Reason #1 Why Clients Hire Merriman: We help you weigh your options

Reason #1 Why Clients Hire Merriman: We help you weigh your options

 

At Merriman Wealth Management, there’s nothing we love more than taking on the burden of financial planning so our clients can get back to spending their time and energy doing the things they love.

Over the past few years, we’ve been asking our clients—to hear it in their own words—about the value they gain from working with us. We’ve compiled the top ten reasons why clients hire us and we will be showcasing these responses in this ten-part blog installment. Here is part one, out of ten.

Reason #1: “Merriman helps you weigh your options.”

Today, almost everyone has an iPhone in their pocket and a search engine, like Google, at the ready. Google is great for things like looking up baking recipes and movie trivia, but when it comes to personalized financial advice, Google isn’t great.

Our Merriman financial advisors take your life, specifics, and goals one step further. We’re experts in taxes, estate planning, and insurance, so we know how to evaluate all aspects of your financial situation. We apply smarter financial planning strategies with insight and intelligence so you can achieve your goals and protect the wealth you’ve worked hard to accumulate.

The Merriman financial planning approach is pro-active and collaborative. “Our process is much more focused on getting to know our clients,” Tyler Bartlett, Merriman advisor, says. “Money is an important tool, but it’s only a tool that helps you achieve what’s important to you.”

Google won’t be able to formulate a financial strategy for you. At Merriman, we can.

Are you ready to team up and unlock your financial freedom? To learn more about how we can help or to schedule a discovery meeting, contact us HERE or call 206-285-8877. We look forward to hearing from you!

It’s Time to Plan Your 2020 Retirement Contributions

It’s Time to Plan Your 2020 Retirement Contributions

As we reach the end of 2019, it’s time to start thinking about your finances for 2020. Many employers will begin open enrollment over the next few weeks, and this is a great time to review your retirement plan contributions.

The IRS announced earlier this month that employees will be able to contribute up to $19,500 to their 401(k) plans in 2020. They also raised the catchup limits (for those over age 50) from $6,000 to $6,500. Lastly, the 2020 contribution limitation for SIMPLE retirement accounts increased to $13,500, up from $13,000. Note that the annual contribution limit to an IRA remains unchanged at $6,000.

Summary of Changes for 2020

The new 2020 retirement contribution limits are as follows:

Taxpayers can deduct contributions to a traditional IRA if they meet certain conditions. If, during the year, either the taxpayer or spouse was covered by a retirement plan at work, the deduction may be reduced (phased out) or eliminated, depending on filing status and income. If neither the taxpayer nor his or her spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work, the phase-outs of the deduction do not apply. Here are the phase-out ranges for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA in 2020:

  • For single taxpayers covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $65,000 to $75,000.
  • For married couples filing jointly, where the spouse making the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $104,000 to $124,000.
  • For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s income is between $196,000 and $206,000.
  • For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

The income phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA in 2020 are:

  • For single taxpayers and heads of household, $124,000 to $139,000.
  • For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is $196,000 to $206,000.
  • For a married individual filing a separate return who makes contributions to a Roth IRA is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

The 2020 income limits for the Saver’s Credit (also known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit) are:

  • $65,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $64,000
  • $48,750 for heads of household, up from $48,000
  • $32,500 for singles and married individuals filing separately.

It is important to note that the IRS has raised the 401(k) and 403(b) contribution limits in 4 of the last 5 years. These have been fantastic opportunities to contribute more into these retirement investment vehicles. So please make sure to adjust your recurring contribution amounts to better take advantage of this increase in limit. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us!

 

Source: Internal Revenue Service Notice 2019-59

Getting Smart with Your 2020 Benefits Enrollment

Getting Smart with Your 2020 Benefits Enrollment

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. 

Retirement Plans:

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.

Life Insurance:

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. 

Disability Insurance:

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. 

Life Changes:

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. 

Get Advice:

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.

The Lessons I Learned by Not Hiring a Professional from the Start

The Lessons I Learned by Not Hiring a Professional from the Start

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.

How Early is Too Early to Buy a House?

How Early is Too Early to Buy a House?

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.

The problem is that buying a home can often feel like an uphill battle. Statistics from the US Census Bureau show that home ownership remains highest among those aged 65 years or older, which means that it remains a pipe dream for many others.

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.

 

Exclusively written for merriman.com

By Juliet Baesler

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…)