LANDMARK FEDERAL TAX CHANGES SLATED FOR 2018 Congress passed the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act last week, and President Trump signed the bill into law on Friday. The new legislation authorizes major changes to the Internal Revenue Code. On January 1, 2018, the corporate tax rate will be reduced to 21%, most pass-through businesses will be allowed to claim a 20% deduction on earnings, the estate tax exemption will double, the individual standard deduction will rise to $12,000, and personal exemptions will disappear. At the start of 2019, the health insurance requirement for individuals set by the Affordable Care Act

Take these financial lessons to heart. You have a chance to manage your money better than previous generations have. Some crucial financial steps may help you do just that.     Live below your means and refrain from living on margin. How much do you save per month? Generations ago, Americans routinely saved 10% or more of what they made, either depositing those savings or investing them. This kind of thriftiness is still found elsewhere in the world. Today, the average euro area household saves more than 12% of its earnings, and the current personal savings rate in Mexico is 20.6%.1

FED MAKES ITS FINAL RATE MOVE OF 2017 As expected, the Federal Reserve raised the benchmark interest rate by 0.25% last week. The Federal Open Market Committee voted 7-2 to take the target range for the federal funds rate up to 1.25-1.5%. Fed officials made little change to their dot-plot chart – they still see three rate hikes in 2018, and their consensus projection has the federal funds rate at 2.1% a year from now. They did elevate their 2018 GDP forecast from 2.1% to 2.5%.1    CORE INFLATION LAGS HEADLINE CPI ADVANCE According to the Department of Labor, consumer

ANOTHER MONTH OF SOLID HIRING According to the Department of Labor, the U.S. workforce gained 228,000 more jobs than it lost during November. Annualized wage growth improved from 2.5% to 2.7%. The headline jobless rate held at 4.1% last month, while the U-6 rate, that includes the underemployed, ticked up a tenth of a percent to 8.0%. Even though October’s net job gain was revised down to 244,000, October-November 2017 represents the best two-month hiring period in more than a year.1,2   ISM INDEX MISSES EXPECTATIONS The Institute for Supply Management’s gauge of service sector activity fell 2.7 points to a

THE MONTH IN BRIEF In November, the S&P 500 gained 2.81% and advanced for a thirteenth straight month – an unprecedented milestone in the index’s long history. Consumer confidence and investor confidence were both abundant, as further evidence arrived that the economy was growing at an impressive rate. Solid fundamental indicators, upbeat earnings announcements, and hopes for 2018 tax cuts motivated stock gains in the U.S.; though many foreign benchmarks slumped. Oil took steps toward $60. Home sales picked up after a late-summer lull. Wall Street anticipated a year-end rate hike from the Federal Reserve.1,2    DOMESTIC ECONOMIC HEALTH Consumers

CONSUMERS ACT ON THEIR CONFIDENCE A new factoid points out just how well the economy is doing: the federal government just upgraded its estimate of third-quarter growth to 3.3%. New data on consumer spending and confidence hints at fourth-quarter strength. Personal spending improved 0.3% in October following the 0.9% leap in September, and household wages were up 0.4% in October for a second straight month. At a mark of 129.5, the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index reached a YTD peak in November, having soared 9.1 points in two months.1,2   TWO VERY POSITIVE HOUSING SIGNALS New homes are selling strongly. October

The notion that we separate from work in our sixties may have to go. An executive transitions into a consulting role at age 62 and stops working altogether at 65; then, he becomes a buyer for a church network at 69. A corporate IT professional decides to conclude her career at age 58; she serves as a city council member in her sixties, then opens an art studio at 70. Are these people retired? Not by the old definition of the word. Our definition of “retirement” is changing. Retirement is now a time of activity and opportunity.    Generations ago,

As the recovery lengthens further, this is a natural question to ask. This decade has brought a long economic rebound to many parts of America. As 2017 ebbs into 2018, some of the statistics regarding this comeback are truly impressive: *Payrolls have grown, month after month, for more than seven years. *The jobless rate is lower than it has been for more than a decade. *Business activity in the service sector has not contracted since the summer of 2009. *The economy just grew 3% or more in back-to-back quarters, a feat unseen since 2014.1,2     In the big picture, the American

CONSUMER SENTIMENT DECLINES FOR NOVEMBER The University of Michigan’s monthly gauge of how households perceive current and future economic conditions ended the month at a mark of 98.5. Compared to the 100.7 final October reading, this was a disappointment. Still, the index was up 5.0 points year-over-year. Richard Curtin, the economist in charge of the consumer survey, noted that the index has hovered near “the highest levels since 2004” since January.1    HOME BUYING GETS A FALL BOOST Existing home sales rose 2.0% in October, surpassing the consensus 0.7% gain forecast by analysts polled by Investing.com. Elsewhere in its latest

YEARLY INFLATION BACK AT 2.0% Consumer costs ticked up just 0.1% in October, according to the Department of Labor. The marginal monthly gain left the annualized increase in the headline Consumer Price Index at 2.0%, down from 2.2% a month earlier. The core CPI has risen 1.8% in 12 months. Gasoline prices influenced the October headline number: they fell 2.4% in October after a 13.1% September leap.1   RETAIL SALES BEAT EXPECTATIONS Analysts surveyed by MarketWatch thought retail sales would be flat for October after their huge surge in September. That was not so. They surprised to the upside with a

Information for those giving, receiving, and organizing. Have you donated money to a crowdfunding campaign this year? You probably have. You may be wondering how the Internal Revenue Service treats these donations. Do the common tax rules apply?  The I.R.S. may or may not define such donations as charitable contributions. It depends not only on who the crowdfunding is for, but also who has organized the campaign. A donation to a qualified non-profit organization – a 501(c)(3) – is tax deductible if it is properly documented and itemized on Schedule A. Donations to crowdsourcing efforts administered by 501(c)(3)s are, likewise,

Our increased longevity poses a retirement planning challenge. Some of us may retire at 65 and live to 100 or 105. Advances in health care may make this a strong possibility. The corresponding question is: will we outlive our money?   More people are spending more of their lives in retirement. According to the actuaries at Social Security, today’s 65-year-olds have roughly a 25% chance of living into their nineties, and about one in ten will live to 100 or longer. Clearly, this puts a strain on Social Security. When it first sent out retirement benefits in 1940, the average life

Here are some things you might want to do before saying goodbye to 2017.  What has changed for you in 2017? Did you start a new job or leave a job behind? Did you retire? Did you start a family? If notable changes occurred in your personal or professional life, then you will want to review your finances before this year ends and 2018 begins.    Even if your 2017 has been relatively uneventful, the end of the year is still a good time to get cracking and see where you can plan to save some taxes and/or build a little

CONSUMER SENTIMENT INDEX DECLINES The University of Michigan’s monthly gauge of U.S. household sentiment fell to 97.8 in its initial November edition; analysts polled by Bloomberg estimated it would tick up to 100.8. While the 2.9-point dip from its final October level was the largest drop in a year, the index remained near a 13-year peak. Sixty percent of the consumers surveyed felt that stocks would rise in 2018.1    Q3 Earnings: A LOOK AT THE SCORECARD As of Friday, 87% of S&P 500 companies had reported third-quarter earnings. An analysis from Zacks Investment Research reveals that 73% have topped

Resist the temptation. Your future self will thank you. Retirement accounts are not bank accounts. Nor should they be treated as such. When retirement funds are drawn down, they impede the progress of retirement planning, even if the money is later restored. In a financial crush, a retirement account may seem like a great source of funds. It is often much larger than a savings account; it is technically not a liquid asset, but it can easily be mistaken for one. The central problem is this: when you take a loan or an early distribution from an IRA or a

What is in it? What could its changes mean for you, if they become law? Major changes may be ahead for federal tax law. At the start of November, House Republicans rolled out their plan for sweeping tax reforms. Negotiations may greatly alter the content of the bill, but here are the proposed adjustments, and who may and may not benefit from them if they become law. The corporate tax rate would fall from 35% to 20%. Wall Street would cheer this development, perhaps with a significant rally. Sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations would also see their top tax

HIRING REBOUNDS, INDUSTRIES EXPAND According to the Department of Labor, October brought a net gain of 261,000 jobs. (Last month’s net loss of 33,000 was revised to a net gain of 18,000.) The headline unemployment rate ticked down to 4.1%, while the broader U-6 rate fell to 7.9% (down 1.3% in 12 months). Wages were up 2.4% year-over-year. The Institute for Supply Management’s purchasing manager indices alternately rose and fell in October. The readings were strong: 58.7 for the factory PMI (down 2.1 points), 60.1 for the service sector PMI (up 0.3 points).1,2 CONSUMER SPENDING, CONFIDENCE IMPRESS Personal spending rose

The little things independent contractors should do before April. Do you freelance or run a business on the side? You have a complicated tax situation, all stemming from one fact – when you earn a paycheck, taxes are not immediately taken out of it. Many freelancers are caught off-guard when tax season arrives. They are stunned to realize how much tax they owe. If you would rather not be one of them, pay attention to these details. You should have all your 1099-MISC forms in hand by early February. If you earned more than $600 working for an employer during

Financial burdens could alter their retirement prospects. Imagine retiring with $50,000 of debt. Some new retirees owe more than that. Outstanding home loans, education debt, small business loans, and lingering credit card balances threaten to compromise their retirement plans. How serious is the problem? A study from the University of Michigan’s Retirement Research Center illustrates how bad it has become. Back in 1998, 37% of Americans aged 56-61 shouldered recurring debt; the average such household owed $3,634 each month (in 2012 dollars). Today, 42% of such households do – and the mean debt load is now $17,623.1 Are increased mortgage