Category Archives: FINANCIAL PLANNING

Philanthropic Analysis Paralysis

Face it, many of us “wonks” (which I lovingly use) in the philanthropic sector have become enamored with being able to measure things. We also like to complain a lot when we can’t measure something.

Lately, all of the talk has been on the various ways to measure an organizational outcome. Under Ken Berger’s leadership, Charity Navigator has set a new course and begun studying ways to incorporate measurement of outcomes into their charity rating system. I applaud Ken and Charity Navigator and believe that for too long, we have not been focusing donor attention on the entire picture. It is inherently good to ask the question, “How effective have you been at actually achieving the thing we’ve been giving you money for?”. To be able to create mechanisms that address that question could potentially have a huge impact and be a game changing moment for the nonprofit sector.

In my work as an investment adviser, I choose investments to put money into. For the most part, I frankly don’t care how much a company spent on advertising expenses or other overhead costs, I care about their earnings. I care about their dividend. I care whether the company is growing or contracting. I care how much market share they have relative to their competitors. These and other things tell me how healthy a company is. While it is useful to compare the overhead of Home Depot to Lowes, it is pointless in my opinion to compare it to Johnson & Johnson if you are interested in the metrics of the home improvement business. They do completely different things. Measuring the right things is something that we’ve done a poor job at and it seems like good people are committed to making real improvements to how we track effectiveness. This is long overdue. Have we missed something along the way though?

When I first started becoming interested in philanthropy as part of my business, I wanted to help charities tell the planned giving story. When I went to become a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional, I saw the tax wizardry of Charitable Remainder Trusts and was amazed when I saw that one could potentially leave more money to heirs through the use of these and other kinds of charitable vehicles. I thought, “Wow, why doesn’t everyone know about this?” I felt that many more people would give to charity if they knew what kind of tax benefit they could get and that if heirs actually wound up receiving more in the process, well that would certainly be a win for everyone but the government. Over time, I learned that while many people do give for tax reasons, more give because they are inspired to do so for one reason or another. They give from their heart. They give to give something back or to make a difference.

While the measurement issue is a critical one, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we also need to be focused on showing people the way into philanthropy. We need to be creating opportunities to make new philanthropists by showing the world that we all make a difference and have the ability to do so. I discovered philanthropy. A business coach asked me to write my own eulogy. After a few minutes of sitting there, staring at him, and thinking about the question, I answered. I said, “I guess I would want people to say I made a difference…” The rest is history.

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The Taxpayer Certainty and Relief Act of 2009

BAUCUS UNVEILS LEGISLATION TO PROVIDE TAX CERTAINTY, RELIEF TO MIDDLE INCOME FAMILIES
Finance Chairman’s proposal makes permanent middle income tax rates, child tax credit, fixes estate tax and AMT for all Americans

Washington, DC – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) today announced legislation that would make existing tax breaks permanent for working families and individuals including the child tax credit, marriage penalty relief, and lower middle-income tax rates among other provisions. The measures were originally passed as part of tax legislation in 2001 and 2003, but are set to expire in 2010. Baucus unveiled his proposal after a Finance Committee hearing today that examined the affect of the current economy and the U.S. tax code on America’s middle class.

“Today we’re offering a piece of certainty during an uncertain time for millions of hard-working, honest Americans. These measures are not excessive or outrageous, but timely and targeted, and will build on earlier efforts to stabilize the economy,” said Baucus. “By guaranteeing a little extra cash in the pocket of working moms and dads, and by making sure that the AMT and the estate tax can move with the economy, we avoid sweeping tax increases for millions of American families. By promising spouses tax fairness in marriage, giving help to those helping others through adoption, and by giving lower-wage workers confidence at a critical time, we can restore our footing, and begin to climb back to a position of national strength and economic security.”

