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America's politicians are tearing the country apart -- but we can do better

October 25, 2018

Once again you may be asking, “what does this have to do with financial planning?” In my opinion, quite a lot actually.

The current market turmoil, in many ways, is business as usual. 10 to 15% corrections are normal, healthy even, and to be expected. The fact that we are having our second one this year is a bit troublesome perhaps, but still not worthy of panic.

The timing in juxtaposition with the elections, however, is not a coincidence. A correction of this magnitude at a time when the economy is humming along demands a better explanation than “normal market dynamics”. Market performance ultimately is a reflection of consumer and investor confidence, and it’s really hard to be confident when folks from one end of the political spectrum to the other are telling us how bad things are without giving us any workable solutions.

I’m sure the political noise is not the only factor in this week’s volatility, seasonality is an issue as well. For some reason these things tend to happen in September and October. But I guaran-damn-tee you it ain’t helping any.

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'They're protectionist': Fed's James Bullard says other countries won't wipe out tariffs with the US

August 6, 2018

This is finally an objective view of the so-called "trade war". Despite claims to the contrary, our foreign trading partners are not the free-traders that they claim to be; the United States has been on the losing end of protectionist tariffs for years. While one may disagree with the means the president is using, fixing the trade imbalance is an important step toward the future of our economic well-being.

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Aetna CEO: Obamacare 'cannot be repealed, period'

August 3, 2018

I do not know Mark Bertolini’s political affiliation, or what his personal preference would be with regard to what health insurance should look like. I think it’s safe to say, however, as the chairman of one of our largest health insurance companies, he has a vested interest in the continued viability of private insurance plans. I believe him to be informed and, ultimately to have a balanced viewpoint on the outlook for health insurance in the American marketplace.

In my opinion, we are on a waypoint of a trek, the ultimate destination of which is a single-payer system (i.e., nationalized, socialized health care delivery … “Medicare for All”). I have said for years, there is no going back. The only question is whether we are walking, running or sliding, but I believe the path is definitely downhill from here. My take-away from this article is that the Republicans would be well served to drop their rhetoric about “repeal and replace” because it ain’t gonna happen. (Or, if it does, the unintended consequences are not going to be desirable for the vast majority of my readers.) The best we can and should hope for is to stabilize the current system – call it “repair and revise” if you want, because the only acceptable replacement will need to be one acceptable to the beneficiaries of the current system.

Bertolini’s comments provide an insider’s observations in broad strokes of what is necessary to stabilize the current system. Congress’ (both sides of the aisle) and the President’s continued demagoguery on this subject is totally counter-productive to fixing the current system, and only plays into the hands of those whose end game is a fully nationalized single-payer system.

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Don't Assume Clients Know as Much about Social Security Benefits

June 19, 2017

Social Security is Complicated: Although this article is aimed at advisors, it is a good read for anyone. Social Security is based on a complex set of laws, run by a large, entrenched, and often detached bureaucracy.  Like any other governmental program, there are a lot of rules and regulations that most people are not fully aware of, often including, unfortunately, the folks charged with interpreting and administering those rules. This article provides an overview of some of the more important aspects of Social Security which are commonly misunderstood and/or overlooked by individuals in their planning for retirement.

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If Trump changes your taxes, here are the deductions and breaks that could go away

April 26, 2017

Tax breaks on the chopping block?: One thing we discussed in our recent newsletter about taxes was the concept of why simplifying the tax code might not be a great thing for many Americans. As I said in the newsletter, the people who benefit from the loopholes that everyone rants about are those who are paying taxes. This article goes into further detail about many of the most popular deductions that could be phased out under a tax reform bill.

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Forget 1987: Here's the Real Risk to the Trump Rally

March 6, 2017

Too Far too fast?: There are not many talking heads that I pay too much attention to but one of my favorites is Ron Insana, a CNBC commentator.  In the following article, Ron discusses the question probably all of us have asked in one form or another;  Has the market gotten ahead of itself, are we experiencing another bout of “irrational exuberance”, and are we, as a result, subject to another significant “reversion to the mean” (i.e, market crash) in the near future? 

Listening to him speaking today, Ron seems to believe that current values are not overstretched, but we may be putting more confidence than is warranted to the success of the Trump economic agenda, and if that outcome should begin to come into question, we could see some fairly significant reductions in values as market prices are adjusted to the new perceived reality.

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How the Tables are Turning on Obamacare

January 9, 2017

Affordable Care Act Reform: I share the viewpoint expressed in this article that the Republicans may be getting ahead of themselves by repealing Obamacare before they have a firm, workable plan for it’s replacement.  IMHO, there is too much toothpaste out of the tube for us to go back to the system that preexisted the Affordable Care Act.  Virtually everyone agrees that some elements of the ACA must survive and others that are worth keeping while there is probably not much agreement on what exactly those elements are.  The risk to the Republicans, however, is that the replacement turns out to be no more workable, or no more popular to the masses than Obamacare, but the new plan becomes known as Trump/Ryan/McConnellcare.  Whatever the replacement plan looks like, the Republicans own it. The 2018 midterm elections will be heavily influenced by the success or failure of the Trump game plan.  But health insurance policy effects everyone, and ACA reform, for better or worse, has the potential to outweigh any successes or failures in just about any other initiative.

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Greed Report: Tax Hack - How to Protect Yourself from a Crime that won't go Away

August 26, 2016

"Are people filing fraudulent tax returns a real problem that I need to worry about?"  One would like to think that this is a minor nuisance, but unfortunately, this is a $6 billion per year problem that the IRS has yet to solve. This crime could happen to anyone, and when it does, it is a long, difficult process to correct with the IRS. Fortunately, there are some precautions that you can take to help lessen the chance that it will happen to you. This article discusses the problem and lists a few steps you can take to help decrease the likelihood that you will be a victim. We especially want to remind you that the IRS will not call or email you, so don't even consider responding to those.

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401(k) Nightmares: What NOT to Do with Retirement-plan Cash

August 16, 2016

Should I use my retirement savings to tide me over through a tough spot?”  This is a question we hear often. The generally accepted answer is a resounding no. This article addresses the subject very well.

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Google Search Spike Suggests People Don't Know Why They "Brexited"

June 24, 2016

Aw Shoot!  What did I just do? I didn’t think they were going to take me seriously!”  This one would be humorous if it were not so frightening.  Seems the British populace voted to exit the European Union without first checking to see what it really means to them to do so.  And then they had one of those “aw, shoot” moments.  Before you ridicule them too severely, think for a minute what kinds of promises and threats are resonating with the American public in the current election season, what the likelihood is the winner will be making good on those promises, and how well do we really understand what the unexpected and unintended consequences might be if they are successful.

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Social Security Trust Fund Projected to Run Dry by 2034

June 22, 2016

Social Security to run dry by 2034?  Elsewhere in this section is an encouraging article for retirees, suggesting that pension and investment funds may go further in retirement than conventional wisdom might suggest.  This article, on the other hand calls into question the long range efficacy of the Social Security Old Age fund.  This is not a case of “crying wolf”.  While different analyses project shorter or longer life expectancies of the Social Security Trust Fund, there is no debate that some form of repair is absolutely necessary.  The longer it is put off, the more radical the required changes will have to be.  Higher taxes, lower benefits, later retirement, all must be considered.  But bottom line … it’s a fiscal issue which must be addressed in a bi-partisan, or better yet, apolitical manner.

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There's Good News at Last on the Retirement Front

June 1, 2016

Will your retirement income resources be adequate for your needs?  This commentator offers a viewpoint which I have held for quite some time, but which is not widely supported across the industry.  Long-range financial planning is by necessity, a cautious and conservative endeavor as small divergences can have outsized affects over longer periods of time.  It is encouraging to know, however, that not everyone sees the long-range prognosis as so overwhelmingly daunting.  Every case is different, of course, and these views need to be properly applied in the context of your own situation.

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