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Feel More Confident About Your Retirement

by Mark S. Stegman, CFP®, Financial Advisor | CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM

It’s natural to have mixed emotions about retirement – it’s a huge life change that people spend most of their working life preparing for. While the thought of retirement is exciting, the options and advice available can sometimes seem overwhelming and complex. There are several simple things you can do if you’re feeling unprepared for your retirement years. Check out the following steps to help you get ready for this milestone.

1.  Determine your vision. One of the most enjoyable parts about planning for retirement is deciding how you’ll spend your time. Though you could just be looking forward to relaxing, you may also decide to move to a different area of the country, travel, volunteer or spend more time with family and friends. Your plans can always change, but creating a list of activities you may want to pursue is a valuable and fun part of the planning process.

2.  Start with the basics. Developing a written plan is the first important step, but before you get caught up in the numbers, determine what you will absolutely need to cover expenses that are truly essential. Include basics like groceries, mortgage payments, healthcare costs and other financial obligations. You may want to make a list of areas where you could cut back and reduce your expenses if you hit a financial roadblock in the future.

3.  Make your plans concrete. Many people get hung up on this step, as it can come with a tough reality check. To begin, calculate how much money you’ll need to cover your essentials over the course of a 30 year retirement, and then add discretionary expenses that accompany activities and lifestyle goals – such as travel and hobbies. Be honest with yourself and try to account for cost-of-living increases and rising healthcare costs in your projections. This will give you a rough estimate of how much “income” you’ll need in retirement to replace your paycheck and achieve your desired lifestyle. Then consider all the sources you can draw this income from – such as a 401(k), annuities or cash savings. Also consider breaking this amount down into smaller goals that you can more easily prioritize, manage and track.

4.  Protect your plan and your legacy. Ensure the beneficiary information on your accounts is up-to-date and that you have the right insurance and protection plans in place to safeguard your income and assets now – and for the long-term. Also begin thinking about the legacy you want to leave – to your family or to organizations that are important to you. Involve your loved ones in these conversations and clearly communicate your intentions and expectations.

5.  Track your progress. As with all goals, it’s important to set milestones, check-in and reflect as you go. Keep in mind that a little time and organization goes a long way. Set aside one day each month to sit down with your finances, and also consider meeting with a legal and financial professional annually. Even if your goals still seem far away or if you’ve experienced a setback, you won’t regret spending the extra time to review your progress. This also provides a good opportunity to make adjustments if your situation or plans for the future have changed.

Retirement planning can be a complicated, emotional and overwhelming process. Consider seeking objective advice from a professional financial advisor who can guide you through it and ensure you’re aware of all your options. It’s important to keep in mind that the surest way to feel confident about what’s to come is to do everything you can to prepare for it.

Brokerage, investment and financial advisory services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA and SIPC.  © 2014 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Managing Your Taxes in 2015

by Mark S. Stegman, CFP®, Financial Advisor | CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER TM

There’s one thing you can count on as we kick off a new year – changes to the tax code. While there are few major new laws affecting taxpayers in 2015, it is important to understand how any adjustments to tax rules or your income might affect your tax liability. It is a critical aspect of your overall financial plan and can help you avoid any surprises when you file your 2015 tax return next year.

Be aware that new laws can be implemented during the year. Congress has the ability to adjust tax laws and even do so retroactively. The tax code in place at the start of 2015 could be altered before year’s end, with those changes being made effective for the whole year.

Here are some important tax considerations for the New Year:

Get health insurance or pay
The individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act that took effect January 1, 2014 requires most individuals to obtain a qualifying level of health insurance or be subject to a fee. In 2015, the fee has increased to the higher of:
•    2% of your yearly household income (capped at a certain level); or
•    $325 per person ($162.50 for a child under 18), with a family maximum of $975.

If your employer provides health coverage, you do not have to purchase additional insurance on your own. Those who don’t have employer coverage can review options available from the health insurance exchanges. Visit for more information.

Take advantage of tax savings by deferring income
If you typically “max out” your workplace retirement plan contributions, you are able to adjust those deferral amounts to a higher level in 2015. The elective deferral limit for employees has risen to $18,000, $500 more than in 2014. Those 50 and older can make an additional $6,000 in contributions ($500 more than 2014) to their 401(k), 403(b) or federal government Thrift Savings Plan. Remember that for every dollar of income you defer into your retirement plan on a pre-tax basis, you reduce your current tax liability.

Pay attention to a new limit on IRA rollovers
IRA contribution limits remain the same for 2015, but there is an important rule change for IRAs. Now, tax laws allow only one rollover from an IRA to a different IRA in a 12-month period. The “one rollover per year” limit applies in circumstances where you withdraw money from an IRA, but then roll it to another IRA within 60 days to avoid any current tax or penalty consequences. Direct transfers from an IRA with one trustee to an IRA with another can happen as often as you wish. Unless it is absolutely necessary, you want to avoid taking IRA distributions prior to age 59-1/2 to eliminate the risk of incurring a penalty. It’s best to talk with a tax professional before doing an indirect rollover to make sure you understand all the rules.

Account for inflation in tax rates and your income
Tax brackets are adjusted yearly for inflation. In 2015, the income thresholds for each bracket were raised by about 1.5%. The standard deduction amount (used if you don’t itemize deductions) and the personal exemption amount are also adjusted for inflation. It is important to be aware of how all of these factors might affect your tax liability. On the other side of the coin, if you receive a salary increase and/or bonus in 2015, it could impact your tax bill. Work with your tax advisor to help determine if the amount of tax withheld from each paycheck is sufficient to avoid an under withholding penalty.

Brokerage, investment and financial advisory services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA and SIPC.  © 2014 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Thinking About Retiring Early?

by Mark S. Stegman, CFP®, Financial Advisor | CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM Continue Reading

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Tips for Grandparents about Giving

Mark S. Stegman, CFP®, Financial Advisor | CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM

If you enjoy supporting your grandchildren financially – or if this is one of your goals – you’re not alone. Eighty-four percent of seniors say that creating a financially secure life for themselves and their family is an important goal.

Yet, deciding how to best help your grandchildren can be a struggle, especially if you share some of the same financial concerns as your peers.  When evaluating how much financial support to provide, consider the following:

•  Give only what you can afford. Your own financial security should be your first priority. Since there is no way to know with any certainty how long you’ll live, how the market will perform or how inflation may impact your purchasing power, make sure that you gift within your means. Doing so will help ensure your generosity today doesn’t create a financial hardship down the road.

•  Give equally. To help prevent family conflict and avoid damaging relationships, give equally to your grandchildren to the best of your ability. If you need to give more to help one of them through a rough patch, consider adjusting your will to even things out and clearly communicate your intentions to everyone involved.

•  Clarify whether you’re making a loan or giving a gift. If you’re giving a gift, familiarize yourself with federal tax rules, which are based on the calendar year. For example, in 2014 you can give up to $14,000 to each of your children and grandchildren before the federal gift tax is applied. Also, be sure the recipient knows it’s a gift to alleviate any uncertainty about whether they’re required to pay you back.

If you are loaning money to a grandchild, be very specific about the terms and repayment, and make sure you have a written document that both parties sign and date.

•  Discuss your intentions. Only 61 percent of seniors say they regularly discuss money and finances with their family. If you would like to help support your grandchildren or save for their future goals like college or a down payment on a home, be sure to communicate this with their parents.

•  Set appropriate boundaries. Even if you want to help your grandchildren financially, depending on their age, it may not be appropriate to do so. Keep in mind the smart and sometimes tough financial lessons you learned, and the pride that came with successfully overcoming challenges.

If you want to provide financial support to a family member, but haven’t incorporated it into your overall financial plan, consider consulting a financial professional. He or she can help you evaluate your financial needs and goals and create a strategy. A clear and realistic understanding of your own financial picture can help you identify how much you can comfortably give, as well as the most tax-efficient and effective way to go about it.

Brokerage, investment and financial advisory services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA and SIPC.  © 2013 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Shop Online with Confidence

Mark S. Stegman, CFP®, Financial Advisor | CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM

The holiday season is fast approaching, and with all of the planning, celebrations, family dinners, and, of course gift shopping, there’s no shortage of things to do. Saving time and money throughout the holidays is a smart strategy and will help make the season more enjoyable. When it comes to shopping, the key is to make sure you shop safely and securely, especially when buying gifts online. Customers must be hyper vigilant about fraud, identity theft and other security risks. Here are several tips to remember before sharing your credit card and personal information with any online retailer.

1.  Shop with retailers you know. Internet-savvy hackers can attempt to confuse online shoppers by creating look-alike websites that lead you to “purchase” screens that request your financial information. When shopping online, make sure you’re on an authentic site.

2.  Pay for purchases on secure web sites. Never make a purchase until you confirm that the online retailer you’re doing business with uses secure socket layer (SSL) encryption. Encryption technology transfers information between computers, scrambling the information you provide, such as your credit card number, in order to prevent computer hackers from intercepting it as it travels to the retailer’s system. If the site begins with HTTPS:// (instead of the normal web prefix HTTP://), it has SSL encryption.

3.  Avoid email links to offers that seem “too good to be true.” Every day email spammers send millions of phishing emails offering free or discounted products and services. Phishing emails typically include several clickable links that may take you to a dummy website or ask you for personal information such as confirming your email address or credit card number. Don’t click links in an email from anyone you don’t know and never provide personal information in an email response.

4.  Pay with your credit card, not a debit card. Debit cards are a convenient option for shoppers who are on a budget as it prevents racking up a large credit bill. Making online purchases with a credit card means you’re protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. If a transaction goes wrong, you have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can even withhold payments during a credit investigation.

5.  Scrutinize your monthly statements. If you make many holiday purchases on a credit card, take extra time to review your statement when it arrives to ensure you don’t pay for purchases you never made. If you do notice any unusual charges, contact your credit card company immediately.

With a little patience and knowledge, you can have a secure online shopping experience this holiday season. Consider meeting with a financial advisor who can help you manage your household budget during the holiday season and ensure that all of your financial accounts are secure.

Brokerage, investment and financial advisory services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA and SIPC.  © 2013 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Boost Your Retirement Confidence

Mark S. Stegman, CFP®, Financial Advisor | CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM

Recent research reveals many contradictions in the way Americans are thinking about and preparing for their retirement. Not surprising is the fact that the vast majority of people nearing retirement want to be happy and healthy during their golden years. Yet many feel uncertain about affording the things they need and want in retirement, though they aren’t necessarily taking the steps to help secure a more confident retirement.

Confidence and preparation go hand-in-hand. Studies show that those who have taken the following five actions are significantly more likely to say they feel confident about affording the essential expenses in retirement.

1.    Create a plan to cover essential expenses with guaranteed income sources, such as a CD, Social Security or an annuity. Determining this can be challenging, but it can also be very beneficial. You can begin thinking about this, even if you haven’t yet reached your savings goals.

2.    Have a written financial plan. Creating and maintaining a document with a plan for how you will fund your short and long-term goals is important at any stage of your life, but especially as you near retirement. Start by putting your debts, assets, savings and lifestyle goals down on paper and decide how you’ll fund each goal after you’ve left the workforce. Then come up with a savings strategy based on when you plan to retire and how much you’d like to save before then.

3.    Factor inflation into retirement planning. The cost of maintaining your lifestyle may increase as the rate of inflation rises over time. The loss of purchasing power is a real risk, but understanding how it may impact your retirement income is crucial so that you can hedge against it. Consider working with a financial professional who can help you calculate possible inflation.

4.    Have emergency cash on hand equal to six months of living expenses. This is a key part of a financial plan at any age, but an unexpected event such as divorce, job loss or disability can be especially devastating to your finances as you near retirement.

5.    Calculate how much annual income assets will produce in retirement. This step can be complex, but it can also be helpful in determining how much income you will have to fund your retirement as time goes by. Having an accurate picture of the income your assets may produce can also help you create an annual budget for your retirement.

While some of these actions may be easier said than done, understanding the steps to a more confident retirement is a crucial first step in itself. If you are nearing retirement and haven’t done several of these things, consider choosing one or two to focus on. Proper preparation can lead to increased financial confidence now and during your golden years.

Brokerage, investment and financial advisory services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA and SIPC.  © 2013 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

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