Why You Must Document Your Charitable Contributions

December 8, 2017
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It is very important that you keep good records to document your charitable contributions.

A deduction will not be allowed for any contribution made by cash or check unless you have a hard-copy record of the contribution. The record must be in the form of:

  • an actual canceled check
  • a bank record (for instance, a copy of the front of the check included on your monthly bank statement)
  • an entry on a bank or credit card statement indicating a credit or debit card charge
  • a written communication from the donee showing the name of the donee organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

You can no longer tell the IRS that you put a five- or 10-dollar bill in the collection plate each week. You must write a check to the church for the $5 or $10 each week or take advantage of the church’s “envelope” system, which will provide you with a written receipt at the end of the year.

The law does not say that all contributions of more than $50 or more than $100 must be documented. It says all cash contributions must be documented. If you give the Disabled American Veterans a dollar for a poppy, you must get a receipt!

If you give $250 or more in one gift, you must get a written receipt or acknowledgement from the charity at the time the donation is made. This receipt or acknowledgment must include the name and address of the organization the date and amount of the contribution, and—very, very important—must include the statement that “No goods or services were provided by the organization in return for the contribution.” Tax court has denied a charitable deduction on several occasions when the receipt from the organization did not include this statement.

If you donate clothes, food, household items, furniture, and the like, you can claim a deduction for the “fair market value” of the items donated. You are responsible for determining the fair market value. The charity to which you make the donation is not required to, and in most cases will not, provide you with a value.

Make and keep a detailed list of the individual items (for example, “three dress shirts”) you are giving that includes the condition of the items (such as good, excellent, or new—you cannot deduct the contribution of a used item of clothing or household item unless it is in at least “good” condition). If you put a bag full of clothes in the Goodwill bin you must make a list of what is in the bag. And be sure to note the name and address of the organization. As with cash contributions, you must have a written receipt if the value is more than $250.

You can deduct any out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the course of providing volunteer services to a qualified church or charity, including 14 cents per mile if you use your car. And if, for example, you bake a cake or cookies for a church holiday bake sale, you can deduct the cost of the ingredients—but as with any other contribution, you must keep a record of these expenses. It couldn’t hurt to get a letter from the charity that identifies your volunteer activity, or donation, with the statement about goods or services included.

Special rules apply for claiming a deduction for donating a motor vehicle to charity. Your deduction depends on what the charity does with the vehicle, and the charity must provide you with IRS Form 1098-C.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

 

Charitable Giving At Any Level


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As the year ends, you might be thinking about making a financial gift to your old school, or a church or charity.  We have pulled together a brief list of some of the more common gifts we have seen used.

Partnership gifts. These gifts are made via long-term arrangements between donors and recipient charities or non-profits, usually with annuity-style income coming to the donor and an eventual transfer of the principal to the charity at the donor’s death. A charitable remainder trust also allows you to pay yourself a dependable income (typically for life) and then distribute the remaining trust principal to charity. A charitable lead trust offers you the potential to reduce gift and estate taxes on assets passing to your heirs by making annual charitable gifts; your beneficiaries get the leftover trust assets at the end of your life or the specified trust term. You could even name a charitable life income arrangement as the beneficiary of your IRA.

You might opt to invest some of your assets in a pooled income fund offered by a university or charity. Your gifted assets go into a “pool” of assets invested by a fund manager; you get a pro rata share of the income of the fund for life, and when your last income beneficiary passes away, the principal of your gift goes to the school or charity. If you like the idea of a family foundation, you could consider setting up a donor-advised fund. You make an irrevocable contribution to a third-party fund, realizing an immediate tax deduction; the fund invests the money in an account you create. You advise the fund where the money goes and how it grows, but the fund makes the actual grants to nonprofits.

Lifetime gifts. These are charitable gifts in which the donor retains no powers or other controls over the gift once it is made. A lifetime gift of this sort is not included in what the IRS calls your Gross Estate (but typically taxable gifts are used in calculation of estate tax).  Lifetime gifts also include outright gifts of cash or appreciated assets such as stocks or real estate. A gift of appreciated stock could possibly bring you a charitable deduction to lower your income tax, and help you avoid capital gains tax linked to the sale of the appreciated shares. Through a gift of appreciated property, you can even transfer a real estate deed to a school or charity. You could even consider a retained life estate, in which you deed your home to a charity or non-profit while retaining the right to live in it as your primary residence for the rest of your life.

Estate gifts. These are deferred gifts you make after your lifetime, without impact on your current lifestyle. You can make a bequest to a charity through your will or a living trust without incurring estate taxes on the gift amount. A gift of life insurance to a university or charity can give you an immediate income tax deduction for the cash surrender value of a paid-up policy, and possible future deductions. You can also make an IRA gift or retirement plan gift effective upon your death, with the non-profit organization receiving some or all of the assets as you wish.

The caveats. As your income increases, you may face limits on the amount of charitable gifts you can deduct.  Keep in mind that your unique circumstances need to be weighed before making any decision. As with all tax and estate planning, we recommend discussing that with us to affirm that you are in a position to fully benefit from charitable deductions.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

Your Year-End Financial Checklist


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Seven aspects of your financial life to review as the year draws to a close.

The end of a year makes us think about last-minute things we need to address and good habits we want to start keeping. To that end, here are seven aspects of your financial life to think about as this year leads into the next.

Your investments. Review your approach to investing and make sure it suits your objectives. Look over your portfolio positions and revisit your asset allocation. 

Your retirement planning strategy. Does it seem as practical as it did a few years ago? Are you able to max out contributions to IRAs and workplace retirement plans, like 401(k) s? Is it time to make catch-up contributions? Finally, consider Roth IRA conversion scenarios. If you are at the age when a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) is required from your traditional IRA(s), be sure to take your RMD by December 31. If you don’t, the IRS will assess a penalty of 50% of the RMD amount on top of the taxes you will already pay on that income. (While you can postpone your very first IRA RMD until April 1, 2018, that forces you into taking two RMDs next year, both taxable events.)

Your tax situation. How many potential credits and/or deductions can you and your accountant find before the year ends? Have your CPA craft a year-end projection including Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). In years past, some business owners and executives didn’t really look into deductions and credits because they just assumed they would be hit by the AMT. The recent rise in the top marginal tax bracket (to 39.6%) made fewer high-earning executives and business owners subject to the AMT – their ordinary income tax liabilities grew. The top bracket looks as though it will remain at 39.6% for 2018 even if tax reforms pass. So, examine accelerated depreciation, R&D credits, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, incentive stock options, and certain types of tax-advantaged investments.

Review any sales of appreciated property and both realized and unrealized losses and gains. Look back at last year’s loss carry-forwards. If you’ve sold securities, gather up cost-basis information. Look for any transactions that could potentially enhance your circumstances. 

Your charitable gifting goals. Plan charitable contributions or contributions to education accounts, and make any desired cash gifts to family members. The annual federal gift tax exclusion is $14,000 per individual for 2017, meaning you can gift as much as $14,000 to as many individuals as you like this year, tax-free. A married couple can gift up to $28,000, tax-free, to as many individuals as they like. (The limits rise to $15,000 and $30,000 in 2018.) The gifts do count against the lifetime estate tax exemption amount, which is $5.49 million per individual (and therefore, $10.98 million per married couple) in 2017.

You could also gift appreciated securities to a charity. If you have owned them for more than a year, you can deduct 100% of their fair market value and legally avoid capital gains tax you would normally incur from selling them.

Besides outright gifts, you can explore creating and funding trusts on behalf of your family. The end of the year is also a good time to review any trusts you have in place.

Your life insurance coverage. Are your policies and beneficiaries up-to-date? Review premium costs and beneficiaries, and think about whether your insurance needs have changed.

Life events. Did you happen to get married or divorced in 2017? Did you move or change jobs? Buy a home or business? Did you lose a family member or see a severe illness or ailment affect a loved one? Did you reach the point at which Mom or Dad needed assisted living? Was there a new addition to your family this year? Did you receive an inheritance or a gift? All of these circumstances can have a financial impact on your life as well as the way you invest and plan for retirement and wind down your career or business. They are worth discussing with the financial or tax professional you know and trust.

Lastly, did you reach any of these financially important ages in 2017? If so, act accordingly.

