Watch out for crooks impersonating I.R.S. agents (and financial industry professionals).
Do you know how the Internal Revenue Service contacts taxpayers to resolve a problem? The first step is almost always to send a letter through the U.S. Postal Service to the taxpayer.1
It is very rare for the I.R.S. to make the first contact through a call or a personal visit. This happens in two circumstances: when taxes are notably delinquent or overdue or when the agency feels an audit or criminal investigation is necessary. Furthermore, the I.R.S. does not send initial requests for taxpayer information via email or social media.1
Now that you know all of this, you should also know about some of the phone scams being perpetrated by criminals claiming to be the I.R.S. (or representatives of investment firms).
Scam #1: “You owe back taxes. Pay them immediately, or you will be arrested.” Here, someone calls you posing as an I.R.S. agent, claiming that you owe thousands of dollars in federal taxes. If the caller does not reach you in person, a voice mail message conveys the same threat, urging you to call back quickly.1
Can this terrible (fake) problem be solved? Yes, perhaps with the help of your Social Security number. Or, maybe with some specific information about your checking account, maybe even your online banking password. Or, they may tell you that this will all go away if you wire the money to an account or buy a pre-paid debit card. These are all efforts to steal your money.
This is over-the-phone extortion, plain and simple. The demand for immediate payment gives it away. The I.R.S. does not call up taxpayers and threaten them with arrest if they cannot pay back taxes by midnight. The preferred method of notification is to send a bill, with instructions to pay the amount owed to the U.S. Treasury (never some third party).1
Sometimes the phone number on your caller I.D. may appear to be legitimate because more sophisticated crooks have found ways to manipulate caller I.D. systems. Asking for a callback number is not enough. The crook may readily supply you with a number to call, and when you dial it someone may pick up immediately and claim to be a representative of the I.R.S., but it’s likely a co-conspirator – someone else assisting in the scam. For reference, the I.R.S. tax help line for individuals is 1-800-829-1040. Another telltale sign; if you ever call the real I.R.S., you probably wouldn’t speak to a live person so quickly – hold times can be long.1
Scam #2: “This is a special offer to help seniors manage their investments.” Yes, a special offer to become your investment advisor, made by a total stranger over the phone. Of course, this offer of help is under the condition that you provide your user I.D. and password for your brokerage account or your IRA.2
No matter how polite and sweet the caller seems, this is criminal activity. Licensed financial services industry professionals do not randomly call senior citizens and ask them for financial account information and passwords – unless they want to go to jail or end their careers.
Scam #3: “I made a terrible mistake; you must help me.” In this scam, a caller politely informs you that the U.S. government is issuing supplemental Social Security payments to seniors next year. Do you have a bank account? You could enroll in this program by providing your account information and your Social Security number.
Oh no, wait! The caller now tells you that they’ve made a huge mistake while inputting your account information – and your account was accidentally credited with a full payment even though you were not enrolled. The distraught caller will now attempt to convince you that they will lose their job unless you send over an amount equal to the lump sum they claim was mistakenly deposited. If you refuse, the caller may have a conversation with a “boss” who demands that money be withdrawn from your account.
Scam #4: “The I.R.S. accidentally gave you a refund.” In this sophisticated double-cross, thieves steal your data, then file a phony federal tax return with your information and deposit a false refund in your bank account. Then, they attempt to convince you to pay them the money, claiming they are debt collectors working for the I.R.S. or I.R.S. agents.
This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.
1 - irs.gov/newsroom/irs-continues-warning-on-impersonation-scams-reminds-people-to-remain-alert-to-other-scams-schemes-this-summer [5/31/18]
2 - money.usnews.com/money/retirement/aging/articles/2018-05-09/10-financial-scams-to-avoid-in-retirement [5/9/18]
3 - forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2018/02/13/irs-issues-urgent-warning-on-new-tax-refund-scam-and-its-not-what-youd-expect [2/13/18
That truth must always be recognized.
When financial markets have a bad day, week, or month, discomforting headlines and data can swiftly communicate a message to retirees and retirement savers alike: equity investments are risky things, and Wall Street is a risky place.
