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Notes on U.S. Infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the U.S. an overall infrastructure grade of D+. Throughout the next decade, it will take more than $4.5 trillion to fix our aging infrastructure — including upgrades to roads, mass transit, wastewater treatment plants and the electrical grid.1

We’ve reached the mission-critical stage. One industry analyst observed, “We’re at the point where our infrastructure is becoming an impediment to productivity and long-term economic growth.”2

The idea of national infrastructure may remind us of personal retirement preparation. If you are still working and thinking about retirement options, consider your own “infrastructure” situation. First, are you considering relocating or downsizing, or are you committed to aging in your own home? If you prefer the latter, it’s a good idea to check out your home from top to bottom to see whether you need any major repairs or maintenance while you’re still earning a paycheck.

This inspection should include considering a new roof, checking for mold buildup in your crawl space and researching new windows or other energy-efficient features that can help lower your utility bills. Even replacing older appliances could impact your household budget once you’re living on a fixed income.

Given our dramatic weather pattern swings, we should also prepare for the possibility of a natural disaster that could affect our daily living. Consider how you might plan for a long-term disruption in power or clean water supplies, such as installing a generator, solar panels, tiles and/or a battery pack. While it may seem farfetched, remember that the citizens of Puerto Rico probably never thought they would have to adapt for long-term power outages, as seen after Hurricane Maria.3

One way the U.S. is trying to address some of these issues is by incorporating green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) in sewer overflow control and integrated wet-weather plans. The idea is to evaluate the performance of GSI systems for future development.4

With all the discussion about funding at the federal level, one little-known fact is how much infrastructure is controlled at the local level. In fact, 40 percent of the nation’s bridges and 46 percent of all public roads are owned and maintained by counties. Furthermore, counties help fund one-third of the nation’s airports and 78 percent of public transportation programs.5

The news isn’t all bad. According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. international ranking for overall infrastructure quality improved from 25th to 12th place last year out of 138 countries. However, when it comes to specific categories, we show mixed results — the U.S. ranks second in road infrastructure spending but ranks 60th for road safety. The U.S. also lags behind other developed countries when it comes to infrastructure resilience and future sustainability.6

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 Merrill Lynch. 2018. “Getting a Bigger Bang for the Infrastructure Buck.” https://www.ml.com/articles/getting-a-bigger-bang-from-the-infrastructure-buck.html#financial-research-and-insights. Accessed April 20, 2018.

2 Ibid.

3 Camilla Domonoske. NPR. April 18, 2018. “Puerto Rico Loses Power — Again.” https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/18/603569966/puerto-rico-loses-power-again. Accessed April 20, 2018.

4 Water Environment Federation. April 4, 2018. “Data analyses confirm GSI value in overflow control.” http://stormwater.wef.org/2018/04/data-analyses-confirm-gsi-value-overflow-control/. Accessed April 20, 2018.

5 Mary Scott Nabers. Infrastructure USA. April 9, 2018. “County government — a critical component of America’s greatness.” https://www.infrastructureusa.org/county-government-a-critical-component-of-americas-greatness/. Accessed April 20, 2018.

6 Hiba Baroud. PBS News Hour. Feb. 18, 2018. “Measuring up U.S. infrastructure against other countries.” https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/measuring-up-u-s-infrastructure-against-other-countries. Accessed April 20, 2018.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

 

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Music Plays Instrumental Role in Healing Ailments

Hearing a familiar song from a happy period in your life, such as childhood, can instantly make you feel joyful. It’s as if you’re right back there — toe tapping, head bopping and singing along. Just as with our sight, smell and taste senses, positive auditory memories can enhance mood and transport us back to a happier time.

The power of music has led researchers to study various applications of music therapy to help people overcome the pain of health conditions, emotional challenges and even the cognitive decline that often accompanies old age.1

It’s not enough to believe we will all grow old gracefully. This usually doesn’t happen without planning. A big part of planning for retirement isn’t just how to provide enough income for the rest of our life, but how to help ensure we still enjoy a high quality of life no matter our age.

As an independent financial services firm, we help people create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives; just give us a call. As for creating a plan to help enhance quality of life, consider some of these music therapy applications.

Music therapy is now a board-certified health profession. With approximately 7,500 practitioners throughout the country, the practice has become prevalent in nursing homes and hospices. The American Music Therapy Association reports about 10 percent of musical therapists work with terminally ill patients in a new discipline called end-of-life music therapy.2

A growing body of research indicates music therapy can help improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.3 It also can be used to aid in stress and pain management, memory enhancement, communication and physical rehabilitation.4

Further, the discipline has been found to help people with psychiatric problems, such as depression, trauma and schizophrenia. Music can help calm patients as well as help them process emotions, trauma and grief.5

Interestingly, the military has used forms of music therapy since the post-World War I era. Trained musical therapists use it as a tool to help wounded, injured or ill soldiers express their thoughts nonverbally. Research also shows music can be effective at increasing neuroplasticity in the brain, which is an important role in helping veterans address symptoms of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.6

 

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications. 

1 Sharon Otterman. The New York Times. Jan. 15, 2018. “Music Therapy Offers an End-of-Life Grace Note.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/15/nyregion/music-therapy-nursing-home-hospice.html. Accessed April 13, 2018.

2 Ibid.

3 Sherry Christiansen. Alzheimer’s Universe. July 24, 2017. “Quick Alzheimer’s Prevention Pearl: Studies Show Music Improves Cognition in People with Alzheimer’s Disease.” https://www.alzu.org/blog/2017/07/24/how-music-helps-with-alzheimers-prevention/. Accessed April 18, 2018.

4 American Music Therapy Association. 2018. “What is Music Therapy?” https://www.musictherapy.org. Accessed April 13, 2018.

5 Molly Warren. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Dec. 19, 2016. “The Impact of Music Therapy on Mental Health.https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2016/The-Impact-of-Music-Therapy-on-Mental-Health. Accessed April 18, 2018.

6 Frank Otto. Drexel University News Blog. March 20, 2018. “3 Things to Keep in Mind About Music Therapy in the Military.https://newsblog.drexel.edu/2018/03/20/3-things-to-keep-in-mind-about-music-therapy-in-the-military/. Accessed April 13, 2018.

 

 

This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

 

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Demographic Differences

Consider these questions for a moment: Have your outlook and attitude toward politics and culture changed over the years? Or are you the same as always? If you were a conservative young adult, do you hold the same beliefs today? If you were a rebel as a youngster, are you still? Or have you mellowed with age?

The study of generational cohorts gives researchers a better understanding of what influences us as we age. What are the factors that influence our beliefs — parents, education, religion, career path, life experiences or opportunities to travel? Also, how much impact do the economy and social politics have? For example, millennials who saw their parents lose jobs, and even homes, during the economic recession that began in December 2007 may have a different view of the world than they would have if the recession had not been so severe.

We do change as we grow older. And certainly, our financial picture changes to reflect our needs, our wants and our goals. As you reflect on what you were like in the past and where you’re headed in the future, feel free to give us a call to discuss ways to create a retirement income plan that can help support the path you’re on now.

For the sake of generational research, think tank Pew Research Center has declared the end of an era. It has officially determined the last birth year for millennials as 1996. Pew defines millennials as anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22-37 in 2018) for its future work. People born starting in 1997 onward are considered members of a new generation.1

A lot has changed. Post-millennials are growing up in a time when social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment are taken for granted. Most baby boomers (born from 1946 to 1964) will likely remember when television was still black and white, Generation X (born from 1965 to 1980) grew up with Blockbuster Video stores and Millennials embraced the age of smartphones and computer games.

This increased exposure to technology stratifies generations in ways you might expect. For example, among people who pay for their news sources, those over age 65 are five times more likely to buy a print edition rather than digital (72 percent vs. 14 percent).2

This preference carries over to reading books as well. Within the age 65+ demographic, 63 percent have read a print book in the past year, 15 percent have read an e-book and 12 percent have listened to an audiobook. Among the 18- to 29-year-old set, those numbers are 75 percent, 34 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Young adults are not abandoning books, they are simply diversifying the way they read.3

Here’s another interesting divide that seems a departure from years gone by. It’s a common perception that as we grow older, we develop healthier eating habits. Not so much anymore. Today’s millennials are very well attuned to healthy living habits. As a demographic, they smoke less, are more conscious of their diet and exercise more than previous generations at that age.4

There’s also a growing discrepancy between young and old when it comes to political beliefs. Among the “silent generation” (those born from 1928 to 1945), 52 percent lean Republican versus 43 percent Democrat. Baby boomers are pretty evenly split at 46 percent GOP and 48 percent Democrat. Millennials, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly more liberal than previous generations, with 59 percent Democrat and 32 percent Republican.5

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 Michael Dimock. Pew Research Center. March 1, 2018. “Defining generations: Where Millennials end and post-Millennials begin.” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/01/defining-generations-where-millennials-end-and-post-millennials-begin/. Accessed March 29, 2018.

2 American Press Institute. May 2, 2017. “Print vs. digital subscribers: Demographic differences and paths to subscription.” https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/reports/survey-research/print-vs-digital/. Accessed March 29, 2018.

3 Andrew Perrin. Pew Research Center. March 8, 2018. “Nearly one-in-five Americans now listen to audiobooks.” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/08/nearly-one-in-five-americans-now-listen-to-audiobooks/. Accessed March 29, 2018.

4 A.T. Kearney. “Demographic Shifts.” https://www.atkearney.com/web/health250/1.-demographic-shifts. Accessed March 29, 2018.

5 Reid Wilson. The Hill. March 20, 2018. “Demographic gaps between parties widen.” http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/379369-demographic-gaps-between-parties-widen. Accessed March 29, 2018.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

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End-of-Life Issues

Before today’s modern medicine, people usually died of three things: injury, infections or some type of nutritional deficiency.1 Painkillers may have come in the form of herbal tea or some other applied root, so pain was a fact of life. Life expectancy was much shorter than today, and people often died suddenly or after a period of not feeling right but not knowing why. Most of the time, people died at home surrounded by family and loved ones.

Today, not so much. Four out of five Americans die in either a hospital or a nursing home.2 With medical advances, we are a nation both capable of and preoccupied with keeping people alive, including by artificial means.3

In accepting our eventual death, we must face the responsibility of preparing our estate and our health care proxy paperwork to help control how we face death. However, many people fail to take these actions. Recent studies revealed that nearly three quarters of adults have no health care proxy, living will or advance directive, and only 42 percent have a will.4

Whether sick or well, young or old, it’s important to maintain a will, up-to-date financial beneficiary forms and health care directive documentation. If you could use help figuring out what legal paperwork you need to complete, we may be able to refer you to a qualified attorney in our professional network.

Today, advanced medical technologies help pull us through events that in a previous era would have been fatal. We can better manage pain and multiple chronic conditions. While it’s great to live longer and feel better, that shouldn’t prevent us from considering our end-of-life preferences. After all, everyone dies sooner or later. Have you thought about how you’d like to go? Have you asked yourself if you would want more procedures to keep you alive, more time in an intensive care unit, more CPR and/or to be kept alive by machine?

Whatever your decision, make sure your wishes are known, both in legal documentation as well as in discussions with your loved ones. So many times, an elderly person will become weary of all the treatments and just want to die in peace. And just as many times, his or her family members will not accept this decision. That’s a painful problem for everyone involved.

How much health care is too much? Research on Medicare beneficiaries indicates that almost one in three undergoes an operation within a year of their death and that this event can actually do more harm than benefit.5 Other studies have shown that people who received intense care during the last six months of their life were no more likely to live longer than those who did not.6

These end of life issues do not rest entirely on the shoulders of the elderly and ill. Our health care industry focuses on prolonging life. Our physicians are drilled to “first, do no harm.” Health care is driven by the fee-for-services payment model, so doctors and pharmaceutical companies are financially rewarded for ordering more tests and screens, performing surgical procedures and prescribing medications.7

Therefore, each individual has to decide for himself or herself when enough is enough. Among terminally ill patients, 80 percent say they don’t want to die in a hospital.8 Those who complete the appropriate paperwork may have the opportunity to make this decision for themselves.

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 Haider Warraich. Knowledge@Wharton. Feb. 19, 2018. “How Modern Medicine Changed the Way People Die.” http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/modern-death/?utm_source=kw_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2018-02-22. Accessed March 20, 2018.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Kelli B. Grant. CNBC. Nov. 15, 2017. “Got a will? Here are 11 more end-of-life documents you may need.” https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/15/12-financial-planning-documents-to-handle-health-end-of-life-care.html. Accessed March 20, 2018.

5 Liz Szabo. NPR. Feb. 28, 2018. “Too Late To Operate? Surgery Near End Of Life Is Common, Costly.” https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/28/589282187/too-late-to-operate-surgery-near-end-of-life-is-common-costly. Accessed March 20, 2018.

6 Ann Brenoff. Huffington Post. July 14, 2017. “Want Control Over Your Death? Consider A ‘Do Not Hospitalize’ Order.” http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/do-not-hospitalize-orders_us_59666c35e4b0a0c6f1e54ed9. March 20, 2018.

7 Liz Szabo. NPR. Feb. 28, 2018. “Too Late To Operate? Surgery Near End Of Life Is Common, Costly.” https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/28/589282187/too-late-to-operate-surgery-near-end-of-life-is-common-costly. Accessed March 20, 2018.

8 Ann Brenoff. Huffington Post. July 14, 2017. “Want Control Over Your Death? Consider A ‘Do Not Hospitalize’ Order.” http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/do-not-hospitalize-orders_us_59666c35e4b0a0c6f1e54ed9. March 20, 2018.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

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Ideas for Your Inner Entrepreneur

One of the perks of retirement is having the time to pursue new interests. If you’ve always dreamed of starting your own business, retirement could provide the perfect opportunity.

It’s a good idea to get a financial checkup before you go full bore into entrepreneurship. We’re happy to help clients review their current retirement income situation and offer strategies through the use of insurance products to help with future retirement income needs. Please give us a call if you’d like to discuss this further.

What are the qualities of a successful entrepreneur? According to one angel investor, you don’t have to have an MBA. The following are three primary characteristics:1

1.      1. Talent. You need be able to get things done and have fanatical dedication to your cause.

2.      2. Technology. This should never be an after-thought. If you need tech to fund, produce, market, sell and/or distribute your product, then it’s just as important as your product itself.

3.      3. Traction. Your product is only “a great idea” if people are willing to pay their hard-earned cash to buy it.

Marketing is key to selling your product, and networking at trade shows and conferences is often seen as a great way to spread the word. Here are tips to help maximize these networking opportunities:2

  • Don’t just sell your product; market yourself. Let those you’re talking with know what you’re good at and what drives you.
  • If you hate networking, just smile. Look like a friendly person. Think of it as simply meeting new people, not as a make-or-break event. It may take a while to get your pitch down, so view every conversation as an opportunity to practice.
  • You might form a wonderful bond with another attendee, but if you can’t help each other professionally, exchange contact information and move on. Don’t waste a marketing opportunity to form a new friendship; you can do that later.

Warren Buffett once gave this advice to a 24-year-old budding entrepreneur:3

  • Before you go to sleep each night, ask yourself if you learned something new that day.
  • Pick up the phone. Don’t run away from problems; instead, confront them head-on.
  • No matter how successful you become, stay humble.

The following are three bits of wisdom from the recently departed Stephen Hawking that can help entrepreneurs problem solve and not get frustrated when they experience setbacks:4

1.      1. Always be grateful. Even when things go wrong, there are always positives to appreciate.

2.      2. Imperfection leads to opportunity. It gives us problems to solve, and therein marketable ideas.

3.      3. Never give up. Once you do, there’s no chance of success.

Perhaps you’ve been a successful entrepreneur and have sold your business for a healthy profit. You’re all set for retirement. What now? What can a person with that “go get ‘em” spirit do to stretch his entrepreneurial muscles without taking on the burden of another company?5

  • Consult. Help other entrepreneurs get the coaching they need for success.
  • Freelance. Take on temporary gigs or projects that interest you.
  • Volunteer. Devote your ability to fundraise, market and manage to a cause close to your heart.

 

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 Ryan Holmes. Inc. Nov. 10, 2017. “3 Ways to Test Your Next Business Idea.https://www.inc.com/linkedin/ryan-holmes/3-word-test-tell-youve-got-million-dollar-business-idea-ryan-holmes.html. Accessed March 16, 2018.

2 Alyssa Satara. Inc. March 16, 2018. “How to Avoid Wasting People’s Time — and 2 Other Networking Tricks I Learned at SxSW.” https://www.inc.com/alyssa-satara/3-networking-tricks-i-learned-at-sxsw-that-every-entrepreneur-should-know.html. Accessed March 16, 2018.

3 Karen Gilchrist. CNBC. March 14, 2018. “Warren Buffett rejected this entrepreneur’s dinner invitation — but he did give her 3 pieces of advice.” https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/14/warren-buffett-rejects-dinner-invite-gives-3-pieces-of-advice.html. Accessed March 16, 2018.

4 Serhat Pala. Inc. March 16, 2018. “4 Lessons for Entrepreneurs from the Amazing Life of Stephen Hawking.” https://www.inc.com/serhat-pala/4-lessons-for-entrepreneurs-from-amazing-life-of-stephen-hawking.html. Accessed March 16, 2018.

5 Rob Walker. The New York Times. February 16, 2018. “When Early Retirement Turns Into a Total Bore.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/business/early-retirement-a-total-bore.html. Accessed March 16, 2018.

 

 

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

 

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A Look at How America Ranks

In his first year in office, President Trump has promoted his “America first” philosophy. This new focus, with its trade protectionism and tough stance on immigration, has somewhat changed the U.S. narrative on a world scale.1

Considering this new emphasis on America first, perhaps it’s worth looking at how the U.S. ranks on the world stage, according to various lists measuring financial health, happiness, education and more.

One of the most watched rankings for financial health is the annual World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, which covers 137 economies and ranks the U.S. as No. 2. The Global Competitiveness Index measures national competitiveness, which includes a variety of institutions, policies and factors that determine each country’s level of productivity. The following are the top 10 countries ranked by the 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Index:2

  1. Switzerland
  2. United States
  3. Singapore
  4. Netherlands
  5. Germany
  6. Hong Kong
  7. Sweden
  8. United Kingdom
  9. Japan
  10. Finland

According to the recently released “2018 Best Countries” listing from U.S. News & World Report, America is ranked No. 8 behind Switzerland, Canada, Germany, the U.K., Japan, Sweden and Australia.3 The Best Countries rating is based on opinions of over 21,000 people from 36 countries in a wide variety of categories, including business friendliness, entrepreneurship, citizenship, power, quality of life, cultural influence and more.4

However, America gets lower marks in the rankings of countries with the happiest residents. The U.S. came in 19th in the 2017 World Happiness Report; Norway was No. 1. This study measures countries by ways they support happiness, such as quality of work, health care and social foundations.5

Perhaps one of the reasons Americans aren’t as happy as some other nations’ citizens has to do with our infrastructure — particularly relating to transportation. One global study of vehicular traffic found the U.S. is home to 10 of the top 25 worst cities for traffic. The study, composed of 1,360 cities in 38 countries, measures the cost of sitting in traffic due to factors such as loss of worker productivity, wasted fuel and the high cost of transporting goods in traffic. Overall as a country, the U.S. ranked fifth.6

The results are mixed when it comes to education rankings. One of the latest rankings placed U.S. 15-year-olds at 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science.7

However, the U.S. ranks highest in “QS World University Rankings by Subject.” The most recent rankings place U.S. higher education institutions at No. 1 in 34 of 48 categories.8

And finally, there is one category in which America excels in vast numbers: The largest number of billionaires. Presently, the world’s billionaires account for a record $9.1 trillion combined, which is up 18 percent from a year ago.9 Seven of the top 10 billionaires in the world call the U.S. home:10

  1. Jeff Bezos (Amazon, U.S.)
  2. Gates (Microsoft, U.S.)
  3. Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway, U.S.)
  4. Bernard Arnault (LVMH, France)
  5. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook, U.S.)
  6. Amancio Ortega (Zara, Spain)
  7. Carlos Slim Helu (telecom, Mexico)
  8. Charles Koch (Koch Industries, U.S.)
  9. David Koch (Koch Industries, U.S.)
  10. Larry Ellison (software, U.S.)

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 Griff Witte and Michael Birnbaum. The Washington Post. Jan. 20, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/a-year-of-trumps-america-first-agenda-has-radically-changed-the-us-role-in-the-world/2018/01/20/c1258aa6-f7cf-11e7-9af7-a50bc3300042_story.html?utm_term=.aa4bcbfc56c0. Accessed March 22, 2018.

2 Klaus Schwab. World Economic Forum. 2017. “The Global Competitiveness Report

2017-2018.” Page ix. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GCR2017-2018/05FullReport/TheGlobalCompetitivenessReport2017-2018.pdf. Accessed March 9, 2018.

3 U.S. News & World Report. 2018. “Overall Best Countries Ranking.” https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/overall-full-list. Accessed March 22, 2018.

4 Deidre McPhillips. U.S. News & World Report. Jan. 23, 2018. “Methodology: How the 2018 Best Countries Were Ranked.” https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/methodology. Accessed March 22, 2018.

5 United Nations. 2017. “World Happiness Report 2017.” http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2017/. Accessed March 9, 2018.

6 INRIX, Inc. Feb. 5, 2018. “Los Angeles Tops INRIX Global Congestion Ranking.” http://inrix.com/press-releases/scorecard-2017/. Accessed March 22, 2018.

7 Drew Desilver. Pew Research Center. Feb. 15, 2017. “U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries.” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/15/u-s-students-internationally-math-science/. Accessed March 9, 2018.

8 Patrick Atack. The Pie News. Feb. 28, 2018. “QS World University Rankings show US still top, but Asia rising.” https://thepienews.com/news/qs-world-university-rankings-show-us-still-top-but-asia-rising/. Accessed March 9, 2018.

9 Luisa Kroll. Forbes. March 6, 2018. “Forbes Billionaires 2018: Meet the Richest People on the Planet.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/luisakroll/2018/03/06/forbes-billionaires-2018-meet-the-richest-people-on-the-planet/#5256507f6523. Accessed March 9, 2018.

10 Forbes. 2018. “The World’s Billionaires.” https://www.forbes.com/billionaires/list/#version:static. Accessed March 9, 2018.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

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The Future of Medicare and Social Security

There is little doubt that Medicare and Social Security are important programs that help older Americans in retirement, particularly now that so many are living beyond previous life expectancy rates. In fact, past models for savings rates may be failing many older Americans, who represent the only demographic seeing significant increases in poverty rates in recent years. Specifically, between 2015 and 2016, the poverty rate for people over 65 grew to 14.5 percent.1

 

While younger Americans may still have time to adapt to higher savings rates, the situation is more complex for people who are already retired. If you’re fortunate enough to live many years after retirement, you’re going to need a well-thought-out retirement income strategy. Using a variety of insurance products, we can help you create a strategy designed to help you to live the kind of retirement you’ve worked hard for. Give us a call so we can sit down and discuss your retirement income goals.

 

If you haven’t yet applied for Social Security, consider developing a strategy to help maximize benefits. If you don’t, you could be leaving money on the table. Here’s an example of why you should consider all your options:

 

Widows and widowers can file for a restricted application to initially claim survivor benefits while delaying their own benefit until age 70. This will allow their personal benefit to grow by approximately 8 percent a year from full retirement age, which is 65 to 67, depending on when they were born (note that survivor benefits do not increase). A recent report published by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General found that beneficiaries who could have used this strategy, but did not, missed out on about $131.8 million in total increased payouts. The study cited one example of a widow who would have received an additional $13,000 in benefits by utilizing this strategy.2

 

Many retirees count on programs like Medicare and Social Security for helping meet their health care and income needs. However, there is some concern about these programs’ financial health. One area of concern is that the programs may not be adequately represented to help shape congressional policy regarding their long-term solvency. There are currently two vacancies on the boards overseeing Social Security and Medicare — seats that have been empty for more than two years.3

 

Meanwhile, starting next year, Medicare recipients with annual incomes higher than $500,000 ($750,000 for couples) are scheduled to pay a higher percentage of their Medicare bills. They will pay 85 percent of the program’s parts B and D costs, up from 80 percent. The average Medicare beneficiary pays around 25 percent of bills. This change was included as part of Congress’ stop-gap budget deal signed into law in February.4

 

As for the future, trustees of both Medicare and Social Security are asking lawmakers to take action to help make sure recipients get full benefits in the future. In their respective 2017 annual reports, Social Security trustees predict that the trust fund will run out by 2034, which will trigger a projected 23 percent reduction in benefits, and Medicare trustees expect the trust fund for Part A to be depleted by 2029, at which point it would only be able to pay out 88 percent of expected benefits.5

 

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

 

1 Alana Semuels. The Atlantic. Feb. 22, 2018. “This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like.” https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/02/pensions-safety-net-california/553970/?utm_source=fbb. Accessed March 1, 2018.

2 Ray Martin. CBS News. Feb. 22, 2018. “Social Security underpays thousands of widows and widowers.” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/social-security-underpays-thousands-of-widows-and-widowers/?ftag=CNM-00-10aab7e&linkId=48472768. Accessed March 1, 2018.

3 Charles P. Blahous III and Robert Reischauer. Rollcall.com. Jan. 22, 2018. “Opinion: Now More Than Ever, Social Security and Medicare Need Their Public Trustees.” https://www.rollcall.com/news/opinion/avoid-crisis-confidence-medicare-needs-public-trustees. Accessed March 1, 2018.

4 Brittany De Lea. Feb. 27, 2018. “Medicare beneficiaries with higher incomes to foot bigger share of costs.” https://www.foxbusiness.com/features/medicare-beneficiaries-with-higher-incomes-to-foot-bigger-share-of-costs. Accessed March 1, 2018.

5 Donna Borak. CNN Money. July 13, 2017. “Social Security trust fund projected to tap out in 17 years.” http://money.cnn.com/2017/07/13/news/economy/social-security-trust-fund-projection/index.html. Accessed March 27, 2018.

 

We are able to provide you with information but not guidance or advice related to Social Security benefits. Our firm is not affiliated with the U.S. government or any governmental agency.

 

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

 

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Ways to Avoid Financial Scams

According to a recent survey, about two-thirds of adults age 70 and older fall for online scammers. Here are some tips to remember about some of the latest frauds:1

  • Medicare does not employ “sales representatives.”
  • Apple and Microsoft do not sell virus protection software for your computer.
  • There is no African prince from Nigeria who needs your help (and your money).

 

 

Another recent scam hails from people posing as Amazon customer service representatives on the phone. If you Google a customer support phone number for Amazon, there are a lot of fake ones out there. If you call one of the fake numbers, a representative might ask you for your bank account or credit card information. The best way to contact Amazon is via live chat on Amazon.com. If you need the general support telephone number, it’s 888.280.4331.2

Be aware that scammers frequently prey on older adults. It’s important to remember that if you didn’t initiate the call, you can’t be sure you’re talking to a legitimate source — so don’t give out any personal information. Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help deal with potential fraudsters:3

  • Don’t give the caller personal information, especially not your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number, unless you’ve verified who you’re talking to. If someone has contacted you, you can’t be sure who they are. It’s better if you initiate the call using the phone number printed on your statement.
  • Don’t trust a name or phone number. Con artists make up official-sounding names to make you trust them. To make their calls seem legitimate, scammers may use your local area code or one from Washington, D.C., so it appears on your caller ID like they’re calling from the government. In reality, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
  • If you’re ever suspicious about a scam related to your Social Security benefits, contact the Social Security Administration directly at 800.772.1213.

 

 

There also are scams that target people on a larger scale. Specifically, some financial services firms have become vulnerable by employees clicking on links provided by phishing emails. Once opened, hackers can use them as a gateway to access the firm’s client database. Recently, this new online financial scam has cost victims an average of about $130,000 per instance.4

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) implemented a new rule starting on Feb. 5 of this year. It gives brokers some protections so they may feel free to report the potential exploitation of an elderly client and even place a temporary hold on any account withdrawals the client may request if it seems suspicious. Furthermore, some states have adopted a North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) rule making it mandatory to report a suspicious incident.5

There are currently a couple of bills being considered in Congress that would provide liability protection for financial advisers, brokers and other financial professionals who report cases of suspected elder abuse.6 In fact, one amendment to a current securities rule requires brokers to request that clients provide contact information for a person they trust. This is so that the broker can alert that person if he or she thinks the older client might be a victim of fraud or even poor judgment due to mental decline.7

 

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 Beth Kobliner. Jan. 25, 2018. “How can I protect my older parent from online scams?” http://www.bethkobliner.com/budget/protect-older-parent-online-scams/. Accessed Feb. 22, 2018.

2 CBS News. Feb. 20, 2018. “Amazon customer service scam targets your financial data.” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/amazon-customer-service-scam-targets-your-financial-data/. Accessed Feb. 22, 2018.

3 Ari Lazerus. Federal Trade Commission. Jan. 26, 2018. “Scammers impersonate the Social Security Administration.” https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/01/scammers-impersonate-social-security-administration. Accessed Feb. 22, 2018.

4 Darla Mercado. CNBC. Feb. 2, 2018. “New online financial scam costs victims $130K per attack.” https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/02/new-online-financial-scam-costs-victims-130k-per-attack.html. Accessed Feb. 22, 2018.

5 Mark Schoeff Jr. Investment News. Jan. 30, 2018. “House approves legislation to help advisers combat senior exploitation.” http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20180130/FREE/180139993/house-approves-legislation-to-help-advisers-combat-senior. Accessed Feb. 22, 2018.

6 Ibid.

7 Sarah O’Brien. CNBC. Jan. 30, 2018. “New broker rules aim to curb elder fraud.” https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/30/new-broker-rules-aim-to-curb-elder-fraud.html. Accessed Feb. 22, 2018.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

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Insights Into Cybercrime

Although it’s taken a back seat to domestic concerns over the past year, cybercrime is still on the rise. Attacks such as “Wannacry” shut down health care systems and businesses across the globe in 2017,1 and the World Economic Forum estimates cybercrimes cost the global economy about $445 billion a year. 2

It is a unifying issue that has countries large and small sharing resources and building defense mechanisms to thwart attacks.3

It’s easy to view hacking as something that impacts only large companies. However, data is a valuable commodity, whether it’s stolen from a home computer or a company’s customer database.

In 2017, there were 1,579 data breaches in the U.S. alone. That may not sound like many, but those breaches yielded close to 179 million exposed consumer records. The Yahoo breach in October 2017 resulted in 3 billion compromised records.4

Because headlines focus more frequently on theft of personal data from corporations, it may seem like there’s nothing an individual person can do to prevent it. But we can and should deploy the protections cybersecurity experts recommend, such as using complex passwords and changing them often, installing and regularly updating anti-virus software, not clicking on suspicious links and being wary of paying bills and making other financial transactions on public Wi-Fi networks.5

Two of the biggest current cybercrime issues in the U.S. appear to be the prospect of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the use of targeted social media to influence voters with false news information. Several popular social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, have come under attack for not adequately policing participants and messages of hate, racism, terrorism and other forms of abuse.6

This year, the World Economic Forum announced the formation of The Global Centre for Cybersecurity. This effort is designed to facilitate faster, more effective information sharing between nations and private technology companies to help combat cybercrime. The center will focus on consolidating existing cybersecurity initiatives, creating a centralized library of cyber best practices, establishing a regulatory framework for cybersecurity and anticipating cybersecurity risk scenarios and solutions for the future.7

One of the proven ways to help protect our finances is through insurance. We protect our homes, our health, our cars and our businesses. It also may be worth considering ways to protect our future retirement income through the use of insurance products, such as annuities. Please contact us if you’d like to learn more.

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 Danny Palmer. Zdnet.com. Jan. 26, 2018. “Ransomware: Is time running out for the biggest menace on the web?” http://www.zdnet.com/article/ransomware-is-time-running-out-for-the-biggest-menace-on-the-web/. Accessed Feb. 12, 2018.

2 World Economic Forum. “Cybercrime.” https://www.weforum.org/projects/cybercrime. Accessed Feb. 12, 2018.

3 Ibid.

4 Statistica.com. “U.S. consumers and cyber crime – Statistics & Facts.” https://www.statista.com/topics/2588/us-consumers-and-cyber-crime/. Accessed Feb. 28, 2018.

5 Iowa State Bank. “Cyber Crime and How It Affects You.” https://iowastatebank.net/cyber-crime-and-how-it-effects-you/. Accessed Feb. 12, 2018.

6 Aoife White. Bloomberg. Jan. 23, 2018. “Facebook Will ‘Do Better’ to Stem Abuse, Sandberg Vows.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-23/facebook-will-do-better-to-stem-internet-abuses-sandberg-vows. Accessed Feb. 12, 2018.

7 World Economic Forum. Jan. 24, 2018. “To Prevent a Digital Dark Age: World Economic Forum Launches Global Centre for Cybersecurity.” https://www.weforum.org/press/2018/01/to-prevent-a-digital-dark-age-world-economic-forum-launches-global-centre-for-cybersecurity/. Accessed Feb. 12, 2018.

Guarantees and protections provided by insurance products including annuities are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance carrier.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

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Digital Tools for Tax Season

Tax season is upon us. According to the IRS, about 90 percent of taxpayers now file their taxes electronically. The agency touts the service as more accurate, convenient and secure than paper claims, and people usually receive their tax refunds faster.

The IRS offers free tax filing assistance to filers who earn $54,000 a year or less, and people age 60 or older.1 For those who prefer to complete their own returns, there are several helpful resources at IRS.gov.

At the website, you can find an electronic copy of Publication 17, which provides the general rules for filing a federal income tax return. There also is an “Interactive Tax Assistant” that provides answers to frequently asked questions on a variety of topics, such as whether you need to file a return, who you can claim as a dependent and whether you’re eligible to claim an education credit.2

Once you’ve filed a return, you can monitor the status of a refund within 24 hours of IRS receipt using the “Where’s My Refund?” tool. It is located at the IRS.gov website, or you can download the IRS2Go mobile app.3 For a general idea of when you’ll receive a refund based on when you submitted your return, check out the table here.4

If you have questions or would like help completing your taxes, we can refer you to one of the experienced tax professionals within our network. It’s a good idea to work collaboratively with your tax professional and your financial professional in order to help maximize opportunities for tax savings.

For a comparison and ratings of some of the most popular online tax services, check out PC magazine’s review of the “Best Tax Software of 2018.” The rundown includes H&R Block, TaxAct, TaxSlayer and Intuit TurboTax Deluxe, among others.5

While working to complete your tax return by the April 17 deadline, it’s a good time to start considering rules that will be changing for 2018. For example, deductibility of interest on home equity loans and lines of credit (HELOCs) will apply only on loans used to buy, build or substantially improve a home.6

 

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 IRS.gov. Feb. 6, 2018. “Six Reasons to E-file.” https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/six-reasons-to-e-file. Accessed Feb. 6, 2018.

2 IRS.gov. Jan. 29, 2018. “IRS Tax Tips 2018-14: Check Out These Three Tools on IRS.gov.” https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USIRS/bulletins/1d6b25e. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.

3 Ibid.

4 Isaac M. O’Bannon. CPA Practice Advisor. Dec. 28, 2017. “2018 IRS Income Tax Refund Chart – When Will I Get My Tax Refund?” http://www.cpapracticeadvisor.com/news/12370552/2018-irs-income-tax-refund-chart-when-will-i-get-my-tax-refund. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.

5 Kathy Yakal. PC. Feb. 9, 2018. “The Best Tax Software of 2018.” https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1904319,00.asp. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.

6 Suzanne Woolley. Bloomberg. Jan. 29, 2018. “How to Game Next Year’s Taxes Now.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-29/eight-ways-to-prepare-for-the-new-tax-law. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

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