Should You Renovate or Move Right Now?

Should You Renovate or Move Right Now?

COVID-19 is causing different challenges for everyone. Things that were once easy have become more complicated and time consuming, especially when it pertains to financial decisions. Deciding whether to renovate your home or move into a new one in the midst of this global pandemic for one, comes with added stressors. Try some of these helpful tips to take the financial anxiety out of moving or remodeling and make this milestone a little easier in the midst of these uncertain times.

Consider the area:

Location is more than just your home – consider the school district, surrounding community, neighborhood and amount of land. Most will agree location is everything, and If you love the location of your current home, that is a great enough reason to stay put. However, if you’re still adamant about moving for other reasons, these location factors could attract potential buyers as well… let’s review your options.

Renovating your home may require more than just a fresh coat of paint, and instead could mean much needed addition. If you plan to expand your family or if you just want more space, first determine whether your current property can accommodate the addition or renovation. The growth of your family may require more bedrooms or a larger common room, but if your home and property size are too small to make an addition, this may be a sign to move.

Another consideration is the community you live in. Whether it’s a cozy village, offers great community activities, or you just love your neighborhood, these are the things you may miss if you move to another area. The same sentiment goes for the school district. If it’s highly rated and you have kids in school, it might be worth staying in the area. If you decide moving is the best option for you and your growing family, look for a home in the area that checks off all of the boxes, while offering the space you need!

Keep all of these considerations in mind when looking for a buyer as well. If you are an empty nester contemplating moving, these details may be important for a young family looking to move into a top school district. Have your home appraised and research recent comparable homes sold in your area to decide if yours could be an easy sell in the current market.

Review your finances:

Buying a home is always an investment. If that’s the side you’re leaning toward, you have to consider if you’re financially ready to go through the process. Right now, mortgage rates are at an all-time low due to COVID-19, and that may be enough to sway you in the direction of buying a new home. However, you may need to invest in minor upgrades to your current home before listing it to sell, as well as pay an agent and movers. Set extra money aside for these improvements when budgeting for the big move. You may also want to consider keeping your current home to rent on Airbnb for added income, while buying a second home to live in.

If you’re leaning toward renovating your current home and staying long-term, you have a multitude of choices to consider depending on your financial situation. Home equity loans are an option for homeowners with a decent amount of equity built up in their purchase. Usually, if you’ve owned your home for five years or more, you can take out this loan to use for whatever you’d like. Most homeowners choose to use a home equity loan or line of credit for home upgrades but you can also consider liquidating investments, using a personal loan, margin loan, or pledged asset line of credit. Be sure to pay attention to interest rates, as they may be higher for these types of loans considering the economic times.

Be aware of timing:

Due to COVID-19, selling your home or starting renovations will take longer than usual. We are living in unprecedented times, where those who can help you sell or update your home are finding unique and optimal ways to get their jobs done, while still experiencing some barriers that may slow their services down. Be patient,and use this time to connect with your renovators or realtors to find or build your perfect home.

Right now, it’s smartest to work with a realtor if you’ve decided to sell your home. Viewings have to be done virtually for the time being and you will strongly benefit from using a realtor to advertise your home online. Be aware that selling your home may take longer than in years past because many people feel less secure in their finances. Additionally, it’s hard for a buyer to make this decision without seeing their potential new home in person.

On the other hand, finding a contractor won’t be easy either. All over the country, home renovation projects are being delayed or cancelled due to stay at home orders. However, some states have recently allowed construction workers back on the job, deeming them essential. If your desired contractor is able to work and follows all CDC regulations, you can likely get your home renovation started now!

All in all, there are positive and negatives to both renovating and selling during this time. Hopefully we have given you some things to consider when trying to decide between these two options. Keep in mind that your situation may be different from your friend or neighbor, and you have to do what is best for your family right now. Involving your financial advisor in this discussion can help provide both the financial insight and perspective of your long-term goals, along with an objective viewpoint on a decision that is often quite emotional. If you’re considering this major change and want to discuss it related to your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Cybersecurity and COVID-19 Scams

Cybersecurity and COVID-19 Scams

Written By: Erick Aguayo, Chief Compliance Officer

During these uncertain times, it is important to remain vigilant and practice safe internet habits. The global spread of coronavirus has unfortunately resulted in a growth of digital scams, with cybercriminals aiming to profit from people’s fears and their desire for information related to COVID-19. This massive increase in cybercriminal activity coupled with the impact COVID-19 has had on our lives makes life difficult and can feel understandably overwhelming. 

