Vacation Etiquette: Who Pays for What?
WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE: THAT AWKWARD MOMENT when the restaurant bill comes and it’s not clear who’s paying. Should you split it evenly—down to the decimal point? Or will one person magnanimously pick up the whole tab?
“The scene you want to avoid is having two or more people play tug-of-war with the bill,” says Stacy Allred, head of Merrill Lynch’s Center for Family Wealth. “It’s easy to arrange in advance for it to be given to you. Or you could just step away from the table and settle up while you’re waiting for dessert.”
What’s tricky with dinner can be even trickier when you’re dealing with larger expenses, like a weeklong vacation with family or friends. Allred offers the following three simple rules to help you avoid any misunderstanding.
Establish who’s paying what up front. “If you want all or part of the vacation to be a gift, say what you’d like to pay for, what you won’t be paying for and why you’re giving the gift,” she says. You could cover the cost of renting the beach house, for instance, and your friends could offer to pay for groceries or meals out.
Get creative. If you’re covering the big up-front expenses, it’s important that you leave the door open for people to help out in non-monetary ways, such as preparing some of the meals or planning excursions. “Everyone will feel better knowing they brought something to the table,” Allred says. And don’t forget that accumulated travel miles can be a friendly alternative to dollars, she adds.
Can you make the trip more affordable for everyone? Focusing on what everyone hopes to get out of the trip can help clarify how money should be spent. Are there expenses that you can compromise on? “Don’t let money stop you from enjoying one another’s company,” says Allred. “That’s the real reason you’re traveling together in the first place.”
Should You Give Cash as a Wedding Present?
CHANCES ARE YOU’VE GOT A WEDDING on your calendar this spring. What are you going to give the happy couple? Wedding registries, which make it easy to give gifts that couples want to receive, made their first appearance in the 1920s, when a major department store introduced the first one. The newest wrinkle in gift registries are online services, like tendr.com and honeyfund.com, that allow couples to register to receive cash.
As with so many things, what seems new isn’t always. “Giving money to people who are getting married has always been appropriate,” says Michael Liersch, head of Behavioral Finance and Goals-Based Consulting at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “What is new—and I think it’s fantastic," says Liersch, “is that these registries give people a chance to stop dancing around the topic and be transparent. There’s no harm in asking for money. Starting a new life is tough; there are a lot of expenses."
Couples generally use cash registries, and their group-gifting capabilities, to fund everything from their honeymoon to a down payment on a home—and even, in some cases, the wedding itself. Some, particularly older couples who already have their financial lives in order, ask guests to contribute to a favorite charity via their wedding registries. Whatever you decide to give the newlyweds you know, send along the following “gift” of good financial advice.
Managing the Financial Needs of Your Special Needs Child
HAPPENING ON THE SLOPES OF AUSTRIA THIS WEEK, the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017—thrilling proof of the power of all individuals to reach their full potential. Getting there isn’t always easy, though. “Seeing a child to adulthood is difficult enough. Raising one with special needs can be overwhelming financially,” says Chris Sullivan of the Global Marketing and Corporate Affairs group at Merrill Lynch. Recognizing that fact, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch have actively supported special needs families for many years.
Bank of America has been a partner of Special Olympics for more than 30 years. And Merrill Lynch’s financial advisors have access to many resources that can help families plan for the immediate and long-term financial needs of their special needs children. There are generally private special needs schools to consider, as well as the possibility of continuing medical care, notes Sullivan. And always there’s the nagging worry: What will happen to my child when I’m no longer here?
“Too often, the parents of children with autism or other special needs are so immersed in the challenges of the moment that they can’t think long term,” says Sullivan, who has decades of experience in special needs issues. He recommends consulting a care manager, a social services representative, a tax advisor and a special needs trust attorney, in addition to your financial advisor, to help address the following questions:
What’s the cost of care? Expenses can vary widely depending on your child’s condition. “Your care manager and financial advisor can work together to clarify anticipated costs,” Sullivan explains, “and your tax advisor can help make the most of available deductions.” For starters, check out our special needs cost calculator here.
What about government programs? Your special needs child may qualify for two key sources of government assistance, Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. Sullivan recommends speaking with a special needs trust attorney to discuss your child’s eligibility, and visiting the Special Needs Resource Project for further information on programs in your area. Also worth checking out, ABLE Accounts—tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families.
