Category Archives: INVESTING

More on L3C’s (Written by Robert Lang)

A particularly well written analysis posted on LinkedIn by Robert Lang, creator of the L3C. -Richard

We’ve had various questions in recent days about the L3C and thought this particular information might be useful.

All states have no choice but to recognize L3Cs from another state as they are a variant form of LLC and every state must honor every other state’s LLCs just as you can use a Delaware corporation in Idaho. In so far as revenue rulings go, the ones on LLCs would apply. It may elect pass through status just like any other LLC and would most likely do so. The IRS does recognize L3Cs but it is not going to give them the “Good Housekeeping” seal because it is not concerned with the generic group. Its interests relate to whether any particular L3C meets the conditions for investment by a particular foundation as a PRI. This is foundation specific. What is an acceptable PRI for one foundation may not be acceptable for another. The foundation must still use due diligence and work with its attorney both to choose the investment and negotiate the operating agreement to be sure if fulfills the foundation’s needs.

An L3C can get a grant from a foundation or the foundation can make a PRI investment. There are also ways for individuals and corporations to make a tax deductible contribution that ends up in the L3C. The L3C has the advantages of the flexibility of organization under the LLC laws. If properly put together the L3C integrates mission and income and eliminates UBIT issues and the regulations regarding percentage of control that a foundation may have in a for profit. Since a PRI into an L3C can replace a grant it also does not fall under the jeopardy investment regulations.

The L3C as an LLC allows the members of the L3C to make investments, have responsibilities, receive income, and have voting power in disproportionate relationships to one another. The LLC is effectively a partnership with corporate protection. That means that the operating agreement or contract among the members, can within the framework of the law, essentially embody whatever the members agree upon. This makes the L3C very well suited to membership by a disparate group of organizations.The membership could include corporations, nonprofits, government organizations and individuals. The nonprofit, could be given total day to day control and never invest a dime.

Finally the L3C designation as a brand will come to be recognized by the world at large for what it is. The transparency and efficiency will elevate L3C organizations from obscurity to high public awareness. Once that is achieved it will be far easier to get public investment in the L3C which is the eventual goal. We need to greatly reduce the burden on the very limited resources of the nonprofit community and allow businesses to perform many of the services in our society which can be performed under a for profit umbrella. For profits make a positive financial contribution to the community. An L3C will not be exempt from property tax so its existence makes positive contributions to the community without making a hit on the public treasury.

Written by Robert M. Lang
CEO, L3C Advisors, L3C

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Foundations Listen Up: Why PRI’s and L3C’s Matter

Whenever I see something that looks GREAT, I wonder if I am missing something…You know, the old; “Too good to be true”. Over the last many months, I have been doing due diligence on the most appropriate corporate structure for a film project I am working on called “Time To Impact”. The film has a social agenda; use the film to inspire philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, and civic engagement to turn around Paterson, NJ, the third largest city in the state and one of the poorest in the nation in 365 days.

The biggest concern is raising money for the film project. I wondered whether I should set up as a for profit or nonprofit. Going the for profit route didn’t seem to feel good. For one thing, I didn’t want to have a perception that we were doing this just to make money. In addition, I wasn’t comfortable being the guy who says; “Oh, this is going to be the greatest thing since An Inconvenient Truth and Supersize Me. The appeal isn’t in how MUCH people can make, but for the benefit that the film will have from a social standpoint. The pure for profit model just didn’t feel right. On the other hand, setting up a nonprofit involves setting up a 501(c)3, a process that takes many months, requires a board of directors, and other things that just seemed to be a distraction from the main goal at hand. Compound those issues with the fact that we are in a very difficult fund raising environment, we are likely to be grouped with everyone else asking for money, the grant process itself is a labor intensive process, and getting access to for profit money is less likely (if not eliminated), and the nonprofit model also didn’t seem to fit. Months of contemplation on this, and still no decision. Recently, I started taking a closer look at L3C’s.

The more I learned about L3C’s, the more attractive they looked for our film project. Over the last month or so, I have had discussions about my project with some of the top minds in country on the L3C. They seem to agree. This seems to be the perfect fit. So what’s so great?

