Handling Market Volatility

Conventional wisdom says that what goes up must come down. But even if you view market volatility as a normal occurrence, it can be tough to handle when your money is at stake. Though there’s no foolproof way to handle the ups and downs of the stock market, the following common-sense tips can help.

Don’t put your eggs all in one basket

Diversifying your investment portfolio is one of the key tools for trying to manage market volatility. Because asset classes often perform differently under different market conditions, spreading your assets across a variety of investments such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives has the potential to help reduce your overall risk. Ideally, a decline in one type of asset will be balanced out by a gain in another, though diversification can’t eliminate the possibility of market loss.

One way to diversify your portfolio is through asset allocation. Asset allocation involves identifying the asset classes that are appropriate for you and allocating a certain percentage of your investment dollars to each class (e.g., 70% to stocks, 20% to bonds, 10% to cash alternatives). A worksheet or an interactive tool may suggest a model or sample allocation based on your investment objectives, risk tolerance level, and investment time horizon, but that shouldn’t be a substitute for expert advice.

Focus on the forest, not on the trees

As the market goes up and down, it’s easy to become too focused on day-to-day returns. Instead, keep your eyes on your long-term investing goals and your overall portfolio. Although only you can decide how much investment risk you can handle, if you still have
years to invest, don’t overestimate the effect of short-term price fluctuations on your portfolio.

Look before you leap

When the market goes down and investment losses pile up, you may be tempted to pull out of the stock market altogether and look for less volatile investments. The modest returns that typically accompany low-risk investments may seem attractive when more risky investments are posting negative returns.

But before you leap into a different investment strategy, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. How you choose to invest your money should be consistent with your goals and time horizon.

For instance, putting a larger percentage of your investment dollars into vehicles that offer asset preservation and liquidity (the opportunity to easily access your funds) may be the right strategy for you if your investment goals are short term and you’ll need the money soon, or if you’re growing close to reaching a long-term goal such as retirement. But if you still have years to invest, keep in mind that stocks have historically outperformed stable-value investments over time, although past performance is no guarantee of future results. If you move most or all of your  investment dollars into conservative investments, you’ve not only locked in any losses you might have, but you’ve also sacrificed the potential for higher returns. Investments seeking to achieve higher rates of return also involve a higher degree of risk.

Look for the silver lining

A down market, like every cloud, has a silver lining. The silver lining of a down market is the opportunity to buy shares of stock at lower prices. One of the ways you can do this is by using dollar-cost averaging. With dollar-cost averaging, you don’t try to “time the market” by buying shares at the moment when the price is lowest. In fact, you don’t worry about price at all. Instead, you invest a specific amount of money at regular intervals over time. When the price is higher, your investment dollars buy fewer shares of an investment, but when the price is lower, the same dollar amount will buy you more shares. A workplace savings plan, such as a 401(k) plan in which the same amount is deducted from each paycheck and invested through the plan, is one of the cost well-known examples of dollar cost averaging in action.

For example, let’s say that you decided to invest $300 each month. As the illustration shows, your regular monthly investment of $300 bought more shares when the price was low and fewer shares when the price was high:

Although dollar-cost averaging can’t guarantee you a profit or avoid a loss, a regular fixed dollar investment may result in a lower average price per share over time, assuming you continue to invest through all types of market conditions.

(This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the performance of any particular investment. Actual results will vary.)

Making dollar-cost averaging work for you

• Get started as soon as possible. The longer you have to ride out the ups and downs of the market, the more opportunity you have to build a sizable investment account over time.
• Stick with it. Dollar-cost averaging is a long-term investment strategy. Make sure you have the financial resources and the discipline to invest continuously through all types of market
conditions, regardless of price fluctuations.
• Take advantage of automatic deductions. Having your investment contributions deducted and invested automatically makes the process easy and convenient.

Don’t stick your head in the sand

While focusing too much on short-term gains or losses is unwise, so is ignoring your investments. You should check your portfolio at least once a year–more frequently if the market is particularly volatile or when there have been significant changes in your life. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring it back in line with your investment goals and risk tolerance. Rebalancing involves selling some investments in order to buy others. Investors should keep in mind that selling investments could result in a tax liability. Don’t hesitate to get expert help if you need it to decide which investment options are right for you.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

As the market recovers from a down cycle, elation quickly sets in. If the upswing lasts long enough, it’s easy to believe that investing in the stock market is a sure thing. But, of course, it never is. As many investors have learned the hard way, becoming overly optimistic about investing during the good times can be as detrimental as worrying too much during the bad times. The right approach during all kinds of markets is to be realistic. Have a plan, stick with it, and strike a comfortable balance between risk and return.

 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017

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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

Pay Down Debt or Save for Retirement?

You can use a variety of strategies to pay off debt, many of which can cut not only the amount of time it will take to pay off the debt but also the total interest paid. But like many people, you may be torn between paying off debt and the need to save for retirement. Both are important; both can help give you a more secure future. If you’re not sure you can afford to tackle both at the same time, which should you choose?

There’s no one answer that’s right for everyone, but here are some of the factors you should consider when making your decision.

Rate of investment return versus interest rate on debt

Probably the most common way to decide whether to pay off debt or to make investments is to consider whether you could earn a higher after-tax rate of return by investing than the after-tax interest rate you pay on the debt. For example, say you have a credit card with a $10,000 balance on which you pay nondeductible interest of 18%. By getting rid of those interest payments, you’re effectively getting an 18% return on your money. That means your money would generally need to earn an after-tax return greater than 18% to make investing a smarter choice than paying off debt. That’s a pretty tough challenge even for professional investors.

And bear in mind that investment returns are anything but guaranteed. In general, the higher the rate of return, the greater the risk. If you make investments rather than pay off debt and your investments incur losses, you may still have debts to pay, but you won’t have had the benefit of any gains. By contrast, the return that comes from eliminating high-interest-rate debt is a sure thing.

An employer’s match may change the equation

If your employer matches a portion of your workplace retirement account contributions, that can make the debt versus savings decision more difficult. Let’s say your company matches 50% of your contributions up to 6% of your salary. That means that you’re earning a 50% return on that portion of your retirement account contributions.

If surpassing an 18% return from paying off debt is a challenge, getting a 50% return on your money simply through investing is even tougher. The old saying about a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush applies here. Assuming you conform to your plan’s
requirements and your company meets its plan obligations, you know in advance what your return from the match will be; very few investments can offer the same degree of certainty. That’s why many financial experts argue that saving at least enough to get any employer match for your contributions may make more sense than focusing on debt.

And don’t forget the tax benefits of contributions to a workplace savings plan. By contributing pretax dollars to your plan account, you’re deferring anywhere from 10% to 39.6% in taxes, depending on your federal tax rate. You’re able to put money that would ordinarily go toward taxes to work immediately.

Your choice doesn’t have to be all or nothing

The decision about whether to save for retirement or pay off debt can sometimes be affected by the type of debt you have. For example, if you itemize deductions, the interest you pay on a mortgage is generally deductible on your federal tax return. Let’s
say you’re paying 6% on your mortgage and 18% on your credit card debt, and your employer matches 50% of your retirement account contributions. You might consider directing some of your available resources to paying off the credit card debt and some
toward your retirement account in order to get the full company match, and continuing to pay the tax-deductible mortgage interest.

There’s another good reason to explore ways to address both goals. Time is your best ally when saving for retirement. If you say to yourself, “I’ll wait to start saving until my debts are completely paid off,” you run the risk that you’ll never get to that point, because your good intentions about paying off your debt may falter at some point. Putting off saving also reduces the number of years you have left to save for retirement.

It might also be easier to address both goals if you can cut your interest payments by refinancing that debt. For example, you might be able to consolidate multiple credit card payments by rolling them over to a new credit card or a debt consolidation loan that has a lower interest rate.

Bear in mind that even if you decide to focus on retirement savings, you should make sure that you’re able to make at least the monthly minimum payments owed on your debt. Failure to make those minimum payments can result in penalties and increased interest rates; those will only make your debt situation worse.

Other considerations

When deciding whether to pay down debt or to save for retirement, make sure you take into account the following factors:

• Having retirement plan contributions automatically deducted from your paycheck eliminates the temptation to spend that money on things that might make your debt dilemma even worse. If you decide to prioritize paying down debt, make sure you put in place a mechanism that automatically directs money toward the debt–for example, having money deducted automatically from your checking account–so you won’t be tempted to skip or reduce payments.

• Do you have an emergency fund or other resources that you can tap in case you lose your job or have a medical emergency? Remember that if your workplace savings plan allows loans, contributing to the plan not only means you’re helping to provide for a more secure retirement but also building savings that could potentially be used as a last resort in an emergency. Some employer-sponsored retirement plans also allow hardship withdrawals in certain situations–for example, payments necessary to prevent an eviction from or foreclosure of your principal residence–if you have no other resources tot tap.(However, remember that the amount of any hardship withdrawal becomes taxable income, and if you aren’t at least age 59½, you also may owe a 10% premature distribution tax on that money.)

• If you do need to borrow from your plan, make sure you compare the cost of using that money with other financing options, such as loans from banks, credit unions, friends, or family. Although interest rates on plan loans may be favorable, the amount you can borrow is limited, and you generally must repay the loan within five years. In addition, some plans require you to repay the loan immediately if you leave your job. Your retirement earnings will also suffer as a result of removing funds from a tax-deferred investment.

• If you focus on retirement savings rather than paying down debt, make sure you’re invested so that your return has a chance of exceeding the interest you owe on that debt. While your investments should be appropriate for your risk tolerance, if you invest too conservatively, the rate of return may not be high enough to offset the interest rate you’ll continue to pay. Regardless of your choice, perhaps the most important decision you can make is to take action and get started now. The sooner you decide on a plan for both your debt and your need for retirement savings, the sooner you’ll start to make progress toward achieving both goals.

 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017
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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

Paying the Bills: Potential Sources of Retirement Income

Planning your retirement income is like putting together a puzzle with many different pieces. One of the first steps in the process is to identify all potential income sources and estimate how much you can expect each one to provide.

Social Security

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), nearly 9 of 10 people aged 65 or older receive Social Security benefits. However, most retirees also rely on other sources of income.

For a rough estimate of the annual benefit to which you would be entitled at various retirement ages, you can use the calculator on the Social Security website, www.ssa.gov. Your Social Security retirement benefit is calculated using a formula that takes into account your 35 highest earnings years. How much you receive ultimately depends on a number of factors, including when you start taking benefits. You can begin doing so as early as age 62. However, your benefit may be approximately 25% to 30% less than if you waited until full retirement age (66 to 67, depending on the year you were born). Benefits increase each year that you delay taking benefits until you reach age 70.

As you’re planning, remember that the question of how Social Security will meet its long-term obligations to both baby boomers and later generations has become a hot topic of discussion. Concerns about the system’s solvency indicate that there’s likely to be a change in how those benefits are funded, administered, and/or taxed over the next 20 or 30 years. That may introduce additional uncertainty about Social Security’s role as part of your overall long-term retirement income picture, and put additional emphasis on other potential income sources.

Pensions

If you are entitled to receive a traditional pension, you’re lucky; fewer Americans are covered by them every year. Be aware that even if you expect pensionpayments, many companies are changing their plan provisions. Ask your employer if your pension will increase with inflation, and if so, how that increase is calculated.

Your pension will most likely be offered as either a single or a joint and survivor annuity. A single annuity provides benefits until the worker’s death; a joint and survivor annuity provides reduced benefits that last until the survivor’s death. The law requires married couples to take a joint and survivor annuity unless the spouse signs away those rights. Consider rejecting it only if the surviving spouse will have income that equals at least 75% of the current joint income. Be sure to fully plan your retirement budget before you make this decision.

Work or other income-producing activities

Many retirees plan to work for at least a while in their retirement years at part-time work, a fulfilling second career, or consulting or freelance assignments. Obviously, while you’re continuing to earn, you’ll rely less on your savings, leaving more to accumulate for the future. Work also may provide access to affordable health care.

Be aware that if you’re receiving Social Security benefits before you reach your full retirement age, earned income may affect the amount of your benefit payments until you do reach full retirement age.

If you’re covered by a pension plan, you may be able to retire, then seek work elsewhere. This way, you might be able to receive both your new salary and your pension benefit from your previous employer at the same time. Also, some employers have begun to offer phased retirement programs, which allow you to receive all or part of your pension benefit once you’ve reached retirement age, while you continue to work part-time for the same employer.

Other possible resources include rental property income and royalties from existing assets, such as intellectual property.

Retirement savings/investments

Until now, you may have been saving through retirement accounts such as IRAs, 401(k)s, or other tax-advantaged plans, as well as in taxable accounts. Your challenge now is to convert your savings into ongoing income. There are many ways to do that, including periodic withdrawals, choosing an annuity if available, increasing your allocation to income-generating investments, or using some combination. Make sure you understand the tax consequences before you act.

Some of the factors you’ll need to consider when planning how to tap your retirement savings include:

• How much you can afford to withdraw each year without exhausting your nest egg. You’ll need to take into account not only your projected expenses and other income sources, but also your asset allocation, your life expectancy, and whether you expect to use both principal and income, or income alone.

• The order in which you will tap various accounts. Tax considerations can affect which account you should use first, and which you should defer using.

• How you’ll deal with required minimum distributions (RMDs) from certain tax-advantaged accounts. After age 70½, if you withdraw less than your RMD, you’ll pay a penalty tax equal to 50% of the amount you failed to withdraw.

Some investments, such as certain types of annuities, are designed to provide a guaranteed monthly income (subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuer). Others may pay an amount that varies periodically, depending on how your investments perform. You also can choose to balance your investment choices to provide some of both types of income.

Inheritance

An inheritance, whether anticipated or in hand, brings special challenges. If a potential inheritance has an impact on your anticipated retirement income, you might be able to help your parents investigate estate planning tools that can minimize the impact of taxes on their estate. Your retirement income also may be affected by whether you hope to leave an inheritance for your loved ones. If you do, you may benefit from specialized financial planning advice that can integrate your income needs with a future bequest.

Equity in your home or business

If you have built up substantial home equity, you may be able to tap it as a source of retirement income. Selling your home, then downsizing or buying in a lower-cost region, and investing that freed-up cash to produce income or to be used as needed is one possibility. Another is a reverse mortgage, which allows you to continue to live in your home while borrowing against its value. That loan and any accumulated interest is eventually repaid by the last surviving borrower when he or she eventually sells the home, permanently vacates the property, or dies. (However, you need to carefully consider the risks and costs before borrowing. A useful publication titled “Reverse Mortgages: Avoiding a Reversal of Fortune” is available online from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.)

If you’re hoping to convert an existing business into retirement income, you may benefit from careful financial planning to minimize the tax impact of a sale. Also, if you have partners, you’ll likely need to make sure you have a buy-sell agreement that specifies what will happen to the business when you retire and how you’ll be compensated for your interest.

With an expert to help you identify and analyze all your potential sources of retirement income, you may discover you have more options than you realize.

 

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017
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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

Balancing Your Investment Choices with Asset Allocation

A chocolate cake. Pasta. A pancake. They’re all very different, but they generally involve flour, eggs, and perhaps a liquid. Depending on how much of each ingredient you use, you can get very different outcomes. The same is true of your investments. Balancing a portfolio means combining various types of investments using a recipe that’s appropriate for you.

Getting An Appropriate Mix

The combination of investments you choose can be as important as your specific investments. The mix of various asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives, accounts for most of the ups and downs of a portfolio’s returns.

There’s another reason to think about the mix of investments in your portfolio. Each type of investment has specific strengths and weaknesses that enable it to play a specific role in your overall investing strategy. Some investments may be chosen for their growth potential. Others may provide regular income. Still others may offer safety or simply serve as a temporary place to park your money. And some investments even try to fill more than one role. Because you probably have multiple needs and desires, you need some combination of investment types.

Balancing how much of each you should include is one of your most important tasks as an investor. That balance between growth, income, and safety is called your asset allocation, and it can help you manage the level and type of risks you face.

Balancing Risk and Return

Ideally, you should strive for an overall combination of investments that minimizes the risk you take in trying to achieve a targeted rate of return. This often means balancing more conservative investments against others that are designed to provide a higher return but that also involve more risk. For example, let’s say you want to get a 7.5% return on your money. Your financial professional tells you that in the past, stock market returns have averaged about 10% annually, and bonds roughly 5%. One way to try to achieve your 7.5% return would be by choosing a 50-50 mix of stocks and bonds. It might not work out that way, of course. This is only a hypothetical illustration, not a real portfolio, and there’s no guarantee that either stocks or bonds will perform as they have in the past. But asset allocation gives you a place to start.

Someone living on a fixed income, whose priority is having a regular stream of money coming in, will probably need a very different asset allocation than a young, well-to-do working professional whose priority is saving for a retirement that’s 30 years away. Many publications feature model investment portfolios that recommend generic asset allocations based on an investor’s age. These can help jump-start your thinking about how to divide up your investments. However, because they’re based on averages and hypothetical situations, they shouldn’t be seen as definitive. Your asset allocation is–or should be–as unique as you are. Even if two people are the same age and have similar incomes, they may have very different needs and goals. You should make sure your asset allocation is tailored to your individual circumstances.

Many Ways to Diversify

When financial professionals refer to asset allocation, they’re usually talking about overall classes: stocks, bonds, and cash or cash alternatives. However, there are others that also can be used to complement the major asset classes once you’ve got those basics covered. They include real estate and alternative investments such as hedge funds, private equity, metals, or collectibles. Because their returns don’t necessarily correlate closely with returns from major asset classes, they can provide additional diversification and balance in a portfolio

Even within an asset class, consider how your assets are allocated. For example, if you’re investing in stocks, you could allocate a certain amount to large-cap stocks and a different percentage to stocks of smaller companies. Or you might allocate based on geography, putting some money in U.S. stocks and some in foreign companies. Bond investments might be allocated by various maturities, with some money in bonds that mature quickly and some in longer-term bonds. Or you might favor tax-free bonds over taxable ones, depending on your tax status and the type of account in which the bonds are held.

Asset Allocation Strategies

There are various approaches to calculating an asset allocation that makes sense for you.

The most popular approach is to look at what you’re investing for and how long you have to reach each goal. Those goals get balanced against your need for money to live on. The more secure your immediate income and the longer you have to pursue your investing goals, the more aggressively you might be able to invest for them. Your asset allocation might have a greater percentage of stocks than either bonds or cash, for example. Or you might be in the opposite situation. If you’re stretched financially and would have to tap your investments in an emergency, you’ll need to balance that fact against your longer-term goals. In addition to establishing an emergency fund, you may need to invest more conservatively than you might otherwise want to.

Some investors believe in shifting their assets among asset classes based on which types of investments they expect will do well or poorly in the near term. However, this approach, called “market timing,” is extremely difficult even for experienced investors. If you’re determined to try this, you should probably get some expert advice–and recognize that no one really knows where markets are headed.

Some people try to match market returns with an overall “core” strategy for most of their portfolio. They then put a smaller portion in very targeted investments that may behave very differently from those in the core and provide greater overall diversification. These often are asset classes that an investor thinks could benefit from more active management.

Just as you allocate your assets in an overall portfolio, you can also allocate assets for a specific goal. For example, you might have one asset allocation for retirement savings and another for college tuition bills. A retired professional with a conservative overall portfolio might still be comfortable investing more aggressively with money intended to be a grandchild’s inheritance. Someone who has taken the risk of starting a business might decide to be more conservative with his or her personal portfolio.

Things to Think About

• Don’t forget about the impact of inflation on your savings. As time goes by, your money will probably buy less and less unless your portfolio at least keeps pace with the inflation rate. Even if you think of yourself as a conservative investor, your asset allocation should take long-term inflation into account.

• Your asset allocation should balance your financial goals with your emotional needs. If the way your money is invested keeps you awake worrying at night, you may need to rethink your investing goals and whether the strategy you’re pursuing is worth the lost sleep.

• Your tax status might affect your asset allocation, though your decisions shouldn’t be based solely on tax concerns.

Even if your asset allocation was right for you when you chose it, it may not be appropriate for you now. It should change as your circumstances do and as new ways to invest are introduced. A piece of clothing you wore 10 years ago may not fit now; you just might need to update your asset allocation, too.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016

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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

 

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

2016 Year-End Tax Planning Basics

year-end-investment

The window of opportunity for many tax-saving moves closes on December 31, so it’s important to evaluate your tax situation now, while there’s still time to affect your bottom line for the 2016 tax year.

Timing is everything

Consider any opportunities you have to defer income to 2017. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus, or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may allow you to postpone paying tax on the income until next year. If there’s a chance that you’ll be in a lower income tax bracket next year, deferring income could mean paying less tax on the income as well.

Similarly, consider ways to accelerate deductions into 2016. If you itemize deductions, you might accelerate some deductible expenses like medical expenses, qualifying interest, or state and local taxes by making payments before year-end. Or you might consider making next year’s charitable contribution this year instead.

Sometimes, however, it may make sense to take the opposite approach — accelerating income into 2016 and postponing deductible expenses to 2017. That might be the case, for example, if you can project that you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in 2017; paying taxes this year instead of next might be outweighed by the fact that the income would be taxed at a higher rate next year.

Factor in the AMT

Make sure that you factor in the alternative minimum tax (AMT). If you’re subject to the AMT, traditional year-end maneuvers, like deferring income and accelerating deductions, can have a negative effect. That’s because the AMT — essentially a separate, parallel income tax with its own rates and rules — effectively disallows a number of itemized deductions. For example, if you’re subject to the AMT in 2016, prepaying 2017 state and local taxes won’t help your 2016 tax situation, but could hurt your 2017 bottom line.

Special concerns for higher-income individuals

The top marginal tax rate (39.6%) applies if your taxable income exceeds $415,050 in 2016 ($466,950 if married filing jointly, $233,475 if married filing separately, $441,000 if head of household). And if your taxable income places you in the top 39.6% tax bracket, a maximum 20% tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends also generally applies (individuals with lower taxable incomes are generally subject to a top rate of 15%).

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is more than $259,400 ($311,300 if married filing jointly, $155,650 if married filing separately, $285,350 if head of household), your personal and dependency exemptions may be phased out for 2016 and your itemized deductions may be limited. If your AGI is above this threshold, be sure you understand the impact before accelerating or deferring deductible expenses.

Additionally, a 3.8% net investment income tax (unearned income Medicare contribution tax) may apply to some or all of your net investment income if your modified AGI exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly, $125,000 if married filing separately).

Note: High-income individuals are subject to an additional 0.9% Medicare (hospital insurance) payroll tax on wages exceeding $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly or $125,000 if married filing separately).

IRAs and retirement plans

Take full advantage of tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles. Traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k) plans allow you to contribute funds on a deductible (if you qualify) or pre-tax basis, reducing your 2016 taxable income. Contributions to a Roth IRA (assuming you meet the income requirements) or a Roth 401(k) aren’t deductible or made with pre-tax dollars, so there’s no tax benefit for 2016, but qualified Roth distributions are completely free from federal income tax, which can make these retirement savings vehicles appealing.

For 2016, you can contribute up to $18,000 to a 401(k) plan ($24,000 if you’re age 50 or older) and up to $5,500 to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older). The window to make 2016 contributions to an employer plan typically closes at the end of the year, while you generally have until the April tax return filing deadline to make 2016 IRA contributions.

Roth conversions

Year-end is a good time to evaluate whether it makes sense to convert a tax-deferred savings vehicle like a traditional IRA or a 401(k) account to a Roth account. When you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, or a traditional 401(k) account to a Roth 401(k) account, the converted funds are generally subject to federal income tax in the year that you make the conversion (except to the extent that the funds represent nondeductible after-tax contributions). If a Roth conversion does make sense, you’ll want to give some thought to the timing of the conversion. For example, if you believe that you’ll be in a better tax situation this year than next (e.g., you would pay tax on the converted funds at a lower rate this year), you might think about acting now rather than waiting. (Whether a Roth conversion is appropriate for you depends on many factors, including your current and projected future income tax rates.)

If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and it turns out to be the wrong decision (things don’t go the way you planned and you realize that you would have been better off waiting to convert), you can recharacterize (i.e., “undo”) the conversion. You’ll generally have until October 16, 2017, to recharacterize a 2016 Roth IRA conversion — effectively treating the conversion as if it never happened for federal income tax purposes. You can’t undo an in-plan Roth 401(k) conversion, however.

Changes to note

If you didn’t have qualifying health insurance coverage in 2016, you are generally responsible for the “individual shared responsibility payment” (unless you qualified for an exemption). The maximum individual shared responsibility payment for 2016 increased to 2.5% of household income with a family maximum of $2,085 for 2016, up from 2% of household income for 2015. After 2016, the individual shared responsibility payment will be based on the 2016 dollar amounts, adjusted for inflation.

Since 2013, individuals who itemize deductions on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040 have been able to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses to the extent that the total expenses exceed 10% of AGI. However, a lower 7.5% AGI threshold has applied to those age 65 or older (the lower threshold applied if either you or your spouse turned age 65 before the end of the taxable year). Starting in 2017, the 10% threshold will apply to all individuals, regardless of age. This is something that you may want to factor in if you’re considering accelerating (or delaying) deductible medical expenses.

Expiring provisions

Legislation signed into law in December 2015 retroactively extended a host of popular tax provisions — frequently referred to as “tax extenders” — that had already expired. Many of the tax extender provisions were made permanent, but others were only temporarily extended. The following provisions are among those scheduled to expire at the end of 2016.

• Above-the-line deduction for qualified higher-education expenses
• Ability to deduct qualified mortgage insurance premiums as deductible interest on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040
• Ability to exclude from income amounts resulting from the forgiveness of debt on a qualified principal residence
• Nonbusiness energy property credit, which allowed individuals to offset some of the cost of energy-efficient qualified home improvements (subject to a $500 lifetime cap)

Talk to a professional

When it comes to year-end tax planning, there’s always a lot to think about. A tax professional can help you evaluate your situation, keep you apprised of any legislative changes, and determine whether any year-end moves make sense for you.

Source: Broadridge

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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

Retirement Plan Considerations at Different Stages of Life

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Throughout your career, retirement planning will likely be one of the most important components of your overall financial plan. Whether you have just graduated and taken your first job, are starting a family, are enjoying your peak earning years, or are preparing to retire, your employer-sponsored retirement plan can play a key role in your financial strategies. How should you view and manage your retirement savings plan through various life stages? Following are some points to consider.

Just starting out

If you are a young adult just starting your first job, chances are you face a number of different challenges. College loans, rent, and car payments all may be competing for your hard-earned yet still entry-level paycheck. How can you even consider setting aside money in your employer-sponsored retirement plan now? After all, retirement is decades away–you have plenty of time, right? Before you answer, consider this: The decades ahead of you can be your greatest advantage. Through the power of compounding, you can put time to work for you. Compounding happens when your plan contribution dollars earn returns that are then reinvested back into your account, potentially earning returns themselves. Over time, the process can snowball.

Example(s): Say at age 20, you begin investing $3,000 each year for retirement. At age 65, you would have invested $135,000. If you assume a 6% average annual return, you would have accumulated a total of $638,231 by age 65. However, if you wait until age 45 to begin investing that $3,000 annually and earn the same 6% return, by age 65 you would have invested $60,000 and accumulated a total $110,357. Even though you would have invested $75,000 more by starting earlier, you would have accumulated more than half a million dollars more overall.1

That’s the power you have as a young investor — the power of time and compounding. Even if you can’t afford to contribute $3,000 a year ($250/month) to your plan, remember that even small amounts can add up through compounding. So enroll in your plan and contribute whatever you can, and then try to increase your contribution amount by a percentage point or two every year until you hit your plan’s maximum contribution limit. As debts are paid off and your salary increases, redirect a portion of those extra dollars into your plan.

Finally, time offers an additional benefit to young adults–the potential to withstand stronger short-term losses in order to pursue higher long-term gains. That means you may be able to invest more aggressively than your older colleagues, placing a larger portion of your portfolio in stocks to strive for higher long-term returns.2

Getting married and starting a family

You will likely face even more obligations when you marry and start a family. Mortgage payments, higher grocery and gas bills, child-care and youth sports expenses, family vacations, college savings contributions, home repairs and maintenance, dry cleaning, and health-care costs all compete for your money. At this stage of life, the list of monthly expenses seems endless.

Although it can be tempting to cut your retirement savings plan contributions to make ends meet, do your best to resist temptation and stay diligent. Your retirement needs to be a high priority.

Are you thinking about taking time off to raise children? That is an important and often beneficial decision for many families. But it’s a decision that can have a financial impact lasting long into the future.

Leaving the workforce for prolonged periods not only hinders your ability to set aside money for retirement but also may affect the size of any pension or Social Security benefits you receive down the road. If you think you might take a break from work to raise a family, consider temporarily increasing your plan contributions before you leave and after you return to help make up for the lost time and savings. Or perhaps your spouse could increase his or her contributions while you take time off.

Lastly, while you’re still approximately 20 to 30 years away from retirement, you have decades to ride out market swings. That means you may still be able to invest relatively aggressively in your plan. But be sure you fully reassess your ability to withstand investment risk before making any decisions.

Reaching your peak earning years

The latter stage of your career can bring a wide variety of challenges and opportunities. Older children typically come with bigger expenses. College bills may be making their way to your mailbox or inbox. You may find yourself having to take time off unexpectedly to care for aging parents, a spouse, or even yourself. As your body begins to exhibit the effects of a life well lived, health-care expenses begin to eat up a larger portion of your budget. And those pesky home and car repairs never seem to go away.

On the other hand, with 20+ years of work experience behind you, you could be reaping the benefits of the highest salary you’ve ever earned.

With more income at your disposal, now may be an ideal time to kick your retirement savings plan into high gear. If you’re age 50 or older, you may be able to take advantage of catch-up contributions, which allow you to contribute up to $24,000 to your employer-sponsored plan in 2016, versus a maximum of $18,000 for most everyone else. (Some plans impose different limits.)

In addition, if you haven’t yet met with a financial professional, now may be a good time to do so. A financial professional can help you refine your savings goal and investment allocations, as well as help you plan ahead for the next stage.3

Preparing to retire

With just a few short years until you celebrate the major step into retirement, it’s time to begin thinking about when and how you will begin drawing down your retirement plan assets. You might also want to adjust your investment allocations with an eye towards asset protection (although it’s still important to pursue a bit of growth to keep up with the rising cost of living).4 A financial professional can become a very important ally in helping to address the various decisions you will face at this important juncture. You may want to discuss:

• Health care needs and costs, as well as retiree health insurance
• Income-producing investment vehicles
• Tax rates and living expenses in your desired retirement location
• Part-time work or other sources of additional income
• Estate planning

You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with required minimum distributions (RMDs). The IRS requires that you begin drawing down your retirement plan assets by April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70½. If you continue to work for your employer past age 70½, you may delay RMDs from that plan until the year following your actual retirement.5

Other considerations

Throughout your career, you may face other important decisions involving your retirement savings plan. For example, if your plan provides for Roth contributions, you’ll want to review the differences between these and traditional pretax contributions to determine the best strategy for your situation. While pretax contributions offer an upfront tax benefit, you’ll have to pay taxes on distributions when you receive them. On the other hand, Roth contributions do not provide an upfront tax benefit, but qualified withdrawals will be tax free.6 Whether you choose to contribute to a pretax account, a Roth account, or both will depend on a number of factors.

At times, you might face a financial difficulty that will tempt you to take a loan or hardship withdrawal from your account, if these options are available in your plan. If you find yourself in this situation, consider a loan or hardship withdrawal as a last resort. These moves not only will slow your retirement saving progress but could have a negative impact on your income tax obligation.

Finally, as you make decisions about your plan on the road to retirement, be sure to review it alongside your other savings and investment strategies. While it’s generally not advisable to make frequent changes in your retirement plan investment mix, you will want to review your plan’s portfolio at least once each year and as major events (e.g., marriage, divorce, birth of a child, job change) occur throughout your life.

1This hypothetical example of mathematical principles does not represent any specific investment and should not be considered financial advice. Investment returns will fluctuate and cannot be guaranteed. 2All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there can be no assurance that any investment strategy will be successful. Investments offering a higher potential rate of return also involve a higher level of risk. 3There is no assurance that working with a financial professional will improve your investment results. 4Asset allocation is a method used to help manage investment risk; it does not guarantee a profit or protect against a loss. 5Withdrawals from your employer-sponsored retirement savings plan prior to age 59½ (or age 55 in the event you separate from service) may be subject to regular income taxes as well as a 10% penalty tax. 6Qualified withdrawals from Roth accounts are those made after a five-year waiting period and you either reach age 59½, die, or become disabled.

Source: Broadridge Investor Communications, Inc.

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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members. CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.