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Finance

Northport High School students practice their interview skills with exectuives from local businesses during an event thrown by the Northport High School Academy of Finance. Photo from Bob Levy

Northport High School Academy of Finance students put their interview skills to the test this month at a mock interview event where they received feedback from local executives.

About 35 administrators from Long Island companies including Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., KPMG accounting firm, Douglas Elliman, and MetLife Premier Client Group all gave students advice on what they should be communicating in an interview, how to act professional and how to dress, according to a press release.

“Our students took all the necessary preparations for this interviewing event,” Allison Schwabish, coordinator of the school’s Academy of Finance, said in statement. “We impressed on them that in order to get the internships that they will be applying for as a part of our program they will need to polish their interviewing skills.”

Schwabish said the 80 students who participated in the event on Jan. 14 went through a series of “speed interviews” where they worked on not only interview skills, but networking skills.

“This mock interview event was the perfect taste of precisely what we will face when conducting interviews in the business world, which is something that will definitely aid use in our future endeavors,” senior Emilie Reynolds said in an email.

Jake Sackstein, a fellow senior student, echoed Reynold’s sentiments.

“A year ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed about comfortably partaking in an interview, but now personal business interactions like this come as second nature,” he said. “It showed me how valuable the program is to me and I will continue to draw strength from it in the future.”

Northport High Schools’ Academy of Finance is a part of NAF, formerly known as the National Academy Foundation, a network of career-themed academies for high school students that includes multiple industries such as hospitality and tourism, engineering and the health science industry.

Student John Charles Unser said he appreciated the opportunity to work with so many prominent businesses.

“I was able to interview with Fortune 500 companies such as KPMG and Ameriprise Financial Services,” he said in an email. Unser said he was asked many difficult questions but was “able to provide appropriate examples and answer with professionalism.”

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By Jonathan S. Kuttin

Your home can be more than a place to live — it is also one way you can strategically save for retirement. In some circumstances, a home can represent a significant asset. Over time, your home can build equity that may contribute to your long-term financial security. For example, a home with no mortgage or a low mortgage balance may stand out as a valuable asset for those nearing retirement. While you can’t count on it, many retirees downsize and as a result, free up some equity that they can use in retirement.

However, the housing bubble burst in 2007 is a good reminder to be cautious about putting too much emphasis on your home’s value as a retirement asset. Regardless of what’s happening in the housing market, here are three things to think about when considering your home’s impact on your retirement:

You need a home to live in.

Whether it is in your current house or somewhere else, housing will always be an expense for you. If you sell your current home, presume that some or all of the proceeds from the sale will be used to fund your housing expenses throughout retirement. If you spend two to three decades or more in retirement, housing could add up to a significant cost.

Selling your home might not be as easy as you think.

The housing market in many parts of the country has changed over the past decade. Depending on where you live, there may be a surplus of homes on the market. As a result, you might be disappointed in the price you are able to generate when you sell your property. Many people have discovered that their home equity is not as valuable as they might have expected. It’s important to keep a pulse on the housing market in your area to help determine what you may be able to get for your home.

Determining a home’s value can be difficult.

Unlike a stock, bond or mutual fund that can readily be priced in the market and bought or sold daily, a home is a different kind of investment. The value can’t be precisely determined, and it is not considered to be as much of a liquid asset.

Keeping these factors in mind, it’s important to maintain a proper perspective about the value of your home in the context of your overall financial picture. Be careful not to overestimate a home’s contribution to your retirement security based on its current valuation, because those numbers can change. Even if your home is appreciating in value, remain diligent about saving for retirement in other ways, such as through a workplace savings plan or an IRA.

Talk with a financial advisor about your plans for retirement and your home’s potential value to your portfolio. A qualified financial advisor can recommend strategies for generating income in retirement and provide guidance on how to build equity regardless of your home’s potential value at retirement. Then, any funds you generate from your home will be an added retirement bonus.

Jonathan S. Kuttin is a private wealth advisor with Kuttin-Metis Wealth Management, a private advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Service, Inc. in Melville. He specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies, and has been in practice for 19 years.

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By Jonathan S. Kuttin

A surprise payday isn’t as much of a long shot as many may think. It can come in a number of forms — a larger bonus than you were expecting, an inheritance, selling a business, a legal settlement, or maybe even the lottery. While you can’t count on a sudden windfall, there are dozens of scenarios that could result in a life-changing influx of money. Here are five tips for making the most of your good fortune:

Don’t make any sudden moves. Your mind may be spinning with all the things you could buy with your new-found wealth. You might even entertain thoughts about quitting your job. But one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to act impulsively or carelessly, and squander a financial blessing. Take it slow and savor the sensation of financial freedom. Give yourself the benefit of thinking through the implications of your unexpected windfall from every angle.

Talk to a tax professional. Consulting with an accountant is an opportunity to manage tax concerns on your windfall and make sure you pay what you need to. You’ll gain peace of mind knowing what you owe and writing a check to take care of it. A visit with tax professional also will give you a better grasp of how much you’ll have left over for your own use.

Retire your debt. If you carry a large credit card balance or have outstanding loans, you’re throwing away money on interest each month. Paying down or paying off these obligations will help you save in the long run and remove a bill or two from your monthly budget. You may not want to pay off your house, however, since there can be significant advantage from the mortgage tax deduction. Be sure to consult with your tax advisor before you make the decision.

Save, spend, share. With moderation as your guide, consider how you will divide your riches across these three possibilities. That is, save some so you can strengthen your financial foundation. Spend some, as long as you refrain from anything too outlandish. And share some to support the people and things you care about most—because you can.

Reevaluate your financial goal. An unexpected windfall may provide you with an opportunity to take additional steps toward your financial or investment goals. You could use it to boost your retirement accounts or add to an education savings plan for your kids. Perhaps there’s a certain charity that you’re passionate about and want to give to. Whatever the situation, an extraordinary financial windfall may change your financial goals completely.

Meet with a financial advisor. An experienced financial professional can help you step back and look at the big financial picture. With this insight, you can decide how to manage your windfall in ways that help you meet your specific goals and dreams.

Jonathan S. Kuttin, CRPC, AAMS, RFC, CRPS, CAS, AWMA, CMFC, is a private wealth advisor specializing in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies, and has been in practice for 19 years.

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By Jonathan S. Kuttin

Soon after the wedding is over — and the chaos of planning has subsided — many newlyweds start asking themselves questions related to their financial situation. Should we buy a home? Should we merge accounts? Who pays the electric bill? How much should we be saving for a rainy day? Can we afford to take a trip? It’s smart for newlyweds to take some time to focus on establishing their new financial lives together.

What are the pros and cons of merging finances? How you go about commingling finances is something that all new couples should carefully consider. Some couples merge everything, others prefer to keep things separate, and some choose a combination of the two. The most important factor is that both spouses feel comfortable with the arrangement and that you have a process set up to ensure you pay your bills on time and maximize your finances.

Start by having a conversation about money habits and styles. How have you handled money in the past? Is one of you a spender and the other a saver? If two individuals have very different ways of managing money, keeping some accounts separate and preserving some independence can be a way to maintain a healthy relationship while protecting your joint financial wellness. If you’re on the same page — both savers, for example — togetherness in all things financial can create some efficiency.

In addition to careful budgeting, a good compromise is to have one checking account in which a couple deposits their income and then a separate account for each holding an agreed-upon amount that comes from the shared pool that each spouse can spend as he or she wishes — no questions asked. It’s also important that the couple agree on how much money they will save together and to establish an auto-transfer from the shared pool so that saving is easy and automatic.

Equally critical is for couples who are blending their finances to consider different “what-if” scenarios. Discuss how much each partner would be comfortable spending on things like new furniture, or how they would financially approach an unexpected situation such as a relocation.

How can you ensure you don’t go over budget? Having one joint household budget makes it easier to monitor spending and stay on track. First, create a monthly and annual budget, taking into consideration your income, monthly fixed expenses (like rent or mortgage, utilities, insurance and basics like groceries) and your savings goals. Then determine how much you can afford for discretionary expenses (like clothing, travel and entertainment). If one person is “in charge” of the budget or finances, it is important for the other person to communicate about his or her unplanned purchases. But, even the best laid plans can go astray — be sure to have overdraft protection in place to cover any purchases that fall through the cracks.

Who does what? Communicate openly and often about your money. Financial disagreements or misunderstandings can fester, so making sure you keep the lines of communication open is important. Have a clear process for who does what and when. One individual may have more of a propensity or interest in financial management; if that’s the case and both spouses support that arrangement, it may be the best for your family — but make sure that both parties are informed about their financial situation. It can be helpful to have a set time each month to pay bills, do record keeping, and discuss overall financial issues. Consulting with a financial advisor early in your relationship is another way to create a mutually agreeable plan and to have regular sessions to track your progress toward financial goals and talk about money.

Jonathan S. Kuttin, CRPC®, AAMS®, RFC®, CRPS®, CAS®, AWMA®, CMFC® is a Private Wealth Advisor specializing in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 19 years.

County Executive Steve Bellone cites increased savings for taxpayers

Steve Bellone, Barry Paul and John Kennedy, Jr. spotted at a recent press event. Photo from Suffolk County

The merger of the offices of Suffolk County treasurer and the Suffolk County comptroller is being moved up by two years — a move Executive Steve Bellone’s office claims will save taxpayers even more money than originally anticipated.

The treasurer’s office will be folded into the comptroller’s office on Jan. 1, 2016 instead of a planned 2018 deadline, and the groundwork for the transition has already begun, with changes in the treasurer’s office implemented as early as January this year.

A whopping 62 percent of Suffolk County voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum to combine the two offices in a vote , and ever since then, plans have been put into action to complete the merger.

Merging the departments is expected to save taxpayers more than $3 million, according to Bellone’s office in a statement. Moving the merger up by two years saves more money because the county can eliminate positions sooner. Also, implementing new human resources software will allow the county to realize more savings.

The merger includes abolishing the treasurer’s position, as well as two deputy treasurer positions. Five positions have already been eliminated from the treasurer’s office. These positions included staff members who had retired or left the office and were not replaced, since the positions were deemed no longer necessary. 

Interim Treasurer Barry Paul has been spearheading the merger, and it is the main reason he was brought into the position. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone nominated Paul to the post when previous Treasurer Angie Carpenter was named Islip Town supervisor and left the office in early January of this year.

Bellone has worked with Paul and Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., whose two offices will become one. However, at first, Kennedy was not in favor of the merger. During Kennedy’s campaign for comptroller last year, he strongly opposed the referendum and the merger.

“I had concerns with the separation of functions and the new oversight of the two offices,” Kennedy said. Once he was elected into office and realized the public’s support for the move at the polls, Kennedy said he altered his point of view.

“I try to be guided by the will of my constituents, and they wanted to see consolidation so I am now on board,” Kennedy said.

Originally the merger was scheduled to be complete in January 2018, since Carpenter’s term as treasurer was from 2015 to 2017. Once Carpenter stepped down, there was an opportunity to bring on Paul and speed up the process.

Previously, Paul was a Bellone staffer, and once he finishes overseeing the merger of the treasurer’s office with the comptroller’s office, he will return to his post there. For Paul, the treasurer appointment was always a short-term assignment.

“All existing personnel from the treasurer’s office will go under Kennedy, and Kennedy has really embraced that,” Suffolk County Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider, who has worked on the merger as well, said in a phone interview. “This merger will save taxpayers money, while delivering better services.”

Another place that the treasurer’s office has been able to save money is with regards to a backlog of providing tax refunds. As of May 14, the backlog tax refunds were reduced by a third, coming down to 7,810, whereas over a month before, the number of backlog tax refunds was 11,830, according to Bellone’s office.

The backlog is expected to be completely eliminated by July, and will save the taxpayers more than a million dollars in reduced interests costs annually.

The new merged office will also host Munis software in the county’s IT system, which will save another $150,000 to $200,000 dollars. Munis is an integrated enterprise resource planning system that manages all core functions, including financials, human resources, citizen services and revenues.

In a statement, Paul said he has been following Bellone’s mandate to make the treasurer’s office as efficient as possible, and is confident in this timeline and the work his office has been doing to save taxpayer dollars.

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By Jonathan S. Kuttin

As more baby boomers reach retirement age, they’re realizing the valuable role Social Security will play as a source of lifetime income. Claiming Social Security benefits can be far more complex than you may realize. Here are seven essential things about Social Security to understand as you determine how Social Security will fit into your overall retirement income strategy:

You can start claiming benefits any time between ages 62 and 70: When you’re working and paying Social Security taxes (via your paycheck), you earn credit toward your Social Security retirement benefits. To qualify for these benefits, you need to contribute at least 40 credits to the system, which is typically 10 working years (although it does vary). Alternatively, if you have never worked and you’re married to someone who qualifies, you may earn a spousal benefit. When claiming your own benefit, you can begin receiving Social Security at age 62 or delay receiving Social Security up to your 70th birthday.

Full retirement age is changing: The age to qualify for a “full” retirement benefit from Social Security used to be 65. Now it is up to 66 (for those born between 1943 and 1954). It increases by two months per year for those born between 1955 and 1959. For those born in 1960 or later, full retirement age is currently defined as 67.

The longer you wait, the larger your benefit: The amount of your benefit depends on the age you choose to first begin receiving Social Security. For example, if you collect beginning at 62 and your full retirement age is 66, your benefit will be about 25 percent lower. On the flip side, your benefit will increase by about 8 percent each year you delay taking Social Security after your full retirement age up to your 70th birthday.

Spousal benefits give married couples extra flexibility: If both spouses worked, they each can receive benefits based on their own earnings history. However, a lower earning spouse can choose to base a benefit on the higher earning spouse’s income. A spousal benefit equals 50 percent of the other spouse’s benefit. Note that if you claim a spousal benefit before full retirement age, it will be reduced. The maximum spousal benefit you can collect is by taking the benefit at your full retirement age (based on the benefit your spouse would earn at his or her full retirement age).
You also can choose to collect a spousal benefit initially and delay taking your own benefit, allowing your benefit amount to increase. Then you can claim your benefit when you turn 70.

There may be a long-term advantage if a higher earning spouse delays Social Security: If the higher earning spouse is older (or has more health concerns that could affect longevity), it may make sense to delay taking Social Security as long as possible up to age 70. When the spouse with the higher benefit dies, the surviving spouse will collect the higher benefit that was earned by the deceased spouse. The higher the deceased spouse’s benefit, the larger the monthly check for the surviving spouse.

Claiming benefits early while still working can reduce your benefit: If you begin claiming Social Security before your full retirement age but continue to earn income, your Social Security benefit could be reduced. If your earnings are above a certain level ($15,720 in 2015), your Social Security checks will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earned in income above that threshold. In the year you reach full retirement age, that threshold amount changes. $1 is deducted for every $3 earned above $41,880 up to the month you reach full retirement age. Once you reach full retirement age, you can earn as much income as you want with no reduction in your Social Security benefits.

Benefits you earn may be subject to tax: According to the Social Security Administration, about one-third of people who receive Social Security have to pay income tax on their benefits. You may want to consult a tax professional to determine what impacts this will have on your overall benefits.
These essential points are just a beginning. There’s much more to consider. Consult with your financial advisor, tax professional, your local Social Security office and/or Social Security’s website, www.ssa.gov, to find out more before you make your final decisions about when to first claim Social Security benefits.

Jonathan S. Kuttin is a  private wealth advisor with Kuttin-Metis Wealth Management, a private advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. in Melville, NY. He specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 19 years.

James Maloney file photo

In response to requests from some district residents, Northport-East Northport school board member James Maloney proposed that the board create a new budget and finance committee.

Maloney suggested three areas the committee could address: making the school lunch program self-sufficient, running the district’s warehouse more efficiently and exploring gas conversion of boilers in school buildings.

The school board agreed to continue taking ideas from the public on forming the new committee, and said they would discuss it further at future meetings.

At its last meeting, the board approved a new committee called the Athletic Facility Advisory Committee, to advise board members on the conditions and potential needs of the district’s fields and athletic facilities.