Begin with Personal Financial Ratios

In his ground breaking self-help book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey presents an approach to being effective by attaining goals and aligning oneself to “true north” principles of character. Habit two teaches “Begin with the End in Mind.” Whenever I teach students or clients the importance of personal financial ratios, I always make sure that I share this principle. The personal financial ratios are a goal to strive toward and a goal to be obtained.

The first step in the process is to create what is commonly referred to as a budget. Susan Tillery, CPA / PFS, CFP® has coined the phrase “spending plan.” I find this title to be very empowering: it emphasizes choice in spending decisions. Once the spending plan is completed it should be reviewed in light of the following financial ratios. [Read more…]

A Voice for Moderation

“In life,” said he, “these were so squint of mind

  As in the handling of their wealth to use

No moderation – none, in either kind.

—The Comedy of Dante Alighieri, L’Inferno,

In his tour of Hell, Dante confronts those who have been condemned for the sin of greed; and in particular, greed with regards to wealth. He describes the greedy as being closed minded and having no moderation. It does seem that wealth has that effect on many.

One of the basics of personal financial planning is moderation on both the planner and the client’s part. Some synonyms for moderation are: self-restraint, self-discipline and self-control. In recent years, as I have reviewed the work of other personal financial planners, I have seen a lack of moderation. [Read more…]

The Buck Stops Here!

The Recession of 2007 – 2009 generated a great deal of blame and finger pointing. In my mind I visualize the recession as a “multi-car accident” with everyone fleeing the scene and pointing their fingers at the “other guy” as the responsible party. No one hung around to be accountable.

Actually in U.S. history, no one is more accountable than President Harry S. Truman, the haberdasher from Independence, Missouri. He inherited the “multi-car accident,” World War II, the Cold War, and global inflation. But on his desk was a reminder of a strong truth: “The Buck Stops Here.” Many do not know that prisoners in the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma, made this sign. On the reverse side of the sign are the words “I’m From Missouri.” [Read more…]

Unbridled Optimism!

I must confess I am an unbridled optimist. I have always been the glass runneth over type, as opposed to a half full or half empty—kind of person. At social events, I will not shy away from the “doom and gloomers.” I usually confront them with a positive comment. The conversation goes something like this: “I can’t wait till so and so is out of office because they are ruining the country.”

My response is, “the only way to ruin a country is for its citizens to abandon it.” William James said, “Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer felt that “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”

Here is more good news to confront the “naysayers.” The IRS has just released the “Fall 2013 Statistics of Income Bulletin.” And the news is good—go figure. For tax year 2011, taxpayers filed 145.4 million individual income tax returns. This is an increase of 1.7 percent from tax year 2010. Even better, the adjusted gross income reported on these returns is up 3.5 percent from the previous year. And the icing on the cake is taxable income for 2011 rose 4.4 percent. And knowing the taxpayers predilection for understating income and overstating expenses, I would say the news is even better.

So, has the U.S. government rescued it citizens? I would say, “No.” It’s the citizens of the United States that not only rescued themselves but saved the planet during 2007 – 2009. More particularly, it was the U.S. small business owner, who regardless of economic circumstance—famine, war, or recession—is able to make a living for themselves and their families.

If you are looking for optimism to begin the New Year, then look no further than your neighbor and all those who embrace the “can do” attitude of America. And the next time bad news is heralded at an event, share some good news. Automobile sales are up. Housing sales are up. We have a surplus of oil and we are about to export natural gas. Just being an American is cause for optimism.

Think Before You Take That First Step!

I recently received the following question from an attorney and wanted to share it with you because it could help you as you work with and support your clients and friends who have the same situation. “‘My father asked me, ‘Now that I have turned 65, I plan to draw on your mother’s Social Security benefit and continue working. How do I go about doing this?’ My parents are both 65, are highly compensated ($300,000 plus), and plan to continue working into the foreseeable future. Is this a good idea?”

After I fell out of my chair, I asked the attorney where his father got this idea. He said an insurance agent trying to sell him Medicare Advantage suggested this as being a good strategy. Good is a very subjective word. Also, not knowing all of the facts and circumstances is problematic. However, more likely than not, this is not a good idea. Claiming a Social Security retirement benefit sooner than it is needed can be a costly mistake. The mistakes in this scenario are found by looking at the Social Security rules, the income tax rules; as well as, general principles for retirement planning. [Read more…]

A Gift You Do Not Want to Unwrap

I recently received the following question from a Certified Public Accountant. It was a question posed to him by a client in their year-end planning meeting.

“We were reviewing our life insurance needs, and the insurance agent suggested that we consider investing more of our reserves into a life insurance contract. Presently, we have $100,000 invested with Fidelity. The insurance agent’s argument was: one, investing in a life insurance contract would guarantee at least a 1% return even during bad market years (maximum earnings capped at 13.5%); and two, you do not have to pay taxes when money is withdrawn from a life insurance contract. [Read more…]

Tis the Season . . .

December 31, 2013 is fast approaching and the deadline for making charitable gifts and receiving an income tax deduction is fast upon us. I often wonder who is giving and how much is being given. One source for such statistics is the National Philanthropic Trust.

Some of the numbers are encouraging, especially in light of the Recession of 2007 – 2009. The percentage of U.S. households which give to charity is 88%.  Charitable giving is up 3.9% which exceeds the consumer price index. Of total giving, the largest source is from individuals (73%), followed by foundations (14%), bequests (8%), and corporations (5%) [Yes, there are rounding errors—not my issue]. [Read more…]

It’s Almost “That” Time!

Well, it’s that time of year, and everyone is preparing their list of tax deductions in hopes that the jolly Internal Revenue Service will provide them with tax breaks. Between now and year-end I will be addressing year-end tax planning, and hopefully, filling everyone’s stockings with deductions.

A perennial question is the deductibility of legal fees. I have received a request from an attorney, whose primary practice is the sale of businesses.  He wrote:

“We have a client who has asked whether our legal expenses for Trust and Estate planning could be run through his company (he is the sole owner). I am curious as to the accounting basis for doing this deduction. I will obviously have the client double check any course of action with his CPA, but I’m curious as to your thoughts on this matter. Any help or advice you can offer would be very much appreciated.” [Read more…]

Follow the Money

Wisdom counts and appearances can be deceiving! For decades the phrase “Follow the money” had been attributed to the character Deep Throat in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book All The President’s Men. It had been reported that this phrase was whispered to reporter Bob Woodward by Deep Throat as a path to cut through the lies and deceptions, and to discover the truth about the Watergate scandal.

In 2012, the writers of the screenplay for All The President’s Men, Bob Woodward and William Goldman, admitted this phrase was not in the book and that it was never spoken by Deep Throat. Yet today “Follow the Money “continues to be misattributed to Deep Throat and the book.

[Read more…]

Major Tom to Ground Control!

“Once again, please check to make sure your seat belt is securely fastened, your seat back and tray table are in the full upright and locked position, and all carry-on luggage is placed completely underneath the seat in front of you.” At some point, everyone who travels by air has heard this familiar refrain. There’s even a feeling of comfort in this familiar routine of flight. But what if the next time the Emergency Briefing Public Announcement said, “Once we reach our cruising altitude we will engage the auto pilot and return to the cabin and begin our cabin service.”

I’m fairly certain fear would break into our “comfort bubble.” Feelings of unbelief and incredulity probably would surface and maybe even some anger. We might think, I’m paying for a service: air transportation. For this service I expect flight attendants in the cabin to provide safety and a snack. I also expect the flight crew to pilot the aircraft! These feelings and responses are entirely appropriate and natural, and yet . . . .

[Read more…]