How the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Affects You

On November 2nd, following months of buzz but few details, the House of Representatives introduced the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”, the opening salvo in what is sure to be a contentious process of turning complex legislation into law before Congress’s self-imposed year-end deadline. Continue reading


2017 Medicare Open Enrollment Checklist

healthcareIt’s that time of year again. If you’re one of the roughly 45 million Americans enrolled in Medicare, get ready for some year-end shopping. Medicare open enrollment for Medicare Supplement and Advantage plans and Medicare prescription drug plans runs from October 15th until December 7th. Open enrollment presents a great opportunity for seniors to manage their health care costs for the coming year. Continue reading

Do a Mid-Year Financial Checkup

Do a Mid-Year Financial Checkup


It’s shocking that the calendar somehow says June. Wasn’t it just January? You made all those resolutions, likely including some about your finances. Mid-year though, where do you stand?

It’s time for a financial checkup.

What’s changed?

A lot can happen in six months. Has there been a birth, a death, wedding, divorce, job loss, new job, illness? Any such event can call for a course adjustment or correction. Maybe you did a budget at the beginning of the year, but given such life changes it’s no longer realistic.

Review your current expenses and spending and see where you need to tweak your budget. Maybe you’ve gotten promoted and you can put more money toward retirement savings, or pay down debt more aggressively. On the other hand, if you’ve lost your job, you will need to get tough on cutting expenses.

If you’re looking for guidelines, Elle Kaplan, CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital is a fan of the 50-30-20 plan. “Fifty percent of each paycheck goes to needs like housing, utilities and medical expenses, 30% is spendable income for ‘wants’ and 20% goes to your financial priorities – saving, investing and meeting your financial goals.”

Life changes may also precipitate the need to review your beneficiary designations on your will, trusts, and life insurance policies, for example.

Anticipate year-end

Get a jump on year-end expenses. If you haven’t been saving already, start stashing whatever amount works for you, toward holiday costs like gifts, travel, decorations, and entertaining and festivities that might require additions to your wardrobe. “Setting aside money now can save you from getting derailed later,” says Kaplan.

Take on taxes

Perhaps in the serenity of summer taxes seem less taxing. Now is great opportunity to review your tax withholdings and make any estimated take payments, says Jon Gassman, CPA and CEO of The Gassman Financial Group.

Take a look at last year’s tax return and your most recent pay stub (or, if self-employed or have fluctuating income, look at year-to-date revenues and expenses). Review that in light of this year’s finances, along with the IRS withholding calculator to determine how much you might owe in taxes this year and update your withholdings as needed, suggests Andrew Housser, CEO of Freedom Financial Network.

Make some charitable donations now so you don’t have to bunch them at year-end, says Michael David Schulman of Blue Flamingo Wealth Management.

Wake up

For many it was a long, hard winter, that numbed the brain and now there’s the distraction of summer fun. But there’s plenty to pay attention to. “This winter changed the game for the rest of the year and can seriously impact your portfolio all the way down to your asset allocation strategy if you’re not paying attention,” says Nick Ventura, CEO and president of Ventura Wealth Management.

The market went form a general risk-on trading attitude to a risk-off trading attitude, he says, meaning simpler, more reliable stocks are in vogue. Others, based on the bull phase, sense trouble, since they came down a lot in value and people feel unwilling to commit to long-term risk, he adds.

Consider the higher geopolitical risk. “The atmosphere and tensions in Russia exemplify this point. Geopolitical situations may seem small, but they often pose some type of threats to investments. Russia’s situation alone impacts investments – the country supplies about 40% of natural gas in Europe. When reviewing your asset allocation in your portfolio, make sure you review the current market situations too,” says Ventura.

Are you managing your debt?

You undoubtedly vowed to get out of debt. Measure your progress by confirming that your holiday spending is paid off. “If your credit card debt still exceeds what it did on November 1, 2013, get busy. Set that as your new goal. Stop charging and power pay each card until you are at lest back to your pre-holiday debt level,” says Gail Cunningham, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Check your credit report. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies offers a single free credit report each year.

Check your credit report. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies offers a single free credit report each year. You can get one at Review it for errors and take action if you find any. Repeat the review at the end of the year.

Assess whether you’re being astute with your credit cards. has list of questions you should ask yourself during a mid-year financial review, including — Does my current card still fit my lifestyle? Are there any loyalty programs that I’m not taking full advantage of? Can my score afford a new card?

“People tend to place far less emphasis on managing their debt than they do on their investment strategy. In doing so, they may be missing an important opportunity to improve their financial lives,” points out John Inhouse, III, a managing director at Merrill Lynch.

Assess savings

Most everyone wanted to save more this year. How are you doing? Make sure that your emergency savings fund is on track. While setting aside three months worth of household income is suggested by some, realistically you should aim for six-nine months, says Gassman.

Check in on your savings goals, such as your children’s education, retirement, family vacation and home improvements. If you’re falling short, see where you can make spending adjustments, or assess whether you want to take on a part-time job, or otherwise find ways to generate more income to bridge the gap.

Invest in yourself

The best asset you have in life is yourself. Your financial success is generally tied to the long-term success of your career. “Consider your current position, compensation, and your long-term upward career mobility. What were your accomplishments during the first half of the year? What value can you add in the second half, should you consider other careers?” asks Anthony Criscuolo, a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group.

While he’s not saying jump ship, think about ways to improve your skills and enhance value to your company. “A more successful career can pay huge financial dividends through higher salary, better job security, and ideally higher job satisfaction.”

Move forward

Maybe you’ll find that you’re right where you hoped to be financially, or maybe you’re not even close. Instead of beating yourself up over goals not set or met, give yourself a do-over says Cunningham.

She says to start now with six goals you can accomplish by year-end. For example, “consider doable goals such as socking away money for holiday spending so that you can have a debt-free Christmas this year or getting financially organized so that you can stop paying bills late and incurring late fees and dinging your credit.”

Says Kevan Melchiorre, a private wealth advisor with Busey Wealth Management, “It’s never too late to right the ship.”


As any small business owner will attest, success can be habit-forming. But what are the habits that lead to success? With a nod to author Stephen R. Covey, here are seven habits that highly successful small business owners use to achieve their goals and enjoy happier, more fulfilling lives:

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1. Focus on Why You Want to Succeed. “Set your major goals in the context of why you want to achieve them, not just what you want to achieve,” says Karen D. Walker, president of Oneteam, Inc., a consultancy in Shelburne, VT. “Having clarity about intention will increase the quality of your decisions and will keep you going when there are bumps in the road.”


2. Schedule Meditation Time. People often preach the benefits of relaxing or exercise, but fail to make time for them in the hectic rush of the day. Jonathan Gassman, a CPA in Midtown Manhattan, meditates each morning – and then sets his smart phone to remind himself three times during the day to “pause, close my eyes, and meditate.” Take the same approach with exercise – don’t try to fit the gym or a walk in around other tasks; put it in your schedule, as if it were an important meeting.

3. Express Gratitude. Saying “thank you” will not only make other people smile – a study from Northwestern University found that expressing gratitude on a daily basis can make you more patient and a better decision-maker. Gassman has another neat reminder to stay thankful: “I keep five pennies in my left pocket and, during the day, I must either express gratitude or thanks to at least five people,” he says. “Each time I do that I move a penny from my left pocket to my right.”

4. Create a “Must-Do” List. Feeling overwhelmed by a to-do list that never shrinks? Blow up your to-do list (which doesn’t work), and make a daily list of three must-do things, and a weekly list of six must-do’s,” says Jim Grew, president of The Grew Company, a Portland, OR consultancy. “They must be doable in the day or the week, respectively. If needed, cut them into daily and weekly pieces. Write the daily list each day first thing, and weekly list before you start Monday. Don’t cheat: adding to the list won’t get more done.”

5. Push Stuff Off. Small business owners often try to do it all, which sometimes distracts them from the most important tasks. Grew tries to avoid as much as possible, by greeting every idea, request, or possibility with a response that begins with “D.” Delete: Get rid of it immediately. Delay: Ignore it. Often others will fix it, or it will shrivel of itself. Delegate: Look for someone who can do at least part of it. Then give the entire task to them, making available the help they need. He says, “Delegate entire tasks, expecting that the other person will need some guidance. Check in, listen, help only when needed; not when you want.”

6. Be a Question Asker. It’s great to be the person who has all the answers; but there’s also a huge benefit to knowing the right questions to ask. Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks and CEO of MSCO, a management and marketing firm, believes in spouting “Why?” throughout the day: “Why do we have this strategy? Why can’t we cut our costs?” He continues: “Ask random questions to discover where employees stand on key projects. Use this to keep raising the bar on the culture and send the message that good isn’t good enough.”

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7. Plan For Tomorrow Today. “Do you remember the days of pre-packed lunches and crisply ironed uniforms in the morning?” says Jody Johnson, co-owner of Action Coach Business Coaching. “Preparing for the next day before hitting the hay will make you more likely to wake up and get started on work.” She adds: “Leave your phone and computer outside of your bedroom to keep bedtime distractions to a minimum; you’ll be thankful for your clear head when you wake up.”

Capital One does not provide, endorse, nor guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their products and services. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Accomplish Your Goals: Frustration Breakthrough Exercise

Every now and then I get annoyed, even exasperated, at situations in which I find myself at work and in my personal life.  Often, all these situations need is a bit of course correction to get back on track.  I use the following process to step back, assess the situation, get clarity, and devise an action plan to move toward the ideal result.

  1. Start by listing all of your current frustrations and irritations.  I list what is bothering me – in all areas of my life.  These can be things that are distracting me, angering me, taking up my mental energy.  It might be business results from the last quarter, not having enough quality time off, dealing with too many office distractions, gaining weight.
  1. The next step is to brainstorm for each item on your frustration list: what is the ideal goal?  Write down the ideal goal.  The ideal goal should  manifest exactly how you would like life to look, for example:  get back to a weight of  X lbs, spend quality time with my children on the weekend instead of checking my blackberry, divide day at work so that 90% of my time is focused on business-related activities.
  1. The third step is to create a strategy.  For each item that I listed, what do I need to take to resolve these annoyances or frustrations?  Examples may be: delegating more in my office so that I can focus on what I should be doing, review my business plan to ascertain how I am tracking against my goals, schedule a meeting to discus all the projects with the team and what responsibilities they have, go back to keeping a food journal and exercise more.
  1. Finally, we create an action plan to implement the strategy.  The action plan should answer the question: what, specifically, do I need to do over the next 30, 60, and 90 days so that I will be able to make some progress in these areas.  For the strategy to exercising more, this may include: rejoining the gym and scheduling 1 personal training session a week for the next 8 weeks.  For the strategy of delegating more, this may include sitting down with the office manager to identify frustrations and figure out who is best to manage those projects and tasks.

Here is an example, using 6 common frustrations, illustrating exactly how to use this tool to get the results that you want.  Good luck!

Frustration Ideal Goal Strategy Action Plan
1. Health 1. Weight is 185, living a healthy lifestyle 1. Restart the my Evernote food journal and go to the gym every other day 1. Call the nutritionist and join spin class
2. Constant interruptions between email and drive by meetings 2. No interruptions and distractions, 2. Block time during the day to respond to calls, emails, and team questions 2. Set an out of office reminder that emails will be checked twice a day, please don’t expect instant responses. turn off email notifications. Let the team know the ideal times to discuss issues with me,
3. Revenue Stagnant 3. Exceed our revenue goals 3. Review the Revenue Targets with the team 3. Have regular meetings with the team to report the #’s with weekly progress and status reports
4. Team results are not where they need to be 4. Team is engaged, own the projects 4. Team meeting to discuss 4. share with the team exactly what their duties & responsibilities are as well as their KPI’s and track them
5. Loops not closed 5. Communication is off the chart 5. When clients communications arrive, let the client know that you received it and a response will be provided by a certain day 5. Meet wit the team and implement a follow up plan for closing loops
6. Kids 6. Weekend belongs to family 6. Have a family meeting and schedule activities for the weekend 6. Book the next 8 weeks



Financial Planning with Children: Your Child’s First Summer Job

Whether it was selling lemonade on the sidewalk, baby-sitting for neighbors’ children, or a high-profile internship during college, we all remember our first summer job.


Summer jobs (or paid internships) are great opportunities to teach your children about money – everything from budgeting to saving.  Here’s a quick reference guide of topics when it comes to your child’s first summer job.


–       Withholding: Help your child sort through the paperwork that is involved with obtaining a job, including filling out the W4 form, which is the form used to determine the number of tax exemptions one should claim.  Importantly, if your child is a student, he/she can claim exempt from tax withholding. 

–       Your own exemption: If you want to avoid having your child file an income tax return, if his/her only income is the summer salary/wages, your child can claim exempt on the W4 and avoid filing an income tax return because he/she is earning under the threshold.  Please note, your child can only be exempt from federal and state withholding, not from social security and Medicare.

–       Claiming dependents: you can still claim your child as a dependent as long as he/she is either a) under the age of 19 at the end of the year OR b) under the age of 24 at the end of the year and a full-time student.

–       Once your child has received his/her first paycheck, it is a great time to start discussing money management, beginning with opening a bank account (checking, savings, or money market).   Receiving an ATM card can prompt an important conversation about the importance of budgeting (and how much of his/her expenses he/she is responsible for paying over the summer)

–       If your child is opening a savings account, it is a great opportunity for him/her to begin putting money away in an IRA (either a traditional or a Roth)

–       Also, make sure to check out our post on: Funding College and Graduate School Using Qualified Education Savings Programs


Checklist for a Midyear Financial Checkup

With tax season ending and the start of summer, it’s easy to forget about your finances.  However, this midpoint in the year, as things begin to slow down, is one of the best times to evaluate where you stand, to become aware of issues before it is too late, and to make any necessary course corrections.

We recommend evaluating your:


Now is a great time to fine-tune your budget or spending plan based on any changes (raises, bonuses, additional debt).



Make sure that your emergency savings fund is on track.  While some suggest setting aside 3 months worth of household income, we suggest 6-9 months of cash readily accessible, particularly as the timeframe to fine employment increases.

Check in on your other savings goals such as: your children’s educational planning, retirement savings, family vacation, or home improvements.

Retirement: make sure you are maximizing your annual contributions to your 401k, traditional or Roth IRA, or any other sort of savings you’re looking towards.  For more information check out our retirement posts.  If you see you’re falling short, you may want to consider increasing your contributions.  Take the time to evaluate your company match to maximize your full match potential



Guard against identity theft.  Request your free credit report from the 3 credit reporting agencies online, for free at  Make sure your credit report is updated and accurate – check for any problems or unusual activity.  Close down credit cards that are no longer in use.  Make sure the debt that you’ve taken out is in your name.



The midyear checkup is a good opportunity to review your tax withholdings and make any estimated tax payments.  Contact your CPA or check the IRS withholding calculator.



Take a look at your current insurance plans: life, health, disability, long-term care, auto, homeowner’s policy.  Do you have the right type of insurance and coverage? Make any policy changes or modifications based on changes in the first part of the year.



Now is a good time to review and adjust your asset allocation or your goals, particularly if you want to take on more risk or your retirement time horizon has changed.

Funding College and Graduate School Using Qualified Education Savings Programs

college fund 529Planning for higher education – whether for your children or grandchildren – may seem like a daunting task.  What many people don’t know is that there are qualified education savings programs, called 529 plans, that are operated by states or educational institutions, which have substantial tax benefits to those contributing.

529 plans area established and run by both educational institutions and nearly all US states.  State plans are available to out-of-state residents and students can use the plans to pay for out-of-state universities.  State sponsored plans permit the contributions to be invested in a variety of ways.

Unlike other types of educational savings accounts (such as Coverdell plans), for 529 plans, there are no income-based limitations on contributions.

Investment options within 529 plans are generally quite flexible.


Are 529 Contributions Tax Deductible?

Contributions to 529 plans must be contributed in cash and are treated by the internal revenue code as a completed gift with no strings under the estate and gift tax rules.

529 contributes are not tax deductable on your federal return but they may be deductable on your state return depending on the state in which you live  (check with your tax advisor).


How much can I contribute to a 529 plan?

The maximum annual gift that an individual can contribute is $14,000 in 2014

There is, however a special rule that permits an election to spread contributions over 5 years.  If a grandparent wanted to make a gift to a grandchild, she could make a gift up to $70,000 in one year without gift tax consequences (=$14,000*5 years).  In order to make the 5 year election, it is important that the election is made on form 709 by checking the Schedule A box with an attached explanation.  We recommend you consult your financial planner for this paperwork.

A married couple can elect to split gifts, thereby making the maximum contribution $140,000 ($70,000 per person for the 5 year spread) per account in a year.

Is it Subject to Income Tax?

Investments earned on 529 plans are not subject to current income taxes.

Distributions take from 529 accounts are excluded from taxable income when used to pay for qualified higher education expenses.

Qualified expenses are for college or graduate school only (not elementary) for students who are enrolled at least half-time and include:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Books
  • Supplies
  • Equipment (such as computers)
  • Room and board

Unlike other educational savings vehicles, there’s no age limit on taking distributions or when a 529 plan must terminate.

Choosing between a 529 plan and other savings plans

Individuals are allowed to contribute to both 529 plans AND Coverdell savings accounts in the same year for the same student. Beneficiaries can take  distributions from both accounts in the same year (although not for the same expenses).



Distributions for reasons other than higher education are subject to income tax as well as a 10% penalty.

The donor can change a beneficiary to a different family member without any tax consequences.

If you’re displeased with the performance of your savings account, you can roll over to another 529 plan for the beneficiary within 60 days without income tax issues.  This is only permitted once a year.


IRS CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE:  To the extent that this message or any attachment concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.  LEGAL, INVESTMENT AND TAX NOTICE:  This information is not intended to be and should not be treated as legal advice, investment advice or tax advice.  Clients should under no circumstances rely upon this information as a substitute for obtaining specific legal or tax advice from their own professional legal or tax advisors.