Should we rethink our estate plan? By leaving money to your loved one via traditional means, you could disqualify him or her from government assistance after your death. “That’s why some families decide to use a special needs trust,” says Sullivan. But there are potential downsides. “Ask your trust attorney to clarify the rules so you can decide which path to take.” For more on trusts, read “Is a Trust Right for You?”
Is Franchising a Safe Shortcut to Entrepreneurship?
ENTREPRENEURSHIP HAS LONG BEEN A FAVORITE SECOND ACT for retirees, with many buying franchises as ready-made businesses. Lately, the proliferation of low-cost and tech-based options has made franchising more affordable for young adults as well.
While you can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in startup fees and costs to own a franchise, many come in for under $25,000 and some for around $10,000. “When you buy a franchise, you’re buying a system,” says Christy Wilson Delk, a franchise specialist. The main advantage: As the company builds the brand, you can focus on your customers.
But entrepreneurship—even when it comes prepackaged—isn’t for everyone. Franchisers can dictate what prices you charge and may require you to pay royalties and other fees. “As with any business, you need to do your research and be aware of the risks,” says Thomas Carter, vice president of Personal Retirement Strategy & Solutions at Merrill Lynch. “Before you sign the contract, have it reviewed by an attorney and your accountant, and be sure you understand all the expenses involved. You’ll also want to consult with your advisor about how this move might affect your other financial goals.”
If you’re considering taking the leap, check out the websites of the Small Business Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. “They have tons of free information about franchising,” says Carter. Below are three in-demand franchise fields to explore. None require dedicated expertise beyond sound business management.
Education: Franchises in this area can range from tutoring to SAT prep to continuing education. Worth noting: According to the market research firm Global Industry Analysts, Inc., the global private tutoring market is projected to surpass $102.8 billion by 2018.
Wellness: These businesses focus on fitness, beauty and nutrition. Health clubs alone posted revenues of $26 billion in 2015, up 6% from the year prior.1
Senior Care: The focus here is on providing in-home medical and non-medical care services for the elderly. In the next decade, says the U.S. Dept. of Labor, demand for health aides is projected to grow 38 percent – much faster than the average for all occupations.
Does It Make Sense for Me to File a Tax Extension?
YOUR TAX ALARM DIDN’T GO OFF. Your dog ate your 1099. Or maybe you’ve been waiting for a critical piece of documentation. Whatever the reason, you may be feeling the need for a little more time to file your taxes. If so, filing for an extension could be the answer. The deadline for filing for an extension this year is April 18. But doing so will give you until October 16 to file your taxes.
"People seem to have a sense that there’s something negative associated with extensions,” says accountant Vinay Navani, of Wilkin & Guttenplan P.C. “On the contrary, filing for one can be a very prudent move, especially if you’re waiting for information from a third party."
For business taxpayers, there’s an added advantage: “You may be able to defer making a pension payment until the extended due date, which allows you to use 2017 revenues while still claiming the benefit for 2016,” he says. But that doesn’t mean it’s a fix-all.
Here, Navani puts to bed some common myths about the process. Check in with your tax professional and financial advisor to weigh the pros and cons, and determine if an extension might make sense for you.
Fill in the Blank: The Biggest Expense of Your Life Is ...
IT CAN COST 2.5 TIMES MORE THAN THE AVERAGE HOME —and more than the average amount you’ll spend to purchase that house, raise your child and pay for his or her college education, combined. Yet few people think of it that way. Nor are they well prepared for the expense. At an average cost of $738,400, it’s “the purchase of a lifetime.” What is it? Retirement.
That’s a key finding of Finances in Retirement: New Challenges, New Solutions, a study just released by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave. Fully 81% of Americans have no idea how much they’ll need to save for their life after work, according to the study. And many don’t seem to know where—or how—to begin. In fact, one third of adult Americans, including 42% of millennials, have nothing at all saved or invested for retirement.
“Most people—and the young in particular—have a tough time imagining their financial situation years from now,” says Michael Liersch, head of behavioral finance at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. Immediate priorities—like buying a home or saving for your child’s college—get in the way. “Yet understanding your future needs is key to preparing for a financially secure retirement.”
The study highlights many actionable strategies, course corrections and tradeoffs that can help you prepare for and deal with the financial challenges you may face as you age. Be among the first to download it here today. Then talk with your financial advisor about how you can prepare.
