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.
Have you ever been interrupted during something important by a phone call from an unknown number within your area code? The first one you let go, but in the back of your mind you come up with all the important messages that call could be trying to deliver. Is someone hurt and trying to call you? Has there been some emergency? While those thoughts stir in the background, the same number calls you again. This time you pick up, sure it is terrible or important news only to hear “Congratulations! You have won a free cruise to the Caribbean”. This kind of attempted exploitation is easy to stamp out, and all you have to do is hang up the phone. Unfortunately, attempts to steal your personal information and money can take on many, less obvious forms.
The term “financial exploitation” means the illegal act of taking economic advantage of someone for one’s personal gain. Examples of this include forging checks, bank account theft, and abusing a power of attorney authorization. Financial exploitation is on the rise today as the baby boomer generation reaches their 60s and 70s, and begins to rely more on caregivers and family members to help them manage their health and financial matters. According to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, senior citizens lost an estimated $2.9 billion from financial exploitation in 2018. Unfortunately, only 1 out of every 44 cases gets reported to local and federal law enforcement. It’s important to note that senior citizens are not the only adults at risk of financial exploitation. Any adult relying on others down the road to make financial decisions for them, can fall victim to this type of crime. This can happen when family members, “friends” and caretakers begin demanding personal loans after learning about the vulnerable state of health of the adult. If the vulnerable adult is dependent on the individual for health care services or other necessities, they may feel pressured to lend them the money.
Federal and state authorities along with financial institutions, have recognized this growing crime against vulnerable adults & senior citizens, and have passed laws and created new best practices for preventing this type of fraud. As a fiduciary, Merriman takes great pride in putting our client’s best interests first. If we suspect you may be the victim of financial exploitation, we will take the appropriate steps to protect you and your assets. That may mean reporting the incident to state authorities such as Adult Protective Services or working with your account’s custodian to prevent funds from being withdrawn.
Since this is an important decision, and one we do not take lightly, Merriman has recently created its own form that allows us to contact a designated individual(s) when we suspect our clients may be victims of financial exploitation and their health status is the primary reason. This allows us to be in touch with someone familiar to your specific situation who can give us additional information to dispute or validate our concerns.
We encourage you to be mindful of this growing risk, shield yourself from personal relationships that center around you giving them money, as well as designate a trusted contact for your advisor or custodian to reach if they suspect you may be the victim of financial exploitation. Please note that this individual will not be authorized to make financial decisions for you.
At Merriman, we believe it is important to help you do more than just grow your wealth. It is for this reason we share this concern as a way to help protect the wealth that you have worked countless years to accumulate, and to keep it away from those looking to exploit your hard work and discipline. We encourage you to ask your advisor about completing a Trusted Contact Form during your next review to ensure they know who to contact if they believe you may be the victim of attempted financial exploitation.
If you believe you would be a good Trusted Contact person for a close friend or family member, please feel free to use this article to start the conversation with them about placing you in that role. That way you can help to look out for them in the same way your Trusted Contact will look out for you.
Holidays and long weekends are a popular time for email scammers to strike. Recipients of scam messages are more likely to believe urgent pleas for money or assistance from an acquaintance on vacation who says they are unreachable by phone. Meanwhile, victims are less likely to check their email on their day off to discover strange replies that might tip them off that their account has been hacked and used to send scams to their contacts.
That might help explain why this morning after Independence Day weekend, I have already heard from several people who received an email from a known contact who claims to be travelling and in urgent need of a birthday gift for a relative (warning bells!)
In this scam, the contact asks the recipient as a favor to purchase a several hundred dollars in gift cards and email them to the relative with the promise of repayment as soon as they return from their trip. Of course, many people can identify this as a scam and know that they should not purchase the gift cards (which are commonly requested by scammers in lieu of wire transfers), but a more serious concern is that the sender’s email account has very likely been compromised and used to send this scam to dozens of their personal and business contacts without their knowledge.
Is there anything you can do?
If you ever receive one of these messages from a friend or colleague, you may wish to notify them via telephone (not by email – you’ll see why in a bit) that their email password may have been stolen and their email account compromised. They should immediately change their password, and if they have reused the same password on other online systems, they should change it there as well, preferably using a unique password on every system.
Why not just reply to the email?
In many cases the attackers perpetuating these scams will also create email filter rules to automatically delete or redirect inbound emails to an external mailbox that they control. This prevents the real account owner from being alerted to the compromise and allows the attacker to monitor the email remotely for signs that they’ve been discovered. So after changing the email password, users should also check their email filtering rules for any suspicious rules that were created without their knowledge. Filter rules are a feature that most users don’t access frequently, so these links may help finding the setting for several common email providers:
Everyone can follow a few basic precautions that will help avoid a compromised online account:
1. Use a password manager to generate and securely store random, unique passwords for each and every site so that one stolen password does not jeopardize multiple accounts.
