Michele Clark in the news: Washington Family and Calgary’s Child

As a financial advisor and the mother of two boys, making sure that kids understand real life money concepts is important to me.  Habits around saving, investing, and philanthropy can be established when children are young.  So I was pleased to share some ideas which were highlighted in two magazines recently. I was quoted in the January 2012 issue of Washington Family magazine in the article “Starting a Piggy Bank Teach Savings Early” and in the January/February 2012 issue of Calgary’s Child magazine in the article “Help Your Kids Be Money-Savvy.”

Michele Clark in the news: Money Magazine

Money Magazine recently offered money makeovers to five families across the nation in an article titled “Five Families, Five Fixes”.  An O’Fallon, Missouri semi-retired couple had asked to participate and Money Magazine selected me to prepare a financial plan for this couple.  They are a terrific couple and I helped them with questions that many new retirees face. Each family has a story written about them.  The story about the couple that I helped is “Laid off and making the retirement savings last.”   See the Money Magazine article here.

What is a NAPFA-Registered Financial Advisor?

When I first became a NAPFA-Registered Financial Advisor I heard, more than a few times, “Congratulations… what is that?”  It wasn’t surprising, because NAPFA is a small, but important group.

What is NAPFA?

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) is a group of professional financial advisors who give advice on a Fee-Only basis, meaning no commissions or incentives.  This way the client pays for the advice (rather than the mutual fund company or the insurance company, for example) and the client feels more comfortable that they are getting objective advice.  NAPFA was started in 1983 and only has about 2,400 members.  Considering the number of financial advisors there are in the country only a very small percentage of them offer advice on a Fee-Only basis.

How do you become a NAPFA-Registered Financial Advisor?

Becoming a NAPFA-Registered Financial Advisor is a multi-step process. From the www.napfa.org website:

*You must agree to follow the NAPFA Fiduciary Oath

* Advise across Disciplines “NAPFA –Registered Financial Advisors are broadly trained to bring together and apply the separate disciplines comprising personal finance – income tax, financial position and cash flow, retirement preparation, estate planning, investments, and risk management.”

* Have a Bachelor’s degree

* Hold the CFP® or CPA/PFS designation

* Submit a comprehensive financial plan for peer review

* 60 hours of Continuing Education every two years

What does it mean to be a NAPFA member?

I recently participated in a volunteer effort called JumpStart Retire, which was a joint effort between Kiplinger Magazine and NAPFA to offer consumers the opportunity to have their retirement questions answered for free by NAPFA professionals. I answered phones for four hours and answered a lot of questions; I really enjoyed myself and got to help people as well.  What I call a “Do Good/Feel Good”.  I plan to do more of that with future NAPFA pro bono opportunities.  Also, NAPFA has free webinars from time to time for consumers as well.  To quote from www.napfa.org, NAPFA members live by three important values:

* To be the beacon for independent, objective advice for individuals and families.

*To be the champion of financial services delivered in the public interest.

* To be the standard bearer for the emerging profession of financial planning.

Prepare For Your Tax Return: A Tax Document System

Tax time doesn’t have to be drudgery.  With a very simple system you can have the information that you need gathered together in one spot to make the process much easier this year and going forward.

The key is to have one year-round dedicated spot for incoming tax information and receipts.  Yes, that’s right, I said year-round.  I know that this is January and you are starting to get the annual onslaught of W-9s, 1099s, mortgage interest information, and other tax documents, and it is very important to establish one spot to collect all the those documents that come in.  That will be very helpful.   But that part of the tax return really isn’t the challenge is it?  It is tracking down the deduction information and the receipts that go with it.  If you are anything like me, you have a lot of donation receipts, I am soft hearted and I usually say yes at the grocery checkout lane when they ask me for a donation.  And I want to take all those little donations off of my taxes, I might be soft hearted, but I’m not soft headed!

If you don’t have a system, start with something simple like this:

1) Create your dedicated spot.  It can be a drawer, a decorative box, an accordion file, or a special section of your file cabinet.  You could even do this electronically by scanning and creating folders.  Just find a system that works for you.

2) Create one file for all the tax documents that come in between January 1st and March 15th, this is a temporary holding spot for those documents like W-9s and 1099s.

3) Create a file for each type of deduction which results in many receipts or statements for you, then one “catchall” file for deductions that do not have many reciepts.  For example, you might have a file for Healthcare, a file for Childcare, and a file for Donations, because there are many receipts for each of those.  But then in your “catchall” file you might put any receipts/statements for deductible expenses such as investment related expenses, tax preparation fees, unreimbursed business expenses, etc.

4) Create files for your bank statements, investment account statements, credit card statements, you can then refer back to these for deductible expenses at tax time.  These files can be with your tax documents or with your other household files; as long as you can easily get your hands on them at tax time.

Having a system like this has another benefit as well.  Do you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Spending Account (HSA) available to you at work?  Keeping a separate file of your healthcare expenses and throwing every single healthcare receipt into it throughout the year will let you know exactly how much you spend on healthcare in a year.  Having that information will allow you to maximize
the tax savings you have available to you through the Flexible Spending Account benefit through your employer.  The same goes for childcare expenses.

Having a system like this will allow you to keep more of your money in your pocket and out of Uncle Sam’s.

It can be very tempting to file your taxes on February 1st, keep in mind the types of investments that you own, because some investments can have K-1s or amended 1099s that come as late as mid-March.

It’s on your To-Do.  Let’s get it To-Done!

Just getting started?  Create your dedicated spot and set your files up. Put it in an easy to see and use spot so that tax time is easier this year and future years.

Ready to take it to the next level?  Make tax time even easier by making notes to yourself.  If you are paper based, throughout the year notate taxable events on receipts and statements.  Know that you charged a charitable donation to your credit card?  Jot a note and throw it into the donations folder so you know to look for it next year.  If you are software based, software such as Quicken and mint.com allow you to note transactions as tax related.

2012 Contribution Limits: Employer Retirement Accounts

How much should I put in my retirement account each year?
The answer of course, depends. For example, some clients tell me they love working and they want to work until they are 70, some tell me they plan to work until 65, others tell me they want to retire yesterday. The earlier you retire, the more you need to save. Some people spend $60,000 per year, some spend $160,000 and some $260,000; and they want to maintain a similar lifestyle in retirement. Obviously, the more you want to spend in retirement the more you need to save now. There are other variables to consider as well, such as pensions, social security, current investment holdings, assumed rates of return, any plans for bequests, and large purchases in retirement, etc. So how much you need to put in your retirement account will be different for each family.

So where do you start?
A good place to start is with your company’s retirement plan and knowing the maximum amount that you can put into the plan. There are different types of retirement plans, dependent upon the type of company for which you work. And consider, if your company says the maximum percentage is for example, 10%, and you make $60,000 then your maximum is $6,000 even if the IRS says the maximum dollar amount is higher.

401(k), 403(b), 457, and SARSEPs
The 2012 maximum contribution limit is $17,000. If you are 50 or turning 50 in 2012 you have the opportunity to add additional money to your retirement plan each year in the form of the Catch-up contribution, that amount for 2012 is $5,500.

The 2012 maximum contribution limit is $11,500. If you are 50 or turning 50 in 2012 you have the opportunity to add additional money to your retirement plan each year in the form of the Catch-up contribution, that amount for 2012 is $2,500.

It’s on your To-Do. Let’s get it To-Done!
1) Already have your plan set to max? Better double check it! 2012 is the first year since 2009 that the maximum contribution has been raised for 401(k), 403(b), 457, and SARSEPs because it is tied to inflation. Catch-up contributions remain unchanged. SIMPLE plan contributions and SIMPLE plan Catch-ups remain unchanged as well.
2) Not yet taking advantage of your employer’s match? Want some inspiration; pick up a calculator and figure out how much free money you are not taking from your employer each year! Then, each time you get a raise, increase your 401(k) contribution by 1%, you will not even feel it, because it is money you never had in your hands. Or have you been putting it off because you have been busy or unsure how to start? Give your HR department a call today.