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New & Noteworthy

DO YOU KNOW THE TAX LINGO?

1.17.2023

April 18 is fast approaching, and we know that tax time can sometimes feel like visiting a foreign country, complete with its own language.  You'll likely encounter the following tax terms, so we've translated them into plain English to hopefully alleviate confusion and frustration.


The 1040: This is the form you'll fill out to help determine how much you owe (or if you'll get a refund).  


Tax Filing Status: This is your current living situation; there are five different options:

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Head of household
  • Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child

Different tax rates apply to each filing status.  Your tax professional can help you determine the correct filing status for your situation.

Taxable Income: Simply put, this is the amount of your income, after deductions, that is subject to income tax.  Your taxable income includes both earned income (such as paychecks) and unearned income (such as interest and capital gains). 

Tax Deduction: The IRS allows taxpayers to take certain deductions that reduce taxable income, which helps determine the amount of taxes owed.  Examples of tax deductions include:  some student loan interest, contributions to a traditional IRA, and contributions to a health savings account, up to annual limits.

Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). Your AGI is your taxable income.  It's "adjusted" because it refers to your entire income (including salary, wages, tips, capital gains, alimony received, interest and dividends, etc.) minus allowable deductions (qualified retirement contributions, some healthcare costs, some interest payments, some business expenses, etc.).  The number you're left with is your AGI.  It's important to note, many of the adjustments allowed for AGI are specific for particular circumstances that may not apply to everyone.

Standard Deduction:  This is a dollar amount determined by the IRS based on a variety of factors like age, disability, filing status, and dependent status.  If you choose to take the standard deduction, you subtract that amount from your AGI to reduce the amount of taxes owed.  This is often the easiest approach to calculating your taxable income because it's one set amount you're allowed to deduct, instead of adding up lots of different types of deductions.

Itemized Deduction:  This is the alternative to taking the standard deduction.  To itemize deductions, you keep track of allowable expenses such as medical expenses, state, local and property taxes, mortgage interest, charitable contributions, etc., and use them to offset your income and reduce your AGI.  Choose this option when your allowed deductible expenses add up to more than the standard deduction amount.  In recent years, most people have taken the standard deduction due to changes in calculations following the passage of The Tax Cuts and Job Act in 2017.  Remember:  you either pick the standard deduction` or itemize your deductions (you can't do both).  Your tax professional can help you decide which approach makes the most sense for you.

Tax Credits:  Credits directly reduce the amount of your tax bill.  This is different from deductions, which lower the amount of income on which you are taxed.  Common tax credits include those associated with child-care expenses, paying for higher education, and low-income filers.  If you're eligible for a tax credit that's greater than the amount of taxes you owe, you get a refund.

Tax Scams:  Scammers impersonating IRS officials may contact you via phone, email, text, or social media asking for personal finance information.  NOTE: The IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers via email, text, or phone.  If you are unsure about a communication you've received, contact us or your tax professional immediately for help sorting it out.

Voluntary Compliance:  This term simply means that everyone who earns more than a very minimal amount (determined by the IRS each year) is required to file honest and accurate tax returns or risk penalties.  If you need more time beyond April 18 to file your tax return, you can file for a six-month extension. 

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM CYBER CRIME

11.15.2022

The internet makes it possible for many of us to work from home, to shop, attend religious service and stay connected with family and friends. Unfortunately, those conveniences come with risk and cyber criminals are upping their game. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself from hacks, scams, and malware.

Look twice before you click. Cyber criminals will try to get you to act quickly through subject lines and messaging; pause to consider before opening an unexpected email attachment. Most importantly, NEVER click on a link asking you to enter your password or change your password. Always go directly to the site to enter your password or call the company directly if there appears to be a problem.

Use strong passwords. Strong passwords are fairly long and use a combination of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. Don’t keep a list of passwords anywhere near your device and if you keep a list, don’t spell out your password. Instead, record a hint, followed by the numbers and symbols, ideally unique to each site. Another option is to consider purchasing a password management system.

