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Happy Father’s Day!

[ 0 ] June 10, 2014

Spectrum Financial Services, NJ, FL, Happy Father's DayFather’s Day is right around the corner.  Are you ready?  No?  Well don’t worry, we have you covered.

If you are in the Red Bank, New Jersey area:

Head on over to the Colt’s Neck Inn for a Father’s Day brunch, he is sure to love.  From 11:00 am-1:00 pm enjoy favorites such as Eggs Benedict to Chicken Francaise and everything in between.  Adults are $20.95/per person and Children 10 and under are $12.95.  Children under 3 are free.

Is your dad feeling more nostalgic?  Take him to the car show.

Cruise to the Jersey shore this weekend.   From 9:00am-4:00pm, head on over to the beach front to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Cruise to the Shore.  Enjoy the day with food, live entertainment, and of course, classic cars.  Ronald MacDonald will be making an appearance from 1:30-3:30 pm.  All the proceeds will go to the Ronald MacDonald House.  Spectators are free, $10.00 registration fee.


Are you in the Florida area and looking to take dad to a Father’s Day brunch?  Look no further than Frigate’s Waterfront Bar & Grill.  On Sunday, June 15th from 9:00 am-3:00 pm, head on over to Frigate’s for shrimp an’ grits, corned beef hash benedict, and everything else in between.  Adults are $29.95 and kids 12 and under are $12.95.

Does dad want something more exciting?  Try kiteboarding.

Shawn of Cloud Nine Kiteboarding is the expert to go to for kiteboarding.  Shawn will take the time you need to get you where you are comfortable to be on your own.  Not sure what kiteboarding is, but it sounds like fun? Kitesurfing or kiteboarding is a surface water sport combining aspects of wakeboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding, and gymnastics into one extreme sport. A kitesurfer or kiteboarder harnesses the power of the wind with a large controllable power kite to be propelled across the water on a kiteboard similar to a wakeboard or a small surfboard, with or without foot-straps or bindings.

Whatever you decide to do for dad, everyone at Spectrum Financial Services, wants to wish all the fathers out there a Happy Father’s Day! 

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Prepaid College Savings Plans

[ 0 ] June 4, 2014

Spectrum Financial Solutions, FL, College savingsSaving for college is always challenging and determining how much money to save can be even more of a challenge. One of the unique plans that parents can choose are special 529 plans that allow them to lock in today’s college costs for the future. While these plans offer many benefits, there are some features of these plans that parents should be aware of including:

  • Room and board costs – generally speaking, many of these prepaid plans do not calculate room and board into their tuition lock-in plans. Parents may have to set up separate 529 plans in order to ensure the student has sufficient funds for room and board.
  • Contracts matter greatly – parents who decide a prepaid plan is a good idea should carefully review the contract to ensure they are well-versed on exactly what is offered. There are many schools that offer prepaid plans but not every plan covers the same expenses. Before you sign a contract, make sure you have thoroughly reviewed it with your financial advisor to determine if you need to save additional funds.
  • When students get scholarships – oftentimes students are awarded full academic or athletic scholarships and parents are tempted to close their prepaid plan out for other expenses. However, it is important to review the terms of these scholarships since they may not apply if the student is unable to continue playing sports or suffers a drop in grades. Keeping the prepaid plan in place until the student graduates college is typically a good idea.
  • Ask about tax savings/benefits – before you decide on a prepaid college savings plan make sure you talk to your tax advisor about the tax benefits and savings available to you. In most cases, deposits to the account are tax deductible on a state and federal level and since the funds can only be used for education purposes, growth is typically tax free as well.

There are a number of options parents may use when saving for college including prepaid tuition plans. Since these are still 529 plans, it is important to thoroughly review the plan before you decide it is the right option for your family.

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Why Use College Savings plans

[ 0 ] May 28, 2014

Spectrum Financial Solutions, NJ, College fundWhen parents decide to begin saving for college for their children, they will have to determine what type of account is most suitable. In some cases, parents may prefer 529 plans over Uniform Transfer to Minor Accounts (UTMA) since the 529 plans must be used for higher education purposes while the UTMA accounts may be used for any purpose the child sees fit.

