Why Cash Isn’t Always The Best Donation

Why Cash Isn’t Always The Best Donation

 

Whether it’s your time, money or a box of things from your garage – giving feels good. Donating cash or writing a check to your favorite charity is an amazing way to give back. It’s also fairly easy and the most obvious method for charitable donations, but it may not be the best strategy.  So, before you reach for your check book, make sure you understand your options.

One of the problems with donating cash at the bank is that for many people, there’s no Federal tax advantage.  That’s because the IRS doubled the standard tax deduction in 2018 and limited certain deductions we used to be able to itemize.  Depending on how you file and how old you are, the 2021 deduction is now between $12,550 for a single filer under age 65 and $27,800 for joint filers over the age of 65.  Therefore, if all your allowable deductions (including your charitable contribution) are less than this amount in a given tax year, you will not save any money in federal taxes by giving cash. In 2021, there is one exception to this that allows single filers to deduct up to $300 in charitable donations and joint filers to deduct up to $600, while taking the standard deduction.

The good news is, there are some options that can save you on taxes and allow you to direct more dollars to the non-profit close to your heart.

 

Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD)

Once you reach age 72, you will be required to start distributing a certain percentage from your pre-tax retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k) plans. These required distributions are taxable as ordinary income, unless they are given directly to a charity as a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD).  This is an excellent strategy for many people, even when giving smaller amounts.  By giving directly from your IRA, you eliminate taxes on the amount given (up to $100,000 annually) regardless of whether you itemize or take the standard deduction.  Unlike other charitable deductions, QCDs also reduce your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).  This is important because your AGI is a factor in many other tax calculations, so reducing it can also reduce your Social Security taxes and Medicare premiums, increase your medical expense deductions, and help you qualify for certain tax credits.

To highlight the effectiveness of this strategy, here is an example of a couple who wants to donate $10,000

 

Clustering Contributions

If you tend to give every year and your itemized deductions are close to the standard deduction amount, clustering your contributions can be very beneficial.  For example, if you give $20,000 every year you might instead give $40,000 this year and nothing the following year.  This would allow you to itemize in the year you donated $40,000 and take the standard deduction the following year.  Even if you itemize, if your itemizations don’t exceed the standard deduction by the amount of your charitable contributions, clustering your contributions can increase your total deductions over a multiple year period.  This strategy is particularly useful if you have unusually high income one year from the sale property, a business sale, a large bonus or vesting employee stock. If you are able to cluster your contributions using a cash donation, this year may be particularly beneficial for some people since the IRS has waived the usual 50% of income deduction limitation for 2021.

 

Donor Advised Fund

Many people want to take advantage of the clustering strategy, but feel an obligation to give to a certain organization every year, don’t want to give it all away at one time, or are not ready to decide which charities to donate to. In this case, using a Donor Advised Fund may be appropriate.  These funds allow you to cluster several years of contributions for an immediate tax deduction and then to donate them over time. Until the funds are donated, they can be invested and grown tax deferred.

 

IRA Designated Funds

While the IRS does not allow QCDs from IRA accounts to Donor Advised Funds, you are permitted to make a QCD to a Designated Funds. Unlike Donor Advised Funds, Designated Funds have predetermined charitable beneficiaries, so they do not give you the flexibility to determine the organizations at a later date.  They do offer an immediate tax deduction and allow for flexibility on the timing the organization receives the funds.

 

Donating Appreciated Assets

For anyone who owns appreciated assets outside of qualified retirement accounts, donating these assets without selling them first can be a great strategy.  It’s particularly useful for people that have a highly concentrated stock positions and want to reduce their risk by selling some of the stock.  I think seeing a simple example highlights the tax benefits best.

  • An Oregon couple purchases stock for $10,000. Years later the stock is worth $50,000.
  • If sold, they would have a $40,000 taxable gain. The couple has $200,000 of other taxable income, so they would owe 15% in Federal long-term capital gains taxes, 3.8% in Net Investment Income tax and 9.9% state income tax – totaling $11,480 in taxes. This reduces their donation and possible deduction to $38,520.
  • If they instead donate the stock directly, they avoid the federal and state taxes on the sale, the charity receives a larger donation, and they receive a larger deduction.

 

Estate Planning

You can also incorporate charitable giving into your estate plan by naming a charity as a beneficiary on an investment account or in your trust or will.  This is often utilized by people who want to leave a legacy behind.  Since you receive a tax deduction on your estate taxes, this is a particularly good strategy for people who have a taxable estate and want to have access to funds during their lifetime.

