AUM vs. LUM

“What’s your AUM, Tom?”

During financial industry conferences and meetings, this seemingly innocent question surfaces almost without fail.

AUM = “assets under management.”

To me, that question is a veiled and vulgar way of trying to find out the total assets being managed by our firm. When using the term “assets,” the person inquiring doesn’t mean the humans and their lives that we’re helping to navigate. Rather, it’s all about the dollars and cents under our direction. The question they’re really asking is, “How much of other people’s money do you control?” To many in our industry, this is the badge of honor that they believe measures success.

I believe that “assets under management” is a crappy way to categorize clients.

I also believe that if all you have is financial capital, then you don’t really have all that much.

While it’s an important data point for valuing a business, it unfortunately doesn’t indicate the true value of a financial professional or their client base. At Note, we have a different standard of that value for both.

We like to think in terms of “lives under management.” 

When considering the “assets” we manage, our focus turns to people we advise. The human beings we help to successfully navigate their personal and financial challenges. Challenges such as:

  • Investing their limited resources of time and money in starting a business. 
  • Taking on the financial capital risks of borrowing money to begin and/or grow a business. 
  • Sweating-out the personal guarantees needed to secure loans in early-stage businesses, or businesses under stress.
  • Lost sleep and compromised health due to the pressures of financial and business risks. 
  • Business distractions that prevent clients from being “present” with their family, spouse or significant other, and the resultant dissatisfaction over a loved one being mentally somewhere else.

Often when we begin advising clients, they find themselves in uncharted waters as we help them navigate their “lives under management.” Yet because of our years of experience, we know the management plan we are creating for them will deliver results. We’ve seen it. We can smell it. We know it, often before those we are working with actually experience it.

We also know that helping people transition their sweat and tears into something of value, and extracting that value over time in the form of financial capital, can give them valued independence. People can live in ways that allow them increased control over their time. They can enjoy extended vacations. They create the ability to transition their business to family or employees, or sell their businesses and move on to their next venture with a smile on their face.

Most importantly, they become fully aware that they are not simply “assets under management.” They are human beings who we value and whose lives we are helping to build and enjoy.

Are You Really “All Set”?

    “We’re all set”

     This simple three-word phrase is one I’ve heard throughout my career, in instances that often stick in my mind. One of those relates to a couple I worked with for more than 20 years. Early on, I provided the husband with financial advice about an insurance policy, which he then purchased. Sadly, he subsequently contracted an illness that caused him to become disabled for the remainder of his life.  

     As I do with all clients, I attempted to get back together with the couple for an annual review of that policy, and the details of how it worked. More often than not the appointments were scheduled and cancelled as “unnecessary,” with the wife always concluding, “We’re all set.” 

   This year the gentleman passed away. His widow contacted me to ask if I could provide her information on his life insurance beneficiaries. When I shared the information, she was shocked. She indicated that she and her husband had modified their wills to ensure select individuals they had originally noted as beneficiaries on the policy would not receive any proceeds.  

     I advised her that since such a policy is a separate contract with the insurance company, changing their wills did not change the beneficiary designations. I explained that unless an insurance contract is modified, the policy is paid out according to the original terms.

     At that point, the widow became upset, saying her husband would be rolling over in his grave if he knew the amount of money that would be going to certain beneficiaries. She said she understood that she and her husband had cancelled a number of appointments with me and clearly they were not as “set” as they both thought. 

     I advised her that I was sorry but, as difficult as it was to watch it unfold, the proceeds were being paid out exactly as they had been written. In the end, it was an expensive and painful lesson for this woman about the consequences of not being “all set.”  

     Medical professionals require an active relationship with their patients in order to establish and maintain a baseline of their health. Without that baseline there is no reference for how much a patient has changed, how their current health varies from “normal”, or how to ensure their ongoing wellness. 

     The same is true for financial professionals.    

     Without a baseline understanding of a client’s personal and financial situation and a game plan for the future, advising is often nothing more than business transactions that sometimes include opportunistic purposes to sell products to a client without clear objectives. 

