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inflation

Retirees Get a Raise as Inflation Persists

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First the good news: Retirees will get a generous increase in their Social Security checks come January 2022. Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will increase by a whopping 5.9% in 2022, the biggest increase in 40 years.1 That means that the average monthly retirement benefit of $1,565 will grow to $1,657. Although Social Security accounts for only about 30% of overall retirement income, millions of retirees — over 10% — rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income. So the increase will be more than welcome for many.
The bad news is that the boost only adds to an already disturbing inflation picture. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) came in 6.2% higher in October compared with a year earlier, even faster than an already heady 5.4% pace through September, and above economists’ forecasts. Rates have moderated since summer, but they remain stubbornly high. Prices for cars, fuel, rent, meat, and other groceries are noticeably higher, and many families are feeling the pinch.

Bottlenecks, Shortages, and Stimulus

The root cause of the rising prices is of course Covid. The pandemic has caused major disruptions in supply chains across the globe. From microchips to lumber, supply bottlenecks have led to shortages and price increases. Labor shortages have exacerbated the situation, particularly in leisure and hospitality businesses, resulting in wage increases — many long overdue. Add to this the massive government stimulus packages passed since the spring of 2020, and you have the perfect inflationary storm.

The big question is: will it persist? Are we headed toward a 70s-style inflation cycle? Six months ago, the consensus answer to this question was an emphatic no. The uptick was widely expected to be short-lived, basically just a rebound from the price drops at the outset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Since then, however, supply chain problems have festered and structural issues such as labor shortages have surfaced. What’s more, the price of oil has more than doubled over the past year, up 35% in just the past two months. Although most economists still believe that inflation will moderate in the coming months, many are less certain in their outlook. There is also the matter of the huge infrastructure and spending bills currently before Congress, which if passed, will add to inflationary pressures.

For its part, the Federal Reserve is increasingly concerned that supply disruptions could last long enough to prompt consumers and businesses to expect higher prices, setting off an upward spiral of wage and cost increases. It has already signaled a slowdown in bond purchases, and could start raising interest rates if the inflation numbers remain elevated. But raising rates is not a popular move in Washington, on Wall Street, or on Main Street, so the Fed will likely proceed very cautiously, with definitive moves — if any — unlikely before year-end.

What You Can Do

In the face of rising prices, consumers do not have many options. You can be more selective in your purchases, charge more for your services if you’re self-employed, or try to convince your employer to raise your salary to compensate. But in the end, if food, rent, and fuel cost more, you have to pay more.

For investors, the key to staying ahead of inflation is to seek investments that have the potential to deliver higher returns. Historically, stocks have shown the greatest ability to outpace inflation over time, although past performance is no guarantee of future results. There are also inflation-indexed bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury, but they generally make sense only if you expect a major uptick in inflation.

Talk to your financial professional to see what investing strategy might best suit your circumstances in an inflationary or rising rate environment.

 

 

Notes:

Social Security Administration, October 13, 2021.

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

All company names noted herin are for educational purposes only, and not an indication of trading intent or a solicitation of their products or services. LPL Financial doesn’t provide research on individual equities.

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) help eliminate inflation risk to your portfolio, as the principal is adjusted semiannually for inflation based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), while providing a real rate of return guaranteed by the U.S. government. However, a few things you need to be aware of are that the CPI might not accurately match the general inflation rate; therefore, the principal balance on TIPS may not keep pace with the actual rate of inflation. The real interest yields on TIPS may rise, especially if there is a sharp spike in interest rates. If so, the rate of return on TIPS could lag behind other types of inflation-protected securities, like floating rate notes and T-bills. TIPs do not pay the inflation-adjusted balance until maturity, and the accrued principal on TIPS could decline, if there is deflation.

Car Shopping in the Time of COVID

Car Shopping in the Time of COVID

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The COVID pandemic has had many unexpected consequences. A booming stock market. An overheated housing market. A glut of office space. But who would have ever thought it would have such a profound impact on buying or renting a car? Yet that’s exactly the case. Car prices have skyrocketed, delays are common, and shortages are rampant. Meanwhile, renting a car could set you back several weeks’ pay — if you can even find one. Why all this is happening is a lesson in the myriad effects of the global pandemic.

New Cars

The average price of a new car topped $40,000 in June 2021, up 15% from a year earlier.1 This sharp increase is the result of two factors right out of classical economics: an increase in demand and a decrease in supply. On the demand side, sales have risen because people are driving more. After months of lockdown and quarantine, Americans are using their cars again to drive to work or go on road trips. Car dealerships that were closed during the pandemic have also opened up, and they’ve bumped up prices to help compensate for last year’s losses.

On the supply side, the widely-publicized shortage in semiconductors has constricted the output of all major car manufacturers. The chip shortage is attributed to the huge uptick in demand for cell phones and other personal electronics during the pandemic, as locked-down consumers went on a spending spree. This, in turn, crowded out orders by car manufacturers, which had already cut back in early 2020. Recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Southeast Asia, a major supplier of semiconductors, have further exacerbated the situation. In all, new-car inventories in the US were down 54% in June 2021 compared with two years earlier.2

Used Cars

The situation with used cars is even more dramatic. As of September, used car prices had risen 25% from a year earlier, and over 40% since March 2020.3

The markets for used cars and new cars are closely related. So the microchip shortage and the closure of dealerships during the height of the pandemic also affected used car sales, as many people turned to the secondhand market instead. That brought a whole new set of customers to the used car market — ones willing to spend more money on a car.

Also impacting the used car market are rental car companies (see below), usually a major source of used cars, but which have been keeping cars longer in the face of surging demand.

And Rentals…

Rental car companies, facing a standstill in demand last year, sold off about a third of their fleets to raise enough cash to survive the pandemic. Now, with travel rebounding, rental car companies have a major shortage of cars to rent. They have also raised prices to help make up for last year’s red ink. According to AutoWeek, rental car prices have increased by more than 30% since 2020, and renting a car can cost upward of $300 a day in some locations.4

Tips for buyers and renters

All in all, buying or renting a car right now can be a frustrating experience. Not only are cars pricier, but they are in short supply. Anyone looking for a car should consider these tips.

  • Shop around. Prices can vary widely from dealer to dealer for the same car. And keep an eye out for dealer or manufacturer incentives.
  • Be open to different makes and models. Some are more available than others. And some have had significantly lower price increases.
  • If you’re putting a deposit on a model that’s not currently available, make sure it’s fully refundable in case you change your mind.
  • If you’re in no hurry, considering putting off your purchase until next year, when supply chain disruptions are expected to improve.
  • If you intend to trade in your current vehicle, look for higher trade-in values. Check Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds for your car’s current value.
  • If your car is coming off a lease, look for a residual value that’s higher than the original estimate. See the links above to find your car’s current value.
  • When renting, consider TURO or other car sharing services instead of the traditional car rental companies. Also, be open to different sizes, makes, and models.

 

 

Notes
1Road/Show, Average new car price absurdity continues, blasts past $40,000, June 25, 2021.
2Source: Business Insider, Why are used cars so expensive right now?, July 12, 2021.
3Source: Business Insider, Used-car prices are surging — again — and it’s probably going to get worse, September 20, 2021.
4Source: https://www.wjtv.com/news/pine-belt/rental-car-prices-increase-as-shortage-continues/

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

All company names noted herin are for educational purposes only, and not an indication of trading intent or a solicitation of their products or services. LPL Financial doesn’t provide research on individual equities.

floods

Floods Are Getting Worse. Are You Covered?

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It’s hurricane season again, and this year is looking worse than ever. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted a total of 15-21 named storms, including 7-10 hurricanes, 3-5 of which may become major hurricanes.1

In fact, hurricanes are becoming stronger, rainfall heavier, and flood risk higher. Damages from Hurricane Ida alone are estimated to top $15 billion — much due to flooding.2 Given climate change and the growing likeliness of more frequent and severe weather events, it may be time to consider federal flood insurance.

Are You Prepared?

Although wind damage is usually covered under a typical homeowner’s policy, flooding is not. It may cover certain types of water damage, such as that resulting from a leaky roof, a broken water pipe, or a cracked water heater. But damage from a real flood — a river or stream that flows over its banks or storm waves that surge over the coastline — usually won’t be covered by homeowners or renters policies. To insure against floods, you must purchase special flood insurance, generally offered only through the government-run National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Whether flood insurance is right for you will depend upon a number of factors. Ask yourself these four questions.

  1. Is it available? Contrary to popular belief, flood insurance is not restricted to properties located in flood-prone areas like beaches or riverfronts. It is generally available in communities that adopt and enforce what Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) considers sound floodplain-management practices. To find out whether your community participates in the flood insurance program, contact your local government or one of the resources provided by the NFIP.
  2. Do you need it? As countless property owners have learned the hard way, if you live in a flood-prone area, the waters are likely to rise at some point — and the longer you live there, the greater the chance you’ll experience a flood, especially given climate change. You may want to hedge your bets and consider flood insurance well before a hurricane or major storm is on the way.
  3. What does flood insurance cover? Most flood-related damage is covered under an NFIP policy. Although you can buy flood insurance through your insurance agent, the policy and coverage generally come from the NFIP. Read this summary of what’s covered and what’s not.
  4. How much does it cost?The average flood insurance policy obtained through NFIP currently runs $734 per year.3 But premiums vary widely, depending upon coverage, deductibles, and other factors. What’s more, they are all about to change.

 

Overhaul Ahead

Starting on October 1, NFIP is changing its pricing structure to make rates more accurately reflect each property’s unique flood risk. Pricing will now factor in a home’s replacement cost, its specific flood risk, and the proximity of the property to the potential flood source. Most important, the program will now factor in future catastrophic modeling from climate change, including sea level rise, drought, and wildfires. Rates will go up for some properties and down for others, but the average policyholder is likely to see a 10% increase.

If you already have an NFIP policy, make sure you know how these changes will affect you. If you are considering flood insurance for the first time, make sure to investigate your options regarding cost, deductibles, coverage, and other factors. For more information, contact the NFIP.

Notes

1Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Atlantic hurricane season shows no signs of slowing, August 4, 2021.

2Source: Wall Street Journal, Firms Estimate Hurricane Ida Could Cause Over $15 Billion in Insured Losses, August 31, 2021.

3Source: ValuePenguin by Lendingtree, Average Cost of Flood Insurance 2021, September 8, 2021.

 

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

 

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

 

All company names noted herin are for educational purposes only, and not an indication of trading intent or a solicitation of their products or services. LPL Financial doesn’t provide research on individual equities.

           

delta

The Delta Factor

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The après-COVID party is in full swing. Travel is booming. Restaurants are full. Real estate is on a roll. Even used cars are a hot commodity. In 2021, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) recently topped 35,000 and other major stock hit all-time highs.

But an uninvited guest has crashed the party. Her name is Delta, and she’s out to spoil the fun. The Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus has spread rapidly around the globe. It now accounts for the overwhelming majority of new cases in the U.S. Its high rate of transmission has brought about a new wave of infections across the country. As of August 18, the number of new Covid-19 cases had risen to levels not seen since February. Ditto hospitalizations. Although the overall caseload remains well below levels seen at the peak of the pandemic, infections have skyrocketed in a number of areas, and some states are seeing record numbers of new infections.1

Critical Reaction

The first to react to the Delta wave was, unsurprisingly, Wall Street. Stocks fell sharply on July 19 following the announcement of pandemic stats, with the DJIA tumbling over 700 points, its biggest decline in almost 10 months. Prices quickly recovered and the index went on to post new highs, although volatility has since tested those highs.

More concerning is what effects the upsurge of infections might have on the economy. Even before the rebound in COVID cases, shortages of labor, computer chips, and other goods were holding back a full recovery. A new surge could bring about renewed supply chain delays. The reopening of schools and offices could be postponed or even cancelled. Already, Apple decided to delay the planned reopening of its sprawling Cupertino campus. Many other companies have followed suit.

More importantly, restrictions are being reimposed across the country on dining, entertainment, and travel. Although lockdowns and full closures seem unlikely at this stage, the uptick in cases has brought about a return to enforced social distancing, mask mandates, and restrictions on public gatherings in many areas — all of which impacts consumer confidence and demand.

Is the Party Over?