Writing a Will Won’t Jinx You
HERE’S A SHOCKER: More than half of Americans don’t have a will, including nearly a third of those 65 and older, according to a 2016 Gallup research poll.1 One possible reason, beyond lingering bad-luck superstitions: “People don’t like to plan for their own mortality,” says Jean Kim-Wall, a director in the Strategic Wealth Advisory Group at Merrill Lynch.
But estate plans (which include wills) are less about your own future than they are about protecting your family—from discord, avoidable taxes and legal fees. Most important, a will gives you control. "If you don’t have a will, the state will decide how your estate is handled," says Kim-Wall.
“Whether you’re nearing retirement or just starting a family, it’s a good idea to put your wishes down in writing,” she adds. "Talk to your financial advisor about your goals. An estate planning attorney will fine tune your initial thoughts and make everything official by drafting the necessary documents." And bring your family into the conversation.
Below, Kim-Wall offers three things here that every will should address.
Name your beneficiaries and your terms. Who inherits what from your estate is the first step, but you should also consider how your assets are passed on. For some ideas, read "Is a Trust Right for You?" and "Remarried—with Children? An Estate Plan for You."
Pick an executor and a guardian. “The executor will take inventory of your assets, make sure your mandatory filings are done, and pay any estate taxes,” says Kim-Wall. And if you have minor children, you’ll need to name the person who will look after them. For a first-person account of why this is so important, read "The Things They Never Tell First-Time Parents."
Plan for contingencies. Wills can become outdated quickly, so spell out how you want to account for major life events like births, deaths, marriages and divorces.
For more tips on getting started, check out “What You Need to Know About Your Will.” And if you want to see your kids enjoy their inheritance while you’re still alive, read "Why Make Your Heirs Wait?"
Please keep in mind Merrill Lynch does not provide Estate Planning, tax or legal advice.
Would Job Sharing Work for You?
FRAZZLED FROM JUGGLING WORK AND FAMILY every day? Job sharing—where two employees split a full-time role, with one generally working the first half of the week and the other covering the rest of the week—could be for you. “This often overlooked arrangement can be attractive to parents with young children, and to baby boomers who want to cut back on their hours and still be engaged in meaningful work,” says Pat Katepoo, founder of advisory service WorkOptions.com. "Yet few employees think to ask for it."
If you’re tempted, here’s how to get started.
First, take a financial reality check.
Sharing a job not only alters your base salary, which will most likely be pro-rated to reflect the hours you work. It can also affect other benefits, such as paid time off, health insurance and retirement plans. “Your financial advisor can help you think through major life changes, like a career switch,” says Thomas Carter, vice president of Personal Retirement Strategy & Solutions at Merrill Lynch. “Discuss the near- and long-term financial implications of cutting back your hours and decide whether the tradeoff to achieve better work-life balance is do-able.”
Ask if your employer is open to it.
Twenty-nine percent of employers offer job-sharing programs, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. Most large companies describe their job-sharing policy on their human resources intranet or in their employee handbook, says global career expert Dana Manciagli. If your company doesn’t…
Start the conversation.
Research job-share structures at other companies, Manciagli advises. Then develop a proposal, including a description of the job you wish to share, to present to HR. If you find a job share partner before you present, even better! And if that goes well, discuss the proposal with your manager.
Translation, Please: 3 Terms Worth Knowing This Year
THIS TIME OF YEAR, INVESTMENT STRATEGISTS everywhere are busy forecasting the trends that could shape the markets in 2017. Translating complex market analyses (and the often technical terms they’re expressed in) into strategies that can help you reach your goals is the job of your financial advisor. And it’s a safe bet that the following three terms will enter into your conversations as you begin to discuss risks and opportunities in 2017. They’re worth understanding—and might just help you define your approach to investing in the year ahead.
BARBELL APPROACH. No, it’s not a move your personal trainer might recommend. It’s a strategy that focuses on creating a balance of high-risk and low-risk investments, avoiding the safer middle. By doing so, the thinking goes, you’ll expose yourself to higher potential returns, while limiting risk, than you otherwise might. Although this approach is a useful fixed income strategy when interest rates are rising, our analysts favor it for equities as well this year, as a hedge against volatility.
CORE INFLATION. A measure of long-term inflation that excludes products that can spike in the short term, such as food and energy. Worth knowing because it’s one of the factors that the Fed will consider as it decides how often to raise interest rates in 2017.
CYCLICALS. Stocks of companies, such as car manufacturers, hotels and airlines, that tend to do well when the economy does well (and people have money to spend)—and poorly when it doesn’t. Our experts think that financial and consumer discretionary cyclical stocks may benefit from the incoming administration’s proposed policies.
For more insights on investment opportunities and risks in 2017, visit www.ml.com/outlook. Then schedule some time with your advisor.
The Retirement Cost You Won’t See Coming
QUICK—WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST EXPENSE IN RETIREMENT? Health costs, you might say. But you’d be wrong. Housing is the correct answer, making up about a third of expenses for people aged 65 and older, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The even bigger surprise may be the costs that rank second: transportation. Getting around accounts for over 15% of a retiree’s expenses, on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You no longer have to fund a daily commute, so what gives?
“The expense of keeping a car doesn’t disappear just because you drive less,” says Cynthia Hutchins, director of Financial Gerontology for Merrill Lynch. And older Americans often find themselves turning to expensive transportation alternatives, such as high-priced car services, as they age. “Luckily, there are things you can do to limit transportation costs in your later years,” says Hutchins. She offers the following tips:
Shrink your fleet. Owning a car costs an average of $8,698 annually, according to estimates from the AAA. If you live with a spouse or partner, slimming down to one car could save you a substantial amount.
Relocate. If you can’t drive, consider moving to an area with affordable public transportation, or closer to friends and family who can give you a lift.
Drive now, ride later. The Independent Transportation Network of America is a community-based non-profit network that aims to help retirees get around. Volunteering your time is a great way to give back—and it earns you credits that can be used for rides later in life.
3 Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisor Now
THINK OF IT AS A PHYSICAL for your finances. Conducting an annual portfolio review is a great way to take the pulse of your investments and measure your progress toward your financial goals, says Mary Ann Bartels, head of Portfolio Strategy at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. And what better time than the start of a new year to get that financial checkup? Bartels recommends asking the following three questions to help you get the conversation started.
1. Is my portfolio aligned with what’s going on in my life—and the markets—now?
Ask in particular what the Federal Reserve’s December 2016 interest rate hike (and possible increases in 2017) might mean for your fixed income portfolio, as well as for your broader financial plans, suggests Bartels. And discuss what investment opportunities (and risks) the incoming administration’s policies might create.
2. Does my portfolio still reflect my long-term strategies and risk tolerance?
Last year’s market surprises may have created an imbalance in your current asset allocation, notes Bartels, overweighting certain sectors and underweighting others. And because the global economic outlook in 2017 is for accelerated growth and continuing volatility, your asset allocation may continue to shift unintentionally. Regularly rebalancing your portfolio to adjust for the effects of such change is a good practice.
Before meeting with your advisor, review two strategies for rebalancing your portfolio.
3. Do I have enough cash on hand to cover short-term needs and opportunities?
Whether it’s for the purchase of a new home or taking advantage of a new investment opportunity, having readily accessible cash on hand is important. Bank deposits and certificates of deposit (CDs) aren’t the only ways to invest your cash for short-term needs in today’s rising interest rate environment, says Bartels. Talk to your advisor about the full range of options available and what makes the most sense for you.
Before your annual portfolio review, read "A Strategic Approach to Short-Term Fixed Income Investing" to learn about investing for short-term needs.
An Easy Way to Keep Your Financial New Year’s Resolutions—All Year Long
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS—most of us make them, few of us keep them. In fact, research1 tells us that by July only about 40% of us are still keeping the promises we’ve made to ourselves—to lose weight, save money, be happier—at the beginning of the year.
Turns out there’s an easy mind game that can help. “Instead of just resolving to do something, turn your resolution or statement of intent into a question," says Stacy Allred, managing director at the Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Center for Family Wealth Dynamics and Governance™. She credits Warren Berger, author of the book (and blog) "A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas," with the concept of the “quest-olution."
Why does this simple trick work? “A statement can feel overwhelming—where do you start?” says Michael Liersch, head of behavioral finance at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “When you frame it as a question, it makes you want to find creative ways to accomplish it.” With that simple shift, “your resolution becomes actionable,” adds Allred.
Watch this video—then try turning your resolutions into quest-olutions. Share them with a friend or family member, suggests Allred. “And start working on the answers together.” Keep us posted on your progress on Merrill Lynch’s Twitter handle, using the hashtag #MyResolution.
For more tips to help you keep your financial resolutions, visit bettermoneyhabits.com. And check out our "Financial Education Handbook" for ideas on how to help your children get smarter about money.
1 Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol. 58 (2002)
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