Health Insurance Options in Idaho in 2020

As the Open Enrollment Period for enrolling in a qualified health insurance plans kicks off for 2020, I thought it would be a good time to review some basics on how health insurance in Idaho works these days.

Open Enrollment Period

If you do not currently have a health insurance plan you have until December 16th to get signed up, or else you will most likely have to wait for 2021.   If you already have a health insurance plan, the deadline to switch to a different plan is the same day, December 16th.

Who Qualifies for a premium tax credit?

APTC, or Advanced Premium Tax Credit is when your health insurance premiums are significantly reduced based on your income.  Anyone who isn’t offered coverage from work and has income between 138% and 400% of the federal poverty line(FPL) based on their family size may qualify for the premium tax credit.  If spouses and children are offered coverage from work they are not eligible for APTC.   The 2018 federal poverty line for a family of 1 is $12,490 and goes up by $4,420 for each additional person in the family. 1.   So a family of 4 can make as much as $103,000 and still qualify for a premium tax credit by being under 400% of the FPL.  In many cases if you qualify for APTC, you can get a high deductible health plan for Free.   If you make below 138% of the FPL, you can qualify for Medicaid.

 

Options for Coverage in Idaho

Options are pretty slim in most states, including Idaho.  There are 4 health insurance carriers (Mountain Health Co-op, Blue Cross, Select Health, and Pacific Source) offering individual and family coverage both on and off the Idaho Exchange(must get coverage on exchange to get APTC) , and 1 more that offers individual coverage outside the exchange only (Regence).   But then when you talk about price increases and deductibles that keep going up, there are really no “affordable” options for most people.   With that being said, whatever your current situation is you might be able to save money by looking into all your options.  The prices vary so much with each company each year that it is usually not in your best interest to stick with the same company year over year.

Saving Money

For example, I helped a family save hundreds of dollars a month by switching them from being a spouse and children on a school district employer health plan, to a family plan off the exchange with Regence, separate from their employer.  Coverage for the actual employee is usually a very good price, but if your employer offers coverage for your spouse and children, it is usually more expensive then what you could get separate from your employer.

Another option to possibly consider, is the new “Enhanced Short Term” plans available through Blue Cross.   These plans can be renewed up to 3 years and in general are quite a bit cheaper than the on exchange plans.   These policies go through underwriting, so your price is based on your health history.   You cannot use APTC to get these plans, but if you do not qualify for a tax credit, this is a more affordable option.

If you need help with your health insurance I am a licensed agent  and work with the Idaho health insurance companies both on and off the exchange.

By Jimmy Hancock

References

1. “Federal Poverty Level (FPL) – HealthCare.gov Glossary.” HealthCare.gov, www.healthcare.gov/glossary/federal-poverty-level-fpl/.

7 Golden Questions to Ask When Investing Your Money

There are seven questions that one must answer before beginning to have peace of mind with your investments. Making investment decisions isn’t easy, especially if you are just entering the game. There are a lot of details that many people don’t think about until it’s too late. So, if you want to avoid the life long pain of poor investment plans, ask yourself these seven questions.

1. “Why?” It’s a simple question, but it’s often the hardest one to answer. Why are you investing, and what do you hope to gain from it? In other words, you must set specific goals. Maybe you want to save for retirement, maybe you want to send your kids to college, or maybe you just want some breathing room from everyday expenses. Whatever the reason, it’s important that you define why you are investing your money and what goals you wish to accomplish in doing so.  This will help you to decide how much money to put away.

2. “What is my time frame?”  This is like asking, how long will it be until I need the money?  This can depend on your age, and of course your answer to question number one.  If you are putting money away for retirement, your time frame should not end at the day you plan to retire, it should end at the day you plan to die.  You will need portions of that money starting at retirement, but you will keep a majority of it invested throughout retirement if you do it right.

3. “What am I going to get out of it?” What can you realistically expect to earn on your investments? Having an unrealistic idea of playing the stock market and striking it rich could leave you simply striking out.  Investing in stocks is not the problem, it is the expectation of beating the market, rather than expecting to get market returns.  Other investments, such as bonds, have fixed returns that are not as susceptible to market changes but have a lower expected return.  You should not expect to see growth every year or even 2 years.   The short term flat or down periods always seem to bore people out of the market, but that would be a huge mistake.

