Categories for Blog

Turmoil Sells

March 23, 2018 3:22 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Tariffs, trade wars, interest rate hikes, the Facebook data scandal, the omnibus spending bill…Today’s headlines are filled with market turmoil and it appears that everyone is tuning in. The question many investors are asking is “Should I be concerned and if so what should I do about it?”

The market is volatile, there’s no doubt about that. Volatility is normal, it is to be expected. The challenge that many investors face is that they are bombarded on all fronts by stories, opinions and so called expert recommendations. In today's on-demand era, “wait and see” can be a frustrating tactic. Yet consider it this way: Markets discount widely-known information. Expectations for $60 billion in tariffs and corresponding retaliation from China are probably baked into prices now. If Thursday’s volatility is any guide, investors are generally unhappy with this possibility. But as markets look forward, they move most on the gap between expectations and reality. Compared to what people evidently fear today, even watered-down tariffs would be a positive surprise. Heck, even simple math might be a positive surprise: $60 billion amounts to just 2% of total 2017 imports. That’s not a lot. If China retaliates in kind, they would apply further tariffs to just 2.6% of the US’s total 2017 exports which is also not a lot. Seems to us like there is a lot of room for negative sentiment to catch up to a more benign reality.

Most people are long term investors who are targeting a specific rate of return based on their individual goals. What people often forget is that when targeting an annualized rate of return you will have vast differences in year over year returns. In fact, there are few years when either stocks or bonds delivered returns that are even close to the market averages.

To illustrate this point, between 1926 to 2016 the annualized return for U.S. stocks was 10.16%. During that time returns fell within 2 percentage points of the annualized return of 10.16% in only 6 of the 91 years.

When considering the U.S. bond market, between 1926 to 2016 the annualized return for the U.S. bond market was 5.37%. During that time returns fell within 2 percentage points of the annualized return of 5.37% in 24 out of 91 years.

Financial markets, particularly stocks are inherently volatile over the short term, as we are once again experiencing.

When we understand, and come to peace with this data, we can begin to understand equity volatility as a positive phenomenon, and in fact the reason for the premium return from equities. The term “volatility” refers to the relatively large and unpredictable movements of the equity market, both above and below its permanent uptrend line. Equities can, and frequently are, up over 20% one year and down 20% the next, and vice versa. However, if we accept that the long run returns of equities will approximate the past return, we begin to understand that these periods of downside volatility must likewise at some point be corrected by a period of upside volatility, greater than the long-term average of roughly 10% per year.

The premium returns of equities are, therefore, the efficient market’s way of pricing in adequate compensation for tolerating such unpredictability. Volatility is the reason equity investors are rewarded over time with premium returns, as long as we have the emotional strength to live through it. Volatility is not to be survived, it is to be embraced and thrived upon.

You Have a Plan

The very best investors have a disciplined approach to making portfolio decisions, and always stick to their plan, no matter what the rest of the world is doing. They are able to live through the peaks of euphoria, as well as the depths of terror, with a healthy understanding that a well-designed written investment and financial plan will get them through both.

No predictions. No witch doctor investment sorcery or magic investing formulas. No “Black Boxes.” Just hard work, patience and discipline.

Turbulence in the Markets

February 10, 2018 8:52 am Published by Leave your thoughts

“Ladies and gentlemen this is your Captain speaking. It appears we’ve hit a bit of turbulence.  For your safety and for those around you, please stay calm, seated and keep your seatbelts securely fastened”.

If you fly enough, you have undoubtedly heard an airline Captain say these words.  Many passengers would find it more comforting to hear the Captain say the following:  “This turbulence is normal and is to be expected. We never know when it will hit or how long it will last, yet it’s important for everyone to know that we built this into our flight plan before takeoff.  Please know that we are making the necessary adjustments to our flight plan which are based on the fundamental principles of flying.  I understand this can be a bit frightening, however it is important that everyone remain seated and calm. While I also know that it feels like this time it’s different, it’s not. This is normal and we will pass safely through it.  And as a friendly reminder, we’ve experienced this turbulence many times before during our flight and we’ve always made it through okay.”

The same advice can be given about the recent events in the financial markets.  Turbulence must be expected and investing is never a smooth ride.

The volatility we are experiencing this week is normal. In fact, since the beginning of this prolonged bull market which began in 2009, there have been 9 times that we have experienced this type of volatility.  The three most recent pull backs are highlighted below:

  • January 2016 – Over the course of three weeks the S&P Index was down 11 percent and by April of that year all the January losses were gone.
  • August 2015 – A 1,000-point drop in the DJIA on August 24th. The S&P lost 11 percent over the course of six sessions only to recover the losses in the next two months.
  • October 2014 – There was a 460-point rout in the Dow average on Oct. 15, widening a selloff that started a week earlier to 5 percent. The rout faded as quickly, and the Dow recouped all the losses in the next two weeks.

Even for the most disciplined of investors, this week’s market volatility is bound to strike up some negative emotions. This is completely normal. The key is to not act on those emotions or make irrational decisions.

What is causing these market moves?

