Is the Diversified Portfolio Back?

Robert Ingram Contributed by: Robert Ingram

Is the diversified portfolio back?

(Repurpose of the 2014 blog: ‘Why I Didn’t Like My Diversified Portfolio’)

As our team finished 2018 and began reviewing the 2019 investment landscape, I couldn’t help but to think of a Money Centered blog written by our Managing Partner, Tim Wyman. As Tim shared:

“I was reminded of the power of headlines recently as I was reviewing my personal financial planning; reflecting on the progress I have made toward goals such as retirement, estate, tax, life insurance, and investments. And, after reviewing my personal 401k plan, and witnessing single digit growth, my immediate reaction was probably similar to many other investors that utilize a prudent asset allocation strategy (40% fixed income and 60% equities). I’d be less than candid if I didn’t share that my immediate thought was, “I dislike my diversified portfolio”.

The headlines suggest it should have been a better year. However, knowing that the substance is below the headlines, and 140 characters can’t convey the whole story, my diversified portfolio performed just as it is supposed to in 20xx.”

This may have been a familiar thought throughout 2018. Interestingly though, Tim’s blog post was actually from 2015. He was describing 2014.


The financial news about investment markets today still focuses primarily on three major market indices: the DJIA, the S&P 500, and the NASDAQ. All three are measures for large company stocks in the United States; they provide no relevance for other assets in a diversified portfolio, such as international stocks, small and medium size stocks, and bonds of all types. As in 2014, the large U.S. stock indices were at or near all-time highs throughout much of 2018. Also in that year, many other major asset classes gained no ground or were even negative for the year. These included core intermediate bonds, high yield junk bonds, small cap stocks, commodities, international stocks, and emerging markets.

Looking Beyond the Headlines

Here at The Center, our team continues to apply a variety of resources in developing our economic outlook and asset allocation strategies. We take into account research from well-respected firms such as Russell Investments, J.P.Morgan Asset Management, and Raymond James. Review the “Asset Class Returns” graphic below, which shows how a variety of asset classes have performed since 2003.


This chart shows the historical performance of different asset classes through November of 2018, as well as an asset allocation portfolio (35% fixed and 65% diversified equities). The asset allocation portfolio incorporates the various asset classes shown in the chart.

If you “see” a pattern in asset class returns over time, please look again. There is no determinable pattern. Because asset class returns are cyclical, it’s difficult to predict which asset class will outperform in any given year. A portfolio with a mix of asset classes, on average, should smooth the ride by lowering risks that any one asset class presents over a full market and cycle. If there is any pattern to see, it would be that a diversified portfolio should provide a less volatile investment experience than any single asset class. A diversified portfolio is unlikely to be worse than the lowest performing asset class in any given year. And on the flip side, it is unlikely to be better than the best performing asset class. Just what you would expect!


As during other times when we have experienced strong U.S. stock markets and periods of accelerated market volatility, some folks may be willing to abandon discipline because of increased greed or increased fear. As important as it is to not panic out of an asset class after a large decline, it remains equally important to not panic into an asset class. In the case of the S&P 500’s outperformance of many other asset classes, for example, many have wondered why they should invest in anything else. That’s an understandable question. If you find yourself in that position, you might consider the following:

  • As in the five years leading up to 2015, the S&P 500 Index (even with the recent pullback in stock prices) has had tremendous performance over the last five years. However, it’s difficult to predict which asset class will outperform from year to year. A portfolio with a mix of asset classes, on average, should smooth the ride by lowering risk over a full market cycle.

  • Fundamentally, prices of U.S. companies relative to their expected earnings are hovering around the long-term average. International equities, particularly the emerging markets, are still well below their normal estimates and may have con­siderable room for improvement. This point was particularly relevant in 2018 and continues to be as we begin 2019.

  • Through 2018, U.S. large caps, as defined by the S&P 500 Index, have outperformed international equities (MSCI EAFE) in six of the last eight years. The last time the S&P outperformed for a significant time, 1996-2001, the MSCI outperformed in the subsequent six years.

  • What’s the potential impact on a portfolio concentrated in a particular asset class, if that asset class experiences a period of loss? Remember, an investment that experienced a loss requires an even greater percentage return to get back to its original value. For example, an investment worth $100,000 that loses 50% (down to $50,000) would actually require a 100% return from $50,000 to get back to $100,000.


