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A Retirement Wealth Gap Adds a New Indignity to Old Age

Many middle-class Americans are financially unprepared for retirement—and that is leading to an array of social tensions

This is an interesting article, and a potential “need-to-know” for those planning to move when they retire. According to this Wall Street Journal article, an unexpected problem could surface when you move from your pre-retirement “work” home into your ideal retirement home… in a community occupied by long-time residence.

As you make your new house a home, you and other transfers to the community may want to “upgrade” the community and improve services. While you might find the cost of these enhancements to be of high value, it is possible that the long-time residence will not see the same opportunity. In fact, you could be in for a fight. Not because long time residence don’t want changes to their community. But because they simply cannot afford these enhancements. For many, their hand-to-mouth retirement lifestyle cannot absorb anything beyond the fixed costs already difficult to manage. So, it is really a conflict of economics.

There are no take-aways from this article, no lesson except to be aware of a potential problem. My assessment is, it is a good idea to get to know the profile, or psychographics, of the neighborhood you are thinking about retiring to. Are you moving into a community or city with residence who generally share your economic profile? In the case of the article, the residence are tied together by a retirement community association. More likely for most a retirement community does not apply. But this same conflict can surface in communities where you are likely to be dependent on a majority vote or the resources needed to accomplish the same objective.

~ Rich Arzaga, CFP®

By Jennifer Levitz | Photographs by Rachel Bujalski

SANTA ROSA, Calif.—On a Saturday morning in retirement paradise, Ken Heyman stepped out to his front porch and found a brown paper bag. Inside was the chopped-off head of a rat.

Mr. Heyman was acting president of the homeowners’ association at Oakmont Village, an enclave in Northern California’s wine country for people age 55 and over. For months, the community had battled over the unlikeliest of topics: pickleball, a game that is a mix of tennis, badminton and ping pong. Some residents wanted to build a pickleball court complex that would cost at least $300,000. Others didn’t, saying they didn’t want to see their dues go up.

Residents shouted at each other at town-hall gatherings. One confrontation got so heated that a resident called the police. The governing board appointed a security guard to keep order at meetings.

Photo: Oakmont residents play pickleball—a game that’s like a gentler version of tennis, played with a paddle and a plastic ball with holes on a badminton-sized court. 

For many, of course, the issue wasn’t really about pickleball. It was about a divide that had opened between wealthier residents who moved to the village more recently and the less well-off, who said clubhouse updates, new fees and expensive amenities would be budget-busters.

Mr. Heyman’s predecessor as president was a leader of the anti-pickleball faction. She felt she had been chased out of office by pickleball partisans. On the paper bag was a note.

“You’re next,” it read, according to a police report.

Around 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day, and the same number will continue doing so for years. Some are on solid financial ground after a lifetime of planning and the fortune of well-timed home purchases and stock investments.

Most of the rest are unprepared. Fifty-four percent of households with middle incomes—ranging from around $48,000 to $95,000 a year—don’t have enough saved to maintain their quality of living in retirement, according to the Boston College Center for Retirement Research. Some of those who saved were hit by unforeseen health-care costs. Others took on debt for education. Yet more made investment mistakes or lost their savings in the 2008 financial crisis.

Those wildly different circumstances are leading to hard-to-resolve social tensions, which are playing out every day at retirement communities across the country. In Oakmont, the issue was pickleball.

Founded in 1963, Oakmont Village was long an option for the middle class that benefited from California’s rising real-estate values. They could move into attached duplexes or triplexes or wood-sided single-family ranch-style homes and enjoy three swimming pools, a lawn-bowling green, honor-system lending library and the 130-plus clubs and activities.

Living near one another is an increasingly popular option for retirees. The population of the U.S.’s 442 federally designated “retirement destination counties” rose 2% last year, compared with the national average of 0.7%, according to Census Bureau figures. Retirement communities often provide social connections that can fray when people leave the workplace, live alone or have families spread across the country.

Steve Spanier, the current president of Oakmont’s homeowners’ board, said the mountain-view community started “moving more upscale” in recent years when retiring baby boomers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley discovered it on weekend wine-tasting trips to Sonoma County. Coming from places where real-estate prices are especially high, they began buying and gutting homes. The community has about 4,700 residents.

The community now splits neatly into two camps. Some believe it should only “fix things that break,” he says. “Then there are people like the people who are starting to move in. They have a lot of money and want to live the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed and they want to do it here,” he says. “People are having more trouble getting along.”

The October wildfires that tore through Northern California’s wine country last year fleetingly eased the divisions, says Mr. Spanier. The fires forced Oakmonters to temporarily evacuate and destroyed two of the village’s roughly 3,200 homes. The fitness center sold “Oakmont Strong” T-shirts, and the mood mellowed for a bit.

“It got better for a period of time,” he says, “then that feeling of unity created by the fire left.”

Homes in the resident-owned Oakmont Village fetch between $350,000 for smaller dwellings up to about $1.2 million for ranch-style homes that have been remodeled by wealthy newcomers. A few years ago, million-dollar sales were unheard of.

After retiring in 2015, Iris Harrell sold her part of the remodeling company she founded in Mountain View, Calif., and says she is “never going to have to worry about money.” She and her wife, Ann Benson, sold their home in Silicon Valley for $3.8 million and bought a hillside ranch-style home in Oakmont for about $800,000, she says.

They raised the roof to allow for windows tall enough for a view of the top of nearby Hood Mountain. So they can age at home, they installed an elevator and added 1,300 square feet of space, including a spacious wing that could house a live-in caretaker. Ms. Harrell now calls the wing “the best guest suite in Oakmont.”

“We’re spoiled and we know it, but it just worked out for us,” says the fit 71-year-old.

She became the chairwoman of Oakmont’s building construction committee and set about trying to also refurbish the 55-year-old community.

“You can’t be premier and look like the 1960s,” Ms. Harrell says. “It’s not making the statement we want.”

She says that retirees moving in—“post Google-ites” she calls them—are willing to pay for better amenities and that Oakmont’s future shouldn’t be dictated by the “small minority” who aren’t willing. She suggested those pinched for money should look into a reverse mortgage.

Oakmont resident Gary O’Shaughnessy, who lives in a unit of a triplex down the hill from Ms. Harrell’s house, calls that suggestion “insensitive.”

“That attitude I can’t live with,” he says.

A former school-bus driver for disabled children, Mr. O’Shaughnessy says a diagnosis of Parkinson’s led him to retire in his 60s, earlier than planned.

While he was working, he rented a house in Santa Rosa. He bought his place in Oakmont for $280,000 in 2010 with help from an inheritance from his mother and $50,000 from his own retirement account. He is single and 71 and has $40,000 in savings. His monthly income is around $2,000, from Social Security and a small pension.

He says he typically walks dogs seven days a week to “make ends meet”; his bills include a mortgage, supplemental medical insurance and more than $300 in monthly dues at Oakmont.

Everyone in the resident-owned community pays $67 a month per person to the main Oakmont association, up from $58 last year. Households pay another $220 a month, on average, to various sub-neighborhood associations for services such as water or landscaping.

Mr. O’Shaughnessy started attending meetings and signing petitions as plans, backed by Ms. Harrell and others, proceeded for a roughly $300,000 tournament-quality pickleball complex with tiered spectator seating.

“There was a big fight and it kind of divided the community,” he says. “The people who have money just want to throw it around, but there are a lot of people on fixed incomes.”

A 2015 survey sponsored by the Oakmont association found that 48% of residents said they were very or somewhat concerned about their current financial needs. That figure rose to 57% for those under age 66.

Overall, 52% were “not at all concerned.”

“We are an extremely wealthy community,” resident Vince Taylor, a former software-company owner, said, during an open forum at an association meeting in March 2017. “We shouldn’t be acting like a poverty community.”

Mr. Taylor, who is 81 and retired, says he has more than $1 million in his retirement savings and lives off investment earnings without touching the principal.

His public comments provoked discussion on Nextdoor, an online neighborhood social-networking service. A discussion titled “Disparity of wealth in Oakmont” drew nearly 80 comments.

One Oakmont resident suggested retirees with tight budgets get jobs. Another, Bob Starkey, a 69-year-old renter and retired museum director, wrote that illness had depleted his savings and that he lived with anxiety his car might die.

“Please remember that pensions have become a thing of the past,” wrote Margaret Babin, a retired home-day-care operator who is 62 and is selling her collection of French Quimper pottery on eBay to pay for extras.

“At some events, I feel out of place even though I shouldn’t, because I’m doing OK,” she says, noting that she sees more fancy cars in the community. “The separation seems to be getting wider and wider.”

By early 2017, she and other frustrated residents had organized behind a slate of candidates who aimed to win a majority on the homeowners’ board and halt the pickleball project, which had been approved by Oakmont leaders but not yet built.

On the morning of April 3, a phone call woke up Ms. Babin. “I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” she recalls.

One day before the votes would be tallied in the election, a bulldozer was breaking ground on the pickleball complex. Supporters and detractors rushed over. One resident called the Santa Rosa Police Department at 7:24 a.m. to report a “verbal disturbance” at Oakmont.

“There is a heated argument going on at this time,” the police report said. An officer who went to the scene wrote that there were “two warring factions over a pickleball court.”

The next day, the candidates opposing the pickleball complex were victorious. Construction stopped.

“We face some of the same challenges as the rest of our state and our country,” Ellen Leznik, the new president, said at a public association meeting days later. “One such challenge is the disparity of wealth in our membership.”

Some pickleball proponents rose to defend themselves.

“We’re not the mean, vicious and entitled people our opponents and Nextdoor critics would have you believe,” one speaker said.

Oakmont eventually converted two existing tennis courts into six pickleball courts at a fraction of the cost. The new board ushered in a tone of frugality and oversight that some saw as heavy-handed. Rhetoric at public meetings grew so hostile that the board brought in a security guard to keep order.

“Why don’t we just wait till we’re all dead?” an Oakmont man who favored the pickleball complex declared at one meeting. “Guess what? Oakmont is our last stop. The train ends here. This is the Hotel California.”

Ms. Leznik, a 60-year-old former lawyer who retired early because of a disability, resigned less than four months after she became president, in July 2017. She says she had heart palpitations from the stress.

That left her ally, Mr. Heyman, as acting president.

The next month, at 9:15 a.m. on Aug. 12, the police again got a call from Oakmont, this time from Mr. Heyman, who is 61 and still works in corporate communications.

On Mr. Heyman’s porch sat “a bag containing the chopped off head of a rat,” according to the police report.

“It freaked me out,” says Mr. Heyman. He says he has “no doubt” the rat served as retribution for killing the pickleball project and for the disputes that followed.

At an association meeting soon after, another board member likened “the battle being waged at Oakmont” to “Armageddon.”

Mr. Heyman left the board and later moved out of Oakmont.

“There were clearly sides. One side felt that we’re an active-adult community and it’s our responsibility to provide activities and facilities to the membership,” says Oakmont resident Al Medeiros, 71, who now sits on the board. He counts himself in that group, which he says had been “vilified.”

“The other side seemed to think that well, we’re poor, so we really need to make sure our dues don’t go up and we should just provide the minimum,” he says.

In February, the board discussed remodeling a dated auditorium where hundreds of events, from dances to movies to meetings, take place every year. Some residents talked about constructing a new center and repurposing the old one into a state-of-the-art gym.

The board is also weighing a divisive request from the private golf club that borders many homes in the retirement community. The club is asking all Oakmont residents, golfers or not, to pitch in to help the club meet economic challenges. Someone suggested $5 a person every month.

Mr. Spanier, the new board president, says it “could potentially make pickleball look like a tiny issue.”

Oakmont Village, with views of Hood Mountain, includes roughly 3,200 homes.

#RetirementHome #Retirement #WealthGap #FinancialBehavior #FinancialPlanning #PersonalAdvice #Real Estate

This article was prepared by a third party for information purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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Real Estate Investments Course Starts September 17, 2018 at UC Berkeley Extension, San Francisco Campus

The next Real Estate Investments for Financial Planners and Investors course starts Monday September 17th at the San Francisco UC Berkeley Extension campus. This class will serve as an important foundation for making buy, sell, and hold real estate investment decisions. The coursework includes

  • An introduction to real estate investment basics
  • The Real Estate Cash Flow model
  • Real estate ownership and finance
  • Case studies on real estate investment decisions, and how they have impacted personal financial goals

Click here to register. Or contact me if you have any questions, or if you would like a copy of the course outline.

Sincerely, Rich Arzaga, CFP®, CCIM, Instructor

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Role of tending to family members typically falls to women

65 percent of older adults rely on family and friends for long-term care needs”

As parents reach their golden years, many need their adult children’s help for daily living or for simple tasks like rides to doctor’s appointments and going to the grocery store or more intense care such as dressing, bathing and administering medication.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 65 percent of older adults rely on family and friends for long-term care needs with 30 percent supplementing family care with paid providers. These informal providers give nearly $500 billion in valued services. A majority of the time — an estimated 66 percent — the caretaking tasks fall to women who give at least 20 hours of unpaid care on average while also balancing their own families and working outside the home.

When folks are giving so much of themselves to others, caregivers often suffer burnout from physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, including anxiety, stress and depression. “You have to make sure that you are not overextending yourself,” said Tammy Bresnahan, AARP’s associate state director for advocacy. “… That is why we recommend that you find breathing exercises and/or yoga or try to carve out a little bit of time for yourself so you are not all consumed.”

She suggests siblings may want to split up duties if possible, such as one takes the parent to doctor’s appointments while the other does home visits.

Elizabeth Weglein, CEO of the Elizabeth Cooney Care Network, believes it is important for caregivers to take time for themselves.

“If you are able to take care of yourself, you can take better care of someone else,” she said. “Most caregivers put themselves at the bottom row and take care of themselves last. Their health deteriorates fairly quickly. So really the mantra should be always take care of yourself.”

The advice is similar to the scenario you hear before an airplane flight from attendants who instruct caregivers, in the case of an emergency, to put on their oxygen masks first before helping their loved ones.

“Caregivers don’t always realize it when they are in the midst of it,” Weglein said. “They need to be taking care of themselves, getting time off. Even just going to the grocery store alone or going to get their hair done or seeing a friend and having lunch. Just having some downtime to talk. The value of that break is so high.”

One of the biggest needs for caregivers is respite care. Some caregivers need to attend out-of-town funerals or important events. Others need to have surgery or be in a medical facility for a short time.

Maryland is one of 16 states that utilizes a federal grant to provide emergency respite care services within 72 hours, allotting families $225 a year for services. Beginning in fall 2017, the Elizabeth Cooney Care Network serves as administrator.

“The individuals who have utilized (the grant) were very thankful,” Weglein said. “They really did not have any resources to turn if it had not been for the grant. …The good part is it doesn’t have a lot of strings. There is no economic requirement. They just have to have a need. It is supporting respite care which means it is helping the primary caregiver.”

Weglein believes the grant is unique because it can be triggered so quickly and families may call themselves.

“In Maryland, there are a lot of gatekeepers where you have to call this entity, get prequalified and then call,” Weglein said. “This particular grant was really designed to be very free and accessible that a family caregiver could just call Elizabeth Cooney 24 hours a day, trigger the grant and then services would be rendered within a 72-hour period for the total of $225. We’ve been very creative with that $225 to create support systems that really maximize the need for that individual.”

The Maryland Healthy Families Working Act, which took effect in February, also helps caregivers. The bill, vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan but overridden by the Maryland General Assembly, requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide paid sick/safe leave for up to five days. Before the act, some fields, such as retail and food service, had no paid sick/safe leave.

“There is some fear from some businesses that it is going to hurt the business,” Weglein said. “… My perspective on how we treat our employees and also how we treat our clients (is) you support your team. The stronger and happier and healthier your team is, the stronger your company is.”

Weglein notes the better we understand taking care of our own families, especially with the aging population, the better we will be as a society in the state.

“Overall, financially, if we keep and take care of our citizens, it is really a matter of keeping our economic base strong so people don’t move to Delaware,” Weglein said. “They don’t move to Florida or North Carolina. They don’t look and seek other pathways to get care.”

This Article was prepared by a third party for information purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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The Rise of the Older, Single Female Home Buyer

The Rise of the Older, Single Female Home Buyer

Unmarried women over 55 is one of the largest, and fastest-growing, demographics of home buyers. With longer lifespans and careers, many look for homes with ‘no bad memories’

Ms. Hoffman said her new home is giving her a chance to ‘start from scratch.’ Photo by THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

By Katy McLaughlin

Leah Hoffman was looking for a house to start the next phase of her life. She doesn’t need a lot of space, and being single, she only needs to please herself. She says she found exactly what she was looking for in a $1.7 million home in Paradise Valley, Ariz., which she moved into in January.

The life phase Ms. Hoffman is starting? She is 60 and divorced, with grown children. She sold a wealth-management firm she founded in 2007 and is now ready for something new. “I’m totally starting from scratch,” she says. “I like change.”

Since 1981, single women over 55 have been the fastest-growing demographic of home buyers when compared with a multitude of other categories, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by Ralph McLaughlin, founder and chief economist at Veritas Urbis Economics in Alameda, Calif. Married couples are by far the largest group of home buyers, and single women the next largest group. But last year, single, older women made up 8.2% of all home buyers, roughly double the percentage of 20 years ago, Mr. McLaughlin says. These women also buy homes at nearly twice the rate as their male counterparts.

Three Single Women, Three New Homes

There have long been many more older single women than men, reflecting the fact that men remarry at a higher rate after a divorce, as well as the fact that men generally die at younger ages. But the dramatic increase in home purchasing by older women speaks to something else. Many women in this place in life want to own a home of their own, says Jessica Lautz, director of demographics and behavioral insight for the National Association of Realtors. Ms. Lautz also notes that longer average lifespans—and people working until later in life—are giving older buyers the confidence to take on a 15- or 30-year mortgage.

Ms. Hoffman, echoing the sentiments of others, views her purchase as more than a financial transaction. “There are no bad memories in this house, and I’m going to try hard not to create any,” she says.

In the late 1990s, Ms. Hoffman and her then-husband built a family home in Paradise Valley. Raising two sons, the couple designed a 6,000-square-foot house with a wing of bedrooms and a play area for the boys. Because she spent about 60-hours-a-week running her own company, a location near school, a grocery store and a dry cleaner was paramount. After divorcing in 2005, Ms. Hoffman moved into a 5,000-square-foot Paradise Valley house so her children could remain in the same school district. That house is now on the market for $1.475 million.

She then decided to downsize to a house that was easier to take care of. Finding her new place wasn’t easy, says her agent Joan Levinson of an eponymous brokerage in the area, as most Paradise Valley homes are larger. Eventually, Ms. Hoffman found a 3,200-square-foot, two bedroom with a separate, one-bedroom casita. Near restaurants and shopping, it has a landscaped garden and views of Camelback and Mummy mountains. Ms. Hoffman says she left behind all her old furniture and commissioned custom pieces, aiming to “start from scratch.”

Mary Jo Valentine Blythe and her then-husband raised three children in a 7,000-square-foot home in the upscale Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, Ill. They divorced in 2005, and seven years later Ms. Blythe bought an 8,000-square-foot home in Vail, Colo. that she and her now-grown sons, avid skiers, consider their “family home,” she says. She waited until her youngest son graduated from high school to put the Hinsdale home on the market, she says, selling it in 2016. That same year she also sold the corporate event company she built over 25 years.

Next, Ms. Blythe moved to an $8,000-a-month, two-bedroom rental in Trump International Hotel & Tower in downtown Chicago. The rental introduced her to a “completely different life,” she says, putting her close to restaurants, upscale shopping and bike rides alongside Lake Michigan. Her only qualm was the monthly outlay for a home she didn’t own, she says.

So in June, Ms. Blythe, now 56, put down a deposit on a $3.2 million, four-bedroom condominium in Renelle on the River, an 18-story building currently under construction near the Trump Tower. Her new apartment keeps her in the heart of the city, “where I can walk everywhere,” she says.

A year ago, Ms. Blythe met a man with whom she is in a relationship, she says. As it happens, he lives back in Hinsdale, the suburb she left, where he is raising two teenagers. Ms. Blythe says she has no plans to return to the suburbs. “I’m done with that chapter,” she says. “I want to be part of something that’s more energized.”

“Multigenerational homes,” or places where aging parents, adult children not ready to leave the nest, and children under the age of 18 can co-habitate are in high demand among “buyers in their early 50s,” says Ms. Lautz of the NAR. That is roughly what Laura Ackerman was looking for. After ending a 33-year marriage, she was planning to move out of her Bay Area home of 20 years.
“Over the holidays, my kids sat me down and told me they wanted me to move to the East Coast,” says Ms. Ackerman, 57. At first, she laughed it off, but later started to dwell on it. Two of her children live on the East Coast and a third lives in Spain, she says.

Influencing her decision was the fact that eight years ago, her youngest son fell out of a tree and nearly died of a traumatic brain injury, Ms. Ackerman says. He recovered and is a healthy young man finishing college, she says. But the experience taught her to “never take another day for granted,” she says.

In April, Ms. Ackerman closed on a $1.75 million Colonial on 5 acres in Mendham, N.J., where she had gone to high school. The 7,000-square-foot house has six bedroom and seven bathrooms—ideal for when her three children and her mother come to visit. Someday, when there are spouses and grandchildren, everyone will be able to gather, she says.
Still in the process of unpacking, Ms. Ackerman says she is looking forward to joining a church and book club, strengthening relationships with old friends and taking advantage of proximity to her children.

“I definitely feel that the fresh start has given me a new lease on life.”

Write to Katy McLaughlin at katy.mclaughlin@wsj.com

Appeared in the June 29, 2018, print edition as ‘A New Life, a New House.’

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Little-Known Homeowners Insurance Facts

You may be surprised to learn what is and is not covered.

If you have a homeowners insurance policy, you should be aware of what the insurance does and does not cover. These policies have their limitations as well as their underrecognized perks.

Some policies insure actual cash value (ACV). ACV factors depreciation into an item’s worth. If someone makes off with your expensive camera that you bought five years ago, a homeowners policy that reimburses you for ACV would only pay for part of the cost of an equivalent camera bought new today.1

Other policies insure replacement cash value (RCV). That means 100% of the cost of an equivalent item today, at least in the insurer’s view.1

Insurers cap losses on certain types of items. If you lose an insured 42” flat-screen TV to a burglar, the insurer could reimburse you for the RCV, which is probably around $300. An insurance carrier can handle a loss like that. If a thief takes an official American League baseball from the 1930s signed by Babe Ruth out of your home, the insurer would probably not reimburse you for 100% of its ACV. It might only pay out $2,000 or so, nowhere near what such a piece of sports memorabilia would be worth. Because of these coverage caps, some homeowners opt for personal floaters – additional riders on their policies to appropriately insure collectibles and other big-ticket items.1

Did you know that losses away from home may be covered? Say you have your PC with you on a business trip. Your rental car is broken into and your PC is taken. In such an instance, a homeowners policy frequently will cover a percentage of the loss above the deductible – perhaps closer to 10% or 20% of the value above the deductible rather than 100%, but still something. An insurance company might put a $200 or $250 limit on cash stolen away from home.1

Where you live can affect coverage as well as rates. If you reside in a community with rampant property crime, your insurance carrier might cap its reimbursements on some forms of personal property losses lower than you would like. (The insurer might even refrain from covering certain types of losses in your geographic area.)1

Now, do you have a home-based business? If you do, you should know that homeowners insurance will not cover damage and losses to your residence resulting from or linked to business activity. (The same holds true for a personal umbrella liability policy.)2

Having a separate, discrete business insurance policy to protect your home-based company is important. Without such a policy, you have inadequate coverage for your business – and could you imagine losing your home from being uninsured against a visiting client’s bodily injury claim or a workers’ comp claim if employees work at your residence and hurt themselves?2

Reading the fine print on your homeowners insurance policy can be worthwhile. Recognizing the basic limitations of homeowners insurance coverage is critical. You should know what is and is not covered – and if you see any weak spots, you should address them.

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 – nasdaq.com/article/3-caveats-about-your-homeowners-insurance-cm771517 [4/10/17]
2 – washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/if-you-work-from-home-and-dont-have-this-insurance-you-could-be-at-risk/2018/02/23/23a4a42a-1754-11e8-92c9-376b4fe57ff7_story.html [2/23/18]

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Should You Pay Off Your Mortgage? The New Tax Law Changes the Math.

The Wall Street Journal published the article below which prompts further thought: In a lower interest rate environment, a mortgage can actually have a positive effect on personal finances for many. But with the new tax law and cap on deductions, this is new territory to explore.

The further point I would add is: While this does change the math, more importantly, the math should be done via a comprehensive financial plan.  This is where the details like deductions and opportunity costs and long term use of family resources can help in making good financial decisions.

Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

Should You Pay Off Your Mortgage? The New Tax Law Changes the Math.

Tax-law changes will shut millions out of mortgage-interest deductions, especially if they are married couples

Now is the time to find out if you are one of the millions of Americans who won’t be able to deduct their monthly mortgage-interest payments.

For 2017, 32 million tax filers got a mortgage-interest deduction. For 2018, that number will drop to 14 million. Americans’ total savings from this break are also expected to fall sharply this year, from nearly $60 billion for 2017 to $25 billion for 2018, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation.

These landmark shifts are the result of the tax overhaul’s direct and indirect changes to the longstanding provision allowing filers to deduct home-mortgage interest on Schedule A. These changes are set to expire at the end of 2025.

As a result, current and future mortgage holders need to consider their options, which range from paying part or all of their debt to sitting tight.

“The changes to the mortgage deduction strengthen the arguments for paying down or off a mortgage,” says Allan Roth, a financial planner with Wealth Logic.

Some homeowners are already reducing their debt. Ken Walsh, an engineer who lives outside Baltimore with his family, says he used a windfall to pay off the remaining $500,000 mortgage on his home in January.

When the tax overhaul passed, Mr. Walsh knew that he and his wife would no longer get an interest deduction, even after their 2.6% adjustable-rate loan reset higher this year.

“It was a perfect storm, so we decided to pay off the loan,” he says.

Mr. Walsh’s move may not make sense for everyone. Here’s what to consider for your analysis.

The key changes. For many people, two revisions to non-mortgage provisions will have the biggest effects on their mortgage-interest deductions.

One is the near-doubling of the “standard deduction” to $12,000 for most single filers and $24,000 for most married couples. As a result, millions of filers will no longer benefit from breaking out mortgage interest and other deductions on Schedule A.

The other key change is the cap on deducting more than $10,000 of state and local income or sales and property taxes, known as SALT. This limit is per tax return, not per person.

These changes will hit many married couples with mortgages harder than singles. Here’s why: For 2017, a couple needed write-offs greater than $12,700 to benefit from listing deductions on Schedule A. Now these write-offs have to exceed $24,000.

Assuming a couple has maximum SALT deductions of $10,000, they’ll need more than $14,000 in other write-offs of mortgage interest, charity donations, and the like to benefit from using Schedule A.

Many couples won’t make it over this new hurdle on mortgage interest and SALT alone. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the first-year interest on a 30-year mortgage of $320,000 (the average) at the current rate of 4.8% is about $15,250. Interest payments are smaller if the loan is older or the interest rate is lower.

The new threshold is lower for single filers, as each can also deduct SALT up to $10,000. Their standard deduction is now $12,000, so many will only need more than $2,000 of mortgage interest, charity donations and the like to benefit from listing them on Schedule A.

Even for taxpayers who can still deduct mortgage interest, the expansion of the standard deduction means the value of this write-off will typically be lower than in the past.

Other limits. Following the tax overhaul, most home buyers can deduct only the interest on total mortgage debt up to $750,000 for up to two homes. This limit won’t be an issue for most buyers, but some will be affected.

There’s a “grandfather” exception: Most homeowners with existing debt up to $1 million on up to two homes before the tax overhaul can continue to deduct their interest.

The rules also changed for home-equity loans. To get an interest deduction, the taxpayer must use the debt to buy, build or improve a home. There’s no write-off if it’s used for another purpose, such as paying tuition.

Doing the math. For homeowners with a shrinking or vanishing interest deduction, here’s the key question: Is the after-tax return on an ultra-low-risk investment lower than your after-tax mortgage rate? If it is, consider paying down the mortgage if you can.

Mr. Roth offers this example. Say Bob has a mortgage rate of 3.7%, and he’ll no longer get an interest deduction. He’ll need to earn about 3.7% after-tax on an investment such as a five-year CD to come out ahead by keeping his mortgage. Recently some of these CDs had pretax yields of about 2.8%.

Preserving liquidity. Even if paying down a mortgage makes financial sense, it means restricting access to funds. So consider whether they’ll be needed in an emergency, and what the rate on a (non-deductible) personal loan would be. You need to be able to sleep at night.

Saving the difference. If you pay off a mortgage, Mr. Roth advises setting up an automatic payment of the savings to an investment account to rebuild your liquidity.

This article was prepared by a third party for information purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. It contains references to individuals or entities that are not affiliated with Cornerstone Wealth Management, Inc. or LPL Financial.

Tax services are not offered by Cornerstone Wealth Management, Inc., LPL Financial or affiliated advisors. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax advisor.

LPL Tracking # 1-737346

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Get Financial Advice First, Investment Advice Later

A friend’s son, in his mid-20s and working in his first “real” job, emailed me a few weeks ago looking for recommendations for a financial advisor.

I replied to ask what type of guidance he’s looking for. I remembered that he started investing in stocks when he was in high school, so my guess was that he wanted help with something investment-related.

His response surprised me, in a good way. Rather than seeking investment guidance, he was thinking big-picture. He said he’d like to go to graduate school, but he was also contemplating buying a rental property as an investment and living in one of the units. He wanted some advice on his portfolio, but that was secondary to wanting to talk through the financial implications of the other, broader decisions on his mind. I gave him the names of two of my favorite hourly, fee-only financial-planning firms in the Chicago area, and he was off and running.

Many people, in contrast to my friend’s son, think financial advice automatically equates to investment advice. And for people who are older, wealthier, and more settled in their lives, guidance on investments is probably going to be the main thing a financial advisor assists them with. But for most people in early accumulation mode, investment decision-making should be secondary to big-picture decision-making. And people could use help with big-picture decision-making, and putting some math around those decisions, more than they might think.

That exchange got me thinking about how your life stage–and specifically your human capital/financial capital ratio–should influence your financial priorities and the type of advice you seek. While Morningstar has long asserted that human capital should play a role in how you position your financial capital, assessing your personal ratio of human to financial capital can help you figure out where to concentrate your precious resources. By precious resources, I mean the time you spend thinking about your financial affairs and any money you spend on financial guidance.

What’s Your Human Capital/Financial Capital Ratio? 
Morningstar has written extensively about the human capital/financial capital relationship, mainly as it relates to the asset allocation of your investment portfolio.

If you’ve just emerged from school with an advanced degree in a lucrative field, for example, you’re long on human capital. Your financial capital is probably scarce or even negative if you racked up debt to pursue that degree. Because you’re looking forward to a long and mostly uninterrupted string of great earnings, you can afford to take more risk in your investment portfolio that you’ve earmarked for retirement; you’re a long way away from tapping it.

At the opposite extreme, let’s say you’re 64. You still like your job, and you’d like to keep going for as long as you can, maybe all the way to age 70 or beyond. But your spouse has had some health setbacks, and you know that you may have to pull back from work in order to help care for him. In that instance, your human capital–your ability to garner earnings from your job–has declined and isn’t fully within your control. Because you may not be able to earn a paycheck much longer, you’ll need to make sure your portfolio, and income from other sources like Social Security, can pick up where your salary leaves off. You’ll also want to make sure you own enough safe securities that you can tap in the near term, if and when your earnings stream is interrupted.

It’s Not Just for Investments
Just as it can help influence your portfolio positioning, an assessment of your personal human capital/financial capital ratio can help determine where to concentrate your financial priorities and where to get financial help.

When you’re young and just starting out in your career path, your human capital is extensive and your financial capital is likely small. It’s a given that once you start earning a paycheck, you should invest in the highest-returning portfolio you can stomach. But your contributions to your investments–not the gains on them–are going to be the biggest share of your portfolio’s growth at that life stage. The best way to bump up your contributions is by enlarging your earnings and/or making sure that you’re living within your means and not overspending. At this life stage it’s also crucial to think through what I call “primordial asset allocation” decisions, such as your savings/spending rate and whether you decide to pay down debt, such as student loans, or invest in the market. If you get those big-picture decisions right, your investments and your financial capital will take care of themselves.

By extension, if you’re going to spend on advice at this life stage, it stands to reason that you could go the cheap and efficient route: Buy an inexpensive target-date fund or use an inexpensive robo-advisor and call it a day. After all, it’s a rare young accumulator whose goals and risk tolerance would be radically different from another young accumulator’s: Enlarging the portfolio is the name of the game, and the best way to do that is to contribute regularly, go heavy on stocks, and not get rattled by periodic market downturns.

Because other decisions, such as whether you invest in additional education or buy a home or continue to rent, will be more impactful, it’s wise to concentrate your advice “buy” on someone who will make such issues their central concern–a financial planner. That’s not to say most investment advisors won’t be holistic in their assessment of your situation; the good ones most certainly will. But consulting on other aspects of your financial life may not be central to what they do. There’s also a logistical issue: With a very small portfolio, it may be difficult to find an investment advisor who’s willing to work with you, whereas hourly or per-engagement financial planners are much more readily accessible to people at all portfolio levels.

As you move through your life, and your human capital declines and your financial capital rises, you may have already plowed through most of your make-or-break primordial asset allocation decisions. You may have purchased your home and paid it off, paid for college for your kids, and advanced as far in your career as you’re going to go. You might still need financial-planning guidance, to be sure. But with an enlarged portfolio, it also makes more sense to focus more of your energies–and more of your advice “buy”–on it. Your tax rate may have gone up, and you will have likely accumulated assets in multiple accounts. You may be getting close to retirement and wondering whether your portfolio is sustainable and how to draw from it. In other words, getting some investment advice that’s specific to you and your situation is more appropriate than it was when you were a young accumulator.

This article lays out some of the key questions to ask yourself when seeking a financial advisor. At the top of list is “Are you seeking help with your whole financial life or your investment portfolio?” Thinking through your human capital/financial capital ratio can help you make the right call, and figure out where to concentrate your own energies, too.

Published June 7, 2018. But a message never out of date.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

No investment strategy, including asset allocation, assures success or protects against loss.

The target date is the approximate date when investors plan to start withdrawing their money. The principal value of a target fund is not guaranteed at any time including at the target date.

Morningstar is a separate entity from Cornerstone Wealth Management and LPL Financial.

LPL Tracking # 1-742861

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Fed Move Suggests Economy Is On Track”

The first quarter of 2018 is wrapping up, and it’s time to spring forward and look ahead to what we could expect in the coming months. After a large market drop kicking off the month of February, March has been relatively calm for stocks so far. The biggest event of the month was the Federal Reserve (Fed) meeting held on March 21—the first with new Fed Chair Powell at the helm.

As anticipated by the markets, the Fed raised the fed funds rate by 0.25% (25 basis points), bringing its target interest rate to 1.50–1.75%. The Fed also upgraded its outlook on economic growth and kept its inflation projection unchanged.

So what does this latest step forward mean for markets overall? Although sometimes markets react negatively to rate hikes, these increases tend to signal the Fed’s confidence in the U.S. economy. The Fed’s dual mandate seeks to balance the often-competing goals of maximum employment and low, stable inflation. With the economy growing above potential and job growth steady, the Fed’s attention has been increasingly focused on finding a rate hike path that does not lead to any bubbles in markets or cause the economy to overheat.

One of the contributing factors to the market decline in early February was the January employment report, which showed a surprise uptick in wage growth. As a result, this increased concerns regarding inflation and whether a faster path of rate hikes was on the horizon. Since then, fears of escalating inflationary pressures may have faded somewhat, although price pressures could continue to build in the coming months. LPL Research continues to believe the Fed will need to see a sustained pace of higher inflation, and potentially a wage growth number as high as 4% annually, before becoming significantly more aggressive.

In addition to the Fed and inflation, there are a number of factors that could have meaningful implications down the line, including:

  • Economic growth: Market participants generally expect the U.S. economy to get a boost from the new tax law, which supports both consumer spending and business spending.
  • Earnings: Corporate America produced the best earnings growth in several years during the fourth quarter of 2017, while 2018 has seen the biggest upward revision to S&P 500 Index earnings to start a year since these data have been collected.
  • Trade policy: LPL Research believes trade policy is among the biggest risks facing stocks right now. The recently announced tariffs may have limited immediate economic impact, but the big concern is China’s intellectual property trade practices.

Although there may never be a dull moment when watching the markets and economy in this day and age, the latest action by the Fed was taken in stride. However, it is important to acknowledge the possibility for further volatility, given geopolitics and trade protectionism. Overall, LPL Research’s outlook remains positive for the remainder of 2018, as continued economic and earnings growth may help offset trade tensions.

If you have any questions, I encourage you to contact me.

Important Information

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual security. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. Indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor.
Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted.

The S&P 500 Index is a capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.

Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. No investment strategy or risk management technique can guarantee return or eliminate risk in all market environments.
This research material has been prepared by LPL Financial LLC. Tracking #1-712538

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LPL Ranks #1 in Customer Loyalty in 2018

The most meaningful measure of how well we’re serving our clients is whether we exceed their expectations in delivering the value and commitment they need to pursue their life and financial goals.

That’s why I wanted to share with you the news that LPL and its affiliated advisors, including Cornerstone Wealth Management, were recently ranked No. 1 in customer loyalty among 21 leading financial distributor firms. It means a great deal for us to be part of a network that’s a recognized industry leader in providing quality personal service—and it’s an even greater honor that LPL has risen in these rankings in each of the past three years.

The rankings were among the findings in Investor Brand BuilderTM, a Cogent ReportsTM study released by Market Strategies International, in which 4,408 affluent investors nationwide were surveyed.*

The study explored the key aspects of client experience that drive investor loyalty. On each of the top 5 drivers of investor loyalty, LPL earned No. 1 rankings by exceeding client expectations in the following areas:

  • Quality of investment advice
  • Financial stability
  • Easy to do business with
  • Range of investment products and services
  • Retirement planning services

In addition, LPL ranked No. 1 in the likelihood of its investors recommending the firm and its advisors to their friends, families, and colleagues.

As an advisors affiliated with LPL Financial, I we are proud of this recognition by investors of the value of the objective financial advice we offer to help clients pursue their goals, and of the innovative products and services our affiliation with LPL allows us to provide access to.

I appreciate the opportunity to partner with you, and I look forward to our continued work together. Thank you for your business.

This letter was prepared by LPL Financial LLC. This is not a recommendation to purchase, or an endorsement of, LPL Financial stock. LPL Financial and Cogent are unaffiliated entities.

*Market Strategies International, Cogent Wealth Reports, “Investor Brand Builder™: Maximize Purchase Intent Among Investors and Expand Client Relationships,” November 2017.

ABOUT THE REPORT: Market Strategies International’s Cogent Wealth Reports: Investor Brand Builder™ provides a holistic view of key trends affecting the affluent investor marketplace. The November 2017 report is based on a web survey of over 4,000 affluent investors, who hold $100,000 or more in investable assets. A total of n=82 LPL advisor clients were represented in the study. Customer Loyalty is based on how likely the participant would recommend each of their investment account companies to friends, family, or colleagues. Participants also evaluate their investment account companies using a 5-point rating scale across 10 aspects of client experience.