  1. U.S. equities have had an unprecedented run and we were overdue for a correction.  Since the election in 2016, the S&P 500 gained 32% peaking on January 25th without any substantive pullback.  In the month of January alone, the S & P 500 ran up 7.4% to a new high before experiencing the current market turbulence.  These upward moves, while pleasant to investors, are unsustainable without consolidation.  Even though the economy looks promising going forward, corporate profits are rising, and tax cuts should spur additional growth, the financial markets simply got ahead of themselves.  The economic fundamentals are still intact and we see no signs of a slowdown on the horizon.
  2. Investors had become complacent.   As the equity markets reached new highs, many more investors piled in pushing the markets up further.  We saw risk parameters of investors change, eschewing the safety of bonds for big gains in equities.  These investors lost sight of the fact that stocks could be volatile and as quickly as they piled in, they are retreating.   Additionally, the Bitcoin phenomenon has taken on a life of its own.  We believe this is the epitome of speculation.  Speculators piled into Bitcoin driving it up to over $19,000 looking for quick gains.  Most people who invested in this cryptocurrency did not understand the fundamentals, they did it to make a quick buck.  As of this writing Bitcoin is valued at $8,300.  The risk of stock investing was not enough for these cryptocurrency speculators, they wanted more risk and got burned.  We do not invest in cryptocurrencies at JJBCO but we use investor sentiment in it as a gauge of fear and greed in the overall markets.
  3. Interest rates have been rising and this has a tendency to scare equity investors.  Since September of 2017, the yield on the 10 year US Treasury Bond has increased from 2.06% to 2.85%.  Why would this be a concern?  Markets get nervous when yields rise because of competition for investment dollars.   If an investor has an opportunity to lock in guaranteed income at higher rates they may be less likely to take the risk of investing in stocks.  We believe the orderly increase in bond yields is a good thing.  It shows that the economy is strengthening and it will allow our clients who need retirement income to meet their needs without subjecting themselves to undue equity risk.

At the end of the day this market turbulence we are experiencing is not unprecendeted….it is normal.  Yes, it is unpleasant to go through and it will shake some weaker hands out of the market.  The key is to have a target allocation and a plan.  Many investors just react with emotion because they do not know what they are investing in or the goal they are investing for.   We build portfolios on sound fundamental principles of investing which include:

  • Asset Allocation – The long term mix in your portfolio of stocks, bonds and cash.
  • Diversification – Within each asset class holding a globally diversified portfolio built upon the dimensions of returns.
  • Rebalancing – The simultaneous buying and selling of assets to maintain your target allocation and manage the risk inside your portfolio.

What happened in the markets over the last two weeks is normal.  There is no need to panic.  The fundamentals of the economy have not changed.  If you have any questions or wish to speak to us directly please feel free to contact us.

On behalf of your NY based flight crew, this is your Captain signing off.

As Goes January, So Goes the Year?

January 31, 2018 12:24 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

As the year begins, the pundits and talking heads are out in full swing with their predictions for 2018. But can anyone really predict the future consistently and predictably? Much of what investors see in the financial media is just noise. Some of that noise appears to be based on fundamentals but when one digs deeper, this is rarely the case.

For example some of the more popular headlines are about the “January Indicator” or “January Barometer.”

This theory suggests that the price movement of the S&P 500 during the month of January may signal whether that index will rise or fall during the remainder of the year. In other words, if the return of the S&P 500 in January is negative, this would supposedly foreshadow a fall for the stock market for the remainder of the year, and vice versa if returns in January are positive.

So have past Januarys’ S&P 500 returns been a reliable indicator for what the rest of the year has in store? If returns in January are negative, should investors sell stocks? The chart below shows the monthly returns of the S&P 500 Index for each January since 1926, compared to the subsequent 11-month return (i.e., the return from February through December). A negative return in January was followed by a positive 11-month return about 60% of the time, with an average return during those 11 months of around 7%.

This data suggests there may be an opportunity cost for abandoning equity markets after a disappointing January. Take 2016, for example: The return of the S&P 500 during the first two weeks was the worst on record for that period, at -7.93%. Even with positive returns toward the end of the month, the S&P 500 returned -4.96% in January 2016, the ninth-worst January return observed from 1926 to 2017. But a subsequent rebound of 18% from February to December resulted in a total calendar year return of almost 13%. An investor reacting to January’s performance by selling out of stocks would have missed out on the gains experienced by investors who stuck with equities for the whole year. This is a good example of the potential negative outcomes that can result from following investment recommendations based on an “indicator.”

Conclusion

Over the long term, the financial markets have rewarded investors. People expect a positive return on the capital they supply, and historically, the equity and bond markets have provided meaningful growth of wealth. As investors prepare for 2018 and what the year may bring, we should remember that frequent changes to an investment strategy can hurt performance. Rather than trying to beat the market based on hunches, headlines, or indicators, investors who remain disciplined can let markets work for them over time. At JJ Burns & Company, we adhere to a disciplined investment strategy focused on broad global diversification, asset allocation, rebalancing, dollar cost averaging and managing costs.

Indices are not available for direct investment. Their performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Diversification does not eliminate the risk of market loss.
There is no guarantee investment strategies will be successful. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision. There is always the risk that an investor may lose money. A long-term investment approach cannot guarantee a profit.
All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This article is distributed for informational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services. Investors should talk to their financial advisor prior to making any investment decision.

Being Smart When Giving to Charity

November 14, 2017 8:31 am Published by Leave your thoughts

There are many ways making donations can reduce your taxes, but how do you start a planned giving strategy? Which charities should you support? What type of assets should you donate? These are questions to consider. It’s also important to make sure your donation aligns with your values and fits in with your overall financial picture.

Giving to charity can often begin with something close to your heart. For instance, this year JJ Burns & Company participated in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Light the Night Walk in honor and memory of my late father, James Burns.

He was a police officer and the day he sat down and showed me those blood test results it started a journey that changed my life. Through the darkness, LLS brought light and supported our family and especially my dad. Now we support this organization that touched our lives so personally.

Choosing Causes

Participating in an event like this is only one way to make a donation. There are many causes to support. Write down what matters to you. Think about things close to your heart you feel are important. Involve the whole family. Make a list, then select three or four ideas to start. Now think about what impact you would like to make for these causes.

Choosing Charities

Begin with more familiar groups. You can shift or expand your contributions as you become more comfortable with other organizations and as you define your financial goals. Start with charitable information services such as GuideStar.org, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (Give.org), and CharityNavigator.org. Some allow you to review data, while others provide ratings for charities.

Tax Considerations

Time and money are not the only ways to make a donation. You can leverage your gift to support the charity and help you for the most tax benefit at the same time. Using our collaborative wealth management approach, we can work with your accountant to help analyze and explain your options.

Timing Donations

Spread your donations throughout the year. This gives more time to evaluate the charities—and more time for the organizations to process your paperwork. If you have special requests or require appraisal before transfer, processing will likely be easier and quicker before the end-of-year rush.

Giving Options

Donor Advised Fund (DAF)

Are you just donating cash, or are you also considering stocks and other financial instruments? One way to increase your donation options and help create more tax benefit for yourself is with a donor-advised fund (DAF). A DAF is established at a public charity. You make contributions as often as you like and receive an immediate tax benefit. The gifts can be invested and grow tax-free. Over time, you recommend grants from the DAF account.

Annuities (CLAT & CRAT)

A charitable lead annuity trust, or CLAT, pays a charity a set amount of money over a period of time. At the end of that period, any remaining money is paid to you or your family and are free from gift and estate taxes.

A charitable remainder annuity trust, or CRAT, is the opposite. It pays you and your family a set amount over a period of time. The charitable organization receives the remaining money at the end of the period.

Activating Your Plan

Take all your notes to your financial team. At JJ Burns, we will review your ideas and see how to help you meet your wealth management goals, while also supporting the causes you feel passionate about. By collaborating with all members of your financial circle, we can help you maximize your impact and work toward your greater good.

What to Know When You Own Multiple Homes

October 11, 2017 11:43 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Whether it’s going away for the weekends, for a month, or for an entire season, having a second or third home can be a blessing for families that creates lasting memories. It can also come with some significant financial considerations.

Moreover, if you’ve purchased multiple properties for investment purposes, once you get into your retirement years, you’ll want to figure out how to make the most of your portfolio of property investments to generate a steady stream of income.

Here are some key issues to think about:

Plan and Manage

In this case we mean planning about your properties—not your stock investment portfolio. Who is going to be your partner in managing the properties? If your family is not interested in management, is it worth it to hire a property manager? Secondly, do you want to eventually gift your properties to members of your family? Who can walk you through the process and give you solid tax and financial advice?

We hear about many people who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a month renting luxurious estates and apartments. That’s certainly wonderful if you are the landlord. However, you may not have the experience or time to manage all the business aspects of such a transaction. Consider hiring a knowledgeable financial advisor who can give you the full perspective of owning and managing multiple homes, and refer you to other qualified professionals to make the most of your real estate investments.

Understand Tax Planning

When you own multiple properties, you can deduct the interest on your mortgage just as you can with your primary home mortgage. According to tax law, you can write off 100% of the interest you pay up to $1 million of total debt, which includes the mortgages on homes, as well as money spent on any improvements.

Deduct Your Property Taxes

In addition to mortgage interest, you can also deduct your homes’ property taxes. The good news is that unlike the mortgage interest tax deduction, there’s no dollar limit on the amount of real estate taxes that can be deducted on the homes that you own.

Rent Out Your Homes

For many people who own multiple properties, it makes sense to rent out your empty home when you’re not there. If you rent out your home for 14 days or less during the year, that rental income is tax-free.

However, if you intend on using Airbnb, other rental sites or a real estate broker for more than 14 days after your private rental, it’s important to know that this income is taxable. You'll want to calculate the number of days you rented your home and divide that by the total number of days you or a renter used your home. This is where an advisor like JJ Burns & Company, who’s coordinating with your accountant, can help you make the most of mortgage interest, depreciation, business expenses and other home ownership issues to stay right with the IRS.

