Category Archives: Financial Planning

Flood Insurance: Insuring Your Home

Flood Insurance: Insuring Your HomeDid you know that homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover flood damage? Because of this, homes located in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) are required by lenders to purchase a separate flood insurance policy. However, there are millions of homes at risk that also experience periodic flooding but are not located in the most hazardous zones.

Regardless, any homeowner can purchase flood insurance and the good news is that, for some, rates will be reduced this year.

Starting on Oct. 1, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) launched a new program called Risk Rating 2.0. This program is designed to encourage communities throughout the country to deploy measures that help mitigate potential damage due to flooding. The lower the risk resulting from these efforts, the higher the rating. This means that many homeowners who live in highly rated areas may benefit from lower premiums going forward. However, be aware that there is only one source of insurance sponsored by the government, rates are standardized and payouts are capped at $250,000.

But not to worry, flood insurance also is available in the private market. Private insurers are able to customize premium quotes and the forces of competition help keep premiums reasonable, so it’s a good idea to comparison shop. Private flood insurance policies also offer additional coverage options that the NFIP does not, such as:

  • Up to $1 million or more in building coverage
  • Enhanced coverage for detached structures
  • Replacement cost for contents and secondary residences
  • Additional living expenses
  • Pool repair and fill
  • Business income coverage

If your home is not in a SFHA and you are wondering whether or not to purchase flood insurance, consider how much you can afford to pay out-of-pocket for flood damage. Use this statistic as a guide: 1 inch of floodwater can cause as much as $25,000 in damages to a home.

In other words, paying for flood insurance is kind of like paying a fee to protect your home equity and investment portfolio. Compare a flood policy to buying a warranty for a new appliance. The risk is that the cost of repairing or replacing that appliance would put a strain on your finances. If you apply that same logic to 1 inch of flood damage, you can see that a flood policy would offer a much higher return on the amount you invest in its premium. Since a single flood event could wipe out all of your assets, it stands to reason that insurance is critical for perils that pose high financial risks.

If you still need more data to help decide whether to buy a flood insurance policy, consider the impact that extreme weather events have had on your property in recent years. In many areas, flood damage isn’t caused by a hurricane, but rather by storm surges or heavy rainfall. Even if you haven’t experienced significant events, that could change due to the constantly evolving environment. Rising sea levels and new weather patterns are expected to produce higher intensity flooding from hurricanes and offshore storms.

One way to see the local flood patterns in your area is to visit Floodfactor.com. Navigate the Floodfactor map to pinpoint your home’s exact location, and compare patterns based on past, recent, and projected future weather events. 

Strategies for Paying Off Student Loans

Today, 70 percent of college students graduate with an average of $30,000 in student loan debt. The average payment is nearly $400 a month and will take about 20 years to pay off. On an individual level, paying off high debt can delay hopes of saving to buy a house, start a family, launch a business or invest for retirement.

On a broader level, the national burden of student debt could impact America’s economic future. When young adults are unable to afford home ownership, that reduces spending on all types of consumer products that accompany home buying. It also reduces property taxes used to support local resources and reduces the insurance pool of property owners used to help repair and rebuild homes after extreme weather crises.

Whether you’re a graduate or the relative of a graduate in this situation, it’s worth considering various strategies to help pay off this debt. After all, it may be better – for both your offspring and the country’s GDP – to financially help them out now rather than later via a larger inheritance.

High Interest and Consolidation Considerations

The strategic way to approach student debt is to focus on paying off high-interest loans first. This generally includes private loans and any others with variable interest rates that may increase over time. Be aware that with federal student loans, there are different types and the borrower is permitted to switch to a different payment plan that better suits his needs over time. Another option is to consolidate student loans. However, if sometime in the future federal student loans are forgiven, your student could miss out on that by transferring or consolidating to a privately held loan.

Employer Assistance Programs

In recognition of student loan debt as both a personnel and national concern, many employers are starting to offer repayment assistance programs – even to parents paying off parent student loans. It’s important to inquire whether or not an employer offers this benefit, as they are not always promoted – especially to current workers. However, these programs have become more appealing to companies since passage of the CARES Act, which extended pre-tax employer-provided educational assistance for up to $5,250 per employee, per year through 2025

Another program that some companies have introduced is the ability for employees to convert the cash value of unused paid-time-off (PTO) toward their student loan payments. In other words, if a worker is not able to use all of his accrued paid vacation days in a given year, he can request the employer contribute that income toward his student loan debt.

College Savings Plans

Each state sponsors a Section 529 college savings and investment plan, which feature tax-deferred growth and tax-free withdrawals when used to pay for qualified education expenses.

In 2019, as part of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, Congress included a provision that permits up to $10,000 (a lifetime cap, per each beneficiary) from 529 College Savings Plans to be used to repay student loans. For example, if a family has three college students, the parents may withdraw up to $30,000 to help pay off that debt from their 529 account(s). Note that a 529 account owner can change the 529 plan beneficiary at any time without tax consequences.

Be aware, however, if 529 college funds are used to make principal and interest payments on a qualified student loan, that student loan interest cannot be claimed as a deduction on their tax return.

Pass-through Entity Tax (PTET)

Finally some great news for the taxpayers!!!
New York State has passed a law and the IRS has issued regulations that allow for the deduction of SALT taxes at the entity level. This will allow taxpayers to pay the tax due on income from Pass Through Entities (Partnerships, LLC’s and S Corporations) and thus reduce their federal income tax liability. At a time where expected federal tax hikes are coming this is an excellent opportunity to mitigate some of that projected increase in taxes.
This election MUST be made annually by the taxpayer. Your tax professional is not and can not be authorized to make the election on your behalf. However, please notify your WZ accountant if you make the election.
This is a new law and the guidelines have only recently been provided by NYS. The election due dates and important items of note are as follows:
  • For the calendar tax year beginning January 1, 2021 and ending December 31, 2021 the election MUST be made by October 15, 2021 (no extensions are available)
  • For the calendar tax year beginning January 1, 2022 and ending December 31, 2022 the election MUST be made by March 15, 2022 (no extensions are available)
  • Once the election is made it is irrevocable for that tax year.
  • Any estimated tax payments for the current tax year ending December 31, 2021 must be paid by December 31, to be deducted if you are a cash basis taxpayer.
  • For tax year ended 2022 quarterly estimates will be required and due on March 15, June 15, September 15 and December 15.
To see the step by step instructions to guide you through the process of setting up a user account (if you currently do not have one) and making the election for the current tax year 2021 please see  PTET Election Instructions
Please note, this election is optional. The decision whether to make the election is up to the entity, through its owners. The actual signing and submission of the election must be done by a duly authorized officer of the company.
The Partners and Team at WZ are available to answer any questions and assist in the process. We will also advise you on tax planning options and assist in quantifying the savings.
Please be advised that any time spent is not included in your current engagement and or retainer and you will incur additional fees at our standard billing rates.
Best regards,
WZ Partners

What is a Net Zero Economy?

Net Zero Economy

President Biden re-entered the United States in the Paris Agreement. This is an international treaty first signed in 2015 in which countries around the globe committed to mitigating climate change. Specifically, the goal of the Paris Accord is to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

This objective would generate what is called a net zero global economy, which means creating a balance between the amount of greenhouse gases produced and the amount of greenhouse gasses removed from the atmosphere. The main engine that places carbon back into the soil is healthy vegetation that grows all years round, these are called cover crops and reforestation. You can help by using the Ecosia search engine. 

The initial benchmark is to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2070. However, accomplishing these lofty goals will require a remarkable transformation of the global economy and global farming practices.

A way to measure global warming is through “temperature alignment” – a forward-looking benchmark that compares the level of emissions today against the potential for reducing them by a certain date in the future. The measure can be applied to a specific business, government, or investment portfolio.

For investors, global greening provides an opportunity to invest in companies positioning for a future net zero economy. After all, it’s important to recognize that climate risk represents substantial investment risk. Companies that prepare for the transition to sustainable energy sources will be able to deliver long-term returns, while those that do not could become obsolete.

