Mitlin Minute: 529 Plans

This edition of the Mitlin Minute features 529 plans.

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Disclaimer: This article represents the opinion of Mitlin Financial Inc. It should not be construed as providing investment, legal and/or tax advice.

Will you be able to afford tuition costs for your children’s future higher education?

In this fast-paced environment of rising college tuition, overwhelmed Americans continue struggling to make ends meet with regard to affording higher education. Inflationary pressure has caused tuition costs to reach unprecedented levels. The net cost (the cost after scholarships, grants and federal tax benefits) that in-state residents will pay for public colleges this year, rose 4.6% to an average of $16,510. That's more than twice the rate of inflation, which rose just 2% over the last 12 months. As time passes, this trend only seems to be worsening.

Taking financial initiative can be the differentiating factor between affording and not affording these higher education costs. One of the strategies used to offset these rising costs are 529 college savings plans. These tax-advantaged investment vehicles were designed in the United States in effort to encourage Americans to save for future higher education costs.

529 Plans are useful education savings plans that can provide tax benefits and tax-deferred growth. These vehicles can be a very powerful tool for any family disciplined enough to save decades in advance. Investors can make contributions up to $300,000 throughout the plan’s lifetime. Some states offer residents an income tax deduction for a portion of their contribution. Additionally, there are no income limitations on donors making contributions. Parents do not need to be concerned about a student using these funds for purposes other than school. Assets in the 529 account will remain under the donor’s control; even after the student is of legal age.

It is important to note that for 529 Plans, there is one major restriction when it comes to distributions. Funds withdrawn from a 529 Plan for purposes other than education, will be subject to a 10% penalty, as well as federal income tax on the growth of the account.

The inevitable cost of college tuition is one that no one can afford easily, nor escape. The general population continues to struggle to pay for such highly inflated tuition fees. This struggle truly creates the need for an alternative savings strategy. The key to affording college is to start saving earlier than when your child reaches high school, middle school, or even elementary school. 529 college savings plans can be helpful in making higher education more affordable. With tax benefits, saving strategies and guidance, it is far easier for overwhelmed Americans to save for and one day alleviate such rising costs. Although savings may only be used for educational expenses, these savings plans force a discipline upon donors that they may have otherwise lacked. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by, for every year, week and day that elapses, you could have just inched that much closer to achieving future higher education affordability for your children.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinion of Mitlin Financial Inc. It should not be construed as providing investment, legal and/or tax advice.

Dividend Discount Model vs. Capital Asset Pricing Model

The vast majority of investment research supports the theory that proper asset allocation is more optimal for a portfolio than market timing. Attempting to value securities may be a fruitless task, however two models that have been used to determine intrinsic stock values are the dividend discount model and capital asset pricing model.

The dividend discount model (DDM) values equities based upon future dividend payments and discounting them to the present value. The DDM is most useful for dividend paying companies, however one glitch in the model is the prediction of future dividend payments. Regardless of skill and resources, it is nearly impossible to determine dividend payments of a firm due to a variety of risk factors, such as macroeconomic risk, industry risk and high inflation. The DDM is obsolete for the vast majority of individual equities. Utilizing the DDM for blue chip firms that have paid consistent dividends for many years may assist in determining the intrinsic value of a security.

The capital asset pricing model (CAPM) is considered more modern than the DDM and factors in market risk.  The value of a security in the CAPM is determined by the risk free rate (most likely a government bond) plus the volatility of a security multiplied by the market risk premium. This model stresses that investors who choose to purchase assets with higher volatility should be compensated with higher returns than investors who purchase less risky assets. This model is consistent with statistics that prove more volatile equities, such as small cap stocks have outperformed less volatile equities, such as large cap stock over many years. Please keep in mind that time horizon, liquidity needs and risk tolerance should be factored in when determining how to invest your assets.

Although the CAPM and DDM may potentially provide an estimate of a security’s price, research proves time and time again that valuing equities based upon future assumptions is not realistic.  A disciplined approach to investing based on asset allocation should prove more beneficial for your portfolio in the long run.

Please contact Mitlin Financial Inc. if you are concerned about your current portfolio allocation.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinion of Mitlin Financial Inc. It should not be construed as providing investment, legal and/or tax advice.

Common Stock & Preferred Stock

Investors that are looking to purchase shares of ownership in a corporation may have the ability to select either common or preferred shares.  Common and preferred stock share some similarities, however preferred shares combine many features of common stock and fixed income.

Common stock is by far the most traded type of equity in the market. The main features of common stock are that shareholders have voting rights on corporate objectives and have the ability to increase the value of their holding through capital appreciation. Shareholders may also receive dividend payments from the corporation. The downside to owning common stock, or ordinary shares, is in the case of bankruptcy. If a corporation were to file for bankruptcy and begin liquidating, owners of common stock receive funds only after debt holders and owners of preferred stock have been compensated. Due to the low level of priority in bankruptcy proceedings, the opportunity for shareholders to receive funds is fairly low.
As stated earlier, preferred stock combines features of both fixed income and common stock. Owners of preferred stock have preference over common shareholders in the case of dividend distribution.  In many cases, preferred shareholders receive fixed dividend payments (similar to interest from bonds). In addition to the opportunity for fixed dividend payments, preferred shareholders may also experience capital appreciation in their holding. An added feature for owners of preferred stock occurs in the case of owning shares that are convertible to common stock.  Convertible shares allow owners the flexibility to convert their shares of preferred stock for common stock if the opportunity for significant capital appreciation is more appealing than a fixed income stream. Some disadvantages of holding preferred stock are that owners do not have voting rights for corporate objectives and there may be less opportunity for capital appreciation compared to common shareholders.
While most investors prioritize common stock over preferred, owners of preferred stock have the ability to generate a consistent revenue stream with dividend payments as well as the opportunity to convert to common shares if capital appreciation becomes appealing.

Please contact Mitlin Financial in order to discuss advantages and disadvantages of owning preferred stock in your portfolio.


Disclaimer: This article represents the opinion of Mitlin Financial Inc. It should not be construed as providing investment, legal and/or tax advice.

What caused the Stock Market Crash of 1929?

The stock market crash in 1929 marked the beginning of the Great Depression, which lasted nearly 10 years through the 1930’s. Equity values plunged in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) nearly 90% from 1929-1932, evaporating significant wealth. Many reasons can be attributed to the market crash, however the speculative bubble formed during the 1920’s and panic selling were the main factors that led to the meltdown.

During the 1920’s, the Dow increased roughly five fold in value over a nine year span due to irrational exuberance in the equity market and easy credit which led to investors buying on margin. After World War I, the stock market offered a way for individuals to create wealth for themselves. This led to equity in-flows that were never seen before. Due to the sudden rise in equity values, more retail investors invested money into the market, thus creating an even sharper stock market increase. In this time period, investors only had to put down roughly 20% of the value in equity shares and could borrow the rest on margin (lenders included banks and other investors).  The combination of irrational exuberance by investors that believed the stock market would rise infinitely and easy credit led to a speculative bubble that required a correction.

On March 25, 1929, a mini crash occurred in the stock market due to a slow down of the U.S. economy, foreshadowing what was to come in October. After the mini crash in March, National City Bank provided $25MM in credit to halt the slide and keep investors in the market in order to prevent a major selloff. Over the next few months, the American economy began showing more signs of slowing. Steel production, construction and auto sales all began to show a slowdown. Poor economic news and the debate of the controversial Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in Congress led to the bubble bursting on Thursday, October 24th, 1929. Black Thursday, as it is now known, saw a selloff of 11% at the opening bell on heavy volume. Once the vast majority of investors heard of the market downturn over the weekend, the DJIA dropped 13% on Monday, October 28th and another 12% on Tuesday, October 29th due to panic selling from investors who wanted to get out of the market before they lost more of their wealth. Investors who purchased a high percentage of securities on margin also fled the market in order to cover potentially high margin calls. To quantify the dramatic loss in value, the DJIA went from a high of 381 on September 3, 1929 to a low of 41.22 on July 8, 1932.

Due to the speculative bubble of the 1920’s and subsequent burst that led to the Great Depression, several regulations were put into place, such as the creation of the Glass-Steagall Act (which was repealed in 1998) and the halt of trading in the event of an unusual selloff due to high trade volume. The severity of the market crash in 1929 was felt for years, as the DJIA high on September 3, 1929 was not reached again until November 23, 1954. Due to the regulations enforced after the stock market crash in 1929, it is highly unlikely that an event of that magnitude will repeat itself.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinion of Mitlin Financial Inc. It should not be construed as providing investment, legal and/or tax advice.

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