All true. If you want to accumulate significant retirement savings or try and grow your wealth through the opportunities in the markets, this is a reality you cannot avoid.
Regularly, your investments contend with assorted market risks. They never go away. At times, they may seem dangerous to your net worth or your retirement savings, so much so that you think about getting out of equities entirely.
If you are having such thoughts, think about this: in the big picture, the real danger to your retirement could be being too risk averse.
Is it possible to hold too much in cash? Yes. Some pre-retirees do. (Even some retirees, in fact.) They have six-figure savings accounts, built up since the Great Recession and the last bear market. It is a prudent move. A dollar will always be worth a dollar in America, and that money is out of the market and backed by deposit insurance.
This is all well and good, but the problem is what that money is earning. Even with interest rates rising, many high-balance savings accounts are currently yielding less than 0.5% a year. The latest inflation data shows consumer prices advancing 2.3% a year. That money in the bank is not outrunning inflation, not even close. It will lose purchasing power over time.1,2
Consider some of the recent yearly advances of the S&P 500. In 2016, it gained 9.54%; in 2017, it gained 19.42%. Those were the price returns; the 2016 and 2017 total returns (with dividends reinvested) were a respective 11.96% and 21.83%.3,4
Yes, the broad benchmark for U.S. equities has bad years as well. Historically, it has had about one negative year for every three positive years. Looking through relatively recent historical windows, the positives have mostly outweighed the negatives for investors. From 1973-2016, for example, the S&P gained an average of 11.69% per year. (The last 3-year losing streak the S&P had was in 2000-02.)5
Your portfolio may not return as well as the S&P does in a given year, but when equities rally, your household may see its invested assets grow noticeably. When you bring in equity investment account factors like compounding and tax deferral, the growth of those invested assets over decades may dwarf the growth that could result from mere checking or savings account interest.
At some point, putting too little into investments and too much in the bank may become a risk – a risk to your retirement savings potential. At today’s interest rates, the money you are saving may end up growing faster if it is invested in some vehicle offering potentially greater reward and comparatively greater degrees of risk to tolerate.
Having a big emergency fund is good. You can dip into that liquid pool of cash to address sudden financial issues that pose risks to your financial equilibrium in the present.
Having a big retirement fund is even better. When you have one of those, you may confidently address the biggest financial risk you will ever face: the risk of outliving your money in the future.
1 - valuepenguin.com/average-savings-account-interest-rates [10/4/18]
2 - investing.com/economic-calendar/ [10/11/18]
3 - money.cnn.com/data/markets/sandp/ [10/11/18]
4 - ycharts.com/indicators/sandp_500_total_return_annual [10/11/18]
5 - thebalance.com/stock-market-returns-by-year-2388543 [6/23/18]
How global returns and proper diversification are affecting overall returns.
“Why is my portfolio underperforming the market?” This question may be on your mind. It is a question that investors sometimes ask after stocks shatter records or return exceptionally well in a quarter.
The short answer is that while the U.S. equities market has realized significant gains in 2018, international markets and intermediate and long-term bonds have underperformed and exerted a drag on overall portfolio performance. A little elaboration will help explain things further.
A diversified portfolio necessarily includes a range of asset classes. This will always be the case, and while investors may wish for an all-equities portfolio when stocks are surging, a 100% stock allocation is obviously fraught with risk.
Because of this long bull market, some investors now have larger positions in equities than they originally planned. A portfolio once evenly held in equities and fixed income may now have a majority of its assets held in stocks, with the performance of stock markets influencing its return more than in the past.1
Yes, stock markets – as in stock markets worldwide. Today, investors have more global exposure than they once did. In the 1990s, international holdings represented about 5% of an individual investor’s typical portfolio. Today, that has risen to about 15%. When overseas markets struggle, it does impact the return for many U.S. investors – and struggle they have. A strong dollar, the appearance of tariffs – these are considerable headwinds.2,3
In addition, a sudden change in sector performance can have an impact. At one point in 2018, tech stocks accounted for 25% of the weight of the S&P 500. While the recent restructuring of S&P sectors lowered that by a few percentage points, portfolios can still be greatly affected when tech shares slide, as investors witnessed in fall 2018.4
How about the fixed-income market? Well, this has been a weak year for bonds, and bonds are not known for generating huge annual returns to start with.3
This year, U.S. stocks have been out in front. A portfolio 100% invested in the U.S. stock market would have a 2018 return like that of the S&P 500. But who invests entirely in stocks, let alone without any exposure to international and emerging markets?3
Just as an illustration, assume there is a hypothetical investor this year who is actually 100% invested in equities, as follows: 50% domestic, 35% international, 15% emerging markets. In the first two-thirds of 2018, that hypothetical portfolio would have advanced just 3.6%.3
Your portfolio is not the market – and vice versa. Your investments might be returning 3% or less so far this year. Yes – this year. Will the financial markets behave in this exact fashion next year? Will the sector returns or emerging market returns of 2018 be replicated year after year for the next 10 or 15 years? The chances are remote.
The investment markets are ever-changing. In some years, you may get a double-digit return. In other years, your return is much smaller. When your portfolio is diversified across asset classes, the highs may not be so high – but the lows may not be so low, either. When things turn volatile, diversification may help insulate you from some of the ups and downs you go through as an investor.
1 - seattletimes.com/business/5-steps-to-take-if-the-bull-market-run-has-you-thinking-of-unloading-stocks/ [8/25/18]
2 - forbes.com/sites/simonmoore/2018/08/05/how-most-investors-get-their-international-stock-exposure-wrong/ [8/5/18]
3 - thestreet.com/investing/stocks/dear-financial-advisor-why-is-my-portfolio-performing-so-14712955 [9/15/18]
4 - cnbc.com/2018/04/20/tech-dominates-the-sp-500-but-thats-not-always-a-bad-omen.html [4/20/18]
There is really no reason to wait.
October is here – the ideal time for college students to apply for financial aid. October 1, in fact, marks the first day a current or future college student can submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for the 2019-20 academic year. Since some states offer aid on a first-come, first-serve basis, submitting a FAFSA as soon as possible is wise.1,2
You can even apply using your phone. Install the new myStudentAid app created by the Department of Education, available for iOS and Android operating systems. While filling out the FAFSA takes time whether you use a PC, tablet, phone, or pen, it may feel easier to start on a phone. In fact, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of SavingForCollege.com, just remarked to CNBC that the mobile app was “much easier to use, even fun.” The FAFSA asks students and parents more than 100 questions, so any degree of “fun” is good. (Thanks to the new app, you can start filling out a FAFSA on a computer and finish it on a phone, and vice versa.)1,2
Due to the new phone app, more FAFSAs might be filed this year. Slightly more than 20 million FAFSAs were submitted for the 2014-15 award cycle; in contrast, just over 10 million were filed for 2018-19. This decline might reflect an improved economy and a boost in household wealth, but it may be temporary.2
What should your student have handy while filling out the form? After creating an FSA ID (a username, a password), your student will need to reference all kinds of personal information, some of which will be yours. The FAFSA asks for birth dates, Social Security numbers, and driver’s license numbers. It asks for financial information: savings account balances, home values, investment account values. (It does not require you to report balances of workplace retirement plan accounts, pension plans, or IRAs.) Untaxed income must be figured; interest income and child support fall into that category.1
All FAFSAs now require federal tax information from the year that is two years prior to the current award cycle. In other words, on this year’s FAFSA, you need to include federal tax information from 2017. This may not be as arduous as it sounds because you can use the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (irsdataretrievaltool.com). This online tool lets you import your 2017 federal tax information straight into the FAFSA; it is accessed through a “Link to I.R.S.” button. (Information input into the Data Retrieval Tool must match what appeared in the federal tax return.)2,3
A FAFSA must list at least one college or university that the student currently attends or wants to attend. When multiple schools are listed, grant awards are made to the school listed first. (Colleges and universities can also be removed from a list of multiple schools.)1
Anyone who provides data for a FAFSA (a student, a parent, a college access advisor) must also sign that FAFSA. Without the appropriate signatures, the application is invalid. When it comes to these signatures, here is a tip all parents should remember: never hit the “Start Over” button when you log in to add your signature. If you accidentally click on that, all the information that your student has spent hours entering will be erased.1,2
Financial questions should not be left blank on the FAFSA. If the answer to a question is “none,” put a zero instead of nothing at all. Every monetary amount that includes cents should be rounded to the nearest dollar.1
Unsurprisingly, some families want help when filling out the FAFSA. Recognizing this, the Department of Education offers a 66-page guide to completing the form; you will find it at studentaid.ed.gov. It also provides a FAFSA hotline: (800) 433-3243. You may want to chat with a financial professional who focuses on college planning or a university financial aid officer for additional insight.1
The FAFSA is often a pathway to considerable financial assistance: grants, work study programs, federal student loans. The average FAFSA applicant for the 2015-16 school year received roughly $8,500. A FAFSA costs nothing to fill out or send around, and there is absolutely nothing to lose in submitting one.2
1 - tinyurl.com/yd7l9u9z [9/12/18]
2 - cnbc.com/2018/09/18/you-can-now-apply-for-financial-aid-on-your-phone.html [9/18/18]
3 - studentaid.ed.gov/sa/resources/irs-drt-text [9/27/18]
As you start a family, consider these ideas.
Being a parent means being responsible to a degree you never have been before. That elevated responsibility also impacts your financial decisions. You are now a provider and a protector, and that reality may make the following financial moves necessary.
Think about a budget. As a couple, you may have lived for years without budgeting. As parents, this may change. You will face new recurring costs: clothes, toys, diapers, food. Keeping track of weekly or monthly expenses will be handy. (The Department of Agriculture has an online calculator where you can estimate the total cost of raising a child to adulthood. The math may surprise you: the U.S.D.A. puts the average cost at $233,610 for a middle-income family.)1,2
Take care of health and life insurance. Your child should be added to your health insurance plan quickly. Most insurance providers require you to notify them of a child’s birth within 30 days. You can get started before then; be aware that a Social Security number and birth certificate can take weeks to arrive in the mail. If you are in a group health plan, talk with the human resources officer or benefits administrator at work, and let them know that you want to add a dependent to your health care plan. (If you have coverage through a private plan, your premiums may go up after you notify the carrier.) Under the Affordable Care Act, a parent or legal guardian who has health coverage arranged through the federal or state Marketplace has 60 days from the date of birth or adoption to enroll a child as a dependent on their plan; once that is done, health care coverage for the child will apply, retroactively.3
Term life insurance provides an affordable way for new parents to have some financial insulation against a worst-case scenario, and disability insurance (which may be available where you work) provides coverage in the event of an extended illness or injury that stops you from doing your job. If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA), you can contribute more per year when you have a child. The maximum annual contribution for a family is currently set at $6,850 (and for the record, the I.R.S. is allowing families to contribute up to $6,900 in 2018).4
Draft a will and review beneficiary designations. A will can do more than declare who receives your assets when you die. It can also name a legal guardian for your child in the event both parents pass away. Additionally, you can specify a guardian of your estate in your will, to manage the assets left to a minor child. While you may have named your spouse or partner as the primary beneficiary of your IRA or investment account, you may decide to change that or at least add your child as a contingent beneficiary.5
See if you can save a little for college. The estimated cost of four years at a public university starting in 2036? $184,000, CNBC reports. That may convince you to open a 529 plan or have some other kind of dedicated college savings account with investment options. Most 529 plans require a Social Security number for a beneficiary, so they are commonly started after a child is born, rather than before.2,6
Review your withholding status and tax forms. An addition to your family means changes. You may also become eligible for some federal tax breaks, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Adoption Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the Child & Dependent Care Credit.7
Keep the big picture in mind. You still need to build retirement savings; you still need to have an emergency fund. Becoming a family might make accomplishing those tasks harder, yet they remain just as important.
