IRS Finalizes ABLE Account Regulations: Here’s What to Know

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The IRS recently published final regulations for Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, accounts for disabled Americans. ABLE accounts aim to help people with disabilities and their families save and pay for disability-related expenses. Even though the contributions aren’t deductible, distributions such as earnings are tax-free to the designated beneficiary if they’re used to pay for qualified disability expenses. These expenses can include housing, education, transportation, health, prevention and wellness, employment training and support, assistive technology and personal support services, along with other disability-related expenses.

The regulations come in response to and finalize two previously issued proposed regulations from the IRS. The first proposed regulation was published in 2015 after enactment of the ABLE Act under the Obama administration. The second proposed regulation was published in 2019 in response to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which made some major changes to ABLE. 

Eligible individuals can now put more money into their ABLE account and roll money from their qualified tuition programs (529 plans) into their ABLE accounts. In addition, some contributions made to ABLE accounts by low- and moderate-income workers can now qualify for the Saver’s Credit.

The new regulations also offer guidance on the gift and generation-skipping transfer tax consequences of contributions to an ABLE account, as well as on the federal income, gift, and estate tax consequences of distributions from, and changes in the designated beneficiary of, an ABLE account.

In addition, before Jan. 1, 2026, funds can be rolled over from a designated beneficiary’s section 529 plan to an ABLE account for the same beneficiary or a family member. The regulations provide that rollovers from 529 plans, along with any contributions made to the designated beneficiary’s ABLE account (other than certain permitted contributions of the designated beneficiary’s compensation) can’t exceed the annual ABLE contribution limit.

Lastly, the final regulations offer guidance on the record-keeping and reporting requirements of a qualified ABLE program. A qualified ABLE program must maintain records that enable the program to account to the Secretary with respect to all contributions, distributions, returns of excess contributions or additional accounts, income earned, and account balances for any designated beneficiary’s ABLE account. In addition, a qualified ABLE program must report to the Secretary the establishment of each ABLE account, including the name, address, and TIN of the designated beneficiary, information regarding the disability certification or other basis for eligibility of the designated beneficiary, and other relevant information regarding each account. 

For more information about ABLE accounts or if you have any questions regarding these regulatory changes, please contact us at info@shermanwealth.com or check out our other relevant blogs

Top 6 Tax Tips To Know

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2020 has certainly been an eventful year so far and one that will be remembered for decades to come. Despite the negative impacts of the coronavirus globally, in the world of tax and retirement planning, 2020 has brought opportunities that should be taken advantage of before year’s end. Here are some tax planning ideas to consider before 2020 comes to a close.  

1) ROTH CONVERSIONS

As 2020 winds down, this is the optimum time to project the tax cost of a Roth conversion because most people by this time will have a reliable estimate of their 2020 income and this year’s tax benefits may be the highest ever because of historically low tax rates and possibly lower income due to the pandemic.

Once funds are converted, today’s low tax rates are locked in, plus the funds in the Roth grow income tax free forever and Roth IRAs have no lifetime required minimum distributions (RMDs). Any IRA funds converted will lower these tax-deferred IRA balances and in turn lower the amount of future RMDs that could be exposed to higher taxes.

Some may think they will be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, but that doesn’t often happen, especially after a spouse dies and the surviving spouse sees their tax bills increase when they begin to file as single.

The bottom line here is that a Roth conversion removes the risk and uncertainty of what future higher tax rates can do to your retirement income. Though Roth conversions will still be available in the future, you should still consider doing them in 2020.

2) IRA DISTRIBUTIONS

In 2020, you aren’t even required to take money from your IRA distributions. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act waived required minimum distributions for the year. But even though they aren’t required, you should look into making voluntary IRA distributions anyway because those taking money out of these tax-deferred vehicles in 2020 might be able to do so at lower tax rates.

Since the required minimum distributions are waived for 2020, this presents a one-time opportunity for those subject to the minimums to convert RMDs instead to Roth IRAs (something you can’t normally do). 

Even if you aren’t subject to required minimum distributions, it might pay for you to begin taking taxable distributions to get into the lower tax brackets and begin reducing the future IRA debt that’s building for Uncle Sam. The funds could be used either to convert to Roth IRAs or for gifting or estate planning. For example, the IRA funds withdrawn can be used to purchase permanent cash value life insurance, which after the SECURE Act will prove to be a better estate planning vehicle than inherited IRAs. Like Roth IRAs, life insurance will grow tax free and the eventual proceeds to beneficiaries will be tax free as well which is a good use of IRA funds now. IRA or plan withdrawals taken this year can also be used for gifting to family members.

3) QUALIFIED CHARITABLE DISTRIBUTIONS

Qualified charitable distributions are the most tax-efficient way to make charitable gifts because they reduce taxable IRA balances at no tax cost. The name refers to a direct transfer of IRA funds to a qualifying charity.

The only downside here is that the QCD is only available to IRA owners and beneficiaries age 70½ or older. The distribution is not available from company plans and not permitted to go to donor-advised funds or private foundations. Qualified charitable distributions are limited to $100,000 per year for each IRA owner, not per IRA account. 

Although the SECURE Act raised the required minimum distribution age to 72, the QCD age remains at 70½. This gap means the charitable distributions can begin before RMDs kick in. Even though RMDs were waived for 2020, you can still make these QCDs nonetheless since the charitable distribution still allows you to remove IRA funds at a zero tax cost. If you are giving to charity anyway, and qualify for QCDs, then this is the way you should be doing your giving.

With qualified charitable distributions,  you receive both the standard deduction and the tax benefit in the form of an exclusion from income. An exclusion is better than a tax deduction because it reduces your adjusted gross income, a key figure on the tax return. QCDs are the most tax-efficient way to reduce taxable IRA balances, because they reduce the balances to a zero tax cost.

In addition, there is a provision in the CARES Act that allows for a $300 additional charitable gifting exclusion from income for non-itemizers (for cash gifts).

4) GIFTING

With the exploding deficits and expanding national debt, there is a new urgency for clients to make gifts now, before year’s end, because it may not be an option much longer. Gifts are lifetime transfers as opposed to inheritances received after death.

The 2020 estate and gift tax exemption is $11,580,000 per person ($23,160,000 for a married couple). These figures are scheduled to go back to $5 million and $10 million, respectively, after 2025 (there will also be inflation increases). It pays to use them now or possibly lose them later. These limits apply to lifetime gifts as well as inheritances.

For those who will be subject to a federal estate tax, gifting is less expensive because gifts are tax-exclusive, as opposed to inheritances, which are tax-inclusive. If the funds are left in the estate, the full value of the transfer at death is subject to the estate tax, so the funds used to pay the estate tax are taxed themselves, whereas gift taxes on lifetime transfers are only based on the gift amount received.

There are three tiers of tax-exempt gifting:

  1. The first is $15,000 annual exclusion gifts. These gifts can be made to anyone each year and they do not reduce the gift/estate exemption. These annual exclusion gifts are always tax free—even if the exemption is used up.
  2. Unlimited gifts for direct payments for tuition and medical expenses. These gifts can be made for anyone, the amounts are unlimited, and they do not reduce the gift/estate exemption. These gifts are also always tax free—even if the exemption is used up.
  3. The $11,580,000 lifetime gift/estate exemption in 2020. The IRS has stated that there will be no clawback if these exemptions are used now, even if the exemption is later reduced, so you must use it or possibly lose it.

Gifts made now in 2020 lock in today’s gifting limits. There is no guarantee that these limits will hold up in the future.

5) UPDATING ESTATE PLANS AFTER THE SECURE ACT

The SECURE Act eliminated the stretch IRA for most non-spouse beneficiaries. This is effective beginning with deaths in 2020, so it is imperative to check your IRA and company plan beneficiary forms to reveal what may be the largest single asset in your estate plan.

Most non-spouse beneficiaries will be subject to the new 10-year payout rule, meaning that the entire inherited IRA will have to be withdrawn by the end of the 10th year after the IRA holder dies.

This includes most trusts named as IRA beneficiaries, and you might need to make changes; for example, most conduit trusts will not work as originally planned since the entire inherited IRA will be left unprotected in trust after the 10 years. Many of these trusts will have to be upgraded to discretionary trusts to maintain the trust protection beyond the 10 years. But even then, the inherited IRA funds will still be taxed when that decade has passed, and that tax will be at high trust tax rates for any funds remaining in the trust and not distributed to the trust beneficiaries.

One solution here is to convert these IRAs to Roths to eliminate the post-death trust tax exposure or withdraw IRA funds now and purchase life insurance, which is a better and more flexible asset to leave to a trust.

You should review any IRA estate plans, which begins with a beneficiary form review. Check to make sure that contingent beneficiaries are named and up to date. Make sure that the estate plans will still accomplish your goals after the changes brought about by the SECURE Act.

6) W-4 UPDATES AND WITHHOLDINGS CHECK

The federal income tax is a pay-as-you-go tax. Taxpayers pay the tax as they earn or receive income during the year. Taxpayers can avoid a surprise at tax time by checking their withholding amount. The IRS urges everyone to do a Paycheck Checkup in 2020, even if they did one in 2019. This includes anyone who receives a pension or annuity. 

The best way to make sure you are withholding the right amount is to use the Tax Withholding Estimator on IRS.gov. The Tax Withholding Estimator works for most employees by helping them determine whether they need to give their employer a new Form W-4. They can use their results from the estimator to help fill out the form and adjust their income tax withholding. If they receive pension income, they can use the results from the estimator to complete a Form W-4P, Withholding Certificate for Pension and Annuity Payments PDF. To change their tax withholding, employees can use the results from the Tax Withholding Estimator to determine if they should complete a new Form W-4 and submit to their employer. Don’t file with the IRS.

These 2020 year-end retirement, tax and estate planning moves will enhance your retirement savings that will soon be exposed to potential tax increases after 2020. Given the current state of our economy, it is best for you to consider these options now, since it’s likely many of these things will be changing in the near future. These tips have been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction. Check out our website for more information! 

What to Do If You Don’t Have a 401(k)

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As the coronavirus sweeps the world and people take a step back to look at their finances for the long term, we are seeing that about half of workers don’t have access to a retirement plan at work.  That means that even as 50% of workers can take advantage of automatic payroll deductions and contribute $19,500 or more to a tax-advantaged company retirement plan, about the same percentage is on the outside looking in.

Some of these people may work for companies that offer plans, but are not eligible to contribute because they either don’t meet the criteria or they are part-time employees. Some may be self-employed, which leads to other retirement savings options and others may simply work for a firm that doesn’t offer a plan at all.

So, as people start putting a tighter rein on their finances during this economic recession, it’s important to discuss retirement saving options for those who do not have access to one through their company.  Below we will share several options for people in this situation according to an article by MorningStar.

1) Invest in an IRA.

A good first stop for any worker who has earned income is to simply fund an IRA to the maximum–$6,000 for investors under age 50 and $7,000 for those over 50. Such accounts are very easy to set up, and the money can be invested in a huge array of options. Contributing to an IRA can provide a terrific building block for retirement security. A person assiduously investing $6,000 a year in an IRA for 40 years who enjoyed 6% growth on her money would have a little over $920,000 at the end of the period.

2) Assess whether self-employment accounts are an option.

For people who are self-employed, there are a host of options for tax-advantaged retirement savings. Some of them are quite similar to what 401(k) investors have, except that there can be setup costs and oversight responsibilities. An investment in a conventional IRA, an individual 401(k), a SEP or SIMPLE IRA’s are all good investment ideas.

3) Assess whether an HSA is an option.

While by no means a first line of defense for people without a 401(k), a health savings account is a decent ancillary retirement account option for people covered by a high-deductible healthcare plan.

4) Invest in a tax-efficient way in a taxable brokerage account.

While it’s ideal to invest in vehicles that provide some type of a tax benefit, people without a company retirement plan can also invest tax-efficiently inside of a taxable account. The key is to select investments that incur few taxes on an ongoing basis.

5) Be part of the solution.

Finally, if you work for a small employer that lacks a company retirement plan, consider offering to assist your employer in figuring out how to get one off the ground. Setting up such a plan has gotten cheaper and less complicated in recent years, and your employer may welcome a financially savvy partner to help with some of the research and vetting.

As always, if you have any questions about your current 401(k) or need help investing money in order to supplement a lack of one, please reach out to us and we would be happy to discuss your future financial goals.  

The Biggest Money Mistakes People Make in a Recession

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During an economic recession, it’s easy to make mistakes when it comes to your finances and managing your money. Many people are facing decisions and situations that they have never had to deal with before. They need help navigating this new territory and recognizing their mistakes. We read a Wall Street Journal article discussing the biggest money mistakes people tend to make during an economic downturn and we want to bring light to a few of them and talk about ways to avoid them.

As you’ll see, the mistakes cover a wide array of practices and situations and not everyone has the luxury of making some of these mistakes. Hopefully, being aware of these errors will make you think as you find your path through the coming months. And ideally, avoiding any of these mistakes will make your economic troubles a little less painful and the eventual recovery a little more robust.

Refusing to Tap the Emergency Fund

Some people experiencing economic hardship choose to live uncomfortably rather than access their savings. This happens when their saver’s mentality—the same one that helped in building an emergency fund—makes the emergency fund seem sacred and unavailable for use. A better framework for thinking about the use of such funds is viewing it as a reward for disciplined saving in good times. Isn’t this why you had the emergency fund in the first place?

No Re-Entry Plan

Investors often sell out of equities during a downturn without a plan of when to buy back in. It’s impossible to tell when exactly the markets are going to recover—witness the rapid bull market since late March—but you need a plan. While everyone’s situation is different, a phased approach could be the way to go, slowly moving back into equities.

Ignoring Your Credit Score

One mistake we make during a downturn is not paying enough attention to our credit score. But this is what affects the interest rate we get on our mortgage and credit cards, as well as whether we’ll be able to get insurance or even rent an apartment. So it is important, even during difficult times, to try to pay bills on time, not max out on credit cards, not open several new credit accounts in a short period of time, and keep a good financial history as much as possible.

No Retirement Funding

During an economic downturn, people often get scared and halt contributions to their 401(k) and/or individual retirement accounts. It’s still important to maintain your pace on contributions and to not jump the gun on withdrawals. You should continue to look at the big picture and avoid taking a loan from your retirement. People often miss the opportunity of buying low and accumulating more shares – a recession is actually a great time to actively look for bargains in the market. Make sure to keep your risk capacity in sight and gauge your cash needs wisely in times like these.

Not Talking About Money

With the pandemic forcing millions of people world-wide into financial distress, a natural response may be to avoid conversations about money at all costs. However, our research suggests that discussing money with your partner in hard times can help your relationship and finances if you approach these discussions the right way.

As mentioned above, an economic recession is the perfect opportunity to take a step back and discuss and organize your finances. Saving for the future, talking to someone about your investments, and organizing your portfolio are all smart moves when setting yourself up for financial success and the ability to navigate an economic recession. If you have any questions or want to talk about your personal finances, please reach out to us at info@shermanwealth.com. To read some of our other blogs, check it out here

Top 5 Pieces of Financial Advice

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As we are all adjusting to the new norm that the coronavirus pandemic has created in our world, we are also learning pieces of advice that we could share from this experience. When going through an economic crisis, it’s important to keep some tips at top-of-mind to help you navigate the bumpy waters. In a CNBC Select Article, we found 5 great pieces of financial advice that we want to share with you to put in your financial repertoire.

First and foremost, try not to accumulate credit card debt. Racking up credit card debt can have very negative long term consequences, so it’s important that you pay the full balance on time. When you do not pay the full balance on time, your card will quickly accumulate interest, which often can get so high that it’s hard to pay off. 

According to recent Federal Reserve data released in September, the average interest rate for all credit card accounts is 14.87%. Among accounts assessed interest, or accounts with outstanding finance charges, the average interest rate rises to 16.88%. But for consumers with credit scores below 670, interest rates can near 30%, CNBC Select reports.

Next, make sure you don’t buy things you can’t afford. Although this one seems obvious, it’s much more common than you think. Avoid overspending and spending on things you can live without. Start putting that extra money into savings accounts where you can be accruing interest and earning money. 

Third, invest the year’s expenses or anything saved after you have the year’s expenses saved? Before the pandemic, many people were saying how you should have several months of rent and expenses in a savings account for a rainy day, but as we have seen the economic hardships the coronavirus has inflicted upon our society, we are suggesting to save about a year’s worth of expenses before investing it elsewhere. 

Fourth, start to think like a savvy businessman or woman. Learn to negotiate. Especially in the world we are living in today, make sure you are constantly looking for deals and inquiring about credit card versus cash options. Oftentimes, places will charge you less if you pay in cash. So, before swiping that card, make sure you think about all your options. 

Lastly, buy in bulk. With Amazon becoming increasingly popular and making it possible to get what you need in a matter of hours, take advantage of deals and places you can buy in bulk. If you can save a few dollars here and there, take advantage of it. It’s important to be a smart shopper, especially when buying something pricey, such as groceries for a large family. 

By implementing some of these basic money management tips into your daily routine, you will find yourself becoming a more savvy shopper and saving more money. It is especially important during an economic recession to take these concepts into consideration and make the most of your finances. If you have any questions on other ways you can maximize your financial portfolio and find places in your budget where you can save money, please reach out to us at info@shermanwealth.com or visit our site at www.shermanwealth.com. Check out our other blog posts for more financial advice and tips! 

 

The Best Credit Cards For Grocery Shopping In 2020

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As the corona-virus pandemic has put a halt on restaurant dining, Americans have found themselves cooking at home more and in turn, spending more money on grocery shopping. When increasing your spend in a certain category, it’s important to think about how you can maximize these purchases and your budget by building rewards. You may want to consider a rewards credit card that can help you earn over $100 a year on your groceries. 

We read an interesting article from CNBC select that discussed the best credit cards to apply for if your grocery spending has increased or is a large chunk of your monthly budget. The average American spends about $5,174 a year, or roughly $431 a month, on groceries, according to a sample budget based on the latest spending data available from the location intelligence firm Esri. That’s more than Americans spend on dining out, which comes to about $3,675 annually. 

The best grocery rewards cards offer up to 6% cash back at supermarkets. While they usually exclude wholesale clubs such as Costco and BJ’s, and big box stores like Target and Walmart, you can still take advantage of these rates at Whole Foods, Krogers and other big name grocers.

CNBC Select analyzed 26 popular rewards cards using an average American’s annual budget and digging into each card’s perks and drawbacks to find the best grocery store rewards cards based on your spending habits. 

Here are CNBC Select’s top picks for credit cards offering supermarket rewards

If you find that your grocery bill takes up a large portion of your monthly budget, take a look at these credit cards, to see if you could capitalize on your spending. Additionally, no matter where you spend the majority of your money, whether it’s travel or dining, make sure you look into credit cards that are the best fit for you. If you have any questions on your portfolio or credit cards to maximize your spending, please reach out to us at info@shermanwealth.com

Here’s How The Pandemic Has Upended The Financial Lives Of Average Americans: CNBC + Acorns Survey

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From jobs to savings to retirement plans, the coronavirus pandemic has upended many Americans’ financial lives. While millions are still unemployed, many have seen their emergency savings run dry and others are figuring out ways to cope with the financial burden of the economic recession. However, not all aspects of the financial impact of the pandemic are necessarily negative.

According to CNBC and an Acorns Survey, many are saving more and spending less. In fact, 46% of the respondents said they are “more of a saver now” compared to before the pandemic. Additionally, 60% consider themselves “savers,” up from 54% last year. The poll, conducted by SurveyMonkey Aug. 13-20, surveyed 5,401 U.S. adults and has a margin of error of +/-2%.

 

About half, or 49%, said their monthly spending has decreased, compared to 33% last year. Some of those savings can be attributed to the fact that people stayed home and didn’t do things like dining out, said personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, co-founder of HerMoney.

While many have been struggling to get by these last few months, many have learned how to manage their money better despite the economic recession. People have learned how to go to the grocery store less and have utilized meal planning and money saving-skills, such as coupon-clipping and deal searching. They also have begun to really take a look at their monthly or annual subscriptions, removing themselves from services they don’t really use or need. By prioritizing wants versus needs and taking a look at how much money is going out each month, people have picked up better spending habits that will help them navigate these bumpy waters ahead. 

With extra cash and savings in the bank, it’s important to talk with an advisor about options and investing that makes the most sense for you, whether it be saving for retirement, college tuition, or something else. If you have any questions for us, please reach out at info@shermanwealth.com and we would be happy to set up a time to discuss a financial plan for your future.

 

Here’s The Importance of Financial Literacy

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Sherman Wealth has long been advocates of promoting financial literacy and empowering our world to become more educated on how to manage all aspects of their financial lives. We want to highlight an interesting article we saw on www.evidenceinvestor.com, discussing several reasons why “high flying professionals fail at investing”. This piece highlights the lack of financial literacy in our country, regardless of occupation or socio-economic upbringing. According to the article, “the best investors often times aren’t those with the highest IQs or who’ve read the most books, it isn’t knowledge, but SELF-knowledge, that really sets them apart.” 

Often, high-earning professionals think they are saving enough but countless financial complexities exist within a professional services career track. Biases or mental errors are some of the biggest things standing in the way of financial success, mainly because they’re not easy to recognize in ourselves. Additionally, people are naturally resistant to change and most people are hesitant to pay small costs even for big gains. 

Failure to rebalance is also something that many people struggle with and contributes to financial literacy. People are reluctant to take action to rebalance a portfolio. It’s too much fun to let winners run. It’s also psychologically difficult to sell winners to buy losers. But failure to rebalance quickly causes the client to be dangerously exposed to a downward turn in the markets

People also tend to overestimate the significance of recent events and irrationally discount longer-term trends. Those of us over a certain age remember Black Monday on October 19th, 1987. The stock market lost a quarter of its value in a single day. That spooked a lot of people – and many got out of the market right after. Looking back at it now, Black Monday barely registers as a blip on the graph. This is an example of recency bias. Recent losses play havoc on our emotions and cause us to lose perspective. The long-term trend of the stock market makes any single day’s volatility look insignificant in comparison, so when we look back at a single day like Black Monday on a chart, we wonder how we could have panicked. Furthermore, given the current climate with COVID-19, it’s important to consider this idea, as people may have panicked back in March, selling assets in their portfolio, instead of holding onto them as the economy recovers. While it often seems natural to panic during an economic downturn, it’s important to remember that these dips recover naturally over time. 

These are just a few examples of how society and perception can lead us to make poor financial decisions. Given the current climate we are living in today, it is crucial to make sure you fully understand the decisions you make within your portfolio and that they are long-term, strategic moves. With a lack of financial literacy amongst all career fields and economic classes in our society, we realize the importance of being financially educated and would love to help you to make smarter decisions. If you have any questions or would like to set up a time to talk about your finances, please feel free to reach out at info@shermanwealth.com. Check out more of our blogs that discuss the importance of financial literacy.

New Fed Strategy Means Cheaper Loans For A Long time — Here’s How You Can Benefit

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As we’ve all been waiting to hear about the outcome and policy changes from the Jackson Hole symposium, there’ve been some updates that you should know. In a major policy pivot, the Federal Reserve said it will allow inflation to run “hotter than normal” to help the economy bounce back from the coronavirus crisis, meaning the Fed will be less likely to hike interest rates. This will allow borrowers to benefit from cheap money for a longer period of time. According to some commentary, this policy change is meant as a stimulus, to get people to spend more. 

Although the federal funds rate, which is what banks charge one another for short-term borrowing, is not the rate that consumers pay, the Fed’s moves still affect the borrowing and saving rates they see every day. For example, most credit cards come with a variable rate, which means there’s a direct connection to the Fed’s benchmark rate.

Since the central bank lowered its benchmark rate to near zero in March, credit card rates have hit a low of 16.03%, on average, according to Bankrate.com. Other short-term borrowing rates are even lower. The average interest rate on personal loans is currently about 12.07% and home equity lines of credit are as low as 4.79%, according to Bankrate, both notably less than the APR on a credit card.

On the flipside, the Fed’s willingness to tolerate higher inflation means that longer-term loans will offer less opportunities for borrowers. “Low inflation has helped suppress mortgage rates,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, an online loan marketplace. “If you let inflation go up, mortgage rates will also go higher.”

With these cheaper loans for a longer period of time, it’s important to take a look at where you can lock in those lower rates, such as through credit card balance transfers or refinancing your mortgage. If you have any questions about this new policy, and want to see how this could be an advantage for your portfolio, please reach out to us at info@shermanwealth.com and we would be happy to discuss with you. 

How Much Longer Until The US Economy Is Back To Normal? This New Index Shows We Have A Long Way To Go

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As we approach the six month mark from when COVID-19 turned our world upside down, we are beginning to adjust our lives to this new “normal”. As we continue to adapt to this different way of life, some things are seeming back to the way they were before, but much remains new and strange. We are going about our days wearing masks and social distancing, watching our favorite sports teams play in “bubbles”, empty stadiums and arenas, and spending our work day in sweats and from the comfort of our homes. 

As we begin to normalize some of these news ways of living, it raises the question of how far we really are from our old way of life? How much progress are we making towards this new “normal” that will be our future? As of right now, we’re seeing what’s called a “K” shape recovery, which is that the stock market is recovered, but the economy and mainstreet remains suffering. People are wondering if there will be a double dip recession potentially in the fall and winter months if the virus comes back. 

We’ve been thinking about how to tackle these difficult and unknown questions and found an interesting article by CNN Business and Moody’s Analytics, which raises some of these questions as they relate to the economy.

According to their analytics team, the U.S. economy remains far from normal. Based on the back-to-normal Index that they constructed, which takes into account 37 indicators, including traditional government stats and metrics from a host of private firms to capture economic trends in real time, the U.S. economy was operating at only 78% of normal as of August 19th. They are using the economic data from prior to when the pandemic struck in early March as a baseline as “normal”. They are saying that the “economic activity nationwide is down by almost one-fourth from its pre-pandemic level-far from normal”. 

Even though that data is not so promising, it’s important to note that it is substantially better than the darkest days of the pandemic in mid-April, when we were unsure of how dangerous this virus could be. As business re-opened between mid-April and mid-June, according to their back-to-normal index, the economy opened too quickly, with many surges in coronavirus cases throughout the summer leading to states halting their reopening plans. The back-to-normal index also calculated that states who locked down harder early on are now enjoying lower infection rates and stronger economies and “states that were quicker to end shelter-in-place rules and to reopen in the spring have paid an economic price.”

While our country is recovering slowly but surely from this deadly pandemic that has swept our world, we still have ways to go to reach our pre-pandemic “normal”. While the economy still needs time to recover, it’s the best time to think about your finances and how to manage your money to make sure you come out of these unprecedented times strong. Find out how much risk you are taking on, what investments you have and where you want to be given the circumstances and with the all time highs in the markets. If you have any questions about your portfolio or ways you can manage your money during these rocky times, please reach out to us and we’d be happy to help.