Money Talks Blog by Oxford Planning Group

At Oxford Planning Group we hope you will be amazed by a unique experience. In our two blogs we will include periodic information and viewpoints that we hope you will find interesting. Seasoned Savers is geared towards financially experienced individuals. OPG Basics is aimed towards younger generations just starting out.

We welcome your thoughts and ideas, if you'd like to learn more about any specific area, send us an email at kirsten@oxfordplanning.com

Happy New Year 2020!

It’s that time of year again where everyone is making New Year’s resolutions and setting goals for the year ahead.  We all know that many new years resolutions get forgotten very quickly. 

At Oxford Planning Group, we are here as your partner to help you achieve your financial goals throughout the year and into the future.  We help keep things simple, organized and up to date.  As you begin the year, it’s a great time for a “Financial Check Up” or even a “Second Opinion” about your current situation.  If you’re a current client, don’t forget to keep us up to date on any changes you have and update us on any new goals.  If you are not a client yet and do not work with an advisor, we recommend our “Financial Check Up” service.  This will give you an idea of areas you need to be focusing on and possible solutions Oxford Planning may be able to help with. If you are not a client yet, and currently work with an advisor, our “Second Opinion” service gives you a great chance to spot check your current situation and to gauge whether you are headed in the right direction.  Either way, we welcome the opportunity to help. 

Happy New Year and thank you to our friends, families and clients for all your continued trust in Oxford Planning Group, LLC.

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Take Care of Yourself First!

It’s the holiday season and hopefully there is a lot of fun, family, friendship, festivity and general good times too be had by all.  It’s also a very busy time of year.  There are demands on our calendars, our wallets and pocketbooks, our diets and much more.

Anyone that’s taken a flight on an airplane has heard the instruction about taking care of your own oxygen mask first before helping others next to you.  Well, at this busy time of year it’s a great reminder.

You might wonder what this has to do with financial planning.  Well, it has a lot in common. 

During the holidays, we’re bombarded by constant advertising about the latest greatest device, bobble or food product we all need.  The advertisements put pressure on us to believe that we need these things to keep up with everyone around us, to be the cool people and to generally keep up with each other. We are also overwhelmed with social events that can take up a lot of time and money as well.  

Overall, it’s a time we get pulled in many directions and we often see budgets blown as well as diets and exercise go out the window.  Then, as the new year approaches, we see resolutions to lose weight, to get in shape, to stay on a budget and pay down debt, only to repeat every year.

Its really a time to take care of your self first. Have fun, but don’t forget the basics.

  • Make sure to get enough sleep
  • Follow a budget or set a spending goal ahead of time
  • Don’t over-commit (I think we all do this)
  • Try to squeeze in some exercise, even if only to keep up some momentum

The better we feel, the more likely we are to keep on track with our goals.  We often forget to take care of ourselves first.  We work long hours to allow time off on the holidays.  We are rushed, so we grab food that is easy, but maybe not healthy.  And- when it comes to spending, many studies show that we are more likely to be impulsive if we are not at our best and don’t have a goal in mind.

As always, we are here to help, simplify and to help keep your goals in priority.

Happy Holidays everyone -

Oxford Planning Group, LLC

 

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Long Term Care Considerations

 

As last month was Long Term Care Awareness Month, we wanted to re-share a previous post about long term care with some very relevant information. 

Do you have a plan for Long Term Care?

As we age, or in the event of a medical event, we may need Long Term Care.  Surprisingly, a large percentage of people have no plan for such an occurrence.  Additionally, many people believe that health insurance or government programs such as Medicare will pay for these needs.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Lack of planning in this area can be a major financial burden for families.  In addition, this lack of planning puts a heavy strain on community and social service programs that are not funded or designed for this purpose.   

In 2017, I was appointed by Governor Hogan to a Task Force on Long Term Care.  The purpose of the Task Force was to make recommendations for better education around Long Term Care.  Unfortunately, many families are unware of what may lie ahead for their Long Term Care needs.  Over 70% of all people will require some form of Long Term Care services in their lifetime.  This may be very short-term care or care lasting the remainder of their lives.  In order that families are better prepared for this, our task force was assigned to review education around the topic and to recommend ways to help people be more prepared.

It all starts with having a plan.  While there are many components of an overall financial plan, this blog focuses on planning for Long Term Care.  So, what’s in a plan? 

This article by Kiplinger “Why Families Need a Plan for Caregiving” discusses some considerations faced when planning for Long Term Care.

First, should you need any kind of care, where do you want to receive that care?  The answer is not the same for everyone, but many people would prefer to receive care in their homes initially.

Questions to consider:

  • Who will provide that care? 
  • Do you have a spouse, children or other relatives or friends that are willing to provide that care? 
  • Are they physically able to provide that care?  (It is one thing for a 200lb stronger man to care for a     more petite spouse, but the reverse may not be physically possible.) 
  • Is your home set up to allow you to be cared for in home? 
  • Do you live on more than one floor or a single floor? 
  • Are your bathrooms handicapped accessible?
  • Or would you prefer to live in a Long-Term Care Facility?

 

Next, it is important to review what financial resources will be available for Long Term Care. 

  • Long Term Care insurance may be an option, but not everyone will be able to afford this option.  Long Term Care Insurance, if you are eligible, may be purchased to cover part of or most of these care expenses. 
  • Without insurance to cover Long Term Care, there should still be a plan in place for who will care for a yourself or a relative.
  • Additionally, a plan should be in place to decide where that care will occur.  Will you stay in your home?  Will you move in with a relative?  Will you move to a Long-Term Care Facility?

We recommend beginning planning early.  This will give you the most time to begin saving ahead of time, to review insurance costs and eligibility and to have ongoing discussions with family members.  Whether you need Long Term Care or how much Long-Term Care you need will vary greatly from person to person.  In this case, averages don’t always serve you best.  If you are the person who needs full time Long Term Care, you will be grateful if you have a plan in place.

 

 

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Thanksgiving Traditions

It’s Almost Thanksgiving!

What are your traditions?

When I was growing up, we moved a lot as my dad was in the Air Force, and we always spent Thanksgiving with whoever was local.  Relatives, friends of the family, neighbors and friends of friends who had nowhere else to go.   Year to year we never knew who might be around the table.  It was always a fun time.  Lots of great food, interesting conversations, the Thanksgiving Day parade, Football, and lots of dishes.  There was always a good laugh too. 

It’s also a great time of year to do some end of year planning.  Have you made your charitable deductions for the year?  Are you required to make distributions form your IRA’s or other retirement accounts?  Should you be considering a Roth IRA or Roth conversion?  Have you escrowed adequate funds to make yearend tax payments and or retirement plan contributions?

We are here to help.  Our goal is to make sure you are taking advantage of the best and most tax efficient planning opportunities available to you.  Tax laws are continually changing, and we work hard to stay on top of these changes to help you best reach your goals.

So, as you’re enjoying your turkey, take time to enjoy the moment.  When you have recovered from all that food and your afternoon Thanksgiving naps, remember we are here to help with any year end planning you may have. 

Best Wishes to All from all of us at

Oxford Planning Group

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Thank You: Veteran's Day 2019

For the training performed, the time spent away from family and friends, for the sacrifices you have made,

THANK YOU to all the men and women that have served this country with honor and pride. 

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National Financial Planning Month – October 2019

National Financial Planning Month – October 2019

As it’s National Financial Planning Month, it’s a great time to talk about financial planning.

First, financial planning is for all ages. We advocate and wish more programs were available for High School students that teach financial planning basics. We also wish more college students took basic financial planning or concepts as part of their curriculum, regardless of their major. So, if you have children or you are in High School or College yourself, it's never too early to begin learning and planning.

While we recommend starting as early as possible, it’s also never too late to begin financial planning. When you look at where you are today, you cannot change the past, but you can plan for the future regardless of what age you are. 

We believe a financial plan is critical to planning for the future. Focusing purely on investments and investment returns can leave large gaps in your plan if it’s are not based on solid planning. Performance is only one factor to consider. Unless you know how much you will need to retire or for other goals, you have no way of knowing if your investments will be adequate.

Financial planning is a broad subject. Here are some of the specific areas that might apply to you:

  • Planning for expenses
  • Making sure adequate emergency reserves are set up
  • Understanding benefit plans and retirement plans from your employer
  • Planning for college
  • Paying off student loans or other debts
  • Debt consolidation and best ways to save and reduce debt
  • Retirement planning
  • Risk reduction/Making sure assets are titled correctly and that you have the proper insurance in place to protect risks you are exposed to
  • Investment planning & Allocation
  • Insurance planning/Risk reduction
  • Estate planning
  • Divorce/Widow/Widower
  • Inherited money or winnings from lottery (without proper planning most people lose new money within a few years)

 

Regardless of your stage of life or current focus - a solid financial plan is a key to success. We recommend working with a Certified Financial Planner ® practitioner as they have the detailed training and certification required to help you plan for the future.

At Oxford Planning Group, we are here to help you plan for your future so that you can focus on your family, enjoying your day to day life and worry less knowing your financial life is simplified and on track.