Understanding UTMAs

Under the UTMA plans, the custodian of the account does not have control over how the funds are spent. The funds are designated to the minor child at the time the account is established. Once the child reaches the age of maturity (18 or 21 depending on the state) the account is then fully-owned by the child. Withdrawals are then controlled by the child and may be used for any purpose they wish to use them for including, but not limited to college. While the child is a minor, the custodian has an obligation to use the funds in the account solely for the beneficiary. There is no option for the custodian to change the ownership from one minor to another unlike 529 plans.

Tax benefits are often similar

In most cases, 529 college savings plans allow the funds to grow free from federal taxes. In the event the funds are used for higher-education purposes, the withdrawals are also free from federal taxes. In the case of UTMA accounts, the custodian may gift up to the maximum amount allowed under gifting laws. For federal tax purposes, 529 plan contributions are non-deductible but earnings are excluded from income if they are used for approved educational expenses. With UTMA accounts, earnings and gains are taxable though typically taxed at a lower rate since they are taxed to the minor. The first $1,000 is typically treated as tax-exempt and may be exempt up to $2,000 for certain minors.

When saving for college, 529 plans are often the plan of choice. Custodians have complete control of the funds and if the intended beneficiary elects to not attend college, a new beneficiary may be placed on the account. Your investment advisor can help you decide which plan is most appropriate for your needs.

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Memorial Day Trivia

[ 0 ] May 21, 2014

Spectrum Financial Solutions, NJ, Memorial DayDecoration Day, which is now most commonly known as Memorial Day was first observed on May 5, 1866 by residents of Waterloo, New York. There are some other facts you may not be aware of that surround this national holiday including:

  • Significance of Red Poppy – the red poppy has become a recognized symbol of Memorial Day. However, the origins may surprise you: Poet John McCrae penned “In Flanders Field” on December 8, 1915. This later became the inspiration for the red poppy.
  • Red Poppy Factory – in 1923, the VFW recognized the poppy for the first time and coined the phrase “buddy poppy”. A factory was established in Pittsburgh PA to assemble artificial poppies and they hired veterans who were unable to find work in other areas. Today, the poppies are still assembled by veterans, oftentimes those who are hospitalized. It allows them to earn a small amount of money and also helps raise money for veterans outreach programs by the American Legion as well as the Auxiliary Poppy Program.
  • The three-day weekend – Until 1971, Memorial Day was not an official holiday name until it was changed by federal declaration. Until 1968, Memorial Day was always celebrated on May 30th, it was changed to allow for a three-day weekend when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
  • National Moment of Remembrance Act – signed by President William Jefferson Clinton on December 28, 2000 this act designated 3:00pm local time as a national moment of remembrance for all the veterans lost in our wars.

War losses are significant

Since the civil war, we have lost nearly 1.25 million troops in conflicts including more than

  • 600,000 in the civil war
  • 116,000 in World War I
  • 405,000 in World War II
  • 36,000 in Korea
  • 58,000 in Vietnam
  • 4,800 in Operation Iraqi Freedom
  • 3,300 in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)

This Memorial Day weekend as we celebrate the unofficial start of summer, take a moment out to thank a veteran for your freedom.

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College Savings plans

[ 0 ] May 14, 2014

Spectrum Financial Solutions, FL, College 529 Plans

Saving for college has become easier than ever for many families since 529 plans were introduced. These plans allow anyone to open an account for a child and deposit funds into the account on a one-time basis, a monthly basis or an annual basis. Each state has its own 529 plan but in many cases, custodians of these funds may open an account in any state they choose.

Tax benefits of 529 plans

When saving for college, one consideration is the taxes paid on savings growth and at the time of withdrawal. In general, these college savings plans are free from federal taxes while they grow and, if the funds are used for higher-education, may be free from federal taxes upon withdrawal. In many states the same tax benefits are available on state tax reporting.