With over 70% of U.S. adults now vaccinated,2 no one expects the economic fallout to approach last year’s recession. But the Delta wave is likely to affect different areas differently.

In some southern and Midwestern states, new vaccinations have plateaued and rates remain stubbornly low, even after a recent Delta-inspired uptick. Unless they improve further, higher infection and hospitalization rates could derail economic recoveries in those areas.

State and local restrictions will also play a role. The CDC tightened its mask guidance in late July, and many areas have reinstated some restrictions. Los Angeles County and San Francisco in California have reinstituted mask mandates and other restrictions, and towns and cities in other states have followed suit. What’s more, a growing number of government jurisdictions and businesses now require workers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or submit to regular testing. How all these moves will impact the economy is unknown, but they are likely to have some effect on consumer spending and confidence.

Delta’s long-term impact on the economy will ultimately depend on how widely it spreads, vaccination rates, and how effective the vaccines are in preventing serious illness. To date, the vast majority of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have been with unvaccinated people. But breakout cases are growing, and soaring infection rates could spur the emergence of ever-new variants, which could eventually become more resistant to existing vaccines and boosters. That’s a sobering thought, but one to keep in mind as you plan for an uncertain future.

 

 

 

Notes

1New York Times, Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, July 26, 2021.

2CDC, COVID Data Tracker, August 19, 2021. Represents adults 18 or older that have received at least one dose.

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

 This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

 All company names noted herin are for educational purposes only, and not an indication of trading intent or a solicitation of their products or services. LPL Financial doesn’t provide research on individual equities.

           

ESG

The Greening of Wall Street

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The green revolution is upon us. Like it or not, the world is shifting away from fossil fuels toward renewables. Solar and wind farms are sprouting up across the globe. The major car companies are phasing out gas-powered vehicles and transitioning to hybrids or plug-ins. And the Biden administration has announced major green initiatives to support renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions.

This quantum shift has not gone unnoticed by Wall Street. In fact, investing in green businesses has taken off. A few electric car and solar companies have seen their stock prices soar as more and more investors view them as the wave of the future. Funds specializing in green and other socially responsible investments — called impact, sustainable, or ESG funds — have proliferated, allowing investors to pursue a broad-based green investing strategy. According to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, there are now over 800 registered investment companies offering funds with ESG assets, including 718 mutual funds and 94 ETFs.1 U.S.-domiciled assets under management using ESG strategies grew from $12.0 trillion at the start of 2018 to $17.1 trillion at the start of 2020, up 42%.2

What’s Driving Growth?

Several factors are behind this dramatic growth — first and foremost, demographics. Millennials, at over 70 million strong, are coming of age and now outnumber baby boomers. This new generation is the heir to a huge asset transfer now in progress, and millennials seek to make a difference in society through the investments they make. But investor interest is also growing broadly. A recent Morningstar report found that 72% of the U.S. population expressed at least a moderate interest in sustainable investing, while a Morgan Stanley survey determined that 85% of all individual investors were interested in sustainable investing, up 10 percentage points from 2017.3

Green technologies have also become cheaper. The prices of some products have fallen dramatically, making them competitive with traditional technologies. The cost of solar power, for instance, has decreased by 80% in the past decade. That of lithium batteries is falling by 20% a year.4

What’s more, many countries are going greener. The U.S., EU, and China are setting “net-zero” emissions targets, and early this year, the Biden administration rejoined the Paris Accord, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.

What About Returns?

Proponents of green investing have always had to combat the notion that socially conscious investments underperform the broader universe of investments. Yet there is a growing body of evidence that suggests otherwise. In fact, a number of different studies show that sustainable funds have had comparable, or even higher returns than traditional funds. For 2020, analyses by Morningstar and Morgan Stanley indicate that ESG funds comfortably outperformed their peers. A longer-term study of ESG fund performance from 2004 to 2018 by Morgan Stanley indicated there is “no financial trade-off in the returns of sustainable funds compared to traditional funds, and they demonstrate lower downside risk.”5

Tips for Green Investing

Investing with a conscience is not that different from investing just for profit. It involves another layer of thinking and analysis, but otherwise calls for the same scrutiny that should be applied to traditional investing.

