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Jonathan Kuttin

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By Jonathan S. Kuttin

Outside of your 20s, your 60s may be one of the decades in which you face the most significant lifestyle and financial changes – so it’s normal to experience mixed emotions about money and retirement. You’ve either reached the traditional retirement age or are almost there, and may be excited and hopeful about what’s to come. At the same time, you may be anxious about your ability to fund the retirement of your dreams. The key is to keep a close eye on your finances and adjust your plans as needed. Here are five tips for people who are nearing this important milestone:

Evaluate your expenses and budget. It may seem simple, but do you have a solid grasp on your expenses? During your working years, it can be easy to think you’ll make up for overspending the next time you receive a paycheck. During retirement, you’re unlikely to have that luxury. Know what it costs to cover the essentials and examine how much you’re spending on discretionary items. Also, consider areas where your expenses may fluctuate up and down during the coming years — such as health care, recreation and travel.

Replace your paycheck. One of the smartest and most reassuring things you can do in retirement is to replace a regular paycheck so you have a predictable amount of income every month, similar to during your working years. The process can be complicated, especially if you want to structure your withdrawals in the most strategic and efficient way. A financial advisor and tax professional can help. It’s a good idea to create a written plan — if you haven’t done so already — so you have a road map to follow in the years ahead.

Review your portfolio. If you feel nervous about your invested assets, take a close look at your portfolio and how your investments may have fluctuated since the recession. It’s beneficial to know exactly where you stand and to evaluate how your assets are allocated to a variety of investments that provide the potential for growth, income, or preservation. If you need to rebalance your portfolio or move some funds to less volatile products, do so. It’s essential that you take a balanced approach to managing your investments, especially as you approach and begin your retirement years.

Be rational. It may be difficult to avoid the constant stream of economic news, but don’t let market swings and political back-and-forth cloud your judgment. Stay away from quick fixes or impulsive decisions, like purchasing excessively risky assets, selling your home or withdrawing all of your money from liquid investments. Work to stabilize your personal financial situation and consult with friends or family who are also preparing for retirement. Having a support network may help ground your emotions.

Prepare for the unexpected. If you don’t already have a will, put it at the top of your to do list. If you have one in place, make sure it still reflects your current wishes. In addition, check to see that all your beneficiary information is up-to-date on specific accounts, such as IRAs. Make sure to discuss your plans with your spouse or significant other and your children — and ensure they know where to find your financial documents if you die or are unable to make financial decisions for yourself. These can be difficult conversations for everyone involved, but they can also reduce the amount of stress you and your family may face later on.

It’s a good idea to stay in close contact with your financial advisor during these crucial years. A financial advisor can help you manage your immediate expenses with a budget and provide guidance on your long-term goals.

Jonathan S. Kuttin is a Private Wealth Advisor with Kuttin-Metis Wealth Management, a private advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services 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

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 Bob Lipinski

A storybook region dotted with picturesque villages in France, Alsace occupies a narrow strip of land between Strasbourg and Mulhouse. It is no more than four miles wide and about 40 miles long, with a total area of approximately 40,000 acres. It is nestled between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River, just east of Champagne and Burgundy. Alsace is divided into two sections — the Bas-Rhin in the north and Haut-Rhin in the south.

Alsace produces one-fifth of all of France’s white wines entitled to the AOC designation. Because it is located so far north, there is generally insufficient sunshine for the red grapes to ripen fully. Therefore, better than 90 percent of all wines are white.

Some of the better-known wines of Alsace are Riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, sylvaner, pinot noir, pinot gris, muscat à petit grains, chasselas, and Klevener de Heiligenstein. The wines range from very dry, through semisweet and even sweet. There is also a fabulous dry sparkling wine called crémant d’Alsace.

I recently attended an Alsatian wine press event featuring the wines of Hugel et Fils and Domaine François Baur, which are perfect for hot summertime weather. Below are the wines that I tasted and highly recommend:

2013 Hugel Gentil, a blend of primarily gewürztraminer paired with varying amounts of pinot gris, Riesling, muscat and sylvaner.
2013 Hugel Riesling.
2008 Hugel Riesling Jubilee.
2012 Hugel Gewürztraminer.
2013 Hugel Pinot Blanc Cuvée Les Amours.
NV Domaine François Baur Crémant d’Alsace, made from a blend of Riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris, and chardonnay grapes, while pinot noir is used for the rosé version.
2013 Domaine François Baur Pinot Blanc Herrenweg.
2012 Domaine François Baur Riesling Herrenweg.
2007 Domaine François Baur Gewürztraminer Grand Cru– Brand.
2013 Domaine François Baur Pinot Gris Herrenweg.
2010 Domaine François Baur Gewürztraminer Herrenweg.
2013 Domaine François Baur Pinot Noir Schlittweg.

When searching for cheeses to pair with these wines stay with the soft, mild style, and definitely not too salty. Two cheeses that I like from Alsace that are worth searching for are:

Lingot d’Or (lan-GOH dohr) A brick-shaped, cow’s milk cheese, which is quite similar to Munster.

Munster (MUHN-stuhr). A semisoft to firm, cow’s milk cheese with a somewhat edible, ivory or orange to red exterior; creamy white to buttery yellow interior with small holes; cylindrical, rectangular, and wheel-shaped.

It has a pungent smell sometimes of mushrooms; complex, strong and tangy flavor; slightly salty, nutty taste; sometimes flavored with aniseed, caraway, or cumin seeds. The word Munster means monastery and it was the Benedictine monks, who came from Ireland, in the Munster valley of the Vosges Mountains who introduced cheese-making to this area as early as the seventh century.

Bob Lipinski, a local author, has written nine books, including “Italian Wine Notes” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple,” available on Amazon.com. He conducts training seminars on wine & cheese, sales, time management and leadership. He can be reached at boblipinski.com or at bob@hibs-usa.com.

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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.