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What You Should Know About the Stimulus Checks

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion economic relief plan set to provide aid to millions of Americans impacted by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. The package includes stimulus payments for individuals, additional unemployment coverage, student loan relief, and more.

But, what does that mean for you?

Stimulus Payments

Most adults will receive a check or direct deposit. The amount will vary based on adjusted gross income, filing status, and the number of dependents you claim. The amounts will break down as follows:

  • Single adults who made $75,000 or less annually will receive $1,200. If you have qualifying children 16 or under, you will receive an additional $500 per child.
  • Married couples with no children who made $150,000 or less will receive $2,400.
  • Taxpayers who file as the head of household will get the full payment if they earned $112,500 or less.
  • For single adults who make more than $75,000, the payment gradually decreases until it stops all together at $99,000.
  • For married people with no children who make more than $150,000, the stimulus payment gradually decreases until it stops all together at $198,000.

If someone claims you as a dependent – even as an adult – you will not be eligible for a relief payment. To see your adjusted gross income, look at Line 8B on your 2019 or 2018 1040 federal tax return.

Most people will receive their payments within three weeks. However, according to the bill, you’ll receive a paper notice in the mail a few weeks after your payment has been distributed. That notice will also contain information about where the payment ended up and in what form it was made.

Additional Unemployment Coverage

Under the stimulus package, additional unemployment benefits will be extended to people who wouldn’t typically be eligible for unemployment.

Typically, self-employed and part-time workers, gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, but under the stimulus package, those groups will be protected. Benefits will be calculated based on previous income using a formula from the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program.

Under the plan, eligible workers will get an extra $600 per week in addition to the state unemployment they are currently receiving. The state unemployment and extra coverage is designed to replace the paycheck that has been lost due to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Student Loan Relief

The federal government has already waived two months of interest and payments for student borrowers. There will be an automatic payment suspension until Aug. 30 for any student loans held by the federal government. Older Federal Family Educational Loans, Perkins loans or loans from state or private agencies are not eligible. However, if you have a private student loan, it’s worth asking to see what options are available to you.

Retirement Accounts

The stimulus package has also suspended certain retirement account rules for the calendar year 2020. No one will have to take a required minimum distribution from individual retirement accounts or workplace retirement savings plans.

If you have an IRA or workplace retirement plan, you can withdraw up to $100,000 without the usual 10 percent penalty as long as the withdrawal is because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The withdrawal qualifies if you, a spouse or dependent tested positive for the virus or you experienced other negative economic effects related to the pandemic. You’ll also be able to spread out any income taxes you owe as a result over a three-year time period from the date of the distribution.

You can also borrow from your 401(k) and can take out twice the usual amount. For 180 days after the bill passes, if you provide certification that you’ve been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, you can withdraw up to $100,000. If you already have a loan and it’s supposed to be repaid before Dec. 31, you get an extra year.

We’re facing unprecedented times; the pandemic has touched everyone’s lives in some way. Please know, Scient Federal Credit Union is here for you during this time. If you’re experiencing financial hardship due to the Coronavirus pandemic, reach out and talk to us at 860-445-1060. Let us help you find the option that works best for you. We can get through this together; one step at a time.

Coronavirus Concerns? Consider Past Health Crises

touching a touch screen

Putting current market volatility into historical perspective can help you stay the course during turbulent times.

 

stock price spike

Dollar-cost averaging does not ensure a profit or prevent a loss. Such plans involve continuous investments in securities regardless of fluctuating prices. You should consider your financial ability to continue making purchases during periods of low and high price levels. However, this can be an effective way for investors to accumulate shares to help meet long-term goals.

Asset allocation is a method used to help manage investment risk; it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss.

 

During the last week of February 2020, the S&P 500 lost 11.49% — the worst week for stocks since the 2008 financial crisis — only to jump by 4.6% on the first Monday in March.1 By all accounts, the drop was largely driven by ever-increasing fears about the potential effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and its ultimate impact on the global economy. Although many market observers contend that the market was overvalued and due for a correction anyway, the unpredictability, strength, and suddenness of the historic tumble was unnerving for even the most seasoned investors. If recent volatility is causing you to consider cashing out of your stock holdings, it may be worthwhile to pause and put recent events into perspective, using history as a guide.

A look back

Since the turn of the millennium, the market’s negative response to health crises has been relatively short-lived. As this table shows, approximately six months after early reports of a major outbreak, the S&P 500 bounced back by an average of 10.47%. After 12 months, it rebounded by an average of 17.17%. Although there are no guarantees the current situation will follow a similar pattern, it may be reassuring to know that over even longer periods of time, stocks typically regain their upward trajectory, helping long-term investors who hold steady to recoup their temporary losses, catch their breath, and go on to pursue their goals.

