Echo Blog

Echo Blog

Evernote: The Best Tool to Get Organized

By Echo Huang, CPA, CFP®, CFA

Evernote is a cloud-based, information organization app.  I have been using Evernote since 2011 to capture ideas, notes, important documents, images, and track projects and my goals.  Initially I used the free basic version, but then I upgraded to the premium level ($69.99 per year now) and I find it is well worth it as I can do so much more by adding Word documents, PDF documents, and Excel files as well.  I would like to share with you a few of the ways I use it to increase my productivity and reduce paper clutter.

  • Organizing Projects.  We started building our new house in spring 2012, and there were just so many decisions and checklists to be made every day to meet deadlines.  I took pictures of homes, materials and web pages and uploaded them to my Evernote account.  I can attach notes and use multiple Tags for each note so that later I can search for it easily when I need it, even from another computer. 
     
  • Keeping Track of Receipts.  This is important, especially the receipts for the expenses that are tax deductible.  I can scan paper receipts to Evernote, so when I receive a receipt in my email inbox, I forward it to my Evernote and then Tag it as “Receipts” and “Tax Deductible”.  If the receipts are related to products I bought that have a warranty, I add another Tag for “Warranty” and the name of vendor.  Later, I can find them easily by searching for the Tags. 
     
  • Clipping Web Pages to Read Later.  How often do you say to yourself “I will read this later” when you browse websites?  Now it’s easy: Launch Web Clipper to start clipping. Click the elephant button in your browser toolbar to launch Web Clipper. Select a clip type, full-length or sections of web pages, such as news stories or research articles. Save time and review clipped content offline, during your commute.  I Tag these article as “Read Later” in Evernote and read them later.  After I finish reading them, I then remove the Tag.
     
  • Taking Notes on My iPad and Then Filing Them in Evernote.  This is so convenient when I go to conferences and monthly FPA meetings outside my office.  Using tags such as “FPA Symposium” or “TD Conference” I am able to find them later in my office to share the Notes with my team.  If I didn’t bring my iPad to the meeting, I can use my iPhone to take notes using the Evernote app and it will sync with my Evernote account immediately.  If you write something on the handout and take a picture to be unloaded to Evernote, you can actually search for the words you scribbled in the picture. It’s amazing.
     
  • Taking Pictures of License Plates, Printer Cartridges, Air Filter Models, My Foundation #. Anything you want to reference later and not use part of your brain to memorize should be captured.  When you are at the store, you can pull up the images you filed in Evernote to get the shopping done quickly.  Pictures of my daughter at special events, and the amazing art projects, photographic essays, and slide presentations she creates are filed and tagged accordingly.  Exactly two months ago today, we welcomed our first puppy, Luna, a petite Goldendoodle to our home!  She will have her first haircut this evening, and I will take a picture of her before and after, then upload them to my Evernote account.  If I like the hairstyle, next time I will show the picture to the groomer without even having to describe it.
     
  • Tracking My Goals and Reviewing Them Periodically. It doesn’t matter how big or important a goal is, if we don’t review it, it’ll fade from memory. It’s almost as simple as the old saying: “Out of sight, out of mind.”  Unless I’m tracking my progress against my goal, I’m probably not actually making much progress.  What that means is that we need an intentional, regular review process for our goals.  Evernote is perfect for tracking goals.  It’s a better goal-tracking solution than more robust, dedicated applications. (Remember: “Complexity is the enemy of execution.”)  In addition to business goals, I track personal goals including “New Year Resolutions”.  Don’t laugh, I still write down my resolutions, not on paper, but in Evernote.  Looking back a few years, I’m amazed how much I have accomplished in business by using this tool  Personal goals status: falling behind in learning Spanish, but doing well with piano practice, reading and travel.

Echo Huang, CPA, CFP®, CFA Awarded the Five Star Wealth Manager Award for 2017!

 

Echo Huang has been a six-year recipient (2012 - 2017) of this award.

Alternative Fixed Income Strategies in a Rising Interest Rate Environment

By Echo Huang, CPA, CFP®, CFA

After a long wait, the Fed finally did raise the federal funds rate by 0.25% last month.  You may not have noticed the impact in your financial statements yet, but investing in fixed income is becoming more challenging, because traditional bonds with fixed coupons or longer maturities typically recede in price as interest rates rise.  Bonds have performed well in the past decade but even they may struggle to deliver the total return you expect over the next few years.  So what can you do to reduce the interest risk in your portfolio?

Hedged Equity Strategy - Targeting A Smoother Ride for Equity Investors

By Echo Huang, CPA, CFP®, CFA

As the US stock markets have done well for the past 8 years, many investors wonder if their portfolios are positioned well for potential market corrections.  Though it is impossible to predict the future, expecting volatility in the coming years is a safe bet.  Market volatility is normal, and feeling uneasy about a lower portfolio value is normal too.  Historical analysis shows that pullbacks of 5% have occurred about once a quarter, and pullbacks of 10% are likely to occur once per year.  Large pullbacks greater than 20% tend to occur just once per market cycle.  It is especially important to be mindful about how to dampen portfolio volatility in the later stages of the business cycle.

With the memories of large losses in stock markets in year 2008 when S&P 500 Index lost 38%, many investors feel like allocating more to bonds and cash now to reduce volatility of portfolios.  However, while bonds are part of a diversified portfolio, bonds are not paying much interest and the value of bonds tend to go down as interest rates are likely to increase in the future.  Money market funds are earning less than 1% and are not likely to provide returns exceeding inflation.  At Echo Wealth Management, we have considered various alternative strategies to reduce equity risk and have implemented three equity alternative strategies in our client portfolios.

One of the equity alternative strategies is hedged equity strategy that can hedge against equity’s downturns in order to help investors stay invested by avoiding the emotional mistakes of getting out of the stock markets near the bottom.  This is not a hedge fund (with tax form K-1), it is a liquid equity alternative solution that is engineered to be constantly hedged. 

Downside protection:   This disciplined option overlay is combined with an enhanced index portfolio.  Buying puts at 5% below the investment and selling puts at 20% below this investment aim to limit declines in this investment to a negative 5% in any given quarter (capped at negative 20%).  So if the investment declines 16% in one quarter, this investment is only down 5%.  To generate additional cash flow, calls are sold at 3.5% to 5% above the investment price that allows this investment participate in about 3.5% to 5% upside in any given quarter.  While this is riskier than a bond, it has much more upside potential and it is not sensitive to interest rates.  

Have You Considered This Mega Roth Strategy?

By Echo Huang, CPA, CFP®, CFA

Last month, one of my new clients and I called the administrator of her old 401(k) plan to rollover the balance to her IRA account at TD Ameritrade.  To her surprise, she had $36,000 in after-tax contributions (not the same as a Roth) with earnings of $70,000 from the after-tax contributions she made many years ago in addition to $700,000 pre-tax contributions and earnings.  She was able to request two checks - one for the $36,000 to a new Roth IRA account (a Roth conversion that is tax-free because there is no taxation on otherwise after-tax funds!) and one for the $770,000 to a traditional IRA account (which does not incur an income tax assessment by virtue of being a rollover).  The end result – now she has $770,000 of all pre-tax funds in an IRA, $36,000 in a Roth IRA, and her tax cost this year is zero!

One great benefit is that the balance in her Roth IRA account will now grow tax free!  It was a pleasant surprise for both her and for me, but I thought to myself “If she had rolled-over the $36,000 to her Roth IRA earlier in 2014 or 2015, the earnings from this after-tax contribution in the past two to three years (i.e. $7,000) would have been tax-free instead of being in an IRA that will be taxable upon distribution.”  And this made me want to tell you, that if you have made any after-tax contributions to your 401(k) from before the Roth 401(k) became available, you should consider reviewing the plan provisions on in-service withdrawals if you still work for this company.  If you have already left or retired from this company, it’s still easy, you can do what my client did.  But leaving an after-tax balance in the plan does not help you grow tax-free because the earnings from the after-tax contributions are taxable if you take distributions from the plan to spend in the future.

Financial Planning Like It's 1999!

By Tyler Lodahl, Associate Wealth Manager

When we are children and young adults, it can be easy for us to go about our lives without thinking about the true value of learning particular skills now, when we are young, rather than waiting until we’re older. When I look back at my life through those halcyon days of middle and high school, and even college, it makes me truly realize the significance and value of learning particular financial life skills when we’re young. These skills, I now realize, not only impact a young adult’s knowledge and understanding of finances at that age, but also evolve over time as they gain life experience and exposure to new and more complex financial concepts. As a Junior and Senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I served as a peer educator for two Financial Life Skills courses, one for freshman/sophomore students, and the other for upper classmen, with most of the students being seniors preparing for life after graduation. The courses covered topics ranging from our personal view of money based on our core values, beliefs, upbringing, etc., to preparing financially for unexpected life events by establishing a “rainy day fund”, to utilizing insurance to best fit our needs. My interactions with these college students and other students over the years related to personal finance have highlighted for me a few key financial life skills/concepts. Three concepts that consistently arose and that I wish I was exposed to in greater detail at a young age are:

  1. Budgeting/cash flow management;
  2. The power of paying yourself first as a saving strategy;
  3. The value of compound interest.

Are Investment Advisory Fees Tax Deductible?

It’s tax season again, and a question we get from a number of clients after receiving their year end statements is, “Are my investment advisory fees tax deductible?” And the answer is an equivocal, “It depends.”

Congress did grant a tax deduction for certain investment expenses, but with anything to do with the tax code, the devil’s is in the details. Not to worry though, we’ll use this opportunity to settle the issue no matter your situation.

In general, the tax code allows for the deduction of expenses incurred in the production of income. With regards to investment income expenses, there are essentially two types:

Any expense incurred in the purchase or sale of a security, such a commission or a sales load on a mutual fund. These expenses are not tax deductible. Rather, they are applied against the cost basis in the purchase or sale of the security.

Happy 2nd Birthday Echo Wealth Management!

By Echo Huang, CPA, CFP®, CFA

With thankfulness and appreciation for my friends, family, team and clients, I am excited to celebrate the 2nd birthday of Echo Wealth Management today! It has been a satisfying journey over the past two years of building a strong foundation for the business that focuses on taking the complexity out of wealth management. We have been blessed with amazing client experiences and the supportive efforts from our centers of influence, including attorneys, CPAs, insurance agents, business operations and technology partners. 

Engaged! Now Comes the Planning Part

By Steve Drost, Associate Wealth Manager

The day of my engagement (just last month) was the best day of my life.  After a day of anxiety awaiting the proper moment, the time finally arrived. I got down on one knee and she said “Yes.”  The 48 hours following my proposal and her acceptance were a whirlwind of awesomeness – countless phone calls, texts, Facebook messages, Snapchats, Instagram posts, Twitter mentions, and even a couple handwritten “Congratulations” cards in the mail (by far the most memorable, by the way).  By the time a week had passed, I was finally getting used to seeing the ring on her left hand, and we decided it was time to really start planning our wedding.

All gender bias aside, there are two types of people in this world: those who have been looking forward to planning their wedding since they were a child and those who have not. My fiancée is the former, and myself, the latter.  I am very analytical – things either fit or do not fit in the puzzle.  So naturally the first thing I did was open up Microsoft Excel and start making the first draft of the budget and guest list.  She, more artistic and visually creative, picked up the latest edition of Bridal Guide Magazine.  I was researching how much photographers cost and she is asking me if I like coral and ash grey for wedding colors.  Not that it’s a bad thing, but there was a difference on where we each wanted to start.  I cared more about the lists and data gathering, she more how the day will look and feel. This difference in personalities isn’t a compatibility disconnect or even negative, it’s a good thing! We are just naturally drawn to different bits and details (I’d probably pick blue, grill food, and everyone would be wearing shorts, so thankfully for everyone involved I’m not planning a wedding alone).

The time is NOW to think about Estate Planning

By Tyler Lodahl

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” This quote, taken from the Lord of the Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkien comes when the main character, Frodo Baggins, is faced with a daunting task of leading his close companions on a perilous task to save the world as they knew it. While this quote can have many deep meanings, it reminds me of the importance of planning for the unexpected. Frodo, unsure of what was on the horizon, was reminded by his companion Gandalf that while we are unsure of the future, we have the power right now to decide what to do with the time that we do have. Growing up, I pictured estate planning as the rather dreary process of establishing a will that ultimately provided instructions as to the final disposition of one’s estate, or everything one owns. But when I was finally exposed to the topic of Estate Planning in my academic studies and throughout my preparation for the CFP exam, then I truly understood its deep significance and how the estate planning process encompasses so much more than I initially imagined. Even now, as a recent college graduate without dependents, I understand that while I may not “need” to have an estate plan prepared any time soon, the amazing benefits and peace of mind it can provide in the present-day and in the future make it worth the effort. Below are a few reasons why beginning to think about, prepare, or even update your estate plan NOW can both provide peace of mind in directing even more of what will happen upon your death or incapacity, and also ensure that your goals and passions while living can be achieved after death.

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