Personal Financial Planning Feed

financial planning estate

The AICPA provides information, tools, advocacy and guidance for CPAs who specialize in providing estate, tax, retirement, risk management and investment planning advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

How to take the stress out of debt

Infographic_Millennial_Debt_AICPA (002)If you’re like most Americans, you probably have debt. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a recent telephone survey of 1,004 U.S. adults conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs, nearly three-quarters of Americans are living with debt driven by factors like everyday expenses, a lack of income, mortgage costs and student loans. More concerning is the number of Americans whose debt is making them anxious, keeping them up at night and causing problems in their relationships.

I sat down with Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, member of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, to talk about how financial planning can help Americans whose lives are negatively impacted by debt.

Jonathan Lynch: For many Americans, living with debt is a mental as well as financial burden. In fact, because of their debt, three-in-ten Americans admit to stressing about everyday financial decisions. For those who feel overwhelmed by their debt, what steps would you suggest they take to take back control?

Dr. Sean Stein Smith: The first thing to realize is that if you are worrying about debt, you are not alone, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t matter how much money you make – there are steps you can take to get back in control.

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Social security benefits hacked: A cautionary tale

Social Security hackIf you or your clients are at or nearing retirement age, you need to know that hackers are targeting social security accounts. I found out the hard way. My career as a CPA Personal Financial Specialist was devoted to advising individuals and families on their most important financial goals, including tax, retirement, estate, risk management, investment and retirement planning. After decades of helping my clients navigate and manage these important decisions, imagine my surprise when I received a letter in the mail shortly after my 67th birthday congratulating me on initiating my Social Security benefits. The trouble was, although I had entered the glory years of retirement, I had not yet applied for Social Security benefits, opting to wait until age 70 to receive my benefits. Further digging uncovered the unfortunate fact that a thief had received $19,236 of my benefits. I was dumbfounded.

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Personal financial satisfaction extends record run…but for how long?

Americans are experiencing unprecedented levels of personal financial satisfaction, the highest in the 24-year history of the AICPA’s Personal Financial Satisfaction Index (PFSi). After seven consecutive quarters on the rise and a second quarter in a row setting at an all-time record, the average Americans’ personal financial satisfaction has been steadily picking up steam. With financial satisfaction climbing to new highs, some can’t help but wonder when this rise will end.

First, some background. The PFSi is a quarterly economic indicator that measures the financial standing of the average American. It’s calculated as the difference between two sub-indexes: The Personal Financial Pleasure Index, which measures the growth of assets and opportunities, and the Personal Financial Pain Index, which calculates the loss of assets and opportunities. The Pleasure Index is made up of four factors, the largest contributor being the PFS 750 Market index. The Pain Index is also comprised of four factors, with the largest contributor being personal taxes. Most recently, the Pleasure Index (69.2) greatly outweighed the Pain Index (42.3) bringing the PFSi to a positive reading of 26.9, the highest reading since 1994.
 


AICPA Q4 PFSi

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Personal financial satisfaction hits record high - what’s in it for me?

Personal finances are like fingerprints, everyone is unique. With the AICPA’s Personal Financial Satisfaction Index (PFSi) at an all-time high, you may be wondering what it means for you.

Let’s start with some background. The PFSi is a quarterly economic indicator that measures the financial standing of the average American. It’s calculated as the difference between two sub-indexes: The Personal Financial Pleasure Index, which measures the growth of assets and opportunities, and the Personal Financial Pain Index, which calculates the loss of assets and opportunities. Most recently, the Pleasure Index (68.1) greatly outweighed the Pain Index (42.1), bringing the PFSi to a positive reading of 25.9, the highest reading since 1994.

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Don’t overlook this important subject with clients

HealthWe’ve all heard the phrase, “Your health is your wealth.” Why then are so many advisers hesitant to talk to their clients about it? Health intersects the planning you provide in many ways, yet practitioners rarely go there. The result is missed opportunities and incomplete planning.

A client of mine suffered a major heart attack and stroke at age 65. In the aftermath, he and his wife resolved to spend his remaining years traveling and gifting the wealth they had amassed. On the surface, their reaction sounded like a generous, intentional plan. Unfortunately, they hadn’t considered that his life expectancy was quite a bit longer than they assumed, even after the scare. In that time, the term insurance he was certain would cover his wife’s living expenses after he was gone would expire.

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Beyond tax: Extending your success

Financial planningAs we near the end of October, tax practitioners across the profession collectively breathe a sigh of relief. Another tax season is in the books, and CPAs find themselves ready for a vacation or a change to their tax-centric practices.

We’ve been there, craving balance as another tax deadline passes. In our search for an alternative, we discovered a complement to our tax skills that has reenergized our careers and opened new opportunities for our clients and practice.

If you find yourself in need of more than just a vacation after October 15, here are a few things we’ve learned as we’ve recently transitioned our careers from tax compliance to advising clients on all aspects of their financial lives, including estate planning, retirement planning and beyond.

The benefits to your practice and clients are vast.

If you’ve been in practice for a while, you probably have a roster that includes many long-time clients. Over the years, clients may have approached you for your thoughts on their plans for retirement or the best way to plan their child’s education. If you’ve had these kinds of conversations, you’ve been doing personal financial planning (PFP) without even realizing it. By formalizing your PFP services, clients will benefit from your holistic understanding of their full financial picture, and you’ll improve both your practice and lifestyle by:

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The road to retirement starts here

Older couple riding a bikeWhen it comes to saving for retirement, there is no one-size-fits-all plan. Each American has a unique and fluid situation, impacted by a variety of factors. Fortunately, CPA financial planners are well-versed in the different aspects that go into a tailoring a retirement plan that best fits their client’s needs.

I sat down with Leonard Wright, CPA/PFS and member of the AICPA Personal Financial Specialist Credential Committee, to learn some best practices for starting a retirement plan that helps maximize enjoyment during your golden years.

Jonathan Lynch: A recent survey found that less than half of non-retired Americans are confident they will reach their retirement goals. With all the uncertainty surrounding retirement -- where should someone without a plan begin?

Leonard Wright: Before bringing numbers and calculations into retirement planning, simply think about where you want to be when you reach that stage of your life. Ask yourself how you envision enjoying your retirement years. Define exactly what your desired lifestyle will entail. Will you downsize your residence? Do you plan on travelling? Would you consider working part-time? And perhaps most importantly, what age would you like to retire?

Once you have a clear vision in mind, you can start building the plan to make it a reality.

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The Next Generation: Empowering Future Firm Leaders

Leadership 2“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” –John F. Kennedy

Who represents your future? What’s your professional legacy? How do you know whom to trust with your business when you retire?

Most firm owners know the future of their business relies on the strength of their successors—the individuals most capable of growing and maintaining both client relationships and the service teams within the firm itself. What’s less understood is HOW to identify, nurture and promote the best and brightest candidates in practical terms. What can firm founders and owners do to ensure they’re selecting and preparing the right people to carry on their firms as eventual partners and even owners themselves?

The first task is to recognize the rising stars within your firm. These people are the strongest innovators, always looking for new opportunities to expand client services and grow the business. They’re the ones who naturally lead, and embrace opportunity to build strong teams within their professional circle. And they’re never afraid to assume more responsibility—for not only the daily workings of the firm, but also for the long-term prospects of the business—which includes being personally invested in both client relationships and the firm’s reputation. But once you’ve identified these potential stars, how do you invest in them?

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Are You Overlooking Prospective Clients?

Millennial clientsThere is a huge opportunity that most practitioners are ignoring, or worse, dismissing: an untapped client base.

This population doesn’t fit the profile of the typical client. They aren’t in their early 60s, near retirement and don’t fit the typical client profile. They haven’t worked and earned and leaned on you to help them make it to the retirement “finish line,” where they’ll begin to really enjoy the fruits of their labor. In fact, perhaps to the chagrin or confusion of their baby boomer parents, they’re quite different.

As you may have guessed, I’m talking about millennials. Before you tune out, consider the following:

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The Firm of the Future: Building Value by Evolving

Firm of the futureWhen starting an accounting practice, it’s important to think about the long-term value of the firm. True forward thinkers might even ponder what their end game looks like; is their goal to merge with another firm or sell their firm? To be succeeded by a partner or family member? In real-world terms, that means thinking about inventive and even unconventional opportunities to expand services beyond the realm of tax preparation, auditing and advice with the goal of appealing to the broadest possible client base. In a world where insurance companies, stock brokers, banks and even franchises like H&R Block are expanding client services to include planning for retirement, education or even simply, how to manage cash flow to maximize financial security, no firm can afford to neglect these areas of their clients’ lives. Competition is becoming too intense.

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6 Planning Ideas for Advising Entrepreneurs

Advising entrepreneursIf you work with entrepreneurs or small business owners, you likely have an appreciation of their vision, determination and work ethic.  You may also have run into some common hurdles that can derail their finances.  By focusing on the following planning considerations, CPAs and advisers serving entrepreneurs can keep their clients’ business and personal finances on track.

Choose an appropriate business form

Helping entrepreneurs evaluate key tax and nontax factors when selecting a business entity is not only important to the business’ financial success, but also the owner’s.

Should they operate as an S or C corporation, partnership, limited liability company or sole proprietorship? What are the classes of ownership, special allocations, basis, liability, elections and distributions for each structure and the impact of these factors on the owner? Navigating these complex decisions is crucial to getting their business off on the right foot. If you are an AICPA Personal Financial Planning Section member or CPA/PFS credential holder, see Chapter 18 of The Adviser’s Guide to Financial and Estate Planning for a comprehensive overview of entity selection.

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Winning the Value War

Value propositionAre you looking to expand your practice beyond financial statements and tax returns? If so, providing more personal financial planning advice and support, which will help clients plan for their financial future, may be the key to successful expansion. But how do you express the value you’ll provide to your clients? Here are some value propositions that CPAs can use to both describe and demonstrate value of those services.

Step One: Recognize the Difficulty of Selling an Intangible Value

In the world of investment advice, defining a value proposition is relatively straightforward because the return on investment (ROI) can be easily measured. And tax savings from effective tax strategies is similarly concrete.

However, when it comes to financial planning, defining a value proposition becomes far more difficult because it involves selling an intangible service and the results are hard to measure.

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Myths about Personal Financial Planning Services

MythsThere is a good chance you have visited a physician for a routine check-up. At that appointment, your doctor asked many questions – inquiring about your diet, exercise, stress, and health history – and ran diagnostic tests to assess your overall health. Your physician may not have solved any problems at that appointment, but you undoubtedly valued and were willing to pay for an objective professional to assess your health status.

Why is it, then, that many CPAs doubt the value of offering similar diagnostic and planning services to assist clients in identifying potential problems and improving their overall financial health? Broadening your services by asking the right questions, understanding your clients’ financial situation and delivering advice (or making referrals to trusted specialists) is not only valuable to your clients – but also to your practice.

Before you tune out by citing common objections, allow me the opportunity to debunk some of the common myths about personal financial planning (PFP) services.

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Helping College Graduates Reach Financial Independence

Financial independence“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” –Mark Twain

Ironically, the knowledge college students gain while studying for their careers is only one aspect of the education they’ll need to succeed in securing a healthy financial future for themselves. Learning how best to manage their finances and make wise decisions requires both individual effort and solid expert advice. That is where CPAs can serve as educators to help their clients – the parents – share tools with their recent college graduates to help them achieve financial success.

Getting started can seem overwhelming, but having an accurate idea of how much it costs a recent graduate to live monthly or annually is an essential first step. Suggesting clients’ children use simple money-tracking apps such as the one available at mint.com, where individuals can examine every aspect of their financial life in one place, can be helpful. After entering some basic information about their income and expenses, users can get a quick overview of their overall financial health.

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Effect of Spending Habits on Retirement Planning

RetireesThe traditional approach to retirement assumes that retirees will maintain their pre-retirement standard of living as they transition into retirement, and then sustain that lifestyle throughout retirement. But a growing base of research that analyzes the actual spending habits of retirees, reveals a different story.

In reality, retirees tend to experience a slow but steady decline in real spending throughout retirement. Spending decreases slowly in the early years of retirement, more rapidly in the middle years, and then slows again in the final years, in a path that looks like a “retirement spending smile.” Even the uptick of health care expenses in a retiree’s later years are generally not enough to offset all the other spending decreases that typically occur in retirement. That’s important, because it means your clients may not need as much money in retirement as they think.

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3 Trust Ideas for Reducing Estate Taxes

Bob Keebler spoke at the AICPA ENGAGE conference on “The Best Estate Planning Ideas Today.” Included in his detailed presentation were numerous points of interest beyond trusts. The following is a small selection from his 50-minute talk.

Because of the high limit on unified credit, many clients believe that estate planning isn’t for them. The truth, however, is much more complicated. Depending on the client’s state of residence, their positions in real estate or partnerships that might survive them and many other considerations, estate loss can be considerable. Your clients shouldn’t have to pay more than necessary in taxes on their estate, and as their trusted adviser, it’s your job to guarantee that the family’s wishes for their wealth are honored to the fullest extent possible.

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Coming Trends in Services to Individuals

CPAs are forward-thinking and relationship-oriented professionals. Taking the time with individual clients to think about their needs holistically has been a growing trend in the profession over the past decade, leading to the many new areas that now benefit mightily from the expertise and insight a CPA can offer. These are exciting times that bring new possibilities for firms that are willing to embrace them. The firms that do will find success, longevity and a satisfied client base.

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4 Things Advisers Should Know about Technology Today

Voice recognition in a carAs practitioners, we have a responsibility to our clients and to ourselves to stay up to date on the latest tools and techniques of our trade. Most CPAs providing advice to individuals do an admirable job of staying current on tax and financial planning techniques, but not as well staying current on technology issues facing their firm. Here are some technology-related issues practitioners should be focusing on today.

The Pace of Change in Financial Technology (FinTech)

A revolution in financial technology has taken place over the last several years. If anything, the pace of change is accelerating, with implications for all financial service professionals. Until recently late adopters of technology were not penalized for being late to the game, because most of their local competitors were also late adopters. Technology has broken down regional barriers, so today you are not only competing against other local providers, but national and perhaps international providers as well. In addition, new players have entered the marketplace. FinTech startups from Silicon Valley and elsewhere are becoming a disruptive force, raising the technology bar and putting pressure on margins. The bottom line for readers is this: If you are not reviewing and upgrading your firm’s technology at least annually, you are falling behind. If there isn’t someone at the firm specifically responsible for this, the odds are that it won’t get done.

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Learning from Prince’s $250 Million Mistake

Prince 2Finally, almost a year and a month to the date of his death, a judge confirmed Prince’s six siblings to be his rightful heirs – after more than 45 people came forward claiming to be his wife, children, siblings or other relatives.

Last year, the legendary musician passed away, leaving behind not only a legacy of unparalleled music, but also a $250 million fortune – with no will or estate plan to be found. With the long-anticipated announcement that his siblings will inherit his fortune, we’re reminded again of the importance of planning ahead and hiring trusted experts to carry out your wishes.

Whether you have people clamoring after your money or not, it’s important to consider hiring an expert to sort through the, at times, very complicated process of estate planning. There are DIY websites and software packages that may seem attractive (and cheap!), but more often than not, you get what you pay for. More complicated life situations, such as children from a prior marriage, children with special needs, or capital gains from property appreciation, require the hands-on insight of an expert.

If you are a CPA or a lawyer, you might consider yourself the expert – but just as authors have other writers proofread their work, it’s important to have an unbiased third party look over your documents. Even U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who died in 1995, should have relied on estate planning experts to prepare his estate plan – but instead he took it upon himself, and his family paid over $450,000 in taxes because of his errors.

To be better prepared than Prince and Chief Justice Burger, seek out the assistance of an attorney or a CPA to draft a will and do estate planning, respectively. An attorney will help you navigate a will, and a CPA is best positioned to help with more complicated estate planning.

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How One Next-Gen CPA Dreams Big: Part 2

Jeff Badu - CopyWe spoke with Jeff Badu shortly after he launched his own firm, Badu Tax Services, LLC. Jeff has a bold, intrepid, entrepreneurial spirit and is passionate about helping people and giving back to society. He recently started Badu Investments and is preparing to take the PFS exam this summer so he can broaden the range of services he offers to his clients, who are primarily millennials. In this second part of the interview, we continue to explore Jeff’s journey.

AICPA: We learned a great deal about what drives you in the first part of our conversation. You spoke about your passion to help people and your entrepreneurial spirit. And you’re planning to take the PFS exam this summer. What is motivating you?

Jeff Badu: As a CPA, I get to help people solve some of their most challenging financial problems. I am very passionate about helping people in general, and with their financial future in particular. I work mainly with millennials, like me, and use different strategies to help reduce their income tax liability and maximize retirement and other savings. I find that people tend to prefer working with someone they can relate to, and my clients come to me because we identify with each other.

I have been interested in taxes since I was in middle school. It seems natural to me that tax compliance and planning are key ways to help people plan for their future. It’s very important to me to increase people’s understanding of the significance of making wise financial choices, which I try to do with my radio show, website and social media presence. Being able to increase my own expertise and offer a range of services so that I can be seen as the go-to trusted adviser is what’s prompting me to take the PFS exam this summer.

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Don’t Let Clients’ Retirement Fall into This Trap

TrapHave you ever been at a party where the owner of a company was bragging about how he used a 401k to start his business? Or heard a story about how a couple’s individual retirement account (IRA) is invested in real estate and that’s going to allow them to live in the lap of luxury when they retire?

They’re talking about self-directed retirement vehicles. And much like real vehicles, when they are driven improperly, the result can be disaster.

What Are Self-Directed Retirement Vehicles?

Self-directed IRAs and self-directed 401ks are increasingly popular. While the usual custodians of IRA and 401(k) accounts will only allow certain investments (e.g., stocks, bonds, etc.), a self-directed IRA or 401(k) allows the owner to invest in such things as real estate, precious metals, businesses, etc. and make all the investment decisions. Profits from the investment build up tax-free until the owner reaches retirement and begins to take distributions, usually when the owner’s tax rate is much lower. Sounds good, right? What could go wrong?

Well, actually, a lot can go wrong. As a matter of fact, if you have clients in one of these situations, they could lose substantial amounts, if not all, of their retirement income. How can this happen and what can you do to help?

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How One Next-Gen CPA Dreams Big

Part I

Jeff Badu - CopyOn a mission to help people and entrepreneurially spirited, Jeff Badu represents the next generation of CPAs. At 24 years old, he runs his own firm, hosts a weekly radio show, volunteers his time, and is preparing to take the PFS exam this summer. The AICPA spoke with Jeff about his passion for the profession and his dedication to helping millennials save on their taxes and plan for their financial future.

AICPA: You’ve accomplished quite a bit for someone in their mid-twenties. Can you give us some background on yourself and how you became a CPA?

Jeff Badu: I came to the United States from Ghana when I was just 8 years old. My family settled on the north side of Chicago, where I still live. I have always been a numbers guy, but it was very early on that I discovered my love for accounting and business, and the opportunities those industries present. I was introduced to my first tax return in the eighth grade, and that was when I knew I was interested in this sort of work.

Graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with both a Bachelor’s of Science and a Master’s of Science in Accountancy, I began doing tax returns for friends my freshman year of college and really enjoyed it, and that helped me set a path for my future. I developed a business plan and mapped out my road to the CPA. I only took one class my second semester of graduate school so I could focus on it. I was the first person in the library every day, and the last to leave at night. I was ecstatic – and exhausted – when I found out I passed.

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5 Silent Killers of a Financial Plan

Silent killer“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

As it turns out, poet Robert Burns was onto something. All too often, CPAs and advisers construct tax, estate, retirement, risk management and investment plans that are either never implemented or are misaligned with their clients’ values. Some common missteps could keep a client from adopting a well-crafted financial plan, thus diminishing the value you add to the process.

Let’s take a look at some of these silent killers and how to avoid them before another financial plan goes awry.

Unrealistic Expectations
Perhaps the most common (and avoidable) mistake is building a financial plan on highly aspirational, or worse, totally unrealistic expectations. A sound financial plan is only as good as its inputs, so it’s important to ensure that you are forecasting an appropriate rate of return, inflation rate and honest gauge of spending and cash flow needs. Digging into the client’s cash flow today can help determine a realistic spending level in retirement.

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Tax Refunds and Financial Responsibility

Tax refundThe very same week our accountant (my father) informed us we would be getting a $1,550 tax refund (thank you, 2016, for the purchase of our first home and birth of our second child), my husband and I discovered a sizeable leak in our garage roof. So now, instead of using that money for a home repair we actually wanted to make, or to boost our savings account, or add to college savings plans, or more likely, to help pay for two kids in diapers and daycare, we’re buying a new flat roof. Lucky us. But this episode got me thinking—what do most people do with tax refunds? And what do CPAs advise they do? Is there a happy medium between fiscal responsibility and fun?

Aim for No Refund at All

First and foremost, the goal, according to most CPAs, is to not get a refund. While many people love getting a large chunk of change every spring, it indicates you’re overpaying and essentially giving the government an interest-free loan. Getting no refund at all means you’re paying the IRS exactly the right amount. Of course situations change from year to year (see my home purchase and birth of kid references above) so you might not always get it right.

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What the Personal Financial Planning Body of Knowledge Means for You

Shutterstock_431851066Early in 2016, I heard tax icon Sid Kess speak about how important it is for CPAs to understand what housing alternatives our clients might need to consider as they grow older. I thought, well that’s an interesting aspect of our work that I hadn’t considered, and began to educate myself about the options and opportunities in the communities I serve.

That advice couldn’t have come too soon: within a month, my dad began expressing concerns about taking care of his home and asked to look at some local housing alternatives. While I had made myself aware of a few, I quickly realized there are so many choices that I didn’t have time to explore them all. Unfortunately, my father’s health declined rapidly and we had to move him three times: from his home to senior living; from senior living to a nursing home; and from the nursing home to hospice care where he passed away.

What this really brought home is that the work we do as CPAs is not cut and dried, and goes beyond what many people envision when they think of our profession. It’s probably also more than many budding CPAs—and those long in the profession—think we do. But the fact is that we must continue to deepen our knowledge and expertise as our clients’ needs expand and grow.

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Social Security and Divorce: What Clients Need to Know

Shutterstock_334891802

Put powerful emotions in the same cauldron as money and you get a volatile and highly flammable mix. If your clients need one reason to involve a trusted CPA in their divorce process, that argument is as strong as it gets. As a financial professional, you have likely seen first-hand that divorce has the potential to uproot the financial stability of your clients (see more in this latest trend survey released by the AICPA Personal Financial Planning Section). If splitting the family possessions and bank accounts weren’t complex enough, there is also Social Security and Medicare to consider.

By asking the right questions, CPAs can steer their divorcing clients around pitfalls and help them make smart choices that maximize their financial outcomes.

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Elder Financial Abuse: How CPAs Can Help – Part 3

Shutterstock_293152349The face of America is showing its age: According to the National Institute on Aging, the number of Americans age 65 and older is expected to double in the next 25 years, with those 85 and older constituting the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. These Americans are increasingly becoming targets for elder financial abuse.

Extent of the Problem

The phenomenon of elder financial abuse is not new. But today, increasingly sophisticated tactics are being used with significantly higher stakes. Assets totaling approximately $23 trillion are the target.

The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) reports that the rate of elder financial abuse is extremely high, affecting 1 in 20 older adults. However, at the same time, only 1 in 44 cases of elder financial abuse is reported. The greatest number of reported abuses were perpetuated by family or others known to the victim.

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3 Reasons Every Client Should Complete a FAFSA

Shutterstock_538627324Are you wondering if all of your clients should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for their college-aged children even if they don’t anticipate qualifying for any federal aid?

Consider the following scenario: A successful couple own and operate a business and have two children in college. At 58 years old, the husband suddenly and unexpectedly passes away from a heart attack, rocking the family and ending the business.

The family, however, had faithfully completed the FAFSA annually for their children, although they had never previously qualified for financial aid. Within one week of the death of the father, both universities contacted the children with financial aid packages that allowed them to stay in school.

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Continuing Care Retirement Communities: Helping Clients Choose

Shutterstock_242465323With a rapidly aging population, more people will turn to their CPA in the coming years as a trusted source of guidance, especially when making senior living decisions. A popular, but also rather complex choice is the continuing care retirement community (CCRC or “life plan community”). 

By combining independent living with a continuum of care, CCRCs offer a viable solution for older adults who are healthy today but seek the peace of mind of having care services readily available in the future. Your client’s specific needs will likely determine which CCRC is best for them. There is no “one size fits all” approach here. Yet, due to the financially significant nature of the CCRC decision, it is important to make sure their first choice is the right choice, so you owe it to them to be well-educated and informed on this topic.

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4 Ways to Move Toward Practice Transformation

Shutterstock_538091704“Practice gratitude.”

“Be authentic.”

“Consider your story as you craft your goals.”

Not your typical soundbites from a gathering of CPAs.

When I leave an AICPA conference, I always bring home the best technical thinking in the profession and new and deepened relationships with peers across the country. This content and camaraderie is what brings me back year after year to these events.

As I gathered my thoughts after the recent AICPA Personal Financial Planning Summit, I noticed a shift in the tone of the key takeaways that I was anxious to implement in my firm. This innovative and intimate event sparked new thinking about how I – and other CPAs and planners who serve individual clients with their tax, estate, retirement, risk management and investment needs – can shape our practices for the future. Here are four challenges and some questions to consider from this year’s summit:

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Medicare Patients to be MOONed Soon

Signing medical formYou may soon be MOONed by your hospital. Beginning March 8, 2017, hospitals must now provide patients with the standard Medicare Outpatient Observation Notice (MOON).

When a Medicare beneficiary is admitted to a hospital as an inpatient most of the cost of the stay is paid under Part A, which covers the cost of a hospital stay. In 2017, the only cost the beneficiary must pay for stays of 60 days or fewer is the $1,316 deductible.

Most beneficiaries do not realize that they can also be admitted to a hospital as an outpatient. Your status as an outpatient has nothing to do with where you receive care or the type of care received. You may not even be aware of your status. You can be admitted to the hospital, be assigned a room and receive services as if you were an inpatient, all the while having been admitted as an outpatient by your doctor. Observation status gives the doctor time to decide if he or she should write an order to admit you into the hospital as an inpatient.

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Elder Financial Abuse: How CPAs Can Help – Part 2

SeniorsIn our first blog post of this series, we looked at three typical examples of elder financial abuse and some of the reasons why seniors are attractive targets. Helping safeguard your clients from financial abuse as they age, or experience a serious health problem, is one of the most important and meaningful things you can do for them.  In this article, we will delve deeper into types and signs of financial elder abuse, and ways to prevent it before it starts.

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Elder Financial Abuse: How CPAs Can Help – Part 1

Advising seniors

Scenario 1: Your usually chatty elderly client Nancy has become quiet and refuses to speak with you without her son Chris present. When they come in together, she is timid and acts nervous, while he is combative and secretive about sharing bank statements and other financial information. When you insist, you see discrepancies and unusual cash withdrawals, or other activity that he claims are for “household expenses, which are none of your business”.  

 

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What’s in a Name?

Name TagI recently had the privilege of speaking on financial planning to 150 CPAs at a Washington Society of CPAs conference. I began my remarks by asking how many in the audience considered themselves financial planners. Only two raised their hands.

That surprised me. I know that many CPAs help clients with some aspect of financial planning, from tax, retirement and estate planning to succession planning and wealth management. And, frankly, who better to help clients negotiate their financial futures than CPAs? Clients already rely on us to provide trusted advice on other financial matters.

The sparse response got me thinking back about my own experience coming to terms with the term “CPA financial planner.”

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Keeping it in Perspective: A Woman’s Take on the Profession

Financial planning adviserIt’s amazing how much things have changed. Back in 2004, I was recruited by my adviser and changed my career from forensic accounting to financial planning. I can clearly remember my first day in the firm’s Monday morning training; I was the only woman in the group and the firm owner addressed us as, “Guys… and gal.” I imagine his limited experience with women in this role (the firm had only employed a few other women advisers) caused him to want to tread lightly. His effort to include me was sincere, but in the process he made me feel different. It may not be surprising to hear that many financial planning firms simply do not have a large number of female advisers on staff in 2016, but they were even more scarce in 2004.

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Leave Yourself Behind When Working With Clients

Financial planner advising clientI once attended a workshop in which an established adviser shared a story from a conversation he’d had with one of his clients. The client was a young, affluent widow who decided she wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream to buy a condominium in her favorite city in Europe. While she could well afford the $2 million price tag, something was keeping her from pulling the trigger.

The adviser asked, "What is it that is really bothering you about this purchase?" After some deeper probing, she finally shared her issue: "It's just that I keep hearing my mother's voice in my head." (Her mother had died many years ago).

"And what is your mother saying?" he asked.

"She is saying that I am being frivolous with my money."

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Five Experts Advisers Should Follow

Social media 2 When I think about why I love being a financial planner, the first thing that comes to mind is the relationships I have with my clients. A close second is the community of other planners around the country who are some of the brightest and most engaging people I know. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to meet and learn from so many of these people. I could write an entire book about everyone who has impacted my career, but here are five who I think you should know:

  • Lyle Benson (@LyleKBenson) - Anyone who has been lucky enough to work alongside one of their parents will understand why I have my dad at the top of this list. I've been learning from him my whole life, but I'm certainly not the only person in our industry who has felt his impact. For years, he has been actively involved in the AICPA PFP Section and has put forth tremendous amounts of time and energy promoting CPAs who do financial planning. He is a driving force in our profession.
  • Bob Veres (@BobVeres) - Bob is a true visionary in the financial planning world, and he has an uncanny ability to see the future. He's a passionate advocate for financial planners and isn't afraid to ruffle feathers to make sure the general public knows who we are and what we stand for. He hosts the Insider's Forum each year, and his monthly newsletters are available to all AICPA PFP section members.

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Four Steps to a Happier, Successful “Business” Retirement


Shutterstock_339672998As CPA financial planners and advisers, we spend a considerable amount of time addressing the technical aspects of IRAs, 401ks and defined benefit plans. We work to convert enterprise value into retirement assets. We consider diversification, funding strategies and tax implications.

Those issues are important, but it can be the personal and emotional aspects of helping your clients retire from their businesses that set you apart from other planners. Here are four critical steps to help you be a better partner to your clients who own a business.

Step One: Adjust the Conversation

The first step, and for many retirees the hardest one, is the mental adjustment of retiring after decades building a business and creating value. Then, one day, they sign a contract and turn those work responsibilities over to others.

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3 Steps to a Secure Financial Future for Your Divorcing Clients

DivorceAnyone who has ever been through, or witnessed, a divorce knows that the pain of separating isn’t just emotional—it’s also financial. CPA financial planners may often feel at a loss as to what advice or guidance to offer distraught clients.

Let’s say your client Kate, age 50, calls in tears to tell you that her husband of 25 years, a high-level executive, wants a divorce.

“He wants to avoid using attorneys,” she says. “He made me an offer yesterday: He keeps all his retirement savings and I keep mine. I get the ski lodge; he gets the apartment in the city. We split cash and investments. I really don’t want to make him angry, but my own retirement will be so small. Is his offer enough?”

We all want what’s best for our clients and answering this complicated question will take some research. However, the most important factor is to avoid any conflict of interest. If you were advising the couple before the split, you may need a disclosure, a waiver or even a new engagement letter.

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A Passion for Education Proves Perfect Formula for Ross Riskin, CPA/PFS

Ross Riskin Profile PictureMeet Ross Riskin, CPA/PFS, CCPS, vice president of Riskin & Riskin, PC in Orange, Conn. Ross is definitely not your typical CPA; he has a unique passion for helping college students and their families,  a direct hand in CPA education and a thoughtful take on incorporating the AICPA’s Essentials of Financial Planning curriculum into the classroom.

AICPA: You’re founder and managing member of Riskin Advisory, LLC, described on your website as “a college financial planning practice.” How are you helping students and their parents plan for college expenses?

Ross Riskin: I work with families and recent graduates to help them develop plans to save and pay for higher education expenses in the most financially efficient manner. I approach the college and education planning process from tax, financial aid, and cash flow planning perspectives. Whether a family is trying to navigate the complex financial aid process, a grandparent is trying to develop a funding plan for their grandchild, or a recent graduate is trying to come up with a game plan to tackle their student loan debt, I am happy to advise them about the best course of action.

AICPA: How does being a CPA and a PFS support your expertise in education planning?

RR: Being a practicing CPA has provided me with the educational and professional experience required to enhance my knowledge of tax planning. Obtaining the PFS credential has helped me approach college and education planning from the perspective of an accountant and an adviser in order to develop comprehensive solutions for clients to help them see the big “financial” picture. Education planning is an area that hasn’t really been a focal point of planning to the same degree that tax planning and investment planning have been, and I am dedicated to working each day as a CPA/PFS to shift that focus and help families plan and take action in a holistic way.

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Helping Clients Plan Ahead for College Expenses

College savingsAs the cost of undergraduate, graduate and professional education continues to soar, having enough money set aside to pay for college is no longer a “nice-to-have” component of financial planning. It is essential to devise a thoughtful, cohesive plan to keep clients on course toward achieving their financial goals, within the larger context of their financial situation, investment horizon, risk tolerance, and resources.

Helping clients understand how much to save based on their education goals prepares them for the cost of college. 

Six Considerations

In trying to approximate future college costs and the amount clients will need to save to pay the college costs of the future, you’ll need to help them make several assumptions and determinations:

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Seizing Opportunity Like a Rapping Founding Father

HamiltonWhen hip hop music first became popular, very few people would have thought that the music could be a great way to tell the story of America’s Founding Fathers. Yet, the wildly popular Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which won 11 Tony Awards, merges the historical narrative of the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury with hip hop music and lyrics, and proves that it’s possible to successfully create something fresh by offering a new take on a familiar subject.

Alexander Hamilton, the man whose life inspired the musical, started his career as an accounting clerk in the West Indies, then went to colonial America, where he would eventually lay the groundwork for the United States financial system. The musical came to life because Lin-Manuel Miranda, its creator and the man who originated the role of Hamilton, saw an opportunity and seized it by utilizing his musical talents to tell a 240-year-old story and delight unsuspecting audiences.

What does that have to do with CPAs? A lot, actually. Every day, CPAs use their knowledge and talents to meet a wide spectrum of client needs, often in ways that weren’t initially envisioned 50 or 20 or even five years ago. If you’d like to set the stage for new options in your career or practice, here are several opportunities that mesh well with CPAs’ core competencies and experience.   

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2704 Regs May Eliminate Discount: Practitioners Must Plan Now


Shutterstock_216511519

Most practitioners are aware by now that the Treasury has proposed regulations under Code Section 2704 that would generally eliminate valuation discounts on transfers of interest in family entities. This means that practitioners should advise all wealthy clients to review planning options before year-end when these new rules might become effective.

The AICPA will examine the regulations and offer comments at the Dec. 1 IRS hearing; however, to be safe, advisers should proceed with the assumption they will take effect as is. Outlined below are four practical planning steps practitioners should address with their clients before year-end.

Step 1: Identify Clients Affected

Clients who own large real estate or valuable family businesses that can currently be discounted for transfer tax valuation purposes, but which may not be able to be discounted after the effective date of the regulations, should focus on planning for the new regulations. In 2012, when the estate tax exemption was modified from $5 million to $1 million, many clients rushed to modify their plans in advance of this change. We will likely experience similar activity this year, as clients strive to complete planning to address the discount rush before year-end.

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You Fancy, Huh? One in Four Americans Envious on Social Media

In these waning days of summer, my Instagram feed looks like a Lonely Planet top 10 list. I don’t know how, but it seems like the 300+ people I’m following have all conspired to be someplace awesome, while I’m toiling away in the office. It can feel frustrating when it seems like everyone (except for you) is having the time of their lives – and bragging about it online.

A new survey, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the AICPA, found that when it comes to feeling envious on social media, I’m far from alone. In fact, many Americans are caught in a cycle of feeling jealous of friends who post about their lavish vacations and extravagant purchases, while admitting that they also post things solely because they are fancy or expensive.

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6 Planning Ideas for CPAs Who Have Aging Clients

Aging clientsYou might have noticed the “graying” of your clients and thought “how can I, as a CPA and trusted adviser, provide services that meet their changing needs? What are the practice considerations surrounding those services?”

Recently, we served on a panel at the AICPA Conference on Tax Strategies for the High-Income Individual that focused specifically on these issues. Consider some of the following ideas gleaned from the session and how you may be able to incorporate them into your practice:

  1. Services: Cognitive challenges often affect executive functioning, such as the ability to handle day-to-day finances. Services you might offer include automating finances such as bill paying, monitoring investments, and reviewing banking records to identify elder financial abuse. With clients more commonly living into their 90s and beyond, budgeting and the recurring financial responsibilities of an individual or family take on a very different nature.

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The 4-Step Coach Approach to Client Service

CoachBefore CPA financial planners can provide expert counsel to clients, they first must get to know them in a very meaningful way. The process involves asking self-reflective questions and something I like to call the “coach approach” to client discovery.

The coach approach is a cooperative process, or a two-way street, and comes from material published by motivational expert Michael Pantalon. A good planner (the coach) guides and motivates, imparting knowledge along the way, but the client must also have some skin in the game with a commitment to executing the plan. After all, a basketball player could be coached to improve his game, but the player must commit to practice, and ultimately perform, before any real progress can be made.

Here are four steps to the “coach approach”:

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The Impact of Brexit on Your Clients’ Investments

BrexitUncertainty related to Brexit – the recent vote in the United Kingdom (UK) to move away from the European Union (EU) – sent shock waves throughout Europe and foreign markets. Here in the United States, investors have also expressed concern about the volatility of their portfolios.

Chances are good that some of your clients have already contacted you with questions about how this will impact their personal finances. To help you have this conversation, we sought advice from three well-known professionals: Chris Benson, CPA/PFS, L.K. Benson & Company; Jean-Luc Bourdon, CPA/PFS, BrightPath Wealth Planning, LLC; and Michael E. Goodman, CPA/PFS, Wealthstream Advisors, Inc. Here are their observations:

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CPA Financial Planning: Rewarding in Every Way

Lori LuckA client comment last week propelled me back to my business decision 15 years ago to jump in with both feet to the world of CPA financial planning.

Pausing on her way out the door after a particularly fruitful discussion, she remarked, “We’ve been together a long time.”

Indeed. I’ve been a CPA and tax adviser for her small business for 25 years. I added the full scope of financial planning and investment monitoring for her when I found that clients needed more focus on these services and I was in the best position as a CPA to give them the advice they were seeking.

We’ve monitored her assets and her retirement planning. We’ve made decisions about Social Security. We’ve helped her iron out various issues with estate planning, as many people have after second marriages. Her children were young when we started; now they’re out of college and on their own. Now she’s retiring and has sold her business. And we’ve been with her every step of the way.

It’s been wonderful, for both of us, really. And it’s that way with many of our clients. Shifting our practice to focus more intentionally on financial planning is one of the best decisions I ever made.

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Advising Same-Sex Married Clients After Medicare’s Rapid Changes

Same-sex coupleBy now, most CPAs should be familiar with tax strategies for same-sex couples, but due to a Supreme Court ruling in 2015, one possibly overlooked area CPA financial planners should address is the Medicare benefits available to couples in a same-sex marriage.

Before 2013, married couples of the opposite sex could qualify for Medicare benefits through their spouse, and before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell vs. Hodges ruling in 2015, state law still controlled whether a same-sex couple was treated as married. In layman’s terms, this resulted in inequality among same-sex couples, where some had full marriage rights because of the state in which they lived, while others were denied marriage rights because of their state of residence.

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Client Advocacy: Susan Tillery, CPA/PFS, Takes a Unique Approach

Susan TilleryWhat does an ancient biblical word meaning “holy spirit” have to do with financial planning in the 21st Century? Plenty, according to Susan Tillery, CPA/PFS.

Susan is president and co-founder of Paraklete® Financial, Inc., a fully-integrated personal financial planning (PFP) firm with offices in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. With more than 30 years’ experience in financial services, Susan sticks to one, basic tenet: placing her clients and their financial well-being first. We recently sat down with Susan to learn about her unique service model, business mentality and outlook on the profession.

AICPA: Paraklete operates on a fee-for-service model and your catchphrase is “An Advocate in Financial Services.” What is this model all about, and how does the advocacy tagline ladder up to your firm’s operations?

Susan Tillery: “Your Advocate in Financial Services” comes directly from the meaning of the name of our firm; Paraklete is the Greek word for advocate, counselor and one who walks alongside you, which best describes what our business model is all about and what we offer our clients.

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