If Net Zero is your path consider the following steps to align your investment allocation with the goals of a net zero economy. For example:

  • Reduce your exposure to high-carbon emitters and companies not making forward-looking commitments to transform to the net zero economy.
  • Prioritize investment decisions based on companies actively reducing reliance on fossil fuels and meeting science-based targets.
  • Target specific sustainable sectors (e.g., clean energy, green bonds) based on your asset allocation strategy – and diversify investments among those holdings.
  • Monitor ongoing research and available data to measure temperature alignment to ensure your issuers and investments are meeting published transition plans. This benchmark should be reviewed with the same rigor as traditional financial data.

The United States and the entire world have a choice to reduce the global. However, the effort also offers an opportunity to invest in climate innovation. The future will bring the survival of the fittest, is your portfolio ready.

HSA: Save it for Retirement

HSA: Save it for Retirement, Health Saving AccountAccording to Fidelity Investments, the average 65-year-old couple retiring today will need about $300,000 for out-of-pocket healthcare expenses during retirement. And that doesn’t even include long-term care. One way to help pay for this enormous cost is to open a health savings account (HSA), which is a savings and investment vehicle designed to help people pay for medical-related expenses on a tax-free basis.

To open one of these accounts, you must be enrolled in an HSA-eligible, high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP). These are offered by many employers and also are available on the individual insurance market. One of the little-known advantages of the HSA is that if you delay withdrawing from it until retirement, you’ll have money ready to tap for those out-of-pocket expenses on as-needed basis.

An HDHP works exactly as it is named; comprehensive coverage does not kick in until the plan member reaches an annual deductible that is typically higher than other healthcare plans. The trade-off for the higher deductible is that monthly premiums are lower. Therefore, this type of plan is generally suited for healthy individuals or families that do not have a lot of ongoing medical expenses.

In 2021, the annual HSA contribution limit is $3,600 for individuals and $7,200 for family coverage.  In 2022, these limits increase to $3,650 for individuals and $7,300 for families. Account owners age 55 and older may add another $1,000 “catch-up” contribution. With a work-sponsored HDHP, both the employee and the employer may contribute to the savings account, but their combined contributions may not exceed the annual limit. As long as you are enrolled in an HDHP, you may contribute to the HSA. Even when you no longer contribute, the account belongs to you and maybe invested for growth and tapped as needed.

Investment Advantage

An HSA is maintained at a financial institution, such as a bank. Once saved assets have reached a certain threshold, that custodian will allow the owner to invest a portion of the balance. While the HSA rules technically allow you to invest starting with your first dollar, many custodians have their own minimums required in the HSA (usually $1,000 to $2,500) to be available for medical expenses. Beyond that the balance, the savings can be invested for growth. Also, the owner can transfer money to and from the bank and the investment account as needed.

The invested portion of an HSA is transferred to a brokerage account. There, the owner has a variety of options to invest in, including mutual funds and individual securities. According to Morningstar, more than 80 percent of HSA investment funds have earned gold, silver, or bronze analyst ratings, and the lower end of investment fees range from 0.02 percent to 0.68 percent a year. Note that some investment management fees run higher, so it’s important to compare fees just as you would with any other type of investment.

Triple Tax Advantage

The health savings account features more tax benefits than any other type of investment, including a 401(k), a traditional IRA, or a Roth IRA. That’s because all contributions are tax-free (either through payroll deductions at work, which also avoid FICA taxes or as a tax deduction when health insurance is purchased independently). Moreover, HSA investments grow tax-free. If eventual withdrawals are used to pay for qualified medical expenses, they are not taxed either. So essentially, savings, investments, and gains from an HSA account that are used to pay for healthcare expenses are never subject to taxes. If you do use this money for nonqualified expenses, you’ll have to pay income taxes and, if taken before age 65, a penalty fee as well.

However, consider when most people encounter their highest medical bills: during retirement. If you pay for all out-of-pocket expenses with current income throughout your career, your HSA has the opportunity to grow into a substantial nest egg by (and during) retirement. The most effective use of these funds is to pay for health-related expenses, such as Medicare premiums, dental, and vision care, long-term care insurance premiums, and nursing home costs.

An additional advantage is that health savings accounts are not subject to required minimum distributions. However, be aware that when an HSA is left to a non-spouse heir, it converts to a taxable account – so it’s best to use up these assets while you’re still alive.

