By Jonathan Arnold

Manager, Inlanta Mortgage Grand Rapids

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We are just three months shy of the New Year and this is a great time to get a jumpstart on coming out ahead at tax time. A little strategic thinking, planning and taking action now could give you a reduction in your tax bill come April, perhaps boost your retirement savings and college fund savings. You might even see a significant reduction in any debt you might owe.
 
A great place to start is to take a close look at your investments. Your portfolio may benefit from a rebalance, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve made any changes. With the recent volatility in the market you might discover that your allocations may not match your risk tolerance. 
 
If you have a 401(k) look into maxing out your contributions before the end of the year. If you’re under 50 years old, you can contribute a total of $18,000. That’s a $500 increase over last year. If you’re over 50, you can contribute up to $24,000.
 
Are you enrolled in a Flexible Spending Account? If so, now is the time to see if you have excess funds that must be used before year’s end. Even if your employer lets you carry over an unused balance, you may be better off stocking up on eligible items that can round out your first-aid kits. Some eligible items include sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher, diabetic testing kits, and hot and cold packs. 
 
Other items to look at include your credit rating and any high-rate credit card balances. If your credit score is good, you could benefit from a zero percent balance transfer offer since the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates in the near future. When the Fed raises interest rates credit card companies usually follow suit.
 
Making these adjustments now will help you breathe easier at tax time. And that’s always a relief.
 

Greece, China, Puerto Rico, the sudden long drops, followed by the upside down turns of the global marketplace is not thrilling. In fact as an investor it is a time when many people scream, “Stop the ride I want to get off!”
Before you get off the ride, though, you might want to review your asset allocation along with your risk tolerance. Getting off the ride when the market is down means you’d be selling low.
This might be the time to sit down with your financial advisor and rebalance your portfolio. If you haven’t done that in awhile, or never, it is that counterintuitive process where you sell winners and buy losers in order to achieve and/or maintain the desired asset mix. Do you have enough cash on hand? Are you properly allocated between stocks, bonds and alternative assets?
Even if your gut is telling you that you want off the roller coaster, don’t let fear be your guide. If you sell now, you may have miscalculated your risk tolerance in the first place. That’s common when the market is performing well and novice investors think they’ve got the stomach for the long-term ride.
You have to understand that market volatility is a constant. The cacophony of the current events in Greece and China should be ignored unless you’re heavily invested. However for the most part, these two countries represent at most 1 or 2 percent of the most investor’s portfolios. Don’t let the panic of other markets influence your decisions. Talk with your advisors. Get a real picture of what’s going on.

As a matter of fact, the 10 largest diversified international funds have less than 9 percent of their portfolios allocated to Chinese stocks and even lesser amount to Greek equities, according to Morningstar, a mutual fund research firm.
Keep in mind your investment objectives before you decide to jump out of the market. And also take into consideration that rebalancing your portfolio comes with trade-offs. While doing so can cut the risk of your portfolio and may help you stick to your financial plan, you could also incur capital gains taxes from selling appreciated assets in taxable accounts as well as transaction costs to execute your strategy.
According to a 2010 study on the benefits of rebalancing by the Vanguard Group, "Just as there is no universally optimal asset allocation, there is no universally optimal rebalancing strategy. The only clear advantage as far as maintaining a portfolio's risk-and-return characteristics is that a rebalanced portfolio more closely aligns with the characteristics of the target asset allocation than with a never-rebalanced portfolio. As our analysis shows, the risk-adjusted returns are not meaningfully different whether a portfolio is rebalanced monthly, quarterly, or annually." (http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/10/time-to-rebalance-your-retirement-portfolio.html)
If your investment strategy is still in line with your objectives, you may just want to hang on and see the ride through. Doing nothing in volatile times is often the very best thing to do.

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When the DOW opened down 1,100 points on August 24th, did your heart take a nosedive into your stomach?  And if you’re one of those investors who have decided to save a few bucks and trust your investments to a robo-advisor, what kind of guidance or reassurance did you get from that advisor? Did you panic and sell out of the stock market fearing it would continue to plummet? If so, you weren’t alone.

If you had a real financial advisor to talk you back from the ledge, you may have rallied later in the day just like the stock did. You could have saved a lot more than you lost.

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We’ve entered an age where yet another industry is slowly beginning to give way to robots. It makes sense when you’re dealing with repetitive actions that can be accomplished precisely and without damage to human muscles. However, when you consider the volatile and personal nature of finances, it’s difficult to reconcile a world where “robo-advisers” will be handling investments. Yet, robo-advisers are here and robo-adviser companies are growing by leaps and bounds. 

The very phrase “robo-adviser” conjures up images of the Star Wars character, R2D2, but that’s not exactly the correct image. Just what is a robo-advisor and can they really serve investors better than a trained, experienced and educated living human being?

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