After reading all this, you may feel like you need to be a millionaire to raise a child. The fact is, most parents are not millionaires, and they manage. Whether you are wealthy or not, you will want to take care of many or all of these financial and insurance essentials before or after you bring your newborn home.
1 - cnpp.usda.gov/tools/CRC_Calculator/default.aspx [9/20/18]
2 - tinyurl.com/y8rlmm7w [2/26/18]
3 - healthcare.com/info/health-insurance/baby-health-insurance-newborn [10/18/17]
4 - tinyurl.com/ya5g75ez [5/1/18]
5 - everplans.com/articles/what-does-a-guardian-of-the-estate-do [9/20/18]
6 - cnbc.com/2018/05/07/this-is-how-much-parents-need-to-save-to-cover-college-bills-in-2036.html [5/7/18]
7 - efile.com/tax-deductions-credits-for-parents-with-children-dependents/ [9/20/18]
Riding all of the stock market’s ups – and none of its downs – is a popular fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to skip rough patches such as early 2018, late 2015 or all of 2008?
Alas, it’s impossible. Even the greatest investors are wrong maybe a third of the time.
But here’s some good news: You don’t need perfect timing to achieve marvelous returns. Time in the market beats timing the market – almost always.
Why? Consider three make-believe siblings, each with $10,000 to invest in U.S. stocks each year from 1977 to 2018 – a stretch that includes five bear markets.
Pretend they bought the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index (broader than the Dow).
Janette, with perfect timing, invests at each year’s monthly market low, earning each year’s full upside. Jebediah, a terrible timer, invests at each year’s monthly market high, missing more gains and capturing more downside. Jackpot, the clever youngest brother, knows he has no timing ability. He invests the first day of each year.
Fast-forward to June 2018. Janette’s 41 years of perfect timing earned an average annual return of 11.4 percent for a cool $8.2 million. No-timing Jackpot was close behind, with an 11.1 percent return and $7.8 million – still great. Even terrible-timing Jebediah got a 10.8 percent return – turning his $410,000 in contributions into $6.7 million. Sure, it's rewarding enough, but lagging little brother, no-timing Jackpot by $1.1 million is a high price to pay for bad timing.
Being Janette is impossible. Even trying to be Janette runs the risk of becoming Jebediah – or worse. Fancy timing increases the likelihood of errors.People want to buy after stocks rise, not after they drop. Were you eagerly buying this March, when the early-year correction avalanched? Or in February 2016 as headlines hyped election risks at the bottom of an eight-month slide? Or in March 2009 at the depths of the financial crisis? As I said last week, the best time to buy is surely when people least want to.
But time overwhelmingly swamps timing, good or bad. How so?
Consider Jill and Joaquin. Jill invests $10,000 in U.S. stocks each year, starting in 1977. Like Jebediah, Jill has terrible timing, buying at each year’s monthly market high. Then, Jill stops contributing after 10 years, stops trading and just lets her S&P 500 stocks ride. Meanwhile, procrastinating Joaquin waits till 1987 to start investing his $10,000 annually. Yet Joaquin has perfect timing and, unlike Jill, keeps adding $10,000 every year through 2018. Surely this deck must be stacked against Jill.
No. Even with poor timing, Jill turned her $100,000 in contributions to $216,576 in stocks by the time Joaquin invests his first $10,000. Her head start more than offsets Joaquin’s perfect timing and greater total contributions. In June 2018, she has just over $5 million. Joaquin has less than half that, around $2.1 million. Jill’s compound time-in-the-market growth trounced Joaquin’s perfect timing.
Think you’d never be Joaquin? As I wrote last month, many investors left stocks after the financial crisis and stayed away for years. Many still haven’t returned. Yet since the March 9, 2009, low, U.S. stocks are up 419 percent with dividends. Since the precrisis peak? Up 132 percent. You didn’t need marvelous timing to come out ahead.
Remember these examples the next time markets sag and you want to bail – or the next time you have cash you’re waiting to invest. Is your desire to avoid bad times worth the risk of being Jebediah or Joaquin?
Author: Keneth Fisher