When a child decides against college

Perhaps one of the more unique features of a 529 savings plan is the options available should the child elect not to attend college. The custodian (the person who set up the account) has the option to change the beneficiary (the child) or to allow the funds to continue to grow in the account. Another available option, subject to taxes, is to withdraw the funds into another account. Because the new account would not be considered a qualified account, earnings on the growth portion of the funds would be subject to taxes and a penalty of up to 10 percent is also payable to the federal government. Before making this type of change it is important to speak with a tax advisor.

Saving for college is never easy although 529 plans make it easier than ever. One single child may have multiple accounts set up for them by different people. Before you decide which college savings plans are right for your needs, it is a good idea to speak with a financial advisor who can help you determine what benefits are available to you based on your individual financial needs.

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Sen.: Miami Beach Ground Zero for Sea Level Rise

[ 0 ] May 7, 2014

Spectrum Financial Group, FL, Miami BeachThe insurance industry’s refusal to acknowledge climate change may hurt the insurance industry in Southern Florida, says U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. The Miami Herald reports Nelson convened a two-hour field hearing at Miami Beach City Hall on Tuesday to draw national attention to the dangers posed by rising seas in Miami. At the hearing, a half-dozen witnesses forecast a dire future with a three-foot rise in seas by the beginning of the next century, says theHerald.

Nelson, Florida’s former insurance commissioner, also tapped an insurance industry expert to address whether the 5.7 million South Florida residents living along the nation’s hurricane highway can expect coverage under increasingly waterlogged conditions, including regular flooding due to strong high tides. Megan Linkin, a natural hazards expert with Swiss re, says the insurance industry has not accepted that climate change has caused changing weather patterns, and no companies include the risk of climate change in determining insurance rates. She adds that rising sea levels will likely make some properties so vulnerable that they could not be insured at a reasonable rate.

Nelson acknowledged that the insurance industry has recognized the United Nations’ prediction from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that more serious storms will come, but complains that “myopic vision” had kept the industry from addressing the climate matters he started asking about 20 years ago when he was the state’s insurance commissioner, says the Herald. “The fact is there’s been five to eight inches [of sea rise] in the last century and they’re going to have to build it in” to models, Nelson says.

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The Policy Review and Pandora’s Box

[ 0 ] April 30, 2014

Spectrum Financial Solutions, FL, Life insuranceIt all started as a simple question during a round of golf with friends.  I don’t discuss business on the golf course ordinarily… it gets in the way of the jokes, jibes, witnessing good and bad play and my near manic pursuit of par.

On this day, my playing partner asked me a question about his and his wife’s life insurance policies with a major mutual life insurance company (policies I didn’t place for my friends).  I said that I couldn’t answer his question adequately at that time but would be happy to meet with him at a later date.  Because of scheduling issues, we met several months later.

In advance of the meeting, I requested a great deal of material:  pre-sale illustrations, copies of policies, annual statements, trust agreements, if any, and any communication regarding original concept backing up the policies.  This information was critical to the face-to-face with my friend and his wife.

The dialogue at our meeting indicated that the policies were purchased in order to provide interim death benefits for income replacement but more importantly, the substantially overfunded policies were meant to provide tax advantaged post-retirement benefits many years down the road.  The policies on my friend and his wife were owned by irrevocable life insurance trusts, which raised a question in my mind as to proper ownership.

It should be noted that this couple are Non-Resident Aliens (NRA) but intend to gain US citizenship, when possible, in several years time.  It was stated that the trusts were designed to mitigate any estate tax issues that an NRA might experience from ownership of a U.S. life insurance policy at his or her death.

The policies (one on each of couple), when issued, were designed to become Modified Endowment Contracts (MEC), which runs counter to the goal of creating the most efficient post-retirement, tax advantaged income stream for the couple.  Under the current policies, should the client choose to receive payments (if even possible under the trust agreement), they would be taxable as ordinary income until such time as all accumulation in excess of cost basis is consumed.  Add to that the potential for a 10% penalty for distributions prior to age 59½… serious structural issues emerge and the hinges of a Pandora’s Box started to loosen.

