Beware the #IdesofMarch and the #IdentityThieves of spring

Beware the Ides of March and the ide-ntity thieves of spring. Historically, the former was the date Romans settled debts accrued during the previous year and it marked Julius Caesar’s assassination.  These days, though the latter pop up throughout the year, they seem to thrive during tax season when they can pose as IRS agents or tax preparation software representatives to con well-intentioned citizens of their hard-earned money. According to last week’s Federal Trade Commission report on fraud and identity theft, 1.1 million people reported that they were victims of fraud last year and lost a total of $905 million. The IRS posts a list of scams on the website and, every year that list grows. You can find it here. While these scammers are becoming more sophisticated each year, their approach remains reasonably consistent. They prey on their victim’s good faith by pretending to represent the government, a relative in trouble, a well-known business or a company’s technical support. Never give your personal information directly to people who solicit it, either by email or phone. The IRS, for instance, will always send a letter to notify you of any fines or underpayment and will never demand immediate payment. Likewise, no tax preparation software representative, like Turbo Tax, will call or email you to solicit further person information from you. Be very wary of people who solicit charitable donations from you and demand immediate payment. Do not donate to a charity or individual through Facebook Messenger, because it’s too difficult to verify the identity of the person or charity behind the profile. Likewise, be very wary of people who contact you regarding any sweepstakes you may have won, especially if you didn’t enter. If you ever have any questions regarding a phone call or email you’ve received, call our office before you respond. We’ll be glad to help you determine the veracity of the request. As Caesar said, “Men are… | Read More »

Financial tips for women in honor of #InternationalWomensDay

In honor of the 100th celebration of International Women’s Day, Winch Financial CEO Christina Winch, CFP®, a trailblazer in the financial planning field, offers seven key tips for women to take control of their finances. According to her, the biggest issues many women face are an unawareness of the resources available to them and a misinterpretation of safety. “All women should have at least a basic understanding of their money,” she said. “Many women who are married depend on their spouses to manage their money. They have a husband who takes care of them and that makes them feel safe. But, that’s not safe.” True safety requires understanding and that takes a little work, but the payoffs can be enormous both in monetary gain and confidence. Treat yourself to an education. Take a class, read financial literacy books, listen to podcasts. We know you’re busy, but the time you carve out for financial education will pay off in the long run. Meet with a trusted financial advisor, preferably one who will have a fiduciary relationship with you. This means your advisor will have a legal responsibility to act in your best interest. Don’t skip the meetings. They provide an invaluable opportunity for you to learn about what’s happening with your money. Ask questions. In her 37 years as an advisor, Christina has fielded all kinds of questions from clients and students. She assures everyone that the only stupid question is the one they were afraid to ask. To maximize your appointment time with your advisor, you might want to bring a list of questions to the appointment. Talk to your friends about money. It does not have to be a taboo subject. Start an investment club with your friends and combine a little socializing with some real-time education and, hopefully, portfolio growth. Who knows? You might be a natural. In any case it’s a good idea to have conversations with… | Read More »

Algorithmic trading ups the pace on Wall Street

On Monday Feb. 5 the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its largest one-day drop ever, falling nearly 1,600 points in the middle of the day before closing 1,175 points below the prior day’s close to register a one-day drop of 4.6 percent. In the intervening days the Dow, along with the rest of the stock market indices, appear to have stabilized somewhat and traders have bid prices back up – at least in the short term. The initial catalyst for the selloff was a sudden fear on Wall Street that inflation and interest rates might rise more rapidly than previously thought.  High interest rates cut into corporate profits and so a re-evaluation of what corporate shares are worth caused a number of investors to trim their holdings in equities.  But what happened next is the real story. To understand why stock prices experienced such drastic swings over the past week, we have to go back almost two decades to when Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and others invested heavily in computer technology and human capital to take the guess work out of investing and also make their trading more efficient.  The big Wall Street banks sent recruiters to prestigious institutions like MIT, Cal Tech and Stanford to find and hire the most talented mathematicians and computer scientists to study the stock market and design trading strategies that would bring mathematical precision to the decision-making process and tie them to the most powerful computers to execute trades in fractions of a second. These mathematicians designed what are called “algorithms.”  Algorithms are a specific set of clearly defined instructions aimed at carrying out a task or process.  A simple algorithm can be found in your home’s thermostat.  The thermostat is programmed to turn the furnace on when the temperature falls below a pre-determined degree.  Trading algorithms, by contrast, are extremely complex with pre-determined factors running in the hundreds.  One… | Read More »

Seven things to consider before agreeing to a Voluntary Severance Program

Few things cause sleepless nights like the offer of a voluntary severance package. You wonder, as you toss and turn, whether you’ll be able to support yourself and your family if you accept your company’s offer, and whether you’re being foolish if you pass it up. You might be upset and, especially if you’ve worked at the same company for many years, you might be afraid of what the future holds. The good news is that you have the opportunity to analyze your financial situation and resources available to help you decide. In the 30 years we’ve been in business, we’ve counseled plenty of clients through the VSP maze, and we can help you. In fact, we’re offering a free consultation to anyone facing a voluntary or involuntary severance program. Meanwhile, here are seven things you should consider before you decide whether to participate in a voluntary severance program: The likelihood that your job will be eliminated entirely. An honest industry assessment should give you a good idea of whether innovations and/or consolidations threaten your specific job. If this is the case, you may be better off taking the severance program and make good use of your company’s employee assistance program to refine your skills and update your resume for the next phase of your career. Your age. Consider your full retirement age, which varies based on the year you were born. How close are you? Will the severance be enough to tide you over until you can withdraw from your IRA without penalty? Your current financial needs. Perhaps delaying your severance will give you more time to build up a cushion. Take a look at your budget, which will not only give you an idea of how much readily available cash you’ll need, it will also highlight areas you can trim. Tax implications. Does your severance include a lump sum payout? Will it bump you into a higher tax… | Read More »