  • Did you turn 70½ this year? If so, you must now take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from your IRA(s).
  • Did you turn 65 this year? If so, you are likely now eligible to apply for Medicare.
  • Did you turn 62 this year? If so, you can choose to apply for Social Security benefits.
  • Did you turn 59½ this year? If so, you may take IRA distributions without a 10% early withdrawal tax penalty.
  • Did you turn 55 this year? If so, you may be allowed to take distributions from your 401(k) account without penalty, provided you no longer work for that employer.
  • Did you turn 50 this year? If so, you can make “catch-up” contributions to IRAs (and certain qualified retirement plans).

The end of the year is a key time to review your financial “health” and well-being. If you feel you need to address any of the items above, please feel free to give us a call. 

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

 “The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

 

 

 

Travel Insurance for the Holidays?


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Soon you’ll be on your way, taking that trip you’ve looked forward to for ages–but suppose something happens. If you get sick, lose your suitcase, or have to cut your trip short, will any of your existing insurance policies cover your expenses or reimburse you for your losses? If not, you might want to purchase travel insurance, which is available from insurance companies, travel agents, tour operators, and cruise lines.

If you can’t make it after all or have to cut it short–trip cancellation/interruption insurance

You’re ready to go, but the cruise line has gone under financially. Or perhaps you’ve arrived at your hotel only to be handed a telegram informing you that Uncle George is seriously ill and you must return home immediately. If your trip is canceled or cut short, will you be able to get any of your money back?

Trip cancellation/interruption insurance protects you if you must cancel your travel plans before you leave or cut your trip short due to an unforeseen event. Covered contingencies can include bad weather, the financial failure of a service provider such as a cruise line or a travel agency, your illness or that of a family member while on the trip, or an illness or death at home. But coverage varies widely from policy to policy, so check the exclusion section carefully. Your definition of an unforeseen event may differ from that of the insurance provider. For example, some companies don’t recognize a recurrence of your pre-existing medical condition as unforeseeable.

Under the policy, you’ll be reimbursed for your nonrefundable prepaid expenses, such as tour deposits, airline tickets, or hotel rooms. To determine what the insurance covers, you may need to check the terms of your travel agreements and find out what guarantees are offered by the carrier, travel agent, or tour operator. Cruise lines, for instance, may refund most of your money if you cancel several weeks before your scheduled departure, but they’ll give you less or none back if you cancel a few days before you’re supposed to leave. In that case, you’d get nothing back unless you purchased trip cancellation/interruption insurance.

Trip cancellation/interruption insurance is different from cancellation waivers offered by cruise lines and tour operators. These waivers are not insurance; they’re simply company guarantees that your money will be refunded under certain circumstances. They usually won’t cover your last-minute cancellation and they won’t protect you if the company goes out of business.

If that fever isn’t just excitement–short-term supplemental health insurance

Your individual or group health insurance policy typically covers you if you’re traveling within the United States. Still, it’s a good idea to check with your insurance provider before you travel so that you fully understand the coverage conditions. If you’re traveling overseas, beware–your health insurance policy may not cover you at all. Even if it does, it may not provide the same benefits overseas that it does in the United States. Check the limitations of your policy carefully, and call your insurer’s customer service department if you have questions.

If your health insurance doesn’t provide you with adequate coverage while you’re traveling, consider purchasing a short-term supplemental health insurance policy from an insurance company, travel agent, tour operator, or cruise line. These policies often combine accident and/or sickness coverage with medical evacuation coverage, which pays all or part of the cost of getting you back to the United States if you’re traveling overseas (something most basic health insurance polices won’t cover).

The terms of supplemental health policies vary widely, so before purchasing this insurance, ask to see a copy of the policy and get the answers to the following questions:

  • Does the plan pay the cost of medical care needed for sickness, accidents, or both?
  • What procedures must you follow to see a doctor or go to the hospital?
  • Will you have to get approval before you receive care?
  • Does the policy pay for care upfront, or will you have to pay and wait to be reimbursed?
  • What are the deductible, co-payments, and/or coinsurance costs?
  • What exclusions and restrictions apply?
  • What is the maximum amount of coverage under the policy?
  • Are translator services available?