     Today, professionals in every field are recognizing the risks of advising “we’re all set” clients; those who don’t proactively participate in the planning process. They are also facing increased liability costs of attempting to advise reactive individuals in today’s litigious society. Many are notifying such clients of non-compliance and pruning them from their client/patient lists. Not a great place to find yourself when you need professional help and realize you are not “all set,” not insurable, not prepared for retirement, not liquid and not protected by any kind of safety net or parachute. 

     The next time you’re inclined to dismiss a professional who is trying to serve you and maintain an active relationship, think twice. Agree to meet with them and keep that appointment. Maintain your baseline. Let your professional lead you through their established processes and provide you with proven solutions. Make sure that ultimately, when you say those three little words, you really are, “all set.”

Great Advisors Ask Great Questions

In the decades I’ve spent advising individuals on their businesses and their wealth, I’ve observed that people are often concerned about having the “right answers.” It makes sense. We all want to be correct, feel affirmed, and know we’re on the path of success. However, I’ve learned that to arrive at the “right answers,” you need to ask the right questions. At Note, we believe great advisors ask great questions. The kinds of questions others might not.

Questions you never get to fully contemplate in the day-to-day demands of running your business. 

Questions which, by the time you recognize they should have been asked and addressed, rob you of valued financial capital and time. 

“What made you decide to start this line of work?”  

“Are you still doing it for the same reasons?” 

“What has to happen over the next three years for you to feel professionally fulfilled and successful?” 

“When was the last time you took off a couple of weeks, or even a month, from your work?”

 “If you don’t have the support in place to take a month off or more, what do you think would happen to your business if you become unable to work for an extended period of time due to illness, injury, or premature death?”

These kinds of essential business questions don’t stop there. For many business owners, there are succession concerns that can implicate partners, family, and employees.

“How do you plan on getting out of this business alive?” 

“Are your children working for you? If so, do they expect to own the business someday?”

“Can you identify key employees in your company?” 

“Do they know they are your key employees?”

Some business owners have shareholder involvements. 

“Have you reviewed your shareholder agreement to make sure those integral to your business aren’t robbed of ownership positions, like your children?”

“How might this impact partners and co-shareholders you might have?”

“Does your shareholders agreement address liquidity needs that may occur during their lives—college education funding, unanticipated expensive medical care, helping a child with a home down payment or a grandchild with their education?”

“Can these needs create the unintended consequences of diminished business focus, or loss of a key shareholder?”

There’s also the challenge of managing relationships with varied business advisors.

“Do you have a collaborative team of advisors—an accountant, a tax expert, a lawyer, an operations pro?
“How do you coordinate communication among them all? 

“Do you have one core advisor facilitating such communication? Or do you find yourself spending your business time interpreting the work of each one of your advisors for everyone else?”

“How’s that working for you?”

If any of these questions hit a nerve, I want you to know that I see you and the challenges you’re facing. That’s why I’m passionate about asking great questions that grab your attention and give you pause. Questions that inspire the right answers for your family, your business, your wealth, and your legacy.

If you’d like to start a conversation filled with great questions, I can be reached at Tom@NoteAdvisor.com.

Mid-Year Tax Reviews Can Save You $$$

Every tax season, U.S. businesses owners and individual taxpayers undergo an amazing ritual. At the beginning of the year, we start collecting forms from various entities: banks, creditors, investment companies, our employers, etc.

After we have gotten all of our paperwork, we then figure out whether we’re going to waste a weekend slogging through all this paperwork, or if we’re going to outsource it to someone like a strip mall tax preparer or a CPA. Whatever we decide, our singular focus is to figure out one thing: “How big is my refund going to be?” 

If the answer is negative, meaning we owe the IRS money, that ruins the whole weekend. Whatever the result, all we know is that once we have finished—which is usually around March 15th for businesses and April 14 for most individuals— we don’t think about taxes for another year. 

Is that the right approach? Perhaps not.Here are 5 reasons why you might want to review your tax situation mid-year.


Tax Review Reason #1: Adjusting employer withholdings.

In early 2018, the IRS prescribed new withholdingtables for employers, based upon the changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. While most people will pay a lower tax bill, there are those who might pay more. However, the withholding tables are largely adjusted to withhold less in taxes which can result in a nasty double whammy for some taxpayers of paying more in taxes, but having less withholdings in their paycheck. 

You can avoid this situation by simply taking 10 minutes to check for yourself on the IRS’ withholding website. Here, you can walk through some pretty simple questions about your personal situation, income, and possible deductions. After answering these questions, the IRS will give you some suggestions on whether you need to adjust your employer withholdings. 


Tax Review Reason #2: Seeing the tax impact of specific life events.

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Sometimes, it seems that our taxes just stay the same, regardless of what we do. That is not necessarily true. Here are a few examples of specific life events that should encourage you to do a mid-year tax review.

  • If you have a child going to college, you may qualify you for a tax credit and deductions for tuition expenses. Check out the IRS Website for details.
  • If you have purchased a home for the first time and are starting to itemize deductions because of the mortgage interest and real estate taxes you are now paying.
  • If you have installed energy-efficient appliances that provide you eligibility for tax credits. Click here for more information.
  • If you are recently retired and need to figure out how your withholdings work now that your employer is no longer taking that money out of your paycheck.

Tax Review Reason #3: Sound tax advice.

If you ask a tax professional questions about your financial situation at this time of year, you are consulting them when they are not singularly focused and stressed over getting through tax season. 

You can have an enlightened conversation about this year’s tax return with the knowledge base of last year’s returns and the calm of an off-season consultation. 


Tax Review Reason #4: Learn more about your options and properly plan

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  • Planning to sell some stock? Depending on your situation, there’s probably more than one right way to do this. There are also there are many tax-inefficient ways. Talking with a financial professional before you make these decisions might help you save money on taxes.
  • Looking to increase your charitable contributions this year? Perhaps you can get more bang for your buck if you bunch itemized deductions every other year.
  • Just retired, but not ready to take money out of your IRA? Perhaps it is worth doing Roth conversions while you’re in a low tax bracket, so you won’t get a nasty surprise when you have to start taking required minimum distributions and find out you’re in a much higher tax bracket. Proper tax planning might help you figure out the best decisions for your situation.

There are so many different aspects of your life with some sort of tax impact. And it’s important to make sure you’re doing this while you still have time to make changes. For example:

  • If you need to adjust your withholdings, it’s best to do it mid-year, so you have more paychecks for those changes to take effect. **
  • If you’re looking to contribute to an IRA**, it’s probably best to spread out those contributions over the course of the year. When you do tax planning mid-year, you can always come back at year-end to see what else needs to be done, but the reverse isn’t necessarily true.

The point should be to enjoy your BEST life while remaining as tax efficient as possible. And that’s best done with proper tax planning. 


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What’s next? Talk to your financial advisor. That’s us!! Note Advisors is a one-stop-shop for all of your tax review and planning needs. 

In fact, GCW Principal, Shawn Glogowski, is an Enrolled IRS Agent, which means he is licensed to practice before the IRS and, if needed, can legally advocate with them on your behalf. 

Why not get your mid-year tax review going now, before it’s too late.

SCHEDULE YOUR APPOINTMENT NOW


Parts of this blog were excerpted from an online article by WestChase Financial Planning.

Making the Most of Your Charitable Donations

As we make our way through the pandemic, not for profits and community organizations are facing increasing challenges not only in serving those in need, but in keeping their doors open. These circumstances have led to a significant increase in the number of groups asking for donations.

How do you decide which causes to support? Additionally, if you’re concerned about getting a tax deduction for your contribution, the higher standard deduction, established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, can make it a little more difficult.

These days you have to be strategic about those to whom you donate and the amount you give. Whether your donations are large or small, here are some ways to give meaningfully, stay true to your budget and to yourself—and possibly get a tax break as well


Personal strategies for giving

Just because you cannot give to every worthy cause, there’s no reason you have to feel ungenerous. With a little strategic planning, you can choose both the best place and the best way to share your good fortune.

