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Smart donation strategy for retirees

posted Oct 5, 2016, 7:04 PM by Tim Isbell

Do you know that people above age 70.5 can directly transfer up to $100,000 from a traditional, tax-deferred retirement account to charity every year, have it count against their Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for that year, and not have to pay taxes on the money they contributed?

Here's why this makes sense: A typical retiree pays her bills using money from defined benefit retirement programs, withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement accounts (IRA, 401k, 403b), dividends and capital gains from investments in the taxable accounts, and Social Security. All these sources are subject to some taxation. Whether she needs the money or not, every year from when she turns 70.5 they must withdraw at least the RMD from her tax-deferred retirement accounts and pay ordinary income tax on every dollar withdrawn.  

Further, suppose she wants to donate $6,000 to her church for the year. If she draws money from any of the sources and writes a check to the church, that money adds to her adjusted gross income and gets taxed. But if she arranges to donate the $6,000 directly from her tax-deferred retirement account to the charity, it counts against her RMD for the year, and she doesn't have to add it to her adjusted gross income. This works whether she itemizes or not, though if she itemizes she can't also claim a deduction. For retirees with sufficient money to pay all their bills and also contribute to charity, the smartest dollars to donate are RMD dollars going directly from your account to the charity.

I expect she can accomplish this direct transfer in a week or two, but it's even better to think about donating from an RMD early in the year before deciding to take the RMD in monthly or quarterly installments.

For more on this, including the details of how to make the transfer directly from your retirement account, check out this Kiplinger article.

For more strategic ways to donate money, check out Tax-smart Donations.There you'll find tips on donating appreciated stock, creating a donor advised fund, and others.

Blessings, Tim

Abortion - the Alternate Kingdom view

posted Sep 30, 2016, 5:36 AM by Tim Isbell

This post is for the many conservative Christians who vote primarily, or wholly, on the issue of abortion. I am a retired, ordained pastor in a Christian tradition slightly right of the political center. Earlier, I posted three articles 
on the upcoming election and thought they were enough. But I feel prompted to post one more: Let's Consider Abortion. Hope you'll find five minutes to consider it.


Fascinations with God

posted Sep 25, 2016, 7:00 AM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Sep 25, 2016, 8:24 PM ]

I'm fascinated with who God is and what he does in our world, so I'm building a list. I'm learning to plant one item from the list in my mind at the start of each day - or at least a few days each week. I can use that item as the praise part of any prayer, even such as for a meal. It is a way of escorting Jesus to the center of my life, and keeping him there all day, which is my only hope for holiness - because there is no store or state of holiness. Even when I miss for a couple of days, I don't kick myself. But when I sense (or the Spirit prompts) that I've drifted, this Fascination List and practice helps me reset.

Hope you'll take time to have a look.

Found something good in the dumpster

posted Sep 15, 2016, 5:36 PM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Sep 15, 2016, 5:42 PM ]

While dumpster diving through the 2016 presidential campaign, I found something valuable. It wasn't what I was looking for, but if we have the courage to deal with it, it will make America greater. Check out A Plus from 2016 Presidential Campaign


10 Most Important Financial Decisions

posted Aug 31, 2016, 1:54 PM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Sep 2, 2016, 9:08 AM ]

Here's some wisdom from Jonathan Clements, an excellent financial author I started following this year. Here's a link to a recent MarketWatch article, and here's a link to an 18-minute podcast where the Wall Street Journal's "Money, Markets, & More" staff interview Clements. The article provides the list but with only limited comments. So don't stop with the article; please find the time to listen to the podcast.

To whet your interest, here is Clement's list of the ten most important Financial Decisions Ever:

  1. How much you borrow for college.
  2. What career you pursue.
  3. How early in life you start saving.
  4. How big a house you buy relative to your income.
  5. Whether you marry the right person. (I'd rephrase this to "Who you marry.")
  6. How often you replace your car.
  7. Whether you make a lifetime commitment to stocks.
  8. Whether you have children. (I'd add "... and how many.")
  9. Whether you waste time and money on the foolish pursuit of market-beating gains.
  10. When you claim Social Security.

Is the Clinton Foundation a ripoff?

posted Aug 16, 2016, 9:46 AM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Sep 18, 2016, 1:53 PM ]

Last week I stumbled into a Facebook stream that I thought was posted by an acquaintance of mine. After posting a reply to somebody's comment, and getting deluged with readers' responses, I realized I had entered a Mike Huckabee post that shared this link from the Conservative Tribune: SHOCK: 96% Of Hillary’s Charitable Donations Went To 1 “Charity.”

Over the course of about three days, I wrote quite a bit into that thread, generally to the dismay of many other participants. But this gave me an excuse to take a look at the Clintons' charitable contributions.

After finishing my interactions with the Huckabee post, I decided to pull together my posted comments and, with only light editing, post them on this webpage: Clinton foundations - ripoff or legit? If you want to do a little research on this topic, just click on the link. You'll find my perspective and several related factual links.

Churches & Politics

posted Aug 11, 2016, 9:12 AM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Aug 12, 2016, 8:53 AM ]

It's an election season and churches often participate in one way or another in the election process. Some church participation can jeopardize the church's tax-exempt status. The IRS has a handy guide to help churches understand what they can, and cannot do, regarding political activities. It's the first two sections of Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations (IRS publication 1828). As you might guess from the title, it is a large PDF (35 pages) mostly dealing with financial nuts and bolts. But the first two sections (just 7 pages) deal with the intersection of churches and political activity. Just thought you might like to have a look!

My personal perspective on the intersection of Christian faith and politics is wrapped up in my understanding of citizenship. As I see it, we Christians are invited to live primarily as citizens of God's Kingdom while residing at postal addresses squarely in the kingdoms of this world. To get this across, I often talk about living in as citizens of an Alternate Kingdom. This Alternate life does not mean that we need to be a-political. It means that God expects us to work for the good of our neighbors and country to the extent that our understanding of Christian faith allows - all the while remembering that our primary citizenship is elsewhere. For more on this, check out Alternate Life.


Why I don't buy actively managed investments.

posted Aug 10, 2016, 6:47 AM by Tim Isbell

I ran across this chart in a recent Quartz article. It shows the enormous price an investor pays if they miss just a few days in a 20-year span! I cannot predict which days will be this pivotal. Neither can a professional. So I don't use active managers, nor many actively managed funds. Instead, I use mostly index mutual funds. This is called evidence-based, asset allocation investing. For more on this see Asset Allocation Basics.

By the way, the Quartz article is The Case for ETFs in 3 Charts. The chart in this post is the third chart in the article. If you read the full article, note that the second chart may be misleading. While an ETF has lower costs than a "traditional mutual fund," a fairer comparison is an ETF with an index mutual fund where the difference should be much smaller - if any.

A Primer for people new to American politics

posted Jul 12, 2016, 2:57 PM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Aug 1, 2016, 4:46 PM ]

I trade many texts with an Asian-American friend regarding investment strategies and Christian spiritual formation. When texting about the impact of the United Kingdom's Brexit vote on investing, my friend asked several questions about U.S. politics and the upcoming election. He wanted to understand the landscape of American politics so he could factor it into his investment decisions. 

In the process of helping this and another international friend get up to speed in American politics, I realized that many new people are registering to vote in the November elections. Some of these are internationals who are now citizens; others are responding to the campaigns of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. And some long-time voters may just want a refresher. If this is you, then I hope you will take a look at Political Primer 2016.

How to bless others

posted Jun 28, 2016, 9:23 PM by Tim Isbell

Recently, a soon-to-be new mother asked Robin and me to join in a time of blessing and offering of advice to her husband, the soon-to-be new father. 

I remembered, many years ago, teaching this skill using principles from The Blessing, a book by Gary Smalley and John Trent. The book, a little dusty, still sits on my shelves, and I also found my old teaching notes. Together these informed my contribution to the occasion, attended by a circle of friends. It was a blessed time, indeed.

Afterward, I decided to post Smalley and Trent's five elements of blessing others. To learn more about blessing people, click on Blessing Others.

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