Simplify Your Investments

Rather than own residential real estate that may be inconvenient to manage, many people look to invest in commercial buildings. These properties still generate income and may have similar tax advantages, but if professionally managed, do not require the hands-on responsibilities of home or estate ownership.

Sell It

Depending on your circumstances and the number of properties you have, you may want to consider selling some properties due to taxes, maintenance or the location. You should evaluate which ones generate the most income—especially if you’re retired—and how the sale may impact your taxes.

Something else to think about when selling is how a sale can impact the balance of your portfolio and income-generating investments. At JJ Burns, we can review the full picture of your investment portfolio, pensions, IRA and 401(k)s, rental income, and annuities to give you informed advice about the steps you can take to maximize your current—and future—wealth.

Seek Legal Advice

Retirement planning, real estate, and family law are complex areas that require legal counsel. Unlike working on your homes on the weekends, this is not do-it-yourself territory.

If you decide to keep your properties to generate retirement income—or want to protect your real estate investment portfolio and pass it on to your heirs without going through probate–you can create a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) or a Family Limited Partnership. Because the laws vary throughout states, counties and cities, it is best to leave the decision to the legal professionals.

We’ve also known about families that have spent fortunes in court, only to be torn apart battling over estates. An LLC gives each family member an equal interest, which avoids future disputes over any properties. There’s also flexibility to transfer shares, consolidate individual properties into a master LLC or into a revocable trust.

Owning a number of homes can definitely enhance your life. And investing in properties is a smart way to bring in income during retirement, as well as diversify your financial portfolio. Whether you intend to manage your properties, sell it, or pass it on to your heirs, JJ Burns can help you collaborate with all aligned professionals to create a tax-efficient plan that works best for you and your family.

Equifax Data Breach – Here’s What to Do

September 14, 2017 5:49 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Your financial well-being is our highest priority. In light of the recent security breach at Equifax—which potentially exposed 143 million Social Security numbers, birth dates, and other private information—we have put together some guidelines to help you respond appropriately.

Equifax has set up a website for determining if you were affected. There have been reports of past problems, but it seems to be working properly now. However, whether or not you were impacted this time, protecting yourself against future breaches is still important. We’ve laid out the best options for doing so.

Third-Party Credit Monitoring Services

Third-party monitoring services (like Lifelock or Identity Guard) proactively monitor your credit and alert you to potentially fraudulent activity, for a fee. Many providers will also help you restore your credit if you do become victimized by identity theft. Some offer additional services such as black market website surveillance, address change verifications, checking and savings account application alerts, and consolidated credit bureau monitoring.

If you aren’t utilizing a third-party monitoring service, you should consider taking precautions directly with the three major credit reporting agencies—TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. You can consult with each of them on your own for little or no cost. However, doing this will require sustained vigilance on your part. With a monitoring agency, you don’t need to constantly review your credit reports. 

Credit Monitoring On Your Own

Fraud Alerts

A first step to consider is placing a fraud alert with the three credit reporting companies.

  • What is a fraud alert? A precaution notifying lenders to contact you and verify your identity before approving any new credit application in your name.
  • How much does it cost? There is no charge for adding fraud alerts to your credit report.
  • How long does it last? An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days, but may be renewed for 90 more. If you have been an identity theft victim, you may apply for a seven-year extended fraud alert. 

When you place a fraud alert with any credit reporting company, they’ll notify the others to add alerts.

Security Freeze

The next level of protection is to request a security freeze, or credit freeze. In order for this to be effective, you must contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies individually.

  • What is a credit freeze? Only those you authorize can view your credit report. You use a secure code, similar to a PIN number, to allow access. However, companies that do business with you can still access your credit report data.
  • How much does it cost? Equifax has agreed to waive fees for all security freezes initiated by November 21, 2017. They are also offering potential breach victims one free year of their TrustedID Premier service, which provides credit file monitoring and identity theft protection. Otherwise, charges are minimal but depend on your state of residence. Some states also charge for lifting the freeze or providing a replacement PIN.
  • How long does it last? In most cases, freezes are in place until you remove them. In some states, they are only in effect for seven years, with options for renewal. 

When you apply for new credit, you need to request a lift in the security freeze. Loan approval may be delayed, because “thawing” can take several days.

Credit Lock

A credit lock functions like a credit freeze, but offers additional convenience.

  • What is a credit lock? You control access to your data by instantly locking and unlocking your account online when you want to allow a legitimate credit inquiry.
  • How much does it cost? There are service fees, although Equifax is waiving all fees through November 21, 2017.
  • How long does it last? As long as you continue to pay the fee.

Some Final Thoughts

As data breaches become more commonplace, protecting your financial security requires careful consideration. Whether you choose to lock your credit report accounts and manage them yourself, or leave them unlocked and sign up with a third-party credit monitoring service, we strongly advise you to take precautions.

When it comes to cybersecurity, vigilance is our number one weapon. You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones. Please share this article with friends and family.

If you have questions, or if we can be of service in any way, please contact us.

Two Must-Read Summer Books

August 8, 2017 11:37 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Summer may be a time for light beach reads, but if you’re ready for something a bit more insightful and inspirational, here are a couple books that fit the bill. Both are highly readable and engaging, but they also deliver important takeaways that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Consider this a follow up to last month’s blog post about how to have a financially savvy summer!

Back by Popular Demand

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street

How can you resist a read that both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet agree is the best business book ever?

Originally published in 1969, Business Adventures by New Yorker contributor John Brooks went out of print in the 1970s. But after Warren Buffet loaned it to Bill Gates—who publicly called it his favorite business book—it was reprinted in 2014 with an updated title: Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street. It’s been wildly popular ever since.

What makes this book so special? Brooks provides detailed stories of 12 defining events in business history and makes them crackle with life and wit. He also reveals plenty of insider information on what went right—or terribly wrong—in each situation.

As entertaining as he is perceptive, Brooks delivers important insights we can all learn from. In fact, his tales are so enjoyable you may even find yourself turning them into educational conversations with your kids.

Although he’s writing about incidents from the 1950s and ‘60s, Brooks’ observations remain as relevant today as they were back then. As Bill Gates put it in a blog post about the book, “the rules for running a strong business and creating value haven’t changed.”

It was particularly fascinating to read about “The Fate of the Edsel,” a fresh take on Ford’s spectacular failure to listen to and communicate with their customers. It’s a cautionary tale for business leaders today, and at JJ Burns, the story’s lessons have been helping us communicate better with our own clients.

There’s also much to be learned from Brooks’ exploration of the seemingly invincible Xerox Corporation’s downfall, which was primarily due to a massive failure of vision and innovation. This story will resonate with our entrepreneur and executive clients. Continued innovation is essential to continued success.

You’d think such high-profile failures would never happen again. And yet, only recently, Kodak followed a very similar downward trajectory, going from undisputed industry leader to bankruptcy court—mainly because of misguided innovation and strategic management failures.

They say whoever is ignorant of the past is doomed to repeat it. In addition to being a delightful piece of writing, this book helps inoculate you against that ignorance.

Enjoy it like a vintage wine.

From Searing Pain to Soaring Purpose

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

Before reading any further, stop. Write down the three things you are most grateful for in your life.

If you’re like most of us, your answers will be drawn from the following: health, family, relationships, and the fortunate circumstances life has afforded you. We often take these things for granted as we go about living our everyday lives. 

But for Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, the ability to take such things for granted came to a crashing halt with her husband’s sudden and untimely death during a family vacation. 

Her answer to this devastating loss was to write about it with help from her friend, psychologist and top-rated Wharton professor Adam Grant. The resulting book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, continues to climb bestseller lists around the country.

And for good reason. Both hopeful and heartbreaking, Sandberg’s book is a generous treasure trove of wisdom and inspiration. Her personal grief and isolation in the aftermath of losing her beloved husband is interwoven with many other stories of people triumphing over adversity. It’s a moving testament to the human spirit, as well as a practical guide to building resilience and recovering from life’s inevitable difficulties. 

Sandberg rose above her own experience to bring about workplace change. She recently helped enact a new policy at Facebook that gives employees 20 days of paid bereavement leave—which is two times more than the previous amount.

Using a devastating setback as a springboard to societal change may be out of reach for most of us, but this book will certainly inspire you to a deeper appreciation of all that you have. And it is a book you may find yourself returning to the next time life sweeps away your Option A and leaves you to make the most of Option B.

Navigating Difficult Times

As financial advisors, we’re frequently called upon when clients are going through major life crises, many of which are as devastating as losing a loved one or a business. It’s our privilege to serve in these situations. Our concern goes way beyond simply answering the question, “do I have enough money or resources to get through this?”

While we can’t ease the emotional pain of loss, we can ensure that no additional suffering occurs because of insufficient planning. Making sure you’re prepared for the unexpected is one of the most important things we do.

It’s also one reason we’re very proud of our vocation. We have the opportunity every day to make a difference, to help ease life’s burdens, to provide a safety net when life’s inevitable tragedies occur—and just as importantly, to help families like yours live life to the fullest in the good times.

We consider you, our clients, to be part of the JJ Burns family. We’re here to help with whatever you need.

Six Things to Make the Most of Your Summer Months

July 13, 2017 8:31 am Published by Leave your thoughts

As a kid, you waited all year for summer. It was the time in which getting up early, going to school, doing homework and taking tests, ceased to exist.

Of course, now that we are adults, we don’t get the summer off—nor do our finances.

Cash flow and tax planning play a part in our financial plans for the year. However, with the summer vacation months, those plans can sometimes fall off track.

Keep reading to find out how you can avoid a sharp summer’s hit to your finances, and still maintain a work/life balance that can help you further enjoy the mid-year vacation months.

Know Your Cash Flow

Within reason, your finances shouldn’t get in the way of your enjoyment of the summer vacation months.

Even if you have mortgage and car payment obligations in addition to adhering to your year-long financial plan, this doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun in the summer sun.

Check out your cash flow to see what you can afford to do with your family this summer. Make sure what you plan to spend does not affect your emergency fund (which should be six months’ worth of your yearly salary).

Plan Your Taxes

Next, see if your taxes are in order. For instance, are all your taxes paid? If you’re self-employed, have you made the correct estimated tax payments? Look into what you might owe federally or to the state where you live. Make it a point to also verify your property tax is paid.

Plan ahead for your deductions and credits before the tax year ends. You can maximize your deductions by making charitable donations, contributions to qualifying retirement accounts, or deposits to your health savings account (HSA). Consult your wealth manager for the maximum amounts you can contribute to avoid a tax penalty. Also, be sure to keep good records to make the tax filing process easier.

Introduce Your Kids to Finance

It’s never too early to teach your kids about finance, and summer can be your perfect opportunity to teach them financial value and responsibility.

For instance, for your younger ones, consider giving them a set amount of money for the summer, and then teach them how to budget to make the most of their money until the start of school. Suggest that they perform small odd jobs around the house, such as cleaning the yard or washing the family cars to make money that can further supplement their summer savings.

Your older kids can also learn financial life-long lessons this summer by becoming more independent. For instance, let them grocery shop or cook for themselves as well as their friends instead of going out to a potentially expensive lunch or dinner.

If your son or daughter drive to a job or paid internship this summer, encourage them to pay their fuel expenses, and of course auto insurance. Doing so will help them understand the importance of keeping up with not just their financial responsibilities, but also their real-world responsibilities.

Give your older kids other ideas to help build their financial independence. If your son or daughter has plans to attend music festivals or take summer weekend trips with friends, encourage them to work, save toward their goals. Paying for their own recreation or time away from home can have a monumental financial impression on them that could last a lifetime.

Vacation Within Reason

Okay, so maybe this summer you don’t feel like spending thousands of dollars on that villa in Tuscany. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the summer months while being a bit closer to home.

If the beach or the mountains are near, spend a couple weekends this summer playing in the waves or staring at the majestic high-altitude views. Doing so will be much more cost effective than going on an expensive vacation, especially abroad.

Also, for the fun of it, check out your local paper’s real estate section to find out if any timeshare resorts near you might be offering free weekend stays. If all you have to do in return is attend a seminar for potential timeshare buyers, the cost might be worth it.

Celebrate Smart, Particularly with Summer Weddings

All of us know weddings are expensive, particularly with some nuptials rising into the tens of thousands of dollars.

If someone in your household is getting married this summer, try to be fiscally responsible in spite of the fact that this is a special once-in-a-lifetime event for you, your son or daughter.

For instance, with weddings, budget experts suggest the event not be held on Saturday, but instead on a Sunday, or any other day of the week. Many hotels and resorts charge more for Saturday weddings as opposed to other days of the week.

Try to get married at the end of the season. You can save a good amount if yours’ or your son or daughter’s wedding is held in late August or September, as opposed to June or July.

Budget experts and wedding savers also suggest that you find a venue that doesn’t require you to use “in-house” vendors. Try to find a marriage and/or reception location where you can bring your own catering.

Additional savings can also be realized if the wedding and reception are held in the same location.

A Better Work/Life Balance

Summer is when we recharge ourselves, start new, and strengthen up for the remaining six months of the year.

In order to make the most of your summer, it's important to have a written plan of what you want to accomplish. Keep track of your finances, your taxes as well as any additional expenses this summer, such as a wedding or travel, and you’ll have a better chance to enjoy some quality down time without breaking the bank.

If anything, your work/life balance deserves it.

Negotiating Your Finances When You Divorce

March 23, 2017 11:40 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Whether you have been married for a year, or several years or longer, getting divorced can be difficult—certainly emotionally, but also financially.

With the right mindset and planning, divorce doesn’t have to drain your financial assets. Instead, there can be negotiations that benefit both parties.

For most, divorce is not always easy. There may be property, children, businesses, and debts that need to be addressed. Before the papers are signed, people should know what they want to accomplish when they dissolve a marriage. Is it wealth preservation, child custody, asset protection?

Few people want to think of marriage in business terms. It’s not romantic at all. And when you get married, you hope that it will last forever. For some, relationships can run their course.

Your State of Residence Matters

According to lawyers, the simplest divorces are the ones where it’s simply dividing up property. Nine states are community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. This means that whatever you earn, or property that you acquire during the marriage, is subject to a 50-50 split when you divorce.

In all other states, it’s a bit more complicated. Take the hypothetical case of Katie who was married for 16 years, has two kids, and helped build her husband’s dentistry business by introducing him to key people in the community.

Legally, she is entitled to part of the value she put into the business, as well as some of what the couple both earned and saved during their marriage, and a portion of the house and other assets. This all takes time to sort out.

A Formula for Support

Family courts have a formula to determine an amount of support. In New York, if you have one child, you will receive 17 percent of the salary from the non-custodial parent, two children may receive 25 percent, and three children may receive 29 percent of salary.

Even so, if you’ve been a stay-at-home mom like Katie who has put her career on hold to raise kids who attend private school, suddenly getting a high-paying job to support your family can be a bit unrealistic. How is she going to continue her—and the kids’— lifestyles?

It all comes down to a valuation of Katie’s participation in her former husband’s business and family responsibilities, and then strategic negotiation to give her a desirable result.

What it also means is for her to take herself out of the emotional equation of the divorce, and assemble a team of financial specialists, lawyers, and mediators who can work with her best interests in mind. It also gives Katie the resources to communicate “individually” with each team member, “checking and balancing” the advice given to minimize or eliminate conflicts of interest, so she gets the results she desires. 

It’s a smart move for both sides. Depending on the situation, a collaborative team can cost much less than a litigious divorce lawyer.

Getting Wise Counsel

Most of us take out insurance to protect ourselves in case something happens. A review with a financial professional in the case of a divorce is the same thing—protection. To learn more, download our divorce toolkit "Suddenly Single: What to Do When You’re On Your Own Financially" and get the proper guidance on how to protect your assets and financial future.

The One Rule Many Advisors Don’t Follow

March 9, 2017 10:29 am Published by Leave your thoughts

What is the “Fiduciary Rule”?

You might have heard in the news about the new “fiduciary rule.” Although it might seem confusing, basically, the Department of Labor created a new retirement investing rule that’s supposed to go in to effect on April 10, 2017.

“Fiduciary” is defined as the relationship between a trustee and the person or body for whom the trustee acts. In other words, it’s an individual who holds a legal or ethical relationship of trust, and has an obligation to act in the best interest of the beneficiary.

The rule was created after a government report determined that U.S. retirees lose a total of $17 billion each year because of conflicts of interest. Since the Department of Labor oversees regulations for 401(k)s, they decided in step in.

The rule is designed to help average investors save more money for retirement and spend less on commissions and fees.

Using Celebrities as Examples

What about the not-so-average investor? Their stories are fascinating because of the person’s fame.

We can all learn from the high-profile mistakes of a celebrity, such as the recent case of Johnny Depp. He is out of money. Now the courts will decide if it was his fault for living a lavish lifestyle, or if it might have been the fault of those giving him financial advice.

Despite tales of large monthly wine budgets, and purchases of a village in France and islands in the Bahamas, this is yet another celebrity example for everyone. The bottom line: the lesson to learn here is whether your financial advisor is serving your needs or not.

Fiduciaries and You

What does this mean? Right now, although many financial advisors give sound advice, some may recommend investments because of the commission they will get—not what will make the wisest choice for the client.

The new fiduciary rule applies only to 401(k) and retirement investment vehicles. The Department of Labor does not have jurisdiction over other types of investments.

Some of the larger firms have been scrambling to make changes and determine how they can adjust their practices to serve their clients under the new regulation. Plans may be changing. Accounts may be restructured. Clients are being called in for meetings to explain what this means to them.

Fee structures and investment offerings are now being scrutinized and retooled. Portfolios are being rearranged.

Obligation or Choice?

Many people assume their advisor is behaving as a “loyal fiduciary and prudent steward,” as Johnny Depp’s lawsuit describes. Until the Department of Labor started placing the spotlight on “fiduciary,” many clients did not realize the extent of possible conflict of interest.

Celebrities can hire expensive advisors of all kinds to help them understand the myriad of legal disclosures and fine print. But what about ordinary people? No matter who you are and how much money you have, you hire people to help you make decisions and manage your affairs in a beneficial way.

How do you know if your financial advisor is a fiduciary? Ask. Take a look at your statements. Know what you are paying for. You should feel comfortable with the answers you receive.

Who Has Responsibility?

You might be able to do your own taxes, but you hire an accountant to do it for you to save time and leverage their expertise. You even hire someone to take care of your yard, not because you don’t know how to mow the lawn, but because it allows you to do other things.

There is a battle waging over the Fiduciary Rule. One camp says investors should understand where they are putting their money and not blindly take advice from their financial advisors. The other side believes clients don’t always know the full picture. They hire an expert for advice to help save for retirement, not to invest in funds with the highest commissions.

In the movies, everything usually works out. In real life, it’s not always so simple. For the busy professional, and even the seasoned investor, the best path can be terribly confusing. Your advisor should be able to help.

The Future of Fiduciary

The Obama administration began the Fiduciary Rule implementation, but it was very complicated and many details were not ironed out. The Trump administration has voiced opposition to the regulation, ordering a six-month delay in the rule’s implementation.

Despite uncertainty among politicians and firms, JJ Burns & Company has always and will continue to act as a fiduciary for clients. It is one of the reasons our clients trust us. It is one of the qualities setting us apart from other advisors.

We are here to talk with you anytime.

Your Whole Picture

The new rule applies only to retirement investments and 401(k)s, but we feel that your financial advisor should treat your entire portfolio as a fiduciary would. Why should they serve your best interests for retirement accounts, but not your other investments?

JJ Burns has always felt that taking the role of a fiduciary—someone who serves the best interest of the client—is important. We are happy to sit down with our clients to review investments, portfolios and personal financial plans. We always want you to understand where your money is and why it is there.

Exclusive Webinar: Q1 2017 Economic & Market Outlook

January 25, 2017 8:27 am Published by Leave your thoughts

[Update: For those who couldn't attend, you can watch the webinar video here.]

What key themes will shape global markets in 2017?

After a rollercoaster year of geopolitical surprises, the outlook for the global economy remains uncertain with the prospect of fiscal stimulus, trade protectionism, and accelerated interest rates in 2017. How will these risks and opportunities affect your portfolio and business?

Join JJ Burns & Company on Thursday, February 2nd at 1:00 pm EST for a webinar to discuss the Q1 2017 Economic & Market Outlook. During this live presentation, CEO JJ Burns, Managing Director Anthony LaGiglia, and Chief Investment Officer Steven Mula will review our outlook for the coming year.

Bonus: All registrants will receive a link to the on-demand version of the webinar following its completion.

In this 30-minute webinar we'll talk about:

  • The resiliency of 2016 markets to Brexit, China’s transition, and the U.S. presidential election
  • Near-term expectations of growth and inflation
  • Key themes & economic trends to watch for in 2017

Plus we’ll also answer questions from attendees.

Don't miss this informative event! Reserve your spot today.

New Year, New Plan: 9 Ways to Achieve Your Goals

January 10, 2017 9:29 am Published by Leave your thoughts

New year. New you. As we go into 2017, we’re all fired up to make improvements: diet, exercise, relationships, finances.

What do you want to accomplish this year—and in the future? It all depends…on your goals. Ever wonder why most new year’s resolutions fail? It’s because most people don’t go through the goal engineering process. (Yes, there is a science behind that.)

X person from the evening news suggests you should do this, you read Y in The New York Times, you heard Z on a popular podcast, and who knows what’s going to happen with the incoming administration.

The only thing to do is to take charge of your situation. Again, it’s about what you want to accomplish. It could be spending more time with family, getting up at 5 a.m. to exercise with a buddy or a trainer, learning a new language...or also figuring out what you want to achieve financially this year. Perhaps just pick one to start with.

There’s no time like the present to tackle whatever it is you want to do. Just like you have other advisors to help you in certain areas, begin the new year by taking charge of your finances. Base your future on what is important to you, not by a popular article you read or what you heard from an arbitrary commentator.

Instead, knowledgeable wealth advisors suggest that you take the following steps:

  1. Envision your goals and write them down. It helps you and your financial advisor to have a tangible document of where you want to go this month, the next six months, a year, and going forward. Some people jot things down on a legal pad, others prefer creating an Excel spreadsheet, while others are more visual and like to include pictures of their goals—such as a trip, a new home or their ideal retirement—into their yearly financial plans. It doesn’t matter what your method, only that you take it out of your head and put it on paper, Pinterest, or your iPad.
  2. Anticipate the obstacles. Any worthy goal has obstacles.  Fleshing out the obstacles in advance and writing out how you will move through them will eliminate the excuse of not being able to achieve it.  Think about potential roadblocks, like “impulse purchases” or expenses that you could have anticipated, which will derail a long-term savings plan. 
  3. Enact your written plan. Whether it’s saving a certain amount a month for a vacation, putting money away for retirement, making sure school tuition is paid for, taking care of aging family…it all takes consistent action. Once you’ve envisioned your goals, how are you going to get there?
  4. Take control of your habits. Your habit to regularly save, your habit to maximize your tax advantages, and your habits to invest greatly influence your ability to make your financial plans successful. And, of course, have a habit to direct funds to what makes you happy—whether it’s giving to charity, helping a family member with college tuition, expanding your wine collection, or creating memorable experiences. Great investing and savings strategies are not temporary things you do at the beginning of the year like all those other resolutions. Simple things such as automatic deductions to your designated accounts can help you easily reach your goals without even thinking about them.
  5. Don’t try to time the market. Instead, think about what you want your future to look like. Then go beyond wishing and take action on your future plan. Over the years, financial advisors have found that using consistent asset allocation in your plan may help you to meet or surpass your financial goals.
  6. Create realistic expectations. No matter how thoroughly you plan your financial portfolio, even experienced investors have down years along with profitable years. In some years, you may need to make up for losses in certain investment or 401(k) accounts—and in others you may be experiencing significant growth. By talking with a financial advisor, you can make appropriate adjustments to help meet expectations.
  7. Monitor your goals. Few people have static financial situations. Which is why a quarterly review with your financial advisor can help keep you on track or give you informed guidance to fine-tune your plan.
  8. Be flexible to change. For some people, this is more easily said than done. However, we can’t control everything. Circumstances can alter, goals can adjust, markets can change. Working with a trusted advisor, you can work through uncertainties to keep working toward your goals.
  9. Don’t get discouraged. If one of your goals has been to lose weight, perhaps you’ve reached a plateau at some point; if you’ve ever remodeled or built a house, you’ve definitely run into unexpected delays. The same holds true for investing. There are bound to be highs and lows along the way. We live in a world of immediate gratification so it’s natural to want to give up the minute something doesn’t turn out as anticipated. But sage advice is like a good wine—it works over time and only gets better with age. Working with an experienced advisor can help you navigate your financial and life changes. Your plan is the glue that binds you to your future goals, and it will keep you on track and in a positive frame of mind.

The start of a new year is an excellent time to take stock of what you want to accomplish in 2017, and a big part of that includes financial planning. At JJ Burns & Company, we’re here to help you achieve your goals this year—and for the future. We hope you make 2017 your best year yet.