Original co-sponsors of the Baucus legislation include Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

Elements of the Baucus proposal include:

– Permanent protection for more than 20 million Americans from being hit by the alternative minimum tax

– A measure to make permanent the 10, 25, and 28 percent individual tax rates, as established by the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001

– Permanence of the income eligibility threshold for the child tax credit, recently set at $3,000 by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, to give families up to $1,000 for every child under age 17

– For taxpayers in the 10, 15, 25, and 28 percent tax brackets, a proposal to make permanent a reduced tax rate on capital gains and dividends, as established in the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Act of 2003 and extended by the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005

– Permanence of the marriage penalty relief provision, so that married couples will not be taxed more severely filing jointly than they would as two single persons filing separately

– Estate tax relief, making permanent 2009 levels for taxation of family possessions and property. The measure would also index exemption amounts for inflation

– Makes permanent the 45 percent credit rate for the refundable earned income tax credit for lower wage taxpayers with three or more children, as passed in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

– Permanent expanded assistance for families that adopt a child including a $10,000 tax credit per eligible child

– Makes permanent the 35 percent credit rate for child care expenses up to $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children
The Taxpayer Certainty and Relief Act of 2009

I. Permanent Middle Class Tax Relief

Individual Tax Rates. Current ordinary income tax rates are imposed at 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, and 35%. These tax rates expire at the end of 2010. The proposal would make permanent the 10, 25, and 28% tax rates. (The 15% tax rate is already permanent law.)

Capital Gains and Dividends. The proposal would make permanent the reduced tax rate on capital gains and dividends for taxpayers in the 10, 15, 25, and 28 percent brackets. The 2003 tax bill created a new tax rate of 15 percent (5 percent for low-and middle-income taxpayers, going to zero percent in 2008) for dividends. Prior to passage of this bill, dividends were taxed at ordinary income rates. The 2003 bill also reduced the capital gains tax rate from 20 percent (10 percent for low- and middle-income taxpayers) to 15 percent (5 percent for low- and middle-income taxpayers, going to zero percent in 2008). These reduced tax rates were originally set to expire at the end of 2008, but were extended until the end of 2010 in the “Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005” (TIPRA).

Child Tax Credit. Generally, a taxpayer may claim the child tax credit to reduce income tax liability by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child under the age of 17. If the amount of a taxpayer’s child tax credit is greater than the amount of the taxpayer’s income tax liability, the taxpayer may receive a refund if the income threshold is met. The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 set the income threshold for child tax credit refundability at $10,000 (indexed). The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act decreased the threshold for the 2009 and 2010 tax years to $3,000. The proposal would make these changes to the child tax credit permanent.

Marriage Penalty. A “marriage penalty” exists when the combined tax liability of a married couple filing a joint return is greater than the sum of the tax liabilities of each individual computed as if they were not married. A “marriage bonus” exists when the exemption amounts and rate brackets are larger for the joint returns filed by married couples than for singles’ returns. As part of the 2001 tax cuts, the standard deduction for married filers was scheduled to increase annually until 2009. In addition, the bill eliminated the marriage penalty in the 15% tax bracket and for the earned income tax credit. The marriage penalty relief expires on December 31, 2010. The proposal would make the marriage penalty relief permanent.

Dependent and Child Care Credit. The dependent care credit allows a taxpayer a credit for paid child care expenses for qualifying children under the age of 13 and disabled dependents. The credit is 35% of eligible expenses. This rate decreases by 1% for each $2,000 of income above $15,000, but the rate never falls below 20%. Eligible expenses are limited to $3,000 for one child, and $6,000 for two or more children. (After 2010, the amount of eligible expenses returns to the pre-2001 amounts of $2,400 for one child and $4,800 for two or more. In addition, the 35% credit rate decreases to 30% and the income threshold decreases to $10,000.) The proposal would make 2009 law permanent.

Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is a refundable tax credit available to low wage workers. Because the credit is refundable, a taxpayer will receive a refund if the amount of the EITC is greater than the amount of the income tax liability or if no income tax liability exists. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased the credit rate for taxpayers with three or more children from 40% to 45% and increased the phase out range for all married couples filing a joint return (regardless of the number of children) by $1,880. The proposal would make these changes permanent.

Adoption Credit and Adoption Assistance Programs. Current law allows a maximum adoption credit of $10,000 per eligible child and a maximum exclusion of $10,000 per eligible child. These benefits are phased-out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income in excess of certain dollar levels. These tax incentives go back to $5,000 per child ($6,000 for child with special needs) after 2010. The proposal would make 2009 law permanent.
II. Permanent Alternative Minimum Tax Fix

For the 2009 tax year, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided a patch for the AMT, setting the exemption amount at $46,700 (individuals) and $70,950 (married filing jointly), and allowed the personal credits against the AMT. When this patch expires, the exemption amounts will return to $33,750 (individuals) and $45,000 (married filing jointly) and the personal credits will not be allowed against the AMT. The proposal would make the 2009 exemption levels permanent and index them for inflation. In addition, the proposal will permanently allow the personal credits against the AMT.
III. Permanent Estate Tax Relief

Under current law, U.S. citizens and residents must pay taxes on transfers of property both during life and at death. These taxes are due under three separate tax systems: the estate tax, the generation-transfer skipping tax, and the gift tax. Currently, the top tax rate for all three taxes is 45%. Both the estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes currently have a $3.5 million exemption for individuals ($7 million for couples). The gift tax has an exemption of $1 million ($2 million for couples). For the 2010 tax year, the estate and generation skipping transfer taxes are repealed. In the same year, the gift tax rate will fall to 35%. In 2011, the estate, generation skipping transfer, and gift taxes are scheduled to revert back to pre-2001 levels, with an exemption of $1 million, a 55% rate, and a 5% surtax on large estates.

The proposal would make permanent the 2009 estate, gift, and generation skipping transfer tax laws going forward and index the exemption amount. The proposal would also reunify the estate and gift taxes. In addition, the proposal would allow portability of exemption for spouses. Finally, the proposal would increase the amount available under the special use valuation revaluation to equal the estate tax exemption.

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The 5 Steps to Buying Your Happiness in Recessionary Times

President Harry S. Truman once said; “Recession is when a neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.” While you may not have lost your job, more than likely, there’s a good chance you have lost a lot of money in your portfolio and are probably wondering what to do. It doesn’t matter if you are a business, individual, or charity, it seems as if all groups have lost faith in the buy and hold philosophy, and many are beginning to wonder if their advisers are actually doing anything to help them. Before you fire your adviser, put everything into cash under your mattress, and hunker down for nuclear Armageddon, there are a few things you should understand about how investments ideally should work within your plan, the role of advisers on your team, and important questions you should be asking whether you invest on your own, or you have someone helping you.

Revisit Your Goals
What’s important to you? If you found out you only had 6 months to live, what would you want to do in your life? Try writing your own eulogy. How would you want to be remembered? What would you want people to say about you? By starting with the important questions of life, you can get a really clear gut check and determine if you are actually doing what you want to do in your life. What are the things that came up? Often, we have limiting assumptions about what is possible in life. We use phrases like; “Some time, some day, if only blah, blah, blah”. When you take the time to have these conversations with yourself (or an adviser), frequently our real values get uncovered and we identify things we’ve always wanted to do. For example, many people say, “I’d want to spend more time with family”, or “I’d want to travel”. Once you have a list of these things, then then think about the reasons or excuses you’ve been making on why now isn’t the time. Usually this sounds like “I don’t have the money”, or “I’m to busy”.

Prioritize Your Goals
OK, so if not now, when? How much is enough? When will be the day? Perhaps you’ve achieved success in your business but you simply just don’t want to be bored with a “traditional retirement”. The important thing to consider here is WHEN. While some goals might seem crazy, no worries, just write them down. Ideally, when would you want to spend more time with family? What would you do? Where would you travel? Start to create some ideal time frames for the things that you said were important to you. Don’t worry about whether you think they are realistic at this point, just recognize that spending more time with your family WOULD make you happy, and write it down. Keep doing this exercise until you have at least 10 items on your list. Once you have the items listed, then prioritize them in order of importance. I like using index cards to do this since it allows you to move things around as you think of new things. Now ask yourself which of your goals you would be willing to give up in exchange for achieving the most important ones. Once you have completed this exercise, you have the foundation of a very powerful life plan for yourself. Now the question becomes how to pay for it.