Benjamin Graham, known as the “father of value investing,” dedicated much of his book, The Intelligent Investor, to risk. In one of his many timeless quotes, he says, “The essence of investment management is the management of risks, not the management of returns.” This statement may seem counterintuitive to many investors. Rather than raising an alarm, risk may provide a healthy dose of reality in all investment environments. That’s important in how we meet financial goals. Diversification is about avoiding the big setbacks along the way. It doesn’t protect against losses – it helps manage risk.

Often, during times of more volatile financial markets like those we have experienced during the last couple of months, the benefits of diversification become apparent. If you have felt the way Tim did back in 2015 about your portfolio, we hope that after review and reflection, you might also change your perspective from “I dislike my diversified portfolio” to “My diversified portfolio – just what I would expect.”

As always, if you’d like to schedule some time to review anything contained in this writing, or your personal circumstances, please let me know. Lastly, our investment committee has been hard at work for several weeks and will be sharing 2019 comments in the near future. Make it a great 2019!

Robert Ingram is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®

Any opinions are those of Bob Ingram, CFP® and not necessarily those of Raymond James. This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected, including diversification and asset allocation. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), commonly known as “The Dow” is an index representing 30 stock of companies maintained and reviewed by the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of 500 widely held stocks that is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market. The MSCI is an index of stocks compiled by Morgan Stanley Capital International. The index consists of more than 1,000 companies in 22 developed markets. Investments can not be made directly in an index.

Webinar in Review: Charitable Giving Strategies

The New Year is a great time to get your charitable giving plan in place for the New Year. With the fairly recent tax law changes, you may be finding that it is more challenging than ever to give to the way you want while still reaping the tax benefits for doing so. Feel free to watch the recorded webinar with Sandy Adams, CFP® and Jana McNair from the Wayne State University Development Department as they discuss strategies for charitable giving that can help you get a more pro-active and tax-efficient plan in place to start the year off right.

Check out the time stamps below to listen to the topics you’re most interested in:

(02:00): Intro & Agenda

(09:30): Taxes & Charitable Giving 101

(13:30): Make Charitable Contributions and Still Get a Tax Benefit

(16:45): Tip #1: Donating Appreciated Securities

(21:00): Tip #2: Donor Advised Fund

(26:30): Tip #3: Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD)

(34:00): Planned Giving Ideas for Impactful Giving

(41:00): Takeaways for Charitable Giving

The One Mistake You DON’T Want to Make with Your Long Term Care Insurance

Sandy Adams Contributed by: Sandra Adams, CFP®

If you’re reading this, you are likely among the few people who have planned ahead and purchased Long Term Care insurance. By doing this, you intend to protect yourself and your family, and hedge your assets against the possible threat of a long-term care event (need for care in your home, assisted living or nursing home).


Given that only about 15% of Americans own Long Term Care insurance (Fidelity 2016) and 70% of Americans over the age of 65 will need some form of long-term care services for cognitive or physical impairment (HealthView Insights 2014), you will likely need the insurance you’ve purchased. The question is, will you use your Long Term Care insurance when the time comes?

I have had several client experiences that looked like this:

  • The client was at or near a point of qualifying for benefits under their Long Term Care insurance for either physical or cognitive reasons;

  • The client and/or the family made the decision to not begin the claim process. Why? They wanted to wait a while longer, continue to try to care for the client on their own, save the Long Term Care insurance benefits for later, when they really needed them.

  • The results in nearly all of these cases? The clients either never filed a claim or filed far too late, ended up in a long-term care facility, and ultimately passed away without ever receiving the policy benefits for which they had made years – even decades – of payments.

In my experience as a financial advisor, I have never had a client run out of a Long Term Care benefit pool. I am not here to tell you that it does not happen – it certainly can. But I am here to tell you that I do not believe it happens often. I have searched far and wide for statistics that would show how often it happens and cannot find a number!

Although your Long Term Care insurance company would prefer that you wait to put in your claim, I recommend that you do so as soon as you are eligible. You can always stop the benefits if you no longer need them, then restart later. And if you max out your benefits, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you received 100% of your benefits and protected your assets to the greatest possible degree. Don’t lose out (or let your parents lose out) on the Long Term Care insurance benefits they have purchased!

If you have questions or need additional guidance on this or related issues, please do not hesitate to reach out. We are always happy to help!