If you lose your shirt–baggage insurance

Baggage insurance reimburses you if your personal belongings are lost, stolen, or damaged while you’re traveling. Before you purchase it, however, find out if you already have adequate protection. For instance, airlines may be liable for damage caused by their negligence, and they’re liable for lost or stolen baggage after check-in, up to their stated limit per passenger. Some credit card companies and travel agents also provide supplemental baggage insurance at no charge to you. Your homeowners or renters policy may protect your personal belongings against theft when you travel, as well.

Purchasing baggage insurance may be appropriate when you want 24-hour protection, not just protection after your bags are checked in with an airline. Baggage insurance may also offer higher liability limits than those offered by an airline. However, check the policy’s fine print. If you carry expensive items, you may not be fully reimbursed if they’re lost or stolen, and benefit limits may apply to certain items like electronics (e.g., laptop computers) or jewelry. You also may not be reimbursed for anything covered under another policy; if your bags are lost or damaged by an airline, you may need to seek reimbursement from the airline first.

If you lose more than that–accidental death and dismemberment insurance

Accidental death and dismemberment insurance (AD & D) is inexpensive coverage that compensates you if you lose a limb or an eye, or that compensates your beneficiary if you die in an accident. You can purchase this coverage as a separate policy, as a rider to an existing policy, or as part of a travel insurance policy. You may also receive this coverage as a “free” benefit when you purchase airline, train, or bus tickets using your credit card. AD & D policies usually cover, up to certain limits, medical expenses associated with an accident.

Before you purchase this coverage, make sure you don’t have duplicate coverage elsewhere. You may already have AD & D coverage if you have adequate life insurance, or through a group insurance plan sponsored by your employer or Credit Card Company.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

 

 

Year-End Charitable Gifting


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What should you keep in mind as you donate?

Are you making charitable donations this holiday season? If so, you should know about some of the financial “fine print” involved, as the right moves could potentially bring more of a benefit to the charity and to you.

To deduct charitable donations, you must itemize them on I.R.S. Schedule A. So, you need to document each donation you make. Ideally, the charity uses a form it has on hand to provide you with proof of your contribution. If the charity does not have such a form handy (and some charities do not), then a receipt, a credit or debit card statement, a bank statement, or a cancelled check will have to suffice. The I.R.S. needs to know three things: the name of the charity, the gifted amount, and the date of your gift.

From a tax planning standpoint, itemized deductions are only worthwhile when they exceed the standard income tax deduction. The 2017 standard deduction for a single filer is $6,350. If you file as a head of household, your standard deduction is $9,350. Joint filers and surviving spouses have a 2017 standard deduction of $12,700. (All these amounts rise in 2018.)

Make sure your gift goes to a qualified charity with 501(c) (3) non-profit status. Thoroughly investigate the charity you are thinking of contributing to and learn how effectively it utilizes donations. If you are considering a large donation, ask the charity involved how it will use your gift.

If you donated money this year to a crowdsourcing campaign organized by a 501(c) (3) charity, the donation should be tax deductible. If you donated to a crowdsourcing campaign that was created by an individual or a group lacking 501(c) (3) status, the donation is not deductible.

How can you make your gifts have more impact? You may find a way to do this immediately, thanks to your employer. Some companies match charitable contributions made by their employees. This opportunity is too often overlooked.

Thoughtful estate planning may also help your gifts go further. A charitable remainder trust or a contract between you and a charity could allow you to give away an asset to a 501(c) (3) organization while retaining a lifetime interest. You could also support a charity with a gift of life insurance. Or, you could simply leave cash or appreciated property to a non-profit organization as a final contribution in your will.

Many charities welcome non-cash donations. In fact, donating an appreciated asset can be a tax-savvy move. 

You may wish to explore a gift of highly appreciated securities. If you are in a higher income tax bracket, selling securities you have owned for more than a year can lead to capital gains taxes. Instead, you or a financial professional can write a letter of instruction to a bank or brokerage authorizing a transfer of shares to a charity. This transfer can accomplish three things: you can avoid paying the capital gains tax you would normally pay upon selling the shares, you can take a current-year tax deduction for their full fair market value, and the charity gets the full value of the shares, not their after-tax net value.