Buy Your Happiness
OK, so how the heck do you do that right? “But I always thought…,blah, blah, blah”…Stop. Yes, money CAN buy happiness. I know,… I had you at hello, right? Here’s the thing about that…Having money will NOT make you happy, however figuring out what makes you happy, (as we discovered above in the “eulogy” exercise) formed the basis of your new plan. Now that you know what DOES make you happy, (spending more time with family, giving back to society, etc., now the question becomes, how do I use my wealth to buy those things for myself? Before you go postal on me, ask yourself, how much would it cost to leave your job so you can spend more time with family? What’s preventing it now? Perhaps you answered that making a difference in the world would make you happy? Well how much does it cost to make a difference? How much time do you want to spend making a difference? What’s preventing you from doing that now? OK, so your job is preventing that, how much do I need to have in order to “retire” so I can do the things that are important to me. Are you following all this? The point of this is to start to think about what it will cost, both personally, and financially to achieve your most important goals.

Position Your Finances
More than likely, taking less risk with your investments was one of your goals, (aka “Sleeping at night). During our exercise with the index cards, I asked you to prioritize how important your goals were to you. Where did investment risk fall in that conversation? The question really is, “What are you willing to do to reduce the risk in your portfolio?”. I think an even bigger question is, “How much risk do you really need to take in order to achieve your objectives?”. In my experience, investors are quite familiar with the question, “What’s your risk tolerance”, but most people have no idea how to answer that objectively. I have good news for you. Now that you know exactly what makes you happy, what your priorities are, and what you are willing to give up in order to achieve them, you’ve just answered what I believe is the most important question in planning; “How much, by when”.

Get Help when Needed
The fact is, we as investors usually don’t take the time to do these exercises, but now more than ever is the time to start. You have to know where you are, and what corrections you can make to get you back on track to achieving what’s important. If you don’t know how to do that, find a good adviser who can. If you have an adviser, talk to them about what you discovered about your goals and see how they can help you achieve them. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing this with your adviser, perhaps it’s time to find another.

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When Buy and Hold Fails: From Scrambled Nest Eggs to Starting Over Easy

Perhaps buying and holding as an investment strategy isn’t feeling so good lately. Perhaps you’ve heard, eggs do have lots of cholesterol and eating too many of them can be bad for your heart. If you are one of those who have been relying solely on the conventional wisdom that buying and holding will turn out just fine, you may wake up one day with a financial heart attack from eating too many scrambled nest eggs. But don’t worry, the doctor is in, and the medicine may not be as terrible as you think.

Whether you are an individual, business, or charity, conventional wisdom says “buy and hold” is a winning investment strategy however, you could actually do more harm to your finances by holding depending on your circumstances. The key word here is YOUR circumstances. While it’s true that stocks have historically outperformed bonds and cash over the long term, there have been periods (like now) where this hasn’t been the case. Simply buying and holding can do a whole lot of harm if you don’t know exactly where you stand financially and have a good sense of what you will need to achieve your financial goals. Simply ignoring the market and hoping things will work out can be a great recipe for financial disaster. If you are close to retirement and want to draw income from your portfolio, or you are already are retired and withdrawing money, pay close attention (you Baby Boomers, I’m talking to you).

Forget returns, CASH indeed IS king, and that’s worth saying twice in today’s market environment. Cash IS KING. The question is not so much how much do you have, but how much you need. This is where we begin to scramble our eggs IMHO (In my humble opinion for those of you who are new). I’ve seen this over and over again and it goes to the heart of of why investors are losing faith in their advisers and burying their head in the sand, sticking instead to “buy and hold” and “have a long term view” to comfort them to sleep at night. That’s great if you are 20, 30, or 40 years old, but financial Russian Roulette if you are near retirement or already taking money out. Here’s why. Percentages are mostly meaningless. Generally speaking, the rule of thumb went that you could withdraw 3% from a portfolio indefinitely and not worry about drawing down principal. Go much above that number and you begin to run a risk that if the market goes down and you continue to withdraw money while the investment portfolio is down, regardless of how great of a percentage you earn when it recovers, it could have reached a “point of no return”.

Example:

How much can I withdraw from a $1M portfolio?

Using the 3% benchmark, if you incorrectly assumed you could draw $30,000 this year and raise it by 3% each year to account for cost of living increases and forget about it, take a look at this:

Assume 12/31/07, the portfolio value was $1M, you take an income amount of $30,000 on Jan 1, 2008 and assume the portfolio loses -25% over 2008. At the end of 2008, your hypothetical portfolio value would be $727,500

Assume 12/31/08, the portfolio value was $727,500, you take an income amount of $30,900 (income amount $30k inflated 3%) on Jan 1st, 2009, and assume the portfolio loses another -25% in 2009

On 12/31/09, your portfolio value would hypothetically be worth $522, 450.

The income withdrawal of $30,000 that was once 3%, is now closer to 6%. In addition, notice that while you lost 25% for two years in a row, your portfolio value of $522,450 is nearly half of what it was when you started but making 50% won’t do it. In order to get back to $1M, you need to earn almost 100%! That my friends is a case of scrambled nest eggs.

This is the danger of buy and hold when you are taking money out of a portfolio. Mother’s love to say “Ignore your teeth and they’ll go away”…I think the same is true here. Buy and hold at your own peril.

So what can you do? Good question. As I said earlier, “Cash is king”. It’s not the percentages that are important, it’s the dollar amounts. The doctor says the best prevention is a regular checkup. When you actually take the time to sit down and work through your goals, how much they will cost, and what YOU can do to help achieve them, that’s when things can begin to become clear again. Many people make the mistake of believing that good advisers can make money in any market. In my humble opinion, a good adviser helps clients make smart decisions in times like this. Perhaps taking less risk is more important and you would be willing to work a few years more in order to make that happen, OK, great. How about taking less income in exchange for taking less risk? How about making more contributions during your working years or planning to leave slightly less to your kids in exchange for not having to reduce  your income?

The fact is, there are really lots of choices that people never think to think about because they are too focused on the percentages in their portfolio. Many investors are talking to their adviser about the specifics of the investments, the portfolio strategy, or some fancy investment terms like “standard deviation”, “Alpha”, or “Beta”. Did you know that these terms ARE ACTUALLY Greek? Most advisers are actually speaking Greek to their clients. That’s not funny though, so don’t laugh…If you are simply buying and holding, it’s not a laughing matter either. As Ferris Bueller likes to say; “Life moves pretty fast…If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The same holds true for your portfolio.

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Nonprofit Recession Survival Guide to Getting Donations

First the markets, then Madoff, now the Obama administration is proposing reductions in the charitable tax deduction for your biggest donors. What else could possibly go wrong? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the snow day and nobody came to work. One thing is for certain; raising funds in the current environment is much more difficult that it was last year at this time. Here are some specific suggestions and things to keep in mind as you talk to donors:

Speak the Unspoken Truth
Personally, I like this tactic. Call it like it is. What are the most powerful four words in the English language? “I NEED YOUR HELP”. Talk to your existing donors about what is happening and the state of your organization. Tell them you need help. Let your donors know how the current environment is impacting your organization.

Be Specific With The Ask
This is something that is always a good idea. Even before the mess the last year, donor fatigue was certainly an issue. I believe that in general, nonprofits do a poor job marketing themselves when it comes to being specific about their accomplishments, how donations help, and making specific connections between the ask and the impact. Kiva.org is the opposite of everything I just said. Their supporters choose the cause (lending to a specific entrepreneur who needs a loan), and Kiva reports back on the status of the loan from the individual it was given to. It’s a terrific example of the donor getting involved directly with the cause that they support. Strategic, venture, or tactical philanthropy; call it what you want, people have been demanding more accountability in recent years. This trend towards greater accountability and transparency is only likely going to increase. Help your donors go from a “spray and pray” approach go giving, to being focused and knowing exactly what they are giving to.

Create A Donor Adviser Panel
Invite your top donors into a room for a “Manhattan Project” style round table. The objective of the group is not to gang up on them and tell them how badly you need their money, but to come together and brainstorm new ideas for raising funds. Let them know how much you have appreciated their past support and you are offering them a “no money required” way to help make a huge difference with the organization. Ally you want is their input. Not only will they feel appreciated, do you think there might be a possibility they could cough up a little extra after sitting in on that? If I were a betting man, I’d say your odds are pretty good. That’s not the objective though. Remember that. You are after their ideas and things you are not thinking about right now.

Address Financial Fear
Your donors are shell shocked with what’s going on in the markets now. Everyone is. Do you want to be someone’s hero? Address this head on. This is the one I think that nonprofits have traditionally been the most uncomfortable with. Even large organizations that have planned giving departments have struggled with “the line of control” that exists between donors and their professional advisory team. While planned giving folks want to “get that seat at the table”, and be INVOLVED in the conversation with the financial adviser, attorney, or CPA at the time giving decisions are being made, often they are not. Understand that there is a line, and there should be. Generally speaking, the unspoken truth is that donors know that planned giving officers have one motive, to get money for their organization. This is nothing new though, so what?

The real opportunity to be a hero here is to talk about some of the things that donors are afraid of now and things that they can do to feel more financially secure. The number one concern of the wealthy is that they will lose what they have. While this has always been the biggest concern, the fear is now being realized. Understand that unless your donors feel financially secure, they will likely not give at the levels they had given previously. You cannot help them feel more secure, but you can make recommendations that will. One of the things that’s at the top of the list is recognizing that donors and high net worth clients traditionally have had multiple advisers giving them advice. Their accountant is discussing their returns, their attorney discusses their will (or might not have in a while), and their “financial adviser” is talking only about their investments. Most people have no idea who they should be talking to about the big picture and their ability to achieve what’s important to them.  No wonder you have such a hard time getting a seat at the table, that’s because there usually IS NO table. The advice your donors receive is sporadic and fragmented in professional silos and generally NOBODY is discussing the big picture! Markets aside, the tax changes occurring are faster than the drop in their portfolio value and now is a good time for them to be meeting with their team to reassess where they are and reevaluate their goals.

The key to success lies in your ability to have a trusted relationship with your donor, understand what attracted them to you, what inspires them, what they are afraid of, and how to connect them with the appropriate resources who can help them achieve everything that’s important to them. To the extent you make yourself a master networker and not make it about you and your cause, you’ll be a hero. Ask your donors, “How can I help, YOU?”

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Is Obama’s Plan to Cut Charitable and Mortgage Deductions Really Stimulus?

The news is out. President Obama announced plans to cut the deductions for charitable contributions and mortgage interest incurred for Americans who earn more than $250,000 per year and raise the top tax bracket from 35% to 39.6%. I have some very sharp opinions about this proposal. For the sake of full disclosure, I voted for Obama but am a registered Republican. I vote issues and people, not along party lines. You might say I am socially liberal but fiscally conservative. That said, I have big problems with this proposal. Watch a CBS News Video about the plan here.

When I went to school to become a Certified Financial Planner Professional™, economics was one of the things they taught. Specifically, they discussed the role that taxes play within the government, how the Fed and IRS work, and how it is the job of the Executive Branch to drive an agenda through tax policy. Generally speaking, I believe Republicans perceive that adjusting taxes downward equals growth through increased investment, while Democrats view taxes as a way to redistribute wealth. While this is a simplistic way of looking at things, this is exactly the way I see the proposed tax changes that Obama introduced.

I believe that changes in tax policy direct our actions. For example, generally given the choice of withdrawing money from an IRA versus a taxable brokerage account, I would typically recommend that people first take from the taxable account because capital gains rates are typically lower than ones income tax rate that they would be subject to if withdrawing funds from the IRA account. The tax benefit drives the actions. Add a 10% penalty for an early withdrawal on top of an ordinary income tax rate, and the IRA quickly becomes the funding source of last resort. Taxes and penalties drive the behaviors of Americans. Good tax policy is meant to create healthy economies. That is exactly the opposite of what Obama’s proposal does.

Charities are struggling to keep their heads above water right now and the housing market has already gone under. The housing mess is the most pressing issue facing the economy in my view. While the government struggles to pay for all of the various “stimulus” packages, charities that provide essential services for the needy, the arts, and everything else are closing their doors in record numbers due to a combination of losses incurred from the stock market and lost donations from their donor base. In my opinion, the last thing the Obama administration should be doing is creating ANY disincentives away from charitable donations or from mortgage deductions. While some may say that this only impacts the wealthy, we all know how Wall Street has come to Main Street in the last year.

Mr. President, you should be INCREASING the mortgage and charitable deductions to INCENT people into these areas, not reducing them. Rich, poor, it doesn’t matter because while these initiatives may not take effect for some time, perception is reality when it comes to human assumptions. The dire economic situation that the nonprofit and real estate sectors face need all the help they can get in order to be put back on a more solid footing. I believe in the end, these moves do nothing but exacerbate an already bad situation in two of the areas that now require the most help.

Traditionally, charitable contributions have served as a great way to reduce taxes and everyone won. Charities provided services that the government wasn’t as good at providing, Americans got a tax deduction for funding them, and the government didnt’ have to do that job. Everyone won. By changing this balance now with charities struggling already, this will mean less donations, force charities to close due to ANOTHER financial setback caused by poor government policy, and put the onus of providing the services that these charities provided, squarely back on the government’s shoulders. This sounds like a very Democratic thing to do from a fiscal standpoint. As a fiscally conservative Republican, I fear the consequences this will have on the system at a time of such economic distress. There are lots of things I don’t agree with in the Republican party (like energy and environmental policies for one), but when it comes to this proposal, I would never side with the Democrats on this. It stinks.

Last year, I wrote a review of  a terrific book called  “Who Really Cares?”, about the giving habits of Americans, and specifically, Republicans versus Democrats. Since we are on the subject. It might be a good refresher for those thinking about cutting areas that impact giving. It was a great book that anyone interested in this subject should read.

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Council on Foundations Report: 28% Decline in Assets, Changing Investment Managers

A February 2, 2009 report published by the Council on Foundations showed that foundation assets had declined by 28% in 2008 among the 127 respondents who completed the survey. While the report points out that the decline included both grants and losses due to investment performance, questions remain about how foundations should invest money in an investment climate that continues to remain uncertain. The report highlights the fact that while many foundations had not made changes to their overall investment strategy, most were making changes to the investment managers, diversification, or overall risk levels in their portfolios.

Foundations are changing Investment Managers

  • 90% of foundations reported using outside investment managers
  • 48.6% of foundations had either changed, or were considering changing investment managers
  • 67% of foundations with assets greater than $100 Million had either changed, or were considering changing managers
  • Larger foundations (greater than $100 Million) were more likely to switch investment managers (67% vs. 41%) compared to smaller foundations under $100M

Increased use of Investment Policy Statements

  • 96% of foundations with assets greater than $25 Million had a written investment policy statement
  • Of those with written policies, 25% had reported changing their written policies since June 30, 2008
  • Smaller foundations with less than $100 Million were more likely to have changed their written policies
  • Use of written investment policies up among all groups

The report also pointed out that there was a significant trend toward attempting to lower investment fees, and a shift away from equity investments in favor of more conservative fixed income or cash. Nearly 41% of foundations surveyed held an average of almost 8% in hedge funds, although the report did not mention what impact if any the Bernard Madoff reports were having on hedge fund investments.

Richie’s Bottom Line:

Based on these findings, it appears that foundations are in panic mode. While most went into 2008 having written investment policy statements with their investment managers, foundations are giving them their pink slips anyway.  This begs a few questions in this manger’s view:

  • Do foundations understand what’s in their investment policy statement?
  • Is the investment dog wagging the foundation strategy or does the foundation strategy drive the investment mix?
  • Does the investment team have a meaningful relationship and understanding of where the foundations program objectives are or are they just being hired to manage a model portfolio allocation?

In my opinion, these are some of the critical questions that foundations should be asking as they make decisions about their advisors. While performance, fees, and written policies  seem to go without saying here, the real question foundations should be asking is; “Do I feel loved?” While that may seem like a silly question, it’s really no different than any other relationship. Do they love me for who I am or only for my money? How can you tell? Come on, you don’t really need me to answer that do you? Ok, fine I will… next time…“How to tell if my investment manager loves me”.

Click here to see the complete Council on Foundations Report

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Filed under Current Events, ECONOMY, FINANCIAL PLANNING, FOUNDATIONS, INVESTING, NON-PROFIT & CHARITY, SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP