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Retiring Before 60

ALERT : Newsletter
Retiring Before 60
If that is your dream, explore whether these steps could be useful to take.

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BY GREG OLIVER
Email greg@go2ofs.com

How could you retire in your fifties by choice? You will need abundant retirement savings and ways to access your retirement assets that lessen or avoid early withdrawal penalties. You may also need to have other, sometimes overlooked, components of retirement planning in place.

There are ways to tap retirement savings accounts before 60. True, the I.R.S. discourages this with 10% penalties on traditional IRA withdrawals prior to age 59½ and withdrawals from many employee retirement plans before age 55½ – but those penalties may be skirted.1

An IRA or workplace retirement account funded with pre-tax dollars can be converted to a Roth IRA funded with post-tax dollars. While the conversion is a taxable event, it allows a pre-retiree more potential to retrieve retirement savings early. Before age 59½, you are permitted to make tax-free, penalty-free withdrawals of the amount you have contributed to a Roth IRA (as opposed to the Roth IRA’s earnings). After age 59½, you can withdraw contributions and earnings tax free provided you have owned the Roth IRA for five years. For Roth IRA conversions, the 5-year period begins on January 1 of the year in which the conversion happens. Roth conversions may be a good move for some, but a bad move for those who live in high-tax states with plans to retire to a state with lower income taxes.1,2

Under I.R.S. Rule 72(t), you have the option of taking “substantially equal periodic payments” (SEPPs) for five years from an IRA in your fifties. The schedule of payments must end after five years or when you turn 59½, whichever is later. Such withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income, and the distribution schedule cannot be altered once distributions have begun.1

A life insurance policy could assist you. For most pre-retirees, buying life insurance comes down to the pursuit of the largest death benefit for the lowest cost. If you have enough net worth to potentially retire before 60, you may have additional objectives. A sizable death benefit could help your heirs pay estate taxes. A whole life policy might provide a consistent return akin to a fixed-income investment in retirement, but without the usual interest rate risk.3

An HSA might help with upcoming health care expenses. If you retire prior to 60, you must acknowledge that you could live another 35-40 years. Fidelity believes that a retiring 65-year-old couple will need $275,000 for future health care costs. It bases its forecast on Social Security life expectancy projections, which have the average 65-year-old retiree living to about age 85. If your retirement turns out to be twice that long, you could need to set aside much more.4,5

A Health Savings Account offers a potential triple tax advantage. Your contributions are exempt from tax, the money saved or invested within the account benefits from tax-free growth, and withdrawals are untaxed if the money pays for health care costs. This is why many people are looking at the combination of HSA-plus-HDHCP (that last acronym stands for high-deductible health care plan).6

Retiring in your fifties may present you with greater financial challenges than if you retire later. While you may retire in better health, you will have to wait to collect Social Security and Medicare coverage. If early retirement is on your mind, consult a financial professional to see if your savings, your potential income streams, your insurance situation, and your ability to work part time correspond to your objective.

GREG OLIVER 978[090809[
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Citations.
1 - cnbc.com/2017/07/05/three-retirement-savings-strategies-to-use-if-you-plan-to-retire-early.html [7/5/17]
2 – bankrate.com/investing/ira/roth-ira-5-year-rule-the-tax-free-earnings-clock-starts-ticking-at-different-times/ [3/25/16]
3 – forbes.com/sites/jamiehopkins/2017/04/27/why-life-insurance-is-essential-for-retirement-planning/ [4/27/17]
4 – fidelity.com/about-fidelity/employer-services/health-care-costs-for-retirees-rise [8/24/17]
5 – ssa.gov/planners/lifeexpectancy.html [9/14/17]
6 – cbsnews.com/news/how-to-cope-with-health-care-costs-in-retirement/ [9/12/17]
GREG OLIVER

Avoiding the Cybercrooks

Avoiding the Cybercrooks
How can you protect yourself against ransomware, phishing, and other tactics?

BY GREG OLIVER
greg@go2ofs.com

Imagine finding out that your computer has been hacked. The hackers leave you a message: if you want your data back, you must pay them $300 in bitcoin. This was what happened to hundreds of thousands of PC users in May 2017 when they were attacked by the WannaCry malware, which exploited security flaws in Windows.

How can you plan to avoid cyberattacks and other attempts to take your money over the Internet? Be wary, and if attacked, respond quickly.

Phishing. This is when a cybercriminal throws you a hook, line, and sinker in the form of a fake, but convincing, email from a bank, law enforcement agency, or corporation, complete with accurate logos and graphics. The goal is to get you to disclose your personal information – the crooks will either use it or sell it. The best way to avoid phishing emails: stick to a virtual private network (VPN) or extremely reliable Wi-Fi networks when you are online.1

Ransomware. In this scam, online thieves create a mock virus, with an announcement that freezes your monitor. Their message: your files have been kidnapped, and you will need a decryption key to get them back, which you will pay handsomely to receive. In 2016, the FBI fielded 2,673 ransomware attack complaints, by companies and individuals who lost a total of $2.4 million. How can you avoid joining their ranks? Keep your security software and operating system as state of the art as you can. Your anti-virus programs should have the latest set of virus definitions. Your Internet browser and its plug-ins should also be up to date.2

Advance fee scams. A crook contacts you via text message or email, posing as a charity, a handyman, an adult education provider, or even a tax preparer ready to serve you. Oh, wait – before any service can be provided, you need to pay an “authorization fee” or an “application fee.” The crook takes the money and disappears. Common sense is your friend here; avoid succumbing to something that seems too good to be true.

I.R.S. impersonations. Cybergangs send out emails to households and small businesses with a warning: you owe money. That money must be paid now to the Internal Revenue Service through a pre-paid debit card or a money transfer. These scams often prey on immigrants, some of whom may not have a great understanding of U.S. tax law or the way the I.R.S. does business. The I.R.S. never emails a taxpayer out of the blue demanding payment; if unpaid taxes are a problem, the agency first sends a bill and an explanation of why the taxes need to be collected. It does not bully businesses or taxpayers with extortionist emails.1

Three statistics might convince you to obtain cyberinsurance for your business. One, roughly two-thirds of all cyberattacks target small and medium-sized companies. About 4,000 of these attacks occur per day, according to IBM. Two, the average cost of a cyberattack for a small business is around $690,000. This factoid comes from the Ponemon Institute, a research firm that conducted IBM’s 2017 Cost of Data Breach Study. That $690,000 encompasses not only lost business, but litigation, ransoms, and the money and time spent restoring data. Three, about 60% of small companies hit by an effective cyberattack are forced out of business within six months, notes the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance.3

Most online money threats can be avoided with good security software, the latest operating system, and some healthy skepticism. Here is where a little suspicion may save you a lot of financial pain. If you do end up suffering that pain, the right insurance coverage may help to lessen it.

GREG OLIVER i8896p896896896p8976
Citations.
1 – gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/avoid-12-scary-money-scams/ [8/28/17]
2 – eweek.com/security/the-true-cost-of-ransomware-is-much-more-than-just-the-ransom [8/18/17]
3 – sfchronicle.com/business/article/Interest-in-cyberinsurance-grows-as-cybercrime-12043082.php [8/28/17]

The Equifax Data Breach

The Equifax Data Breach

Have you been affected? If so, how can you try to protect yourself?
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By GREG OLIVER greg@go2ofs.com

On September 7, credit reporting agency Equifax dropped a consumer bombshell. It revealed that cybercriminals had gained access to the personal information of as many as 143 million Americans between May and July – about 44% of the U.S. population. The culprits were able to retrieve roughly 209,000 credit card numbers, in addition to many Social Security and driver’s license numbers.1

How can you find out if you were affected? Visit equifaxsecurity2017.com, the website Equifax just created for consumers. There, you can enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number to find out. (Having to enter the last six digits of your SSN hints at how significant this breach is.)2

If you are among the consumers whose data was hacked, Equifax will ask you to return to equifaxsecurity2017.com to enroll in an identity theft protection product, TrustedID Premier. This program will provide you with free credit monitoring for a year. (The lingering question is whether your data could be used easily by criminals afterward.)1,2

How should you respond? Beyond simply taking Equifax up on its offer of one year of identity theft insurance and free credit monitoring, you can take other steps.