4. “What kind of earnings will you make?” Very few times when investing does a wad of cash appear in your mailbox if you’re successful. Your earnings will be very inconsistent in the short term, so there is no point in fretting over 1, 3, or 5 year returns.  The annual return that you will get is dependent on the type of investment you are in.  You can reasonably expect between 5 and 12% annual growth per year over the long term depending on your portfolio, but of course that is not guaranteed.   Which leads me to my next point.

5. “What’s my risk?” And here comes the basic balance in investing, risk versus reward. The higher the risk, usually the higher the potential reward, but that is not always the case.   Overall there is no guarantee that you will get your money back or receive the earnings promised to you, unless you have your money in a savings account or a U.S. Treasury security, both of which are backed by the federal government and give you extremely small returns. Make sure that the risk you take is worth the reward that you expect to achieve.  If you have a longer time frame, you can invest in riskier investments.

6. “Is my money diversified?” A great way to lower risk without hurting your return is by diversifying your portfolio.   Certain types of investments do better in certain situations, so by diversifying your investments, you are spreading your eggs across many baskets. That way if a certain industry tanks or sector is struggling, you will have plenty of other baskets holding your money safe and sound.  This doesn’t mean having different accounts or different advisors, but having different holdings in thousands of stocks and bonds.

7. “What is the effect of taxes on my investments?”  Every person who receives any earned income can invest in a tax advantaged plan.  Whether that be a 401k or 403B at work, or an IRA/Roth IRA, or all of the above.  Make sure you understand the implications of how your money is taxed with each type of account.  In many cases, a Roth IRA is the best for your tax situation, especially in retirement.  Also, make sure you plan to have enough money saved to pay for taxes in retirement.

By Jimmy Hancock



Did You Learn from the Crash of 2008?

Many investors and young potential investors are still scared out of their minds because of what happened to a lot of innocent investors in 2008.  I have heard a few horror stories of people who supposedly lost all of their retirement money because of the crash.  Many young professionals are scared of the stock market because of the stories they have heard from their parents and grandparents.  But is the stock market really the issue, or is bad decision making also involved?

The Horror Story known as 2008

This is what happened to the average investor in 2008, instincts kicked in.  What I mean by that is that the average investor thinks that when the stock market is headed downward, it is going to keep going downward in a never ending spiral until the world ends.  That is just our instinct as human beings.  So as an investor, the obvious thing to do if you believe that, is to take your money out of stocks and put it in bonds, a bank account, or even under your mattress.  But the term that I use for that is selling low.  By the time most investors could get their money out of the stock market in 2008-2009,  it was already down 20 maybe even 40%.    Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Pain and Pleasure

On your statement at the end of 2008 you see that your small US stocks were down 38.67%.  You lost almost half of your hard earned money!  You also notice on the news that long term bonds were up 25.8% during 2008.  What does instinct tell you to do?  It tells you to leave the pain that stocks are inflicting upon you and go to the pleasure of bonds.   But is that really the best decision?

Regardless of what we know happened after the crash, it is ALWAYS a bad decision to sell low, and buy high.  But in the moment it doesn’t seem like that is what you are doing.  So let’s say you sold out of stocks and bought into bonds at the beginning of 2009.  Then at the end of 2009 you get this horrifying statement.  Long term bonds are down 14.09%.  What?  How could this happen?  You then search online and see that small US stocks were up 47.54%!   You managed to lose half of your money while those stock investors who didn’t do anything during this time did twice as good and made their money back.

I personally know people who did this, and their families are now forever afraid of the stock market.   These people blame the stock market when it was really their own emotions and fear that was the problem.   The stock market is way higher than it was before the crash in 2008 and continues to reach new highs as usual.

The Success Story known as 2008

Those investors who saw the largely negative numbers and heard the panic throughout the world, yet stayed disciplined made out like a bandit.   The best investors did exactly the opposite of what instincts told them to do, that is they bought more into stocks when the crash was happening and the prices were discounted, and sold some bonds while they were high.  Those people especially have been rewarded for their discipline.

The Next Crash

We all know crashes are a part of the stock market and are a regular thing.  The stock market has always come back lightning fast after a crash.  So are you going to go with your instinct and panic, or are you going to stay disciplined.

By Jimmy Hancock

References

1. Matson Money. Mind Over Money Powerpoint. Mason, OH: Matson Money, 2 Aug. 2016. PPT

 



How to Pick the Best Stocks

You think you can pick winning stocks consistently, and I’m here to tell you that you can’t. But even if I cannot convince you that you can’t pick stocks, I hope to at least convince you that it is not in your best interest to try. We look at examples like Warren Buffet and see how much success he had “stock picking”. But the funny thing is that Warren Buffet believes that the best strategy for most investors is to buy low-cost index funds.

Bad Advice

The most dangerous advice in investing is often that which seems most practical, which is why the worst investing advice you will likely ever receive is that you should try to pick “good” stocks and sell “bad” ones. Yes it seems very sensible and almost too obvious that you should try to do this. You will get this advice like this from innumerable sources, including a lot of investment advisers, friends, work associates, and most especially Wall Street/investment media. But…You should ignore it.

If you pursue a stock-picking strategy, you are almost certain to lag the market.

Stock pickers always underestimate the number of variables that are involved in the pricing of stocks. There are literally trillions of variables that could occur on any given day that could change the price of a stock instantly. Stock prices are based on every single investor which all have different feelings about companies, reasons for investing, and regional bias.

The big problem for investors is that even though stock-picking usually hurts returns, it’s extremely interesting and a makes for a great conversation. If you are wanting to wean yourself of this bad habit, the first step is to understand why it’s so rarely successful. The quick answer is that the overall market provides most investment returns, not particular stock picks, so stock pickers get credit for gains that came merely from being invested in stocks generally.

Although it is relatively easy to pick stocks that beat the market before costs (just like a monkey you have a 50% chance), it is much harder to do so after costs are added in. So lets say you happen to pick stocks well enough to boost your return by a couple of points, the expenses you rack up along the way (ie. research, trading, taxes) will usually more than offset your gain.

Most stock pickers believe that they are among the 1% of investors who happen to beat the market after costs, and, for inspiration and encouragement, they point to legends such as Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham. But as I mentioned before, such investors often don’t know that even Buffett has said that the best strategy for most investors is to buy low-cost index funds and that the great Benjamin Graham eventually changed his mind to advocate a passive approach to investing.

Stock picking is not only a dangerous activity for you to be involved in as an individual investor, but it is also dangerous to invest in mutual funds that employ stock picking strategies. These stock picking strategies are used in a lot of the mutual funds out there, also known as active investing. These mutual fund managers think they have a crystal ball and can predict the best stocks and drop the worst ones.

The Opposite of Stock Picking

Instead of stock picking, invest in a globally diversified portfolio managed by a low fee investment coach that will help to educate you on the investing process. Instead of constantly turning the portfolio over by stock picking and active trading, buy and rebalance when necessary. Long term you will see the fruits of your decision.

By Jimmy Hancock

References

1.Blodget, Henry. “Why the World’s Greatest Stock Picker Stopped Picking Stocks.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 22 Jan. 2007. Web. 28 Jun. 2016. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/bad_advice/2007/01/stop_picking_stocksimmediately.html.

2.Stock Market People. Digital image. Opinion-forum.com. N.p., Aug. 2012. Web. 28 June 2016. <http://opinion-forum.com/index/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/stock_market.jpg>.



Is your Investment Advisor a Bully?

Wall Street Bullies are not just found in New York City, they are found in investment brokerages throughout the country.  In fact, your investment guy, might just be a wall street bully.

I explain a Wall Street Bully as an individual or institution that uses fear, greed, intimidation, and misleading information to get an investor to act in a certain way.

The core issue behind all of this is that people that work on wall street make money every time there is a trade made on stock or other security.   Acting like any salesman, it is in their best interest to get people to buy and sell every week, every day, every hour.  But the problem is, actively trading by buying and selling on impulse is not in the best interest of the long term investor.

Wall Street Bullies try to take advantage of under educated and uninformed investors by instilling fear in them and getting them to become short term focused even when they are long term investors.  They create the illusion that they are genius’s that can outsmart the market with little to no risk if you just trust them.  There are 3 main types of Wall Street Bullies as stated by Mark Matson in his book “Main Street Money”.

The 3 types of Wall Street Bullies

The Conman

This is the easiest one to identify, at least after they have been convicted.  Think of Bernie Madoff.  These people gain your trust with a great reputation and promise you great returns with no risk or downside.  If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.  Often times these con men send out false statements showing growth when in reality they are stealing your money.

The way to protect yourself from a con man is to never allow someone to manage your money that does not use a third party custodian to hold the money.  Without a third party custodian, the fox is guarding the hen house.   There were a lot of so called “sophisticated” investors who got caught up in the Bernie Madoff scheme and lost millions of dollars.

The Prognosticator

There is no shortage of self proclaimed genius fortune tellers who will convincingly claim that they know exactly what is going to happen in the stock market in the short term future.  They pull out charts, graphs, economic theories and data galore.  Investing in the stock market would be a whole lot easier if these “experts” really could predict the short term future.  Ultimately they are trying to sell newsletters or get media attention for their hedge fund or alternative strategy they are selling.

If your portfolio needs a prediction about the future to be successful, it is already broken.  If anyone tells you they know what the market is going to do in the next few days, or next few months, don’t walk, run away.

The Guru

These are the sharply dressed people you see on the front cover of any investment magazine.  They are the ones have beaten the market in the past and think they can continue to do it forever.  They are reported to have amazing insights into which stocks are undervalued and which stocks to stay away from.  But the issue here is, there is ZERO correlation between a Guru’s market beating performance in the past and his ability to do it in the future.

Guru’s are the most common form of Wall Street Bully.  Many investment advisor’s, Brokers, and money managers claim to be guru’s who study and pick the best stocks that will beat the market as a whole.  Staying away from them can be hard, but instead, you should work with a investment coach who educates you on why stock picking is not necessary to have a successful long term portfolio.

What should you do?

At Preferred Retirement Options, we call it Bully Proofing Your Portfolio.  Not all investment professionals are Wall Street Bullies.  We help our investors follow the simple rules of investing, which are own equities, diversify, rebalance.  No crystal ball is necessary.

By Jimmy Hancock

References

  1. Wall Street Wolf Cast. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016. <http://tse1.mm.bing.net/th?&id=OIP.M1ee62057658b9c97e8d311a77a7a7d78o0&w=300&h=204&c=0&pid=1.9&rs=0&p=0&r=0>.
  2. Matson, Mark E. “1.” Main Street Money: How to Outwit, Outsmart & out Invest the Wall Street Bullies. Cincinnati, OH: McGriff Pub., 2012. 3-5. Print.



Are you using Modern Portfolio Theory in your Investing?

Many people are scared of investing in stocks because they have heard that they are very risky.  Then on the other hand you have people who take investing risks that they don’t need to take in order to try to get a higher return.  Well today I hope to answer some questions for people on both sides.

Modern Portfolio Theory

You may have heard the phrase Modern Portfolio Theory but what is it and how can it help your portfolio?

Modern Portfolio Theory-  An idea originated by Harry Markowitz in 1952 explaining the benefits of diversification, and the correlation of risk and return in an investment portfolio.

Harry Markowitz eventually won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his research on this topic.  He stated that as you add to the number of holdings in your investment portfolio, your risk should in turn go down.

Two kinds of risk

“Modern portfolio theory states that the risk for individual stock returns has two components:

Systematic Risk These are market risks that cannot be diversified away. Interest rates, recessions and wars are examples of systematic risks.

Unsystematic Risk– Also known as “specific risk”, this risk is specific to individual stocks and can be diversified away as you increase the number of stocks in your portfolio.” 1.

Modern Portfolio theory states that diversification helps to take away the unsystematic risk that comes along with any stock or even category of stocks.

The Efficient Frontier

Below is a chart created by Matson Money using the principles that Harry Markowitz found and taught.  The chart explains that for whatever amount of risk you are willing to take, there is an optimal return that you can get for that risk level.  The level of risk or volatility is measured by standard deviation.

 

2.

There are 5 points on the chart that I would like to explain.  The first 4 are Matson Money portfolios.   The conservative portfolio is made up of 25% stocks and 75% fixed.  Moderate is 50/50, Growth is 75% stocks and 25% fixed, with Aggressive being 95% stocks and 5% Fixed.   Those 4 portfolio types fall on the efficient frontier.  This means that they are diversified to the point of efficiency and reach the highest expected return for the specific risk that you are taking.   Any point that is above that line is impractical in the long term, and anything below the line is inefficient.

Should I Just Invest in the S&P 500?

Notice the S&P 500 is well below the efficiency line.  This means that for the amount of risk that is inherent in that group of stocks, the return is not optimal.   This is due to a few reasons; it only includes 500US stocks out of the almost 13,000 total stocks possible to own in the world, it does not include small or value companies with higher expected returns, nor does it include any fixed income to keep the standard deviation down.  If you wanted you could invest in a globally diversified portfolio and increase the expected return while decreasing the risk.  Keep in mind this chart and data is based on past performance, and past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The coolest thing about this is that the average investor can invest in a diversified portfolio that fits their risk tolerance by the way it is designed and know exactly what the risk and expected return is up front.

We have software that can take your specific investments and show you exactly where you fall on the efficient frontier.   If you are interested contact us today.

By Jimmy Hancock

References

1.”Modern Portfolio Theory: Why It’s Still Hip.” Investopedia. Investopedia US, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <http://www.investopedia.com/articles/06/mpt.asp>.

2.Matson Money. TheEfficientFrontierPowerpoint. N.p.: Matson Money Inc., 6 May 2014. PPT.

Should You Rollover Your Old 401k?

After leaving a company, former employees can usually opt to keep their 401K or move the money over into a Rollover IRA. The benefits of rolling over old employer 401ks often outweigh the negatives.

1. Investing Efficiency
Most company sponsored 401k plans offer only a small selection of mutual funds, target-date funds and company stock. With a Rollover IRA, a person can choose to invest in a wide variety of stocks and bonds within institutional funds. Diversification is a key to investment success.  Investing in a wide base and including small, value, and international stocks can help to boost your annual return.  A small amount of increase in annual return due to investing in a more efficient portfolio can add thousands of dollars to your bottom line in retirement.

2. Avoiding tax complications
By rolling over an old 401K rather than taking the money out, a former employee does not have to worry about paying taxes or penalties to the IRS associated with early distributions from a retirement account. According to a recent study by Fidelity cited by a Forbes article, one in three people cash out their 401K plan when they leave a company or change jobs. People who cash out their 401k not only owe ordinary income taxes on the full amount, but also owe an additional 10 percent penalty unless they qualify for a rare exemption.  Cashing out a 401k should only be done in an emergency when there are no other options.

3. The Roth Conversion

Once someone has rolled over 401k to an IRA, they then have the option of converting that money into a Roth IRA.  A Roth IRA has great tax advantages in that your money, including principle and growth is not taxed when taken out after age 59 1/2.  When you do a Roth Conversion, you pay the taxes in that year, and are never taxed on it again.  If you are in a low tax bracket after ending or changing employment, then a Roth Conversion is a must.

4. Ease of Access

There can be a lot of people to go through if you want to make changes or withdraw from your 401k.  I personally have had some experiences where 6 months has passed without anything happening after someone requested a change in an old 401k.  With an IRA, you can email, call, or text your advisor, and he will help you to accomplish whatever you need done with your account.

 

Ultimately, the benefit of an IRA rollover is flexibility. Not only does a person have more investment options, but he or she can eventually choose to convert money from a Rollover IRA into a Roth IRA. Many people view the Roth IRA as the ultimate retirement investment account because the money can be withdrawn tax free in retirement.

We do 401k rollovers regularly and can help you to get the rollover done quickly and easily and with no upfront fees on our end.

By Jimmy Hancock

If You Made Less Than $63,000 Last Year, Read this Before You File

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for low to middle-income families to save; however, the IRS allows a Saver’s Credit that could mean a $2,000 tax credit per family. Of course, it depends on the tax filer’s status as well as their adjusted gross income, or AGI.  The tax benefit is to increase the incentive for lower income families to put money away for retirement.  Every family that qualifies should be taking advantage of this bonus tax credit.

