Monday, December 21, 2015

The difference between a gift and a loan

Like many of you, I’m looking forward to spending time and catching up with family members I haven’t seen very often during the year. With all the disastrous world events and the never-dull political season heating up, I’m certain there will be some interesting conversations, not just at my house, but also across the nation.
It seems like every January I receive a phone call from a client who learned over the holidays that their son or daughter was having some sort of financial issue. They want to discuss dipping into their nest egg to help out their loved ones.
For the most part, I have no problem with this. After all, family is family. And if you’ve been fortunate enough and are financially comfortable in retirement, I certainly understand why you would want to help family members.
However, I think it’s important to put defined parameters on the financial assistance. If you don’t, experience leads me to believe that misunderstandings over money can result in fractured family relations.

I miss my late father a great deal, but he imparted to me a piece of advice I will always treasure. He was adamant that he never wanted our family to have disagreements over money.
As a financial adviser I’ve witnessed many financial arguments among family members. I’ve seen long-time family businesses break up because the kids running the inherited company disagreed over money issues. Often to the point that the children totally disassembled the family business their parents had built.
You might not own a business, but when a family member corners you during the holiday and asks for financial help, you probably will if you’re able. That being said, if you do help a son, daughter or other family member, it’s important to have your money, your heart and your documents in order.
For example, I’ve had some clients complain to me months later that their loan wasn’t being repaid. When I ask if the recipient knew it was a loan and not a gift, the typical response is, “I thought they did.”
The lesson is clear. When money is involved, make certain both parties understand exactly what’s expected. If it’s a gift, make clear it’s a gift. If it’s a loan, I suggest an amortization table, and a signature acknowledging the loan.
I know. You might think giving a loved one a loan table and asking for a signature is cold and unnecessary. As a seasoned financial adviser, however, I’ve witnessed more than one family splintering over money issues. Defining the financial assistance will minimize potential issues.
My hope is that you will enjoy the warmth and beauty of the season free of financial concerns. But if they do arise, don’t just pull out your checkbook. Find out what created the problem. After all, if someone asks you for money, you should be allowed to ask questions.
A little due diligence might enable you to get to the cause of the financial problem and maybe even find a way to solve it. As a concerned parent, you don’t want to throw money at a reoccurring issue. You want the issue resolved for the long term.
In the meantime, I want to wish all my clients, readers and their families a Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A healthy dose of technology provides peace of mind

By no means am I a technology expert. In fact, I’m often kiddingly ridiculed at the office for my lack of expertise. Recently, when I had an issue with an Excel spreadsheet, I contacted one of my sons to guide me through the problem.

I remember spending a fortune for an IBM computer several years ago. It came with two floppy discs and I proudly upgraded to an Amber monitor. It was the beginning of a trend.
Every time I have upgraded hardware or installed new software, no matter how easy the experts claimed it was to install, I’ve had issues. That being said, I still learned to embrace technology early in my career.

New technology is expensive, but as it rapidly evolves the price goes down. A few decades ago you could pay upwards of $100 for a desktop calculator. Today, they fit in your shirt pocket, and if you don’t want to pay a few dollars, your local insurance guy probably gives them away.

Just last week I wrote about cell phones and the add-on taxes that seem to keep creeping up. Today, I want to make my clients and readers aware of a relatively new technology that could be of great benefit.

As a financial advisor, many of my clients are in or near retirement. Not surprisingly, with today’s healthcare advances, quite a few of them are caring for an elderly parent. And believe me, shouldering both the financial and health care responsibilities of an elderly loved one is no easy task.
Fortunately, recent technological advances have made it much easier to keep track of your elderly loved ones. I’m not talking about something as “outdated” as putting an online camera on grandma’s fireplace mantel. It’s far more sophisticated than that.

You may or may not have heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), but you probably have noticed that a large segment of our population is wearing rubber wristbands to keep track of their steps every day.
In fact, many people compete against one another and actually have the daily results posted online for all the competitors to review. Some of these wristbands not only count steps, but also have emergency features that are activated in the event of a fall and are programmed to contact loved ones or even call for an ambulance.

In the not too distant future, I believe there will be a lot of wearable technology that will help you care for and monitor your loved ones without invading their personal space. Technology already exists to monitor pulse rate and blood pressure. GPS tracking systems are available to help in case a loved one becomes disoriented. And experts estimate that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion interconnected objects by 2020.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that, as the technology improves, prices will ultimately decrease. Initial prices, that is. As with home alarms and cell phones you’ll need to factor in monthly fees to determine the actual overall cost.

Healthcare planning is an integral part of financial planning. Helping aging loved ones with their healthcare issues is a huge responsibility, but new — and affordable — technology coming onto the market can help provide peace of mind; For your elderly loved ones and for you

Monday, December 7, 2015

Holiday shopping can be very taxing

This is the time of year when people shop for gifts in the malls, downtown shopping districts and on the Internet.  They’re in spending mode, searching for the perfect gift for everyone on their list. 

Many economists are forecasting deep discounts for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is that it there will be a lot of bargains out there.  I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that a good many gift packages are going to contain cell phones.  Or as I like to call them, outboard brains. 

As with everything else in our great nation, there are taxes on cell phones.  Lots of them.  Taxes that I guess most people are unaware of, and if they even were, would likely not understand them without doing some research. 

Frequent travelers have become accustomed to unanticipated taxes.  The kind you see at airports and hotels, for example.  You aren’t aware of them until you get to the airport or check out of the hotel. 

In the financial services industry, I have to pay a licensing fee to each state where I’m licensed.  The licensing fees in most states are generally around $50 to $100.  And for the most part I have no objection to such fees.  I consider them to be reasonable.  

The state of Tennessee, however, is an exception.  For the privilege of buying a $50 state license, you have to pay a Tennessee privilege tax.  That means ponying up $500.  Every year.

The good news for Michigan residents is that, although we pay plenty of taxes on cell phones, thirty-six other states pay more.  We rank thirty-seventh nationally, one of those rare circumstances where being near the bottom of the list is a good thing.

In total, the combined tax rate comes to 14.74 percent.  The breakdown is as follows: six percent sales tax; state wireless 911 comes in at .41 percent; county wireless is 1.45 percent; the Intrastate switched toll restructuring statement -- whatever that is -- is a mere .43 percent; and the Federal Universal Service Fund comes to a whopping 6.46 percent.  Check my math, but I’ve got the grand total at 14.74 percent. 

If fifteen percent appears to be somewhat excessive, be thankful you don’t live in the state of Washington.  The tax there is more than 25 percent.

I don’t want to put a damper on giving cell phones as a gift, but they do cost more to own than just the advertised price.  And while I don’t want to be a Scrooge either, I do want to point out that there’s a fine line between being generous and putting your finances at risk.  Not to mention the gift recipient’s finances.

Cell phones and tablets are certainly a part of our nation’s landscape.  But, they’re not inexpensive.  And with all the taxes factored in, they just might be more than you initially realize. 

According to Investor’s Business Daily, consumers with cell phones are paying $5.8 billion in excessive state and local taxes, and another $5 billion goes to Uncle Sam.  That’s a lot of money for those “little” items that many don’t even notice on their bill. 

If you do look, don’t be surprised to see even more taxes added in the very near future.