What could be the cost of ignorance? For some mistakes it could be a couple of dollars; for others, it could run into hundreds or thousands of dollars every year. Not paying attention to your enrollment benefits falls under the latter.
Recent research indicates that more than half of employees spend 30 minutes or less reviewing their enrollment benefits and 93% of people make the same enrollment selection without evaluating their options. While it may be easy to re-enroll in the same options every year, I recommend grabbing a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and setting aside a couple of hours to consider your options thoroughly. With the open enrollment deadline approaching soon for many, consider this essential advice to help you take full advantage of your employer benefits.
Medical, Dental & Vision
Many employers offer different medical plans to choose from. With insurance premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs on the rise, it’s crucial to evaluate your choices every year and make sure your plan still makes sense for you. If your spouse has coverage that will cover you or your dependents, don’t forget to compare these options with your employer’s plans as well.
It’s common for risk-averse people to choose a plan with a higher monthly premium in order to have a lower deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, but this isn’t always wise. If you are young or in good health, selecting a high-deductible plan and bolstering your emergency cash reserve by at least the amount of your annual deductible can save you money in the long term. This is especially true if you have the ability to contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA) in combination with the high-deductible plan. All contributions to HSAs are pre-tax and all withdrawals used for eligible medical, dental and vision expenses are tax-free. For people in high income tax brackets this can be a significant savings. If you don’t end up needing the funds for medical expenses you can invest them to grow tax-deferred until needed, which can be a considerable help in retirement.
Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs) are another common benefit option that can provide tax savings. Similar to HSA plans, contributions are made pre-tax and withdrawals for eligible healthcare expenses are tax-free. Be sure to check the fine print on these plans, because contributions not used during the calendar year are often forfeited! It’s important to consider your expected medical expenses carefully before enrolling. Some FSA plans can also be used for dependent care expenses, which is a fantastic benefit given that daycare costs are not only expensive, but generally consistent and predictable making the “use it or lose it” feature of FSA plans less daunting.
We generally have fewer choices with our dental and vision plans, but make sure you consider enrolling since the cost of annual coverage is often significantly less than one filling or pair of glasses. If you do have plan choices, compare the copays in addition to the monthly premiums.
With all plan options pay attention to “out-of-network” restrictions and check to see if your favorite doctor is considered “in network” if you are unwilling to make a switch.
At the very least, you want to be sure you are enrolled in your company retirement plan and contributing enough to receive the full benefit of any employer contributions. This is free money, so don’t leave it on the table! If you really want to take advantage of your retirement benefits, it’s best to take a careful look at all of the options, evaluate whether you are contributing enough to provide for your future retirement, and analyze your investment allocation at least once a year. Many people find this process overwhelming, but this is an area where a financial planner can prove their worth, so don’t hesitate to ask for help. Even savvy investors can miss out on significant benefits by overlooking options in their retirement plan such as mega back-door Roth contributions or discounts in an employer stock plan.
Many employers automatically provide a certain amount of life insurance for you, generally a multiple of your salary. For a lot of people this is not enough coverage, but you often have the ability to purchase additional coverage through your employer’s group plan. This insurance is generally less expensive and can make sense for a portion of your insurance needs, particularly for people whose health may preclude them from qualifying for an individual policy. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the premium will likely increase every year as you age and the policy often terminates when you leave the company. It’s therefore important to consider whether you should obtain additional outside coverage, either because you have a long-term need or to lock in a rate while you are young and healthy.
People often protect their loved ones with life insurance, but fail to plan for a disability which is statistically much more likely to occur. Make sure to enroll for both short-term and long-term disability coverage.
As part of your annual benefits evaluation process it’s always a good idea to double-check that your beneficiaries and dependents are correct and up to date.
If you’re working with a financial planner, make sure to bring them your enrollment packet and get their advice before you finalize your enrollment. It’s surprising how many people don’t truly understand or take full advantage of their employer-sponsored benefits, and your financial planner can’t give you proper advice without knowing everything you have access to.
The Bottom Line:
Benefits enrollment might appear to be a trivial task, but it could have substantial financial implications if done incorrectly. Be smart about your choices and do the necessary homework to maximize your benefits.
As many of you know, my wife and I had our first child earlier this year. As such, we’ve been slowly working on improvements around our house to make it more kid safe. One project was to upgrade our garage door openers to the 21st century to include the safety reverse sensors. To fund this project, we used the money set aside from the monthly contribution to our home improvements fund. So far so good, right?
What happened next is similar to what many people do when deciding whether to hire a professional to help them.
For this project, I decided to replace my garage door openers on my own. I had never done it before, but I convinced myself that I could do it because of the following considerations:
Time – I’d need to be home while the installation pro was there anyway, so why not just use that time to install them myself? Importantly, I could do it when it wouldn’t impact my wife or son.
Cost – I didn’t want to pay for a professional to install the garage door openers. By doing it myself, we could save our hard-earned money and put it in savings or toward other projects.
Privacy – I simply didn’t want a stranger in my home, even if it was only for a couple of hours in our garage.
Resources –With all of the YouTube how-to videos, forums, and step-by-step guides available online, I thought it would easy to figure out how to do it. Clearly, many others with similar skills had been successful.
Here’s what I learned the hard way after spending 10 plus hours on this project, without installing even one garage door opener successfully:
Time – The project ended up taking four times what I thought it would, without success! I wasn’t very popular with my wife as she had to pick up my slack on the weekend chores and baby duty.
Lesson 1 – A professional could have installed each garage door opener in 45 minutes. I could have spent my time (our most limited resource) in far better ways.
Cost – I ended up paying a professional to install the garage door openers. I was left with a tough choice of paying a small fortune to get them installed right away (my car was outside since I removed a garage door opener) or wait for their regular scheduling. And, I had to replace a couple of parts that I damaged (argh!) and buy a wrench set that I likely won’t use.
Lesson 2 – Focusing only on cost is a mistake. It’s super important to also consider the value of your time. It might have made sense for me to take on this project if it took just two hours to complete, but 10 plus hours – no way!
Privacy – I was anxious about this at first, but the benefit of not having to do it myself eased my mind (especially after what I’d gone through!).
Lesson 3 – A professional is licensed, insured, experienced, and vetted. While my apprehension may lead me to believe that having a stranger in my home is a risk, this was not the case with a professional.
Resources – In hindsight, all the video tutorials and guides in the world wouldn’t have made this project easier. The actual installation was infinitely more difficult than the installation videos made it look.
Lesson 4 – Implementing a task, project or plan is the hardest part of any process. Too often, one part does not go according to plan, throwing everything off. There’s simply no substitute for expertise.
The last consideration I overlooked, which could have been the costliest, is risk. The risks include:
I could have installed the safety sensors or garage door opener incorrectly, causing a family member to be seriously injured. Or, the car could have been damaged.
The garage door opener could have fallen on me during the removal of my old opener and the installation of the new one (especially since we didn’t have the right height of ladder as recommended in the instructions – I didn’t want to buy a new ladder).
I could have injured myself with the disassembly of the old garage door opener or during the assembly of the new garage door opener. Mistakes and injuries happen more often than we think with DIY projects.
I could have damaged major parts (beyond what I already did!), which could have cost me a lot more money. Warranties and store policy exchanges don’t protect against negligence and true ignorance.
We hired a professional to minimize these risks for our family.
As a note: My wife recommended from the start that we hire a professional to install the garage door openers. I learned my lesson here, too! As such, I had to park my car out in the cold until my garage door was fixed. Going forward, I will forever remember these lessons because time is our most finite resource and we need to be more intentional with how we spend it.
Home ownership is a goal for many Americans. After all, there’s nothing quite like going home to a place you know is truly yours. But when it comes to buying a house, the right time differs for everyone.
To be sure, there is some wisdom behind waiting until you’re financially secure before buying a house. If home ownership is part of your plan down the line, it’s best to work backwards in order to plan out just how you’ll get there.
Consider the types of houses available
Do you want to buy a house as soon as possible, or would you rather wait it out in order to get a larger property? As our post ‘Do I Need to Buy a Home to Be Successful?’ details how thinking ahead and considering your career path can help you determine whether you’d like to settle in a smaller or bigger space. It will also determine how much you are willing to spend.
In addition, you should also consider whether or not you’re planning to move any time soon. The Miami Herald found that millennial mobility is currently low, which can be beneficial when it comes to finding a home due to less competition. Millennials are also gravitating towards apartments and co-ops as this allows them peace of mind if they plan on moving; this leaves the market open for those who want to delve into houses. Therefore, knowing whether or not you’ll be settling down somewhere can help kickstart the home ownership process.
Check your mortgage
The Washington Post’s survey on financial care experts shows that there’s a lot of anxiety surrounding all the factors that go into buying a house. People get so caught up with the promise of owning a house that they forget the practical considerations that dictate what kind of property they can afford. You’ll also need to plan out your short and long-term financial goals in order to see how buying a home fits into these plans, which is where professional help comes in. A financial planner can take stock of your current finances as well as your goals in order to come up with the best housing loan for you. Research from Maryville University shows that financial experts now complement market knowledge with insights on investment strategies, which is why getting a consultation early on is hugely beneficial. The kind of mortgage you can take out depends on your financial standing, how much debt you owe, and your monthly income — all of which can be analyzed by a professional to make sure you get the best deal.
Spend time to find the best lender
On the subject of professional help, cultivating relationships with financial experts can help you own a home sooner rather than later. Real estate writer Julia Dellitt suggests seeing mortgage lending as akin to speed dating, where you get to know a handful of lenders before committing to one. Dellitt emphasizes that a difference in 0.5% interest may look small on paper, but it makes a huge difference in the total amount of interest paid over the lifetime of the loan. Giving the lender a full account of your finances allows you to narrow your search down to the best options.
Keeping your financial records in order also goes a long way in proving to lenders that you’re trustworthy. These steps will allow you to get pre-approved for a loan, which is an important requirement for many sellers.
The real estate market tends to be relatively stable, which means you shouldn’t consider jumping the gun once you see a dip in mortgage rates — especially if you aren’t ready. Since home ownership is a lengthy process, it’s worth asking early on whether or not it’s a journey you’re prepared to embark on soon.
Updated 10/07/2019 by Geoff Curran, Jeff Barnett, & Scott Christensen
National real estate prices have been on the rise since 2014, and many investors who jumped into the rental industry since the Great Recession have substantial gains in property values (S&P Dow Jones Indices, 2019). You might be considering selling your rental to lock in profits and enjoy the fruits of your well-timed investment, but realizing those gains could come at a cost. You could owe capital gains tax in addition to potential depreciation recapture on the profits from your rental sale.
One strategy for paying less tax is to move back into your rental and use the property as a primary residence before selling. Living in your rental full-time for at least two years prior to selling can help you take advantage of the gain exclusion of $500,000 ($250,000 if single), which can wipe out all or most of your gain on the property. Sounds easy, right?
Let’s take a look at some of the moving pieces for determining the taxes when you sell your rental. Factors like depreciation recapture, qualified vs. non-qualified use and adjusted cost basis could make you think twice before moving back into your rental to avoid taxes.
One of the benefits of having a rental is the ability to claim depreciation on the property, which allows you to offset rental income that would otherwise be taxed as ordinary income. The depreciation you take reduces your basis in the property, potentially resulting in more capital gains when you ultimately sell. If you sell the property for a gain, the amount up to the depreciation you took is taxed at the maximum recapture rate of 25%. Any remaining gains are taxed at the lower long-term capital gains rate. Moving back into your rental to claim the primary residence gain exclusion does not allow you to exclude your depreciation recapture, so you might still owe a hefty tax bill after moving back, depending on how much depreciation was deducted. (IRS, 2019).
When the Property Sells for a Loss
Keep in mind that if you sell your home for a loss, whether it’s currently a rental or is now your primary residence, you aren’t subject to depreciation recapture or other gains taxes. However, due to depreciation decreasing your cost basis in the property each year until it reaches zero, it’s more common that sales of former rental homes result in gains. (more…)
Have you ever heard the proverb about the cobbler’s children? It essentially states that the cobbler’s children, although surrounded by well-made shoes, have the most worn out shoes. Or that doctors are the worst patients? The same can be said for wealth advisors. We’re not immune to the common mistakes that exist in the financial world, and even we can benefit from the financial guidance we provide for others.
As a new advisor, I had an epiphany. Yes, an epiphany, as corny as that sounds. I realized that although I could adequately pick investments, decide on a savings plan and develop a strategy for myself, I wasn’t following through with it. While at a client meeting, my coworker explained it best by saying, “We help hold you accountable to your goals.” Duh! That was the thing I was not giving myself. I could make the best laid plan, but I wasn’t following through and doing the actions I needed to do to be successful. I had the knowledge, but needed accountability. The very next day I hired my first advisor. (more…)
Our financial lives are like jigsaws with a thousand pieces that only fit together with thoughtful, precise coordination. Each part of the wealth management procedural process presents potential challenges like paperwork submissions, complex legal requirements, and complications when corresponding with other financial institutions. Merriman helps solve these challenges with the help of a professional team of advisors, researchers, and operations staff, with the client services department acting as the glue that holds it all together.
In a nut shell, client services act as a liaison between the client, the custodian, and the wealth advisor. Client services implements and executes everything that you have discussed with your advisor. They talk the talk—client services walks the walk!
In the face of all these hurdles, our goal in client services is to lift the weight off your shoulders by completing tasks in minutes that could take you hours spent on hold and getting bounced around thanks to our experience and relationships with other financial institutions. We are also the first point of contact when you visit or call our office. And pride ourselves on providing warm, professional, and quality service every time you walk through the doors or one of your calls lights up our phone. We possess a broad knowledge and can assist with answering your questions or linking you with an expert. For all those times when you need a quick money transfer or confirmation of a recent trade, client services can help sort out those questions in one fell swoop.
Our client service all-stars go above and beyond for every client. Just imagine you’re heading into retirement after a fulfilling career with half a dozen happy employers, but now you have to figure out how to roll over all those 401(k)s! Instead of wading through that mire of paperwork on your own, we can prep the forms, gather your signatures, print the postage, and get those 401(k)s rolling so that you can hit the golf course.
Since none of us are springing out of telephone booths in red capes, how does client services pull it off? We manage all these super human feats by building relationships with our advisors and clients. We collaborated with our advisors daily to tackle the latest objectives for managing our clients’ assets. These strong bonds translate to our clients and their families. We value long-term relationships and prioritize our clients to take care in addressing every task. Whether celebrating a new (grand)child or coping with the passing of a loved one, we are here to support you throughout all phases of life.
And to get a picture with the voices and names, this us. Our individual bios can be found here.