Financial Health: 8 Ways to Check

8 Ways to Check and/or Protect your Financial Health

Many of us see the doctor for an annual check-up.

Probably, even more of us have our car checked on a routine basis.

Few of us take a holistic view of our financial health, particularly, on a routine basis.

I encourage you to be an early adopter, change this, and become proactive with your financial health.

For our physical health, our doctor might check our weight, blood pressure/pulse, LDL/HDL and then compares the findings to our initial baseline results.

For our financial health, we should also establish a baseline /benchmark and then, periodically compare our results to our previous records,

How are we going to know how we are doing unless we take the time to look?

How are we going to tell if we are getting better if we don’t have an initial baseline to compare to?

The factors that you choose to use are up to you. My list includes possibilities for you to consider. Record your answers & date it. Some responses will result in a number, others will be a yes/no and perhaps initiate a new thought process. Here are my suggestions: 

  1. Determine your Personal Net Worth
  • Create a Balance Sheet: Assets = Liabilities & Equity
  • Assets are the value of what you own; liabilities are what you owe
  • Assets – Liabilities = Equity in a business or your personal Net Worth
  1. Review the Liability limits on your insurance policies (Homeowners, Renters, Auto, Business). Is the limit high enough to protect your Net Worth if something serious happened? You don’t want to leave your “assets” (money) exposed to risk of loss without making the conscious decision to do so.
  1. Cash Flow- Positive or Negative?
  • Money coming in, money going out, and when?
  • Is it steady through out the year or does it fluctuate?
  • Are you spending more than you bring in?
  1. Liquidity – Emergency Fund +
  • Emergency Fund savings for 3-6 months of living expenses?
  • Any other “reserves” you keep – Christmas or vacation fund?
  1. Your Personal Savings rate
  • Do you try to pay yourself first?
  • Are “you” built into your required monthly expenses?
  • Do you fully participate in your company’s matching program?
  1. Determine your Debt/Income Ratio
  • Lenders use this to determine your ability to manage payments
  • Total monthly debt payment/monthly gross income
  • 43% is generally the maximum for a Qualified Mortgage as per Consumer Finance
  1. Review your Retirement Allocations
  • Does it make sense?
  • Is it balanced?
  • Are you earning a return? 
  1. Check your credit score – It is your Financial Reputation
  • Obtain your free annual credit report from each of the 3 major reporting agencies, check it for accuracy, and dispute anything that is not correct
  • Obtain your FICO score

Taking the time to manage our money provides benefits:

  • Feeling in control
  • Knowing our capacity to absorb financial shocks
  • Finding if we are on track to meet our financial goals or
  • Having peace of mind and the flexibility to make choices

The road to financial freedom is full of potholes. If you take the time to discover, find, and fix them, your trip will be less eventful and you will reach your destination faster & safer.

May you have a safe, prosperous, and fulfilling journey.

Thanks for the reading!

Deb

P.S. I welcome and encourage comments and questions. It is one way to see how I am doing. 

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA is working to make a difference in peoples lives by helping them build and protect their financial health. She offers free 30 minute, no obligation consultations and is available for appointments – including remote. More information is available at http://www.DeborahFoxCPA.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com.

Self-Directed IRA’s – Are these for you?

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Many of us are familiar with the Traditional IRA’s and the investment opportunities they provide. Less commonly known is the Self- Directed IRA, which offers a greater choice of investment options, including real estate.

I am not a financial advisor selling investments.

I am a CPA who just finished reading a book titled, ‘Leverage Your IRA, Maximize Your Profits with Real Estate’. One of the authors is a CPA and a Certified Financial Planner. I read this book for personal reasons and to learn the tax aspects so that I could be an informed resource for others. I found the information beneficial and hope you will as well.

Investment Opportunities:

There are two types of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA’s):

  • Traditional: IRA’S: Most retirement plans are tax deferred and are funded with pre-tax dollars. Traditional IRA’s, SEP IRA’S, SIMPLE IRA’S, and 401 (K) plans are in this category; tax is deferred and paid at a future event such as a withdrawal /distribution
  • Roth IRA’s and Roth 401k’s are tax-free because they are funded with after -tax dollars

Traditional IRA’s allow funds to be invested with banks, brokerage firms, mutual fund companies, and insurance companies.

Self-Directed IRA’s allow the Account Holder many more investment options. For example, Self-Directed IRA retirement account funds can be invested in mortgages without having to “cash out” to make the investment. Investments are made inside this type IRA and funds can be rolled over from traditional accounts without a penalty.

Self-Directed IRA’s can invest in just about anything except:

  • Collectibles
  • Life Insurance contracts
  • Subchapter S Corporation stock (S-Corps cannot have an IRA as a stock holder)

Your Self-Directed IRA can purchase rental properties, commercial properties, tax liens, foreign real estate, buy mortgage notes, loan money earning interest, and more. Assets need to be handled as investments and cannot be used personally by you or any disqualified person. Your IRA owns the investment, not you. Investment possibilities may include:

  • Buying real estate from an unrelated party with cash
  • Buying property with a down payment and obtaining an “unsecured loan”
  • Co-investing with other parties

Income and capital gains can flow back to IRA’s tax-deferred (Traditional) or tax-free (Roth), if the IRA does not have a related real estate loan.

Real Estate Loans are possible and are “Unsecured”; your IRA funds cannot be used as collateral as security and there is no recourse against the Account Holder. In the event of default, the lender can only look to the property or the leases for repayment.

Non-Secured Loan Qualification is underwritten similar to a commercial real estate property loan. Criteria includes:

  • The Property – the lender needs to be satisfied with the value, marketability, and the condition of the property
  • Cash Flow – does the property cover the mortgage and the expenses?
  • IRA Funds – are the funds sufficient to cover the down payment, closing costs, pre-paid costs for taxes and insurance, and reserves for repairs or vacancies?

Down payment requirements vary by the lender and the property type. One such lender that provides Unsecured IRA Loans is North American Savings Bank (www.nasb.com)

Safeguards – how to protect your investment

Transactions need to be handled by a Specialized Custodian or Administrator. If you handle the transactions, the transaction could become taxable and the value of your money is at risk. Always follow the rules and keep your IRA funds and you safe.

While the Self-Directed IRA’s offer greater investment choices, there are also specific IRS rules that must be followed to protect your IRA. For example, “Self-Dealing” and “Prohibited Transactions” must be avoided.

The Exclusive Benefit Rule applies to all IRA’s. This means only the IRA can benefit from the transaction and that the IRA owner nor any other “disqualified person” may receive a personal benefit as a result of a transaction by their IRA; i.e. your IRA cannot buy your vacation home.

IRS Publication 590 (2013), Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) includes the following about Prohibited Transactions:

Generally, a prohibited transaction is any improper use of your traditional IRA account or annuity by you, your beneficiary, or any disqualified person.

Disqualified persons include your fiduciary and members of your family (spouse, ancestor, lineal descendant, and any spouse of a lineal descendant).

The following are some examples of prohibited transactions with a traditional IRA. ***

  • Borrowing money from it
  • Selling property to it
  • Using it as security for a loan
  • Buying property for personal use (present or future) with IRA funds.

With any investment, Due Diligence is always important. Knowledge is power. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.

I encourage you to take the time to become an educated investor prior to considering using any portion of your retirement funds in a Self Directed IRA. Additional information can be found at:

  • Retirement Industry Trust Association (RITA) is a non-profit trade association formed in 1987which represents Trust Companies, banks, attorneys, accountants and other service providers in the self-directed retirement plan industry. http://www.self-directed-retirement.org/investor-resources/
  • Review “Self-Directed IRA Custodian” websites
  • For more in-depth information on Prohibited Transactions, you may wish to read IRC 4975
  • Discuss with your CPA, Tax Attorney, or other experienced investors about their Self-Directed IRA

The information provided in this post is intended to be a good basic primer about Self Directed IRA’s. A comprehensive review is beyond the scope of this blog post.

Please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like me to post a more technical blog about UDFI (Unrelated Debt-Financed Income) and UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax), which can apply if an IRA real-estate loan is part of the IRA transaction.

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets by helping others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointment. More information is available at www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com.

Milestones & Mountains – the LGBT “Financial Playing” Field

In Honor of the 40th anniversary of the San Diego Pride Festival this weekend, I offer an update about “Financial Equality” for the LGBT community, with whom I celebrate the financial victories that have been achieved since we celebrated this festival last year. 

Last year, we had 2 huge U.S. Supreme Court 6/26/13 decisions to celebrate:

  1. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), section 3, was declared unconstitutional
  2. Proposition 8 defenders lacked “standing” which cleared the way for Legal Gay Marriage in CA

We also celebrated because Same-Sex Marriages (SSM) had just been allowed to resume again after a long break between 11/5/2008 through 6/27/2013.

This year, we have many reasons to celebrate, let’s call them “milestones achieved”.

We still have some mountains left to climb before the SSM “playing field” matches the “playing field “ of married opposite-sex couples.

Perspective:

The right to SSM is important for many reasons. For example, Wells Fargo issued a study in June 2014, in which the top 3 rights and benefits were listed for those surveyed:

  • Healthcare decision making rights 61%
  • Insurance and healthcare coverage 58%
  • Inheritance rights 56%

Health care decision-making can affect the quality of life. Insurance, healthcare coverage, and inheritance rights, all have a significant effect on the “financial equality” of life.

These rights and many others are becoming available to those that can legally marry their same-sex partner.  T

Today, SSM rights and benefits look more like a patch-work quilt across the United States as compared to those enjoyed by opposite –sex married couples who begin to enjoy their benefits, often as soon as they say, “I do”.

There has been tremendous progress and numerous changes since we celebrated San Diego Pride last year. Milestones to celebrate now include:

Same-Sex Marriage is fast becoming a reality for more people:

  • 19 states & the District of Columbia have Legal Same-Sex Marriage and 31 states have Same-Sex Marriage Bans
  • 12 states have had gay marriage bans overturned and appeals are in progress
  • 8/29/13 All Legal Same- Sex Marriages will be recognized for federal tax purposes as per the U.S. Department of Treasury
  • 9/16/13 effective date for Revenue Ruling 2013-17 which reads: “that for federal tax purposes, the Service adopts a general rule recognizing a marriage for same-sex individuals that was validly entered into a in a state whose laws authorize the marriage of two individuals of the same-sex even if the married couple is domiciled in a state that does not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages.”
  1. This opened the door to file original returns, amended returns, and claims for credit or refund for any overpayment of tax, provided that the applicable limitations period was still open under section 6511
  2. Couples can “pick and chose”, by year, which return, if any, they chose to amend, as long as the window is still open. Big return? Amend. Owe? Skip it.
  3. The window to amend the 2010 return, generally, expired on 4/15/14
  4. The 2011 1040 return can be amended until 4/15/15
  5. The 2012 1040 return can be amended until 4/15/16

Earlier this week, I attended an IRS DOMA seminar, which was introduced to about 300 tax professionals as “DOMA is about money, it has nothing to do with sex”.

SSM, is partially about money. The Windsor  (DOMA) case was about inheritance rights between spouses.

  • Federal tax law allows a deceased spouse to leave their assets, including a home, to the other spouse, without incurring estate tax. The Estate Tax Rate is 40%.
  •  The DOMA ruling resulted in Windsor being owed an IRS refund of $363,053 for the estate tax she had paid

The Estate Tax is a tax on your right to transfer property at your death.

  • Beginning January 1, 2011, estates of decedents survived by a spouse may elect to pass any of the decedent’s unused exemption to the surviving spouse. This election is made on a timely filed estate tax return for the decedent with a surviving spouse
  • 6/20/14, the Social Security Administration issued guidelines on eligibility for spouse-based retirement and survivor benefits, Medicare, and SSI benefits
  • 7/16/2014, the Connecticut Supreme Court rules that a Lesbian Widow has legal rights that predate Marriage Equality in the state.

Mountains:

  • SSM couples are unable to receive Social Security Spousal Benefits if they were married in one of the states that allow same-sex marriage but live in a restrictive state (reference Bankrate Retirement Blog 7/1/14)
  • Veterans benefits also are restricted for those living in states that do not allow same sex marriage (same reference as above)
  • The right to inherit pension benefits could fall under the “it depends” category. A recent 6/2/14 article about the Bayer Corporation provides some insight
  • Family Medical Leave Act does not cover same-sex spouses. Some employers grant this right to their employees and kudos to them.
  • Nationwide, there is not a federal law against LGBT workplace discrimination. A bill to accomplish that goal, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, passed the Senate last year but has not yet been taken up by the House

In closing, as an American, I believe that all American’s should have the same rights and protections, under federal law.  The financial “playing field” should be the same regardless of whom you love and where you live in the United States.

Discrimination should be something all citizens do not have to fear or endure.

My name is Deb Fox and I am the proud sister of two gay brothers and multiple LGBT friends. I am an advocate and an ally. I believe in equality and am trying to do my part to make a difference, here now, today, and tomorrow.

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets. Although she earned her CPA in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointments.