Commentary

Dennis Covington

What's Your Business Really Worth? Part 1

This would be a simple question to answer if your company was publicly traded. If you’re working in the private business world and you’ve tried to gauge whether you can afford to retire, you probably have been stumped figuring out what to use for the after-tax value of a business sale.

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Scott Pritchard

The Importance of Behavior

Today’s awarding of the Nobel Prize in Economics to Dr. Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago reminded me of the influence his work has had on my work with retirement plans.

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Dennis Covington

Simple Gifts and Planned Gifts

Finding the right cause and writing a check is just the beginning. Planned Giving 2.0 takes a long-term holistic approach.

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Terry Hartigan

Understanding Behavioral Finance Can Give You the Edge

Most successful people don’t want to think that they are incapable of being rational about their wealth, but it is important to point out why your financial advisors plays an important role in reminding you how to be “smart” about your wealth.

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Dennis Covington

Financial and Tax-Related Identity Theft - Part Two

 As I discussed in Part 1 of this article, identity theft is now the most common consumer complaint—with over 10 million total identity theft cases per year. It not only has tarnished the reputations of Fortune 500 brands such as Anthem, Target and Home Depot, but it also has infiltrated security-conscious
government agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service.

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Dennis Covington

Financial and Tax-Related Identity Theft - Part One

With the 2015 revelation that the IRS data breach involved over 330,000 taxpayer records (the IRS originally reported only 104,000 records were compromised), and more breaches followed, the IRS is finally under sufficient pressure to implement some formal procedures to assist taxpayers who have experienced a governmental, corporate or other data breach.

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Dennis Covington

The Charitable Remainder Trust - Having your cake and eating it too!

As many of you know, President Trump has proposed lower tax rates across the board, including taxes on capital gain income and ordinary income rates. In addition, the 3.8 percent Obamacare Medicare tax on net investment income may also be on the chopping block.

Whether or not the proposed tax changes tax place, CRTs should remain a smart strategy for generous taxpayers planning to sell appreciated assets such as marketable securities, real estate and certain closely held businesses.

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Scott Pritchard

Take Two Weeks Off...Then Quit

If you’ve ever picked up a golf club you can probably relate to my friend who upon having a particularly rough day on the course declared “I know what I’m going to do to fix my game. I’m going to take two weeks off and then quit.”

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Terry Hartigan

Presidential Elections and the Stock Market

Next month, Americans will head to the polls to elect the next president of the United States. While the outcome is unknown, one thing is for certain: There will be a steady stream of opinions from pundits and prognosticators about how the election will impact the stock market. 

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Scott Pritchard

CFO 2016 Trends & Tips

CFO Magazine recently issued a special report titled “401(k) Trends and Tips for 2016”. The complete report is available at 401(k) Trends and Tips for 2016.

But knowing that you are a busy professional, I thought you might appreciate the "CliffsNotes” version.

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Dennis Covington

Why Should We Invest Internationally?

Dennis Covington was recently featured in a video series where advisors answer common client questions.

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Dennis Covington

Britain's Exit from EU

You’ve heard us say before that “markets don’t like uncertainty”. Events that create uncertainty invariably lead equity markets to trade lower in the short term and Britain’s exit (Brexit) from the Europe Union (EU) definitely qualifies as that type of an event.

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Scott Pritchard

Whose Interests Come First? - Only Time Will Tell

We finally have a new Fiduciary Rule that becomes the law of the land next year on April 10, 2017. Now what?

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Dennis Covington

Is Today's Market More Volatile?

This question has come up frequently in recent meetings with investors. It is not surprising when you consider the level of media attention on volatility and the advent of new phrases like Flash Crash and High Frequency Traders.

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Dennis Covington

Perspective on a Market Pullback

The first few trading days of 2016 have seen volatility return to the stock market. The recent downturn has been attributed primarily to fears of a slowdown in the Chinese economy and a continuing slide in the energy (oil and gas) sector. Short-term traders are making bets on the impacts that these and other events may have on the global economy, and this is spiking volatility in stocks around the world.

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Terry Hartigan

Should Investors Sell After a Correction?

Stock prices in markets around the world fluctuated dramatically for the week ending August 27, 2015. On Monday, August 24, 2015 the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1,089 points— a larger loss than the “Flash Crash” in May 2010—before recovering to close down 588 points. Prices fell further on Tuesday before bouncing back on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Although the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.9% and 1.1%, respectively, for the week, many investors found the dramatic day-to-day fluctuations unsettling.

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Scott Pritchard

Whose Interests Come First? - Part Three

When I began this series in March, I did so with an optimistic belief that a new fiduciary standard would soon become the law of the land.

After all, the debate over how to better protect investors from the rampant conflicts of interest in the financial services industry has been underway for years. In fact, I first wrote about the proposed changes in February of 2011 (The DOL Says No Advice Is Better Than "Schlocky" Advice).

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Scott Pritchard

Whose Interests Come First? - Part Two

 “All advice should be in the best interest of the consumer. Bad financial advice is just wrong – period.”

That was the quote from Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, which I used to close my most recent post highlighting the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) new fiduciary proposal.

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Scott Pritchard

Whose Interests Come First?

 Here’s the scenario…

Patient: “Hi Doc, I came to see you today because I’m really not feeling well.”

Doc: “Tell me more about that.”

Patient: “I’m running a fever and coughing like crazy.”

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John McMillen

Searching for the Holy Grail of Investing

CAPE Fear: Can we use Valuation Ratios to Time the Market?

With popular market benchmarks like the S&P 500 setting record highs in 2014, many investors have become apprehensive. They’re afraid that a major market decline is imminent and are eager to find a strategy that promises to avoid the pain of an extended downturn while still capturing any up-side potential.

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Terry Hartigan

A Look at the University Endowment Model of Investing and the Individual Investor

Over the past decade there has been a great deal of hype in the financial press about the superiority of the so-called “endowment model” of investing. What is the endowment model you ask?  

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Scott Pritchard

The Power of Listening

I have a confession to make. I have a friend who is a broker. There, I feel better getting that off my chest.

Aside from having built a very profitable book of business by the sheer force of his personality and some very aggressive sales tactics, along with jumping from one brokerage house to another for a hefty payday, he’s actually a good guy.

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Dennis Covington

Why Use So Much DFA?

Oftentimes when I am asked what the difference is between Capital Directions and a traditional Wall Street brokerage firm, I will start by drawing a diagram.  

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Dennis Covington

Why "Doing Something" Is Usually The Worst Thing Investors Can Do

"The market feels overvalued."

“How can it keep going up?”

"Maybe we should take some profits off the table."

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Terry Hartigan

How Much Risk Are You Taking?

As wealth managers, there are numerous ways in which we identify and measure risk.

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Scott Pritchard

For Want of a Nail

“The Retirement Gamble”.

That’s how PBS’s Frontline documentary of April 24th described the current state of retirement in the US. The piece went on to explore how average Americans are struggling to save enough to fund a secure retirement.

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Scott Pritchard

Not Quite a "Game-changer"...Yet

First proposed in 2007, Regulation 408(b)2 was hailed as “a game-changer” for the 401(k) industry. The thought was that plan sponsors who had for years been blind to the hidden costs of their retirement plans would suddenly see the light. There would be massive upheaval of the status quo.
Fast-forward six years later. We now live in a post-408(b)2 world and things look radically…the same.

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Dennis Covington

Investment Implications of Higher Taxes: Pay Now or Pay Later?

Now that the 2012 election is behind us, we finally have some certainty about which political parties will control which branches of government.

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Dennis Covington

The "Whac-A-Mole" Approach to Investing

“The Market seems uncertain to me right now; maybe I should take some equity investments off the table”.

This statement, or a derivation of it, is commonly put to advisors such as me.

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John McMillen

The Failure of Alpha

All investors have to make a choice to embrace either a passive or active strategy when selecting investments. Passive strategies attempt to capture the market’s return, while active strategies attempt to outperform it. Gains that active managers earn above the stock market’s return are commonly referred to as alpha.

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Dennis Covington

The Planning Process is More Important Than the Plan

The political clashing that is occurring over our country’s entitlement programs highlights an ideological divide in our country over how to solve our deepening debt crisis. But it also highlights an important facet of Comprehensive Wealth Management: assumptions about the future are just that – assumptions – and should not be set in stone.

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John McMillen

Just How Long Does It Take To Get Those Long-Term Returns?

One of the most important determinants of an investor’s ability to assume risk is their stated investment time horizon. It is well documented that the longer an investor’s time horizon, the more likely a significant equity allocation may be appropriate. But what, exactly, is “long term”?

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Scott Pritchard

In Praise of Accountability

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is not exactly the National Enquirer, so you probably won’t see its recent study on 401(k) plans on newsstands. But the report, titled “401(k) Plans: Improved Regulation Could Better Protect Participants from Conflicts of Interest,” does expose some interesting facts about which all fiduciaries need to be aware. While some may find these facts surprising, they are all too familiar to many of us on the front lines of the effort to improve 401(k) disclosure.

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Dennis Covington

Don't Let Inflation Risk Wreck Your Purchasing Power

I continue to be astonished and frustrated at the media reports of how much collective cash investors hold as a percentage of their investable assets. Incredibly, the percentage of cash that investors hold relative to stocks actually increased during 2010, despite two years of strong equity returns...

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John McMillen

Fund Failures, Survivorship and Your Money

Mutual funds have a lifecycle not too different from any living entity: They are born, they grow up, and then, eventually, they die. Unfortunately, many funds perform very poorly and are sent to an early grave, taking much of their shareholders’ original investment with them.

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Scott Pritchard

The DOL Says No Advice Is Better Than "Schlocky" Advice

For years, many service providers to 401(k) plans have benefited from the vagaries of the 401(k) marketplace. Fees have not been required to be clearly disclosed. Plan sponsors were told there was “no cost” to run the plan. Salespeople have been allowed to call themselves “advisors.”

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Scott Pritchard

The Novelty of Fee Transparency

Much has been written in the press lately about a seemingly novel idea:

The notion that 401(k) plan sponsors and participants should actually know how much they are paying!

After years of wrangling, and against staunch opposition from Wall Street, the Department of Labor (DOL) has finally issued the third and final step in a series of regulations aimed at ending the long-running ruse of hidden fees in 401(k) plans.

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Dennis Covington

Why Concentrated Stock Positions Make Planning Pointless

One of the key components of Comprehensive Wealth Management is to run scenarios using different variables to make sure we are addressing different possible outcomes for our clients. For instance, do you want to retire at 58 or 65? Do you want to take Social Security early, or defer to later? Do you spend 2% of your portfolio a year or 12%? (You won’t have a portfolio for long if you take out 12%, by the way.)

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John McMillen

Does Dollar Cost Averaging Makes Sense?

The recent market volatility has created anxiety for many investors who have excess cash to invest in the equity markets. With painful memories of the 2008-09 downturn still fresh, many investors are, understandably, hesitant to put a significant amount of money into stocks all at once.

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Scott Pritchard

All Fiduciaries Are Not The Same-Part II

Judging by the tremendous response to Part I on this topic, it is safe to say that plan sponsors and their advisors now have a keen interest in the fiduciary issue.

Whether driven by high-profile lawsuits or a genuine desire by plan sponsors to do the right thing, this increased interest will hopefully lead to improvements in fiduciary governance of the nation’s retirement plans and greater retirement security for millions of Americans.

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John McMillen

That Mutual Fund Ad May Be True, But Is It Accurate?

Someone once said that the difference between unethical and ethical advertising is that unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public, while ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public. Looking through all the mutual fund ads that run in the consumer press, it appears the investment industry has become expert in the latter.

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Dennis Covington

Trying to Clear Up the Confusion about Estate Tax Law

Much has been written about the failure of Congress to address the scheduled “repeal” of the estate and generation-skipping transfer (“GST”) taxes before 2010, thereby wreaking havoc on professional estate planners and their clients. We need not repeat the details, but a summary of how this came about is important.

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John McMillen

Tax-Efficient Investing in a Tax-Inefficient World

Trying to guess what the politicians in Washington are going to do in the coming year is a nearly impossible task; however, one thing most observers agree on is that taxes are likely to be increased for affluent investors in the years ahead.

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Scott Pritchard

All Fiduciaries Are Not The Same-Part I

First, let me say that I am not an attorney. So, as I wade into interpretation of ERISA, I gratefully acknowledge my reliance on the previous work and wise counsel of numerous ERISA attorneys who have been kind enough to share their opinions with me.

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Scott Pritchard

The Pain of Discipline vs. The Pain of Regret

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: The pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”
                                                                                                      -- Jim Rohn

Recently a participant in a 401(k) plan for which we serve as the fiduciary advisor called me with some concerns.

“I’m just a little worried because the market seems to be headed down again,” she said. “Do you think I should change to a more conservative strategy?”

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Dennis Covington

What's All the Fuss About Roth IRA Conversions?

Roth IRAs have been around since 1998, yet most of our clients don’t have a Roth IRA. The reason is that the ability to contribute or convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs has been limited to taxpayers with relatively low Adjusted Gross Incomes (AGI).

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Dennis Covington

What's The Most Important Role of a Wealth Manager?

The notion of a “wealth manager” is relatively new in the financial services field. The term evolved to differentiate an advisor who primarily offers investment advice (the vast majority of advisors) from an advisor who is dedicated to helping clients achieve all of their financial goals through a consultative process.

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John McMillen

The Hidden Cost of Market Timing

Volatile markets are especially dangerous for investors as they often lead to dramatic changes in an individual’s willingness to assume risk, causing those who would normally embrace a buy-and-hold strategy to engage in market timing. When stressed investors are contemplating bailing out of the market, most willingly admit that they won’t be able to make a perfect call on the market’s bottom or top, but believe they can get “close enough” and view any lost return due to a timing mistake as negligible.

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Scott Pritchard

The Lake Wobegon 401(k) Plan

“Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” This was Garrison Keillor’s famous description of his fictional home town, but superiority bias is applicable far beyond the shores of Lake Wobegon. It also permeates the world of 401(k) plans.

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Dennis Covington

Government Intervention and Stock Prices

The events of the past year were disconcerting to all of us. We’ve seen home prices plummet, the bankruptcy of major corporations, and the inability of business owners to access credit. The list goes on and on.

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John McMillen

Do Inflation Hedges Really Help?

Ask economist and layman alike about the recent activities of the Fed and you’ll likely hear the foregone conclusion that inflation is right around the corner. As a result, many investors are questioning whether their current portfolio is properly structured for such an environment, and, if not, what changes should they make?

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Scott Pritchard

Fiduciary Prudence in a Post-2008 World - Final in a Four Part Series

When I began this series I realized that it takes faith to write a multiple-part series. One always has to wonder if the key points you seek to make will still be relevant when the series is complete. This was especially true when I began this series in January. We had just completed the second-worst year of returns in the history of the stock market and the New Year was starting out with no glimmer of hope.

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Dennis Covington

Can We Use a Trading-Range Strategy to Time the Market?

As we develop wealth management plans for our clients we find that discovering their goals and creating a plan to maximize the probability that they achieve these goals is sometimes the easiest part. The more difficult part, particularly in volatile markets like 2008, is putting the plan into action, particularly when it involves putting cash into the market. Why? One word – EMOTION.

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John McMillen

Have Active Managers "Limited the Downside" in This Market Environment?

If there was ever a time in which active managers had the ability to prove their worth, it has been in the past year. After all, if active managers can’t foresee the worst recession and subsequent bear market since the Great Depression, what makes us believe they can see the little ones?

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Scott Pritchard

Fiduciary Prudence in a Post-2008 World-Part Three

As we consider fiduciary best practices in the wake of 2008, you may realize that the first two factors are directly linked to legislative efforts to improve the retirement security of American workers. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) directly endorsed “do-it-for-me” solutions as the best default investments, while Congressmen George Miller (D – CA) and Robert Andrews (D – NJ) are pursuing a bill in the House that would make full disclosure of 401(k) fees the law of the land.  

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Dennis Covington

Focusing on Things You Can Control-Part 3: Wealth Enhancement

There is no denying that we will see changes to federal tax policy over the next few years; newspapers and magazines are full of stories and opinions on the matter. One of our roles as wealth managers (in partnership with our clients’ tax advisors) is to identify provisions that may help them save tax and thereby enhance their wealth.

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John McMillen

What Does Bank of America's Acquisition of Merrill Lynch Tell Us About Stock Picking?

The investment industry is full of individuals who claim to have the ability to make great stock picks (i.e., accurately assess mispricings in stock valuations and beat the market). Irrefutable evidence, however, shows that this is rarely accomplished, and when it is accomplished it cannot be attributed to skill anymore than luck.

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Scott Pritchard

Fiduciary Prudence in a Post-2008 World-Part Two

In my last entry, I began introducing the components of a prudent fiduciary process in the wake of the trauma the financial markets experienced in 2008.

Prior to 2008, many plan sponsors already knew that the majority of participants are ill-equipped to manage their own assets, but this past year crystallized that reality. Given that, I made the point in Part I that the first component every plan should provide is a strong “do-it-for-me” solution.

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Dennis Covington

Focusing On Things You Can Control-Part 2: Estate Planning

Obama Plans to Keep Estate Tax – Democrats Want to Freeze Levy at Current Levels Instead of Letting It Expire Next Year” reads the top headline in the January 12, 2009 edition of The Wall Street Journal. The article details recent history about the estate tax and various legislative initiatives to change it. The driving force behind the incoming administration’s desire to deal with this issue now is that current legislation calls for the estate tax to be repealed in 2010 only to see it sunset and return to Clinton-era legislation which taxed estates over $1 million ($2 million for couples) at 55%.

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John McMillen

Protecting Your Assets From Unscrupulous Advisors

I typically write on topics pertaining to portfolio construction and how embracing widely accepted investment theories such as Modern Portfolio Theory and Efficient Market Hypothesis can go a long way in protecting investors from needlessly assuming excessive risk. Given the current market environment, however, I feel compelled to touch on some basic principles outside of investment theory that can also go along way in helping you protect your wealth.

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Scott Pritchard

Fiduciary Prudence in a Post-2008 World-Part One

As fiduciaries responsible for the investment of assets on behalf of others, I doubt that many of us will miss 2008. Being a fiduciary always carries with it a tremendous sense of responsibility, but the market environment of this past year made our roles that much more challenging.

Yet we have to remember that fiduciary prudence is not about results. It is about process. And process is about achieving long-term success in the face of occasional bumps (or craters, as the case may be) in the road.

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Scott Pritchard

Who "Mad(e)-off" With My 401(k)?

Its 10:30 pm…do you know where your 401(k) assets are? Unfortunately, the plan sponsors who had their assets invested with Bernard Madoff didn’t. And the resulting losses have been devastating to their unknowing participants.

Madoff’s operations lacked any sort of transparency. His clients, including a number of large 401(k) plans, simply didn’t know where their assets were or how they were invested.

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Dennis Covington

Focusing On Things You Can Control-Part 1: Life Insurance

Most people don’t enjoy talking about life insurance and, as a result, have not looked at their policies in years. When I ask clients about the need to review their policies it’s usually an item that is pushed down their priority list UNTIL the day they get a notice from their carrier that the policy they haven’t paid on in years will lapse unless a hefty premium is paid each year.

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John McMillen

Market Timing a Recession

The big news last week was the official announcement by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) that the economy has been in a recession since December 2007. Many investors who have not yet bailed out of the market will no doubt interpret this as a clear sign they should now.

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Scott Pritchard

Helping 401(k) Participants Stay the Course in Tough Markets

As fiduciaries responsible for the investment of assets on behalf of others, our duty is always to act, as required by ERISA, “…in the best interests of plan participants.” The ongoing turmoil in the stock market highlights one key aspect of that duty and that is to monitor how participants are managing their balances.

Are participants continuing to contribute to the plan? Are participants trading more actively? Are more participants taking out hardship withdrawals? Are loans increasing?

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Dennis Covington

A Good Plan Is the Main Key to Weathering Financial Storms

Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many investors – clients, associates, friends and family – in the midst of the current financial storm. It seems most investors are weathering the market downturn with resolve, but I’ve also spoken with some individuals who panicked and abandoned their long-term strategy.

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John McMillen

Are Concentrated Stock Positions Worth the Risk?

Holders of a concentrated stock position often resist diversification for a variety of reasons, including tax avoidance, over-confidence and emotional attachment. Though any investor with a highly appreciated stock position will likely face a daunting tax bill, investors must be careful not to let the “tax tail wag the investment dog”.

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Scott Pritchard

Fiduciary Discipline in Tumulultuous Times

Without the ability to close the blinds, turn off the TV or the computer and avoid reading newspapers or magazines, everyone is acutely aware of the extreme volatility that continues to grip the markets. Suddenly, it seems, every investor is well versed on the dangers inherent in Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO’s).

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Dennis Covington

Impact of Changes to Capital Gains and Dividend Tax Rates

In 2003 federal capital gains tax rates were reduced from a top rate of 20% to 15% and the tax rate on qualified dividends was lowered from a taxpayer’s marginal income tax rate (which at the time was 38.6% at its highest) to a flat 15%. The tax bills enacting these rates included “sunset provisions” that cause these tax rates to revert to their pre-2003 levels in 2008.

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John McMillen

A Clear Lesson On The Virtues of Effective Diversification

The recent market turmoil has shown that diversification is more important today than ever before. With the implosion of some of Wall Street’s oldest and largest companies, many of whom have survived numerous crises before, the hard lesson is that no individual stock today is immune to a sudden collapse.

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Scott Pritchard

A Change May Not Do You Good

In the midst of the presidential campaign season you only have to listen briefly to both candidates to hear what word is resonating most with the electorate…change. At their recently completed conventions, both candidates made their case for why they are the candidate most likely to bring about the change that we all seem to want.

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Dennis Covington

Charitable Planning: A look at Donor Advised Funds

More and more we see clients who have a strong desire to leave a portion of their wealth to charity. Their motives vary from a desire to support a cause they care about to not wanting to leave a significant inheritance to their children or grandchildren in an effort to eliminate some of the negative behavior demonstrated by many who inherit or feel entitled to wealth.

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John McMillen

How Many Active Managers Really Add Value?

The recent market turmoil has shown that diversification is more important today than ever before. With the implosion of some of Wall Street’s oldest and largest companies, many of whom have survived numerous crises before, the hard lesson is that no individual stock today is immune to a sudden collapse.

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Scott Pritchard

Saving Participants from Themselves

“I am a long-term investor.” The vast majority of participants in your 401(k) plan would likely agree with that statement.

But as the saying goes “Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” The market conditions of the last twelve months certainly qualify as a time of adversity. And a large number of 401(k) participants are revealing that their character actually doesn’t involve being “a long-term investor”.

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Dennis Covington

Do You Need Long-Term Care Insurance?

The average life span continues to increase, and so does the cost of health care. As a result, many individuals are mulling the benefits and considerable costs of long-term care insurance (LTCi). Whether you need such a policy depends greatly on your financial situation and your desires for how your wealth will be spent.

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John McMillen

The Dangers of Style Drift

Mutual funds are classified based on the type of investments they hold – large or small, growth or value, foreign or domestic, etc. Because all such market segments will move in and out of favor over time, and it is impossible to tell when this will happen, creating a well-diversified portfolio is of paramount importance.

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Scott Pritchard

The 401(k) Plan: Commodity or Service?

The burning smell coming from my wife’s computer was definitely not a good sign. After roughly five years of service the desktop PC was ready for the trash heap.

So we faced some choices in replacing the PC – choices that reminded me of the choices plan sponsors face when considering changes to their 401(k) plans:

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Dennis Covington

Business Owners and Exit Plans

Because we are intimately involved in our clients’ financial lives, we get a first-hand look at the planning techniques that really make a difference in people’s peace-of-mind. For business owners, I don’t think there is any thing I have seen that has a greater positive impact than a sound succession (exit) plan.

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John McMillen

Fees Really Do Matter

A basic tenant of successful investing is to be acutely aware of all fees being incurred.  In today’s investment marketplace – with an endless number of options and less-than-clear fee disclosure – it is often difficult investors to truly compare apples to apples.

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Scott Pritchard

Are Fund Fees "Real" Fees?

Why is it so difficult for many sponsors of 401(k) plans to actually understand how much their plans cost?  The answer is that many plan providers don’t want the plan sponsor to know how much they are making because they know you would be appalled.

How do they do it? 

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