You could make a charitable IRA gift. If you are wealthy and view the annual Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from your traditional IRA as a bother, think about a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from your IRA. Traditional IRA owners age 70½ and older can arrange direct transfers of up to $100,000 from an IRA to a qualified charity. (Married couples have a yearly limit of $200,000.) The gift can satisfy some or all of your RMD; the amount gifted is excluded from your adjusted gross income for the year. (You can also make a qualified charity a sole beneficiary of an IRA, should you wish.)

Do you have an unneeded life insurance policy? If you make an irrevocable gift of that policy to a qualified charity, you can get a current-year income tax deduction. If you keep paying the policy premiums, each payment becomes a deductible charitable donation. (Deduction limits can apply.) If you pay premiums for at least three years after the gift, that could reduce the size of your taxable estate. The death benefit will be out of your taxable estate in any case.

Should you donate a vehicle to charity? This can be worthwhile, but you probably will not get fair market value for the donation; if that bothers you, you could always try to sell the vehicle at fair market value yourself and gift the cash. As organizations that coordinate these gifts are notorious for taking big cuts, you may want to think twice about this idea.

You may also want to make cash gifts to individuals before the end of the year. In 2017, any taxpayer may gift up to $14,000 in cash to as many individuals as desired. If you have two grandkids, you can give them each up to $14,000 this year. (You can also make individual gifts through 529 education savings plans.) At this moment, every taxpayer can gift up to $5.49 million during his or her lifetime without triggering the federal estate and gift tax exemption.

The end of the year is a key time to review your financial “health” and well-being. If you feel you need to address any of the items above, please feel free to give us a call.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

Holiday Charitable Giving

November 24, 2017
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With the holiday season upon us and the end of the year approaching, we pause to give thanks for our blessings and the people in our lives. It is also a time when charitable giving often comes to mind. The tax benefits associated with charitable giving could potentially enhance your ability to give and should be considered as part of your year-end tax planning.

Example(s): Assume you are considering making a charitable gift equal to the sum of $1,000 plus the income taxes you save with the charitable deduction. With a 28% tax rate, you might be able to give $1,389 to charity ($1,389 x 28% = $389 taxes saved). On the other hand, with a 35% tax rate, you might be able to give $1,538 to charity ($1,538 x 35% = $538 taxes saved).

A word of caution
Be sure to deal with recognized charities and be wary of charities with similar sounding names. It is common for scam artists to impersonate charities using bogus websites and through contact involving emails, telephone, social media, and in-person solicitations. Check out the charity on the IRS website, irs.gov, using the Exempt Organizations Select Check search tool. And don’t send cash; contribute by check or credit card.

Tax deduction for charitable gifts
If you itemize deductions on your federal income tax return, you can generally deduct your gifts to qualified charities. However, the amount of your deduction may be limited to certain percentages of your adjusted gross income (AGI). For example, your deduction for gifts of cash to public charities is generally limited to 50% of your AGI for the year, and other gifts to charity may be limited to 30% or 20% of your AGI. Charitable deductions that exceed the AGI limits may generally be carried over and deducted over the next five years, subject to the income percentage limits in those years. Your overall itemized deductions may also be limited based on your AGI.

Make sure you retain proper substantiation of your charitable contribution for your deduction. In order to claim a charitable deduction for any contribution of cash, a check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a record of such contributions through a bank record (such as a cancelled check, a bank or credit union statement, or a credit card statement) or a written communication (such as a receipt or letter) from the charity showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. If you claim a charitable deduction for any contribution of $250 or more, you must substantiate the contribution with a contemporaneous written acknowledgment of the contribution from the charity. If you make any noncash contributions, there are additional requirements.

Year-end tax planning
When making charitable gifts at the end of a year, it is generally useful to include them as part of your year-end tax planning. Typically, you have a certain amount of control over the timing of income and expenses. You generally want to time your recognition of income so that it will be taxed at the lowest rate possible, and time your deductible expenses so they can be claimed in years when you are in a higher tax bracket.