  1. Define your objectives. Being ‘socially responsible’ is a broad mandate. Different funds, companies, and strategies may stress different objectives. Some may focus on environmental factors, some on social or corporate governance. And some may be very specific. So before you choose which best suits your goals, make sure you identify what those goals are.
  2. Strike a balance. Although, in the aggregate, ESG funds have kept pace with the broader market, many individual funds or stocks have not. When researching candidates, you will want to strike a balance between performance and social objectives, and set limits as to how far you are willing to compromise on one objective to meet the other.
  3. Diversify. Just like with a traditional portfolio, green investors should also diversify their portfolios by risk and asset class, targeting an asset allocation that is in keeping with their investing time horizon and appetite for risk. ESG funds can now be found in all major asset classes, permitting investors to diversify while pursuing social causes.
  4. Work with a professional. There are thousands of companies and funds that support green causes. Choosing among them while also adhering to an investment strategy that suits your non-social goals can be complex, so you may want to work with your financial professional to assure that your choices address your unique circumstances and needs.

Notes

1Source: US/SIF, Sustainable Investing Basics, retrieved June 3, 2021.

2Source: US/SIF, 2020 Report on US Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends, November 2020.

3Source: CNBC, ‘Sustainable investing’ is surging, accounting for 33% of total U.S. assets under management, December 21, 2020.

4Source: The Economist, The Green Meme, May 20, 2021.

5Source: US/SIF, Financial Performance With Sustainable Investing, retrieved June 7, 2021.

 

Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)/Environmental Social Governance (ESG) investing has certain risks based on the fact that the criteria exclude securities of certain issuers for non-financial reasons and , therefore, investors may forgo some market opportunities and the universe of investments available will be smaller.

 

An investment in Exchange Traded Funds (ETF), structured as a mutual fund or unit investment trust, involves the risk of losing money and should be considered as part of an overall program, not a complete investment program. Amounts invested in mutual funds and ETFs are subject to fluctuations in value and market risk. Shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost.                       

                                                                                                                                                    

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

 

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

real estate boom

Real Estate is Booming? Is a Bust Ahead?

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Anyone looking to buy or sell a home lately has probably been hit by sticker shock. Residential real estate prices have gone through the roof, increasing at rates unseen since 2005. According to S&P Case-Shiller, home prices in March saw their highest annual rate of growth in over 15 years — up 13.2% from a year earlier, following a 12.0% annual gain in February. Some markets — most notably Phoenix, San Diego, and Seattle — saw gains of 18% to 20%.1 What’s more, the median price of a new home sold in April was $372,400, up 20.1% from a year earlier, the strongest annual gain since 1988.2

Bidding wars are now common, and in some neighborhoods, competition is so fierce that many homes are sold before they even hit the market. According to Zillow, nearly half of the people who sold homes in April accepted an offer within a week.3

What’s Behind the Surge

Several different factors are driving the frenzy. For one, mortgage rates remain historically low. Although they have crept up some since their all-time low in January, the rate on a 30-year conventional mortgage was just 2.93% as of June 27.4 That means that anyone looking to spend a fixed amount per month on a mortgage can now afford much more house than they could a few years ago.

There are also demographic factors at work. Millennials, who, as a group, have long shunned buying in favor of renting, are now entering the market in force. COVID-19 and the prospect of long-term telecommuting have encouraged many to move from urban apartments to suburban homes. Many others are transitioning into larger homes to accommodate families.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the current spike in prices is supply — or lack thereof. The inventory of new houses has been sharply constricted by a widespread lumber shortage, along with shortages of kitchen appliances and other building supplies, such as copper and PVC pipe. Transportation logjams, brought on in part by COVID lockdowns and business closures, continue to impact new home construction. This has put pressure on the overall inventory of existing homes as well, as would-be buyers of new homes opt for existing homes instead. Although existing home sales are up year-to-date, they dropped in April for the third consecutive month, according to the National Association of Realtors.5

Will it continue?

Although the current supply shortage shows no signs of abating, over time, the bottlenecks will likely work their way out, as the post-COVID economy kicks into gear. Price appreciation is unlikely to continue at its current heady pace, but most real estate analysts do not foresee any major price drop, as happened back in 2006 to 2012 when overbuilding and lax lending standards posed more fundamental issues. The bigger concern may be mortgage rates. Average rates remain below 3%, but that could change if inflation prompts the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. The Fed has indicated that it intends to hold rates steady for the time being, but should inflation continue at its recently reported level of over 4%, it will likely take action. Should that happen, mortgage rates would rise and real estate demand would cool down.

So stay tuned, but be prepared for more of the same in the immediate future.

Notes:

1S&P Dow Jones Indices, S&P Corelogic Case-Shiller Index Shows Annual Home Price Gains Climbed to 13.2% in March, May, 25, 20121.

2Source: Wall Street Journal, U.S. Home-Price Growth Surges as Demand Overwhelms Supply, May 25, 2021, based on figures released by the Commerce Department.

3Source: NBC News, It’s a red-hot real estate market — so why are home sales plunging?, May 22, 2021

4Source: Freddie Mac, as of June 17, 2021.

5National Association of Realtors, Existing Home Sales, May 27, 2021.

 

                                                                                                                                                                            

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

 

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

tax preparation

Haven’t Filed Your Taxes Yet? Be Aware of These Features

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As if the pandemic hasn’t already affected every other aspect of people’s lives, now there’s taxes. But in this case, the effect is positive. The different relief packages passed over the last year offer a host of features that can help taxpayers lower their 2020 tax bill. And if you are among the many who are filing your return later due to the extended filing deadline, you still have time to take advantage of these features.

So, as you sit down to prepare your tax return, keep in mind the following.

Stimulus checks aren’t taxable.

The millions of Americans who received stimulus checks in 2020 will not have to report it or pay taxes on it. If, for some reason, you were owed one but didn’t get it, or you did not receive the full amount that you were entitled to, you can get it in the form of a Recovery Rebate Credit when you file.

Unemployment benefits may not be taxable.

The latest relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), passed in March, made the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits received by an individual taxpayer (or in the case of a joint return, received by each spouse) in 2020 tax free if your annual household income is under $150,000. For those who already filed their taxes and reported unemployment benefits before passage of the ARPA, the IRS will automatically recalculate the correct amount of taxable unemployment and refund any resulting tax overpayment (or apply it to other outstanding taxes owed).

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan proceeds may be tax deductible.

For those businesses that received loans under the PPP, eligible expenses that were paid with loan proceeds may be deducted from taxable income. Keep in mind, however, that under the program, any loan forgiveness is subject to the approval of the Small Business Administration.

Those claiming the standard deduction still may be able to deduct $300 for charitable contributions.

In an effort to help charities hard-hit by the pandemic, the CARES Act allows taxpayers who take the standard deduction to deduct up to $300 in cash donations made in 2020. Usually, only those who itemize can write off donations to charity.

No penalties for early withdrawals from your retirement plan.

Normally, if you are under age 59½ and withdraw money from your qualified retirement plan — such as a 401(k) or IRA — you must pay a 10% early withdrawal tax and ordinary income tax on taxable portions of the distribution. But the CARES Act waived the penalty for early withdrawals made during 2020, up to $100,000, if you were impacted by coronavirus. What’s more, you are allowed to spread out any taxable income related to such distributions over a three-year period rather than reporting it all in your 2020 taxes.

There are a number of other tax provisions contained in the different relief packages that could also potentially reduce your tax bite for the 2020 tax year. If you are not already working with a tax professional, now may be the year to do so, as a professional may be able to identify other one-time opportunities to lower your 2020 tax bill.

                                                                                                                                                                            

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

 

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

Inflation is on the horizon

Is Inflation on the Horizon?

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The specter of inflation has long been absent from the American economy. In fact, inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), has remained below 4% since 2008, has averaged only 1.74% in the past 10 years, and came in at a tepid 1.36% for 2020.1 Rather than inflation, policy makers in recent years have been more concerned with the prospect of deflation — a drop in prices — especially at the outset of the pandemic, when the inflation rate dipped below zero for three consecutive months.

But the tide may be about to shift. With the end of the pandemic in sight, renewed fears of inflation have emerged, as fiscal stimulus kicks in and the economy bounces back.

  • The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond has increased 71 basis points since the start of the year, from 0.93% on December 31, 2020 to 1.64% on March 12, 2021, stoked in part by inflation fears.2
  • A post-pandemic surge in demand is expected by many economists, as vaccinated consumers come out of hibernation and the economy reopens.
  • Restaurant, travel, and entertainment businesses are poised to bounce back, and then some, as people celebrate their refound freedoms and make up for lost time.
  • Huge stimulus packages have injected trillions into the U.S. economy, with the latest topping $1.9 trillion in aid.
  • Record low mortgage rates have helped bring about a thriving housing market, and all the spending that goes with it.
  • A booming stock market has made investors feel richer and more likely to spend.
  • Oil demand is set to tick up as people start commuting and traveling again.
  • Major infrastructure spending, a top priority of the Biden administration, is in the wings and would add further stimulus.

Not So Fast

While all these factors point to possible price hikes, a return to a 1970s-style inflationary cycle is not likely. For one thing, the U.S. economy still has a ways to go before fully recovering from the pandemic. Unemployment remains above 6%, and GDP is still well below its pre-pandemic level. A full recovery is generally not expected until 2022.

For another, different structural factors have conspired to keep inflation low in recent years, and they likely will help contain a rise in the future as well.

  • Global competition in goods and labor markets has had a negative effect on prices.
  • Technological advancement has brought down the price of goods and services. It’s also increased labor productivity, reducing unit labor cost.
  • An aging population has helped keep prices in check, in that elders tend to spend less in general.
  • The Federal Reserve has shifted away from its inflation-hawk policies, and kept interest rates low.
  • Since inflation has been so low for so long, inflation expectations are low, and businesses are less inclined to increase prices as a matter of course.

This is not to say that inflation won’t edge up in the coming months. Many economists predict a surge in late spring, when year-over-year comparisons will be magnified by the negative readings in 2020. But they also predict that inflation will eventually settle back toward the Fed’s 2% target.

Staying Ahead of Inflation

For many, inflation fears are less about an uptick in today’s prices than they are about an erosion in the value of tomorrow’s savings. Over time, even a moderate amount of inflation can take a toll on an investment portfolio. That’s why it’s important to maintain a growth element in your investment mix.

Over the long run, stocks may provide the best potential for returns that exceed inflation. While past performance is no guarantee of future results, stocks have historically provided higher returns than other asset classes. Between 1926 and December 31, 2020, the annualized return for a portfolio composed of stocks in the S&P 500 index was 10.34% — well above the average inflation rate of 2.86% for the same period. The annualized return for long-term government bonds, on the other hand, was only 5.76%.3

Keep in mind that stocks do involve greater risk of short-term fluctuations than other asset classes. Unlike a bond, which promises a fixed return if you hold it until maturity, a stock can rise or fall in value based on daily events in the stock market, trends in the economy, or problems at the issuing company. But if you have a long investment time frame and are willing to hold your ground during short-term ups and downs, you may find that stocks offer the best chance to stay ahead of inflation.

Notes:

1Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Consumer Price Index, 1913-, retrieved February 23, 2021.

2Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Daily Treasury Yield Curve Rates.

3Source: DST Retirement Solutions, LLC, an SS&C company. Stocks are represented by the S&P 500 index. Bonds are represented by a composite of returns derived from yields on long-term government bonds, published by the Federal Reserve, and the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Government Long index. Inflation is represented by the change in the Consumer Price Index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

                                                                                                                                                                            

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that they views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.

understanding your social security benefits

Social Security Benefits and You

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Social Security Benefits and You

Social Security benefits currently represent approximately 33% of the aggregate total income of Americans aged 65 and older, according to the Social Security Administration. For future generations of retirees, Social Security may represent a much smaller percentage of retirement income.

A System at Risk

When Social Security was established in 1935, the average life span among Americans was 63 years. Today, the average lifespan is almost 79 years, according to the Center for Disease Control mortality statistics.

In 1950, 16.5 workers paid retirement benefits for each retiree. By the year 2037, the ratio may be just 2.2 workers to every one retiree.1 By then, the burden of taxes on each worker may well be unmanageable. This aging of the population has led some experts to predict that the Social Security Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund may run out of assets by the year 2034, a possibility that makes building your own funds for retirement more important than ever.

Even under the best scenario, the Social Security system was created as the foundation for retirement, but it was never intended to provide the sum total of financial security during the retirement years. So the more you can do for yourself to save and invest for retirement, the better off you may be.

How Much Will Social Security Pay?

The exact amount of your Social Security benefit will depend upon your earnings history. You can obtain an estimate of your benefits using the Social Security Administration’s online estimator. You can also create a personal mySocial Security account online or call the Social Security toll-free number at (800) 772-1213 and request form SSA-7004, the “Request for Social Security Statement” to get a personalized estimate of your benefits, plus a record of your annual earnings. Like reconciling your bank statement, your Social Security summary of annual earnings should be verified against your tax return statements, W2 forms, or your own records. If there are any discrepancies, report them at once.

Shares of Aggregate Retirement Income
For all people age 65 and older:
Social Security Benefits 33%
Pensions 21%
Earnings 34%
Asset Income 9%
Source: Social Security Administration, Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2017.

How Social Security Works

Social Security contributions are paid by you and your employer. Your contributions have been deducted from your paychecks since the day you started working and are matched by an equal amount paid by your employer. These contributions pay for:

Retirement benefits — Collectible at any time after age 62 and based on the number of years you’ve been working and the amount you’ve earned. In some cases, your children and your spouse may also be eligible for benefits on your account.

Survivor’s benefits — A kind of life insurance coverage available to your spouse and dependents.

Disability insurance — Provides a monthly income in the event you are unable to work due to a disability. Eligibility depends on the number of “credits” you have earned and your age.

Medicare — Entitles you to medical benefits and coverage, including hospital insurance after age 65. Bear in mind that Medicare is also experiencing funding issues, and the Hospital Insurance Fund could run out by 2026.

Social Security Benefits for Other Family Members

When you receive Social Security benefits, other payments may also be made to:

  • A spouse age 62 or older.
  • A spouse under age 62 who is caring for a child under 16 or a disabled child who is receiving benefits from your earnings.
  • Unmarried children under 18 (or under 19) if they are enrolled full time in high school.

When You Retire Determines What You Get

  • Currently, you can retire at normal retirement age (between age 66 and age 67 depending on when you were born) and receive full benefits.
  • Retire between 62 and normal retirement age and receive a reduced benefit.
  • Continue working and delay the receipt of benefits and get a bonus for each year of work past normal retirement age, up to age 70. “Delayed retirement credits” currently amount to 8% a year in order to encourage later retirement.

Changes in Your Monthly Benefits

Your monthly Social Security check may change to reflect the following:

  • Cost-of-living increases.
  • Eligibility for disability benefits after retirement but before you reach normal retirement age.

Make the Most of Your Benefits

You must apply for Social Security benefits and for Medicare benefits. If additional insurance is being considered, remember to apply within six months of Medicare eligibility to be accepted without regard to preexisting conditions. When you apply, you’ll want to:

  • Decide whether you’ll collect your own Social Security benefits, based on your earnings and work history, or your spouse’s. Presumably, you’ll want to choose the one that pays the most. If you retire before a spouse, you can collect your own benefits, then switch and choose the spousal benefits if they are greater.
  • Remember to apply for retirement benefits a few months before you want them to start. Some time is required to process all the paperwork, including Social Security number, proof of age, and evidence of recent earnings (W-2 forms from the last two years, or, if you’re self-employed, copies of your two most recent tax returns).
  • Apply for Medicare before you retire.
  • Apply for any additional health insurance within six months of Medicare eligibility.
  • Reconcile your Social Security earnings report with your own records at three-year intervals. Report any discrepancies.
  • Bear in mind that “earnings limitations” (which change each year) may limit the amount you may earn while still receiving Social Security benefits. Those limitations end when you reach normal retirement age.
  • Keep Social Security records up to date if you change your name in order to have your earnings credited properly.

Regardless of your Social Security options, think of Social Security as only a small percentage of your total retirement plan, and set aside a portion of your income on a regular basis. Saving and investing for your own retirement nest egg is a “must.”

 

Notes

1Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2020, Social Security Administration, July 2020