Scams related to COVID-19 and the recently passed CARES Act include robocalls, texts, and email phishing attempts from criminals posing as representatives from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), World Health Organization (WHO), and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Email recipients have been tricked into downloading malicious software by clicking on links and attachments. Other scams include cybercriminals posing as legitimate businesses claiming to sell products like facemasks, hand sanitizers and medications to help avoid COVID-19. As of the end of March, more than 7,800 U.S consumer complaints have been filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), with an average loss of nearly $600 per victim.[i]

During such difficult times with COVID-19 dominating the headlines and impacting our lives, it is important to remember that everyone can practice safe Internet practices and prevent themselves from being victims of cybercrime. We have control over how we interact with emails, answer calls, and respond to solicitations, whether we are in a crisis or not. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a division of the Department of Homeland Security urges everyone to exercise caution in handling emails received with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment, or hyperlink.[ii] We should also be careful with social media posts, texts, or calls related to the coronavirus pandemic. Best practices for defending against these cyber scams include:

  • Never give personal information to unsolicited requests over the phone or in email.
  • Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails and exercise caution when downloading email attachments.
  • Use trusted government websites such as the CDC’s and the WHO’s for official COVID-19 information and updates.
  • Don’t respond to unsolicited emails urging you to act promptly to prevent or cope with COVID-19.
  • Set strong passwords with a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols to secure your email, financial, health, and personal accounts.
  • Verify a charity’s legitimacy before making donations online or over the phone. Review the Federal Trade Commission’s advice about avoiding charity scams to make sure your donation will actually go to an organization you want to support.
  • Do not respond to emails from unknown sources requesting personal, financial, or health information.
  • Report any fraud or cyber scams to the Federal Trade Commission: gov/complaint.

At Merriman, we have measures in place to safeguard your information, such as enhancements to how we share sensitive information with you and trusted professionals, and the use of multi-factor authentication solutions to secure access to critical data systems.  These investments in employee training and cybersecurity over the years have also enabled us to better detect and respond to email phishing attempts and fraudulent requests for funds. We value your trust and will continue to take the necessary steps, like calling you directly to verify an information or money request we receive over email, as part of our ongoing mission to protect your information and financial assets. This is always an area of focus for our employees, but especially as our team continues to work from home for the next several weeks. 

We hope that as you spend more time indoors and online, you do so safely and keep an eye out for cyber and robocall scams. Although it is understandable to feel overwhelmed by all the COVID-19 headlines, it is important to remain informed, vigilant, and remember that practicing some basic safety measures can greatly reduce your chances of falling victim to these scams.

 

 

[i] Joseph Marks & Tonya Riley, The Cybersecurity 202: Coronavirus pandemic unleashes unprecedented number of online scams, Washington Post, (April 1, 2020)

[ii] CISA, Defending Against COVID-19 Cyber Scams, Department of Homeland Security, (March 6, 2020)

Medicare Open Enrollment is here!

Medicare Open Enrollment is here!

It’s no secret that Medicare parts and plans are downright confusing.

So confusing, in fact, that many people unknowingly choose the wrong plan that ends up costing them thousands of dollars in surprise medical expenses from a doctor visit, a treatment, or simply filling a prescription.

Healthcare costs are one of the biggest expenses retirees face (but can be very manageable with the right knowledge!) which makes choosing the right plan even more important.

So whether you’re enrolling for the first time, or you’re already on Medicare, download our FREE Medicare Guide for help choosing the right plan that could save you thousands.

Inside, you’ll get the answers you need to these critical questions:

  • What do you need to decide before you enroll?
  • Already enrolled? Could you save money with a different plan?
  • Do you need supplemental coverage or Medigap?

This simple guide takes the confusion out of Medicare to help you confidently choose the plan that’s right for you.

If you have any questions about Medicare or would like personal help comparing options based on price and coverage, we’d be more than happy to help. Click here to schedule a call with a Merriman Wealth Advisor.

Think Twice Before Moving Into Your Rental To Avoid Taxes

Think Twice Before Moving Into Your Rental To Avoid Taxes

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.

Depreciation Recapture

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…)

Lifestyle Drift

Lifestyle Drift

Have you received a pay raise, bonus or an inheritance and as a result changed your spending habits? Have you bought things such as expensive items, cars or even a new home because of one of these events? Soon, your lifestyle starts to inflate or creep to where your standard of living resets at this new higher income level. Spending can quickly become unsustainable if your income doesn’t stay at the same pace and continue to rise. Importantly, you’ll need to save substantially more now to continue that lifestyle in retirement than originally planned. From experience, most families continue at near the same spending level if not more in retirement, especially when grandchildren enter the picture! 