Check your credit reports now. (Unless you have already done so in the past month). You can get one free credit report per year from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. To request yours, go to annualcreditreport.com. Scrutinize your credit card and bank account statements for unfamiliar activity, and sign up for email or text alerts offered by your bank or credit card issuer(s), so that notice of anything suspicious can quickly reach you.

Consider changing the password for your main email account. A weak password on that account is a low bar for a cybercrook to hurdle – and once hurdled, that crook could potentially pose as you to change the passwords on your financial accounts.3

Regarding bank, investment, and credit card account passwords, avoid the obvious. Too many people use simple passwords based on their pet’s name, their last name and year of birth, the high school they attended, etc. Sadly, these same simple facts are often answers to security questions for credit card and bank accounts. Ask your bank or credit card issuer if you can use additional, random words or a PIN for passwords or security question answers. That way, you can avoid logging in using data that is in the public record. You want your password to be long and random, to make it harder for a would-be thief to guess.

You may want to consider paying for additional identity theft protection for years to come. This is one way to try and shield yourself from the unauthorized use of your Social Security number, driver’s license number, email accounts, and credit card numbers.

If someone calls you out of the blue claiming to be from Equifax, do not cooperate with them. Unless Equifax is returning your call, they will not contact you by phone. The same applies if you get a random, unsolicited email or text from “Equifax” – do not comply, or you may inadvertently hand over personal information to a fraudster. Stay vigilant, today and in the future.

GREG OLIVER
09823704923709472309=57123049=[581304=
OHIO / USA
ALERT

Citations.
1 - wired.com/story/how-to-protect-yourself-from-that-massive-equifax-breach/ [9/7/17]
2 – washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/09/08/after-data-breach-equifax-asks-consumers-for-social-security-numbers-to-see-if-theyve-been-affected [9/8/17]
3 – cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2017/09/devastating_data_breach_at_equ.html [9/8/17]
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Cybercurrencies: A Risky Choice

NEWSLETTER:

Cybercurrencies: A Risky Choice

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Investors attracted by bitcoin & other altcoins should recognize their downsides.

BY GREG OLIVER

Bitcoin. Ethereum. Litecoin. Ripple. These are just four of the cybercurrencies attracting opportunistic investors today. Are they the next big thing? Or the next big bust?

The answer to that question may vary per day, week, month, or year. These altcoins are classified as commodities, not currencies, by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Like all commodities, their value can quickly change.1

This spring, a bitcoin bubble popped. As 2017 unfolded, the value of a single bitcoin tripled, reaching more than $3,000 in May. Just weeks later, it was down to around $2,245, sliding roughly 25%. That tumble paled in comparison to the dive it took starting in late 2013, when its price sank from above $1,000 to about $200. After losing 80% of its value, the price then stayed around $200 for nearly three years.1

Ethereum went on an even wilder ride. An ether was worth $8 when 2017 started. By June, its value was hovering near $400. In mid-July, the price slipped below $200.2

If bitcoin and ethereum were stocks, price fluctuations like this would leave their shareholders alternately exhilarated, horrified, and exhausted. Yet, many equities investors are looking at cybercurrencies with great interest, seeing “money to be made.”

As the above examples show, money invested in these commodities can also easily be lost. Extreme volatility aside, ethical and moral issues are also complicating the acceptance of altcoins.

Cryptocurrency may be revolutionary, but it is also shadowy. In the opinion of the Securities and Exchange Commission, bitcoin and other little-regulated altcoins are ripe for criminal activity, particularly fraud and currency manipulation. The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network agrees.1

Cryptocurrencies have been linked to money laundering, a common practice of drug cartels. They are also convenient for online gambling operations. Does an investor really want to risk supporting these activities? Some analysts argue that these doings have been fundamental to the rise of bitcoin and ethereum.2

You may be curious to know how the Internal Revenue Service sees cybercurrency. It defines bitcoin as a form of property, and it may end up broadly applying that definition to other altcoins.1

As more and more businesses are taking digital currency payments, altcoins will remain economically viable. Analysts at Morgan Stanley, however, see the cryptocurrency rally slowing soon unless governments start to provide federal oversight for bitcoin and its ilk.3

If you are nearing retirement and marveling over the rise of bitcoin and ethereum, take a step back and consider the risk exposure of these investments. Putting any portion of your retirement savings in such a hugely speculative commodity is perilous. If it scared you when the S&P 500 lost half its value in the bear market of 2007-09, imagine investing in a cybercurrency and seeing 25-80% of the value of your investment erode in weeks. It has happened, and it could happen again.4

Altcoins are spicing up the investment world these days, but you may be better off with a plain vanilla portfolio.

GREG OLIVER [092304912370947139[057134579

Citations.
1 - tinyurl.com/y8j7q8qy [6/5/17]
2 – marketwatch.com/story/ethereum-has-lost-175-billion-in-market-value-in-4-weeks-2017-07-11 [7/11/17]
3 – marketwatch.com/story/stay-away-from-bitcoin-its-complete-garbage-2017-06-15/ [6/15/17]
4 – cnbc.com/2016/10/24/safe-investing-strategies-for-the-us-election-and-uncertain-times.html [10/24/16]

GREG OLIVER
greg@go2ofs.com

Saving More Money, Now & Later

Saving More Money, Now & Later
You could save today & tomorrow, often without that penny-pinching feeling.

BY GREG OLIVER

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Directly & indirectly, you might be able to save more per month than you think. Hidden paths to greater savings can be found at home and at work, and their potential might surprise you.

Little everyday things may be costing you dollars you could keep. Simply paying cash instead of using a credit card could save you four figures annually. An average U.S. household carries $9,000 in revolving debt; as credit cards currently have a 13% average annual interest rate, that average household pays more than $1,000 in finance charges a year.1

The typical bank customer makes four $60 withdrawals from ATMs a month – given that two or three are probably away from the host bank, that means $5-12 a month lost to ATM fees, or about $60-100 a year. A common household gets about 15 hard-copy bills a month and spends roughly $80 a year on stamps to mail them – why not pay bills online? Automating payments also rescues you from late fees.1

A household that runs full loads in washing machines and dishwashers, washes cars primarily with water from a bucket, and turns off the tap while shaving or brushing teeth may save $100 (or more) in annual water costs.1

Then, there are the big things you could do. If you are saving and investing for the future in a regular, taxable brokerage account, that account has a drawback: you must pay taxes on your investment income in the year it is received. So, you are really losing X% of your return to the tax man (the percentage will reflect your income tax rate).2

In traditional IRAs and many workplace retirement plans, you save for retirement using pre-tax dollars. None of the dollars you invest in those plans count in your taxable income, and the invested assets can grow and compound in the account without being taxed. This year and in years to follow, this means significant tax savings for you. The earnings of these accounts are only taxed when withdrawn.2,3

How would you like to save hundreds of dollars per month in retirement? By saving and investing for retirement using a Roth IRA, that is essentially the potential you give yourself. Roth IRAs are the inverse of traditional IRAs: the dollars you direct into them are not tax deductible, but the withdrawals are tax free in retirement (assuming you abide by I.R.S. rules). Imagine being able to receive retirement income for 20 or 30 years without paying a penny of federal income taxes on it in the years you receive it. Now imagine how sizable that income stream might be after decades of compounding and equity investment for that IRA.4

Many of us can find more money to save, today & tomorrow. Sometimes the saving possibilities are right in front of us. Other times, they may come to us in the future because of present-day financial decisions. We can potentially realize some savings by changes in our financial behavior or our choice of investing vehicles, without resorting to austerity.

Citations.
1 – realsimple.com/work-life/money/saving/money-saving-secrets [7/13/17]
2 – investopedia.com/articles/stocks/11/intro-tax-efficient-investing.asp [8/5/16]
3 – blog.turbotax.intuit.com/tax-deductions-and-credits-2/can-you-deduct-401k-savings-from-your-taxes-7169/ [2/7/17]
4 – cnbc.com/2017/05/15/personal-finance-expert-do-these-6-things-to-save-an-extra-700-per-month.html [5/15/17]
GREG OLIVER 9878896896p896p896p896p896p896p9768