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Thanksgiving Centerpiece Class

Last month Harbor hosted a flower arranging class at Plum Sage in Denver.  With instruction from the floral experts at Plum Sage each attendee designed and created their very own Thanksgiving centerpiece to take home.

We learned about flower and foliage types, the mechanics of floral arrangements as well as many useful design tips. We also discussed using what is available in our own gardens to enhance a store bought bouquet.

This was a very fun and educational class and we hope to make it an annual event.

 

 

Helping Your Child Build Credit

Once upon a time when a child went off to college they were inundated with credit card solicitations, often to their (and their credit score’s) detriment. Among other needed reforms, the Credit CARD Act of 2009 eliminated the ability of a card company to entice consumers under the age of 21 without an independent income to sign up for cards using excessive marketing, gifts and, of course, pizza.  While laudable, this act has put the burden on parents to step in and make sure their children who are full time students have access to a credit card for emergencies and for building a credit history for when they finish school and start applying for loans.  There are several ways to accomplish this goal:

Make the child an authorized user on your card – this involves calling your credit card company and having them issue a card with the child’s name on it that they can then use as their own. The disadvantage of this method is that even you have an agreement that your child will cover their charges you are, in fact, liable for those amounts as well as your own. The advantage to this method is that you can monitor your child’s charges and if they charge irresponsibly you can rescind the authorization with another call to the credit card company. Also positive activity, paying on time and in full, will show up on your child’s credit report as well as yours, building a positive credit history for the child.

Co-sign for a card for your child – if you have highly trustworthy children you may use this option. The disadvantage is that the child is the primary account holder. They receive the bills and if they do not pay the co-signer may not know until the debt is delinquent, damaging the credit score of child and parent alike and possibly leaving the parent responsible for paying the bill. Also, as the primary account holder, the child can raise the credit limit without the co-signer knowing. If you elect this option, it’s often best to start before the child leaves home for college while you can still monitor and observe their spending habits and continue to educate them on using credit responsibly.

Secured cards – if your child is not particularly responsible and the above options cause you undue anxiety consider a secured card. With these cards, you make a deposit in the bank, often a few hundred up to a few thousand dollars, and this deposit establishes the credit limit on the card. While these cards are expensive, generally charging annual fees and often penalties for paying late or going over limit, they can be a good option for starting slowly. Again, if you elect this option, it’s often best to start before the child leaves home.

Whichever way you choose, helping your child learn about and establish credit is an important life skill and eventually, sometime in the far distant future they might even thank you for it and offer to buy you pizza.

 

 

Hikes We Like

by Annika Spetnagel  – Harbor Intern

My last summer adventure was camping outside of Winter Park along Vasquez Ridge.

It was my first time camping in a dispersed camping spot (ie outside of a designated campground) and it couldn’t have turned out better. Vasquez Road, a mere 20-30 minutes from Main Street Winter Park, had tons of unique camping spots all alongside a river. I had a great time exploring the area, taking in the scenery, and enjoying some yummy camp fire prepared food.

 

 

 

Investopedia: When Should Retirees Downsize?

When should retirees downsize their home?   Writing for InvestopediaTim Parker consulted with several wealth management professionals including Elyse Foster, CFP® of Harbor Financial Group and found many circumstances to ponder.

When should retirees downsize homes? That’s an inevitable question, because time stands still for nobody. Seasons of life change over time, and one day you’ll find yourself asking that question more seriously than today. Ultimately, the answer is based on your individual circumstances. Here are some things to consider when making the decision.

Most people fresh out of school – or newly married with little money – start in a bare-bones apartment. Over time, as a family grows in tandem with its income, a multi-bedroom house generally becomes the residence of choice. Later in life, the kids move out (one hopes), and the house is filled with more memories than people. Quite likely, there’s no longer a need to pay the expenses that come with a large home. Once retirement fully sets in – and individuals or couples often live on less income – making their money last may become a serious concern.

“Downsizing is both a financial as well as an emotional decision,” says Allan Katz, CFP, ChFC, CLU, president of Comprehensive Wealth Management Group, LLC, in Staten Island, N.Y. “It often becomes a necessity because retirement income may not sustain the expenses. It would also make sense if it means downsizing expenses, which can now be used for other things like family vacations, taking care of grandchildren, etc.”

Selling the home could be the perfect way to cut costs, but that’s not always the case.

The cost of selling. Selling your home comes with some pretty high costs. You’ll likely have to do some facelift/style updates to get the best price, you could have 6% or more in realtor commissions. If you make enough money in the sale, capital gains taxes could take a big bite out of your earnings.

The cost of moving. Then, you have to purchase or rent somewhere new to live. If the new place is much smaller, you might end up needing to buy smaller furniture instead of just using what you have. Then, there are all the costs that come with moving: closing costs, actual movers (and this time, you may need help with packing to spare your back), and many other incidentals that you won’t know about until you do it.

The intangibles. Maybe moving to a sunny climate seems like a dream come true, but you’re leaving lifelong friends, family, community and doctors with whom you’ve built relationships over time. The beach is nice, but having friends and family to spend time with is better – providing (of course!) that you actually like your friends and family. “Relationships are important and they aren’t as easy to develop as we’d like to assume. Because of that fact, don’t treat this issue too lightly. You may not make new friendships in your new home as easily as you did in your old one…given that you are now in a different stage of life,” says Bruce Wing, ChFC, CLU, RHU, REBC, president, Strategic Wealth, LLC, Alpharetta, Ga.

By the way, you probably think your house is worth more than it actually is, so make sure to check out the likely selling price with a few real estate agents, and maybe pay for a property appraisal, before committing to the change. Avoid the Downsides of Downsizing in Retirement will explain more.

All of this means one thing: You have to total all of the costs associated with moving to see if it makes sense. “Drafting a comparison of the old home expense versus the new home expense is important as well. Will the new home have higher or lower utilities, for example? Will the new home have greater or less commuting or travel costs to visit loved ones, run errands, get to work? Consider insurance expense, property taxes, HOA dues and expenses before moving. The differences can be huge and surprising based on region,“ says Elyse Foster, CFP®, principal, Harbor Financial Group, Inc., Boulder, Colo.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t end up profiting: A study from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research found that downsizing from a $250,000 home to a $150,000 home is likely to net you about $6,250 extra per year or $520 per month – a sizable sum for the average retiree. Numbers like these are purely hypothetical, though. You’ll have to calculate your own numbers to make an educated choice.

And that’s all before you start thinking about health.

Health Concerns

As you age, your health will become a more determining factor in all decisions. If you (or your spouse) have mobility problems, a two-story home probably isn’t the best place to live. You can make accessibility accommodations, but the costs could be high.

On the other hand, if your current layout has fewer stairs or is all on one floor, widening a few doors for walkers isn’t that much compared to the costs of selling and moving. If you’re younger and thinking about aging parents (or looking ahead to being one), do a home makeover upgrade using what are called universal design standards – designing for people in all stages of life. This will allow you to stay in your home for as long as you would like without having to make modifications for your later years.

More serious health concerns may be a reason for moving to some form of senior housing, of course, but that’s not a downsizing issue.

The Middle Ground

If you’re not sure what to do, there’s a middle ground to explore. Instead of selling, you could rent your home and move into something smaller, using the rental proceeds and banking the extra money. “Selling your home outright can cause major disturbances in your financial strategy. Always consider the alternative of leasing your home to good renters who will pay a premium for your asset. This allows you to be flexible with your retirement lifestyle. Whether you choose to move into an apartment or travel the world, you now have a new form of income,” says Timothy W. Hooker, AIF®, parther and chief compliance officer, Dynamic Wealth Solutions, LLC, Southfield, Mich.

You’ll probably need a management company, especially if you don’t have experience as a landlord. But even adding in that expense saves all of the costs of selling and allows you to continue cashing in on the rising value of your home. Obviously, don’t do this if it won’t raise enough extra cash – unless your other goal is testing out a new city or the need to live on a single floor.

You could also rent out a room or portion of your home, but you should tread lightly, especially if it’s somebody you don’t know. And study up on local ordinances about roommates – not just whether you can have one in your neighborhood, but what happens if you want to evict one. (How Renting Out Your Spare Room Can Backfire spells out some details.)

Other Reasons to Sell

If you’ve paid off your home, trying to hold onto it without burdening yourself makes sense. However, sometimes selling is still the best idea. If you plan to travel a lot, you may only need a small place to call home. If you need extensive, ongoing medical care that your local or regional hospital can’t support, relocating also might be advised.

The Bottom Line

As a retiree, you hope to be able to make some choices about how you live that don’t center on money. If you love your home and all the memories it holds, you might stay even if it makes little financial sense. Why? Because you can.

How do you know if you should sell? Crunch the numbers. Calculate the upfront costs of moving and compare them to the yearly savings you’ll realize. A small gain probably isn’t worth your time, but a substantial savings might make sense.

Full Article: When Should Retirees Downsize Their Homes? | Investopedia http://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/100116/when-should-retirees-downsize-homes.asp#ixzz4wLkRT7O2

Original Source: Investopedia, Tim Parker, September 8, 2017, What’s The Minimum I Need To Retire?

HSAs and FSAs

Health insurance plans, tax code and government-sponsored programs are often written in complicated language, making it a challenge to understand all of the benefit options available to you. Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs) are similar tax-saving ways to help pay for qualified medical expenses.  However, each comes with its own set of rules.

A health savings account (HSA), is a tax-advantaged account set up through a qualified trustee (bank, insurance company, etc.) to pay or reimburse qualified out of pocket medical expenses. Simple sounding, HSAs have some specific requirements starting with who is eligible to sign up for a HSA.

To qualify for an HSA, you must:

• Be covered under a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP).

A HDHP has a minimum annual deductible higher than a typical health insurance plan.

For 2017, the minimum annual deductible is $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for families with a maximum cap of $6,550 and $13,100 for individual and family out of pocket medical expenses respectively.

For 2018, the minimum annual deductible increases to $1,350 for individuals and $2,700 for families. The caps on annual out of pocket medical expenses increase to $6,650 for individuals and $13,300 for families.

• Not have any other healthcare coverage unless already covered by liabilities incurred under workers’ compensation laws, torts (civil legal liability), or ownership or use of property, a specific disease, or a fixed amount per day (or period) of hospitalization

• Not be enrolled in Medicare

• Not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s current tax return

Benefits of opening an HSA account include the following:

• Contributions made by anyone other than an individual’s employer are tax deductible and do not need to be itemized on Tax Form 1040.

• Contributions made on the behalf of an individual’s employer may be excluded from an individual’s gross income.

• The HSA balance rolls over from year to year.

• The interest and gains on the assets in the account are tax-free, and distributions remain tax-free if paying for qualified medical expenses. At age 65, distributions may be taken for any reason without penalty.

• HSA funds remain available for future qualified medical expenses even if the individual changes health insurance plans, changes employers, or retires.

Individuals with a qualified high deductible health plan are eligible to contribute up to $3,400 a year in 2017, compared to family HDHP coverage which allows for up to $6,750 in annual contributions. In 2018, those amounts increase to $3,450 and $6,900 respectively. Individuals who are 55 or older are eligible to contribute an additional $1,000 each tax year. Employers have the opportunity to contribute to HSAs, but the annual limits still apply and include amounts contributed through a cafeteria plan.

Qualified expenses to use funds from an HSA include medical, dental, vision, and prescription expenses not covered by medical insurance. These do not include insurance premiums except in certain cases including paying for COBRA and paying for medical premiums if unemployed.

In comparison, some individuals may have the option to enroll in a Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA). FSAs have many similarities to HSAs in their structure and use of funds, but have many differences that are important to understand.

A health Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA) is a tax-favored program that allows employees to pay for out of pocket medical expenses with pre-tax dollars. In order to qualify for an FSA one must be employed by an employer who offers the FSA program as part of its cafeteria plan coverage

Once enrolled in a FSA, the employee must choose an amount of their salary to pledge to the account by estimating how much he or she thinks will be spent during the period on copayments, drugs and other qualified expenses not covered by insurance. Each pay period, an equal proportion of this contribution will be taken out of an individual’s income pre-tax.

Benefits of enrolling in a FSA include the following:

• Because contributions to the account are made through a cafeteria plan, they are not subject to income and other payroll taxes, such as Social Security and Medicare.

• The employer may allow the annual contribution amount to be available at the beginning of the plan year, which would allow an employee to claim the entire annual amount at the beginning of the year if he or she has qualifying expenses.

In 2017, employees are eligible to deposit up to $2,600 in an account each year, subject to the employer’s plan limitation. The contribution limit is expected to remain the same for 2018.

FSAs are “Use it or lose it”: Any money left in an FSA at the end of the plan period is forgone by the owner of the account.  Some plans have a grace period after the year is over to deplete the remaining balance of the FSA.

For more information about HSAs and FSAs plus a list of qualifying medical expenses, contact your accountant, plan administrator or go to IRS Publication 969.

Hikes We Like

We were visiting family in Albuquerque recently and in between family time and green chile we were able to squeeze in a hike at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

Kasha-Katuwe is a Keresan phrase meaning “white cliffs”, Keres being the traditional language of the pueblo tribes of northern New Mexico. The cone shaped tent rocks were formed by volcanic eruptions that occurred 6-7 million years ago and left pumice, ash and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. Over time, weathering and erosion of these layers created canyons and the unique rock formations which vary in height from several feet up to 90 feet.

The trail took us through some tight slots in the canyon.

Our All Trails app indicated that Cave Loop and Slot Canyon Trail would be about 3.1 miles, but in the end we tracked just over 4 miles so we must have strayed off the trail at some point. Overall the hike had minimal elevation, beautiful pinyon pines dotting the landscape, canyon walls rising up above on both sides, leading through the slot canyon and the climb to the mesa top.

Luckily we hiked on a weekday and missed the weekend crowds, so had time to reward ourselves with a stop at La Cumbre one of our favorite Albuquerque breweries.

Identity Protection

Unfortunately recent news has identity theft at the top of all of our minds, again. We have researched a bit more on the topic and have the following suggestionsCheck your credit report at least 3 times a year at annualcreditreport.com.

  1. Consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. The service should monitor all three credit bureaus, should notify you immediately of anything suspicious. The cost should be between $10-25 a month depending on the coverage you would like. We found this article to be helpful in deciding which service to use. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/best-credit-monitoring-service/
  2. Consider placing a freeze on your credit, this will require anyone who is trying to open accounts in your name (yourself included) to have your PIN or password to allow access. This costs between $5-10 and needs to be done with each credit agency. More information on this can be found here https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs#what
  3. Shred everything and consider using a ‘Security Micro Cut Shredder.’
  4. Use your credit card and not your debit card whenever you can. By federal statute, you have no liability if someone makes fraudulent charges on your credit card.
  5. Check your bank and credit card statements each month for any illegitimate charges.
  6. Be careful who you do business with online and have at least two passwords –one for banking/investments and another for shopping. This will keep your banking and investments passwords safer if there is another retail breach. It is important to change your passwords frequently.
  7. Activate 2-factor authentication on accounts that will send you a text when you log in on an unauthorized device.

A little investment of time and vigilance over your financial affairs can reap great returns by saving you money and significant headaches.

Please contact us with questions or concerns!

Weekend at Vermejo Ranch

Earlier this summer we were invited by friends to join them at one of Ted Turner’s ranches for a long weekend. Vermejo Ranch is comprised of 585,000 acres in northeast New Mexico with part of the ranch overlapping into the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado.  I had heard of Ted Turner before arriving but was unfamiliar with his interesting philosophical mix of conservation versus economic development in his ranches.

Vermejo Park is a working ranch with a large (2,000+) bison population (birthplace of CU’s mascot Ralphie V) as well as a guest ranch destination for fishing and sport shooting. Natural gas is still produced on the ranch with strict environmental controls and at one time coal was also mined.  The ranch is also actively participating with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in attempts to establish a population of the endangered black footed ferrets on the ranch prairie lands and they are also working to conserve the Rio Grande cutthroat trout which is currently only found in 10% of its former range.

AND in spite of all the economic and conservation activity going on around us we managed to have a great time. We fly fished, rode horses, sat on the porch drinking wine, etc.  I shot a gun for the first time ever with laughable results.  I did finally manage to hit a large box that was lying very still on the ground not too far from me.  I also managed to wound a fake, styrofoam elk with a bow and arrow.  A real elk would never have let me get as close as I had to get to actually hit the fake elk and, in fact, I have no interest in actually hitting a real elk but maybe next time I’ll take a step or two back and see if I can still hit the fake one.

 

Hikes We Like

by Annika Spetnagel  – Harbor Intern

Having worked at an athletic club and as a nanny the two previous summers, my summer internship at Harbor marked my first “real job”. This summer has been a fantastic learning experience and I’ve really enjoyed my time here at Harbor, but the one thing I missed from previous summer jobs was the ability to spend the day outside enjoying my favorite season’s weather. Luckily, spending the day inside motivated me to really take advantage of the weekends and opt outside.

I love to hike and I was lucky enough to grow up in Colorado; a hiker’s paradise. My first hike of the summer took place at Coyote Ridge just outside of Fort Collins. I’d driven by the trailhead numerous times and swore I would get around to hiking it one of these days. Finally, in early June, my opportunity arose. The hike itself was a quick 4 mile round trip that started off level and got a bit harder as you reached the ridge. Along the way I had a great view of open plains and traditional Colorado scenery, which was enough to distract me from the numerous signs warning of rattlesnakes in the area. As pretty as the views were on the way up, the view at the top of the ridge (pictured below) definitely took the cake. Bonus points if you can spot me in one of the pictures.

 

I ventured to Rocky Mountain National Park for my second hike of the summer, with the goal of hiking to Emerald Lake. After completing the hike, my roommates and I agreed this hike definitely gives you your bang for your buck. Along the way to Emerald Lake, hikers pass three other gorgeous lakes and a multitude of stunning views. The hike, only 3.8 miles round trip, is easy and enjoyable, and a great hike for families.

I took this picture (bottom left) at Bear Lake, which marks the very beginning of the hike, just 5 months before in February. It made a fun side by side comparison, and reminded my how grateful I am for the warm weather.

 

 

 

 

 

Pictured below is the second lake along the hike, Nymph Lake, as well as a picture of one of the gorgeous viewpoints along the way.


 

 

 

 

 

 

My roommates and I posing in front of Dream Lake, the last stop before the aptly named Emerald Lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elyse Quoted in WSJ

Elyse Foster, CFP® was recently quoted in The Wall Street Journal’s article “Talk Is Cheap: Automation Takes Aim at Financial Advisers – and Their Fees”

The Wall Street Journal explores advisory compensation by exploring fees for asset management and planning. The article addresses the question- Are robo advisors and other low cost platforms putting pressure on industry fees?

Harbor’s stance is to be proactive on lowering fees to stay ahead of the industry and continue to put client’s needs first.

We have shared the article in full on Harbor Financial Group’s Facebook page.  Click here to read the article: Talk Is Cheap: Automation Takes Aim at Financial Advisers-and Their Fees

Also, if you are not already following Harbor on Facebook, please do!