Add Two-Factor Authentication. For sensitive sites, such as financial accounts, add two-factor identification. After signing in, the institution will either text, call, or email a one-time code.

Stay current. Google your name and delete old, unused accounts that come up. Clear your browser history periodically and delete apps you no longer use. Use the latest security software, web browser, and operating systems. Regularly check for updates and sign up for automatic updates when you can.

Stay independent. When signing up for a new service or app, pass up the offer to sign in using Facebook or your Google account, which exposes the data in your accounts. You can manage connected accounts on social sites and disconnect any you no longer want to have connected.

It’s important to stay vigilant about securing your financial and personal information. Please feel free to send these tips along to anyone that may benefit.

WHY YOU SHOULD SET-UP YOUR ONLINE SOCIAL SECURITY ACCOUNT

10.18.2022

For many of us, Social Security plays an important part in our financial plans for retirement or later stage of life. Even if you’re years away from applying for benefits, there are good reasons to set up your online Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Ensure Accurate Reporting. You can go online to ensure there aren’t any gaps in your earnings. The amount you receive from Social Security is based on how much you’ve earned over your working career. Many people change jobs frequently, increasing the possibility an employer will fail to report their earnings, use the wrong Social Security number, or use an incorrect name. If there is a mistake, you’ll want to fix it as soon as possible, so you aren’t shortchanged when you apply for benefits.

Protect Against Fraud. By setting up an online Social Security account, you’ll prevent anyone else from doing so. Much like income tax fraud, identity thieves sometimes set  up Social Security accounts and file for benefits using other people’s names. You don’t want to wait until you retire to find someone else is collecting your hard-earned benefits. The most effective way to prevent that is by creating your own account.

Access to Documents. You can easily replace a lost or stolen Social Security card – for free. With an online account, there’s no need to sit through traffic to get to your local office and wait in line for a new card. You can also download a printable copy of your Social Security 1099/Benefit Statement, the tax form the Social Security Administration mails each year in January. No need to wait.

Maintain Account. If you already receive Social Security, you can still benefit from having an online account. You can set up or change direct deposit or address information and get a benefit verification letter, which you may need if you’re applying for a loan. You’ll also be able to check the status of your Social Security benefit application from anywhere you can safely log in to your account.

If you’re wondering about the role of Social Security benefits in your retirement plans, call our office. We can help you evaluate your financial plan to ensure you’re on track to work toward the retirement you envision.


PLEASE NOTE: When you link to any of the websites displayed within this website, you are leaving this website and assume total responsibility and risk for your use of the website you are linking to. We make no representation as to the completeness or accuracy of any information provided at these websites

THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH AN IRA BUT NOT A 401(k)

9.15.2022

At times, retirement decisions can be confusing and there is substantial information surrounding the investment vehicles that can be utilized to reach your retirement goals. Here's some information outlining a few of the differences between 401(k)s and IRAs. While both vehicles share some similarities such as tax-deferred retirement savings, IRA accounts have some benefits that 401(k) do not, here are a few:

Combine your RMDs. If you have multiple 401(k) accounts when you are 72 or older* and no longer working, you’ll need to take your RMDs from each 401(k). If you have multiple IRAs, you can combine the RMDs and take them from any single IRA account. (*or 72 if you reached that age before Jan. 1, 2020)

Take an early distribution. While it’s best to avoid using retirement savings for other purposes, when the unexpected occurs, being able to access them can give you options – even if you must pay income tax and a penalty for an early withdrawal. This option is guaranteed under the law with IRAs; whether you have this same ability with your 401(k) depends on your plan’s rules.

Use funds for qualified expenses. Although early withdrawals from pretax retirement accounts generally incur a penalty, there are legal exceptions for IRAs, including using funds for higher education expenses, paying medical premiums in the event of job loss or using up to $10,000 toward a first home purchase.

Make a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). If you are 72 or older, you may contribute up to $100,000 directly from your IRA account to a charity. Because the QCD is not counted as income, it may lower your tax bill more than if you take a distribution and make a separate donation. Plus, the QCD can offset part or all of your RMD. However, under the SECURE Act, IRA owners must reduce intended QCDs by any IRA contribution amounts made after age 70½.

More investment choices. Commonly, 401(k) plan sponsors limit investors to a few select investment options, some of which may be accompanied by high fees. In contrast, except for prohibited investments, such as life insurance or collectibles, choices are nearly limitless in an IRA.

If you have retirement funds sitting elsewhere and need help deciding whether to roll a 401(k) into an IRA or to consolidate retirement accounts, give us a call to discuss what would be the best option for you. We’re more than happy to answer any questions!


MISSING OUT ON MARKET RECOVERY

8.17.2022

Panic selling is not an investment strategy.

Investors who pull the emergency brake and bail out during a market decline almost always lock in a loss on their investments. And if they stay out of the markets, chances are good they’re going to miss the recovery, which further compounds any losses. Selling at a low – and then buying back when prices are higher – has never been a winning financial strategy.

While it is totally natural to be concerned about portfolio performance during declining markets, we can learn a lot about how we should (and shouldn’t) react by looking at history. This informative article illustrates the various bear market declines and recoveries over the past 60 years. What does each downturn have in common? A robust recovery.

While it can be painful to ride out the storm, historically the most pessimistic periods often make for good long-term buying opportunities. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but we encourage you to carefully consider all options before taking any action with your investments. Contact us for an in-person meeting or phone call – we always want to be sure you feel confident about your position today and in the future. We’re here for you.

USEFUL INFORMATION & LINKS RELATED TO COVID-19 4/21/2020

Overall State of Wisconsin COVID-19 Information:

https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/index.htm

Economic Impact Payments (Stimulus checks from IRS):

https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance claims should be made online if possible, and requirements have been relaxed. Many employers are currently hiring in order to fill gaps in delivery and retail services. To make a claim: https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/ui/

US Small Business Administration (SBA)

Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources

US Chamber of Commerce, Coronavirus Small Business Guide: https://www.uschamber.com/co/small-business-coronavirus

Financial Resources

If you are experiencing financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, assistance may be available. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension has a great list of information and resources here: https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/toughtimes/covid-19-financial-resources/

Wisconsin Hospital Association Updates

The Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center collaborated with Department of Health Services to create a dynamic dashboard to keep people updated on situational awareness. You can find the link here: https://www.wha.org/Covid-19Update

Support Local Food Establishments

Wisconsin State Representative Tyler August continues to update a list of local dining options for takeout and delivery. Please join us in supporting these businesses in their time of need.

View the list here:
http://legis.wisconsin.gov/assembly/32/august/covid-19/local-dining-options/

TAX DEADLINE & THE CARES ACT 3/30/2020

Recently, the Federal government has taken several actions in response to the Coronavirus crisis. On March 27, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which impacts Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) for 2020 and provides financial relief for Americans. The IRS also made changes to tax filing deadlines.

Here are the items of which we want to make you aware:

  • --Both Federal and State of Wisconsin tax filing deadlines: July 15, 2020
  • --Deadline for making 2019 Traditional and Roth IRA contributions: July 15, 2020
  • --2020 RMDs waived
  • --Stimulus checks will be issued for those who are current with taxes through 2018. You can use this calculator to determine how much you will be receiving: https://www.omnicalculator.com/finance/stimulus-payment

If you are experiencing financial hardship, there are now ways to access retirement account funds without penalties. Please consult with us if needed to discuss these options.

As always, please call with any questions or concerns

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THE CORONAVIRUS CONTRACTION  3/18/2020

Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust Portfolios, explains “The Coronavirus Contraction” and the current outlook for recovery in the following brief video.   We hope you find his pragmatism helpful as we navigate continued market volatility.