Whereas the policy review was intended to determine whether the life insurance policies were the best means of providing for the clients’ long term goals, it uncovered a number of issues that, left unattended to, would impact, if not undermine their primary goals and planning.

Many questions emerged… Were irrevocable life insurance trusts appropriate in light of the stated goal of providing living benefits for my clients?  Were Crummey Letters sent out to beneficiaries as mandated in the trust document?  Did the Trust document(s) apply for and receive Federal Tax ID numbers?  Was the wife’s trust actually signed and witnessed?  The answers were all no or maybe, at best.

As to the life policies that were the focus of my review, they were rather uncomplicated and straight forward.  The current policies were compared to alternatives and shown to be less advantageous than new policy designs.  And correction the MEC issues only complimented the situation.

This note wasn’t meant to be a case study… I could go on for many pages commenting on various aspects of the program.  Rather, it only serves to illustrate that a second or third set of eyes reviewing older life insurance programs, revisiting goals and objectives and the documents supporting them is a prudent exercise that makes a great deal of sense.

What would have been a much larger issue as time went on is being addressed currently. And, Pandora’s Box never opened.

Written by Nunya Bidness.


Outliers And Retirement Income

[ 0 ] April 23, 2014

Spectrum Financial Solutions, FL, Retirement PlanningYou are age 65 and it’s your first day of retirement. You are about to tap a putt into the ninth hole. Based on your experience, you believe you will sink the putt.

Just to make it interesting, let’s make a little bet. If you sink the putt, you are guaranteed that you can take out an ever-increasing amount of money from your retirement assets and you’ll never run out of money in retirement—even if you live past age 100. However, if you miss the putt and the ball winds up on a completely different fairway, your money runs out before you’re age 80. Do you take the bet?

Wall Street makes a lot of investment projections calculating sustainable rates of withdrawal in retirement. Depending on the mix of stocks and bonds—and the initial withdrawal rate used—these predict that the invested money will last at least 30 years 90, 94 or 98 percent of the time. In golf terms what the projections are saying is you can move your ball closer or farther from the pin to wherever you think you’re pretty sure you could sink it, and the farther you go back from the hole, the larger the withdrawals promised. Essentially you are controlling the risk and the game because it is your decision on how much to withdraw and how to invest guided by the Wall Street model.

Let’s go back to the golf course and consider this: Unbeknownst to you, a hawk has mistaken the ball for prey and will swoop it up before it hits the hole, or a miss-hit ball from the adjacent fairway is arcing toward your green, smashes into your ball and sends it ricocheting onto the next fairway. In both cases you have lost your bet, and instead of enjoying a long and prospering retirement you will experience one with financial hardships.

We have all heard of black swans—disruptive events that cannot be predicted—but the situations mentioned above are not black swans because they could be predicted. The hawk and the ricochet are outliers in that they were possible, but extremely unlikely. Unfortunately, almost all retirement income models simply ignore outliers—therefore, retirees should not.

The 4 percent inflation-adjusted portfolio withdrawal rate assumed a 50/50 mix of stocks and bonds and provided a 94 percent confidence level that it would last at least 30 years; however, it also assumes that the long term returns of stocks and bonds continues into the future. Instead, if we assume that this current low-bond yield environment hangs on for a decade before rates return to their historic “norm,” our confidence in the retirement money lasting 30 years drops to 68 percent, and if bond yields never recover, our confidence in producing that 4 percent payout rate drops to 43 percent.1

The previous example looked at an outlier of very low bond rates. Sequence of returns risk means starting withdrawals during a period of losses. This risk is not an extreme outlier, because the bear markets of the 1970s showed what could happen. Yet it wasn’t until after we had two severe bear markets within eight years of each other that Wall Street considered reducing the suggested levels of sustainable withdrawals below 4 percent.