To be eligible for the Saver’s Credit…

  1. You must be 18 years or older
  2. You must not have been a full time student (you can be a part-time student)
  3. You must not be claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return.
  4. Your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) must be below $63,000 (married filing jointly), or $31,500 (single).

How it works…

In 2018, if your tax status is married filing jointly and your AGI is not more than $38,000, and you meet the other requirements, then you qualify for an additional 50% tax credit.  If you are above that income level it goes to a 20% tax credit from $38k up to $41k. Then it is a 10% tax credit from $41k until you are phased out above the $63,000 threshold.

Let’s say that you earned $38,000 for all of 2018, and your spouse was unemployed for the entire year. If you made a $2,000 contribution to your Qualified Plan (ie IRA, Roth IRA, 401K, 403B) for 2016, then you can receive that 50% tax credit which in this case is $1000 against any taxes owing or to add to your refund.  On top of that you can contribute $2000 to your spouses Qualified Plan and get an addition $1000.   That is $2000 cash money in your pocket for contributing $4000 into a retirement account.  $2000 is the maximum tax credit any family can receive.

This tax credit is in addition to the tax benefit you get within the IRA such as being able to deduct from your income all contributions to a Traditional IRA.

Don’t miss out on this too little known tax credit that can save you big money on your taxes this year.

Also, if you don’t have any investment account currently, and you know you qualify for this credit, why would you forego getting 50 cents cash back for every dollar invested.  And at the same time you are putting money into a growing retirement account. A win win for sure.  You can open up an IRA and contribute to it for tax year 2018 up until April 15th  and still get the credit this year.  Give us a call and we can get you set up with a Roth IRA or similar,  no upfront costs.

By Jimmy Hancock

References

  1. IRS. “Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit).” Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit). IRS, 13 Dec. 2018. Web. 4 Feb. 2019. <https://www.irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Plan-Participant,-Employee/Retirement-Savings-Contributions-Savers-Credit>.

3 Tips for Millennial’s Looking to Invest

When it comes to Millennial’s and their money, most would rather sit on a boat load of cash. They have a sinking feeling that investing in the stock market is like boarding the Titanic. According to a recent Bankrate.com study cited by a recent The Street article, 1.  younger people prefer bank accounts over stock investments. Of course, cash is a low-yielding investment that’s better reserved for retirees who just want don’t want any risk. How does a young person get over his or her aversion to the stock market?

1. Investing instead of trading

One way a young investor can get over their fear of losing money in the stock market is by taking a long-term approach. Trading stocks is not the same as investing in the market. Most of the horror stories of people who lost fortunes occurred because they either “bet” money on a penny stock, or sold out of a crashing market and never got back in for the big run up that always occurs after crashes.  Smart investors contribute a certain amount of money on a regular basis so that they build up shares in diversified mutual funds over time.

2. Not worrying about an immediate reward

A lot of younger people are used to experience immediate gratification because of our highly technical world and consumer-driven society. But investing in stocks can be frustrating in the short term if the market is not climbing at that particular time.  Focus on the long term not the immediate reward.  If you can be patient, there is a huge reward for investing long term in stocks.

3. Diversifying from the start

When trying to figure out how to invest their money, some young people are lost. Their default option is a savings account or possibly certificate of deposits at a bank.  These should not be your default option as they give you very low returns long term.  One way to have a diversified portfolio is by choosing a mutual fund that already includes a variety of different stocks in different sectors and countries and also short term bonds. You can hold highly diversified mutual funds within a 401(k), Roth IRA or many other retirement or regular investment accounts.  With our company there is no minimums to start an investment, and we offer extremely diversified mutual funds, which means you can own over 12,000 stocks as a beginning investor with just a little money to start putting away.

Saving money through a bank account is the equivalent of putting cash under the mattress or burying it in your backyard. Millennial’s are too smart not to find better ways to invest their money.

By Jimmy Hancock



References

  1. O’connel, Brian. “Young Americans Prefer Bank Investments, Not Stock Market.” TheStreet. N.p., 23 July 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.