Epidemic Month end* 6-month performance, S&P 500 12-month performance, S&P 500
SARS April 2003 14.59% 20.76%
Avian (Bird) flu June 2006 11.66% 18.36%
Swine flu (H1N1) April 2009** 18.72% 35.96%
MERS May 2013 10.74% 17.96%
Ebola March 2014 5.34% 10.44%
Measles/Rubeola December 2014 0.20% -0.73%
Zika January 2016 12.03% 17.45%

Source: Dow Jones Market Data, as cited on foxbusiness.com, January 27, 2020. Stocks are represented by the Standard & Poor’s 500 price index. Returns reflect the change in price, but not the reinvestment of dividends. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index that is generally considered to be representative of the U.S. stock market. Returns shown do not reflect taxes, fees, brokerage commissions, or other expenses typically associated with investing. The performance of an unmanaged index is not indicative of the performance of any particular investment. Individuals cannot invest directly in any index. Actual results will vary.

*End of month during which early incidents of outbreak were reported.

**H1N1 occurred during the financial crisis, when, as during other periods, many different factors influenced stock market performance.

What should you do?

First, keep in mind that market downturns sometimes offer the chance to pick up potentially solid stocks at value prices, which could position a portfolio well for future growth. Again, there are no guarantees that stocks will perform to anyone’s expectations — and decisions could result in losses including a possible loss in principal — but it may be helpful to remember that some investors use downturns as opportunities to buy stocks that were previously overvalued relative to their perceived earnings potential.

Moreover, if you typically invest set amounts into your portfolio at regular intervals — a strategy known as dollar-cost averaging (DCA), which is commonly used in workplace retirement plans and college investment plans — take heart in knowing you’re utilizing a method of investing that helps you behave like the value investors noted above. Through DCA, your investment dollars purchase fewer shares when prices are high, and more shares when prices drop. Essentially, in a down market, you automatically “buy low,” one of the most fundamental investment tenets. Over extended periods of volatility, DCA can result in a lower average cost for your holdings than the investment’s average price over the same time period.

Finally and perhaps most important, during trying times like this, it may help to focus less on daily market swings and more on the fundamentals; that is, review your investment objectives and time horizon, and revisit your asset allocation to make sure it’s still appropriate for your needs. Your allocation can shift in unexpected ways due to changes in market cycles, so you may discover the need to rebalance your allocation by selling holdings in one asset class and investing more in another. (Keep in mind that rebalancing in a taxable account can result in income tax consequences.)

Questions?

After considering the points here, if you still have questions about how changing market dynamics are affecting your portfolio, you may contact our CFS financial professional, Brendan McMurtrie, at bmcmurtrie@cusonet.com or 860-441-0909. Often a third-party perspective can help alleviate any worries you may still hold.

1Based on data reported in WSJ Market Data Center, February 28, 2020, and March 2, 2020. Performance reflects price change, not total return. Because it does not include dividends or splits, it should not be used to benchmark performance of specific investments.


Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances.

To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.

These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources belived to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. The credit union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

 

New Spending Package Includes Sweeping Retirement Plan Changes

The $1.4 trillion spending package enacted on December 20, 2019, included the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, which had overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in the spring of 2019, but then subsequently stalled in the Senate. The SECURE Act represents the most sweeping set of changes to retirement legislation in more than a decade.

While many of the provisions offer enhanced opportunities for individuals and small business owners, there is one notable drawback for investors with significant assets in traditional IRAs and retirement plans. These individuals will likely want to revisit their estate-planning strategies to prevent their heirs from potentially facing unexpectedly high tax bills.

All provisions take effect on or after January 1, 2020, unless otherwise noted.

Elimination of the “stretch IRA”

Perhaps the change requiring the most urgent attention is the elimination of longstanding provisions allowing non-spouse beneficiaries who inherit traditional IRA and retirement plan assets to spread distributions — and therefore the tax obligations associated with them — over their lifetimes. This ability to spread out taxable distributions after the death of an IRA owner or retirement plan participant, over what was potentially such a long period of time, was often referred to as the “stretch IRA” rule. The new law, however, generally requires any beneficiary who is more than 10 years younger than the account owner to liquidate the account within 10 years of the account owner’s death unless the beneficiary is a spouse, a disabled or chronically ill individual, or a minor child. This shorter maximum distribution period could result in unanticipated tax bills for beneficiaries who stand to inherit high-value traditional IRAs. This is also true for IRA trust beneficiaries, which may affect estate plans that intended to use trusts to manage inherited IRA assets.