 

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Your 401K/Retirement Plan – Start Now

 

Happy Labor Day Weekend! We hope everyone has a fun and safe couple of days and of course we hope you get to enjoy some crabs.

Kick off the weekend with some information to help you set yourself up for a healthy retirement.

As a country we have a retirement crisis.  A large percentage of retirees will not have adequate savings to last throughout their retirement.  In a study performed by John Hancock, they stated "nearly two-thirds of retirement plan participants say their retirement savings are "not so good" or "could be better".  And only 18% are very confident in their ability to make the right financial decisions."  It is up to employers and employees to find better ways to utilize these 401k's and other retirement programs.

There are many opportunities to improve and or take better advantage of your 401k's as an employee and an employer.

What To Do as an Employer:

As an employer, there are many reasons to get motivated.  First, a high-quality retirement plan can be a strong boost to employee morale and culture.  A 401k as part of an overall benefits plan, when structured properly shows that the employer is looking out for employees.  Studies have shown consistently that money is not the only reason employees stay at firms.  They want good benefits, a great work environment, a great culture and to know people care about them.  A good 401k plan should include the ability to do regular or Roth contributions and ideally have a match.  How generous the match will be is dependent on economics, but regardless-  it shows good faith to employees and gives them some extra motivation to be in the plan. 

Motivation for Employees

As an employee, there are several ways that you can help to improve your 401k or better utilize your 401k plan. 

  • Are you taking advantage, as best possible, of your 401k or other retirement plan? 
  • Are you contributing all you can to the plan? 
  • Are you contributing enough to get all the employer matching offered? (Remember, that’s free money) Do your best to meet the max and don’t give up on that extra money.   

By being involved in the plan, you are helping it be more significant.  The more people in the plan, the lower the typical expenses and that will benefit you and everyone else.  Also, by helping your plan grow, it may be eligible for cheaper share classes of the funds offered in your plan.  Again, that’s a win for everyone including yourself.

Next, when you get a raise, your 401k should get a raise too. Put some of that extra earned money towards increasing your retirement plan contributions.  When it comes to the funds in your plan, make sure you are allocated appropriately for your age and risk tolerance.  If you are unsure how to do this, most good plans offer Target Date funds that approximately match your future retirement date.  These can be a great solution for anyone weary of doing their own allocation.

 

If you are an employer, I'd ask if you are offering the benefits listed below in your plan.  If you are an employee, review whether your plan offers these benefits and if not ask if they might be possible.

Auto Enrollment – greater than 90% of participants will utilize this.  It grows the plan, and it helps each employee save for retirement.

Auto Escalation – again greater than 90% of participants will do this.  It grows the plan size and increases individuals' contributions helping them reach retirement goals.

  • This is where your plan automatically raises your deposit each year by 1% up to a limit.  This helps you save more money automatically, will generally reflect higher deposits by all participants and as stated before, helps the plan size grow.  Additionally, none of these benefits are forced on an employee, and anyone that wants to decline them can do so. 

Roth 401k option – for some participants, this is the only easy way to do a Roth contribution.  For those in lower tax brackets it can add valuable deferral of retirement assets that later distribute tax free.

HSA plan – this is not actually part of the 401k plan, but if your employer has a high deductible health insurance plan, ask if this is an option.  This money defers for Health expenses and no Social Security, Medicare, Federal or State taxes are paid on these contributions.

 

In summary, get involved in your 401k.  If you are an employer, do your best to promote retirement and provide high quality benefits to help your employees save and grow.  It’s great for your employees and your firm.  If you are an employee, get involved in your 401k plan, take advantage of what is offered, and do your best to save.  Your retirement will depend on this commitment. If your plan does not have some of these benefits, ask your employer or plan representative if these benefits can be added.  If they hear from enough employees, they may just add these to your plan.

 

 

 

 

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Charitable Gift Planning

As we work toward the end of the year it's a great time to consider year end planning around gifting. 

Do you typically gift any money to charity? 

We generally give to charities because we have a desire to help others. These funds are used by various nonprofits to support many great programs for those in need.  We also realize that clients want to receive the best tax benefits possible for the gifts they make.  With the 2018 tax law changes enacted, there has been a nationwide reduction in giving due to a decrease in the tax benefit of these gifts for many donors.

So how can you still make donations to those organizations and get the best tax benefits as well? 

Due to a decrease in deductions available and the new Standard deduction amounts, many individuals and couples don’t have enough deductions to get above the standard deduction limits.  For 2019, the standard deduction for a single person is $12,200 and the standard deduction for a married couple is $24,400.