L3C’s are hybrids of for-profit and nonprofit entities. They are a for-profit company that first and foremost has a social agenda, and making money secondarily. This seemed to address my concern about the issue of perception of my motivation of “doing this just for money”. My understanding is, there are no limits to the profit, as long as the mission is socially oriented. Second, and what I perceive as most beneficial and cutting edge, is the fact that L3C’s automatically qualify as “Program Related Investments” (or PRI’s) for foundations. This is a big deal. Why?

According to Foundation Center, Program-related investments (PRIs) are investments made by foundations to support charitable activities that involve the potential return of capital within an established time frame. PRIs include financing methods commonly associated with banks or other private investors, such as loans, loan guarantees, linked deposits, and even equity investments in charitable organizations or in commercial ventures for charitable purposes.”

So what does that mean? It means a lot. Foundations are required by the IRS to give away 5% of their assets each year in order to maintain their tax status with the IRS. Traditionally, this 5% takes the form of grants to 501(c)3 charities (the kind we would have been). As a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional, I look at the 5% requirement this way. Starting with 100 percent of the foundation’s investment portfolio, 5% is given away. Those grants hopefully are being given out to worthy causes who will “invest” the money effectively and use it prudently, however it is difficult to determine what the “social return on investment” actually is because in many cases it is difficult to measure the actual social return. I could write another entire column on just that subject alone, but let’s not go there right now. So what is the actual social return on investment of the 5% money? Enter the L3C.

L3C’s are businesses just like any other. Good ones should have a tight business plan and expectation that they are going to earn a profit or else they would not exist. If a business goes to a bank for a loan, the bank wants to know what the likelihood the loan is going to be repaid. That is determined largely on the strength of the business. The BIG deal with the L3C and for the foundation, is that a foundation can invest in the L3C and has the opportunity to actually earn a return on the money. Better yet, the foundation’s investment into a PRI (L3C), COUNTS toward the 5% they must give away each year. Ok let’s stop and recap now.

From a purely capitalistic “non social” viewpoint for a second, the 5% given away represents a 100% loss (looking at it strictly as an investment). Foundations give to good causes which is why they are able to get a tax deduction for the contributions when money is put into them.

If a foundation has an opportunity to earn a return on money and get it back to give again by investing in profitable social business ventures, AND it counts toward money they must give away anyway, why aren’t more foundations doing this?

In an environment of depressed investment portfolios, isn’t this a wise thing do do?

Worst case, the investment doesn’t make money and you lose your investment. Consider it a grant, which is what you are already doing anyway.

Am I missing something here?

If I have piqued your interest, watch the video below. (I’m “The Philanthropic Advisor” in the trailer)


Foundations, let’s make a difference and turn around a city. Please consider helping us fund this film. Email me at rich@timetoimpact.com to inquire.

Join the Movement:

Time To Impact Website

Facebook Fan Page

Time To Impact on Twitter @ImpactMovie

Richard J. Krasney on Twitter @PhilanthropyCFP

Richard J. Krasney on LinkedIn

By the way, nothing in this should be considered legal or financial advice and you should not rely on my opinions or the information expressed here in place of doing your own due diligence. Consult your financial professional before making any important financial decisions. This is just my opinion. End CYA.


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We Forgive You Mr. Madoff: Love, Advisors, Nonprofits, & Jewish Community

Dear Mr. Madoff,

We in the Investment Advisory, Nonprofit, and Jewish community forgive you (well maybe not EVERYONE) Let me explain:

About a week ago, I asked people if you could ever be forgiven for the crimes you have committed against charities who help to make others lives better, your own people in the Jewish community, and from advisers in the investment business (which happens to be the same business I’m in). I asked the question whether you could ever be forgiven, not because I believe that you ever will, but because I wanted to know because of my own sense of religious curiosity, whether someone who had committed the crimes you had could ever be forgiven in the eyes of god.

Prior to today, I wondered and questioned whether it was even plausible for someone who had the reputation that you did, to knowingly deceive your fellow Jews, charities who help people, and innocent investors who turned over their life savings to you. I didn’t think that anyone had it in them to be able to look someone squarely in the eye when someone turns over their life savings to you (lot of trust there right, I know, because I have these same conversations every day with people), and KNOW the way you DID that you were GOING to bankrupt them. You looked people in the eye knowing you were going to ruin them.  Whoever read my previous posting on this subject, please forgive me.

Today I learned the truth. You are a monster. You knew exactly what you were doing. Sometimes when the train has left the station, it’s difficult to admit when we have done something wrong. We may tend to ignore difficult things because we don’t like to deal with them, perhaps because we are afraid. Sometimes there are consequences for this.  That’s not what happened in your case though. With you, you knew what you were doing was wrong, you SAID you knew that one day it would catch up with you. Why would you CONTINUE to lure more victims when you knew would get caught? You took money from charities, Jewish ones, as a fellow Jew. You took from CHARITIES and gave to YOURSELF. The enemies of the Jews are rejoicing for what you have done. You ARE a terrorist of the worst kind. You ARE a monster.

Ruth Ann Harnisch and I exchanged a series of emails about you after she posted a comment on my article about you where I questioned whether it was possible for someone to knowingly do what you did. I couldn’t believe it. Perhaps I’m a softee and believe that people deep down want to do the right thing. Ruth Ann Harnisch didn’t think I was looking at reality. She was right. You are the monster. We already know that now though. The discussion that we proceeded to have is worth repeating to others. It has to do with forgiveness. This was the question that I had originally asked. Could you ever be forgiven? The answer we came to was YES.

The kind of forgiveness we are talking about is the same kind of forgiveness someone has when a serial killer murders their child. We forgive the act. We forgive, because WE don’t want to hold on to the poisonous venom that we feel for you for what you have done. We forgive because forgiveness is good for us, Mr. Madoff, not for you. Make no mistake Mr. Madoff, you ARE a murderer.

As I looked into “forgiveness” further, I came across the story about “casting the first stone”

The King James Version of the Bible, in John 8:1 – 11 scribes and Pharisees had caught a woman in the act of adultery (the woman commonly referred to as the prostitute) and told Jesus who was teaching in the temple that the Mosaic Law required she be stoned to death. Trying to make an opportunity of this to trick Jesus that they might accuse Him, they, with stones in hand, asked Jesus what He says about the Law. After Jesus tried to ignore their repeated questioning, He told them “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” One by one each man dropped his stone and walked away.

Jesus was not arguing with the judgment. Nor was Jesus arguing the law nor the woman’s guilt. Jesus was arguing with our right to execute the woman. Once all the men had dropped their stones Jesus confronted the woman and asked her if any of the men were still there to condemn her. When she answered “No man, Lord”, Jesus told her that neither did He – He forgave her of her sin. He did not excuse the sin of adultery/prostitution, he forgave her of it. All that is sinful before forgiveness is still sinful after forgiveness. Not only was Jesus not afraid to call a sin a sin, He was not afraid to call a sinner a sinner. He even reminded her of the sin of adultery/prostitution by telling her “Go and sin no more.”

I asked my Rabbi about the process of asking for forgiveness when you have committed a sin against another. He told me that in Judaism, part of  repentance is the process of providing some form of restitution. Another smart man named Randy Pausch, whose “The Last Lecture” became an instant classic about how to live said this; “When you do something bad and want to apologize, know that a good apology has three parts.  1) I screwed up 2) I’m sorry 3) (This is the part most people don’t do) How can I make it right?”

Today in court Mr. Madoff, I heard you say you screwed up, and that you were sorry. What I didn’t hear was any interest in making good on the wrong you had done. READ WHAT MADOFF TOLD THE JUDGE Fortunately for you Mr. Madoff, you will have a lot of time to figure out how to make it right. Frankly, I’m not interested and don’t really care what you do. I’ve learned that to forgive, does not necessarily mean you have to “receive” someone back into your life. So with that Mr. Madoff, I’ll let you know that I’ve forgiven you, and now I’m done with you.

“You Go, and Sin No More”

SINcerely,

Investment Advisors, Nonprofits, and your friends in the Jewish community

Read my earlier post Can Madoff Ever Earn Forgiveness?

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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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Filed under Current Events, ECONOMY, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCIAL PLANNING, FOUNDATIONS, INVESTING, NON-PROFIT & CHARITY, TAX