Quarterly Letter to Clients

Well, we made it to 2021 so how are you feeling?  The start of a new year can breed hope for new possibilities.  Even though 2020 was oppressive to most in so many ways, I do think we can still hold hope for the new year.  I have never been one to focus on New Year’s resolutions as they always felt like a recipe for disappointment (I know that is not the case for everyone, though).  What I am striving for this year is not new resolutions, but rather strengthening routines.  Routines feel more in my control, and if 2020 taught anything, it is to control what we can control.  One of these areas for me is to practice gratitude.  I have begun by thinking of 3 things I am grateful for each night before I go to sleep.  It is refreshing and encouraging to think on these things.  When we talk later this year, feel free to check on my progress with this.  This is just one small example, and I am sure that you have others that jump to your mind.  Let me encourage you to pursue practices like this for the sake of your own mental health in 2021.

Speaking of control…

You likely have heard us say in the past that market performance is not an area that any of us have control.  Because of this, it is wasted energy to focus and worry about market movements.  You should spend that energy doing things you can control: spend less than what you make, avoid debt, build cash reserves, plan your generosity and plan your future – practical principals that have an outsized impact on your life.

Small, quiet acts

Whether the temptation is to abandon a free-falling market (like the one we encountered less than a year ago), or chase after winning streaks, an investor’s best move remains the same.  Concentrated bets on hot hands generate erratic outcomes, which makes them far closer to being dicey gambles than sturdy investments.  Trust instead in the durability of your carefully planned investment portfolio. Focus instead on small, quiet acts.  That is what we are here for, for example, to:  
  • – Remind you that your globally diversified portfolio already holds an appropriate allocation to Tesla stock (which may be a lot, a little, or none, depending on your financial goals.
 
  • – Guide you in rebalancing your portfolio if recent gains have overexposed it to market risks.
 
  • – Help you interpret the 5,600 pages of the newly passed Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, so you can manage your next financial moves accordingly.
 
  • – Assess potential ramifications of the Biden tax proposals and advise you on any additional defensive tax planning that may be warranted for you in the years ahead.
 
  •  -Remain by your side as you encounter whatever other challenges and opportunities 2021 has in store for you and your family.
  These are not loud acts that you will read about in the paper, but they are the stuff financial dreams are made of.  2021 will be interesting to say the least, but let’s hold onto the hope and possibility that a new year brings.  Stay healthy, stay grateful and know that we are here to help.   Josh, Mike, Matt and Sandra  

Open letter regarding current events…

To our clients, friends, and colleagues,

We hope this note finds you well in the midst of turbulent times.  We want to recognize the difficulty of the past couple of weeks; in fact, 2020 has been a hard year for almost everyone.  As a firm, PLC Wealth is devastated to see the haphazard destruction of life, the mindless assault on personal livelihoods and property, and the highlighted human suffering.  We stand with all those on the side of liberty and justice, affirming the American declaration ‘that all men are created equal.’  We hope you all stay safe and healthy in these uncertain times, and as always, please let us know if there is anything that we can do to help.

Your PLC Wealth Team

April 2020 – Quarterly Update: Covid-19 Edition

This will be the quarter that we look back on and never forget.  It was the time that a virus spread with a silent vengeance, and the world came to a screeching halt.  You may be feeling quite disoriented, fearful or even anxious as you read this note since ‘normal’ for all of us has been shaken to its core due to Covid-19. You are likely hunkering down at home, which is what you should do, with little of your regular activities to keep you busy.  If you are like me, it literally feels like the earth has stopped spinning on its axis.  Up is down, and right is left.  Trust me when I say that it is completely normal to feel this way in the context of what we are dealing with as a human species.

I do not come to you with answers or any conclusions that will change the world…there are people that are much smarter than me working on that now, and I have confidence that they will figure it out.  But I can bring some encouragement and suggest some small actions that might, just maybe, help us feel like planet earth is starting to rotate once again.

What can you do?