How can you best benefit with these new standard deduction amounts?  Let's say you want to make a $10,000 charitable gift each year for two years, but your other deductions don't give you enough to get above the $24,200 married standard deduction amount.  One way to increase your benefit would be to group your gifts.  Instead of making a 2019 donation, give your gift in early 2020 instead and make another similar gift at the end of 2020.  This way the charity still gets the same donation, but you get a better tax benefit.  See the below scenarios.

 

If you have reached age 70 ½, another way to give to charity is through Qualified Charitable Deductions (QCD) from your IRA.   Normally at age 70 ½, all individuals must begin making required minimum distributions (RMD) annually from their IRA accounts.  Using the benefit of QCD, you can make a direct donation to charity from your IRA account which also counts toward your required minimum distribution.  This allows you to use untaxed money to go to charity and helps reduce the amount of your RMD - especially helpful if you do not need the full amount.

These are two ways you might better benefit from donations made to charity. Both of these strategies require you to follow specific steps to ensure you are able to claim the benefit you desire.  We recommend working with your financial advisor to review these and other strategies that may benefit you. 

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Are You Prepared if You Become Disabled?

 

Most of us never think about the possibility of becoming disabled.  If you have had a friend or relative who has been through this or if you have had some prior personal experience in this area, you may be more familiar.

So, what does a disability look like?  It could be any illness or physical impairment that prevents you from working.  Most people have some sort of sick days and vacation available to them to cover short term events.  In those cases, the paychecks keep coming, you recover, and everything goes back to normal.

What if you had a stroke, a brain tumor, were in a severe accident (all things I've seen)?  After your sick leave and other paid time off is used up, what will happen next?  In most cases your employer will have to let you know that they can no longer pay you while you are recovering. 

What are your odds of a disabling injury or illness?

You probably insure your home, your car and other personal assets. But what about the income that provides those assets? You might be surprised to learn what poses the greatest threat to most people during the course of one year.

Consider these statistics:

1 out of 5 : That your auto will be damaged in an accident

1 out of 21 : That you will have a disabling accident

1 out of 96 : That you will have a fire

1 out of 114 : That you will die

                      Source: Field Guide 2001, National Safety Council, World Almanac

Did you know: During the course of your career, you are three and a half times more likely to be injured and need disability coverage then you are to die and need life insurance.

                       Source: Health Insurance Association of America, 2000

Did you know: Approximately 30% of all people ages 35 to 65 will suffer a disability for at least 90 days, and about one in seven can expect to become disabled for five years or more.

 

Conditions Causing Limitations                 Number in 1000's             Percent of All Conditions

  • Heart Disease                                                         7,932                                     13%
  • Deformities, orthopedic impairments               7,672                                     12.6%

              & disorders of the spine or back

  • Osteoarthritis and allied disorder                       5,048                                     8.3%
  • Orthopedic impairment of lower extremity      2,817                                     4.6%
  • Asthma                                                                   2,592                                     4.2%                     
  • Diabetes                                                                 2,569                                     4.2%
  • Mental Disorders                                                  2,035                                     3%
  • Cancer                                                                    1,342                                     2.2%

Source: Health Conditions and Impairments Causing Disability, US Department of Education. National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation (NIDRR). Abstract No.16, Table 2, September, 1996

Disability Insurance can be a life saver in the event of a disability 

In some cases, employers offer employer paid disability insurance that can cover up to two thirds of your salary depending on the policy paid for by the employer.  This benefit is great as it is employer paid and added value to you.  The downside is that the amount received is fully taxable, so you may be netting much less pay than you’re accustomed to.

The other type of disability policy is one you purchase individually.  The downside is you pay the premium, but the upside is that benefits receive are tax free and the policy goes where ever you go and is not limited by the current job you have.  If you have an employer paid policy, in most cases these are not portable, and you would lose the policy if you change jobs.

To make policies more affordable, it’s common that an individual would have to wait at least 90 days before receiving benefits.  So there needs to be a plan for that gap in coverage.  Also, some policies will limit benefits to a specific number of years and then other more expensive plans will provide coverage through retirement.  Its important to look at all the options and utilize adequate insurance as part of your overall plan.

While waiting for coverage (if available), your first line of defense should be emergency reserves.  We recommend between 4 – 8 months of emergency reserves be saved where possible.  This money will give you a little flexibility to pay a few bills while you figure out what's next.

