Category Archives: Investing

529 Lesson Plan: High Scores for 529 College Savings Program Looking for a tax-advantaged college savings plan that has no age restrictions and no income phaseout limits — and one you can use to pay for more than just tuition?

Consider the 529 college savings plan, an increasingly popular way to save for higher-education expenses, which have more than tripled over the past two decades — with annual costs (for tuition and fees, and room and board) of more than $43,000 per year for the average private four-year college.1 Named after the section of the tax code that authorized them, 529 plans (also known as qualified tuition plans) are now offered in almost every state.

Most people have heard about the original form of 529, the state-operated prepaid tuition plan, which allows you to purchase units of future tuition at today’s rates, with the plan assuming the responsibility of investing the funds to keep pace with inflation. Many state governments guarantee that the cost of an equal number of units of education in the sponsoring state will be covered, regardless of investment performance or the rate of tuition increase. Of course, each state plan has a different mix of rules and restrictions. Prepaid tuition programs typically will pay future college tuition at any of the sponsoring state’s eligible colleges and universities (and some will pay an equal amount to private and out-of-state institutions).

The newer variety of 529 is the savings plan. It’s similar to an investment account, but the funds accumulate tax deferred. Withdrawals from state-sponsored 529 plans are free of federal income tax as long as they are used for qualified college expenses. Many states also exempt withdrawals from state income tax for qualified higher education expenses. Unlike the case with prepaid tuition plans, contributions can be used for all qualified higher-education expenses (tuition, fees, books, equipment and supplies, room and board), and the funds usually can be used at all accredited post-secondary schools in the United States. The risk with these plans is that investments may lose money or may not perform well enough to cover college costs as anticipated.

In most cases, 529 savings plans place investment dollars in a mix of funds based on the age of the beneficiary, with account allocations becoming more conservative as the time for college draws closer. But recently, more states have contracted professional money managers — many well-known investment firms — to actively manage and market their plans, so a growing number of investors can customize their asset allocations. Some states enable account owners to qualify for a deduction on their state tax returns or receive a small match on the money invested. Earnings from 529 plans are not taxed when used to pay for eligible college expenses. And there are even consumer-friendly reward programs that allow people who purchase certain products and services to receive rebate dollars that go into state-sponsored college savings accounts.2

Funds contributed to a 529 plan are considered to be gifts to the beneficiary, so anyone — even non-relatives — can contribute up to $14,000 per year in 2016 (the same as in 2015) per beneficiary without incurring gift tax consequences. Contributions can be made in one lump sum or in monthly installments. And assets contributed to a 529 plan are not considered part of the account owner’s estate, therefore avoiding estate taxes upon the owner’s death.

Major Benefits

These savings plans generally allow people of any income level to contribute, and there are no age limits for the student. The account owner can maintain control of the account until funds are withdrawn — and, if desired, can even change the beneficiary as long as he or she is within the immediate family of the original beneficiary. A 529 plan is also extremely simple when it comes to tax reporting — the sponsoring state, not you, is responsible for all income tax record keeping. At the end of the year when the withdrawal is made for college, you will receive Form 1099 from the state, and there is only one figure to enter on it: the amount of income to report on the student’s tax return.

Benefits for Grandparents

The 529 plan could be a great way for grandparents to shelter inheritance money from estate taxes and contribute substantial amounts to a student’s college fund. At the same time, they also control the assets and can retain the power to control withdrawals from the account. By accelerating use of the annual gift tax exclusion, a grandparent — as well as anyone, for that matter — could elect to use five years’ worth of annual exclusions by making a single contribution of as much as $70,000 per beneficiary in 2016 (or a couple could contribute $140,000 in 2016), as long as no other contributions are made for that beneficiary for five years.* If the account owner dies, the 529 plan balance is not considered part of his or her estate for tax purposes.

As with other investments, there are generally fees and expenses associated with participation in a Section 529 savings plan. In addition, there are no guarantees regarding the performance of the underlying investments in Section 529 plans. The tax implications of a Section 529 savings plan should be discussed with your legal and/or tax advisors because they can vary significantly from state to state. Also note that most states offer their own Section 529 plans, which may provide advantages and benefits exclusively for their residents and taxpayers.

Before investing in a 529 savings plan, please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully. The official disclosure statements and applicable prospectuses — which contain this and other information about the investment options, underlying investments, and investment company — can be obtained by contacting your financial professional. You should read these materials carefully before investing.

By comparing different plans, you can determine which might be available for your situation. You may find that 529 programs make saving for college easier than before.

* If the donor makes the five-year election and dies during the five-year calendar period, part of the contribution could revert back to the donor’s estate.

Sources:
1) The College Board, 2015
2) College Savings Plans Network, 2015

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is Dollar-Cost Averaging? Every investor dreams of buying into the market at a low point, just before it hits an upswing, and garnering a large profit from selling at the market’s peak. But trying to predict market highs and lows is a feat no one has ever fully mastered, despite the claims by some that they have just the right strategy that enables them to buy and sell at the most opportune times.

Attempting to predict which direction the market will go or investing merely on intuition can get you in trouble, or at the very least may cause you a great deal of frustration. One strategy that may help you navigate these investing pitfalls is dollar-cost averaging.

Dollar-cost averaging involves investing a set amount of money in an investment vehicle at regular intervals for an extended period of time, regardless of the price. Let’s say you have $6,000 to invest. Instead of investing it all at once, you decide to use a dollar-cost averaging strategy and contribute $500 each month, regardless of share price, until your money is completely invested. You would end up purchasing more shares when prices are low and fewer shares when prices are high. For example, you might end up buying 20 shares when the price is low, but only 10 when the price is higher.

This strategy has the potential to reduce the risk of investing a large amount in a single investment when the cost per share is inflated. It may also help reduce the risk for an investor who tends to pull out of the market when it takes a dip, potentially causing an inopportune loss in profit.

The average cost per share may also be reduced, which has the possibility to help you gain better overall profits from the market. Utilizing a dollar-cost averaging program, the bottom line is that the average share price has the potential to be higher than your average share cost. This occurs because you purchased fewer shares when the stock was priced high and more shares when the price was low. Dollar-cost averaging can also help you to avoid the annoyance and stress of continually monitoring the market in an attempt to buy and sell at “fortuitous” moments.

Dollar-cost averaging is a long-range plan, as implied by the word “averaging.” In other words, the technique’s best use comes only after you’ve stuck with it for a while, despite any nerve-racking swings in the market. When other panicky investors are scrambling to get out of the market because it has declined and to get back into it when the market has risen, you’ll keep investing a specific amount based on the interval you’ve set.

Dollar-cost averaging does not ensure a profit in rising markets or protect against a loss in declining markets. This type of investment program involves continuous investment in securities regardless of the fluctuating price levels of such securities. Investors should consider their financial ability to continue making purchases through periods of low and high price levels. The return and principal value of stocks fluctuate with changes in market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Stock and Bond Alternatives Do I Have? Many prudent investors may have at least some of their holdings in stocks, corporate bonds, or both. In fact, when most people think of “investing,” they think of Wall Street and the stock markets.

Many fail to realize that there are a number of ways to invest in stocks besides owning individual shares.

Mutual Funds

A mutual fund is a collection of stocks, bonds, or other securities. Investors purchase shares of the mutual fund that is managed by a professional investment company.

A typical mutual fund may hold dozens of different securities. That offers some measure of diversification — a sharp decline in an individual security wouldn’t be nearly as damaging to your portfolio as it would be if you only owned a few securities. Diversification is a method used to help manage investment risk; it does not guarantee against loss.

Mutual funds are professionally managed. Fund managers devote their attention to buying and selling securities according to the goals of their funds.

And mutual funds often have a minimum investment of only $1,000 — some will accept even less.

The return and principal value of mutual funds fluctuate with changes in market conditions. Shares, when sold or redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Bond funds are subject to the interest-rate, inflation, and credit risks associated with the underlying bonds in the fund. As interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall, which can adversely affect a bond fund’s performance.

Variable Universal Life Insurance

The insurance companies have developed some innovative products that enable you to invest in a wide range of securities — including stocks — through your life insurance policy.

A variable universal life (VUL) insurance policy operates much the same as a “traditional” universal life policy. In exchange for premiums, the insurance company provides a death benefit. And, just like more traditional life insurance policies, the cash value within the policy accumulates tax deferred. When considering this product, you should have a need for life insurance.

But here is the unique difference: you decide how the premium is divided among the subaccounts. With most policies you can select from several different investment subaccounts (or investment options). These investment options allow you to participate in the market and experience the gains and losses realized by the underlying securities.

The cash value of a VUL policy is not guaranteed. The investment return and principal value of the variable subaccounts will fluctuate. Your cash value, and perhaps the death benefit, will be determined by the performance of the chosen subaccounts. Withdrawals may be subject to surrender charges and are taxable if you withdraw more than your basis in the policy. Policy loans or withdrawals will reduce the policy’s cash value and death benefit, and may require additional premium payments to keep the policy in force. There may also be additional fees and charges associated with a VUL policy.

Variable Annuities

The insurance companies have developed another interesting product: the variable annuity. With a variable annuity, you invest a sum with an insurance company, just as you would with a fixed annuity.

But instead of investing your money in its general account, as with a fixed annuity, the insurance company invests it in a separate account. Like a variable universal life insurance policy, this separate account is made up of a number of different investment subaccounts. You specify how much of your annuity will be invested in the various subaccounts. Your return will be based on the performance of the investments you select.

There are contract limitations, fees, and charges associated with variable annuities, which can include mortality and expense risk charges, sales and surrender charges, investment management fees, administrative fees, and charges for optional benefits. Withdrawals reduce annuity contract benefits and values. Variable annuities are not guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency; they are not deposits of, nor are they guaranteed or endorsed by, any bank or savings association. Withdrawals of annuity earnings are taxed as ordinary income and may be subject to surrender charges plus a 10 percent federal income tax penalty if made prior to age 59½. Any guarantees are contingent on the claims-paying ability of the issuing company. Variable annuity subaccounts fluctuate with changes in market conditions, and when surrendered, your principal may be worth more or less than the original amount invested.

Mutual funds, variable annuities, and variable universal life insurance are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the mutual fund, variable annuity contract, or variable universal life policy and their underlying investment options, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What College Investment Options Do I Have? As tax laws change, college investment planning becomes increasingly complex. The most beneficial strategies for creating a college fund are quite similar to other investment tactics. Investment products that are tax deferred, tax exempt, or transferable without tax consequences can be especially advantageous.

This could be even more effective if you do your planning early.

One important aspect of an investment is its balance of yield and risk. Determine the amount of risk you can tolerate, given the amount of time you have to recover from any potential losses.

Take the time to familiarize yourself with the financial aid formulas. This could help you determine whether assets and income should be in your name or your child’s name. Structuring your investments ahead of time can have a significant effect on the net amount of funds available for your child’s education.

There are a number of funding options available for your college investment plan. This list contains a few of the more common.

Certificates of Deposit

CDs offer a reasonable return with a relatively high degree of safety. They are FDIC insured to $250,000 (per depositor, per federally insured institution in interest and principal) and offer a fixed rate of return, whereas the principal and yield of investment securities will fluctuate with changes in market conditions.

The interest earned on a CD is taxed as ordinary income. And CDs are not very liquid. You could pay a significant interest penalty for withdrawing money before it reaches maturity.

Bonds

Many people consider U.S. government bonds to be among the least risky investments available. They are guaranteed by the U.S. government as to the timely payment of principal and interest.

The interest on Series EE bonds is tax-free to low- and middle-income families if the proceeds are used to fund a college education. This benefit phases out for individuals and couples in the upper middle class and above.

Zero-coupon bonds are purchased at a substantial discount and pay their face value upon maturity. Because they do not pay interest until maturity, their prices tend to be more volatile than bonds paying interest regularly. Thus zero-coupon bonds make it possible to buy high-quality bonds for far less money up front. Interest income is subject to taxes annually as ordinary income, even though no income is being paid to the investor.

The return and principal value of bonds fluctuate with market conditions and when sold, bonds may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Stocks and Mutual Funds

Many people who use stocks to fund a college investment program invest in mutual funds.

Mutual funds are professionally managed. They buy and sell securities to meet the specific goals of their fund, weighing risk against security, yield against quality. They can be an effective addition to a college investment plan. The investment return and principal value of stocks and mutual funds fluctuate with market conditions, and, when sold or redeemed, shares may be worth more or less than their original cost. Bond funds are subject to the same inflation, interest-rate, and credit risks associated with their underlying bonds. As interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall, which can adversely affect a bond funds performance.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

Making Choices

There are college investment options to fit almost any investor. No matter how modest or how ample your income, careful planning could be the most effective way to “find” the money for college. The key is to start early and remain consistent.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

How Can I Save for My Child’s College Education? Once you’ve determined how much it could cost to send your children to college, your next prudent step is to develop a systematic investment plan that may help you to accumulate the necessary funds.

What are your funding options? Which would be appropriate for your situation? We’ve listed several below, along with a brief description of each.

Universal Life Insurance

Universal life insurance policies build cash value through regular premiums and grow at competitive rates. These policies carry a death benefit. In addition to providing cash to your heirs in the event of your death, this death benefit gives universal life insurance policies their tax-free status. Money can usually be withdrawn from these contracts through policy loans, often at no interest. These withdrawals may reduce the policy’s death benefit.

Zero-Coupon Bonds

Zero-coupon bonds represent the ownership of principal payments on U.S. government note or bonds. Unlike traditional bonds, zero-coupon bonds make no periodic interest payments. Instead, they are purchased at a substantial discount and pay face value at maturity. The value of these bonds is subject to market fluctuation. Their prices tend to be more volatile than bonds that pay interest regularly. And even though no income is paid, the inherent interest is still taxable annually as ordinary income.

Mutual Funds

Mutual funds are established by an investment company by pooling the monies of many different investors and then investing that money in a diversified portfolio of securities. These securities are selected to meet the specific goals of the fund. The value of mutual fund shares fluctuates with market conditions so that, when sold, shares may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

Independent College 500-Indexed Certificates of Deposit

The I.C. 500 is the College Board’s index of college inflation based on a survey of the costs at 500 independent colleges and universities. I.C. 500-indexed Certificates of Deposit are a relatively new funding vehicle offered by a few savings institutions. Their rate of return is linked to the I.C. 500 index.

Section 529 Plans

Section 529 Plans are also known as Qualified Tuition Plans. These state-sponsored and college-sponsored plans offer higher contributions than Coverdell IRAs along with tax-deferred accumulation. Once withdrawals begin, they are tax exempt as long as the funds are used to pay for qualified higher education expenses.

As with other investments, there are generally fees and expenses associated with participation in a Section 529 savings plan. In addition, there are no guarantees regarding the performance of the underlying investments in Section 529 plans. The tax implications of a Section 529 savings plan should be discussed with your legal and/or tax advisors because they can vary significantly from state to state. Also note that most states offer their own Section 529 plans, which may provide advantages and benefits exclusively for their residents and taxpayers.

Before investing in a 529 savings plan, please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully. The official disclosure statements and applicable prospectuses, which contain this and other information about the investment options and underlying investments, can be obtained by contacting your financial professional. You should read this material carefully before investing.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is Asset Allocation? Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” This is certainly true when it comes to investing: If you don’t know where you’re headed financially, then it is not as vital which investments make up your portfolio. If you do have a monetary destination in mind, then asset allocation becomes very important.

The term “asset allocation” is often tossed around in discussions of investing. But what exactly is it? Simply put, asset allocation is about not putting all your eggs in one basket. More formally, it is a systematic approach to diversification that may help you determine the most efficient mix of assets based on your risk tolerance and time horizon.

Asset allocation seeks to manage investment risk by diversifying a portfolio among the major asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives. Each asset class has a different level of risk and potential return. At any given time, while one asset category may be increasing in value, another may be decreasing in value. Diversification is a method to help manage investment risk. Asset allocation and diversification do not guarantee a profit or protect against loss. So if the value of one asset class or security drops, the other asset classes or securities may help cushion the blow.

Dividing your investments in this way may help you ride out market fluctuations and protect your portfolio from a major loss in any one asset class. Of course, it is also important to understand the risk versus return tradeoff. Generally, the greater the potential return of an investment, the greater the risk.

As a result, the makeup of a portfolio should be based on your risk tolerance. Generally, you should not place all your assets in those categories that have the highest potential for gain if you are concerned about the prospect of a loss. It is essential to find a balance of asset classes with the highest potential return for your risk profile.

Other factors that are important to developing an asset allocation strategy are your investment goals and time horizon. When you are considering how to diversify your portfolio, ask yourself what you want to accomplish with your investments. Are you planning to buy a new car or house soon? Do you aspire to pay for your children’s college education? When retirement rolls around, would you like to travel and buy a vacation home? These factors should all be considered when outlining an asset allocation strategy.

If you require a specific amount of money at a point in the near future, you might want to consider a strategy that involves less risk. On the other hand, if you are saving for retirement and have several years until you will need the funds, you might be able to invest for greater growth potential, although this will also involve greater risks.

Whichever asset allocation scenario you decide on, it’s important to remember that there is no one strategy that fits every type of investor. Your specific situation calls for a specific approach with which you are comfortable and one that could help you pursue your investment goals.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Are the Different Classes of Assets? When it comes to investing their money, many people are content to take a random approach.

They may have received a hot tip for a particular investment and decided to plow a large amount of money into it with no regard to the overall balance of their portfolios.

However, research has shown that it is through the careful selection of the various asset classes, rather than the individual investments themselves, that people prosper financially.

One study showed that on average, as much as 91.5 percent of an investment portfolio’s overall return can be attributed to asset class selection.1

Therefore, the careful selection and distribution of your investments among the various asset classes is likely to prove crucial to the future success of your investment portfolio.

There are five broad asset classes that you should take into consideration when constructing your investment portfolio.

Cash refers to the most liquid holdings in your portfolio. It includes the balance in your checking account, money market account, and certificates of deposit.

Conventional wisdom holds that you should keep three to six months’ salary in cash to cover yourself in the event of an emergency.

Fixed-principal investments are those that do not put your principal at risk to market forces. Fixed annuities and trust deeds fall into this category.

Debt makes up the third asset class. It includes municipal, corporate, government, and government agency bonds. It also covers other debt-secured investments such as collateralized mortgage obligations.

Equity represents an ownership interest in a business entity; this class covers any investment you might make in stocks. It also covers any interest you may have in a closely held corporation or partnership.

Tangibles include your holdings in real estate, art, gold, precious stones, stamps, baseball cards, or other valuable collector’s items.

How you choose to distribute your investments among the various asset classes depends on your goals, your risk tolerance, and your expected rate of return.

Keep in mind that asset allocation does not guarantee a profit or protect against loss; it is a method used to help manage investment risk.

All investments are subject to market fluctuation, risk, and loss of principal. When sold, investments may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Source: 1) Brinson, Singer, and Beebower, “Determinants of Portfolio Performance II: An Update,” Financial Analysts Journal, May-June 1991 (most current data available)

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Investment Risks Should I Know About? Taken by itself, the word "risk" sounds negative. But broken down into what it really stands for in terms of investing, it begins to be a little more manageable. By understanding the different types of risk and keeping an eye on your investments, you may be able to manage your money more effectively. Remember, strategic investing doesn’t mean "taking chances" so much as "making decisions." Long-term investing and diversification may be some of the most effective strategies you can use to help manage investment risk; however, neither guarantees against investment loss.

Inflation Risk

The main risk from inflation is the danger that it will reduce your purchasing power and the returns from your investments. If your savings and investments are failing to outpace inflation, you might consider investing in growth-oriented alternatives such as stocks, stock mutual funds, variable annuities, or other vehicles.

Interest Rate Risk

Bonds and other fixed-income investments tend to be sensitive to changes in interest rates. When interest rates rise, the value of these investments falls. After all, why would someone pay full price for your bond at 2% when new bonds are being issued at 4%? Of course, the opposite is also true. When interest rates fall, existing bonds increase in value.

Economic Risk

When the economy experiences a downturn, the earnings capabilities of most firms are threatened. While some industries and companies adjust to downturns in the economy very well, others — particularly large industrial firms — take longer to react.

Market Risk

When a market experiences a downturn, it tends to pull down most of its securities with it. Afterward, the affected securities will recover at rates more closely related to their fundamental strength. Market risk affects almost all types of investments, including stocks, bonds, real estate, and others. Historically, long-term investing has been a way to minimize the effects of market risk.

Specific Risk

Events may occur that only affect a specific company or industry. For example, the death of a young company’s president may cause the value of the company’s stock to drop. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint all these influences, but diversifying your investments could help manage the effects of specific risks.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is the Difference Between a Fixed Annuity and a Variable Annuity? An annuity is a contract with an insurance company in which you make one or more payments in exchange for a future income stream in retirement. The funds in an annuity accumulate tax deferred, regardless of which type you select. Because you do not have to pay taxes on any growth in your annuity until it is withdrawn, this financial vehicle has become an attractive way to accumulate funds for retirement.

Annuities can be immediate or deferred, and they can provide fixed returns or variable returns.

Fixed Annuity

A fixed annuity is an insurance-based contract that can be funded either with a lump sum or through regular payments over time. In exchange, the insurance company will pay an income that can last for a specific period of time or for life.

Fixed annuity contracts are issued with guaranteed minimum interest rates. Although the rate may be adjusted, it should never fall below a guaranteed minimum rate specified in the contract. This guaranteed rate acts as a “floor” to potentially protect a contract owner from periods of low interest rates.

