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Levin: It’s a good time to notice those who are struggling

Soon we will gather around our Thanksgiving tables, expressing gratitude for the good things in our lives. We will probably be sitting with those who share with us more similarities than differences. For some reason, this Thanksgiving, I am thinking about “The Other.”

The Other are those who are socially, economically, politically, religiously or simply just different from us. Not only do we not connect with them, but we may make them bad in order for us to be good.

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Levin: Taxes don’t have to be as painful as we make them out to be

Taxes can’t be fair. There is a huge gap between a 0% tax rate where services that industry can’t deliver are otherwise covered and a 100% tax where there is no incentive to work for pay. Any numbers in between will seem fair to some and not to others. In Minnesota, we are acutely affected by taxes and we have three choices: eliminate them, limit them or appreciate them.

A music lover can listen to Austin’s bluegrass, Nashville’s country, Seattle’s grunge, or Miami’s bass — all in cities in states with no income tax. If you don’t need to earn your living here, you can eliminate state income tax by moving. We have had many clients who have done so. People often turn this departure into a moral issue, but set aside the judgment and view it through the cost/benefit lens and you may someday make a similar choice.

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Levin: It is time to talk about the family cabin

“Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them.” So said the 18th-century German statesman and author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

While his thought may be true, I often find the opposite occurring when it comes to estate planning. Because parents are often not open with their adult children about their parental intentions, or worse, because they want the kids to figure it out, chaos may ensue. Let’s look at a true Minnesota example. 

The family cabin tends to be a lightning rod for inheritance issues for a host of reasons. The cabin is not just a structure; it is an archive of fond memories. Unfortunately, when the cabin is left to the children, new memories are created that are usually not so fond.

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Levin: Long-term care, climate change and your finances

There would seem to be nothing in common between long-term care and climate change. But there is. Insurance companies cannot properly price it. This is evident to anyone who has seen their long-term care insurance or homeowner’s insurance costs continue to increase. If insurance companies are stumped, how do we plan for ourselves? Let’s take each issue separately.

Rather than go into the types of long-term care policies, let’s simply think about whether you need the insurance. I am generally ambivalent about the coverage because it is unclear whether it provides any real financial advantages. Here are some reasons it may make sense to own it.

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Levin: Why you need to ask questions of your financial adviser

A new client recently was asking many questions in a meeting, ending with one about whether there are ways to see their account directly from the brokerage firm in addition to the portal that we provide. He said, “As a lawyer, I like to double check everything.” And he ended by saying, “I trust you enough to ask this of you.” This got me thinking about gifts that occur in a reciprocal planning relationship.

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Levin: Build on areas of agreement to resolve money dispute with partner

I have learned a lot in over 35 years of doing this. And I am still learning. But I can give you something I have learned which constitutes the greatest financial advice you will ever receive as it relates to dealing with money with your partner. No matter what needless package arrives, what cockamamie get-rich-quick scheme is suggested, or what conversation you are about to have for the umpteenth time, if you want to stay in relationship with your partner then never roll your eyes.

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Levin: Financial planning jargon could be costing you money

Financial planning has a lot of confusing jargon. Here is a short course on what some of these things really mean.
Financial planners get paid in three ways: commissions, fees and commissions and fees. Period. Fee-only planners charge retainers, hourly rates or a calculation based on a percentage of net worth or assets that they manage. While some firms use the term fee-based, there is no such thing. These firms collect fees and commissions.

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Levin: When talking money, try these five steps to get to the real issue

When the Mueller report came out, to no one’s surprise, many Democrats and many Republicans came away with starkly differing takes. No amount of chatter will likely weaken those positions. The problem is that the issue is not the issue. The issue being discussed is what Mueller did or did not uncover, but that is not always the issue. The underlying issue may be how people feel about the president, it may be people’s feelings about how the president is being treated, heck, it may even be why you lost your job.

When it comes to our financial lives, the issue is rarely the issue. Let’s think about this.

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Levin: A lesson in learning to help others

It started with the “Be Kind” billboard as we approached Green Valley on our way through Wisconsin. My wife and I looked at each other and commented on how great the billboard was and how no sponsor was identified with it. It was a simple reminder of how to act.

We checked into our hotel and were met by one of the most inviting greetings we have ever experienced. This was not the desk clerk, this was a housekeeper. The next morning, I was walking to breakfast with my maps app on my cellphone and a guy stopped me and asked if I needed any help. As I ventured past a coffee shop, another man was walking around with a tray of coffees asking homeless people if they cared for some. Everyone greeted me with a smile.

Small sample size, but I was ready to move. But then I got to thinking about what contribution I could make to help others experience this. How am I adding, and when am I detracting?

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Levin: Market jitters? Calm down, and follow this plan

When you opened your year-end investment statements, you felt sick and were looking for someone to blame, weren’t you? Everything had seemed so hunky dory through September. Then the rug got pulled out from under you. The market fell apart. Fourth quarter was close to a 20 percent drop in most investment categories and suddenly those visions disappeared more quickly than your 2018 gains.

You became scared. New thoughts started appearing: We have to tighten the belt. We have to get out of the market. We have to get healthy because we are going to need to work a heck of a lot longer than we had hoped.

Your January statements arrived and lo and behold, you are feeling better. Thoughts again shifted: We may not be able to redo the kitchen, but we probably can upgrade the bathroom.

Does this sound familiar? You are not alone. So what gives? And what now?

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