When deciding whether you need an individual policy or whether to use your employer offered plan, (not all employers offer plans) it’s a good idea to think about the likelihood that you will be with one employer long term or whether you are likely to change jobs more often.  Sometimes it's beyond your control.  Layoffs and shut downs are beyond your control and sometimes just bad luck.  Overall affordability will play into your decision as well.  We recognize there are a lot of priorities competing for your money.

This blog is not meant to provide an exhaustive education on disability insurance, but to provide a baseline recognition of the need for a plan for disability.  Insurance planning is part of an overall financial plan and it's important to make sure you and your family are properly taken care of.

If you have further questions and want to lean more about your options, we are here to help.

 

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Tax Returns Completed – What Now?

By now, many of you have completed your 2018 Tax Returns or have filed for an extension.  Were you surprised by any results of your tax return?  Did you get a larger than expected refund?  Did you owe more taxes than expected?

Now’s the time to make sure you are in good shape for 2019.

Here are a few things to review:

Review all your retirement plan options.

                If you are in a higher tax bracket, maximizing your retirement plan deferrals may be a benefit to minimize taxes.  Also, make sure you are taking full advantage of any free money from employer matching.

Do you have an HSA option?

                HSA plans can be used to pay for medical expenses but can also grow tax deferred to help pay for medical expenses in retirement, unlike an FSA account. After age 65, withdrawals do not have to be used solely for medical expenses. The money deposited into an HSA account also avoids Social Security & Medicare Taxes. It’s estimated that at retirement, individuals will likely have over $260,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses and even higher for couples.

Are you going to turn 70 ½ this year?

                If you are turning 70 ½ and will be taking a Required Minimum Distribution, make sure you have planned for the additional income and that you are adjusting your tax deductions so that you don’t have a bad surprise at the end of 2019.

Self-employed?

                Make sure to coordinate with your Tax Advisor and Financial Planner.  You may have some extra deductions that are not available to someone that is not self-employed.

Education Plans.

                If you are helping to save for children's or grandchildren's education, make sure that you are taking advantage of the deductions and deferral opportunities available.  Make sure to review eligibility limits to determine if you are eligible for any Maryland tax benefits. 

Is your investment portfolio tax efficient?

                Depending on when you need income from your portfolio and your current tax bracket, be sure to review whether your portfolio is set up to best benefit you on an after-tax basis.  During the growth years of your portfolio, capital gains taxes are typically less expensive than income tax brackets.  Compare tax free bonds to taxable bonds to see which gives you the best after tax benefit.  Equity markets have been experiencing regular volatility lately.  This create opportunities for tax loss harvesting that may help to reduce taxes from your portfolio. 

 

These are just a few ideas to help you reduce your taxes and to be more tax efficient.  Financial planning involves a lot of moving parts.  Oxford Planning Group is here to help our clients simplify their finances and to help increase our clients’ long-term financial success.

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What's Your Retirement Factor?

Are you prepared for Retirement?

Years ago, it was not uncommon to estimate that at retirement you might need 75% to 80% of your current expenses to survive and enjoy your retirement years. However, this number can be misleading for a few reasons.

  • There are many differences in households and their income needs.
  • People are living longer today than our parents' generations.
  • Health care costs have skyrocketed and could play a much higher part of future expenses than previously expected.

It's important to think about your own expected longevity so that you can properly and safely estimate how long your income will need to continue in retirement. For example, for those fortunate enough to have good health, traveling more frequently may be a desire and needs to be planned for accordingly.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What are your current spending needs to pay your bills and have some fun?
  • How will your spending needs change overtime?
    • Will your mortgage be paid off? 
    • Will you need the insurance coverages you may own at retirement?
    • Will your healthcare costs go up or down?
    • Maybe if you're no longer working, your dry-cleaning bills will go down.

Every household is different and unique. Regardless of your personal situation it’s important to sit down and review your current expenses and see what will apply when you are retired.  We generally calculate everything in today's dollars to make it easier to compare but know that inflation will make those actual numbers higher at retirement.

Let's say you determine that your retirement expenses will be ten percent less than your current expenses.  That’s a factor of 0.9 (or 90% of current expenses).

After you have a good handle on what your expenses may look like in the future, it’s important to look at all your income sources to determine if you have adequate income to support those expenses.  Income may include:

  • Pensions, social security, retirement earnings from employment while retired
  • Income from investments or any other source of income that applies to you

Hopefully when you review your income and then deduct your expected expenses, you’re left with a positive cash flow.  If not- then it’s time to look deeper:

  • Run scenarios on how long your money should last
  •  What expenses could be further reduced

You will want to be sure you are able to meet your retirement expenses and hopefully enjoy life and have some fun along the way.