In addition to possibly reevaluating beneficiary choices, traditional IRA owners may want to revisit how IRA dollars fit into their overall estate planning strategy. For example, it may make sense to consider the possible implications of converting traditional IRA funds to Roth IRAs, which can be inherited income tax free. Although Roth IRA conversions are taxable events, investors who spread out a series of conversions over the next several years may benefit from the lower income tax rates that are set to expire in 2026.

Benefits to individuals

On the plus side, the SECURE Act includes several provisions designed to benefit American workers and retirees.

  • People who choose to work beyond traditional retirement age will be able to contribute to traditional IRAs beyond age 70½. Previous laws prevented such contributions.
  • Retirees will no longer have to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and retirement plans by April 1 following the year in which they turn 70½. The new law generally requires RMDs to begin by April 1 following the year in which they turn age 72.
  • Part-time workers age 21 and older who log at least 500 hours in three consecutive years generally must be allowed to participate in company retirement plans offering a qualified cash or deferred arrangement. The previous requirement was 1,000 hours and one year of service. (The new rule applies to plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2021.)
  • Workers will begin to receive annual statements from their employers estimating how much their retirement plan assets are worth, expressed as monthly income received over a lifetime. This should help workers better gauge progress toward meeting their retirement-income goals.
  • New laws make it easier for employers to offer lifetime income annuities within retirement plans. Such products can help workers plan for a predictable stream of income in retirement. In addition, lifetime income investments or annuities held within a plan that discontinues such investments can be directly transferred to another retirement plan, avoiding potential surrender charges and fees that may otherwise apply.
  • Individuals can now take penalty-free early withdrawals of up to $5,000 from their qualified plans and IRAs due to the birth or adoption of a child. (Regular income taxes will still apply, so new parents may want to proceed with caution.)
  • Taxpayers with high medical bills may be able to deduct unreimbursed expenses that exceed 7.5% (in 2019 and 2020) of their adjusted gross income. In addition, individuals may withdraw money from their qualified retirement plans and IRAs penalty-free to cover expenses that exceed this threshold (although regular income taxes will apply). The threshold returns to 10% in 2021.
  • 529 account assets can now be used to pay for student loan repayments ($10,000 lifetime maximum) and costs associated with registered apprenticeships.

Benefits to employers

The SECURE Act also provides assistance to employers striving to provide quality retirement savings opportunities to their workers. Among the changes are the following:

  • The tax credit that small businesses can take for starting a new retirement plan has increased. The new rule allows employers to take a credit equal to the greater of (1) $500 or (2) the lesser of (a) $250 times the number of non-highly compensated eligible employees or (b) $5,000. The credit applies for up to three years. The previous maximum credit amount allowed was 50% of startup costs up to a maximum of $1,000 (i.e., a maximum credit of $500).
  • A new tax credit of up to $500 is available for employers that launch a SIMPLE IRA or 401(k) plan with automatic enrollment. The credit applies for three years.
  • With regards to the new mandate to permit certain part-timers to participate in retirement plans, employers may exclude such employees for nondiscrimination testing purposes.
  • Employers now have easier access to join multiple employer plans (MEPs) regardless of industry, geographic location, or affiliation. “Open MEPs,” as they have become known, offer economies of scale, allowing small employers access to the types of pricing models and other benefits typically reserved for large organizations. (Previously, groups of small businesses had to be affiliated somehow in order to join an MEP.) The legislation also provides that the failure of one employer in an MEP to meet plan requirements will not cause others to fail, and that plan assets in the failed plan will be transferred to another. (This rule is effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2021.)
  • Auto-enrollment safe harbor plans may automatically increase participant contributions until they reach 15% of salary. The previous ceiling was 10%.

The SECURE Act may have the largest impact on retirement planning since the Pension Protection Act of 2006.


Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances.

To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.

These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources belived to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. The credit union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

 

Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Even if you’re not a first-time home buyer, looking for and financing a home can be stressful. When you don’t know where to begin or what to do, it can be even more stressful. We’ve got a few tips for first-time homebuyers to get the most out of your home buying experience.

Determine how much house you can afford and get pre-approved.

When you’re ready to look for your dream home, it’s important to know how much home you can afford. This will narrow down your home search and will give you a realistic view of the types of homes you can buy inside of your price range. You will also avoid the temptation to purchase a home where you’ll struggle to make the payments.

Save up for a down payment.

With such a big purchase, having a down payment to invest in your home is important. A good rule of thumb for a down payment is to save 20% of your mortgage. For instance, if you have a $100,000 mortgage, your target down payment is $20,000.

If 20% of your mortgage doesn’t seem feasible, there are other options for first-time homebuyers that will allow you to save and invest a smaller amount into your mortgage. If you’re wondering how much you need to save to achieve your desired payment, check out a down payment calculator for reference.

Payoff as much debt as possible

One of the factors that will determine your creditworthiness is your debt-to-income ratio. A debt-to-income ratio measures the total amount of debt you’re paying off each month compared to the amount of income you’re bringing in within the same period. If the amount of debt you’re paying off is considerably more than your income, this will negatively impact your credit score. In turn, this will hurt your chances of being pre-approved for and financing a mortgage.

Try at all costs to avoid inquiries on your credit report

When you’re looking to finance your first home, one item that first-time homebuyers seem to overlook is avoiding new lines of credit. For instance, opening a new cell phone line, television service, or even setting up a utility account will all affect your credit score and your inquiries.

Before you buy a house, your focus should be on maintaining and improving your credit score while saving as much as possible for a down payment and closing costs instead of building new avenues of credit.

Save up for a down payment.

With such a big purchase, having a down payment to invest in your home is important. A good rule of thumb for a down payment is to save 20% of your mortgage. For instance, if you have a $100,000 mortgage, your target down payment is $20,000.

If 20% of your mortgage doesn’t seem feasible, there are other options for first-time homebuyers that will allow you to save and invest a smaller amount into your mortgage. If you’re wondering how much you need to save to achieve your desired payment, check out a down payment calculator for reference.

Buying your first home is no easy feat. Take the first step and contact one of Mortgage Specialists at 860 441 0902 to discuss all your options to owning your very own dream home in no time.

For College Savings, 529 Plans Are Hard to Beat

Raising kids is hard enough, so why not make things easier for yourself when it comes to saving for college? Ideally, you want a savings vehicle that doesn’t impose arbitrary income limits on eligibility; lets you contribute a little or a lot, depending on what else happens to be going on financially in your life at the moment; lets you set up automatic, recurring contributions from your checking account so you can put your savings effort on autopilot; and offers the potential to stay ahead of college inflation, which has been averaging 3% to 4% per year.1 Oh, and some tax benefits would be really nice, too, so all your available dollars can go to college and not Uncle Sam. Can you find all of these things in one college savings option? Yes, you can: in a 529 plan.

Benefits

529 college savings plans offer a unique combination of features that are hard to beat when it comes to saving for college, so it’s no surprise why assets in these plans have grown steadily since their creation over 20 years ago.

Eligibility. People of all income levels can contribute to a 529 plan — there are no restrictions based on income (unlike Coverdell accounts, U.S. savings bonds, and Roth IRAs).

Ease of opening and managing account. It’s relatively easy to open a 529 account, set up automatic monthly contributions, and manage your account online. For example, you can increase or decrease the amount and frequency of your contributions (e.g., monthly, quarterly), change the beneficiary, change your investment options, and track your investment returns and overall progress online with the click of a mouse.

Contributions. 529 plans have high lifetime contribution limits, generally $350,000 and up. (529 plans are offered by individual states, and the exact limit depends on the state.) Also, 529 plans offer a unique gifting feature that allows lump-sum gifts up to five times the annual gift tax exclusion — in 2020, this amount is up to $75,000 for individual gifts and up to $150,000 for joint gifts — with the potential to avoid gift tax if certain requirements are met. This can be a very useful estate planning tool for grandparents who want to help pay for their grandchildren’s college education in a tax-efficient manner.

Tax benefits. The main benefit of 529 plans is the tax treatment of contributions. First, as you save money in a 529 college savings plan (hopefully every month!), any earnings are tax deferred, which means you don’t pay taxes on the earnings each year as you would with a regular investment account. Then, at college time, any funds used to pay the beneficiary’s qualified education expenses — including tuition, fees, room, board, books, and a computer — are completely tax-free at the federal level. This means every dollar is available for college. States generally follow this tax treatment, and many states also offer an income tax deduction for 529 plan contributions.

Drawbacks

But 529 plans have some potential drawbacks.

Tax implications for funds not used for qualified expenses. If you use 529 plans funds for any reason other than the beneficiary’s qualified education expenses, earnings are subject to income tax (at your rate) and a 10% federal penalty tax.

Restricted ability to change investment options on existing contributions. When you open a 529 college savings plan account, you’re limited to the investment options offered by the plan. Most plans offer a range of static and age-based portfolios (where the underlying investments automatically become more conservative as the beneficiary gets closer to college) with different levels of risk, fees, and management objectives. If you’re unhappy with the market performance of the option(s) you’ve chosen, you can generally change the investment options for your future contributions at any time. But under federal law, you can change the options for your existing contributions only twice per year. This rule may restrict your ability to respond to changing market conditions, so you’ll need to consider any investment changes carefully.

Getting started

529 college savings plans are offered by individual states (but managed by financial institutions selected by the state), and you can join any state’s plan. To open an account, select a plan and complete an application, where you will name an account owner (typically a parent or grandparent) and beneficiary (there can be only one); choose your investment options; and set up automatic contributions if you choose. You are then ready to go. It’s common to open an account with your own state’s 529 plan, but there may be reasons to consider another state’s plan; for example, the reputation of the financial institution managing the plan, the plan’s investment options, historical investment performance, fees, customer service, website usability, and so on. You can research state plans at the College Savings Plans Network.


1College Board, Trends in College Pricing, 2014-2018

Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, LP (“CFS”) a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS:are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. The Credit Union has contracted with CFS for investment services. Atria Wealth Solutions, Inc. (“Atria”) is a modern wealth management solutions holding company. Atria is not a registered broker-dealer and/or Registered Investment Advisor and does not provide investment advice. Investment advice is only provided through Atria’s subsidiaries. CUSO Financial Services, LP is a subsidiary of Atria. Prepared by Broadridge Advisor Solutions Copyright 2019.

Ten Year-End Tax Tips for 2019

Here are 10 things to consider as you weigh potential tax moves between now and the end of the year.

  1. Set aside time to plan
    Effective planning requires that you have a good understanding of your current tax situation, as well as a reasonable estimate of how your circumstances might change next year. There’s a real opportunity for tax savings if you’ll be paying taxes at a lower rate in one year than in the other. However, the window for most tax-saving moves closes on December 31, so don’t procrastinate.
  2. Defer income to next year
    Consider opportunities to defer income to 2020, particularly if you think you may be in a lower tax bracket then. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may enable you to postpone payment of tax on the income until next year.
  3. Accelerate deductions
    You might also look for opportunities to accelerate deductions into the current tax year. If you itemize deductions, making payments for deductible expenses such as medical expenses, qualifying interest, and state taxes before the end of the year (instead of paying them in early 2020) could make a difference on your 2019 return.
  4. Factor in the AMT
    If you’re subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), traditional year-end maneuvers such as deferring income and accelerating deductions can have a negative effect. Essentially a separate federal income tax system with its own rates and rules, the AMT effectively disallows a number of itemized deductions. For example, if you’re subject to the AMT in 2019, prepaying 2020 state and local taxes probably won’t help your 2019 tax situation, but could hurt your 2020 bottom line. Taking the time to determine whether you may be subject to the AMT before you make any year-end moves could help you avoid a costly mistake.
  5. Bump up withholding to cover a tax shortfall
    If it looks as though you’re going to owe federal income tax for the year, especially if you think you may be subject to an estimated tax penalty, consider asking your employer (on Form W-4) to increase your withholding for the remainder of the year to cover the shortfall. The biggest advantage in doing so is that withholding is considered as having been paid evenly throughout the year instead of when the dollars are actually taken from your paycheck. This strategy can also be used to make up for low or missing quarterly estimated tax payments. With all the recent tax changes, it may be especially important to review your withholding in 2019.
  6. Maximize retirement savings
    Deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and pre-tax contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) can reduce your 2019 taxable income. If you haven’t already contributed up to the maximum amount allowed, consider doing so by year-end.
  7. Take any required distributions
    Once you reach age 70½, you generally must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (an exception may apply if you’re still working for the employer sponsoring the plan). Take any distributions by the date required — the end of the year for most individuals. The penalty for failing to do so is substantial: 50% of any amount that you failed to distribute as required.
  8. Weigh year-end investment moves
    You shouldn’t let tax considerations drive your investment decisions. However, it’s worth considering the tax implications of any year-end investment moves that you make. For example, if you have realized net capital gains from selling securities at a profit, you might avoid being taxed on some or all of those gains by selling losing positions. Any losses over and above the amount of your gains can be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income ($1,500 if your filing status is married filing separately) or carried forward to reduce your taxes in future years.
  9. Beware the net investment income tax
    Don’t forget to account for the 3.8% net investment income tax. This additional tax may apply to some or all of your net investment income if your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly, $125,000 if married filing separately, $200,000 if head of household).
  10. Get help if you need it
    There’s a lot to think about when it comes to tax planning. That’s why it often makes sense to talk to a tax professional who is able to evaluate your situation and help you determine if any year-end moves make sense for you.

Timing of itemized deductions and the increased standard deduction
Recent tax law changes substantially increased the standard deduction amounts and made significant changes to itemized deductions. It may now be especially useful to bunch itemized deductions in certain years; for example, when they would exceed the standard deduction.

IRA and retirement plan contributions
For 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 to a 401(k) plan ($25,000 if you’re age 50 or older) and up to $6,000 to traditional and Roth IRAs combined ($7,000 if you’re age 50 or older). The window to make 2019 contributions to an employer plan generally closes at the end of the year, while you typically have until the due date of your federal income tax return (not including extensions) to make 2019 IRA contributions.


Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, LP (“CFS”) a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS:are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. The Credit Union has contracted with CFS for investment services. Atria Wealth Solutions, Inc. (“Atria”) is a modern wealth management solutions holding company. Atria is not a registered broker-dealer and/or Registered Investment Advisor and does not provide investment advice. Investment advice is only provided through Atria’s subsidiaries. CUSO Financial Services, LP is a subsidiary of Atria. Prepared by Broadridge Advisor Solutions Copyright 2019.

Last-Minute Halloween Costumes on a Budget

Halloween is almost here and that means your time to find a costume is limited. If you are like many Americans, a Halloween costume is something that seems to slip to the bottom of the list every year. Whether you are putting together a last-minute fix for your kid or a low-key costume for the neighborhood party, we have a few options for you.

Charlie Brown ghost costume

Stick with the classics.

Everyone knows Charlie Brown. While his dreary disposition may not seem like the ideal inspiration for a fun Halloween costume, it is important to remember that Charlie always keeps it simple. Stock up on the following materials and create your own Peanuts ghost costume.

  • 1 white bed sheet
  • 5 sheets of black cardboard paper
  • 1 pair of scissors
  • 1 container of glue

Punny is priceless.

Two men in demin outfitsEveryone knows someone who doesn’t like to dress up. If you are that person, you’re in luck, this one’s for you. This costume commandeers the style of our Canadian brothers and relies heavily on denim. Grab your favorite pair of jeans, a denim jacket or shirt, and one “HELLO MY NAME IS” name tag. Fill out the name tag with the name “Jean” and you’re good to go. As a bonus, this costume will definitely keep you warm even on a cool October night.

  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 denim top
  • 1 “HELLO MY NAME IS” name tag
  • 1 marker
  • Denim shoes or hat (optional)

Kick it old school.

Couple dressed as the 70’sStyle is always changing and with decades of life experience comes decades of outdated apparel lining the back of your closet. Dig into your closet and revitalize one of your favorite old-school looks. From the bell-bottoms and big collars of the 70’s to the big hair and bright colors of 80’s your Halloween costume is hiding in your closet, you just have to find it.

  • Willingness to relive past fashion mistakes

At the end of the day, Halloween is about having fun. Keep the stress and the cost low this year and handle the whole process in-house with these easy last-minute costume ideas.

Credit Card Regret: It’s More Common Than You Think

“Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.”

– Frank Sinatra

If you’re the kind of person who prefers to play it safe, there’s a good chance that, like Ol’ Blue Eyes, your list of regrets is mercifully short. But if you’re the adventurous type who’s more likely to yell “YOLO!” than take the time to consider pros and cons, you may have made more unfortunate decisions than you care to admit. Either way, it’s safe to say we all have regrets. And if we’re being honest, some of them are probably related to finances.

Going into credit card debt is one of the most common financial regrets. According to a recent NerdWallet survey, “About 6 in 7 Americans (86%) who have or had credit card debt say they regret it.” With numbers that high, it’s safe to assume most of us would make different credit decisions if given a chance. Have you ever signed up for a new credit card and immediately wished you hadn’t? If so, the following reasons will probably ring a bell. If not, pay close attention. You can learn a lot from others’ mistakes.

Common Reasons for Credit Card Regret

If you’ve ever opened a new credit card account and felt that distinctive twinge that tells you it was a bad decision, there’s a pretty good chance you filled out that credit application for the wrong reason. Bad reasons come in a variety of forms. Here are a few of the most common:

  • You wanted that sign-up swag. – T-shirts. Koozies. Collapsible drink coolers. It doesn’t matter what it is; we love free stuff. Credit card companies know this, which is why they set up promotional tables on college campuses and inside sports arenas. Sure, free t-shirts are cool, but are they really worth opening a credit card that will charge you 26% interest on your purchases?
  • You can’t resist that one-time discount. “Would you like to save 25% on today’s purchase by applying for store credit?” If you’ve ever shopped at a retail store, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this sales pitch at the check-out register. If you took advantage of the offer and suddenly wished you hadn’t, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, almost 75% of Americans have at least one store credit card. Not surprisingly, nearly half of them regret it.
  • You’re in a financial pinch. When your checking account is running low, it can be incredibly tempting to sign up for a credit card just to get some temporary relief. However, credit cards don’t remedy poor financial habits; they tend to make them worse. If you’ve ever signed up for a new credit card “just to cover things until payday,” this regret may feel all too familiar.

 

OK, you signed up for a credit card and regretted it. Now what?

Before we go any further, it’s important to remember one thing: Just because you have a credit card doesn’t mean you have to use it. Even if your regrettable card carries a 26% interest rate, 26% of $0.00 is still $0.00. However, if you’re worried you won’t be able to resist using your card, you might be tempted to close your account immediately. This could certainly help you avoid charges you can’t afford to repay, but there may be a better approach.

Available credit and length of credit history are two of the main components of your credit score. Having an open, active account you don’t use could actually help you. If you were given a $1,000 credit line with your new card and you don’t make any purchases, you have $1,000 of available credit. If you close the account, you have no available credit. In this case, maintaining the credit line may be beneficial for your credit rating.

As for the length of credit history, that part’s fairly self-explanatory. The longer you maintain a satisfactory account, the more favorably it reflects in your credit score. With this in mind, you might be better off just removing the card from your wallet (and your smartphone’s digital wallet too) instead of closing the account altogether.

Good credit is one of the building blocks of your overall financial health. If you’re trying to find financing options that are right for you, contact your credit union and ask to speak with one of their trained representatives. They’ll be able to help you review your financial situation and recommend the best products and programs for your needs. With their guidance and expertise, you stand a much better chance of managing your credit—and finances in general—with no regrets!

5 Ways to Save for Summer in 5 Weeks

Summer vacation. During your elementary, middle, and high school years, those two magical words meant three months of freedom! No school, no waking up early, no early bedtimes. It was your annual reward for grinding through the previous nine months of academic pursuits. Yet somehow, summer always managed to fly by faster than it was supposed to!

Now that you’re an adult, your summertime respite has probably shortened considerably. Instead of three months, you might get a week away—maybe two, if you’re lucky. But just like when you were young, you always wish your time away could last just a little bit longer. It seems like no matter how old you get, summer vacation still holds a special kind of magic.

There’s still time to save for summer vacation!

But even with all the sun-kissed nostalgia that makes summer vacation a lifelong treat, there’s one thing that can ruin the fun faster than a thunderstorm at the swimming pool: vacation-related debt. Summertime memories are fun to recall, but it’s not nearly as fun to receive monthly reminders that you’re still paying the price for that fun—plus interest.

If you’re like most people, summer usually sneaks up on you. You start the year with good intentions, but somewhere along the way you forget to set aside money to cover your vacation plans. With summer only a few weeks away, you might be wondering whether it’s possible to save enough money to cover this year’s vacation. We’re happy to report that it’s absolutely possible! It will take some discipline, but you can do it. Here are five tips to help you get started.

Five Quick and Easy Ways to Save for Summer Vacation

  1. Create a savings plan.
    Sometimes, the easiest way to save money is to identify the ways you’re currently wasting it. By creating and following a sensible budget, you’ll be able to pinpoint the areas where you’re spending too much. For the next five weeks, do your best to eliminate frivolous expenses and only spend money on things that are essential. You’ll be surprised how quickly your savings add up.
  2. Find fun for free.
    Just because you’re saving for summer doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun in the meantime. But it does mean you might need to find some different activities. Movies, dining out, and entertainment can add up quickly. The average cost of dinner, drinks, and movie tickets for two comes in at around $100, so, imagine how fast you could pile up the savings if you decided to cook at home, stroll through a park, play some board games, or browse at a bookstore instead!
  3. Resist the convenience tax.
    We’re all busy. Sometimes it’s just easier to pay for convenience. Whether it’s drive-thru coffee on the way to work or take-out food for dinner, shelling out a few extra dollars can save precious minutes throughout the day. But if you’re trying to save money for summer, you might want to pause these practices. When you consider that you can save $3 per day just by making your morning cup of coffee at home, the money-saving benefits of this step are ridiculously clear. (And don’t worry, we’re only talking about five weeks. You’ll be back to that extra-hot-triple-skinny-no-foam-half-caff latte in no time.)
  4. Hang onto that tax refund.
    If you’re expecting a tax refund this year, well…you’ve probably filed your taxes already. That means either your refund has arrived already or it’s on the way. As tempting as it can be to celebrate your sudden cash infusion with a big purchase, it might make more sense to hang onto that money and use it to pay for your upcoming summer vacation. Yes, that’ll require a little discipline, but enjoying a fantastic, debt-free vacation is worth it!
  5. Cash in on your spare time.
    OK, so maybe this tip isn’t technically about saving—but it can be. If you figure out how to earn a little extra money, that gives you even more chances to save. (See? Told you it could be about savings.) Once you’ve maximized your creative saving methods, it never hurts to earn a little extra money. Side jobs are a great way to make quick cash, and thanks to apps like Nextdoor, Taskrabbit, and Gigwalk, finding work is easier than you think.

If you’re saving for this summer, it’s probably going to feel like an all-out sprint. But with a little advance planning, next year’s summer savings won’t have to be quite so stressful. Here at Scient Federal Credit Union, we offer convenient vacation savings accounts that let you automatically deposit a little money from your paychecks throughout the year and withdraw the funds just in time for your stress-free summer vacation. Call us or visit one of our branches in person to learn more about these specialized savings accounts.

Let the Taxpayer Beware: Learn to Spot Six Common Tax Scams

Now that your W2s and miscellaneous tax documents have arrived, tax season is officially in full swing. While it’s easy to get lost in optimistic daydreams about your tax refund and all you’re planning to do with it, it’s important to remember that scam artists are probably dreaming about what they could do with your refund as well.

After reaching an all-time high of more than 700,000 cases in 2015, tax refund fraud has been declining thanks to significant enforcement efforts by federal, state, and private agencies. While these statistics are encouraging, they also highlight the ongoing need for caution and vigilance. So, before you file your 2018 taxes or pay someone to file for you, we want to remind you about six of the most common tax-related scams happening today.

  • Phishing Emails

This one is relatively easy to spot. Why’s that, you ask? Because the IRS doesn’t initiate communication with taxpayers via email. So, if you see an email from the IRS pop up in your inbox—even one that looks remarkably official, don’t bother opening it. For good measure, go ahead and mark it as spam before deleting it. Emails of this type have only one goal: to trick you into clicking a fraudulent hyperlink or responding with sensitive personal information.

  • Phishing 2.0

In 2018, the IRS reported a new twist on traditional phishing scams. In the new approach, fraudsters hacked the systems of legitimate tax professionals, stole tax returns containing personal details, and then deposited funds directly into taxpayer bank accounts. After those deposits hit the bank, the criminals posed as the IRS or collection agencies and contacted account holders demanding a resolution to the error. The goal of these scams is not to simply regain the money deposited “in error,” but to get the victim to share account details that can be used to access the account at another time. If you find yourself with an unexpected deposit in your bank account, the IRS offers helpful instructions here.

  • Phone scams

Though they come via phone call, these scams are essentially the same as phishing emails. The difference lies in the fact that con artists can spoof IRS phone numbers in an attempt to convince unsuspecting people to answer the call. Once the phone call is underway, the person on the other end claims to be an IRS agent and tries to get the individual to confirm private account details in an attempt to “resolve the situation.” If they don’t get the results they’re hoping for, the fraudsters may even follow-up with phone calls where they impersonate law enforcement officials and threaten legal action. To avoid accidentally divulging personal details, it’s best to ignore these calls completely. Just as the IRS doesn’t initially contact taxpayers by email, they also don’t initiate official communication by phone either.

  • Refund Theft

This type of scam takes place at the intersection of identity theft and financial fraud. Using a variety of tactics, criminals obtain taxpayer social security numbers and file fraudulent tax returns in their name—often claiming substantial refunds. Since this happens without the knowledge of the victim, it only comes to light when their legitimate tax return is rejected due to a previous return already filed under the same social security number. While the IRS is committed to resolving these issues when they happen, the process can be long and tedious. To safeguard yourself against tax refund theft, IRS officials recommend obtaining an Identity Protection PIN, also known as an IP PIN. Instructions for securing a PIN can be found on the official IRS website.

  • Shady Tax Prep Services

Since an estimated 79 million Americans use paid tax preparation services, there are considerable opportunities for dishonest preparers to abuse the system. One of the most common scams involves a preparer illegally inflating an individual’s refund and collecting a percentage of the taxpayer’s refund instead of a flat fee. Many times, the problem isn’t identified until after the refund has been issued and the preparer’s fee has been collected. In these scams, the preparer is long gone by the time that the problem is identified, and the taxpayer is responsible for handling the audit on their own. While the practice of a tax preparer charging a percentage of refund isn’t technically illegal, you’re better off avoiding this type of arrangement and opting for a flat-fee service instead.

  • Public Wi-Fi Scammers

It seems like this one should go without saying, but we all use a reminder from time to time. The public Wi-Fi at coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores can be great for hopping online to browse social media, but it’s terrible for filing your taxes. Not only can these unsecured networks be accessed by almost anyone, but dishonest scammers can also set up hot spots that look like the establishment’s Wi-Fi and intercept logins, passwords, and personal information. So, if you’re filing taxes electronically this year (and considering the fact that approximately 90% of taxpayers filed electronically in 2018, you probably are), do yourself a favor: file at home from your personal computer and your secure Internet connection.

As with most financial scams, these can be simple to sidestep as long as you know the signs to look for. If you observe questionable practices or have additional tax-related concerns, you can find helpful instructions here on the official IRS website.

If you are receiving a federal or state tax refund this year and want to make the most of your money, please contact us here at Scient Federal Credit Union. Our financial specialists can help you assess your financial situation and show you all the beneficial programs and products available to you as a credit union member. Call, email, or stop by a branch today!