2. Enable two-step verification (also known as two-factor authentication) on all accounts that offer it, but especially for email and banking accounts. This makes it much more difficult for an attacker to log in with a stolen password. Instructions depend on your provider, but most email and banking services offer this option now:
Microsoft (outlook.com, live.com, hotmail.com, msn.com, etc.)
3. Never type a password into a website that was accessed via an email link. Attackers steal passwords by forging email from a well-known website with a link to a fake login form. The login page may look exactly like the real site, but the password is sent to the attacker instead. The forgery might even log into the legitimate site afterword to avoid raising suspicion.
Restricted stock units (RSUs) play a big role in compensation packages, especially for high-tech companies. Thanks to the tech industry, RSUs have become increasingly popular as many employers offer them as part of their compensation package. It’s important to understand what RSUs are and how they work, to ensure you’re not leaving any money on the table when negotiating your salary, and to help you determine when/how to sell them for cash needs or diversifying your investments.
RSUs are issued by an employer to an employee in the form of company stock. They’re restricted because you can’t sell them until they vest, meaning you don’t really own them yet. Vesting typically occurs after you’ve been with your company for a pre-determined length of time or have hit pre-determined performance goals. The shares either vest in stages (grading) or all at once (cliff). When your RSUs vest, they’re considered income and are taxed as such. Your employer will hold back a certain amount of your shares to pay your income taxes, and you’ll receive the rest. Your taxable income is the market value of the shares at vesting. Once your shares vest, you can sell them.
We always recommend that folks sell their RSUs once they vest to better diversify their risk. You already rely on your company for your paycheck and many other benefits that it’s best to limit how much of your wealth is dependent on your company. It’s also best to diversify your investments and avoid concentrated positions in any one stock regardless. If you do choose to hold your RSUs when they vest rather than selling them, any future gains will be taxed at current capital gains rates.
If RSUs are a part of your compensation package and you’d like help to better understand how to make them work for your needs, please reach out to us.
“Past performance is no guarantee of future results” is a required compliance disclosure used by money managers when reporting performance. Unfortunately, it is truer in the world of investments than almost anywhere else. When you find a 4.5-star restaurant on Yelp, there is a high probability that you will have a positive experience. Statistically, funds that had the best performance over the past three years (or one year) are no more likely to outperform the following three years than any other fund.
The same is true at the portfolio level. In the late 1990s, U.S. growth stocks were the best performing asset class and investors flocked to the S&P 500. We introduced the Merriman MarketWise All-Equity Portfolio in 1995 in the middle of this period. After the first five years, the cumulative return of the Vanguard 500 Index Fund was more than 2.5 times that of MarketWise, as Figure 1 shows. What happened over the next decade from 2000 through 2009? The exact opposite.
Over the tumultuous decade from 2000 to 2009, the MarketWise All-Equity Portfolio (after fees) was up 70% compared to the Vanguard 500 Index fund which had lost -10%, as Figure 2 shows. That 10-year period during which the S&P 500, cumulatively lost money is commonly referred to as the lost decade. It was a painful period for many investors. Their faith in the S&P 500 had been strengthened by nine straight years of positive returns (six years exceeded 20%) and by watching it outperform major indices around the globe.
While it was a difficult period, the investors who suffered most were those who switched investments based on past performance. Figure 3 starkly illustrates the effect of “chasing” good recent performance. The blue and orange lines show the cumulative returns of the MarketWise All Equity Portfolio and the Vanguard 500 Fund. The gray line shows the cumulative growth of funds invested in the MarketWise All-Equity Portfolio from the 1995 inception through 1999 and then in the Vanguard 500 fund from 2000 through 2009. While after fees, the MarketWise All-Equity Portfolio slightly outperformed the Vanguard 500 Fund, investing in either approach yielded solid growth. The investor who switched from MarketWise to the Vanguard 500 Fund at the top of 1999 ended up with less investment growth than the investor who stuck with either strategy throughout the whole period.
2009 to 2017 the S&P 500 again delivered nine straight years of positive returns and outperformed most major world indices. In 2018, the index was down -6.6% but has quickly rebounded in 2019. No one knows what the next ten years will bring. History suggests that past performance is no guarantee of future results and that tides turn, but when that will happen is anybody’s guess.
IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES: The performance results shown are for the Merriman-managed MarketWise All Equity (100%) Portfolio and the nonmanaged Vanguard 500 Fund, during the corresponding time periods. The performance results for the MarketWise All Equity Portfolio do not reflect the reinvestment of dividends or other earnings, but are net of applicable transaction and custodial charges, investment management fees and the separate fees assessed directly by each unaffiliated mutual fund holding in the portfolios. The performance results do not reflect the impact of taxes. Past performance is not indicative of future results. No investor should assume that future performance will be profitable, or equal either the previous reflected Merriman performance or the Vanguard 500 Fund’s performance displayed. The S&P 500 is a market capitalization-weighted index of 500 widely held stocks often used as a proxy for the U.S. stock market. The Vanguard 500 Fund is a core equity index fund that offers investment exposure to the companies represented by the S&P 500 index. Source of VFINX data is Morningstar.