Oxford Planning Group works with our clients to help determine these numbers.  It’s important to use conservative numbers in estimating portfolio returns, taxes and other estimates so that future predictions and estimates are based on realistic values.  As always, we are here to help.  We are "Focused on your Tomorrows".

 

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What’s your Financial Legacy?

When you were in the early years of your financial experiences, you may have learned lessons from your parents or other relatives.  You may have also had a teacher or mentor that gave you valuable life lessons that helped you financially.  If you did have that person in your life you are very lucky.

Hopefully throughout your life you have now formed a value system around your finances.

Legacy planning is a broad topic and can include how you want your money used in the future, how you hope the next generation will use or think about money and the best ways to tax efficiently pass on your money. Additionally, legacy planning can include protective measures that further control the money after your death. There are many options to think about.

Now it’s time to ask yourself what you want your financial legacy to look like. 

Have you saved enough, or do you live within reasonable means so that you will be financially stable throughout your life?  Will you have any money left at the end of your life?  Who would you like to benefit from any money you have left?  A family member?  A charity?  A cherished friend?

As you look forward and begin planning how your money will last and possibly benefit another generation, there are many variables that need to be reviewed.  How will you invest the money?  What is the best way to position your money to minimize taxes?  During your lifetime you will have income taxes and then when you pass on your money, the beneficiary may be faced with income taxes.  Proper planning can provide useful strategies that will help maximize what you have available to use or what you will have available to pass on to the next generation.  

Historical statistics show that a huge amount of wealth is lost as it is passed from one generation to the next.  This is often due to lack of knowledge in those receiving the money as well as frequent requests for loans or a “helping hand” from friends and family of the beneficiary.

If you are concerned about this, there are ways to protect your money, both now and after your death. Using trusts and other structures can provide more limited access to future money and hopefully better long-term usefulness of the money you leave.

What’s your Legacy?  Most of us will never be a famous politician, actor/actress or other famous person but each of us has a chance to make the world a better place and leave our own Legacy. 

It starts with you.  What are your values?  What are your money values?  

Within each of our own families we have an opportunity to help mold the next generation.  Do your children know your values and what you feel the best use of money should be?  You should share your thoughts with them.  

Are you utilizing the tools available to maximize your Legacy?  There are many types of investments and insurance products, as well as different types of trust and business arrangements that can help maximize your lifetime Legacy.  

Do you have charitable goals?  Are you set up to be able to leave money to charity in the most tax beneficial ways?

Need help?  Let Oxford Planning Group help build your legacy.  

 

 

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Spring Clean your Finances with Oxford Planning

 

 

It’s officially Spring and there's no better time to get organized and clean things up. Simplifying and organizing your finances can also help in reducing stress and creating greater positive energy. 

Household finances are typically one of the most stressful areas of all households and relationships.  

Debts, uncertainty about employment, lack of emergency reserves, worry about investments, unexpected expenses and uncertainty of longer-term goals can also create elevated stress levels. 

At Oxford Planning Group, we take both simple and complex financial situations and help create solutions to overcome challenges and achieve financial objectives. Our clear and simple to use online solutions help you track all your finances in a secure, interactive dashboard and allows you to see your financial life in action.

Do you have a plan to achieve your ongoing goals?  Do you have too many accounts (banking or investment), too many credit cards or no core plan for long term achievement of goals?  Not being able to easily track your debts and investments can create greater financial risk.  Additionally, it’s much more difficult to achieve financial goals if you can't easily track your current situation and progress. 

The first step in Spring Cleaning your finances is to create a summary of everything you have.  What do you own and what do you owe? 

  • Things you own can include property, home(s), investment accounts, bank accounts, collections, or anything else of value. 
  • Things you owe include any debts on any property such as your mortgage, a car or other property where a loan was used to purchase an item.   

Next, do you know where everything is? And very importantly - does your spouse or partner know?

  • If you have a medical emergency or an auto accident, do you and your spouse or partner have easy access to your benefits for those policies? 
  • Have you had your insurance policies reviewed recently to see if they are up to date and providing the best benefits for your needs and costs?
  • Check your credit report
  • Get rid of clutter by scanning in documents that you don't need to keep in hard copy.  Store them in a secured (and backed up) computer or your personal vault (part of our secure online solutions). 

So - what’s creating worry or stress for you?  Let Oxford help you build a plan and simplify your finances.  Let's make sure everything is up to date and that you know where everything is.  It’s time to relax and enjoy spring. 

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What's Your Home's Basis?

white house under maple trees

As I work with many of my retiree clients, it’s common for them to consider selling their current homes.  The reasons for this are numerous and may include buying in a dream location, downsizing, moving to lower taxed states, moving closer to their children and moving to retirement communities.

What You Need to Know

The higher the tax basis of your home, the less you will be taxed at the time of sale.  Typically, any amount you roll over to a new home won't be taxed, but any gain over your basis that is not reinvested in your new home may be subject to taxation.  Also, if you inherited your home from a parent, your basis may be based on the value at the time of death of your parent.

Hopefully over the years you have saved some of the receipts from loan documents, loan refinancing documents and home improvements.  Also, don't forget to include information on any previous home's value you have rolled into your current home.  Your basis will typically include the home's original purchase price, but also may include certain fees and expenses that were paid at closing. 

Here are a few things (and this is not meant to be all inclusive) that can further increase or decrease your homes basis:

Decrease

  • Home office depreciation
  • Insurance proceeds from an insured loss
  • Money received to give an easement on your property

Increase

  • Additions or Improvements to your home
  • Improvements to prolong the life of your home
  • Government Assessments to add street lighting, curbs etc.
  • Repairs after hurricane or fire damage
  • Legal fees to defend title

 

Its always best to think about your home's basis well before you need the numbers.  After a sale, when it's time to file tax returns, everything gets rushed.  Make sure you plan ahead so you can have accurate facts and help to minimize your taxes.  We recommend that you check with your accountant to confirm any details related to your home's basis.

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Emergency Medical Situations at Home or Work

Brown and White Bear Plush Toy

Today's blog is a little different.  It’s not finance related, but it’s certainly about your welfare and the welfare of your friends and family.  Today we had the opportunity to participate in a "Stop the Bleed" course at our office.  This course was designed to help train bystanders how to stop life threatening bleeding while waiting for emergency responders to arrive. So, because I'm in the first aid mindset, I thought I'd write a short piece on situations you may encounter at work or home. My purpose in this blog is to give you an idea of what you may encounter, and the types of training that are useful to be prepared for these situations.  This blog is not intended in any way as specific instruction of what to do in these situations. It is just my take away from the training I have received. 

Any number of emergencies can occur during your average day no matter where you work or what you do for a living. Here are a few (by no means a complete list) of the types of emergencies you may encounter and what may be needed.

The first thing to do for any emergency is to call 911 or direct someone to call for you if emergency treatment is needed.  Additionally, do you have emergency numbers posted around your home or office where easily found?

Unconscious person

  •  CPR training can be lifesaving in this event.  Red Cross offers classes all over the nation. If there is an AED available at your location, do you know where it is and how to use it? An AED can be invaluable in saving a victim's life and greatly increase the percentage of survival over not having an AED. 

 Cuts or injuries.

  • A First Aid Kit should be available at your home or office.  A good first aid kit may help save someone's life in the event of an emergency or could help make a less severe injury under control more quickly. The Stop the Bleed class we took had some recommended items for a bleeding control kit.

Allergic Reactions

  • Life threatening allergies are very common. Chances are you know someone who has one. Try to be aware of friends or family members that have allergies and see if they have their own EpiPen. In the event of a serious allergic reaction someone can lose consciousness before being able to alert someone where their Epipen is. If you have your own EpiPen, it may be a good idea to alert those at work or at home where you keep it in the event of an emergency. Many CPR classes include a portion about how to use these.

Choking

  • Choking is another common occurrence.  This may occur at your home, office or while you are out at a restaurant.  Most CPR courses teach the skills needed to help a choking victim.  Such measures can be lifesaving and are easy to learn.

Stroke

  • Again, a good CPR course teaches how to determine signs of a stroke.  Getting immediate emergency care can be critical to both survival and better outcomes for the victim.

 

There are of course many more situations that can occur, but these are some of the most common ones.  Additionally, each of the above has relatively easy sources of training available to be considered.  In all cases any person aiding a victim should always consider their own safety first.

The American Red Cross, some local Fire Stations and other private organizations offer courses in the above emergency procedures and many more.  We recommend CPR training for everyone because it is such a valuable skill to have and the classes only take a couple of hours.

Red Cross CPR Classes

https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class?scode=PSG00000E017&cid=generator&med=cpc&source=google&gclid=Cj0KCQiAzePjBRCRARIsAGkrSm749F4E89rSkgfPraEU8VFMK6HYnLe9stqMubnkWJapV5kFKI0QgBwaApX3EALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

Stop the Bleed Classes

https://cms.bleedingcontrol.org/class/search

 

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Credit Card Reward Miles – Not always What they Appear to Be

 

Many of us use credit cards with reward point systems.  These programs offer discounts, air miles, cash rewards, gift cards, magazine subscriptions, discount gas and numerous other options.

Do you really know if you're getting the best deal on your reward points versus other options available?

When reviewing reward point systems, it’s important to review the rewards in terms of the amount of dollars of benefit received for the dollars that you spent.  This is generally not how these point systems are reported.  In fact, with one card you might get triple points for every dollar spend and for another card you might get double points for every dollar spent.  At first glance, the triple points look like the better deal.  The reality is that the dollar value of both rewards points might be identical.

So how do you know what’s best?

First, review how many points you get for each dollar spent.  Some plans give different points for different types of spending (dining out, groceries, gas, etc).  If that’s the case, you may have to figure out an average amount spend and what points you received for that.

Next, review how those points convert into your rewards.

We all have different things we like, so limit your comparison to only those things you would normally use.  If you travel a lot, look at air miles/tickets.  If you shop at amazon, target, staples, see if they offer a gift card.  Review what cash reward options are.  You'd think they all converted to the same dollar amount, but generally they do not.

We’ve seen cases where a cash reward option was for example $100, but that same points reward in a gift card offered was worth $200.  That’s double the value and could have easily been missed.

Now that you better understand how your rewards points work, don’t forget to compare to other cards you have or to other offers you get occasionally.  Make sure to give yourself the best dollar value rewards possible.  It’s in your best interest.

As always, we are here to help.  If you have any questions let us know.

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Market Volatility, the Government Shut Down and Your Financial and Retirement Goals

 

As many of us watch current market volatility as well as US and World news, it may seem daunting to project into the future.  Will you reach your savings goals on time?  What will retirement look like?  First, remember that the markets generally operate in cycles.  Market timing rarely works.  Long term planning and adequate diversification are generally your friends in these challenging markets.  Remember too, that past performance does not guarantee future performance, but it is often all we have to estimate into the future. 

So how do you best plan in a down market?  One of the most important aspects is to continue to commit to ongoing savings and controlling expenses.  Continuing to invest in a down market is a form of Dollar Cost Averaging which has generally been shown to enhance long term returns.  Goals can't be reached if you stop saving for the future, so this ongoing commitment continues to build your investment portfolio and during a down market, allows you to buy investment shares at cheaper prices.

So, don’t panic and stop saving just because the markets are down.  Remember that long term savings commitment should pay off.

If you are a government employee or a company affected by the government shut down, you may be experiencing some current cash flow squeeze.  If that’s the case, do the best you can.  Cut back on expenses where possible, keep up as much of your savings as possible, and if any cut backs are required, get back to normal as quickly as you can after the crisis is over.  After the cash flow crunch has subsided, consider continuing to operate under a reduced expense environment until your savings goals are caught up.  This commitment will really pay off into the future.

We are here to help, problem solve and to discuss ideas to keep you on track. 

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Happy Holidays 2018

Happy Holidays from all of us at Oxford Planning Group. 

We wish you peace and time spent surrounded by loved ones.  

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A Time for Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving - a time for gratitude, memories and for caring about others. At Oxford Planning, we have much to be thankful for.  We are blessed with a great family, friends, clients, associates and a wonderful community with so many great people. 

We hope you enjoy the spirit of this holiday.  Additionally, we hope that your favorite team wins, that you enjoy watching the Thanksgiving Day parade and that your favorite dog wins the Westminster dog show.

Thank you all for your continued confidence in our firm.  We are here to support your needs and you always come first to us.

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A Veterans Day Message

Today we stand tall and proud in honor of our Veterans who have served tirelessly and bravely to maintain and protect the freedoms that we are accustomed to. 

 

At Oxford Planning Group, we are focused on our client’s futures and we thank our Veterans for making these futures possible.  We strive to take advantage of the gifts we have been afforded and work hard every day to help our clients achieve their goals and to make their best financial decisions. 

This recent election day will be remembered by many as highly contested political races.  These political races reflect the passion and diverse beliefs held by our countries’ citizens.  Now as the election has ended, it’s our hope that we will support our leaders as best we can, continue to push forward for what we believe in and stay active in our communities. 

After all, the freedoms we live with reflect the hard work and service of our Veterans.  Outside of the United States, many are not so fortunate, do not have as much freedom and live in countries plagued by corruption. 

So today, on Veterans Day, let’s remember to celebrate our veterans, both Democrats and Republicans, who have served our great country.  We thank you for your service.  

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10713 B Birmingham Way
Woodstock, MD  21163
Phone: 410-995-8711
shaun@oxfordplanning.com

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