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Making a Charitable Impact

Making a Charitable Impact

As you can tell by looking at our bios, we at Platt WM like to get involved in charitable organizations! There are a number of ways to have an impact with your giving.

Impact of Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA) on charitable giving

Previously, individuals who donated to charity were able to take tax deductions for their contributions. Donors enjoyed the emotional benefits that come with giving gifts. According to new research, it turns out that giving is more pleasurable for the human brain than receiving is! They also received a tax benefit from their giving.

The deductions for charity could only be taken for those who itemized their deductions. Which pretty much anyone with a mortgage did anyway, to capture the interest deduction.

Certain other deductions are known as “above-the-line”, because you don’t have to itemize to take them. IRA and Health Savings Account (HSA) contributions are examples of above-the-line deductions.

The TCJA increased the standard deduction significantly, so fewer people will itemize. Most taxpayers will save more money if they use the new standard deduction instead of itemizing.  Unfortunately for Californians and others who live in states with higher taxes, the TCJA limited state and local tax deductions. Even those with significant mortgage interest will probably not itemize either.

This has a big impact on 501(c)3 charities, who relied on donors able to itemize their deductions and save taxes on their donations. Although we’d like to think that people donate out of pure altruism, in reality the tax deduction provided a great incentive for people to give.

Which charitable organization to give to

Many of our clients (as well as our planners) have causes that are near and dear to our hearts. Charitable giving may already be mapped out for the year.

But if not, treat your philanthropy like an investment. You can make a bigger impact if you choose a small number of recipients and divide your money and time between them. As opposed to giving randomly as people ask you for donations.

Research the organization online. It’s also a good idea to see if any of your friends and family give to them, and if they have an opinion on it. You can always visit a local organization, though in some cases you might need to call first and make an appointment. There are online websites such as Charity Navigator, GiveWell, and Impact Matters that provide scorecards on effectiveness.

To be a qualified charity, the organization has to be a 501(c)3 group that qualifies for tax exemption per the US Treasury. Generally, qualified charities will be able to furnish their tax-exempt letter that states their qualifications.

Be aware that some charitable missions require a bigger administration budget in order for the organization to do its work properly. Don’t automatically discount a charity on the basis of budget. Of course after doing your due diligence you might cross them off your list anyway.

Find out what will actually be achieved with your charity dollars. For example, you might be offered a chance to donate to a training program for offenders going through rehab. But what you want to know is how many of the offenders will find jobs with this training program, not how much the training program itself costs.

How much money does the organization have? Your charity dollar often goes farther in an organization that doesn’t have much money or is underfunded, compared to a large, well-funded charity.

Donating to a charitable organization

Some higher-income people may still find that they itemize, so they’ll still be able to take a charitable deduction. Charities still need donations and will welcome them! Many donors make an effort around Christmas and Thanksgiving to donate, but groups usually need money and help year-round.

Consider making recurring donations. Household budgeting is much easier when you’re getting a steady paycheck every couple of weeks instead of large project deposits every few months. Similarly, it’s much easier for charities to allocate resources when they have some consistent income.

Check to see if your employer matches a portion of your contribution. It’s a great way to maximize your donations.

Have a lot of friends and family who are always asking for money for their pet charities? Or constantly run into different groups in front of your local grocery store? Just because someone asks you to give doesn’t mean that you have to say yes.

It’s best to have a polite “no” ready to go in all of these situations. You might say that your charity money is already allocated, or that you’ve chosen your charities for the year. Don’t feel bad about saying no. There are plenty of qualified charities and most of them need help, but you can’t help all of them.


Volunteering with a charitable organization

Time is another valuable commodity that many nonprofits could use more of! This is a great way to get the whole family involved, especially if you have young children. They get to see the impact of their efforts, while you’re all spending time together.

Ladling out the food at Thanksgiving is fun, but many groups have more urgent needs. Frequently their need is for expertise in some aspect of business, which you can help with. Smaller charities can almost always use marketing help, for example. They might need copywriters to help with their fundraising letters. Accountants to keep an eye on the books.

Fundraising – especially now that fewer people are donating the way they used to because they no longer have the tax incentive!


Qualified Charitable Deduction (QCD)

This deduction is still alive and well. It’s not a deduction, exactly, but it can help you avoid taxes at the same time you donate to charitable organizations of your choice. And you can donate up to $100,000 each year.

Rather than taking your required minimum distribution (RMD) as income and paying tax on it, you can redirect the distribution to a qualified 501(c)3 charity of your choice.

It’s very important that the money does not come to you first.  Then it still is considered income, and you’ll pay tax on it. Sending it to the charity up-front means that it’s not income to you.

This tactic works best if you’re at the age where you need to take RMDs, and you don’t need the income from your RMD to supplement your portfolio.

You may now be wondering if the new SECURE Act will change this equation. As a reminder, SECURE shifts the RMD start age to 72, for anyone who turned 70 ½ after 12/31/19.

However, although you still need to be at least age 70 ½ to make a QCD, you don’t have to wait until you turn 72 to do it. In other words, even though your RMD age is pushed back by a year and a half, your ability to do the QCD doesn’t change from age 70 ½.

If you’re a 5% business owner, you too will need to begin RMDs at age 72. Even if you’re still working for the company at that age.


In other words, don’t be discouraged by the lack of a tax deduction. There are still plenty of ways to support your favorite nonprofit.


Interested in talking to one of our planners? You can email us or call 619.255.9554.


Will the Stock Market Survive the Coronavirus?

Will the Stock Market Survive the Coronavirus?

Rising fears over the continued spread of the coronavirus have led to a sharp stock market decline as investors grapple with its impact on the global economy. On Monday, March 9, in reaction to news of the virus spread and the recent oil shock, Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Index fell 7.6%, triggering a 15-minute trading halt. As of March 12th, the Dow closed down 2,352, 10 percent.


How can we make sense of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and market reaction?


Until January 2020, most of us had never heard of this virus. People are understandably frightened because this is a new disease, and there is much uncertainty over how it will all play out. In short order, we have grown increasingly concerned about the prospect of a global pandemic and its impact on the global economy. First and foremost, the virus has a real human cost. We don’t know how many people are going to get ill or, worse yet, how many may die. Of course, our first thoughts are with the people who have fallen ill and their families.


While this disease is new, there have been many pandemics and other crises in the past, and markets have survived them all. Today, a fair amount of panic has taken hold around the world, and we expect in the coming weeks that a rising number of cases may alarm many people. Eventually, the spread of the virus will slow down and people will get back to normalcy, as will markets.


What does this mean for the economy?

We are already seeing signs of a slowdown in the U.S., not only on the supply side as businesses brace for the road ahead, but also on the demand side. By now we have all heard of large conferences and entertainment events being canceled, firms postponing large meetings, and consumers delaying vacations and seeking to reduce their social contact.


That means businesses related to travel, leisure, entertainment and recreation are likely to be the most impacted, not to mention oil and other commodities where we have already seen a collapse in global demand. 


On the positive side, the U.S. economy remains among the most resilient in the world. It has a history of bouncing back from adversity. Interest rates are low, and the decline in oil prices should further support the consumer. What’s more, in China the spread of the virus appears to have peaked. Given that, the peak of its spread globally will occur sooner than many people anticipate.


What does it mean for markets?


We are experiencing a market decline that we have not seen since the Great Recession. March 9, 2020 was the 11th anniversary of the market bottom during the Great Recession — and the market noted the anniversary by recording the largest single-day point decline we have ever seen. Three days later that was surpassed by the 2,250 drop in the Dow.


With this latest dip markets, as measured by the S&P 500, were down more than 20% from their peak earlier in the year, and we are now in a bear market. This would be the first bear market after more than a decade of generally strong market returns. As a result, in general, equities appeared to be fully valued by most measures heading into this recent period, and markets could remain volatile for some time. In addition to the uncertainty resulting from the spread of the virus, the U.S. is in an election year.


Turning to the bond market, we have seen a flight to safety that has pushed bond yields to unprecedented lows. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury fell to 0.5%. Interest rates could go still lower as the U.S. Federal Reserve seeks to provide liquidity to markets through interest rate cuts and quantitative easing. Over time, low interest rates provide support to equities.


While the pace and magnitude of the recent volatility can be unsettling it is not entirely surprising. Investor sentiment is fragile and will likely remain so until the spread of the virus slows. In times like these, resilient investors who can demonstrate patience can be rewarded over the long term.


We take some comfort in seeing that the Federal Reserve has demonstrated its willingness to take aggressive action, cutting interest rates 50 basis points in an emergency meeting on March 3, which lowered its target range to between 1.00% and 1.25%. The Fed stated that it is “closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook, and will use its tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.” Markets are generally expecting an additional cut at the Fed’s next scheduled meeting, to be held on March 17 and 18.

How does this compare with crises in the past?


In the 25 years we have spent as fee-only financial advisors, we have experienced a number of unsettled markets, including the tech and telecom bubble in March 2000, and the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. Each of these crises was very different, with very different underlying conditions. But in each case, the markets bounced back. We believe the markets, and great companies, will survive the current market decline and rebound.


One significant reason why there is such an extreme degree of bearishness, pessimism, bewildering confusion and sheer terror in the minds of advisors and investors alike right now is that most people today have nothing in their own experience that they can relate to, which is similar to this market decline. Our message to you, therefore, is courage! We have been here before. Bear markets have lasted this long before. Well-managed mutual funds have gone down this much before. And shareholders in those funds and the industry survived and prospered.

We have seen many turbulent markets and know how hard it is to avoid getting caught up in the here and now. This is especially true when the media bombards us hourly with news, speculation and rumor. We also know, though, that as long-term investors we must focus on the real world underneath the noise and mesmerizing flow of data.


Should investors expect a quick recovery?


Circumstances may very well get worse before they get better. But we believe eventually markets will rebound. This too shall pass. When it does, long-term investors who can tune out the daily white noise — and red numbers flashing across their screens — and focus on the long term should ultimately be rewarded.


We take the view that we will deal with outbreaks like COVID-19 and eventually we will adjust to it. At Platt Wealth Management, we are taking every precaution to prepare for it. We are working closely with clients, monitoring accounts. We are offering video and phone based meetings and we are reviewing our business continuity plan. We expect that we will be dealing with the COVID-19 virus, and are planning our operations around possible longer term considerations.


What is Platt Wealth Management doing to ensure continuity and care of client assets?


Obviously our first concern is to ensure the health and safety of our associates and clients. But rest assured as this situation evolves, we are working hard to continue to do what we have always done: working with clients to achieve their financial goals, looking for opportunities and making sure clients are confident with their investments. In-depth, long-term view of markets is at the core of what we do. We will do our very best to provide clients with a smooth and less volatile experience than the broader markets.


What should investors be doing?


In periods of declining markets, emotions run high, and that’s natural and understandable. But it is exactly in times like this that a long-term orientation is important. Based on our prior experiences and what has historically occurred, we firmly believe markets will rebound and life will return to normal or what may be a new normal. Now more than ever, investors should be in close communication with their advisors, reaffirming their long-term objectives.

How to Find Credible Financial Information Online

How to Find Credible Financial Information Online

Many clients enjoy looking up news and information about personal finance online, even when they have a financial advisor. Educating yourself is great! However, not all sites are equal. Some have false information, and others are simply designed to sell you something. They’re not always obvious.

How do you know which sites on finance are credible, and which aren’t?

Background on financial industry rules

Have you ever noticed that every chart you’ve seen from the mutual fund company has paragraphs and paragraphs of disclosures on it? All the indices used for comparison are spelled out. The time period of the performance is also detailed.

That’s not an accident, and it’s not because mutual fund companies enjoy making their charts look small and surrounding them with words. All of the disclosure is an industry requirement; the regulatory agencies are very picky about how performance numbers can be disclosed.

SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) rules are strict, yet they are only for those who hold themselves out as providing financial advice, services or products.

If a company acts as a publisher or in some other way does not provide financial advice, then they can show performance in any crazy way they like. The SEC also binds financial companies from many different ways of advertising, but not other companies.

In other words, those who are not in any way experts in finance, have any credentials in finance, or know what they’re talking about, can put anything they like on their websites. You can sell anything you like, as long as you don’t claim to be a financial advisor.

We have seen some websites that trick a lot of people, because they look reasonable at first glance. There are some warning signs and red flags that you need to pay attention to when you’re studying an unfamiliar website.

It costs nothing, or very little, to run a website yourself. Depending on who’s hosting it, you can get decent-looking templates that you simply fill out with your own information.

It’s very easy for someone who knows absolutely nothing about the topic, and who is not a legitimate source, to set up a website that appears to be reputable. Don’t be thrown off by a nice-looking website, because they’re easy to do even if you don’t have a graphic designer.

Some people still have their old Geocities websites up! If the site looks old and the navigation is hard or impossible, don’t bother with it. Whatever information you’re searching for, you can find on a modern website. One that is run by a financial services person or company, and that you can easily navigate.

What does the site look like?

Chances are, if the financial site you’ve landed on has lots of bright primary colors and lots of moving ads and popups and looks interesting instead of boring, you’ve landed on an unregulated site. Therefore none of their information can be taken seriously or assumed to be true or factual. Is there a “Buy now” button on the site? Fake news! Stay away.

If, on the other hand, it’s a little on the boring side, and all of the charts and graphs have plenty of disclosures along with them, congratulations! You’ve probably found a reputable site.

However, there are no guarantees. Just because the site isn’t gaudy and bright doesn’t necessarily mean that it belongs to a credible authority.

Are there a lot of spelling and grammar mistakes? A credible financial site has the resources to spell-check and hire contributors and/or editors! A poorly written site points to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

In general, when you’re websurfing for anything and you come across a site with too many mistakes, move on. The information you want is out there, and it’s spelled correctly.

Whose site are you looking at?

A good website will tell you exactly whose website you’re looking at. Wherever you go on our site, for example, you’ll see our name, logo and contact information. We’ve tried to make it very clear as to who we are and what we do.

It’s the same with mutual fund companies, trading platforms like Charles Schwab or e*trade, or financial planning associations such as NAPFA or CFP board, etc. The regulatory agencies such as FINRA and the SEC have some good information for investors on their websites as well.

Sites that are trying to trick you may hide the information about the owners or the company. Or make it difficult to figure out how to get in touch with them.


What kind of financial information or product is being sold?

Mutual fund and trading websites are up-front about what’s being sold. There may be a featured fund or product, but more often not. Financial planners and advisors usually won’t sell you anything on their websites, but will encourage you to come in for a consultation. (Like so!) That way you and the advisor can both determine if the relationship is right.

If you see a site where the owner isn’t obvious (or it’s a company you’ve never heard of), you may very well see all kinds of products and services for sale! We would advise against buying any of them, because they’re most likely a ripoff.


How often is the site updated?

As you’re aware, the financial markets move fast. A credible website should be fairly current. Avoid ones that are out-of-date. We try to blog every week, so we have fresh content consistently.


Is there a lot of click-bait?


If you’re not familiar with the term, “click-bait” is used to refer to a sensational headline that doesn’t match up with the content of the article or the post. It’s a headline that baits you to click on the site.

Not all sensational headlines are click-bait. Sometimes they’re just attention-grabbing! The content will answer the question posed by the headline. On a reputable financial website, you shouldn’t see too many sensational headlines.

See a lot of click-bait on a website? Don’t trust it.


Who’s engaging with the content?

Not all sites enable comments, and not all sites have a lot of comments. But if you see a lot of commentary by financial professionals who have alphabet soup after their names (CFP, ChFC, CDFA, CFA, etc.) then the site is likely trustworthy.

If there are comments and none of them are from professionals, think again. This rule isn’t as cut-and-dried as some of the others, because there may be good reasons that you don’t see a lot of commentary from professionals. However, best practice is to treat a site with lots of amateur commenters with suspicion.


Be skeptical out there

Unfortunately, when it comes to financial services, it’s the relatively boring websites that provide you with good information. The above rules work well for any kind of websites, not just financial information. The rules about what you can and can’t say may be different for other industries, but you need to be careful about who’s putting up the site, and whether they’re credible or not.


Interested in talking to one of our planners? You can email us or call 619.255.9554.


3 Common Investor Mistakes During Election Years

3 Common Investor Mistakes During Election Years

Investing during an election year can be tough on the nerves. 2020 promises to be no different. Politics can bring out strong emotions and biases. Investors would be wise to put these aside when making investment decisions.


Benjamin Graham, the father of value investing, famously noted that “In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.” He wasn’t literally referring to the intersection of elections and investing, but he could have been. Markets can be especially choppy during election years. Sentiment often changes as quickly as candidates open their mouths.


Graham first made his analogy in 1934, in his seminal book, “Security Analysis.” Since then there have been 22 election cycles. We’ve analyzed them all to help you prepare for investing in these potentially volatile periods. Below we highlight three common mistakes made by investors in election years and offer ways to avoid these pitfalls and invest with confidence in 2020.



Mistake #1: Investors worry too much about which party wins the election



There’s nothing wrong with wanting your candidate to win. Investors run into trouble when they place too much importance on election results. That’s because elections have, historically speaking, made essentially no difference when it comes to long-term investment returns. 


“Presidents get far too much credit, and far too much blame, for the health of the U.S. economy and the state of the financial markets,” says economist Darrell Spence. “There are many other variables that determine economic growth and market returns and, frankly, presidents have very little influence over them.”





What should matter more to investors is staying invested. Although past results are not predictive of future returns, a $1,000 investment in the S&P 500 made when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office would have been worth over $14 million today. During this time there have been exactly seven Democratic and seven Republican presidents. Getting out of the market to avoid a certain party or candidate in office could have severely detracted from an investor’s long-term returns.



By design, elections have clear winners and losers. But the real winners were investors who avoided the temptation to base their decisions around election results and stayed invested for the long haul.



Mistake #2: Investors get spooked by primary season volatility



Markets hate uncertainty, and what’s more uncertain than primary season of an election year? With so many candidates on the campaign trail — 11 Democrats were still running when primaries kicked off in early February — the range of outcomes can feel daunting.



But volatility caused by this uncertainty is often short-lived. After the primaries are over and each party has selected its candidate, markets have tended to return to their normal upward trajectory. 





Election year volatility can also bring select buying opportunities. Policy proposals during primaries often target specific industries, putting pressure on share prices. This cycle, it’s the health care sector that’s in the spotlight as several candidates have proposed overhauls to drug pricing and the health care system.



Does that mean you should avoid this sector altogether? Not according to Rob Lovelace, an equity manager with 34 years of experience investing through many election cycles. “When everyone is worried that a new government policy is going to come along and destroy a sector, that concern is usually overblown,” Lovelace says. “Companies with good drugs that are really helping people will be able to get into the market, and they will get paid for it.” 



In the past, those targeted sectors have often rallied after the campaign spotlight dimmed. It happened with health care following the 2016 presidential and 2018 midterm elections. This has happened with other sectors in the past. This can create buying opportunities for investors with a contrarian point of view and the ability to withstand short-term volatility.



Mistake #3: Investors try to time the markets around politics



If you’re nervous about the markets in 2020, you’re not alone. Presidential candidates often draw attention to the country’s problems, and campaigns regularly amplify negative messages. So maybe it should be no surprise that investors have tended to be more conservative with their portfolios ahead of elections.



Since 1992, investors have poured assets into money market funds — traditionally one of the lowest risk investment vehicles — much more often leading up to elections. By contrast, equity funds have seen the highest net inflows in the year immediately after an election. This suggests that investors may prefer to minimize risk during election years and wait until after uncertainty has subsided to revisit riskier assets like stocks.



But market timing is rarely a winning long-term investment strategy. It can pose a major problem for portfolio returns. To verify this, we analyzed investment returns over the last 22 election cycles to compare three hypothetical investment approaches: being fully invested in equities, making monthly contributions to equities, or staying in cash until after the election. We then calculated the portfolio returns after each cycle, assuming a four-year holding period.





The hypothetical investor who stayed in cash until after the election had the worst outcome of the three portfolios in 16 of 22 periods. Meanwhile, investors who were fully invested or made monthly contributions during election years came out on top. These investors had higher average portfolio balances over the full period and more often outpaced the investor who stayed on the sidelines longer.



Sticking with a sound long-term investment plan based on individual investment objectives is usually the best course of action. Whether that strategy is to be fully invested throughout the year or to consistently invest through a vehicle such as a 401(k) plan, the bottom line is that investors should avoid market timing around politics. As is often the case with investing, the key is to put aside short-term noise and focus on long-term goals.



How can investors avoid these mistakes?

  • Don’t allow election predictions and outcomes to influence investment decisions. History shows that election results have very little impact on long-term returns.
  • Expect volatility, especially during primary season, but don’t fear it. View it as a potential opportunity. 
  • Stick to a long-term investment strategy instead of trying to time markets around elections. Investors who were fully invested or made regular, monthly investments did better than those who stayed in cash in election years. 
How Women Can Overcome Financial Obstacles in the Workplace

How Women Can Overcome Financial Obstacles in the Workplace

Women experience unique financial obstacles and need custom solutions.

This is the third article in a series on Women Investors.


You’re probably familiar with the studies showing the gender pay gap, that women are paid 10 to 20% less than men for the same jobs. Books like Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and the research-based Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever suggest this is because women are much less likely to negotiate job offers and raises, leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars less over their lifetime.

However, recent research was presented in the Harvard Business Review that found women were asking just as often as men, but men were more likely to be successful. There was positive news when the researchers looked at different age groups. Younger women and men in the job market had almost no difference in asking and getting, possibly signaling that negotiating behavior has begun to change.

Culture is shifting too, with the #MeToo movement is just one part of a shift toward fairer treatment for women. Millennials are demanding more equitable and transparent workplaces.

Gender pay gap continues to be a financial obstacle.

Companies are under increasing pressure to report on gender pay disparities. Women are more likely to stay at companies that commit to pay parity, which in turn leads to more women in leadership positions.

Women face other challenges beside the gender pay gap. Women have fewer years in the workforce earning income, with an average of 12 years out of workforce. This is mostly due to maternity leave and caring for family, either children or parents, or both. Taking time off can also face a pay gap due to lost promotions and opportunities as well as decreased salaries from taking a less demanding role. Time out of the workforce can also result in lower Social Security benefits since your benefit is based on a formula using your 35 highest-earning years.

Female employees are less likely to participate in workplace retirement plans, partly due to taking time off. Women are also more likely to work part-time or in jobs that don’t offer retirement plans.

Despite challenges in the workplace and in our own desires to take a different career path, there are things you can do to make sure you are prepared.


Overcome financial obstacles by participating in workplace savings plans.

Start saving as soon as you start working and encourage the women around you to do the same. Participate in your workplace retirement plan. If you aren’t eligible or your employer doesn’t offer one, open an IRA (Individual Retirement Account).

Hone your negotiating skills to overcome financial obstacles.


Prepare for negotiations using these tips from the Harvard Business Review:

Do research and gather salary data to understand your value. Know what you want, and be prepared with some alternatives that are acceptable.

Go into the negotiation with explanations of your achievements and skills that justify a higher salary or other perks. Increase your confidence with practice. Role play with a friend to get more comfortable.

Negotiate communally. Focusing on how what you want helps the team / company (and not just you) can minimize being viewed as too aggressive.

Use multi-issue negations. Negotiating issues one-by-one seems more adversarial, while having multiple issues on the table at once allows you to make trade-offs and been seen as collaborative. Look at the total compensation package since things like more PTO or stock options have monetary value just like your salary.


Be a leader and help others overcome financial obstacles.

Work towards gender parity in your company. Ask your company to do a pay audit and to take steps to correct disparities. Lead parity initiatives if you are in a leadership position.

Plan ahead for common financial obstacles that affect women.

If you want to take some time off, start planning early. Live on the anticipated lower salary before you actually stop working and bank the rest as a cushion. You can still contribute to an IRA even if you don’t have earned income, as long as your spouse has earned income.


Find a financial advisor who understands the financial obstacles women face.


Talk to a financial advisor to come up with a plan that takes your goals and needs into account. Revisit the plan as your circumstances and priorities change.

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Platt Wealth Management offers financial plans to answer your important financial questions. Where are you? Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Our four-step financial planning process is designed to be a road map to get you where you want to go while providing flexibility to adapt to changes along the route. We offer stand alone plans or full wealth management plans that include our investment management services. Give us a call today to set up a complimentary meeting. 619-255-9554.

Dream. Plan. Do.


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