The spread of Covid-19 has impacted the global economy with a speed and impact that is unlike anything seen in our lifetime.  This does not mean that happiness and contentment are totally out of your control, however.  Mindset is key…start by realizing that the sun still rises every morning like the picture at the top of the article.  There is new hope with each new day.  I am sure you have found, as have I, that there is now more time to watch movies, read a book, take a distance-appropriate walk to enjoy the spring weather or call someone (yes, actually call them rather than text) to see how they are doing.

If you are sheltering at home with loved ones, you have probably seen them more in the last two weeks than you have for months.  We should all continue to do more of these things, and the more we do, the more connected we will stay.  I am not a loquacious extrovert, but I have thoroughly enjoyed being around and talking with the ones I care most about.  And the more connected we stay, the more human we will feel.  This is where happiness and contentment hide, not in your investment portfolio or the latest round of news.

What are we doing?

Actions taken during times of fear in the markets will have implications for years to come.  The question is whether they will be positive or negative.  For the long-term investors, which are clients that we serve, volatility creates opportunity.  We have taken advantage of this opportunity by tax loss harvesting, which allows us to realize the losses for tax savings, but then invest the proceeds right back in something else so the money is never out of the market.  The tax savings for our clients this year will be significant.  We have also looked to strategically rebalance portfolios.  Because some of the fixed income assets have gains over the last year, we have sold those gains to go buy equity funds that are now at a discount.  It rebalances the ship and holds to the strategy of selling high and buying low.

What is next?

The fact is, I don’t know.  No one does, but that’s OK.  We are still waiting on the details of the massive Stimulus bill that was signed into law on March 27th.  There are too many details for me to summarize here.  If you want a deep dive in to the details, you can find that here.  I plan to write more on this soon, but if you have any questions about this, please do not hesitate to call our office.  We are all working remotely, but the extensions still ring right to us.  Know that we are here to help in this time of uncertainty.  Your well-being is of greatest concern to us, and not just financially.  Be safe, be smart, and be part of the global solution for everyone by staying home.

We will see you soon,

 

Josh, Mike, Matt and Sandra

Donor Advised Funds – Doing good, wisely

July 10, 2018

By Josh Self

No matter how the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) may alter your tax planning, we’d like to believe one thing will remain the same: With or without a tax write-off, many Americans will still want to give generously to the charities of their choice. After all, financial incentives aren’t usually your main motivation for giving. We give to support the causes we cherish. We give because we’re grateful for the good fortune we’ve enjoyed. We give because generosity is something we value. Good giving feels great – for donor and recipient alike.

That said, a tax break can feel good too, and it may help you give more than you otherwise could. Enter the donor-advised fund (DAF) as a potential tool for continuing to give meaningfully and tax-efficiently under the new tax law.

What’s Changed About Charitable Giving?

To be clear, the TCJA has not eliminated the charitable deduction. You can still take it when you itemize your deductions. But the law has limited or eliminated several other itemized deductions, and it’s roughly doubled the standard deduction (now $12,000 for single and $24,000 for joint filers). With these changes, there will be far fewer times it will make sense to itemize your deductions instead of just taking the now-higher standard allowance, though we believe that with a generally-lower tax burden, many of our clients will have the capacity to give more, not less, due to these tax changes.

This introduces a new incentive to consider batching up your deductible expenses, so they can periodically “count” toward reducing your taxes due – at least in the years you’ve got enough itemized deductions to exceed your standard deduction.

For example, if you usually donate $8,000 annually to charity, you could instead donate $40,000 once every five years. Combined with other deductibles, you might then be able to take a nice tax write-off that year, which may generate (or be generated by) other tax-planning possibilities.

What Can a DAF Do for You?

DAFs are not new; they’ve been around since the 1930s. But they’ve been garnering more attention as a potentially appropriate tax-planning tool under the TCJA. Here’s how they work:

  1. Make a sizeable donation to a DAF. Donating to a DAF, which acts like a “charitable bank,” is one way to batch up your deductions for tax-wise giving. But remember: DAF contributions are irrevocable. You cannot change your mind and later reclaim the funds.
  2. Deduct the full amount in the year you fund the DAF. DAFs are established by nonprofit sponsoring organizations, so your entire contribution is available for the maximum allowable deduction in the year you make it. Plus, once you’ve funded a DAF, the sponsor typically invests the assets, and any returns they earn are tax-free. This can give your initial donation more giving-power over time.
  3. Participate in granting DAF assets to your charities of choice. Over time, and as the name “donor-advised fund” suggests, you get to advise the DAF’s sponsoring organization on when to grant assets, and where those grants will go.

Thus, donating through a DAF may be preferred if you want to make a relatively sizeable donation for tax-planning or other purposes; you’d like to retain a say over what happens next to those assets; and you’re not yet ready to allocate all the money to your favorite causes.

Another common reason people turn to a DAF is to donate appreciated assets, such as real estate or stocks in kind (without selling them first), when your intended recipients can only accept cash/liquid donations. The American Endowment Foundation offers this 2015 “Donor Advised Fund Summary for Donors,” with additional reasons a DAF may appeal – with or without its newest potential tax benefits.

Beyond DAFs

A DAF isn’t for everyone. Along the spectrum of charitable giving choices, they’re relatively easy and affordable to establish, while still offering some of the benefits of a planned giving vehicle. As such, they fall somewhere between simply writing a check, versus taking on the time, costs and complexities of a charitable remainder trust, charitable lead trust, or private foundation.  If it is appropriate for your situation, we are happy to discuss planned giving vehicles with you too.

How Do You Differentiate DAFs?

If you decide a DAF would be useful to your cause, and might be a helpful part of your financial plan, the next step is to select an organization to sponsor your contribution. Sponsors typically fall into three types:

  1. Public charities established by financial providers, like Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard
  2. Independent national organizations, like the American Endowment Foundation and National Philanthropic Trust
  3. “Single issue” entities, like religious, educational or emergency aid organizations

Within and among these categories, DAFs are not entirely interchangeable. Whether you’re being guided by a professional advisor or you’re managing the selection process on your own, it’s worth doing some due diligence before you fund a DAF. Here are some key considerations:

Minimums – Different DAFs have different minimums for opening an account. For example, one sponsor may require $5,000 to get started, while another may have a higher threshold.

Fees – As with any investment account, expect administration fees. Just make sure they’re fair and transparent, so they don’t eat up all the benefits of having a DAF to begin with.

Acceptable Assets – Most DAFs will let you donate cash as well as stocks. Some may also accept other types of assets, such as real estate, private equity or insurance.

Grant-Giving Policies – Some grant-giving policies are more flexible than others. For example, single-entity organizations may require that a percentage of your grants go to their cause, or only to local or certain kinds of causes. Some may be more specific than others on the minimum size and/or maximum frequency of your grant requests. Some have simplified the grant-making process through online automation; others have not.

Investment Policies – DAF assets are typically invested in the market, so they can grow tax-free over time. But some investments are far more advisable than others for building long-term giving power! How much say will you have on investment selections? If you’re already working with a wealth advisor, it can make good sense to choose a DAF that lets your advisor manage these account assets in a prudent, fiduciary manner.  PLC Wealth employs an evidence-based investment strategy for all our managed assets.

Transfer and Liquidation Policies – What happens to your DAF account when you die? Some sponsors allow you to name successors if you’d like to continue the account in perpetuity. Some allow you to name charitable organizations as beneficiaries. Some have a formula for distributing assets to past grant recipients. Some will roll the assets into their own endowment. (Most will at least do this as a last resort if there are no successors or past grant recipients.) Also, what if you decide you’d like to transfer your DAF to a different sponsoring organization during your lifetime? Find out if the organization you have in mind permits it.

Deciding on Your Definitive DAF

Selecting an ideal DAF sponsor for your tax planning and charitable intent usually involves a process of elimination. To narrow the field, decide which DAF features matter the most to you, and which ones may be deal breakers.

If you’re working with a wealth advisor such as PLC Wealth Management, we hope you’ll lean on us to help you make a final selection, and meld it into your greater personal and financial goals. As Wharton Professor and “Give and Take” author Adam Grant has observed, “The most meaningful way to succeed is to help others succeed.” That’s one reason we’re here: to help you successfully incorporate the things that last – like generosity – into your lifestyle.