35 Million Unprocessed Tax Returns Due To IRS Delays

The various pandemic-era programs introduced by the federal government have increased the tax authority’s workload and caused delays in the tax refund process.
The IRS has been under extreme pressure since the start of the pandemic, tasked with implementing a range of federal relief programs designed to support individuals, families and businesses affected by covid-19.
“The IRS and its employees deserve tremendous credit for what they have accomplished under very difficult circumstances, but there is always room for improvement.” Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins wrote in her report. “This year, the IRS is dealing with an unprecedented number of returns requiring manual review, slowing the issuance of refunds,” Collins continued. “These processing backlogs matter greatly because most taxpayers overpay their tax during the year by way of wage withholding or estimated tax payments and are entitled to receive refunds when they file their returns. Moreover, the government uses the tax system to distribute other financial benefits.”
The 35 million pending returns account for 20 percent of the total returns submitted. And with the May 17 federal tax deadline almost two months in the past, the IRS is well beyond the 21-day processing time it typically strives for. Myriad reasons account for the delay.

The 2021 tax filing season started late and was extended an extra month due to the coronavirus pandemic. To make matters worse, the agency was inundated with phone calls and unable to keep up. During the 2021 filing period, the IRS received 167 million phone calls, four times more than during the 2019 season. As a result, only 9% of calls were answered by a live customer service representative.The popular “1040” line, the most frequently dialed IRS toll-free number, received 85 million calls during the 2021 filing season, with only 3% of callers reaching a live person.

Since the start of 2021, the IRS has issued the second and third economic impact payments, better known as stimulus checks. The second, for up to $600, started going out at the end of December 2020, as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. The third, for up to $1,400, started going out in the middle of March, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The IRS began accepting tax returns on February 12. So the latest check was processed during tax season, its busiest time of the year.

Another key component of the American Rescue Plan is the updated Child Tax Credit. Starting July 15, the IRS will pay $3,600 per child to parents of children up to age five. Half will come as six monthly payments, and half as a 2021 tax credit. That comes out to $300 per month and another $1,800 at tax time. The total amount changes to $3,000 per child for parents of six to 17 year olds, or $250 per month and $1,500 at tax time. The IRS has also been standing up this new program of monthly Child Tax Credit payments during tax season. While the agency has now sent out three stimulus checks, it has no experience sending out millions of periodic payments. Resources dedicated to setting up this program are resources not dedicated to its core mission, which is to “provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.”

Erin Collins’s report also cites limited resources and technology issues as reasons for delays in processing tax returns. The agency operated under many of the same limitations that have affected office workers the world over during the pandemic. That included remote work, which can affect efficiency. The IRS is also understaffed and underfunded. Congress has continually reduced the agency’s budget over the last decade. Funding and total employment are both down by about 20 percent.

Beginning the tax season at a disadvantage contributed to the 35 million-return backlog. Tasking the IRS with stimulus checks and the updated Child Tax Credit at the same time drew resources away from processing tax returns. And a history of understaffing and underfunding set them up for failure. All of this put a strain on Americans who were counting on timely refunds.

Wishing on a Star: Investors Pour Billions in to SPACs

A SPAC is a special purpose acquisition company. It is typically sponsored by a venture capitalist or a private equity firm that has expertise in a specific sector or industry, such as green technology. A SPAC launches as an IPO, but it is nothing more than a shell company that raises money from investors. Post-IPO, it has a limited amount of time (one to two years) to merge with an existing company, where the capitol is deployed. Once that happens, the private operating company trades publicly under the SPAC name.

While SPACs have been around for about 30 years, they’ve only become popular in the past year or so. In fact, this year investors have already poured more than $100 billion into these vehicles, and that’s more than the total amount raised since they were first introduced. SPACs offer investors the opportunity to buy into a startup, which might be at early-, middle- or late-stage development when it partners with the SPAC. In 2020 and 2021, industries heavily represented by SPACs include electric vehicles, consumer-oriented technology, communications and retail.

What makes the SPAC particularly interesting is that investors do not know what company they are buying into since the entity has no commercial operations of its own. As such, they are sold largely based on trust in the management sponsor and belief in the growth potential for the industry it represents.