Sandra Adams, CFP® is a Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® Sandy specializes in Elder Care Financial Planning and is a frequent speaker on related topics. In addition to her frequent contributions to Money Centered, she is regularly quoted in national media publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Research Magazine and Journal of Financial Planning.

Any opinions are those of Sandra D. Adams, CFP® and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuing company. Long Term Care Insurance or Asset Based Long Term Care Insurance Products may not be suitable for all investors. Surrender charges may apply for early withdrawals and, if made prior to age 59 1⁄2, may be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty in addition to any gains being taxed as ordinary income. Please consult with a licensed financial professional when considering your insurance options. These policies have exclusions and/or limitations. The cost and availability of Long Term Care insurance depend on factors such as age, health, and the type and amount of insurance purchased. As with most financial decisions, there are expenses associated with the purchase of Long Term Care insurance. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the insurance company.

2018 Fourth Quarter Investment Commentary

2018 4th Quarter Investment Commentary, Volatility, Interest Rates, Shutdown Slowdown, China Trade Negotiations, Global Concerns

The 2018 wild ride!

We’d love to see you at our investment outlook event on Wednesday, February 27th from 11:30am-1pm for lunch and a full update on 2018 and the year ahead.  You can register here

How times have changed! As I write this, I often like to look back and see what I was thinking about last year at the same time.  In the fourth quarter of 2017, we were talking about how low volatility had been for an extended period and that it was unlikely to continue.  Unfortunately, we were right.  In 2017, we had only eight sessions where the S&P 500 moved up or down more than 1% (versus the average which is 53 days in a given year since 1958)!  In 2018 the number of days up or down more than 1% numbered closer to 60.  While more than average, this is closer to average volatility than we had grown accustomed to.  December is usually the least volatile month on record but this time registered more than it’s share of wild swing days for the year. 


While we tend to love unlimited volatility on the upside, we greatly dislike downside volatility. According to behavioral finance experts Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky we hate the downside about twice as much as we love the upside or loss aversion.This is a concept that is embedded deeply within our investment strategy. We work to design portfolios that prevent you from making short-term decisions that contradict your long-term goals. Diversification is a key part of this process. Up until the last quarter of 2018, this was a strategy that had long been out of favor in this bull market for US Large companies. However, we started to see the benefits return. Below is a chart showing returns for 2018 broken down a few different ways and for several different benchmarks. The first section is Year-to-date (2018 full year) returns. For the year, the Barclays Aggregate was the clear winner as it was up slightly (blue bar). However, for the first three quarters of the year, it was the clear loser except for emerging markets (EM had been 2017’s, clear winner). It wasn’t until the last quarter, when volatility struck, that bonds were able to shine. The S&P 500 (US large companies) and Russell 2000 (US small companies) indexes were the exact opposite story. For the first three quarters of the year, the rally continued in a strong way with these markets up well over 10%. Once volatility struck, this meant these markets also had the farthest to fall and experienced the most downside in the last quarter of the year giving back all of their prior returns and then some for the year. It is an excellent reminder of the importance of diversification.

Source: Morningstar Direct

Source: Morningstar Direct

So what has this market so spooked?

Interest rates

The Federal Reserve raised rates for the fourth and final time of the year in December but also lowered its expectations for rates moving forward. Economic data is little changed, but The Fed’s reaction to the data shifted more dovish. The Fed is concerned that by raising too far, too fast they will invert the yield curve.  They recognize it may be necessary to slow down.   The yield curve hasn’t inverted quite yet (this is defined by the two-year being higher than the ten-year yield) but it has gotten much closer to this scenario.  This is generally a good indicator that a recession is on the horizon but has not given this signal yet.

Shutdown Showdown

Democrats took control of the House on January 3rd as the government shutdown continued.  President Trump and the Senate don’t seem to be willing to bend on their request for money for the border wall while Democrats just as strongly oppose.  Ultimately, one side will have to bend to get the government fully back up and running and neither seem to have any incentive to make this happen yet.  Markets generally aren’t rattled by government shutdowns unless they are prolonged. However, right now, everything seems to be rattling the markets.  I don’t think you can specifically point to the government shut down as being a leading market concern but it is definitely on the scorecard.  The longer it extends, the more it will erode consumer and investor confidence too.

China Trade Negotiations

Trade negotiations seem to be moving along, but this is a slow process.  U.S. based companies are starting to report reduced sales into China, so we are beginning to see a direct effect to stock prices of domestic companies.  There is talk of a hard deadline in these discussions of March 1st because if some negotiations have not come to a close by then, the U.S. will impose another round of tariffs on Chinese imports. 

Global concerns

Brexit negotiations continue to stir up markets as it is not going as well as planned.Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was invoked on March 29, 2017.The UK has two years from this point to leave the European Union.So the deadline is fast approaching on March 29, 2019.Here is a helpful timeline of what is to come. Brexit is sure to cause some waves in the next few months.


To top off the global concerns, the Italians are making headlines again with debt concerns.  And just as interest rates are rising here at home, they are starting to rise overseas.  Finally yet importantly, the result of the Mueller investigations will come out soon.  This could cause a temporary shakeup in markets depending on what their findings are.

It is interesting to note that these headlines have existed for much of the year.  Up until early October, the US stock market seemed to brush them off in the wake of lower taxes.  However, lower taxes could only distract for so long until these headlines started to spill over into investor sentiment, which became clear in October.  It is important to remember to stay invested even through volatile events.  Missing the biggest up days can be devastating on your long-term returns and, true-to-form, we experienced many of those for 2018 when the markets appeared at their bleakest moments in the fourth quarter.  It is quite common that the largest up days occur during periods of downside volatility. 

We are happy to discuss your portfolio with you at any time you may feel uncomfortable with market swings.  We are monitoring your investments, making periodic changes when warranted and pro-actively rebalancing to take advantage of swings in the markets, both up and down.

We thank you for your continued trust.  Have a wonderful 2019!

Angela Palacios, CFP®, AIF®

Director of Investments

Financial Advisor, RJFS

Angela Palacios, CFP®, AIF® is the Director of Investments at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® Angela specializes in Investment and Macro economic research. She is a frequent contributor The Center blog. Freedom Presentation by Nick Lacy, CFA, Chief Portfolio strategist.
The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of 500 widely held stocks that is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market. The Russell 2000 Index measures the performance of the 2,000 smallest companies in the Russell 3000 Index, which represent approximately 8% of the total market capitalization of the Russell 3000 Index. The MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, and Far East) is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure developed market equity performance, excluding the United States & Canada. The EAFE consists of the country indices of 22 developed nations.
The MSCI Emerging Markets is designed to measure equity market performance in 25 emerging market indices. The index's three largest industries are materials, energy, and banks. The Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index is a broad-based flagship benchmark that measures the investment grade, US dollar-denominated, fixed-rate taxable bond market.
Any opinions are those of Angela Palacios and not necessarily those of Raymond James. The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice.
Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website's users and/or members.

High-deductible medical insurance plan? Try an HSA!

Josh Bitel Contributed by: Josh Bitel

With the first year of the new Tax Cuts and Job Act behind us, tax-efficient saving seems to be top of mind for many Americans. In a world of uncertainty, why not utilize a savings vehicle you can control to help with medical costs?



A Health Savings Account, or HSA, is available to anyone enrolled in a high-deductible health care plan. Many confuse an HSA with a Flex Spending Account or FSA – don’t make that mistake! A Health Savings Account is typically much more flexible and allows you to roll any unused funds over year to year, while a Flex Spending Account is a “use it or lose it” plan. 


Many employers who offer high-deductible plans will often contribute a certain amount to the employee’s HSA each year as an added benefit, somewhat like a 401k match. Dollars contributed to the account are pre-tax, and tax-deferred earnings accumulate. Funds withdrawn, if used for qualified medical expenses (including earnings), are tax-free.

The list of qualified medical expenses can be found at; however, just to give you an idea, they include expenses to cover your deductible (not premiums), co-payments, prescription drugs, and various dental and vision care expenses.

As always, consult with your financial advisor, tax advisor, and health savings account institution to verify what expenses qualify. If you make a“non-qualified” withdrawal, you will pay taxes and a 20% penalty on the withdrawal amount. 



  • Must have a plan with a minimum deductible of $1,350

  • $3,500 contribution limit ($1,000 catch-up contribution for those 55 or older)

  • Maximum out-of-pocket expenses cannot exceed $6,750


  • Must have a plan with a minimum deductible of $2,700

  • $7,000 contribution limit ($1,000 catch-up contribution for those 55 or older)

  • Maximum out-of-pocket expenses cannot exceed $13,500


Once you reach age 65 and enroll in Medicare, you can no longer contribute to an HSA. However, funds can be withdrawn for any purpose, medical or not, and you will no longer be subject to the 20% penalty. The withdrawal will be included in taxable income, as with an IRA or 401k distribution. This can present a great planning opportunity for clients who may want to defer additional money, but have already maximized their 401k plans or IRAs for the year.

Although you have to wait longer to avoid the penalty than with a traditional retirement plan (age 59 ½), this investment vehicle could reduce taxable income in the year contributions were made, while earnings have the opportunity to grow tax-deferred and tax-free.  

As you can see, a Health Savings Account can be a great addition to an overall financial plan and should be considered if you are covered under a high-deductible health plan. No one likes medical expenses, but this vehicle can potentially soften their impact.

Josh Bitel is a Client Service Associate at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®

Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website's users and/or members.

New Year Financial To-Dos Help Keep You on Track

Kali Hassinger Contributed by: Kali Hassinger, CFP®

As we settle into 2019, the fresh calendar year provides an ideal opportunity to make plans and adjustments for your future. Instead of setting lofty resolutions without a game plan in mind, might I suggest that you consider our New Year Financial Checklist? Completing this list of actionable, attainable goals will help you avoid the disappointment of forgotten resolutions in February, and you’ll feel the satisfaction of actually accomplishing something really important!


New Year Financial Checklist

  • Measure your progress by reviewing your net worth as compared to one year ago. Even when markets are down, it's important to evaluate your net worth annually. Did your savings still move you forward? If you're slightly down from last year, was spending a factor? There is no better way to evaluate than by taking a look at the numbers!

  • Speaking of spending and numbers, review your cash flow! How much came in last year and how much went out? Ideally, we want more income than spending.

  • Now, let's focus on the dreaded budget. Sure, budgeting can be a grind, so call it a “spending plan”. Do you have any significant expenses coming up this year? Make sure you're prepared and have enough saved.

  • Be sure you review and update beneficiaries on IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, life insurance, etc. You'd be surprised at how many people don't have beneficiaries listed on retirement accounts (or have forgotten to remove their ex-spouse)!

  • Revisit your portfolio's asset allocation. Make sure your investments and risk are still aligned with your stage in life, your goals, and your comfort level. I'm not at all suggesting that you make changes based on market headlines. Just be sure that the retirement or investment account you opened 20 years ago is still working for you.

  • Review your Social Security Statement. If you're not yet retired, you will need to go online to review your estimated benefit. Social Security is one of the most critical pieces of your retirement, so make sure your income record is accurate.

Of course, this list isn't exhaustive. The final step to ensure your financial wellbeing is a review with your advisor. Even if you don't work with a financial planner, at a minimum set aside time on your own, with your spouse or a trusted friend, to plan on improving your financial health. Do it even if you only get to the gym the first few weeks of January!

Kali Hassinger, CFP® is an Associate Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®

New Year’s Resolutions Center Style

On New Year's Day, about 45 percent of Americans will resolve to make 2019 their best year ever.  

Not surprisingly, the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. People also vow to get more organized, exercise more, better manage their finances, and do more good in the world.


While many of our team’s resolutions fall into those categories, The Center has one rebel.

Angie simply doesn’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions. “I feel like, if it is a good idea, why wait until January to start? For example, losing weight. I’m reducing my carb intake to lose a few pounds before the new year!”

The rest of our team members have taken the tradition to heart. Here are their 2019 resolutions:

  • Jaclyn >> Balance my checkbook more frequently.

  • Matt T >> Give away 10% of my income to charity in 2019.

  • Nick D >> Run another half marathon! Did it back in 2009, but have been a bum ever since.

  • Tim :: In addition to the common resolutions of losing weight and saving more money (not in that order), I have some financial resolutions for 2019.  First, due to last year’s tax law changes, I will review my tax withholding before January 15 to make sure enough has been withheld. Unfortunately, this is a tax trap for many. Next, I plan to review some old life insurance policies. And lastly, my wife Jen and I will finalize a major gift to our alma mater, Albion College – using a donor advised fund, of course!

  • Matt C >> To feed 100 hungry children, plant 100 trees, pick up 100 pieces of trash, mentor 100 kids, and give more than I take.