Another outlier is if a medical breakthrough in longevity results, where living to age 100 or 105 becomes commonplace; to get retirement income confidence levels over 90 percent would require investment portfolio withdrawals to drop below 2 percent.

If any of these three outliers occur, the options are to save much, much more for retirement (impossible for one already at retirement age); to withdraw much, much less; or to die early.

Another way is to transfer the risk of these outliers to a third party—an annuity carrier.

A guaranteed lifetime income—whether it comes from an income annuity, a deferred income annuity or a lifetime withdrawal benefit—provides protection from retiring at the wrong time, living too long or earning too little. It assures that whether you sink your putt or not, you can go on with your game.

A guaranteed annuity income won’t help if the world gets destroyed by an asteroid, nor will it stop someone who chooses playing slot machines as their new retirement activity. However, when it comes to retirement income, fixed annuities lower the risk from many outliers and eliminate others. Perhaps the biggest risk with fixed annuities is that retirees won’t learn about them until it is too late.


 1. “The 4 Percent Rule is Not Safe in a Low-Yield World,” Finke, Wade and Blanchett, January 2013,

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Quote of the Day- Money

[ 0 ] April 16, 2014

Spectrum Financial Solutions, FL, Aristotle

Money is a guarantee that we may have what we want in the future. Though we need nothing at the moment it insures the possibility of satisfying a new desire when it arises.

— Aristotle


Understanding Your Own Investment Risk Tolerance

[ 0 ] April 9, 2014

Spectrum Financial Solutions, FL, RisksMost people, once they get safely past their teenage years, have a pretty concrete list of risks they don’t care to take.

Skydiving, for instance, is either on your bucket list or not. After a certain age, you’re either itching to do it or itching to avoid it.

While we tend to get better at assessing risk as we get older, we don’t seem to learn as much about financial risk. In the markets, we seem to be perpetual teenagers, always stepping in too deep for our own good.

Unless the market moves against us once, hard. Then the opposite tends to happen. We get over-concerned about risk to the point that we stop investing completely.

Understanding where you are on this curve is important. If you take too little risk as a young investor, you might leave a lot of money on the table. Failing to realize the advantage of time means your money compounds at a lower rate or not at all. That’s very hard to overcome later in life.

The late saver then tries to do exactly that — to turn back the clock and make up for missing time. That investor then tends to take on too much risk for his or her own good, always pushing the envelope on their investments.

A few early successes is even worse. It’s easy to become convinced of your own investing acumen and to then confuse skill with blind luck. Until, of course, the luck runs out. Even then, we tend to blame the markets, or the government, or the banks, anyone but the person making the actual investments — ourselves.

How can you learn your own risk tolerance? It’s not that hard, really. Here are four basic questions any financial advisor would ask:

1.      How long until you need this money?

If you have 30 years to save and invest, it’s likely that you can handle a few market setbacks along the way. This assumption changes a lot if you are just five years away from retirement.

2.      How long do you expect to work? To live in retirement?

Many people get to retirement age unready to quit working or unable to do so, having saved too little. If work is part of your retirement plan, you might be able to take on a little more risk than most investors your age. Also, consider how long you might live in retirement. Running out of money in your later years is an avoidable outcome.

3.      How do you react when markets go up?

Joy? Champagne? Shopping sprees in celebration? Remember that you haven’t actually made any money until you sell those assets, and that might not be for decades to come. Likewise, some investors take a rising market as a sign to invest more heavily, even if stocks seem expensive.

4.      How do you react when markets go down?

Dread? Depression? Fear? Remember, you also haven’t lost any money unless you sell at a bottom. Likewise, investors tend to avoid investing as stock prices fall, which is contrary to the whole concept of “buy low and sell high.”

Correctly measuring investment risk tolerance is an important part of the any long-term retirement plan. Get it right, and you can insulate yourself from the kinds of emotional trading mistakes that plague retirement savers.

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