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Dow drops 1,400 points in two days? Ho-hum

The stock market plunges over two days! Volatility ripples around the world! Do rising interest rates signal the end of bull market? Pardon me if I yawn. After 20 years in the investment business and 14 years as a financial reporter at a daily newspaper I get bored with breathless news reports of impending catastrophe every time the stock market has a normal and expected hiccup.  I’m sorry, but a 1,400-point decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average just doesn’t get my blood flowing anymore. This week’s decline in stocks shouldn’t be upsetting to an experienced, focused investor. One reason is that 1,000 Dow points ain’t what they used to be, because the index has reached almost 27,000 in the past year. The higher it gets, the less 1,000 points means in percentage terms. This week’s drop amounted to a 5.2% decline. Compare that to a real decline, like the Oct. 19, 1987...

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Context Always Matters

Yesterday, Buffalo hit a record high temperature of 82 degrees. Let’s say I told a random person who didn’t know where I live that the temperature in my city was 82 degrees on a particular day. They’d probably say that was a nice day. Now what if I told them that that particular day also happened to be in the middle of October? They’d be a little more impressed. They might even assume I live somewhere warm like Florida. Lastly, imagine if I told them it was 82 degrees in the middle of October in Buffalo, NY. Most people would say that was a GREAT day, given that the average high temperature in Buffalo on October 9th is 62 degrees. Context always matters when comparing and evaluating. This is especially important in investing. Your co-worker’s 401k is up 16% for the year and yours is only up 2%? Good for them, but chances are...

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Play the Social Security Waiting Game and Improve Your Retirement

Social Security gives you a broad range of options: Take the monthly payment as early as age 62, wait until “full” retirement age (age 66 for those retiring in the next few years), or wait until as late as age 70 to claim your benefit. The factor that makes this decision tough is the size of the benefit: Take it early and it will be reduced by as much as 25% from your full retirement age benefit (again, for most retirees now, at age 66). Delay the benefit until age 70 and get a payment that is 76% higher than the age 62 benefit. A good part of the claiming decision depends on your definition of the purpose of Social Security. Some workers see it as extra play money that is a reward for living to age 62. Others see it as an endangered benefit that could be reduced or eliminated in...

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Charitable Giving in the Wake of Tax Reform – Part 2

If you missed the first installment of my three-part series on efficient giving strategies, you can read it here:  Part 1.  Once you are up-to-speed, keep reading here to learn about an absolute home run of a giving strategy for those who have an IRA and are at least 70 ½ years old. As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, recent tax reform is going to significantly reduce the number of people that itemize their tax deductions.  This means that many people who donate money to qualified charities will no longer be able to recognize the tax benefit of their gift.  If you fall into this camp, have an IRA, and are at least age 70.5, then you should consider the advantages of a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD). A QCD is achieved when you distribute money from your IRA or inherited IRA to a public charity.  The donor must be at least...

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Level Ranked as One of WNY’s Top Financial Planning Firms

Buffalo Business First’s ranking of the largest financial planning firms in Western New York listed Level Financial Advisors 27th out of 54 firms locally. The publication ranks advisory firms based on local assets under management. Level serves 600 households and manages $380M in assets, with the vast majority of its client based in WNY.  The Amherst company employs six CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professionals.  Subscribers to Buffalo Business First can see the full list HERE....

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Chasing Investment Winners: Good intentions, Bad outcome

We often hear some variation of the following question: “Some of my investments outperformed all the others; why don’t I put more of my money in the investments that did really well?” For example, if we look at 2017, we see that large company growth stocks, especially those in the technology sector, performed exceptionally.  So why wouldn’t we overweight our portfolio with these types of investments? The Answer Is: if we could accurately predict this in advance and then concentrate all or more of our investments into the best performing investment type with a sufficient probability of success, we would.  But we can’t.  Lots of people try, but the historical evidence is clear.  It can’t be done in an efficient and predictable manner.  And here, with a minimum of investment jargon, is why: The investment performance of each type of investment (or asset class), relative to all the other types, is purely...

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Charitable Giving in the Wake of Tax Reform – Part 1

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed in December 2017 is the largest overhaul to tax law in over 30 years.  Tax experts and the IRS are still sorting out all of its implications and how to apply the new law, but it is clear the TCJA will have a significant impact on taxation of both individuals and businesses. Due to the effective doubling of the standard deduction and the elimination of many popular itemized deductions, The TCJA has reduced tax incentives for making charitable donations for many people.  Over my next few blogs I am going to explain the basics of three strategies that we are using much more often when discussing charitable gifting with our clients here at Level Financial Advisors.  These strategies all have unique benefits over simply gifting cash. Gifting of Long Term Appreciated Property One of the first tax-saving strategies we consider when we find out a...

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Cost Basis: What is it and Why Do I Need to Know?

Cost basis is certainly not something we think about on a regular basis, but it is critical to understand what it is when a loved one passes away.  Here are answers to common questions about cost basis rules and implications. What is cost basis? Simply put, the cost basis is the purchase price of your stock, bond, or mutual fund investment. For example: If you purchased ABC mutual fund for $10,000 in a brokerage (non-retirement) account, this purchase price becomes your cost basis. Why does this matter? When you later sell your mutual fund, the cost basis helps determine your gain or loss on your investment, and subsequently, your potential tax liability. For example: if you sold ABC mutual fund 2 years later for $12,000, your gain on the fund would be $2,000 and would be taxed at capital gains rates. Other items that effect the cost basis include stock splits, reinvested dividends, and return...

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Level Financial Listed Again in National Ranking for Advisory Firms

Financial Advisor Magazine’s annual ranking of large independent investment advisors listed Level Financial Advisors 470 out of 707 firms nationally, according to the publication’s July edition. Querying thousands of firms throughout the U.S., Level posted  17.5% growth to $360 million in AUM (assets under management), marking the second year in a row the firm posted a +17% growth rate. The firm has continued its 2017 trend with strong results in the first half of 2018. The company achieved a record $380 million in AUM in July. "We continue working our strategic plan, which includes aggressive marketing, development of our CFP® professionals, and innovating our service offering and operations through technology," said the firm's Chief Operating Officer and Partner, Michael Heburn.  "We are constantly looking for new ways to bring value to our clients and it shows in the results our team has achieved over the last three years." FA Magazine  performs the annual survey as...

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