Reflections on 2018 and the stock markets renewed volatility…

If you were a member of the popular press, you’d probably be happy with 2018’s first quarter performance. At last – some volatility fueling news1 in early February, with plenty of enticing “largest,” “fastest,” and “worst” market superlatives to savor after a long, languid lull.

As usual, there are plenty of potential culprits to point to among current events: global trade wars heating up, the arrival of quantitative tightening (rising interest rates), troubles in tech-land over data privacy concerns, ongoing Brexit talks, and some interesting events over in the Koreas. At quarter-end, one hopeful journalist asked, “Is the Bear Market Here Yet?2 Another observed: “[T]he number of [Dow Jones Industrial Average] sessions with a 1% move so far in 2018 are more than double 2017’s tally, and it isn’t even April.”3

Has the coverage left you wondering about your investments? Most markets have been steaming ahead so well for so long, even a modest misstep may have you questioning whether you should “do something,” in case the ride gets rougher still.

If we’ve done our job of preparing clients and their portfolio for market jitters, clients may might be able to cite back to us why they’ve already done all they can do to manage the volatility, and why it’s ultimately expected to be good news for evidence-based investors anyway. Remember, if there were never any real market risk, you couldn’t expect extra returns for your risk tolerance.

That said, you may have forgotten – or never experienced – how awful the last round of extreme volatility felt during the Great Recession. Insights from behavioral finance tell us that our brain’s ingrained biases cause us to gloss over those painful times, and panic all over again when they recur, long before our rational resolve has time to kick in.

If you noticed the news, but you’re okay with where you’re at, that’s great. If the volatility is bothering you, talk to a CFP® professional or other qualified financial professional; it may help ease your angst. If you continue to struggle with whether you made the right decisions during quieter markets, plan a rational shift to better reflect your real risk tolerances and cash-flow requirements. Not only is your peace of mind at least as important as the dollars in your account, you could end up worse off if you’ve taken on more risk than you can bear in pursuit of higher expected returns.

As Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig said during the February dip: “A happy few investors … may have long-term thinking built into them by nature. The rest of us have to cultivate it by nurture.”  We couldn’t agree more, and we consider it our duty and privilege to advise you accordingly, through every market hiccup.

Reflections on a Happy Thanksgiving

What makes you happy?  As we wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on this timeless question.

You probably already realize that piles of possessions by themselves aren’t enough. But it may be less clear what does generate enduring happiness and how we, as your trusted advisor, might be one of your core alliances for discovering it.

First, let’s define what we’re talking about. We are fond of this description by “The Happiness Advantage” author, popular TED Talk presenter, and Harvard researcher Shawn Achor:

Happiness … isn’t just about feeling good,
it’s about the joy we feel while striving after our potential.”

Such a simple statement, but it’s packed with profound insights.  To take this even further, I believe that we get closer to our potential when we focus more on others rather than our own well being.  That is, being generous towards others plays a big part in achieving sustained contentment and joy.  It is quite the paradox (that we get the most when we give the most), but it has been believed through the ages and proven more recently in the research.

Happiness isn’t about indulging in fleeting pleasures.

In fact, it’s closer to the opposite of that. If you can only be happy once you’ve “scored,” you are limiting your joy to isolated incidents instead of weaving it into the fabric of your life.

You can still be happy, even when life isn’t all puppies and rainbows.

Distinguishing enduring happiness from occasional pleasures frees us to enjoy even our most challenging experiences, and to savor them as among our fondest memories. It’s why we may willingly burn the midnight oil on a project of deep interest. Pay a personal trainer to push us harder than we’ve ever gone before. Volunteer our hearts and minds to others in need. Give birth.

Everyone has different sources of happiness, but the joy it can spread is universal.

In a world that sometimes seems increasingly polarized, a greater appreciation for happiness might just bring us closer together. As Achor comments: “Joy makes us want to invest more deeply in the people around us. … It makes us want to learn more about our communities. It makes us want to be able to find ways of being able to make this a better external world for all of us.”

By coming together to focus on what sustains us – an optimistic outlook, value-driven action, meaningful relationships – therein we can find greater happiness. That’s what the evidence suggests, anyway.

Again, we wish you a most Happy Thanksgiving!