When incorporating charitable giving into your estate plan, it’s important to consider how assets are taxed depending on who they are left to.  For example: an IRA that is left to individuals will be taxable as ordinary income to your heirs, non-retirement accounts may receive a step-up in cost basis (basically forgiving the tax on investment gains) and Roth IRAs are passed tax-free.  It’s therefore advisable to leave IRAs to charity and leave your non-retirement accounts and Roths to your friends and family.

 

State Programs

For my fellow Oregonians, The Oregon Cultural Trust is an underutilized resource that can allow you to double your impact when donating to one of 1,400 different Oregon non-profits. You can see which organizations qualify on their website: www.culturaltrust.org. By making a matching donation of up to $500 per person you will effectively have your match refunded to you in the form of a tax credit, which reduces your tax due dollar for dollar. The matched amount is then granted to cultural nonprofits across Oregon. Residents of other states may have access to similar programs.

 

Charitable Gift Annuity

For people who need additional income a charitable gift annuity can be a good option to consider. In exchange for the donation, the charity provides an income stream for your life, or some other set period of time, and you receive an immediate partial tax deduction.

 

Charitable Trusts

If you have significant assets that you would like to donate during your lifetime, you might also want to consider a charitable trust or a foundation.

Charitable trusts are irrevocable, so once assets are put into the trust you cannot use them for any reason not specifically outlined in the trust.  The benefit is that you are able to donate appreciated property, receive an immediate tax deduction, and avoid capital gains on the sale.  There are two main types.  A Charitable Remainder Trust provides income to the charitable donor for life or some other specified period and at the end of the period the remaining assets go to the designated charity.  A Charitable Lead Trust is the opposite.  Income goes to the charity for a specified period and the remaining assets revert back to the donor or another named beneficiary.  You will need an attorney to draw up the trust and having a professional trustee is often recommended, so this is best for more complex assets and larger donations.  If this sounds appropriate for you, you may need to act fast. There is a tax proposal to tax the gains for the non-charitable portion of the trust, notably reducing the tax benefit of this type of donation.

 

Foundations

A family foundation or private foundation can be appropriate for individuals who would like their charitable work to continue long after they are gone, by passing the torch to future generations.  The donated funds are invested tax-deferred.  Unlike other options you have the ability to hire staff, including your own family, to operate the foundation.  Foundations are highly regulated and can be expensive to administer, so they are usually only pursued by families with significant assets.

 

Not all of these strategies will be appropriate for everyone and what makes sense for you one year may not be best the following year, so it’s important to work with your professional team on an ongoing basis. Talk with your financial planner about how this fits into your overall financial plan, to ensure you are balancing your generosity with your ability to achieve your other financial goals. Your planner can also help you narrow down your options, coordinate with your accountant and estate planning attorney, and consider options for taking advantage of higher deductions, such as Roth conversions or realizing investment gains in a lower tax bracket. If you are not currently working with a financial planner, you can learn about the advisors at Merriman at www.merriman.com/advisors.

 

You can download a PDF of this article here.

 

 

 

Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax or legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. As always please remember investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital and past performance does not guarantee future returns; please seek advice from a licensed professional.

Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.

 

Inflation Is Rising – Should I Be Worried?

Inflation Is Rising – Should I Be Worried?

Inflation is rising—should I be worried? What can I do to protect my wealth against inflation if it continues rising?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index (CPI)—the generally accepted measure of inflation—increased by 5.3% for the 12 months ending in August 2021. Prices for all items less (the more volatile) food and energy rose 4.0% over the last 12 months ending in August. This is a much larger increase in inflation than we’ve seen in over a decade. In the decade earlier, the annual increase in the CPI has remained lower than 2%. In fact, for many of those years, it was even below 1.5%.

With inflation on the rise, many clients are asking what we are doing to protect their assets against this increase in the cost of everything.

A colleague of mine recently shared a chart that I found very telling:

Chart produced by Craig L. Israelsen, Ph.D.    www.7TwelvePortfolio.com

This data shows that investing in stocks has provided a solid defense against inflation—whether we were in a rising interest rate environment or a declining interest rate environment.

The data suggests that in higher inflation periods, small cap stocks have been particularly valuable.

The economy is a very complex organism with so many different variables that will be affected if indeed inflation continues to grow, yet one foundational reason that stocks are a good defense against inflation is that companies pass on the higher cost of materials and goods to consumers. As consumers, this does mean we pay higher prices for things; and as investors, it means that we grow our portfolios, earning a premium above the inflation rate.

Our research team is monitoring the current trajectory of inflation.  Your portfolio at Merriman is already prepared for the potential of continued rising inflation. We “tilt” our portfolios towards small cap stocks. Other ways your portfolio is protected against inflation include using REIT’s and inflation protected bonds (where appropriate), keeping our bonds “short” and “Intermediate” in duration – which also helps in keeping, what we feel, is the right level of defense against stock market drops.  We use cash flow modeling to explore what it may look like if inflation was to remain high for each of our clients.

You have worked with your advisor here to determine right mix of stocks for your situation.  We believe keeping the right mix of “offense” and “defense” has been and continues to be the best way to balance the constant and changing risks posed to your investment portfolio. If you aren’t sure if you have the right balance for your situation or wish to understand how higher inflation can affect you specifically, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for assistance.

 

 

All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax or legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. As always please remember investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital and past performance does not guarantee future returns; please seek advice from a licensed professional. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.

 

Navigating the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Navigating the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

 

My college roommate Maddy knows the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) system well. Maddy used federal student loans to finance her undergraduate and graduate degrees. As a high school teacher, she’s dedicated a large portion of her school’s homeroom curriculum to making sure her students enter college with a better understanding of how personal finances, credit, and loan amortization work. I got together with Maddy to chat about her experience navigating the federal student loan system from start to finish and to find out what advice she has for parents and students today.

 

Moorea: To start off, can you tell me what degrees you have, where you went to school, and how you financed your college expenses?

Maddy: Sure. I have a BA in English from the University of Oregon, a master’s in teaching from Oregon State University, and a master’s in English from Portland State University. My undergraduate degree was funded about 30% by scholarships and 70% by federal student loans. My graduate degree from OSU was paid for 100% with federal student loans and my second graduate degree from PSU was paid for by federal loans and a tuition program through my job that covered $1,000 per term.

 

Moorea: Do you remember what your thought process was when you were 18 and deciding to take out your first student loan?

Maddy: Yeah, there was no thought process. I answered all the questions on the FAFSA with my mom, and at the end of the application, I clicked a box that said “Yes, Accept.” There was a very basic loan counseling page that I read, but it didn’t mean much at the time because I didn’t understand the concept of amortization. It was 2009 during the financial crisis, and everyone was taking out student loans. Debt was the expectation.

Because my parents’ expected family contribution was high, I didn’t qualify for subsidized loans (loans that don’t accrue interest until after graduation) despite them not paying anything towards my college. I didn’t know my student loans were accruing interest the whole time I was in school.

 

Moorea: You’re in charge of writing your school’s curriculum. Are you doing anything to prepare your students to make financial decisions after high school?

Maddy: Yes! In addition to a traditional personal finance and college prep curriculum, I walk through how to fill out the FAFSA with students page by page. I do a cost benefit analysis with students where we compare the cost of tuition at three community colleges, three states schools, and one private university. I walk my students through how many hours of a minimum wage job you’d have to work to pay off the loan over a 10-year period and explain how loan amortization works.

 

Moorea: What advice do you have for students and parents to help offset the cost of college?

Maddy: Consider completing your general education requirements at community college. Many Oregon students qualify for free community college through the Oregon Promise Grant.

If you’re considering attending a state school and your high school covers the cost of community college classes or offers College Now classes, take these because the credits will transfer to a university.

If you’re considering a more prestigious school or private college, focus on taking AP classes and sitting for the AP exams.

All students should volunteer as it looks good on college, scholarship, and job applications.

 

While it is a highly valuable asset in life, college education is a big expense, and families should discuss and plan with their financial advisor to determine how to proceed with this important life decision. If you want assistance with this planning process, please reach out to us.

 

 

Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Statements attributed to an individual represent the opinions of that individual as of the date published and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Merriman. The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

How Do Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) Impact Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)?

How Do Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) Impact Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)?

 

One of the most common areas where we see clients introduced to Alternative Minimum Tax is when Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) enter the financial picture.  To learn more about AMT and how it is calculated, so you can avoid a shock, check our blog post from last week.

ISOs can be a tremendous benefit to creating wealth, but they are often misunderstood and can pack a large surprise if not appropriately planned for.  Here are a few key terms to get us started:

  • Grant Date/Amount– Original date and number of shares awarded
  • Vesting Date– The date at which you are allowed to exercise your options
  • Exercise Price– Price paid for options, usually discounted from the current share price.
  • Bargain Element– Difference between exercise price and fair market value (FMV); drives potential AMT liability

ISO preferential tax treatment is attained when the shares are sold one year after exercise and two years after grant. When this criterion is met, the gains upon the sale will be considered long-term capital gains, as opposed to short-term gains which are taxed at current income rates.

 

Qualifying vs Disqualifying Disposition:

 

Qualifying Disposition
  • Exercise and sell one year after exercise and two years after grant – AMT liability in the year you exercise, and gains are considered long-term capital gains
  • Exercise and hold – AMT liability in the year you exercise but no additional immediate tax liability because the shares have yet to be sold

 

Disqualifying Disposition:
  • Exercise and sell within one calendar year – no AMT liability and gains are taxed as regular income
  • Exercise and sell within 12 months, across two calendar years – AMT liability in the year you exercise, and gains are taxed as regular income
  • Exercise and sell more than one year from exercise but less than two years from grant – AMT liability in the year you exercise, and gains are split between regular income rates for the bargain element and capital gains depending on holding period

 

The AMT tax liability mentioned in the scenarios above is determined based on the difference between the exercise price and the fair market value (FMV) of the shares on the date of exercise. AMT may result in a larger tax bill than a typical year without exercising options and thus will directly affect your household’s cash flow.  The good news is that when you end up paying AMT related exercising ISOs, you will likely receive an AMT tax credit, which can be used to offset your federal income tax bill in future years.  This is a great reason why involving a CPA to help keep track of all the moving pieces is highly recommended.

The 83(b) Election is an alternative approach to divesting company stock. If your company allows, you have 30 days from the grant date to notify the IRS and your company of the 83(b) election. This involves paying tax on the exercise price from the grant at regular income rates; there would be no AMT implication and depending on when you sell the shares, you would later realize short- or long-term capital gains. For shares which you expect to increase in value, this can provide a fantastic tax break. This is however considered a risky approach because the shares could lose value and you would have overpaid on taxes by making this election.

Please reach out to us if you would like to work through your specific situation.

 

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.

 

What Is Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) And Does It Affect You?

What Is Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) And Does It Affect You?

 

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) is not something everyone is exposed to, but when you are, it can often create confusion and add a layer of complexity to financial planning that many are not prepared for.  This article will help outline how AMT may affect your financial situation.

The Alternative Minimum Tax was created in the 1960s with the intention of preventing taxpayers with substantial income from utilizing various deductions in order to dodge the traditional federal income tax system. The AMT system runs parallel to federal income tax for individuals, trusts, and estates. Corporations were also once subject to AMT until this was repealed by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017. AMT is calculated to determine if taxpayers are paying their “fair share” in a given tax year. For individuals, the AMT system recalculates income tax using fewer deductions and exemptions – for example the standard/itemized deduction – and then adds back specific tax preference items to an individual’s gross income. 

A few of the preference items that we often see that affect AMT are listed below. There are several other influencing factors which are less common, and for the sake of this article, have been left out. IRS Form 6251 has the full details.

  • Capital gains from exercise of stock options (i.e., Incentive Stock Options)
  • Qualifying exclusion for small business stock
  • Interest on private activity bonds
  • Deductions for accelerated depreciation

Once the Alternative Minimum Taxable Income (AMTI) is calculated, the annual AMT exemption is applied to determine what amount is subject to AMT rates. In 2021, the AMT exemption is $73,600 for single filers and $114,600 for married filing jointly. The exemption begins to phase out for single filers at $523,600 and at $1,047,200 for married filing jointly.

After determining the minimum tax base, the AMT tax rate of 26% is applied on the first $199,900 (as of 2021).  Amounts above this figure are then subject to the second and final AMT tax rate of 28% to determine your overall AMT liability. After all is said and done, you will owe the higher of the two, traditional tax liability or AMT liability.

One of the most common areas where we see clients introduced to AMT is when Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) enter the financial picture. ISOs are often awarded by companies in lieu of direct compensation (i.e., annual salary), as a way to incentivize an employee to help grow the value of the company. Please check our blog upcoming blog post for specific details regarding Incentive Stock Options and the impact of AMT.

The majority of taxpayers don’t encounter AMT, but when they do, it can be a complete surprise.  Here at Merriman, we take a comprehensive approach to fully understand your financial landscape. In most situations, it is wise to involve a CPA when facing the AMT due to the complexity and varying timelines that affect cash flow. Please reach out to Merriman if you would like to discuss your situation in greater detail.

Watch for our upcoming blog post which will go into further detail about Incentive Stock Options (ISOs).

 

 

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.

Demystifying Retirement Income

Demystifying Retirement Income

 

You’ve worked hard. You’ve saved your pennies and watched every cent. Yet now that retirement is just around the corner, you’re second guessing whether you’re truly ready.

We see this often at Merriman. Near-retirees get cold feet not because they’re unprepared for retirement but because they’re unsure how to manage their retirement income. There’s less room for mistakes without a salary coming in. At the same time, retirement is full of financial uncertainties, ranging from personal health to the economy.

The solution isn’t to delay the retirement you’ve worked hard to secure. If you want to feel financially secure heading into retirement, start by learning the ins and outs of your retirement income.

 

How Much Income Do You Need in Retirement?

Outliving your savings is a top fear for retirees. Rather than letting worry consume you, do the math to understand your retirement budget. Account for major budget items like housing, transportation, and healthcare along with variable expenses. Then, take stock of your retirement benefits to see how they stack up.

Is there a big gap? Consider how you can reduce living expenses in retirement. Housing is a major expense, and many older adults are paying for more housing than they need. Downsizing saves money and cashes out home equity to put towards retirement savings. However, this only works if you have enough equity to make selling worthwhile. To estimate home equity, subtract the mortgage balance from the home’s current market value.

After housing, recurring bills and lifestyle expenses have the biggest impact. Rather than assuming small expenses don’t make a dent, use a budget to see how it all adds up and then adjust as needed.

 

Understanding Retirement Income Sources

Now that you understand the expenses side of the equation, let’s examine retirement income.

 

How to calculate Social Security benefits

Social Security retirement income depends on two main factors: lifetime earnings and the age you claim benefits. Filing early reduces benefits whereas delaying past full retirement age increases Social Security payments. Estimate your Social Security benefits online.

 

What about pensions?

Workers with a pension enjoy a second fixed income source in retirement. Pension plans distribute monthly payments according to a vesting schedule. Making the most of a pension requires understanding minimum distributions, age requirements, and other fine print to maximize your payout.

 

Other fixed income sources in retirement

In addition to Social Security and pension plans, retirees rely on fixed-income investments for income generation and capital preservation.

Fixed income investments include:

  • Bonds and bond funds
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Fixed annuities
  • Mortgage-backed securities
  • Preferred stock or securities

 

How to Supplement Fixed Retirement Income

Fixed-income sources provide stability and peace of mind. They don’t, however, keep up with rising costs of living. To maintain their standard of living over time, retirees need diversified income.

 

Building a balanced investment portfolio

It’s standard for near-retirees to shift asset allocation towards low-risk investments. However, stocks are still an essential part of a balanced portfolio due to the return potential. An experienced financial advisor can determine the right asset allocation for your goals. They’ll also develop a withdrawal strategy to maximize retirement savings. Common approaches include the 4% withdrawal rule, fixed-dollar withdrawals, fixed-percentage withdrawals, systematic withdrawal plans, and withdrawal “buckets.”

 

Working in retirement

Many older adults are starting businesses for flexible retirement income. The best businesses for retirees are low-risk and low-cost, such as consulting in a field where you have niche experience. Beyond less financial risk, consulting businesses are easy to start: Simply file a “doing business as,” also known as a DBA, with the Washington Secretary of State to operate as a sole proprietor under your brand.

 

Retirement shouldn’t feel like the great unknown. If you feel like you’re walking into retirement without a plan, contact Merriman to learn how we can help. Merriman’s fee-only services will help you clarify your retirement goals and understand your options for achieving them. Contact us toll-free at 800-423-4893 or email info@merriman.com to learn how you can invest wisely and live fully.

 

 

 

Written exclusively for Merriman.com by Katie Conroy.
Katie Conroy is the creator of Advice Mine. She enjoys writing about lifestyle topics and created the website to share advice she has learned through experience, education and research.

 

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.