  • Jacki >> Block weekly time for activities that bring me joy.

  • Josh B >> My New Year’s resolution is to read more books.

  • Lauren >> Use a 529 to save for my son’s future college expenses. We hope he’ll be a college grad in the Class of 2039!

  • Sandy >> To be more intentional with my attention, my time, and my money, in order to make a more meaningful impact on my family and my community.

  • Kali >> Increase my overall savings rate by 5%.

  • Laurie >> Add one extra month to my emergency fund reserves. Being prepared ahead of time for unexpected but necessary expenses gives me a sense of accomplishment. I know that, if needed, I have a Plan B in place!

  • Nancy >> Thanks to Tim’s “Financial Wellness; Estate Planning Lunch and Learn,” I’m motivated to get all my financial documents, such as a will, beneficiary forms, etc., completed, updated, and organized.

  • Gerri >> This year, I am committing to travel more with friends. Many of my friends travel, and since I have made a commitment to do more myself, I think it would be a blast to make some memories together.

  • Andrew >> Spend a minute each morning in appreciation of the things for which I’m grateful.

  • Bob >> Update my estate plan and track my monthly spending budget at least once per quarter.

We hope these New Year’s resolutions inspire you to make a few of your own. And if any of them involve your finances, reach out to one of our team members for support and guidance.

Here’s wishing you a happy and successful 2019!

Donor Advised Fund: Contributions to a DAF are irrevocable. Raymond James does not provide legal or tax advice. Taxpayers should seek advice based from an independent legal or tax professional prior to opening account. 529: As with other investments, there are generally fees and expenses associated with participation in a 529 plan. There is also a risk that these plans may lose money or not perform well enough to cover costs as anticipated. Most states offer their own 529 programs, which may provide advantages and benefits exclusively for their residents. Investors should consider, before investing, whether the investor's or the designated beneficiary's home state offers any tax or other benefits that are only available for investment in such state's 529 savings plan. Such benefits include financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors. The tax implications can vary significantly from state to state.

Tax Deductible “Alimony” Workaround for 2019 and Beyond

Jacki Roessler Contributed by: Jacki Roessler, CDFA®

After January 1, 2019, negotiating alimony in divorce cases will become significantly more difficult.  Pursuant to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the repeal of tax law in place since 1942, alimony will no longer be treated as tax deductible for the payer in cases finalized on January 1, 2019 or later.

tax deductible alimony jacki roessler, cdfa

Great news for the alimony recipient? Not necessarily.

Consider the following example: When Jane and John got divorced in 2017, John's income was $250,000 per year, and Jane was a stay-at-home mom with no earned income. John agreed to pay Jane $3,000 per month in alimony.  Since he was able to deduct that amount from his income, his monthly out-of-pocket cost for the support was $2,130. Jane, of course, had to pay income taxes on the alimony. After paying taxes, however, her net ($2,400 per month) was greater than the out-of-pocket cost to John. This was an effective way to shift income from a high bracket to a low bracket and give John an incentive to pay Jane more in support.

By comparison, eliminating this tax benefit takes more money out of the hands of the divorcing couple and puts it in the hands of the IRS. The payer doesn’t have an incentive to pay a penny more than his/her out-of-pocket cost.

Is there a workaround that could still provide couples with the advantage of shifting the tax burden from the high wage earner to the low earner in the context of alimony payments?

In some cases, the answer may be a surprising yes.

Let's look at the case of Brian and Julie, who are in the same financial position as John and Jane. Julie is requesting $3,000/month in alimony for 6 years. Her attorney suggests that the parties negotiate a lump sum buy-out on alimony from a pre-tax account. This would provide the same tax benefit (shifting income from a high tax bracket to a low bracket) that the alimony deduction would have provided. With the help of a financial advisor, they determine that $3,000 per month in tax-deductible alimony is equal to $200,869 in pretax, lump-sum dollars (this assumes a 3% discount rate). To satisfy his alimony obligation, Brian can therefore transfer to Julie $200,869 from his IRA or Qualified 401k plan via a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).

By transferring the retirement assets, Brian avoids the income tax liability that is embedded in those assets. When Julie takes money out of the account, she’ll pay ordinary income taxes on any distribution, at her marginal tax bracket, just as she would have with taxable alimony payments. As long as she is at least 59 1/2 years old, she can immediately begin taking distributions without incurring a 10% penalty.

