9 Things to Consider When Trying to Avoid Identity Theft

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By Whitney Rhyne, MS
Associate Financial Planner 

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the number of identity theft cases has increased to 9.9 million per year! (1)  The recent IRS and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) breaches are proving that identity theft can happen to anyone.

In a story that hits a little closer to home, a Priceville woman recently reported a random caller accusing her of asking for money, when in fact, they were scamming her into providing her personal information. Protecting your personal information and monitoring your accounts is a necessity to help avoid identity theft.

Below are 9 steps for you to consider:

1.  Request a free credit report every 4 months. Experian, Equifax and Trans Union allow for one free credit report each year.  These can be requested online or by phone.  You can order a free annual report from all three bureaus online at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Experian
1-888-397-3742

Equifax
1-800-685-1111

TransUnion
1-800-916-8800

2. Create strong and unique passwords. This includes passwords on personal computers, cell phones, and all types of online accounts, including email accounts, bank accounts, and social media.  Ensure you are using a random mix of numbers, letters, and symbols.  You should consider changing these passwords every 90 days. There are several online tools that can help generate random passwords.

There are online and offline ways to store passwords, including online options and smartphone apps such as LastPass or something as simple as an encrypted Excel spreadsheet or a written list placed in a safe place.  Also, consider increasing the 4-digit password on your cell phone to a 6, 8 or even 10 characters.

3.  Protect your key personal and financial information. This includes Social Security numbers, account numbers, credit card numbers, PIN numbers and different forms of photo identification.  Shred your credit card statements, bank statements, and any documents with important personal and financial identification. If you plan to be away from home for an extended period, place a hold on your mail by visiting https://holdmail.usps.com/holdmail/.

4.  Review your monthly bills, credit card and bank statements carefully and frequently. Make sure your bills are arriving on time and  that there is no suspicious activity on your credit cards by checking your statements and account balances.

5.  Do not open unexpected email attachments from unknown sources or give our personal information over a phone call you did not initiate. If someone asks for personal information on the phone, ask for their name, employee or badge number, and a call back number. Do not call back at the number provided; rather, look up the appropriate call back number for the company or agency they claim to represent.

6.  Eliminate phone calls and unwanted mail. To be placed on the Do Not Call List, you can register your phone via the National Do Not Call Registry.  You can also be opt-out of pre-approved credit offers by phone at 1-888-567-8688 or online at optoutprescreen.com.

7.  Protect your personal information-on your computer, on your phone and in your home. When downloading software, make sure it is from a website that you trust. Update your anti-virus and firewall software regularly. Ensure that you are using a secure wireless network in your home and in public.  It is safer to use your provider’s network than the free Wi-Fi at the coffee shop. When online shopping, make sure you are buying from a trustworthy website.

8.  Have a plan if your device is stolen. On many smart phones and some computers, you can enable a setting to find your device online if it were to be lost or stolen. This could give you the option to remotely lock or wipe your device if you desire.

9.  Teach your children about internet safety and what information is appropriate to be shared.  By monitoring your children’s internet access, you can prevent your family’s private information from slipping through the cracks.  For social media, remind them that setting your profile to private and not revealing excessive personal information can help to keep them safe online.

While completely avoiding the risk of identity theft may not be possible, these are steps to take to reduce the risk.  If you suspect you may be a victim of identity theft, a list steps to follow can be found via the Federal Trade Commission’s sponsored website.

(1) http://www.transunion.com/personal-credit/identity-theft-and-fraud/identity-theft-facts.page


Whitney Rhyne is a part of the planning team at Longview Financial Advisors in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a Masters in Financial Planning from the University of Alabama. Whitney can be reached via e-mail at whitney@longviewfa.com  

Congratulations to Jeff Jones!

Congratulation to Longview’s own Jeff Jones for completing his pursuit of the CFP Board’s certification marks.

Jeff has been authorized by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board) to use the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and CFP® certification marks in accordance with CFP Board certification and renewal requirements. 

The CFP® marks identify those individuals who have met the rigorous experience and ethical requirements of the CFP Board, have successfully completed financial planning coursework and have passed the CFP® Certification Examination covering the following areas:  the financial planning process, risk management, investments, tax planning and management, retirement and employee benefits, and estate planning.  CFP® professionals also agree to meet ongoing continuing education requirements and to uphold CFP Board’s Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility, Rules of Conduct and Financial Planning Practice Standards.

CFP Board is a nonprofit certification organization with a mission to benefit the public by granting the CFP® certification and upholding it as the recognized standard of excellence for personal financial planning. For more about CFP Board, please visit their website.

Alabama Tax Credit Could Lead to Even Greater Savings For Those With Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

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By Jessica Smith, CFP®, CLU®, CPWA®
NAPFA-Registered Financial Advisor

An AL.com contributor called the Alabama Accountability Tax Act of 2013 the “most radical education reform in decades”.  Similar legislation had only been passed in 16 other states at the time the Alabama Accountability Act passed in February 2013.1 It was developed with the intent to allow flexibility in meeting children’s educational needs, improve overall education performance, encourage innovation in meeting the needs of school systems and provide financial assistance through income tax credits.2 Since it was passed, there has been a great deal of controversy over the Act, which lead to a lawsuit over the constitutionality of the document. On March 2nd, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the Act, so it is important to know how you may benefit from it.

The Act opens the door for Alabama residents to make donations to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO). Scholarship Granting Organizations are 501(c)3 (charitable) organizations that are created with the purpose of granting scholarships to eligible students at failing public schools so they may transfer to a private school.  The scholarships are provided to students who qualify based on family income requirements. All taxpayers who make a donation to a SGO qualify for a state tax credit of 50% of their state income taxes, up to $7500. C corporations also qualify for a 50% credit, but there is not a maximum limit on the amount of the credit. In addition, taxpayers can claim the donation as a charitable deduction on their federal return. For some, this is just a zero-sum game. The taxpayer receives a credit from the state, which lowers the state tax deduction by the same amount of the federal charitable deduction taken. However, for those who pay Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), it actually results in additional savings because state taxes are disallowed for the AMT calculation, while charitable contributions are not.

The Alabama Accountability Act outlines a process for making SGO donations and claiming the tax credit. The state has earmarked $25M for these credits on a first come, first serve basis. Please let us know if you are interested in learning more about this opportunity or about how to make a donation and claim a credit. This is not something you want to plan on waiting until the end of the year for if you are interested.

*In full disclosure, Jessica Smith serves on the board of a local Scholarship Granting Organization.

1 McClendon, Robert. (March 1, 2013) “Alabama Accountability Act FAQ, a guide to the most radical education reform in decades.” Retrieved April 24, 2015 from AL.com: http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/03/alabama_accountability_act_faq.html.

2 Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 (HB 84, 2013)

Jessica Smith is the director of financial planning at Longview Financial Advisors, Inc.  She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® practitioner with extensive experience and expertise in insurance and retirement planning.  Visit “Our Team” to learn more about her and other team members at Longview. Jessica can be reached via e-mail at jessica@longviewfa.com.

Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Longview Financial Advisors, Inc.), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this newsletter or post will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this newsletter or post serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from Longview Financial Advisors, Inc.. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing. Longview Financial Advisors, Inc. is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the newsletter or post content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. A copy of the Longview Financial Advisors, Inc.’s current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available for review upon request.

Posted in Tax

Introducing Jase Braxton Johnson!

We are happy to announce the birth of Jase Braxton Johnson to Wes and Lori. Jase was born on March 9th at 2:14 PM, weighing 8 pounds 5 ounces. Jase’s brothers Josiah and Jaxon love having another brother around. Congratulations, Wes and Lori!

Family Pic (2) (1024x681)Wes, Jaxon, new addition Jase, Josiah, and Lori

 

Investing for Humans

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By Jeffrey Cedarholm, CFP®, ChFC®, CLU®

Chief Investment Officer

Back in 2000, David Swensen, the long tenured chief investment officer of the Yale University Endowment wrote a book entitled “Pioneering Portfolio Management.” The subtitle was “An Unconventional Approach to Institutional Investment” and honestly, it was not only very unconventional, but it was also very successful.  Swensen’s methodology was and still is to use the Endowment’s large size to attract the very best students and employees to work with him, and let them then attract literally the very best investment managers from around the globe.  He doesn’t have these managers invest in traditional stocks and bonds (he handles that in-house), but he has them invest 70-80% of the Endowment’s funds into illiquid investments such as farmland, timber, venture capital, private equity and various hedge funds.  Now defining liquid investments as those you can get “most” of your money back quickly, say within a day or two, illiquid investments would then be those that are contractually tied up for months, or even years, with little hope getting funds back quickly regardless of the nature of global investment markets.  Because Yale’s Endowment has a time horizon of 80 – 100 years, has 20-30% liquidity, and  investment redemptions of staggered terms, this approach worked well from 1985 through 2007.

Swensen’s investment returns were so good during this period of time that most large university endowments at least tried to replicate his methods.  And because his book was so clear as to his methodology, even my peer group tried to emulate his success to various degrees by investing some of our clients’ funds in a similar fashion.  But it didn’t quite work.  Over time, we discovered that there were three major differences between what Dr. Swensen was doing and what we were trying to accomplish.  First, few of us had the inherent talent of David Swensen, and even his own peer group struggled to keep him in sight.  Second, he was using investment vehicles where the most talented managers really make a positive difference.  But last, the difference in his investment horizon of 80 – 100 years is radically different from dealing with human clients where 35 years would be considered lengthy.  During the 2008 crisis, Yale, Harvard and many other well-known Endowments had problems funding normal college obligations, primarily because the bulk of their funds were illiquid.  Our clients too had problems during this time, but getting money out of the market was not one them.

Since that time six years ago, many companies have introduced liquid fund versions of many of the strategies Swensen continues to use, although it is still hard to wrap farmland up into a fund.  With stock markets around the world close to all-time highs and bond markets being extremely expensive because of record low interest rates, these liquid strategies are becoming more appropriate for those of us with investment horizons of less than 100 years.  The liquidity of these newly packaged alternative investments allows capital allocators like Longview the ability to grow and protect our client portfolios in a much broader and richer fashion.  We all need liquidity for purchasing our basic needs.  And those of us who invest will always need liquidity for down payments on a home, for children and grandchildren, for college educations and especially for funding retirement.  As these newly packaged, liquid versions of investments continue to improve, it is our hope that the process of helping clients accomplish their goals will also continue to improve.

Jeffrey Cedarholm is the Chief Investment Officer at Longview Financial Advisors, Inc.  He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner with a passion for investment and wealth management. Jeff can be reached via e-mail at jeff@longviewfa.com.

Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Longview Financial Advisors, Inc.), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this newsletter or post will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this newsletter or post serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from Longview Financial Advisors, Inc.. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing. Longview Financial Advisors, Inc. is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the newsletter or post content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. A copy of the Longview Financial Advisors, Inc.’s current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available for review upon request.