  • Start with what’s important to you—Do you have a particular passion such as the arts, the environment, education, or fighting poverty? Is there an organization that has made a difference in your life? Giving to a cause that has a personal meaning can be both effective and rewarding.
  • Look to your own community—Making a financial contribution that will not only benefit a cause you believe in but also have a local impact can give your donation extra meaning. Consider a local food bank, a scholarship fund for a neighborhood school or a struggling homeless shelter in your city.
  • Narrow down your list—Chances are you can’t give to every charity on your list, so next think about where your donations will make the most difference and choose the top three. Consider doing a little extra research by comparing charities at an independent online rating service such as charitynavigator.org or charitywatch.org before you make your final choices.
  • Apportion your money accordingly—Decide on an overall dollar amount you can afford, and then decide how to distribute it. You don’t have to give the same amount to each charity nor do you have to give all the money at once. Many organizations welcome small regular contributions over time.

Getting a tax benefit for your contributions

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Charitable contributions are still tax-deductible; howe ver, you have to itemize to get the benefit. With the higher standard deduction ($12,400 for a single filer, $24,800 for married filing jointly for 2020)—plus the reduction or elimination of many other itemized deductions—it can be a bit more of a challenge to get total deductions above that limit. Consequently, a lot of people will choose the standard deduction rather than claim the charitable deduction.

One possible solution is to give a larger amount every two or three years to help push you over the standard deduction rather than a smaller amount every year. This potentially would increase your deductions in the year you make your charitable contributions.

Also, to encourage giving and make it easier during the pandemic, the CARES Act provides a new “above the line” charitable contribution deduction of up to $300 if you claim the standard deduction in 2020. 

For people who itemize deductions, it expands the limits on cash charitable contributions from 60 percent up to 100 percent of 2020 adjusted gross income. 

Tax-smart ways to give

If tax advantages are an important part of your charitable-giving strategy, here are a couple of other ways to go about it.

  1. A donor-advised fund (DAF) is one of the easiest, tax-advantaged means of giving to charity. It’s potentially more of an initial financial commitment but the ongoing benefits to you and the charities of your choice make it worth considering. It generally takes a minimum of $5,000 to open a donor-advised fund account; however, you may qualify to get an immediate tax deduction for the entire amount, if you itemize. 
  2. If you donate appreciated assets, you could not only get a tax deduction, but also potentially avoid having to pay capital gains taxes. You then use the funds to make grants to any public charity and any money not immediately distributed can be invested, potentially increasing the amount available to give. To me, if you have the means, it’s a great way to make an upfront contribution that you can then strategically manage over time. Plus, you can do most of it online—and have easy access to your giving history.
  3. A qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from an IRA is another option for retirees who are over the age of 70.5 to give up to $100,000 a year to certain qualified charities. With a QCD, the donation is made directly from an IRA to the charitable organization, which means you don’t have to include that distribution in your taxable income. 
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Even though you don’t get a tax deduction from a QCD, it can be a tax efficient way to give—since the alternative of taking that distribution in to your income first and then making a donation could result in a higher tax on your Social Security benefits and Medicare premiums. In addition, a QCD can be used towards your required minimum distribution.

Whether you give a lot or a little, contribute money or time, by sharing what you have today you’re making a difference and investing in a better tomorrow for everyone.


This blog post was excerpted from an online article by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CFP®, Board Chair and President, Charles Schwab Foundation; Senior Vice President, Schwab Community Services, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; Board Chair, Schwab Charitable

Ensuring Your Family’s Financial Future

In meeting with and advising our clients, one of their most important concerns is focused on ensuring their family’s future. Within that conversation often comes the question of the best way to leave money to their grandchildren. 

In many ways, leaving an IRA can be a good alternative. The money continues to grow tax-deferred and when the grandchildren do inherit it, they’ll have options about when and how to withdraw the money. However, it’s not quite as simple as just naming them as the beneficiaries.

  • First, the distribution rules can be complicated and each beneficiary may have different needs on when it would be best to distribute the assets most effectively.
  • Second there is the consideration of what happens should grandchildren inherit the money while minors.
  • Third, it’s important to consider how the distributions will be taxed. Below are some points to keep in mind ere are some things to address in advance.

MINORS CAN’T INHERIT AN IRA OUTRIGHT

The age of majority generally ranges from 18 to 21, depending on the state of residence. So it would be wise to consider establishing a custodian, typically the minor’s legal guardian, for young grandchildren. The custodian would manage the money until the child reached his or her state’s recognized age of adulthood. At that time, the child would have complete access to the funds. 

If you don’t designate a custodian, the child’s parent would have to ask the Probate Court to assign a property guardian. To avoid this complication, it would be best to name a custodian (often a parent) as part of your beneficiary designation.


CONSIDER SETTING UP A TRUST

This requires a bit more expense and time (you will need to work with an estate planning attorney), but it will give you more control over how and when the money can be used. For instance, while you might be thinking the inheritance would be used for education or a down payment on a house, a young beneficiary might be more tempted to buy a fancy car. 

The choice of a trust depends on how much money you’re talking about and how concerned you are about your grandchildren handling their inheritance responsibly.


GRANDCHILDREN GENERALLY WON’T BE SUBJECT TO RMDs,BUT THEY WILL HAVE TO DISTRIBUTE THE ASSETS WITHIN TEN YEARS.

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Prior to the passage of the SECURE Act, which became effective as of January 1, 2020, most heirs were able to distribute Inherited IRA assets over the course of their lifetime—with the caveat that they had to take RMDs. However, under the new law, only certain types of beneficiaries have this option, and grandchildren are not one of them (unless they are disabled or chronically ill.)

Grandchildren generally fall under the category of ‘Designated Beneficiary,’ which means that they can distribute the assets however they like, without RMDs each year—as long as all assets are distributed within 10 years. 

In other words, your grandchildren can take some assets out each year or just leave all the assets in the account until the last day. However, any assets that are not distributed by the end of the 10th year will be subject to a 50% penalty.

How the assets are distributed within that time frame could have important tax considerations, so it’s best to consult with a financial advisor. Because of the SECURE Act rules, if you are married, in some cases it may make more sense to name your spouse as the designated beneficiary to take advantage of spreading the distribution over his or her lifetime and then they can name your grandchildren as beneficiaries.


UNLESS YOUR IRA IS A ROTH, THE GRANDKIDS WILL MOST LIKELY HAVE TO PAY INCOME TAXES ON DISTRIBUTIONS.

Distributions from earnings and deductible contributions from a traditional IRA are considered ordinary income, so unless you’re passing on a Roth IRA that was established for at least 5 years or more prior to your passing, taxes will be due on distributions. 

If the Roth five-year holding period has not passed, the earnings are taxed at ordinary income rates. Your grandchildren will have to pay income taxes on distributions at their own tax rate or they can wait until the five years holding period has passed to receive tax-free distributions.


THREE PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

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1. It’s best that your grandchildren (or their custodians) understand that they will not be able to make additional contributions to an inherited IRA (however, if they have earned income, their parents can set up custodial IRAs for them). 

2.It is important for everyone to understand that your grandchildren would not be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty, regardless of their age when they take a distribution. 

3.The inheritance may have an impact on student financial aid considerations for your grandchildren. Consider all of these issues into your overall plan.


Naming a grandchild as an IRA beneficiary can be a tax-smart way to pass on money—both for you and for your grandkids. You just want to make sure that you set it up to everyone’s best advantage now, so it can truly be an advantage to the kids later on. 

Want to know more? Give us a call at 716-256-1682, or email info@noteadvisor.com and let’s make an appointment to help you ensure your family’s future.


This article was excerpted from an online post written by Carrie Schawb Pomerantz, CFP®, Board Chair and President, Charles Schwab Foundation; Senior Vice President, Schwab Community Services, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; Board Chair, Schwab Charitable.

Giving Back Makes A Difference

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From singing on the balcony to community cheers for those on the front lines to young people grocery shopping for elderly neighbors, people around the world are reaching out in support of others during these difficult days. 

From small personal gestures to larger contributions, if you have the desire to give back to your community, now is a perfect time.


Show your appreciation by giving what you can

While many of us stay safely at home, there are others performing extra services. Are you having your groceries delivered? Ordering take-out? Tip generously. Or how about buying gift cards from a small business or restaurant? 

Whatever and however you give, any extra dollars you add will be greatly appreciated—and are well deserved by those out there risking their own safety for the good of others.

The extra money you can afford to give will mean a tremendous amount to the individuals you pay. But don’t overstretch your finances; give only what you can. Even a little can mean a lot. And the fact that you care enough to offer may mean even more. 


Small personal gestures have a big impact

It isn’t always about giving money. Check with older neighbors to see if they need something from the market or the pharmacy and offer to pick it up for them. No matter your age or your need, just knowing that someone else is willing to look out for you can make all the difference.


Supporting your community expands your reach

As incomes are reduced for many people, so are contributions to community charitable organizations like food banks and other services for families in need. If you’re uncertain what exists in your community, do a little local research. 

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Feeding America has a tool for finding your local food bank. Great Nonprofits can help you zero in on organizations in your area, giving you information about what they do and what they need.

Also, think about the skills you have and how you could give of your time. Are you particularly tech savvy? Maybe you could offer assistance to teachers struggling to keep up with offering classes online. 

Are you good with a sewing machine? Sewing masks for friends, extended family or even local merchants could become a new specialty. Or consider reaching out to a local senior community. Helping isolated seniors could be as simple as making a phone call to say hello.


It’s easy to give locally or globally

Many organizations are expanding their programs to meet specific COVID-19 related needs. For example, Boys & Girls Clubs of America(BGCA),supporting families across America, or DonorsChoose is helping teachers provide materials to their students now learning from home. BGCA has created a relief fund to provide meals, offer virtual learning and more. 

Global Giving is a crowdfunding organization currently providing COVID-19 relief. Organizations such as UNICEF and Save the Children focus specifically on helping kids around the world through this crisis, to name just a few.


Do your research before you give and beware of fraudsters

If you’re uncertain where to direct your contributions, want to zero in on a specific charity, or compare charitable organizations, sites such as Charity Navigator or Guidestar are excellent resources. You can get detailed information about the purpose, track record, financials and reliability of hundreds of nonprofits. They also provide advisories about charities that don’t meet specific standards. 

The Federal Trade Commission warns that fake charities and fundraisers use the same tactics to reach donors as legitimate charities, whether face-to-face, by email, phone or social media. It’s especially important to do your research before giving out any personal information or making a donation. 


Make giving a tax-smart part of your financial plan

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Make giving a part of your financial plan. It’s not only a way to share your good fortune, but also can have tax advantages for you and your family.

To encourage giving and make it easier during the pandemic, the CARES Act provides a new “above the line” charitable contribution deduction of up to $300 if you claim the standard deduction in 2020. 

For people who itemize deductions, it expands the limits on charitable contributions from 60 percent up to 100 percent of 2020 adjusted gross income. 


Donor-advised funds are a great way to give today and tomorrow

A donor-advised fund provides another great way to save on taxes at the same time that you contribute to causes you care about. You can donate cash or investment securities (like stocks) and then use the funds to make grants to most 501(c)(3) organizations. Any money not distributed may be invested, potentially increasing the amount available to give. 

While contributions to a donor-advised fund aren’t part of the CARES Act expanded charitable deduction limits, you can typically gift appreciated stock directly to your donor-advised fund without having to pay capital gains taxes.

This can leave you with even more money to direct to your favorite charities. Your tax or financial advisor can help with the details.


This blog was excerpted from an online article by Carrie Schwab Pomerantz,CFP®, Board Chair and President, Charles Schwab Foundation; Senior Vice President, Schwab Community Services, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; Board Chair, Schwab Charitable