Can you free yourself from some investment taxes?

  • Written by Scott Johnson

Scott-Johnson---HeadApril 24 has been designated Tax Freedom Day for 2015. Tax Freedom Day, calculated by the Tax Foundation, is the day when the nation as a whole has earned enough money to pay off its total tax bill for the year. So it may be a good time to review your own situation to determine if you can “free” yourself from some investment-related taxes in the future.
Of course, Tax Freedom Day is something of a fiction, in practical terms, because most people pay their taxes throughout the year via payroll deductions. Also, you may not mind paying your share of taxes because your tax dollars are used in a variety of ways — such as law enforcement, food safety, road maintenance, public education and so on — that, taken together, have a big impact on the quality of life in this country. Nonetheless, you may well want to look for ways to reduce those taxes associated with your investments, leaving you more money available to meet your important goals, such as a comfortable retirement.
Fortunately, it isn’t really that difficult to be a tax-conscious investor, as some of the best retirement-savings vehicles have built-in tax advantages. For starters, depending on your income level, your contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax-deductible, so the more you put in (up to the maximum of $5,500, or $6,500 if you’re 50 or older), the lower your annual taxable income. Plus, your earnings grow on a tax-deferred basis.
If you meet certain income guidelines, you may be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA. The contribution limits for a Roth IRA are the same as those for a traditional IRA, but the tax treatment of your earnings is different. In fact, your Roth IRA earnings can grow tax free, provided you don’t take withdrawals before 59½ and you’ve had your account at least five years. (Roth IRA contributions are not tax-deductible, however.)
Even if you have an IRA, you can probably also participate in your employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k), a 403(b) or a 457(b). You typically contribute “pretax” dollars to these types of retirement plans, so your contributions will lower your annual taxable income. Plus, you’ll benefit from tax-deferred earnings. And employer-sponsored plans have much higher contribution limits than an IRA; in 2015, you can put in up to $18,000 to a 401(k) or similar plan, or $24,000 if you are 50 or older.
Beyond contributing as much as you can afford to tax-advantaged retirement plans, how else can you take greater control of your investment-related taxes? One move is to avoid frequent buying and selling of investments held outside your IRA and 401(k). If you sell investments that you’ve held for less than one year, your profit will be taxed as ordinary income, with a rate as high as 39.6%. But if you hold investments at least one year before selling them, you’ll just pay the long-term capital gains rate, which is 15% for most taxpayers (20% for high earners). So, from a tax standpoint, it pays to be a “buy-and-hold” investor.
Taking full advantage of your IRA and 401(k) and holding your investments for the long term aren’t the only tax-smart moves you can make — but they can give you a good start on making investing less of a “taxing” experience.
Edward Jones, its employees and financial advisors cannot provide tax or legal advice. You should consult your attorney or qualified tax advisor regarding your situation

Scott Johnson, CFP, is a financial advisor with Edward Jones, 8146 W. 111th St., Palos Hills, 974-1965. Edward Jones does not provide legal advice. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones financial advisor.

Massage Envy opens in Oak Lawn’s Promenade

  • Written by Bob Bong

A grand opening celebration was held last month for the Massage Envy spa, which opened in February at the Stony Creek PromenadeTIF District at 111th Street and Cicero in Oak Lawn.
Residents, business people, and community and political leaders were in attendance.
Justin Hudetz, owner of Massage Envy, said he was delighted with the reception the spa has received since they opened on Feb. 23.
Hudetz said that in the few weeks since Massage Envy has opened in Oak Lawn, the facility has drawn more people than the one in LaGrange did for its opening.
“This has been great,” said Hudetz. “Oak Lawn has been very welcoming. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Hudetz currently has 20 employees at his Oak Lawn location. His goal is to expand as quickly as possible and eventually have 60 employees.
“The people of Oak Lawn work hard,” Hudetz said at the Oak Lawn Village Board meeting on March 11. “The people of Oak Lawn deserve a massage.”
Massage Envy has a waiting room that includes refreshments and coffee. Various rooms are available for a range of massages and skin care treatments.
Village officials in attendance at the grand opening included Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury, Village Clerk Jane Quinlan and Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th).
“This is very wonderful, it is really exciting,” said Bury. “Anytime we add quality businesses to the area is great. Massages can help relieve stress, so that is great for both men and women.”
Massage Envy adds to the list of businesses that are locating at the Stony Creek Promenade.
The first to enter was Mariano’s, which opened last fall to large crowds. Mariano’s specialty food market is the centerpiece of the development at 111th and Cicero and continues to draw many customers.
Cooper’s Hawk and Winery restaurant committed to the project after learning Mariano’s was on board.
After Mariano’s reported record crowds the first few days after opening, the owners of Cooper’s Hawk said they were eager to open as soon as possible. Cooper’s Hawk is scheduled to open in May.
A Starbucks is also part of the project.

H&M now hiring in Chicago Ridge
Swedish apparel retailer H&M has started hiring associates for its new 20,000-square-foot store under construction at Chicago Ridge Mall in Chicago Ridge.
Applications are being taken online at
The company has more than 3,500 stores in countries around the world, including a store in Orland Park.

Shea’s Bakery now open
Dan Shea has high hopes to continue the baking tradition started decades ago when Hans Zettlmeier  opened a bakery in Tinley Park.
“We do a little bit of everything,” said Shea, who along with his wife, Cathy, have been running the bakery at 17016 S. Oak Park Ave. in downtown Tinley Park since taking over in August.
Shea, an Oak Lawn native, does his baking at night before the shop opens at 5:30 a.m. Then he heads to his day job as an electrician.
“Cathy is there more than I am,” he said of his wife and partner, who tends to the day-to-day business of running a bakery despite owning another business, as well. She hails from the Clearing neighborhood in Chicago.
Shea said they bought the bakery because it was the right deal at the right time. He said they have made a few changes like new items and some tweaking of old items.
“We brought in a baker with 50 years experience to help with the transition,” he said. “We expanded the menu and now we’re trying to build our cake business.”
Some things he left alone.
“We kept all of the employees from when it was Zettlmeier’s,” he said adding it seems to be paying off.
“A lot of the old customers have been accepting of the changes,” he said. “We have had nothing but positive feedback.”
The couple live in Green Garden Township with three kids, who sometimes lend a hand at the shop.
“It’s a family business,” he said.
Shea’s Bakery is open from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and from 6 a.m. to noon on Sunday. The bakery is closed on Monday.
For information, call 708- 444-2253 or visit Shea’s Bakery on Facebook. He is working on a website.

Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon closes
A second attempt by owner Steve Wright to make a go of Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon at 16707 S. Oak Park Ave. in Tinley Park lasted less than a year.
Wright, of Mokena, who operated a Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon in the same space several years ago opened a second incarnation of the hot dog stand last April.  It closed a few weeks ago and all of its signage has been removed.
Wright could not be reached for comment and workers inside the adjacent Citgo gas station said they didn’t know why it closed.
The Citgo station itself is scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure auction April 15.

Joe Boyle contributed to this report.

Control your emotions in volatile markets

  • Written by Scott Johnson

Scott-Johnson---HeadFor the past few years, the stock market has moved up fairly steadily, with no major corrections.
But thus far in 2015, we’ve already seen periods of volatility — enough, in fact, to make some investors jittery. Nervous investors may be more prone to make decisions based on short-term market movements — so how can you stay calm?
First of all, when evaluating your investment decisions, stay focused on those factors that have historically driven stock prices. The U.S. economy is growing at a reasonably good pace, and corporate earnings remain fairly strong. Plus, stocks may not be as undervalued as they were a few years ago — as measured by the price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) — but they still aren’t overly expensive, either. Things can change, of course, but when market volatility seems to be primarily caused by short-term events, such as plunging oil prices, it’s important to look beyond the headlines to these less glamorous, but probably more important, fundamentals of good investing. By doing so, you can help avoid making fear-driven investment choices.
What else can you do to help ensure that you don’t let feelings of anxiety influence your investment moves? For one thing, evaluate your investment mix. If you own too many stocks and stock-based vehicles, you could take a big hit if stock prices fall sharply during periods of volatility. Historically, however, bond prices have typically increased when stock prices fell — although, of course, there are no guarantees. So, if your portfolio consists of stocks and bonds, you are better positioned to weather the harshest effects of market turbulence.
To further prepare yourself for downturns, you may also want to diversify your fixed-income holdings to include investments such as U.S. Treasury bills, certificates of deposit (CDs) and municipal bonds. The percentages of each type of investment within your portfolio should be based on your goals, risk tolerance and time horizon.
Finally, you can help yourself maintain an even-keeled approach to investing by always looking for quality. Typically, higher quality investments fare better during market declines and recover more quickly when the markets rebound. How can you judge whether a particular investment is of good “quality“? A long-term track record is useful to study. It’s certainly true that, as you have no doubt heard, “past performance is no guarantee of future results,” but it’s nonetheless valuable to know how a particular stock, for example, has performed in various economic environments. If it seems to have done well relative to others in its industry and over long periods of time, that may give you a good idea of its quality.
It’s never easy to take all the emotions out of investing, especially during periods of market volatility. After all, you count on your investments to help provide you with the type of future you’ve envisioned. But by focusing on the fundamentals, putting together an appropriate investment mix and constantly looking for quality, you can help “de-stress” yourself — and, as the American poet, novelist and historian J.G. Holland once said, “Calmness is the cradle of power.”
Scott Johnson, CFP, is a financial advisor with Edward Jones, 8146 W. 111th St., Palos Hills, 974-1965. Edward Jones does not provide legal advice. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones financial advisor.

Protect seniors from financial abuse

  • Written by Scott Johnson

It’s unfortunate but true: The elderly population is targeted for financial abuse or exploitation. In fact, by some estimates, this type of targeted abuse results in billions of dollars in losses each year. If you have elderly parents, what signs should you watch for to determine their vulnerability? And what can you do to help protect your parents from being victimized?

In regard to the first question — signs of vulnerability — the most important thing to watch for is your parents’ mental state. As you know, many people go through their entire lives with their faculties intact — but even if this is the case with your parents, you still may want to be on guard against them falling prey to unscrupulous operators. And if you have noticed your parents becoming forgetful, confused, overly agitated or showing any other signs of possibly diminished mental capacity, you may want to be particularly vigilant for the appearance of financial irregularities.
If you don’t think your parents are, as yet, victims of fraud or abuse, you can take steps to help protect them. Most importantly, maintain constant communication with them and be aware of what’s going on in their lives. Also, consider the following actions:

• Advise parents on precautionary measures. Suggest to your parents that they take several common-sense steps to avoid financial scams. For example, urge them to never give personal information over the phone or in response to emails. Since these types of requests are the most common methods used to perpetrate scams, encourage your parents to put all such solicitations — as well as requests for money — in the “trash” folder. Also, ask your parents to remove paper mail promptly from their mailbox — resourceful identity thieves have been known to steal mail and extract key pieces of personal information from financial statements or correspondence from Social Security. And if your parents don’t already have a paper shredder, present one to them as a gift — and show them how to use it to delete old statements, credit card offers and similar documents.

• Check for legal documents. Your parents, like everyone, should have a will and a durable power of attorney. These documents will enable someone they trust implicitly to handle their finances if they can’t. Discussing these types of issues with your parents may not be easy — but it’s certainly important.
• Review parents’ situation regularly. Many parents are not comfortable sharing the specifics of their financial situation with their adult children. Yet, as much as you can, try to periodically review your parents’ insurance, banking and investment statements. These meetings give you good opportunities to look for irregularities or suspicious activities, such as significant changes in their spending patterns, unusual cash withdrawals or transfers from their bank accounts, or sudden transfers of assets to a relative or someone outside the family.

• Know the professionals. Your parents may not be totally at ease involving you with their financial and tax advisors. However, using your discretion, see if you can accompany your parents when they meet with their advisors. If these people are legitimate professionals, they will not object to your interest in your parents’ affairs — in fact, they should welcome it.
Your parents have done a lot for you. You can help repay them by doing your part to help protect them from threats to their financial security.

Scott Johnson, CFP, is a financial advisor with Edward Jones, 8146 W. 111th St., Palos Hills, 974-1965. Edward Jones does not provide legal advice. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones financial advisor.

What do low oil prices mean for investors?

  • Written by Scott Johnson

Scott-Johnson---HeadAs you’ve no doubt noticed, your trips to the gas station have been a lot more pleasant these past several months. There’s not much doubt that low oil prices have been welcome to you as a driver. But when oil is cheap, is that good for you as an investor?
There’s no clear-cut answer. But consider the following effects of low oil prices:
• Positive impact on economy — When you spend less at the gas pump, relative to recent years, what will you do with your savings? Like most people, you’ll probably spend most of it on goods and services. If you multiply the amount of your increased spending by the millions of other Americans who are also saving money on gas, you can see that you and your fellow consumers are likely adding billions of dollars to the economy. Typically, a strong economy is also good for the financial markets — and for the people who invest in them.
• Different results for different sectors — Different sectors within the financial markets may respond in different ways to low oil prices, even if the overall effect is generally positive. For example, businesses such as consumer goods companies and auto manufacturers may respond favorably to cheaper oil and gas. But the picture might be quite a bit different for energy companies.   You could spend a lot of time and effort trying to adjust your investment portfolio in response to low oil prices. In fact, you may well want to consult with your financial professional to determine which moves might make sense for your individual situation. Yet there’s actually a bigger lesson to be learned here: Don’t overreact to temporary developments. The recent decline in oil prices has certainly had an economic impact, but no one can predict how long these prices will stay low or what other factors may arise that would affect the financial markets. That’s why you can’t reconfigure your portfolio based on particular events, whatever they may be — oil price drops, interest-rate fluctuations, political squabbles at home, natural disasters in faraway lands, and so on.
If you can keep from being overly influenced by specific events, you may be able to gain at least two key benefits: First, by not making trades constantly in reaction to the headlines of the day, you can avoid piling up heavy fees and commissions —costs that can reduce the return rate on your investments. Second, you’ll find that if you aren’t always thinking about what’s going on in the world today, you can focus your investment efforts more intensely on where you want to be tomorrow. The most successful investors set long-term goals and don’t focus on factors they cannot control, such as oil prices, interest-rate changes or other economic events. Instead, these investors make adjustments, as necessary, to accommodate changes in their goals as well as other changes, such as revisions in tax laws — but they basically stick to their same approach for the long term.
So be aware of low oil prices, but don’t get so “pumped” about them that you sludge up your consistent investment strategy — because that strategy has the energy to keep you moving toward your important objectives.
Scott Johnson, CFP, is a financial advisor with Edward Jones, 8146 W. 111th St., Palos Hills, 974-1965. Edward Jones does not provide legal advice. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones financial advisor.