the economy, but will serve to put our country deeper in debt.

As one pundit has stated, this should be called the China economic stimulus package. Much of the $150 Billion of additional long term debt that this “stimulus” provides will likely be purchased by the Chinese or other foreign entities. Thus, additional government resources (which come from you and me) will be required to service this debt.

As an added benefit to China, if the money received is spent at WalMart, Target or other large retailer, it will be used to purchase goods that are manufactured in China, increasing our trade deficit. Some “economic stimulus” this program turns out to be.

OK- so our elected officials are scamming us in order to “buy” more votes – what else is new? However, we can take this lemon and make it more palatable.

Here is what you might consider doing. If you have any credit card debt, use the funds that you will receive to pay it off. If you already pay off your credit card in full each month, take the money and use it to pay down some of your mortgage or put it in one of your savings accounts. In 20 years, the $1,200 will be worth over $6,000, if your investments return 8% annually.

We can never keep our elected officials from doing things harmful to our economy, but we can minimize the damage that they do. I hope you will use this “stimulus” to increase your financial abundance.

Step 7 - Have Faith in Continued Abundance

February 9th, 2008 at 03:41 pm

Faith is defined as a belief that is not based on proof. While we can never have absolute proof of continued financial abundance, by following the 7 Steps to Financial Abundance, we can begin to believe that through our continued commitment to control our finances, our abundance will continue. Our faith in continued abundance is important in conquering the fear of scarcity.

Fear is defined as a distressing emotion, aroused by impending danger, whether the threat is real or imagined. Without faith that abundance will continue, doubts and fears of the unknown and uncontrollable future can become overwhelming. Even though the fear of scarcity may be irrational, it can consume us and leave us unable to live with a sense of abundance.

Living in financial abundance requires controlling consumer-driven consumption, maximizing and protecting financial resources and faith that abundance will continue. By implementing the first six steps, you have done everything in your power to control your financial abundance. The final step, having faith that abundance will continue, is sometimes the hardest step. However, without this faith, fear and doubt can control our financial lives.

The Seven Steps to Financial Abundance are designed to allow you to take control of your financial future. I authored Financial Abundance Guide to provide an easy to understand “guide” for non-financial people to explore their path to financial abundance. You can learn more about my approach to financial abundance at

Text is www.finabguide.com and Link is
www.finabguide.com

Once you escape the fear of scarcity, you may find true serenity. When living in financial abundance, you may even decide to share more of your abundance with your favorite charitable organizations.

Step 6 - Control Your Personal Finances

February 4th, 2008 at 04:43 pm

The stock market, tax codes, the economy and negative world events are outside of our control. Too often, the things that we cannot control increase our fear of financial scarcity. When this occurs, it is can be comforting to remember the serenity prayer.

To achieve serenity, we are encouraged to accept the things we cannot change and have the courage to change the things we can. We can control our consumer based spending habits, our prioritization of saving for our family’s future and our decision to plan for our financial well-being. By changing old habits that lead to the fear of scarcity and implementing the practices of the first 5 steps, we are doing everything in our power to control our finances.

With this control, we have significant power over personal finances. Once this power is recognized, the fear of scarcity is diminished and a feeling of financial security begins to permeate our lives, leading us toward financial abundance.