See the video here: The Coronavirus Contraction

VISUALIZING THE HISTORY OF PANDEMICS 3/14/2020

Visual Capitalist published an interesting graphic on the history of pandemics, from the Antonine Plague to COVID-19, ranked by their impact on human life. 

During these uncertain times, we feel it is helpful to have perspective on the impact and scale of these types of global issues.

See the graphic and read more here:

https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/

CORONAVIRUS: PERSPECTIVES ON THE MARKET, ECONOMY, AND THE VIRUS ITSELF 3/12/2020

We wanted to let you know that we are closely following the financial markets across the globe and the continued volatility that is impacting investor confidence. Global markets have been bracing for uncertainty as the spread of COVID-19 leads to reduced economic activity.

At this moment, it’s impossible to forecast whether a recession will occur as a result of COVID-19 and the impact on the global economy. Outbreaks are eventually contained, and recessions are part of market cycles. The most important thing to keep in mind is not to overreact to the headline news which can often create unnecessary panic. Markets have proven resilient over time and it’s important to maintain discipline and focus on your long-term goals.

While there are uncertainties at this time, we feel that looking at data can help us gain perspective during these historically significant times.

For example, according to Morningstar, three of the five market records occurred within the last two months:

Record high close - February 12, 2020, the Dow closes at 29,551.42 points.

Biggest one-day point gain - March 2, 2020, the Dow gains 1,294 points.

Biggest one-day percentage gain - March 15, 1933, the Dow closes up 15.34%.

Biggest one-day point loss - March 9, 2020, the Dow closes down 2,013.76 points.

Biggest one-day percentage loss - October 19, 1987, the Dow closes down 22.61%.

Unfortunately, the best and worst days are usually stacked on top of each other, which is why we feel it is important to stay invested. Selling off in an effort to avoid the worst days could easily mean missing the best days and catching recovery. Remember, investing is a long-term endeavor.

Headlines would have us believe we are headed for a repeat of 2008. The following excerpts appeared in USA Today (3/11/2020) and are a good reminder that our economy and the consumer are on much more solid footing now than at the onset of the Great Recession:

“Take a breath. While the toll the infection ultimately takes on the nation isn’t clear, the economic upheaval caused by the outbreak will likely not be nearly as damaging or long-lasting as the historic downturn of 2007-09.

For one thing, the 2008 financial crisis and recession resulted from years of deeply rooted weak spots in the economy. That’s not the case now.

The economy’s major players – consumers, businesses and lenders – are much  better positioned to withstand the blows and bounce back.”

 For the full article, which outlines the specific differences between today and 2008 in household debt, job losses, the Fed, corporate health, banking regulation, and more, follow this link:

USA Today: It may feel like 2008 all over again, but here’s how the coronavirus crisis is different.

The bottom line is that we've had severe flus before without a recession and when we did have a downturn, the economy bounced back very quickly. The stock market is pricing in a steep drop in profits, which is certainly possible. A strong recovery, which we expect, will reverse this as it has in the past.

Finally, probably the best perspective we’ve heard was offered by Michael Osterholm, an American public health scientist and biosecurity and infectious disease expert. It’s a long discussion, but we feel its worth the time to listen and learn. After all, knowledge is power:

Michael Osterhom, Joe Rogan Experience #1439

Please don’t hesitate to call us to discuss your questions or concerns. We are here to help you stay on track with your long-term goals. If you do not need to pull large lump sums at this time, it is probably best to wait until we begin to see recovery. Please let us know if that is the case so we can help you plan.

Above all, please stay healthy.

Best,

Tom, Sarah, Dave & Jane

Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal. No investment strategy can guarantee a profit or protect against loss in periods of declining values. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

STOCK MARKET CORRECTIONS:  HOW LONG CAN THEY LAST AND HOW BAD CAN THEY GET? 3/2/2020

With the stock market sliding lower this week, all the talk about a so-called "correction" can cause nervousness and confusion.

A correction is a friendly-sounding term to describe when a major stock market index like the Standard & Poor's 500 falls 10% or more from a recent closing high. The recent losses on Wall Street pushed all three benchmarks into correction territory during trading on Thursday.

The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled as much as 1200 points, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite both dropped more than 2%. 

As of the market close on Friday, it took just eight calendar days for the broad indexes to meet that 10% threshold, the fastest such drop since World War II, according to Morningstar.

The recent slide could cause more pain. Since a correction is a drop between 10 and 19.99%, there's always a chance we're only about halfway through this recent scare. The market fell more than 19 percent in corrections in 2018, 2011, 1998 and the 1976-78 period, Morningstar data shows.

But even so-called "garden variety" corrections can cause fear levels to spike.

The good news? Not every correction turns into a more feared bear market, a 20% or higher drop. The average bear since 1929 has sliced nearly 40% off the S&P 500.

Most bear markets coincide with a recession. In the 23 corrections since World War II the average price drop for the S&P 500 has been 14 percent, according to data from CFRA. They normally last around 4.4 months.

In short, we may not be in the clear just yet. Political uncertainty, combined with concerns about the coronavirus, could lead to continued volatility in the markets. However, we believe it’s best to stay invested and focus on long-term goals while we wait for recovery.

Please give us a call if you have questions or want to discuss your portfolio.

CORONAVIRUS AND THE MARKET 2/26/2020

Some of you might be wondering if you should be worried about your investments while we continue to see Coronavirus in the headlines.  We understand feelings of uncertainty during market volatility can be unnerving.

We want to share with you the perspective of Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust, along with a couple of charts that show the effects epidemics have had on the market.  (Links below.)  We do not take market fluctuations lightly, however, hearing insight from the experts and looking at data reminds us volatility is to be expected when we are invested for the long run.

Please do not hesitate to call or email us with questions.  We are happy to review your accounts or discuss your concerns at any time.

Time to Fear the Coronavirus?

Epidemics and Stock Market Performance

SECURE ACT & TAXES 12/21/2019

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the SECURE Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement). Some components of the law include increasing RMD to age 72, eliminating the maximum age for IRA contributions, and eliminating Stretch IRAs.

We’ll discuss implications of the new legislation for you at our tax-time reviews. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions or to chat sooner. If you have had your taxes done with us before, Dave will soon email you the checklist for organizing tax requirements. Once you have all your documents ready, please call us at the office and Jane will help you schedule an appointment.

With an election just around the corner, we anticipate increasing volatility as November nears. For this reason, we encourage you to consider taking your RMDs in the first quarter if possible. Give us a call to discuss!

MARKET VOLATILITY 8/16/2019

Recent market volatility: Keep Calm and Carry On

If you’re following the news, you know that financial markets across the globe have experienced increased volatility in recent weeks from international trade concerns, protests in Hong Kong, and political uncertainty in countries like Italy, Argentina and the United Kingdom. 

The volatility was exacerbated this week largely due to the inverted yield curve - which is when certain intermediate and long-term Treasuries yield less than short-term Treasuries.  In this case, the concern was raised due to the yield on two-year Treasury notes being slightly higher than that of the 10-year Treasury note.

As your financial advisors, we appreciate how unnerving it can be to watch this type of volatility, especially for retired clients.  Then, we top it off with 24-hour media coverage (made for traders and not investors).  While the headlines may spark fear about your investments, it’s important to keep in mind that volatility is a natural and expected element of investing. It can seem like the markets have been tumbling for months, when actually, the S&P 500 sits just about 5% lower than its record high.

While we know this is uncomfortable and it doesn't feel good to see potentially lower account balances, the best way to manage negative worries about market declines is to maintain your long-term outlook, with a diversified portfolio across multiple asset classes. History shows us that the market generally does recover from these dips. As always, we are closely monitoring market conditions, and we're here to help with perspective or reassurance if you want to discuss your portfolio or any other concerns.