Tuesday, October 26, 2010
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CLEARING THE MUMBO JUMBO
Every year, the same advice is offered for your annual financial checkup. Review your 401(k) and make changes to match your current retirement goals.
Easy to say, not so easy to decipher the details of your plan much less understand what options are available.
Finally, the Department of Labor (DOL) has taken notice. They've enacted new regulations that require fees, expenses and options be disclosed in plain language.
You'll see this information reported on a quarterly statement as well as online beginning January 1, 2012.
Administrative expenses must be divulged for the fund you have chosen. Those expenses must be expressed as a percentage of assets held along with a dollar amount for each $1,000 invested.
Performance data for mutual funds must be reported to include 1-year, 5-year and 10-year returns. Comparisons must be made to appropriate benchmarks for those same time periods to enable you to assess how your selected fund is performing.
A standard methodology of calculating and disclosing expense and return information must be used to provide uniformity across the variety of investment options available in the plan.
After a participant selects an investment option, they must be provided with any material available regarding voting, tender or similar rights associated with that option.
You'll also find an easy-to-understand glossary of terms to help explain your options, fees and other details.
The DOL estimates the 72 million 401(k) plan participants will save a total of 52 million hours and nearly $2 billion through these changes.
But the responsibility still rests with the individual investor. Those who take the time to review their quarterly statement will reap the benefits. Those who tend to toss such things aside will be no better off for the new law.
Tax changes to other types of investments are forthcoming as well.
Currently, financial institutions report only the gross proceeds on stocks, bonds or mutual funds sold in taxable accounts (non-IRA or 401(k)) to the Internal Revenue Service. But for tax year 2011 and beyond, the adjusted cost basis for covered securities sold and whether the gain or loss is long-term or short-term must be reported as well.
Covered securities are those purchased or acquired after a specific date based on classification. Equity securities purchased or acquired on or after January 1, 2011 are affected initially, with mutual fund and dividend reinvestment plans phased in January 1, 2012. Debt securities, options and all other financial instruments follow suit after January 1, 2013.
This information will be included on IRS Form 1099-B. You already collect these every year at tax time. The current format only reports the gross proceeds. The IRS wants to know how much you earned from the sale and whether it was long- or short-term gain.
This can be hard to determine as securities are often acquired long ago or purchased over time. Fortunately, the broker bears the responsibility of making these calculations and reporting to both the IRS and consumer.
Any deviance on your federal tax return from what the broker reports on Form 1099-B will result in an IRS inquiry.
Best to consult your tax advisor on this one. There may be benefits in asking your broker to use an alternative tax lot relief method. Tax lots are shares of the same security purchased on different dates at different prices. As you invest over time, this normally happens. When it's time to sell, choosing the right lot could have tax implications.
THINGS THAT REALLY DON'T GO BUMP
This weekend brings out ghosts and goblins going door-to-door, expecting treats in exchange for tricks they don't really plan to perform.
Yet the ritual continues. Year after year we welcome the neighborhood children to our front porch. We pretend not to recognize them, while we reflect on the passage of time in their growth from the previous year's visit.
Some experience the presence of ghosts outside of Halloween. These ethereal beings aren't dressed up for a holiday. They're clad in the dress of that long-gone era when they walked the earth in human form.
And in an area as old and rich in history as the Delaware Valley, spiritual encounters are a fairly common event.
Perhaps none is quite as famous as National Park's Red Bank Battlefield. The site of the former Fort Mercer was a key battleground in the Revolutionary War. A battle waged there on October 22, 1777 between 2000 British Hessians and the 400 Continental Army men defending the fort forced the British to retreat.
Local resident Ann Whitall tended to the wounded soldiers, her home becoming a hospital for those injured. Many strange feelings and presences are felt there today.
One ranger heard a voice in the house asking if a cure had been discovered for yellow fever. He found a book on the subject and read some of it aloud. He has not heard that voice since.
Another story involves two Hessian soldiers whose heads had been blown off in battle. Their heads were accidentally swapped in burial. The two wandered for many long years until they finally met, swapped heads, and instantly crumbled to dust.
Camden County College's Jefferson Hall was once a monastery. It's said that a residing monk hanged himself on the third floor of this building. Security guards today still report hearing thumping sounds down the hall of the third floor.
Woodbury and Cape May both hold more ghostly events than we have room to include here. Both offer tours of their haunted sites during the Halloween season.
Ghosts are believed to be the spirit of a deceased person or animal. They are usually solitary essences unable, or unwilling, to leave a place they were associated with in life. They can be seen as wispy images or life-like visions.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 32 percent of Americans believe that ghosts exist. An entire industry is built around the phenomenon, with some trying to communicate with the dead and others trying to rid them from places they're no longer welcome.
I didn't hold any firm beliefs about ghosts. At least, not until 1983 when we bought a home in Glassboro. The previous owner was in the military and getting transferred, leaving an unfinished addition. This handyman special was perfect for a young family on a tight budget, especially with my husband's building skills. We quickly made a deal on it.
The person we bought it from was gracious enough to allow us early access to turn the piles of lumber into a home. We had to have a functioning kitchen before obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy, necessary for closing.
But they didn't tell us about the history of the house.
We worked on that house seemingly round the clock to have everything ready in time. On one occasion, I was upstairs painting and heard our two young daughters playing on the steps. Up and down. Up and down. This happened several times. I waited for the opportune moment to catch them in the act, midway on the steps. I got to the doorway to find the steps empty except for a cold breeze.
I went looking for the girls, only to find them fast asleep. They were never on the steps.
I was a bit uneasy but proceeded with the task at hand, certain the sounds were my imagination.
It was the day before our scheduled closing and the house was ready for inspection. The Building Inspector made his rounds, making small talk all the while. Before he left, he asked if I knew about the house.
I admitted we had been too busy to research, but as it was an older home it was certain to hold a lot of history. And I was anxious to learn more.
"Go to the library", he told me, "and look for a book called "Ghosts In the Valley" by Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey. You'll find a whole chapter on your house in there."
The legend goes that an eight-year old girl named Elizabeth died in that house. She supposedly was pushed down the steps by her uncle and continued to haunt the place.
Most of the experiences shared were by college students who lived there in the 1960s. A lot of memories that never really happened were recounted that decade, making them easy to dismiss. It was the psychedelic summer, after all!
We lived in that house for close to 20 years. Over that time, we heard a lot of noises coming from the attic as if boxes were moving around. But only once did anyone actually see an apparition.
My husband was walking down the hallway and saw a woman sitting at the bottom of the steps. She was dressed in early 1900s fashion, and disappeared just as quickly.
We are now believers. And whether or not you fall into those ranks, be careful who you are giving candy to on Halloween night. They may not be the type of ghost you're expecting.
Sales of U.S. existing homes rose in September by the most on record! According to the National Association of Realtors, purchases increased 10 percent to a 4.53 million annual rate from 4.12 million in August. Bloomberg news said that economists forecast sales will rise to a 4.3 million pace. This follows July sales of 3.84 million, the lowest sales in a decade. The median house price fell 2.4 percent to $171,700 in September from a year earlier. Lower interest borrowing rates seem to be helping with these sales. The hope is that this will stabilize the housing foreclosures.
The housing recovery continues to be slowed by high unemployment that is forecast to remain above 9 percent through 2011. As foreclosures continue, they add to the available unsold homes. It will remain a buyers market for some time!
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