For example, if you expect that you will be in a higher tax bracket next year, it may make sense to wait and make the charitable contribution in January so that you can take the deduction next year when the deduction results in a greater tax benefit. Or you might shift the charitable contribution, along with other deductions, into a year when your itemized deductions would be greater than the standard deduction amount. And if the income percentage limits above are a concern in one year, you might consider ways to shift income into that year or shift deductions out of that year, so that a larger charitable deduction is available for that year. A tax professional can help you evaluate your individual tax situation.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

Key Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid


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Too many people make these common errors.
Many affluent professionals and business owners put estate planning on hold. Only the courts and lawyers stand to benefit from their procrastination. While inaction is the biggest estate planning error, several other major mistakes can occur. The following blunders can lead to major problems.

Failing to revise an estate plan after a spouse or child dies. This is truly a devastating event, and the grief that follows may be so deep and prolonged that attention may not be paid to this. A death in the family commonly requires a change in the terms of how family assets will be distributed. Without an update, questions (and squabbles) may emerge later.

Going years without updating beneficiaries. Beneficiary designations on qualified retirement plans and life insurance policies usually override bequests made in wills or trusts. Many people never review beneficiary designations over time, and the estate planning consequences of this inattention can be serious. Beneficiary designations have an advantage – they allow assets to transfer to heirs without going through probate. If beneficiary designations are outdated, that advantage matters little.

Thinking of a will as a shield against probate. Having a will in place does not automatically prevent assets from being probated. A living trust is designed to provide that kind of protection for assets; a will is not. An individual can clearly express “who gets what” in a will, yet end up having the courts determine the distribution of his or her assets.

Supposing minor heirs will handle money well when they become young adults. There are multi-millionaires who go no further than a will when it comes to estate planning. When a will is the only estate planning tool directing the transfer of assets at death, assets can transfer to heirs aged 18 or older in many states without prohibitions. Imagine an 18-year-old inheriting several million dollars in liquid or illiquid assets. How many 18-year-olds (or 25-year-olds, for that matter) have the skill set to manage that kind of inheritance? If a trust exists and a trustee can control the distribution of assets to heirs, then situations such as these may be averted. A well-written trust may also help to prevent arguments among young heirs about who was meant to receive this or that asset.

Too many people do too little estate planning. Avoid joining their ranks, and plan thoroughly to avoid these all-too-frequent mistakes.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

Retirement Plan Contribution Limits Rise for 2018

November 10, 2017
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Slight increases have been made due to mild inflation.
You will be able to put a little more into your workplace retirement account in 2018. The federal government has boosted the annual contribution limit on some of the popular qualified retirement plans thanks to inflation and made other adjustments worth noting.

Contribution limits for 401(k) s are rising by $500. This is the first increase seen in three years. In 2018, you can direct up to $18,500 into one of these accounts; $24,500, if you are age 50 or older.

This $500 increase also applies for three other types of retirement plans – the 403(b) plans in place at schools and non-profit organizations, the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees, and most 457 plans sponsored by state and local governments.

The total contribution limit for a defined contribution plan increases. A defined contribution plan is a retirement plan to which both an employer and employee can contribute. If your company has such a plan, the annual limitation on total employer/employee contributions improves by $1,000 in 2018, to $55,000.

Contribution limits for Health Savings Accounts increase by $50/$150. You must be enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) to have one of these accounts. The yearly contribution limit for those enrolled in individual plans rises $50 to $3,450; the yearly limit for those enrolled in qualifying family plans goes up $150 to $6,900. Correspondingly, the respective catch-up limits, which people 55 and older can take advantage of, are also heading north to $4,450 and $7,900.

The phase-out ranges on IRA contributions are also rising. The annual IRA contribution limits are unchanged for next year ($5,500 for those under 50, $6,500 for those 50 and older), but the adjusted gross income limitations that reduce your eligibility to make IRA contributions are adjusted for inflation.

If you are single and participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k), your new phase-out range is $1,000 higher: $63,000-$73,000. Joint filers who also contribute to workplace plans have a phase out range of $101,000-$121,000, a $2,000 increase. If you want to contribute to an IRA and do not contribute to a workplace retirement plan, yet your spouse does, your phase out range is $3,000 higher: $189,000-$199,000.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

Best, Worst Days for Holiday Travel


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When experts name the “best” days to travel, they usually name the days airfares are the lowest – which often aren’t optimal for most people once you factor in personal convenience and schedule constraints. There’s typically a reason why these ones are the slower travel days.

All you really need to conclude the best days for holiday travel this year is a calendar. And while this talk is usually about “best” days, it’s better to work backwards: Focus on identifying the worst holiday travel days based on the days of the week, and try to fly on one of those outlying days.

Here are the flying days to keep in mind for holiday travel 2017:

Thanksgiving
By now, just about everybody has heard this conventional travel wisdom: Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest time of the year for airlines. The worst days to fly are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (this year, Nov. 22) and the following Sunday (this year, Nov. 26).

For the few days before the 23rd and the few days after the 25th, low fare seats will be scarce. So, the further away from these days you can travel, the better. Low-fare seats are often more available on Thanksgiving Day and the next day, when everyone is relaxing after the Thursday meal and/or looking for Black Friday shopping deals.

Canadian Thanksgiving is on Monday, Oct. 9, so the worst days will likely be Friday, Oct. 6, and Tuesday, Oct. 10. And just the same, the few days leading up to and following those days will be busy.

Christmas and New Year’s
The biggest year end-holidays fall on Mondays in 2017, making for a plethora of “worst” holiday travel days. For Christmas they’re Friday, Dec. 22, plus the 23rd and 24th. For New Year’s avoid Friday, the 29th, and Tuesday, Jan. 2. Travel on the interim days is usually down a bit from these peak days, because many travelers like to combine the two three-day weekends into a 10- day holiday to use up those leftover vacation days. So, you can likely find some good deals during that period.

But, be sensible. Sure, if you’re flying, you want to find good deals – but don’t let the airlines dictate your holiday. Always keep in mind those days you really want to be at your destination, not flying, and finalize your fares somewhat early.

When to buy
Previous reports have found that airfares rise from their lowest point only gradually until three to four weeks before the holiday period begins. Finding them will only continue to get tougher after a certain point as the holidays approach. Check the available airfares early, and, as Airfarewatchdog’s George Hobica often advises: “When you find a good deal, pounce.”

If you’re heading to a popular holiday destination such as Hawaii, Florida or Vegas, remember to check for air-hotel packages. Packages often remain available and affordable well after cheap airline seats are gone.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

Who Needs Estate Planning?


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Why it is so important and not just for the rich.
You have an estate. It doesn’t matter how limited (or unlimited) your means may be, and it doesn’t matter if you own a mansion or a motor home.

Rich or poor, when you die, you leave behind an estate. For some, this can mean real property, cash, an investment portfolio, and more. For others, it could be as straightforward as the $10 bill in their wallet and the clothes on their back. Either way, what you leave behind when you die is your “estate.”

“But I don’t need estate planning – do I?” Let’s think about that. If your estate is small, should you still plan? Well, even if you’re just leaving behind the $10 bill in your wallet, who will inherit it? Do you have a spouse? Children? Is it theirs? Should it go to just one of them or be split between them? If you don’t decide, you could, potentially, be leaving behind a legacy of legal headaches to your survivors.

Do you need to create an estate plan? If you don’t leave behind an estate plan, your family could face major legal issues and (possibly) bitter disputes.  Making a plan can leave you with the comfort of knowing that your wishes will be carried out, when the time comes. Your estate plan could include wills and trusts, life insurance, disability insurance, a living will, a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, long-term care insurance, power of attorney, and more.

Why not just a will? While your will may state who your beneficiaries are, those beneficiaries may still have to seek a court order to have assets transfer from your name to theirs. In such a case, those assets won’t lawfully belong to them until the court procedure (known as probate) concludes. Estate planning can include items like properly prepared and funded trusts, which could help your heirs to avoid probate.

Incidentally, beneficiary designations on qualified retirement plans and life insurance policies usually override bequests made in wills or trusts. Many people never review the beneficiary designations on their retirement plan accounts and insurance policies, and the estate planning consequences of this inattention can be serious. For example, a woman can leave an IRA to her granddaughter in a will, but if her ex-husband is listed as the primary beneficiary of that IRA, those IRA assets will go to him per the IRA beneficiary form.

Where do you begin? At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.