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Mike Branch, CFP

Welcome. I’m a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER and independent financial advisor. I help people create lifelong retirement income so they can retire confident and worry-free. Learn more about how I can help in the quick video below.

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From the Blog

A New Way To Look At Your Bucket List

When I turned 50 I had an ambitious bucket list. Most of the items on my list were things that I wanted to do “some day”. I quickly realized that “some day” may never come, and that if I ever wanted to check any of my bucket list items off the list that I had better get started.

In fact, some of the most important things on my bucket list were simple, day-to-day things that I was at risk of missing out on if I didn’t make them a priority in my life.

Below is a short video that suggests a different way to look at your bucket list.


A New Way to Look at Your Bucket List



Are Qualified Charitable Distributions Right For You?

How to use IRA RMDs to maximize the tax deductibility of your charitable donations.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 doubled the standard deduction eliminating the need for many taxpayers to itemize their tax deductions. It also made permanent an IRA distribution strategy known as the Qualified Charitable Distribution or QCD.

If you are over 70 ½, own an IRA, and make financial contributions to qualified charitable organizations, the QCD may have a role in your IRA distribution plan.

First some basics…

The IRS says that all IRA owners over 70 ½ must make a required minimum distribution from their IRAs every year. The amount of your distribution or RMD depends on your previous yearend account balance and your age during the year of the distribution.

Older IRA owners, those with higher incomes or those with large IRA balances, could have significant IRA RMDs in 2019.

To get more details on the IRA RMD rules and calculations, click here.

Qualified Charitable Distributions or QCDs have their own set of rules.

First, the IRA owner must actually be age 70 ½ or older at the time of the distribution.

Second, the aggregate QCD from all IRAs cannot exceed $100,000.

Third, the distribution must go directly to a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Most churches, hospitals, educational institutions and charities qualify.

You must meet all three of those requirements to qualify as a QCD.

 QCDs also have some unique benefits.

With the higher standard deduction created by the new tax law, it’s possible that your charitable contributions may no longer be tax deductible. That’s because the new standard deduction may be higher than the total amount of your itemized tax deductions.

If so, you get no benefit by itemizing your tax deductions. You are better off to take the higher standard deduction instead, regardless of if you made any charitable contributions or not.

So, in previous years you may have taken your IRA RMD and added it to your taxable income for the year. Then you may have made a charitable contribution and written that off against your taxable income as an itemized deduction. The two transactions netted out. Thus, you avoided paying tax on some or all of your IRA RMD.

This year, if you use the QCD strategy, your charitable contribution goes straight to the charity of your choice directly from your IRA and you avoid adding it to your taxable income for the year. However, you still get to enjoy the same standard deduction. This effectively lowers your taxes because you will get the full benefit of the higher standard deduction and your IRA RMD wont be added to your taxable income for the year.

Another unique benefit of the QCD

A well-planned QCD strategy has another benefit that could be significant for some taxpayers. Since the QCD bypasses your adjusted gross income, utilizing a QCD strategy could result in lower taxes on your Social Security benefits and/or reduced Medicare premiums.

This is because your Social Security benefits are taxed based on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI). Taking an IRA RMD without utilizing the QCD strategy raises your MAGI by the amount of your IRA RMD.

Depending on your MAGI, up to 85% of your Social Security benefits could be taxable. Using the QCD strategy could allow you to stay under the threshold amounts and reduce the amount of tax you pay on you Social Security benefits.

Your income also effects how much you pay for Medicare premiums. The higher your income, the higher your premiums. IRA RMDs add to your income for the year. For more details on the income threshold amounts and Medicare Premiums, check out www.cms.gov or click here.

Best fit

A QCD strategy may be a fit for charitably inclined taxpayers whose itemized deductions, including charitable deductions, are lower than the new standard deduction amounts. They may also be a fit for higher income taxpayers with large IRA RMDs that could result in the payment of higher Social Security taxes or Medicare premiums.

Ask your tax professional or financial advisor if they are a fit for you.

A Financial To Do List for 2019

Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

Most New Year’s resolutions are abandoned or forgotten by the end of the month.

If you need confirmation of this fact, just count the cars are in the parking lot at your local YMCA this Saturday and compare that to the number of cars you see a month from now.

Odds are parking at your local Y or gym will be a lot better in a few weeks.

Rather than tell you to save more, spend less or to get your finances in order (a wishy-washy goal list in the first place) let me suggest a short list of specific action items to check off your financial to do list before the year is over.

But why wait? If you apply yourself, you can probably cross these items off your list in the next couple months.

Five things to check off your financial to do list in 2019:

Update your will and estate planning documents. This one has been on your to do list for a long time. Make 2019 the year to get it done.

Besides updating your will, be sure to to review your health care directive, legal powers of attorney, and other documents related to your will and estate plan.

And don’t forget about your digital assets. When you die does your spouse (or anyone) have legal access to your online accounts, email, log in information and other electronic data? You may think they do, but unless you have specific documents in place, odds are good that you don’t.

Get your beneficiary documents in writing. If you have life insurance, brokerage accounts, an IRA, 401k or other types of financial assets, your beneficiary form determines who gets those assets when you die. Your will does not.

Don’t forget about secondary beneficiaries. Your beneficiary documents should include a secondary beneficiary in the event that the primary beneficiary dies before (or at the same time as) you.

Listing no beneficiary or the wrong beneficiary is a mistake that can’t be fixed after you die. Review your beneficiary documents to ensure you have the right primary and secondary beneficiaries on all your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other financial assets.

Review your life insurance. Maybe you have more than you need. Maybe you don’t have enough. If you have a term policy that was bought years ago, it could be about to expire.  If you have term insurance at work are you 100% certain that it will still be in force if you are no longer working at that employer, for example if you get sick, separate from service, then die?

Talk to your financial advisor or life insurance agent to review your insurance policies and discuss any next steps.

Freeze your credit. The only sure way to prevent another person from taking out credit in your name is to place a freeze at each of the major credit agencies. These include Experian, Transunion, Equifax and Innovis.

A quick tip: When you freeze your credit, you will get a password that will be required if you choose to unfreeze your credit in the future. Save your passwords in a super secure place where they won’t get stolen, lost or forgotten. I suggest a safe-deposit box.

Review your financial plan. Last time you looked your financial plan may have been based on account values that were at all-time highs. Now that the markets have come down, how are you positioned for retirement?

Your retirement probably hasn’t been threatened by the recent market downturn, but what if markets decline further?  Do a stress test to see if how your retirement goals will be affected and make adjustments accordingly.

Happy Holidays!

Photo by Lightscape on Unsplash

It’s probably no coincidence that the year ends at the same time we experience the longest nights and coldest days; a perfect excuse to spend a little extra time with family, reflect on the past 365 days and consider what may be ahead in the coming New Year.

If you are reading this, it is likely during those quiet days between Christmas and the New Year holiday where time seems to slow just enough for us to count our blessings and prepare for the coming new year.

A new year brings uncertainty, but also hope for a better future.

In the weeks and months that lie ahead I will roll out major changes to my website, update how we communicate with our people, and possibly even add some new people to my team. I can’t wait to share all this and more with you in 2019.

My blog posts will resume their regular weekly schedule in January. Until then, I wish you and your family a safe and blessed holiday season.

Happy New Year!

Mike Branch

Consolidate Charitable Gifts To Make The Most of End of The Year Giving

Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

Americans are a generous bunch. According to Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy,  Americans gave more than $400 billion to charity last year. 70% of that number was from individuals; people like you and me.

This year, however, that could change.

For the 2018 tax year the standard deduction rises from $12,000 for a married couple filing jointly, to $24,000. This is good news for many people, but it also means that you may not receive a tax deduction on your charitable donations if your itemized donations (which includes charitable gifts) total up to less than $24k.

But there may be a workaround.