This strategy comes with some significant drawbacks. First, a lump-sum buyout means the award becomes permanent and non-modifiable. With traditional alimony, if Julie were to die before the end of six years, Brian’s alimony obligation would cease, so Brian might have unnecessarily pre-paid alimony. The same could be true if Julie remarried during the payment period, Brian became disabled, or future alimony was modifiable in any way.

Of course, another shortcoming to this strategy is that many couples don’t have access to a large lump sum in retirement assets.

The best candidates for this workaround are likely older couples who can defer their income needs to retirement, are at least 59 ½ years old and ready to begin taking annual distributions from retirement assets, and understand all the risks involved with pre-paying support.

As always, qualified and personal legal, tax, and financial advice is necessary before making any financial decisions in divorce.

**Local attorneys…to learn more about this strategy and other hot tips for 2019, mark your calendars for my educational seminar on January 30, 2019, at the Bloomfield Township library.

Jacki Roessler, CDFA® , RJFS Branch Associate, is a Divorce Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®

Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. This materi-al is being provided for information purposes only. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Please note, changes in tax laws may occur at any time and could have a substantial impact upon each person's situation. While we are familiar with the tax provisions of the issues presented herein, as Financial Advisors of RJFS, we are not qualified to render advice on tax or legal matters. Illustrations provided are hypothetical examples.

Bond woes: “Why do we own bonds if we think they aren’t going to do well in a rising rate environment?”

The Center Contributed by: Center Investment Department

Hoping for capital gains is not a good reason why you should own bonds. Actually, owning or  buying bonds in this low and rising interest rate environment with the hope that you'll be able to sell them later at a higher price may not work out. BUT…just because you can’t sell this investment at a profit later does not make the investment a bad idea.


A great real life comparison is a car. We own a car to get our family and us from one place to another, hopefully safely. Many components go into the makeup of a safe driving automobile. The engine is key in making the car go. Stocks act much like the engine of a car.  They make our portfolios go/grow. But, would you ever drive a car that wasn’t equipped with brakes or an airbag? Brakes and airbags are similar to the bonds in our portfolio. Bonds help you control some of the risk of owning stock. For most people, the reason to own bonds is to slow down our bottom-line losses experienced in our portfolio during major market declines. Without this moderation (and sometimes even with it), investors tend to panic when stock prices fall.

So in a nutshell, “Why own bonds?”

They make the scary times less so. When the stock market experiences an extended decline, investors look around for where to turn. Cash and Bonds are usually the place they turn to.A volatile stock market can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. Waiting to add bonds until something happens means you are going to suffer much of the downside before you actually add them to the portfolio. You have to have already had them in the portfolio for them to help. Talk with your financial planner to make sure you have the proper amount of your portfolio invested in bonds so you can hang on to your investments through those difficult times. A portfolio makeup that allows you to stay the course over the long term is much more likely to get you to your destination! Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website's users and/or members.

IRS Announces Increases to Retirement Plan Contributions for 2019

Josh Bitel Contributed by: Josh Bitel

Several weeks ago, the IRS released updated figures for 2019 retirement account contribution and income limits. 

IRS Increases Retirement Plan Contributions for 2019

Employer Retirement Plans (401k, 403b, 457, and Thrift Savings Plans)

  • $19,000 annual contribution limit, up from $18,500 in 2018.

  • $6,000 “catch-up” contribution for those over age 50 remains the same for 2019.

  • An increase in the total amount that can be contributed to a defined contribution plan, including all contribution types (employee deferrals, employer matching and profit sharing), from $55,000 to $56,000, or $62,000 for those over age 50 with the $6,000 “catch-up” contribution.

In addition to increased contribution limits for employer-sponsored retirement plans, the IRS adjustments provide some other increases that can help savers in 2019. A couple of highlights include:

Traditional IRA and ROTH IRA Limits

  • $6,000 annual contribution limit, up from $5,500 in 2018 – the first raise since 2013!

  • $1,000 “catch-up” contribution for those over age 50 remains the same for 2019.

Social Security Increase Announced

As we enter 2019, keep these updated figures on the forefront when updating your financial game plan. As always, if you have any questions surrounding these changes, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team!

Josh Bitel is a Client Service Associate at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®