SPACs differ from traditional IPOs in that the IPO price is not based on the valuation of an existing business. Instead, investors typically pay $10 per common share of regular stock at the initial offering. These shares are referred to as units. Each unit also includes a warrant, which offers the right to purchase the company’s stock at a specific price and at a later date. Once a SPAC merges with a private company, the shares and warrants are listed and publicly traded on the stock exchange. Capital raised by the sale of warrants is typically used to compensate the SPAC sponsor.

One of the appeals of the SPAC model is that individual investors have the opportunity to invest in a startup that has been vetted and funded by an experienced private equity partner. This presents less risk as well as a ground-floor opportunity that is usually not feasible for individual investors. Most IPO opportunities require higher capital investments and occur at a later stage of development. SPACs provide the opportunity to commit a smaller investment at an earlier stage in a company’s life cycle, which often offers the potential for higher returns.

Unfortunately, the lack of a longer, established track record also increases risk – which is something the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is currently scrutinizing. For now, the SEC has taken a hands-off approach, hoping the market will regulate itself. However, if SPAC sponsors oversell the entity’s capabilities or investors become disillusioned with the returns on their investment, the SPAC market may be subject to considerable regulation in the future.

As for investment returns, the outcomes are mixed. Initial SPAC IPOs tend to outperform the S&P 500. However, once SPACs merge with their respective private companies, the results tend to be less impressive. Given their recent surge in popularity, there’s no way to gauge their long-term performance success. 

NJ Governor Murphy signs $235M in relief for small businesses

New Jersey small businesses and other entities crushed by the coronavirus pandemic are now eligible for another round of grant funding under a package of bills totaling $235 million in aid that Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Tuesday.
“Throughout the past year, we have focused our relief efforts on supporting New Jersey’s small businesses so they can emerge from the pandemic stronger than before,” said Governor Murphy. “This additional funding will help us add to the more than 60,000 small businesses that have received aid to date.”
In the Assembly the bills were sponsored by Assembly members Vince Mazzeo, Roy Freiman, Lisa Swain, Andrew Zwicker, John Armato, Chris Tully, Pedro Mejia, Angela McKnight, Adam Taliaferro, Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Linda Carter, Joann Downey, Yvonne Lopez, Stanley Sterley, and Eric Houghtaling. In the Senate, the bills were sponsored by Senators Dawn Marie Addiego, Vin Gopal, and Joseph Lagana.
The funding will be administered by the NJEDA, which has reopened its Phase IV grant pre-application for those businesses that missed the original deadline. To date, the EDA has distributed more than $420 million in aid to some 63,000 businesses across the state. The breakdown of the $235 million in proposed today’s bill package is as follows:
  • Microbusinesses: $120 million
  • Bars and Restaurants: $20 million
  • Child Care Facilities: $10 million
  • Other Small Businesses and non-profits: $50 million
  • New Businesses and Start-Ups: $25 million
  • Sustain and Serve: $10 million

 

Small Business Recovery Grant Program

The New York State COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program was created to provide flexible grant assistance to currently viable small businesses, micro-businesses and for-profit independent arts and cultural organizations in the State of New York who have experienced economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications open last Thursday for $800 million in state grants to help the smallest businesses recover from the pandemic – and the money may not be taxed by Albany.
The State Legislature is expected to approve a proposal from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to exempt the COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program from state income tax. The grants vary between $5,000 and $50,000.
The money will serve as reimbursement of employee wages, rent and mortgage payments, taxes, utility bills and other operating expenses from the pandemic, between March 1, 2020 and April 1, 2021. Also reimbursable is the purchase of masks, gloves, face shields and other personal protective equipment and improvements to ventilation systems to slow the coronavirus’ spread during the period.
Read more on eligibility and apply here:

New York Forward Loan Fund accepting Pre-Applications

New York Forward Loan Fund (NYFLF) is a new economic recovery loan program aimed at supporting New York State small businesses, nonprofits and small landlords as they reopen after the COVID-19 outbreak and NYS on PAUSE.
Pre-applications for the New York Forward Loan Fund are now open. This is not a first-come, first-served loan program. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.  For small businesses and nonprofits, you are encouraged to prepare your pre-application in advance by taking advantage of the application preparation resources available here.