There isn’t any harm with spending more money if you make more, however you need to also increase your savings for important goals at the same level. For example, if your income is now $250,000 or above, you’ll need to save quite a bit more than the $19,000 401(k) contribution to maintain your lifestyle when you decide to retire. These savings targets increase much more if you want to “make work optional” at an earlier age.

 It’s inevitable that your income will rise as you progress through your career, however there are good habits to follow to prepare for the future while still enjoying the “now”:

 Prepare and follow a budget

No matter your income level, having a household budget is key to achieving your goals. It allows you to put all your income and expenses on one sheet of paper to determine how much savings you can automate each month. Many households are cash flow “rich” thereby they are best served by figuring out monthly savings targets. This article discusses a budget technique that can be used as a template for your budgeting. It’s especially important to have a cash flow plan for families where cash bonuses and restricted stock make up a large portion of their annual income. 

Develop and adhere to a pre-determined plan for extra income

If you receive a bonus, you should have a pre-determined savings allocation for those extra resources. This meaning that of the bonus that you receive after-tax, possibly 25% is allocated to spending (i.e. the fun stuff), 25% to travel and short-term savings, and 50% to long-term savings. That way, you get to spend and enjoy a large portion of your bonus while also saving a large sum towards the future. Too often do people receive a bonus and quickly spend it. Having a pre-determined plan or formula for how to allocate these excess dollars is important as your budget won’t account for this income.

Routinely update your retirement projections

Your financial plan needs to be updated each time your spending level increases as the plan is not going to be successful if it is based on $100,000 of annual spending in retirement when your lifestyle now requires $200,000 a year. Many households attempt to exclude child costs from this figure as they won’t have dependents in retirement, however experience has taught that the spending has been replaced by spending on trips and supporting children and grandchildren.

We suggest reading the book Making Work Optional: Steps to Financial Freedom to learn about how best to prioritize your savings to achieve your long-term goals. Importantly, make sure to read the section about “mistakes to avoid” on your path to financial freedom.

Please contact Merriman if you have any questions about developing a cash flow plan or for any of your other financial planning needs.

My Spouse Wants a Divorce, Now What?

My Spouse Wants a Divorce, Now What?

Divorce can be incredibly overwhelming from many aspects and impacts our emotional, physical and financial well-being. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done when going through a divorce and many decisions that must be made. It can be challenging to know where to start, and there are numerous ways to get divorced these days. Some involve an amicable approach, using a mediator or an entire team to collaborate, while others are highly contentious, with lawyers acting as the go-betweens and sometimes involving courts. The process is often a time-consuming, emotional roller coaster. We’re here to try and help you simplify this process and let you know you’re not alone.

 

If you’ve ever heard the saying, “It takes a village,” it’s very true when it comes to divorce. Have a team in place to help you navigate a divorce is essential, regardless of the type of divorce you may find yourself in. Since divorce is a legal process it requires professional advice. You want a lawyer that you feel comfortable and confident in that will help advocate for your best interests. While your lawyer knows and understands the law, there are financial consequences of divorce that can be quite complex, depending on your situation. A Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can help you understand the short and long-term financial impacts of any proposed divorce settlements. They help provide information surrounding various financial issues from health care coverage, dividing pension plans, tax consequences, the family home, any businesses and much more. They can help your legal team make financial sense of any proposals and act as expert witnesses in trials and arbitrations. Having a financial professional in place can help provide you with peace of mind when it comes to your financial future. Lastly, divorce is emotionally taxing and can be scary. There are divorce coaches that provide advice outside the legal arena as well as counselling services throughout and after the divorce. They are there to be your champions throughout the entire process, and show you there is life and love during and after divorce. While hiring three different people might sound expensive, it’s generally considered more cost effective in the long run. By hiring an entire team, each professional can focus their time with you on their area of expertise, making their work more cost effective.

 

Putting a team in place won’t happen overnight as you’ll want to take some time hiring the right people. In the meantime, there are documents you’ll want to start compiling as your legal and financial team will need a lot of information to help you determine the best path forward. We’ve created a checklist you can download here of the documents you’ll need to gather (regardless of where you are in the process). It’s a lengthy list and the items required can seem overwhelming. Start with the easy stuff, and once you have a CFP® or CPA, they’ll often meet with you, to help ensure you get everything necessary. Having a team and tools to help you get started and organized are what you’ll need, to help get through such a significant life event.

 

If you have any questions or would like to speak to us in more detail about working with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to help, you’re not alone.

 

Written by: Hannah Ahmed, CFP®, CDFA®