Fixed annuities provide an option for an income stream that could last a lifetime. The guarantees of fixed annuity contracts are contingent on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

Immediate Fixed Annuity

Typically, an immediate annuity is funded with a lump-sum premium to the insurance company, and payments begin within 30 days or can be deferred up to 12 months. Payments can be paid monthly, quarterly, annually, or semi-annually for a guaranteed period of time or for life, whichever is specified in the contract. Only the interest portion of each payment is considered taxable income. The rest is considered a return of principal and is free of income taxes.

Deferred Fixed Annuity

With a deferred annuity, you make regular premium payments to an insurance company over a period of time and allow the funds to build and earn interest during the accumulation phase. By postponing taxes while your funds accumulate, you keep more of your money working and growing for you instead of paying current taxes. This means an annuity may help you accumulate more over the long term than a taxable investment. Any earnings are not taxed until they are withdrawn, at which time they are considered ordinary income.

Variable Annuity

A variable annuity is a contract that provides fluctuating (variable) rather than fixed returns. The key feature of a variable annuity is that you can control how your premiums are invested by the insurance company. Thus, you decide how much risk you want to take and you also bear the investment risk.

Most variable annuity contracts offer a variety of professionally managed portfolios called “subaccounts” (or investment options) that invest in stocks, bonds, and money market instruments, as well as balanced investments. Some of your contributions can be placed in an account that offers a fixed rate of return. Your premiums will be allocated among the subaccounts that you select.

Unlike a fixed annuity, which pays a fixed rate of return, the value of a variable annuity contract is based on the performance of the investment subaccounts that you select. These subaccounts fluctuate in value with market conditions and the principal may be worth more or less than the original cost when surrendered.

Variable annuities provide the dual advantages of investment flexibility and the potential for tax deferral. The taxes on all interest, dividends, and capital gains are deferred until withdrawals are made.

When you decide to receive income from your annuity, you can choose a lump sum, a fixed payout, or a variable payout. The earnings portion of the annuity will be subject to ordinary income taxes when you begin receiving income.

Annuity withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income and may be subject to surrender charges plus a 10% federal income tax penalty if made prior to age 59½. Surrender charges may also apply during the contract’s early years.

Annuities have contract limitations, fees, and charges, which can include mortality and expense risk charges, sales and surrender charges, investment management fees, administrative fees, and charges for optional benefits. Annuities are not guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency; they are not deposits of, nor are they guaranteed or endorsed by, any bank or savings association. Any guarantees are contingent on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

Variable annuities are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the variable annuity contract and the underlying investment options, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is an Annuity? An annuity is a contract with an insurance company that is funded by the purchaser and designed to generate an income stream in retirement. It is a flexible financial vehicle that can help protect against the risk of living a long time because it provides an option for a lifetime income.

Two advantages of annuities are that the funds accumulate tax deferred and they can be distributed in a variety of ways to the contract owner.

There are many different types of annuities. Immediate annuities are designed to provide income right away, whereas deferred annuities are designed for long-term accumulation. Some annuities offer a guaranteed rate of interest, whereas others do not.

Generally, annuities have contract limitations, fees, and charges, which can include mortality and expense charges, account fees, underlying investment management fees, administrative fees, and charges for optional benefits. Most annuities have surrender charges that are assessed during the early years of the contract if the contract owner surrenders the annuity. Withdrawals of annuity earnings are taxed as ordinary income and may be subject to surrender charges, plus a 10 percent federal income tax penalty if made prior to age 59½. Withdrawals reduce annuity contract benefits and values. Any guarantees are contingent on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing company. Annuities are not guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency; they are not deposits of, nor are they guaranteed or endorsed by, any bank or savings association. For variable annuities, the investment return and principal value of an investment option are not guaranteed. Variable annuity subaccounts fluctuate with changes in market conditions; thus, the principal may be worth more or less than the original amount invested when the annuity is surrendered.

Variable annuities are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the variable annuity contract and the underlying investment options, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is a Mutual Fund Load? Mutual fund transactions can be complicated, especially with the fees and expenses that accompany the process. It’s important to understand mutual fund load, or sales, charges, and exactly what they entail so you can make informed investing decisions.

A “load” is a fee charged to an investor who buys or redeems shares in a mutual fund. It is similar to the commission that investors pay when they purchase a stock. There are two general types of sales loads. If a sales load is required at purchase, it is called a “front-end” sales load; if it is charged when shares are redeemed, it is a deferred or “back-end” sales charge.” The most common type of back-end sales load is a “contingent deferred sales charge” or CDSC. The amount will depend on how long an investor held the shares, and it could be nothing if they were held long enough.

Loads generally compensate brokers and/or salespeople for selling you a fund. For example, it might help compensate a financial professional who spends time with you at the beginning of your relationship, learning about your objectives and helping with your investment program. Brokers might also continually keep in touch with you and answer any questions you have. This communication can be particularly handy for busy people whose idea of investment tracking amounts to little more than an occasional call to their financial professionals.

Funds without load fees are called “no-load funds.” These funds are distributed directly by the investment company and therefore do not need to charge for brokerage services.

Despite this, all funds, even those with load charges, also have management and expense fees. Management fees pay for the administration of the fund and are usually based on a percentage of the fund’s assets. There are also 12b-1 fees, or distribution fees, that compensate brokers and other sellers of mutual funds for advertising and marketing costs. These fees are typically a very small percentage of the fund’s assets, often less than a half percent.

Funds that charge loads may have lower 12b-1 fees and administration fees, so when you are deciding which type of mutual fund to purchase, it is important to review all the costs and fees involved to see which funds may work best for your investment purposes. Fees and expenses vary from one fund to the next. When assessing different mutual funds, a fund with higher fees and expenses would need to generate higher returns than another fund with lower fees as higher fees can lower your returns.

Mutual fund share prices fluctuate with market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Investments seeking to achieve higher rates of return also involve greater risk.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is a Closed-End Fund? Closed-end funds have been around since 1893, more than 30 years before the first mutual fund (also known as an open-end fund) was created in the United States. However, closed-end funds are much less common than open-end funds. There are fewer than 600 closed-end funds on the market, whereas there are more than 8,000 mutual funds available.

Closed-end funds are similar to open-ended mutual funds in that investors pool their money together to purchase a professionally managed portfolio of stocks and/or bonds. They also have dividends and capital gains that are distributed annually. In other ways, they are very different. Closed-end funds actually have more in common with stocks or exchange-traded funds (ETFs), but they are actively managed.

Closed-end funds have an initial public offering (IPO) with a fixed number of shares to sell to investors. After that point, the investment company usually does not deal with the public directly, and any investors who want to purchase shares must do so on a secondary market, such as the New York Stock Exchange. A closed-end fund’s investment portfolio is generally managed by a separate entity, known as an “investment adviser,” that is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Shares are bought and sold on the open market, creating a situation in which investor activity does not significantly impact decisions on handling the funds. The market price of closed-end fund shares trading on a secondary market is determined by supply and demand, not by the shares’ net asset value (NAV). Although closed-end funds start with a NAV, the trading price may be higher or lower than that value. If the price is higher, shares are selling at a “premium.” If the price is lower, they are selling at a “discount.”

If you are considering investing in a closed-end fund, there are some things to be aware of. Closed-end funds have broker trading fees and are considered riskier than open-ended mutual funds. They can invest in a greater amount of illiquid securities and can use leveraging methods usually avoided by mutual funds. Because they are harder to sell, they are less liquid than mutual funds. Closed-end funds are generally not redeemable. The investment company does not have to buy back shares to fulfill investor demand. And closed-end funds often charge between 1% and 2% annually for management fees.

Some people consider investing in closed-end funds because they are designed to provide a stream of income, often on a monthly or quarterly basis. Closed-end funds also could provide an important diversification element to their portfolios. Diversification is a method to help manage investment risk, but it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss.

The value of closed-end fund and mutual fund shares fluctuate with market conditions. Shares, when sold or redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

Source: 1) Investment Company Institute, 2015

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is a Mutual Fund? Since the creation of the first modern-day mutual fund, the Massachusetts Investors Trust, in 1924, there has been a steady growth of mutual funds. Today there are over 8,000 mutual funds.1 Because of their convenience and flexibility, you might want to consider including mutual funds in your investment portfolio.

A mutual fund is a collection of stocks, bonds, and other securities that is purchased and professionally managed by an investment company with the capital from a group of investors. When you invest in a mutual fund, the investment company pools your money with that of other investors that is invested to pursue the objectives stated in the mutual fund prospectus.

As a mutual fund shareholder, you gain an equity position in the fund and, therefore, in all of the underlying securities. You share in any gains and/or losses of the fund. The mutual fund manager trades securities, incurring capital gains or losses, and generates dividend or interest income. Some mutual funds hold securities that offer the potential for capital appreciation. When these securities are sold by the fund, it distributes the profits from the sale to its shareholders in the form of capital gains. Most mutual funds will automatically reinvest your dividends and capital gains in additional shares, if you’d like.

You can redeem your mutual fund shares at any time for their current market value. The value of mutual fund shares is determined daily, based on the total value of the fund divided by the number of shares purchased. The return and principal value of mutual fund shares fluctuate with market conditions; shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Purchasing shares in a mutual fund can give you access to a diversified portfolio, often without having to spend a large chunk of money and time deciding which types of individual securities to purchase on your own. In addition, you benefit from having your investment managed by a financial professional. Diversification is a method to help manage investment risk, but it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

Source: 1) Investment Company Institute, 2015

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

How Do Mutual Funds and Stocks Differ? Whether you’re a first-time stock investor or a seasoned veteran, you should understand what differentiates single stock investments from mutual fund investing.

First, Some Working Definitions

Picture a collection of stocks, bonds, or other securities that are purchased by a group of investors and then managed by an investment company. That’s a mutual fund.

When you buy a share in a fund, you’re really buying a piece of a large, diverse portfolio. Conversely, stocks are shares of a single company.

Stocks vs. Funds:

The Management

When it comes to managing an investment, some investors prefer leaving those details and skills to someone else.

They like having a professional manager oversee the day-to-day decisions that a changing stock investment involves and see that as a distinct advantage. A good manager, they might argue, has access to information that would cost them an exorbitant amount, even if they had the time and inclination to do the work themselves.

On the other hand, some investors would never surrender control of their investments. Part of the thrill of investing is knowing that when they succeed it was due to their own decisions, these investors might say.

Individual comfort level plays a big part in your investment choice.

Diversifying Matters

When one security in a fund drops, an insightful fund manager may have included stocks that could cushion or offset that loss. Diversification is a big selling factor for mutual funds.

But that’s not to say that an investor couldn’t diversify via his or her own stock selections. Diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss; it is a method used to help manage investment risk.

Liquidity

Fund investors can cash in on any business day.

When you sell a stock, you must wait three business days before the trade settles and your money is released.

The Issue of Red Tape

Mutual fund investors often cite transaction ease as an inviting factor. And it is hard to beat the convenience of having records and transactions handled for you, while periodically receiving a detailed statement of your holdings.

Transacting business with stocks can be a more complicated experience. Placing buy orders, selling shares, or dictating any number of orders can be time-consuming. To some, however, that’s just part of the experience.

In summary, fund investors are often attracted by the overall convenience. By way of contrast, stock investors may tend to be more comfortable with their own investing skills.

Remember the value of both mutual funds and stocks will fluctuate with changes in market conditions, and when sold the investor may receive back more or less than their original investment amount.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is a Stock Index? In 1884, Charles Henry Dow averaged the closing prices of 11 stocks he considered representative of the strength of the U.S. economy in a paper that preceded The Wall Street Journal. By 1896, The Wall Street Journal was publishing this average on a regular basis, and the most famous indicator of stock market performance was born: the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA or Dow).

Most people have heard of the Dow, as well as a few other well-known stock indexes that track the overall direction of the market. Indexes and averages serve as useful benchmarks against which investors can measure the performance of their own portfolios. Depending on its makeup, a stock index can give investors some idea about the state of the market as a whole or a certain sector of the market. Conceptually, a shift in the price of an index represents an equitable change in the stocks included in the index.

Basically, indexes are imaginary portfolios of securities that represent a particular market or section of the market. Each index has its own method of calculating a change in its base value, often expressed as a percentage change. Thus, you might hear that an index has risen or fallen by a certain percentage. Although you can’t invest directly in an unmanaged index, you can invest in an index mutual fund that attempts to mirror a particular index by investing in the securities that comprise the index. The performance of an unmanaged index is not indicative of the performance of any specific investment.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

All the stocks in an index typically have at least one element in common. They might trade on the same stock market exchange, belong to the same industry, or have similar market capitalizations. Some of the more widely known indexes are the Dow, the S&P 500, the Nasdaq Composite, the Wilshire 5000, and the Russell 2000.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

The Dow is an index of widely held “blue-chip” stocks that is used as an indicator of the performance of U.S. industrial stocks. Unlike most other major indexes, the stocks in the Dow are unweighted by market capitalization. The 30 stocks included in the Dow are all major factors in their industries. Many have become household names: American Express, Boeing, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Walt Disney, and Wal-Mart.

S&P 500

The Standard & Poor’s 500 is an index of 500 of the most widely held stocks — leading companies from all sectors of the economy — chosen for their market size, liquidity, and industry group representation. Because some stocks influence the market more than others, each stock is given a different weight when the calculations are made. This is called “market-capitalization weighting,” which is the type of weighting used for the Nasdaq Composite, the Wilshire 5000, and the Russell 2000. Over 80% of all U.S. equity is tracked by the S&P 500.

Nasdaq Composite Index

The National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation system, or NASDAQ, represents all domestic and non-U.S. based common stocks traded on The NASDAQ Stock Market. It includes over 3,000 companies — more than most other stock indexes —many of which are in the technological field. Of course, The NASDAQ Stock Market isn’t restricted to technology issues. Many other well-known companies, such as Starbucks and Amgen, are listed there. The NASDAQ Stock Exchange was established in 1971 as the world’s first electronic stock market.

Wilshire 5000

Probably the most broadly based market index is the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index. Originally comprising 5,000 stocks, the Wilshire 5000 now uses more than 5000 market capitalization–weighted security returns to adjust the index. The index tracks the overall performance of stocks actively traded on the American stock exchanges; the companies are all headquartered in the United States.

Russell 2000

Started in 1972, the Russell 2000 Index gauges the performance of 2,000 “small cap” stocks that are often omitted from large indexes. This market capitalization–weighted index serves as a benchmark for small-cap U.S. stocks and could be useful for tracking small companies with growth potential.

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Market indexes are useful for assessing the historical performance of investment portfolios over time, but they don’t reveal important details about the companies they track. They also have certain biases inherent in their statistical calculations. Remember that past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

If your portfolio lags substantially behind a corresponding index, it may be time to reevaluate and reallocate assets. Be sure to select an appropriate index as your benchmark. For example, comparing a small-cap stock portfolio to the Dow Jones Industrial Average may not be very meaningful; comparing it to the Russell 2000 Index would be more appropriate. When selecting stocks, it’s prudent to keep an eye on long-term performance based on certain fundamentals that may or may not be subject to market trends.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Do Bond Ratings Mean? Bond ratings gauge a bond issuer’s financial ability to repay its promised principal and interest payments. Ratings are based on an analysis of the issuer’s financial condition and creditworthiness. In essence, the higher the rating, the more likely it is that a bondholder will receive his or her principal again when the bond matures.

Credit rating agencies assess the risks of certain bonds, issuing grades that reflect the issuer’s ability to meet the promised principal and interest payments. The best-known independent rating services are Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service, and Fitch Ratings. The following are the rating scales for each agency, ranging from the highest quality to the lowest (and possibly default). They are rated in descending alphabetic order from A to D.

Standard & Poor’s: AAA, AA+, AA, AA–, A+, A, A–, BBB+, BBB, BBB–, BB+, BB, BB–, B+, B, B–, CCC+, CCC, CCC–, D

Moody’s: Aaa, Aa1, Aa2, Aa3, A1, A2, A3, Baa1, Baa2, Baa3, Ba1, Ba2, Ba3, B1, B2, B3, Caa1, Caa2, Caa3, Ca, C

Fitch: AAA, AA+, AA, AA–, A+, A, A–, BBB+, BBB, BBB–, BB+, BB, BB–, B+, B, B–, CCC, DDD, DD, D

A credit rating is not a recommendation to purchase a particular bond. Bonds with higher ratings typically have a lower yield. Bonds with lower ratings generally offer higher yields, but the risk that the issuer will default is greater. You should carefully weigh the risks of investing in these bonds.

In addition to credit risks, bonds are subject to interest rate and inflation risks, and they have different maturities. The principal value of bonds fluctuates with changes in market conditions. If sold prior to maturity, a bond may be worth more or less than its original value.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is a Bond? What Is a Bond?

When you invest in bonds, you are investing in the debt of a government entity or a corporation. A bond is simply evidence of a debt and represents a long-term IOU.

Bonds are issued by federal, state, and local governments; agencies of the U.S. government; and corporations. By selling debt with a promise to pay it back with interest, the issuing agency can raise capital to finance its operations.

The issuing company or government entity will outline how much money it would like to borrow, for what length of time, and the interest it is willing to pay. Investors who buy bonds are lending their money to the issuer and thus become the issuer’s creditors. Bonds are sold at “par” or “face” value, which is the price at which the bond is issued, usually in denominations of $1,000 or $5,000.

By purchasing a bond, you are lending the debtor money. In exchange, you receive a note stating the amount loaned, the interest rate (the “coupon” or “coupon rate”), how often the interest will be paid, and the term of the loan.

The principal (the amount initially paid for the bond) must be repaid on the stipulated maturity date. Before that date, you (as lender) receive regular interest, usually every six months. The interest payments on a bond are usually fixed.

Before 1983, bondholders would receive coupons that they would clip and mail in semi-annually to receive the interest payments. Presently, all bonds are issued electronically in book-entry form only.

If you are considering buying a bond, remember that the market value of a bond is at risk when interest rates fluctuate. As interest rates rise, the value of existing bonds typically falls because the interest rate on new bonds would be higher. The opposite can also happen as well. Of course, this phenomenon applies only if you decide to sell a bond before it reaches maturity. If you hold a bond to maturity, you will receive the interest payments due plus your original principal, barring default by the issuer. Additional considerations are a bond’s maturity date and credit quality. Investments seeking to achieve higher yields also involve a higher degree of risk.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Types of Bonds Are Available? Bonds are issued by federal, state, and local governments; agencies of the U.S. government; and corporations. There are three basic types of bonds: U.S. Treasury, municipal, and corporate.

Treasury Securities

Bonds, bills, and note issued by the U.S. government are generally called “Treasuries” and are the highest-quality securities available. They are issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury through the Bureau of Public Debt. All treasury securities are liquid and traded on the secondary market. They are differentiated by their maturity dates, which range from 30 days to 30 years. One major advantage of Treasuries is that the interest earned is exempt from state and local taxes. Treasuries are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government as to the timely payment of principal and interest, so there is little risk of default.

Treasury bills (T-bills) are short-term securities that mature in less than one year. They are sold at a discount from their face value and thus don’t pay interest prior to maturity.

Treasury note (T-note) earn a fixed rate of interest every six months and have maturities ranging from one year to 10 years. The 10-year Treasury note is one of the most quoted when discussing the performance of the U.S. government bond market and is also used as a benchmark by the mortgage market.

Treasury bonds (T-bonds) have maturities ranging from 10 to 30 years. Like T-note, they also have a coupon payment every six months.

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) are inflation-indexed bonds. The principal of TIPS is adjusted by changes in the Consumer Price Index. They are typically offered in maturities ranging from five years to 20 years.

In addition to these treasury securities, certain federal agencies also issue bonds. The Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae), the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac) issue bonds for specific purposes, mostly related to funding home purchases. These bonds are also backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds (“munis”) are issued by state and local governments to fund the construction of schools, highways, housing, sewer systems, and other important public projects. These bonds tend to be exempt from federal income taxes and, in some cases, from state and local taxes for investors who live in the jurisdiction where the bond is issued. Munis tend to offer competitive rates but with additional risk because local governments can go bankrupt.

Note that, in some states, investors will have to pay state income tax if they purchase shares of a municipal bond fund that invests in bonds issued by states other than the one in which they pay taxes. In addition, although some municipal bonds in the fund may not be subject to ordinary income taxes, they may be subject to federal, state, or local alternative minimum tax. If an investor sells a tax-exempt bond fund at a profit, there are capital gains taxes to consider.

There are two basic types of municipal bonds. General obligation bonds are secured by the full faith and credit of the issuer and supported by the issuer’s taxing power. Revenue bonds are repaid using revenue generated by the individual project the bond was issued to fund.

Corporate Bonds

Corporations may issue bonds to fund a large capital investment or a business expansion. Corporate bonds tend to carry a higher level of risk than government bonds, but they generally are associated with higher potential yields. The value and risk associated with corporate bonds depend in large part on the financial outlook and reputation of the company issuing the bond.

Bonds issued by companies with low credit quality are high-yield bonds, also called junk bonds. Investments in high-yield bonds offer different rewards and risks than investing in investment-grade securities, including higher volatility, greater credit risk, and the more speculative nature of the issuer. Variations on corporate bonds include convertible bonds, which can be converted into company stock under certain conditions.

Zero-Coupon Bonds

This type of bond (also called an “accrual bond”) doesn’t make coupon payments but is issued at a steep discount. The bond is redeemed for its full value at maturity. Zero-coupon bonds tend to fluctuate in price more than coupon bonds. They can be issued by the U.S. Treasury, corporations, and state and local government entities and generally have long maturity dates.

* * *

Bonds are subject to interest-rate, inflation, and credit risks, and they have different maturities. As interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall. The return and principal value of bonds fluctuate with changes in market conditions. If not held to maturity, bonds may be worth more or less than their original cost. Bond funds are subject to the same inflation, interest-rate, and credit risks associated with their underlying bonds. As interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall, which can adversely affect a bond fund’s performance.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

 

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is Diversification? What Is Diversification?

Virtually every investment has some type of risk associated with it. The stock market rises and falls. An increase in interest rates can cause a decline in the bond market. No matter what you decide to invest in, risk is something you must consider.

One key to successful investing is managing risk while maintaining the potential for adequate returns on your investments. One of the most effective ways to help manage your investment risk is to diversify. Diversification is an investment strategy aimed at managing risk by spreading your money across a variety of investments such as stocks, bonds, real estate, and cash alternatives; but diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against loss.

The main philosophy behind diversification is really quite simple: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Spreading the risk among a number of different investment categories, as well as over several different industries, can help offset a loss in any one investment.

Likewise, the power of diversification may help smooth your returns over time. As one investment increases, it may offset the decreases in another. This may allow your portfolio to ride out market fluctuations, providing a more steady performance under various economic conditions. By potentially reducing the impact of market ups and downs, diversification could go far in enhancing your comfort level with investing.

Diversification is one of the main reasons why mutual funds may be so attractive for both experienced and novice investors. Many non-institutional investors have a limited investment budget and may find it challenging to construct a portfolio that is sufficiently diversified.

For a modest initial investment, you can purchase shares in a diversified portfolio of securities. You have “built-in” diversification. Depending on the objectives of the fund, it may contain a variety of stocks, bonds, and cash vehicles, or a combination of them.

Whether you are investing in mutual funds or are putting together your own combination of stocks, bonds, and other investment vehicles, it is a good idea to keep in mind the importance of diversifying. The value of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds fluctuate with market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

Zero-Coupon Bonds Zero-coupon bonds (“zeros”) represent a type of bond that does not pay interest during the life of the bond. Instead, investors buy these bonds at a steep discount from the “face value” (the amount a bond will be worth when it matures). When the bond matures, investors will receive single payments equal to their initial investments plus the accrued interest.

Available in the secondary market and issued by the U.S. Treasury, corporations, and state and local government entities, zeros typically have long maturity dates, such as 10, 15, or more years. The initial price of a zero depends on the number of years to maturity, current interest rates, and the risk involved. For example, a zero-coupon bond with a face value of $5,000, a maturity date of 20 years, and a 5% interest rate might cost only a few hundred dollars. When the bond matures, the bondholder receives the face value of the bond ($5,000 in this case), barring default.

The value of zero-coupon bonds is subject to market fluctuations. Because these bonds do not pay interest until maturity, their prices tend to be more volatile than are bonds that make regular interest payments. Interest income is subject to ordinary income tax each year, even though the investor does not receive any interest until the bonds mature.

The return and principal value of bonds fluctuate with changes in market conditions. If sold prior to maturity, a bond may be worth more or less than its original cost.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is Stock? Most people know something about the stock market, but many investors who see stock as a way to get rich quick might not understand exactly what stock is and how it works. Before jumping feet-first into investing in stocks, it is important to understand some of the basics and the risks involved in owning stocks.

A company can raise money by “going public” and selling a portion of the company by issuing stock; this is called equity financing. The advantage to the company is that it doesn’t have to pay back the money or pay interest right away, as it would to a bank if it borrowed the money it needed. The advantage to the shareholder is the potential to make money through dividends and/or capital appreciation.

Dividends are taxable payments to shareholders from the company’s earnings. They are generally paid quarterly in cash, but there is no guarantee that dividends will continue to be paid. Capital appreciation is the difference between the amount paid for a stock and its current value. Shareholders also have the ability to trade their stocks on an exchange at any time.

Stock is quite simply a share in the ownership of a company, which is why stockholders are called shareholders. When you buy stock, you are actually buying a piece of the company it represents; you have a claim on part of the corporation’s assets and earnings.

As a partial owner of the company, you therefore take on the potential risks and benefits of that position, but you don’t have to put any effort into running it. Your ownership is determined by the number of shares you own divided by the total number of shares sold by the company. For example, if a company has issued 1,000 shares and you have 10, you own 1 percent of the company. Of course, if you own 10 shares of a large company that has issued millions of shares, your equity in the company is quite small.

If a company is profitable, it may decide to pay dividends to shareholders from its earnings. On the other hand, some companies may decide to reinvest profits back into their businesses rather than pay dividends. Investors have the potential to make money from dividends as well as from appreciation in the value of stock shares on the open market. Thus, stockholders have the potential to make money if the company does well and the potential to lose money if the company does poorly. The return and principal value of stocks fluctuate with changes in market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Shareholders of common stock often have voting rights on major issues at annual meetings, usually electing a board of directors. In this way, shareholders have a say in the way the company is run. Owners of preferred stock usually don’t have voting rights but have a higher claim on the company’s assets and earnings than common stockholders do. If a company pays dividends, preferred stockholders receive theirs before common stockholders.

There is always a risk when investing in stocks. Generally, the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward. You should determine your risk tolerance and financial goals before deciding to invest in stock investments.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

How Are Mutual Funds Taxed? Many people have heard the Benjamin Franklin quote, “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Mutual fund taxes can be onerous. However, if you understand the complexities of mutual fund taxes and are prepared when tax season comes around, you may be able to lessen the blow.

Dividends and Capital Gains

The first thing to remember is that you generally must report any mutual fund distributions as income. Even if you reinvest your profits, the federal government still views this as personal income. Your mutual fund will send you a Form 1099-DIV describing what earnings to report on your income tax return. There are two main ways that mutual funds are taxed: dividends and capital gains.

Dividends represent the net earnings of the fund and will be taxed at a 20% tax rate for qualified dividends for taxpayers in the 39.6% federal income tax bracket, at a 0% tax rate for individuals in the 10% and 15% federal income tax brackets, and at a 15% tax rate for all other tax brackets. Qualified dividends, with some exceptions, are dividends received from domestic and foreign corporations after 2002. Foreign dividends must be securities that are traded on U.S. exchanges or have IRS approval.

Capital gains are profits from investor trading or distributions given to shareholders after revenue is taken in from the fund manager’s sales of securities. Provisions in the tax law allow you to pay lower capital gains taxes on the sale of assets held more than one year. These are referred to as “long term” capital gains.

Long-term gains are profits on assets held longer than 12 months before they are sold. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 instituted a 20% long-term capital gains tax rate for taxpayers in the 39.6% income tax bracket and extended both the 0% capital gains tax rate for individuals in the 10% and 15% tax brackets and the 15% capital gains tax rate for all other tax brackets. Short-term gains — those resulting from the sale of assets held less than one year — are taxed at your ordinary income tax rate.

Higher-income taxpayers should be aware that they may be subject to an additional 3.8% Medicare unearned income tax on net investment income (unearned income includes dividends) if their adjusted gross income exceeds $200,000 (single filers) or $250,000 (married joint filers). This is an outcome of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

This means that if you’ve been buying shares in a stock or mutual fund over the years and are considering selling part of your holdings, your tax liability could be significantly impacted by the timing of your sale.

Tax-Exempt Funds

One way to potentially reduce the amount of mutual fund taxes you could pay is by utilizing a tax-exempt bond fund. Distributions from these types of funds are attributable to interest from state and local municipal bonds, so they are exempt from federal income tax (not necessarily state tax). If a bond was issued by a municipality outside the state in which you reside, the interest could be subject to state and local income taxes. Some municipal bond interest could be subject to the federal alternative minimum tax.

Investing in tax-exempt bond funds potentially could lessen the blow of taxes, but it’s important to remember that they may offer lower yields than comparable taxable funds. If you are in a high tax bracket, the tax benefits may make it advantageous for you to invest in lower-yielding tax-exempt funds. Bond funds are subject to the same inflation, interest-rate, and credit risks associated with their underlying bonds. As interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall, which can adversely affect a bond fund’s performance. If you sell a tax-exempt bond fund at a profit, you could incur capital gains taxes.

Mutual fund taxes can be cumbersome, but there may be ways to help you potentially pay as little as possible. Remember that there are tax-advantaged accounts that you possibly could utilize, such as IRAs or 401(k)s, to defer taxes until you withdraw funds in retirement. You may want to consider tax-deferred accounts for high-income funds that come with lofty tax rates. Regardless of how you handle your mutual funds, be sure to consult with a tax professional.

The return and principal value of mutual fund shares fluctuate with changes in market conditions. Shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

Growth Stocks vs. Value Stocks Investors are often confused about the differences between growth stocks and value stocks. The main way in which they differ is not in how they are bought and sold, nor is it how much ownership they represent in a company. Rather, the difference lies mainly in the way in which they are perceived by the market and, ultimately, the investor.

Growth stocks are associated with high-quality, successful companies whose earnings are expected to continue growing at an above-average rate relative to the market. Growth stocks generally have high price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios and high price-to-book ratios. The P/E ratio is the market value per share divided by the current year’s earnings per share. For example, if the stock is currently trading at $52 per share and its earnings over the last 12 months have been $2 per share, then its P/E ratio is 26. The price-to-book ratio is the share price divided by the book value per share. The open market often places a high value on growth stocks; therefore, growth stock investors also may see these stocks as having great worth and may be willing to pay more to own shares.

Investors who purchase growth stocks receive returns from future capital appreciation (the difference between the amount paid for a stock and its current value), rather than dividends. Although dividends are sometimes paid to shareholders of growth stocks, it has historically been more common for growth companies to reinvest retained earnings in capital projects. Recently, however, because of tax-law changes lowering the tax rate on corporate dividends, even growth companies have been offering dividends.

At times, growth stocks may be seen as expensive and overvalued, which is why some investors may prefer value stocks, which are considered undervalued by the market. Value stocks are those that tend to trade at a lower price relative to their fundamentals (including dividends, earnings, and sales). Value stocks generally have good fundamentals, but they may have fallen out of favor in the market and are considered bargain priced compared with their competitors. They may have prices that are below the stocks’ historic levels or may be associated with new companies that aren’t recognized by investors. It’s possible that these companies have been affected by some problem that raises some concerns about their long-term prospects.

Value stocks generally have low current price-to-earnings ratios and low price-to-book ratios. Investors buy these stocks in the hope that they will increase in value when the broader market recognizes their full potential, which should result in rising share prices. Thus, they hope that if they buy these stocks at bargain prices and they eventually increase in value, they potentially could make more money than if they had invested in higher-priced stocks that increased modestly in value.

Growth and value are styles of investing in stocks. Neither approach is guaranteed to provide appreciation in stock market value; both carry investment risk. The return and principal value of stocks fluctuate with changes in market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Investments seeking to achieve higher rates of return also involve a greater degree of risk.

Growth and value investments tend to run in cycles. Understanding the differences between them may help you decide which may be appropriate to help you pursue your specific goals. Regardless of which type of investor you are, there may be a place for both growth and value stocks in your portfolio. This strategy may help you manage risk and potentially enhance your returns over time.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Is an Exchange-Traded Fund? Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are just one of the many types of investment funds available, but they have some qualities that are unique and set them apart from other vehicles. ETFs are securities that attempt to track all types of indexes, industries, or commodities. For example, an ETF might be made up of securities representative of the technological industry or of the S&P 500.*

When ETFs were first created in the 1990s, the aim was to mimic the movements of an index of a specific financial benchmark. Today, ETFs also follow industries and commodities, not just indexes. The investment vehicle with the sole purpose of mirroring a specific index is called an index fund.

One of the reasons some investors may choose ETF funds is because they combine the diversification of a mutual fund with the flexibility of a stock. ETFs do not have their net asset values calculated each day, as do typical mutual funds, but rather their prices may fluctuate throughout the day based on the rate of demand on the open market.

Although the value of an ETF comes from the worth of the underlying assets comprising it, shares may trade at a “premium” or a “discount.” ETF shares are sold on stock exchanges; investors can buy or sell them at any time during the day. The underlying assets of the fund are not affected by market trading.

Exchange-traded funds may have expense ratios that are lower than those of an average mutual fund, and they are usually more tax-efficient than most mutual funds. Additionally, shareholders can often invest as little or as much as they desire. However, an ETF cannot be redeemed by a shareholder; rather, it can be sold only on the stock market.

A downside to exchange-traded funds is the commission fee, which is generally not associated with a mutual fund. Commissions are involved because ETFs are traded like stocks, rather than like mutual funds. However, despite this downside, an ETF can be a diversified and low-cost investment that often has a low turnover rate, so you might want to consider ETFs as part of your investment portfolio. Keep in mind that diversification is a method to help manage investment risk; it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss.

The return and principal value of ETF and mutual fund shares fluctuate with market conditions. Shares, when sold or redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

Exchange-traded funds and mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

* The S&P 500 is an unmanaged group of securities that is widely recognized as being representative of the U.S. stock market in general. The performance of an unmanaged index is not indicative of the performance of any specific investment. Individuals cannot invest directly in an index.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC

What Are Dividends? When considering the profit they make on stocks, many investors assess the gains they have obtained based on the appreciation of the stock on the open market or the gains they obtained after selling the stock for more than the original purchase price. However, it’s also wise to include the income acquired from stock dividends, if any.

Dividends are taxable payments to shareholders from a company’s earnings. These payments generally come from retail profits and tend to be distributed in the form of cash or stock. They are usually paid quarterly, and the amount is determined by the company’s board of directors.

Dividends are most often quoted by the dollar amount each share receives, put simply, the dividends per share. They can also be stated in terms of a percent of the current market price, designated as adividend yield. The dividend yield is the annual dividend income per share divided by the current stock price.

Many mature, profitable companies offer regular dividends to shareholders. However, if a company experiences losses during the year or needs any earnings to be reinvested back into the business, it’s always possible that it could decide to suspend dividends. It’s important to remember that a company can decide to increase, decrease, or stop paying dividends at any time.

Rather than pay dividends to shareholders, many companies with current high growth rates choose to reinvest their earnings back into their businesses. On the other hand, some stable companies that haven’t experienced much growth might pay dividends to provide an incentive for investors to purchase their stock.

Before 2003, dividends were taxed at ordinary income tax rates reaching as high as 35%. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 instituted a 20% tax rate for qualified dividends for taxpayers in the 39.6% federal income tax bracket. The act extended both the 0% qualified dividend tax rate for individuals in the 10% and 15% federal income tax brackets and the 15% qualified dividend tax rate for all other federal income tax brackets.

Higher-income taxpayers should be aware that they may be subject to an additional 3.8% Medicare unearned income tax on net investment income (unearned income includes dividends) if their adjusted gross income exceeds $200,000 (single filers) or $250,000 (married joint filers). This is an outcome of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

When investing in the stock market, it’s important to remember that the return and principal value of stocks fluctuate with changes in market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

The information in this article is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. © 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC