January 29, 2016

Clinton and Trump: Thumbs down to both of your campaigns for crude insults.

The longer the presidential campaign rolls on, the more I realize young children behave better than some of the President wanna be candidates and their campaigns.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's insulting vitriol defies explanation.  Among his too-numerous-to-mention insults, Trump has called New York Times Op-Ed columnist  Frank Bruni"dope" and said former New Hampshire governor John Sununu was a "dummy" who "couldn't get elected dog catcher".  Immature and tacky, Mr. Trump.


Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton:
Thumbs down to both of your campaigns.
But wait, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign has now joined the insult bandwagon.   In today's New York Times article about former President Bill Clinton's lackluster campaigning on behalf of Mrs. Clinton, Clinton insider Paul Begala referred to people who doubt Bill Clinton's campaign abilities as "hand-wringers" and "bed-wetters".  Really?  Mr. Begala: your insolent dribble has no place in what should be a maturely and professionally run presidential campaign.

Is this all the better we can do?

As I've told many people, I currently do not support any candidate currently running for President.  This great nation, the United States of America, and we can't do better than our current slate of presidential candidates?  Geesh.

Our Founding Fathers are surely rolling in their graves. I'll be glad when the November elections have come and gone.

Mary Rae Fouts

January 28, 2016

Wounded Warrior Project: Is the charity wasting your donations?

In December I published a post about checking up on nonprofit charities before donating, specifically to ascertain the charities spend donations prudently.  When discussing charitable contributions with my financial planning and tax clients, I generally counsel clients to consider a charity efficiently run if at least 75% of its budget is spent on the programs and services the charity delivers.  This is also the benchmark suggested by Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates and rates charities.

Fast forward to today, when the New York Times published an article critical of the Wounded Warrior Project charity, a nonprofit organization that provides aid and assistance to wounded military service members.  The article criticizes the charity for, among other matters, improper and lavish spending (including unnecessary air travel and $500 per night hotel accommodations), and questionable employee terminations.

How does the Wounded Warrior Project compare to other large charities?  According to Charity Navigator, 59.9% of Wounded Warrior Project's expenses are spent on charitable programs and services.  Comparatively, the American Lung Association spends 94.0% of its expenses on charitable programs; the American Cancer Society spends 60.6% (nearly identical to the Wounded Warrior Project), the American Red Cross spends 90.3%.

A Witch Hunt?

While I do find merit in today's New York Times article, it does seem - to me anyway - that author Dave Phillips shows bias against the Wounded Warrior Project, conjuring a bit of a witch hunt adverse to the organization.  For instance, Mr. Phillips focuses on 18 disgruntled former employees without providing similar attention to satisfied former or current employees.  And was it really necessary to mention that the charity is headquartered in a "four-story headquarters in a palm-lined office park"?  I'm surprised Mr. Phillips did not also comment on the building's furnishings.

Readers can form their own ideas about the Wounded Warrior Project and related charitable donations.  As I've stated before, a little bit of investigation will provide peace of mind knowing that your charitable donations are well spent.

Please contact me if you have questions about financial planning or tax matters.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

January 26, 2016

Earned Income Tax Credits: Insurance Commissioner David Jones is Wrong to Request that Insurance Producers Educate Clients

I recently received a Notice from California Insurance Commissioner David Jones requesting that I and other California licensed Insurance Producers educate consumers about the new California State Earned Income Tax Credit and the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

Commissioner Jones, unless the licensed Insurance Producer also provides tax planning and preparation services, your request is plain wrong.

Bad request Insurance Commissioner Jones.  I agree that California licensed Insurance Producers gain some basic tax knowledge in their pre-licensing and continuing education.  This tax education centers around the tax impacts of insurance products, including tax deferral of annuity contracts and tax-free loans available on some life insurance policies.

However, Earned Income Tax Credits - including the new California State Earned Income Tax Credit and the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit - are not only complex tax issues, they are highly subject to fraud.  Moreover, Earned Income Tax Credits have nothing to do with insurance products.  The Internal Revenue Service regularly includes Falsifying Income to Obtain Tax Credits as one of its annual Dirty Dozen Tax Scams.  A licensed Insurance Producer with no training in Earned Income Tax Credits Regulations has no business advising clients about these complex tax matters.  

(I am a California Licensed Insurance Producer, a licensed Life and Disability Insurance Analyst, and am also an Enrolled Agent licensed by the United States Department of the Treasury.  An Enrolled Agent is allowed to provide tax planning, tax preparation, and taxpayer representation services in all 50 states and United States territories.)

Commissioner Jones, you are the California Insurance Commissioner, not the California Tax Commissioner.  Please stick to the insurance duties your were elected to perform, and leave complex tax matters to tax professionals.

Please contact me  if you have questions about insurance matters, annuity matters, or tax planning, tax preparation, or taxpayer representation (audit and collection) matters.

For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

January 25, 2016

Navlet's Garden Centers Purchased by San Francisco Bay Area Sloat Garden Center

It's not every day we say goodbye to a local business that was established in 1885.

I am an avid gardener.  Ok, I'm kinda gardening obsessed, as my husband will confirm.  I grow seasonal vegetables, herbs, flowers (oh, do I love roses!), native plants, and fruit and nut trees.  I compost in my 3 tumbling compost barrels that together hold almost 150 gallons of compost.  (And by the way, compost is hugely beneficial for breaking up our local heavy clay soil, and for nourishing above ground and potted gardens and plants.)  I never use pesticides and strive to create an outdoor habitat that is naturally bird and bee friendly.  I'll write more about gardening in future posts, including our use of recycled water given California's drought and water restrictions.

Logo from Navlet's Garden Centers website
My husband and I stopped by our favorite Navlet's Garden Center in Martinez, California yesterday for a few things, including a shade tree for the back yard.  (We picked out a very health Chinese Pistache.)  At checkout we gulped when we learned that Navlet's Garden Centers, established in 1885, has been purchased by Sloat Garden Center.

(Update 01/26/2015:  Local Contra Costa Times reporter Lisa P. White has written a nice, informative article about Navlet's sale to Sloats.  The article is presently online, I assume it will appear in tomorrow's print edition. )

Navlet's Garden Center has 4 locations in Contra Costa County in Peasant Hill (also its corporate headquarters), Martinez, Concord, and Danville.  The Martinez store is my favorite.  I like its rustic vibe and have found the staff to be more helpful and knowledgeable than at the Pleasant Hill store.

Logo from Sloat Garden Center website
Sloat Garden Center has 9 locations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in San Francisco, Mill Valley, Kentfield, Novato, San Rafael, and Danville.  I've shopped at the Danville store and always found staff to be helpful, knowledgeable, and their quality of plants and gardening supplies top notch.

But the news of Navlet's goodbye is truly not bad.   I learned that all 4 Navlet's stores will remain open (for now, anyway), and will be rebranded as Sloat Garden Center stores.  The Navlet's locations will close at the end of the month for inventory, and reopen mid-February.  No layoffs.  Navlet's employees are relieved that a local garden center chain purchased the stores, rather than a big box chain such as Home Depot or Lowes.  If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, you may remember what happened when Home Depot purchased the top notch local and neighborhood friendly Yard Bird hardware stores.  Home Depot ran the Yard Birds store into the ground; all Yard Bird locations closed within a relatively short time frame.  What a waste.

Long term, I do wonder if the Pleasant Hill and Martinez Navlet's locations will both remain viable, given their relative close proximity to one another coupled by the future opening of Orchard Supply and Hardware (which includes a garden department) in downtown Pleasant Hill.

I'll continue to shop at the Martinez location and will let you know how the store changes after it becomes a Sloat Garden Center.  Sloat Garden Center excels at customizing  garden center stores to the local area's microclimate  and customer demographics and gardening habits, and employing gardening and plant knowledgeable employees.  I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store for the Navlet's Garden Center stores.  Guess if I need anything during while the stores are closed (or simply have a hankerin' to look, either event is highly likely!), I'll boogie on over to Sloat's Danville store.

Please contact me if you have questions about my gardening.  Happy Gardening everyone!        

Mary Rae Fouts

January 22, 2016

Wine and the Importance of Estate Planning. Is your Estate Planning in order?

This post is actually about the importance of including Estate Planning in your Financial Planning matters.  I'll get to that in a moment.  But first, let’s talk about wine.  (Yes, the topics are uncannily related today.)

I enjoy collecting and drinking wine, learning about wine, and discovering grape varietals I’ve not tasted before.  My favorite San Francisco Bay Area winery is Monticello Vineyards, located in the Napa Valley.  The Corley family works together to create beautiful, distinctive wines that showcase the grape and terroir of the vineyards, rather than trying to mimic a popular fad wine taste as some vintners do.  I’ve been a member of MonticelloVineyard’s New Release Club for more years than I can remember.  As an added bonus, the winery and tasting room is dog friendly!



This Tuesday, I woke up thinking about Monticello Vineyards, wondering when my next New Release Wines would be ready.  Just as I went to check the latest releases on their website, I received an email from the winery announcing the death of  family Patriarch and Monticello Vineyards founder Jay Corley.

Was my early morning thought about Monticello Vineyards a presentiment of the email I was to receive a few hours later, or just a coincidence?  I will likely never know the answer, but nevertheless the events of the day – as well as the many public entertainment figures who have recently died -  got me to thinking, once again, about the importance of Estate Planning in Financial Planning matters.
(Gulp!)  We Are All Going to Die Some Day

For some people (including some of my Fouts Financial Group clients), discussing Estate Planning is an emotional and uncomfortable topic, one to dread like a trip to the dentist.  But face it, death is part of life.  What’s going to happen after you are gone?

Estate Planning does not have to be a complicated task.  Estate Planning considerations and documents should not only comprise those related to death, including but not limited to Revocable Living Trusts and Wills.  Estate Planning should also include a coordinated Life Planning component to address what happens if you become incapacitated or otherwise are unable to handle your affairs.  Documents to consider for the Life Planning components include but are not limited to an Advanced Health Care Directive (also known as a Living Will) and various Power of Attorney documents.

I’ll write more about specific Estate Planning concerns in future posts.  In the meantime, make the time to ensure your wishes are carried out at your death as opposed to intestate succession law, or someone else making decisions that may be adverse to your wishes.

Please contact me if you have questions about Estate Planning matters.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

January 21, 2016

A One Man Crime Wave in Antioch, CA ... Thank you Prop 47

The Contra Costa Times reported today that Antioch, California police have arrested Gary Duarte, age 43, at least 7 times since June 2015 for numerous crimes including squatting in homes, trespass, possession of meth and drug paraphernalia, vehicle theft, and failure to appear in court.  (And keep in mind, these are crimes for which Duarte has been arrested.   What other criminal activity has he gotten away with?)

Duarte was arrested for the 7th time recently when a real estate agent found him squatting in a home.  What happened next?  The police simply gave Duarte a citation and allowed him to go free. Free to continue his life of crime.

What a waste of police resources.  I'm not blaming police, I realized their hands are tied given reduced criminal charges mandated by Prop 47.  However, Gary Duarte is literally a one man crime wave.  Thank you Prop 47, a California ballot proposition passed in 2014 which greatly reduced penalties for crimes classified as "nonviolent", resulting in people like Mr. Duarte hogging police resources and creating havoc for law abiding citizens.

Prop 47 is also being blamed for an increase in burglaries of occupied home in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Given Prop 47's lighter misdemeanor sentencing for many such crimes, criminals are taking the risk of breaking into occupied homes for the reward of stolen goods.  If the criminals get caught, so what?  A slap on the wrist, if that.

So much for the terror experienced by law abiding citizens who find their homes burglarized and cars stolen or broken into, among other crimes.  Perhaps crime does pay?

January 19, 2016

Super Bowl 50 and the San Francisco Bay Area Mess

The San Francisco Bay Area is expected to become a mess of traffic jams, traffic diversions, stopped mail and courier deliveries, jammed municipal airports, and general inconvenience over the next month as Super Bowl 50 rolls into and out of the area.

1 million people are expected to visit the area to attend Super Bowl parties and the game.  Oh, and local municipal airports (including my local Buchanan Airfield in Concord, CA) are expected to be jammed with a surge of 1200 private jets.  You die hard football fans that actually have tickets?  No tailgating allowed at Superbowl 50.  Unless, of course you are luck enough to score a ticket to the official NFL Tailgate Party, an invitation-only barbecue under a mega-tent for 10,000 of Commissioner Roger Goodell's closest friends. Sweet!

What a Mess!

ABC7 News recently reported that construction is starting on the Super Bowl City in San Francisco's Justin Herman Plaza, resulting in blocked streets, restricted access that prohibits mail and courier deliveries, displaced businesses (with no compensation), and general misery for people who live and work in the area.

Given that a group of 25 protesters successfully shut down the westbound Bay Bridge yesterday, I have little to no faith that event organizers will be able to prevent related protests and criminal activity for Super Bowl 50.  And public admission that little can be done to prevent attacks on the BART train system (including the recent murder on a BART train) pretty much says "Welcome!" to criminals and terrorists.

All this for an event that is typically a boring game and watched by many just for the commercials.

Mary Rae Fouts

Can you believe it? The most common passwords for 2015 are ...

Yahoo Editorial Assistant Daniel Bean just published a column listing the most popular passwords of 2015.  With so much emphasis placed on online and technology security measures, one would think the most popular passwords would be at least fairly secure.

Uh ... Right?

WRONG!

The two most popular passwords for 2015, unchanged from 2014, are:

123456
and
password

Unbelievable.  Most common passwords = among the worst, most insecure passwords.  Read Daniel Bean's entertaining column for the entire list of the most common passwords.  Then get to changin' your passwords if needed!

Please contact me if you have questions about security measures I take to safeguard client records and electronic communication at Fouts Financial Group.  Complimentary initial consultation.

Mary Rae Fouts

January 18, 2016

Nap Time with Sid the Dog and Lexi the Dog

I swear, our Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi behave like toddlers sometimes when it comes to nap time.  Here they are on January 8, both trying their level best to ward off Mr. Sand Man!  As if they are going to miss a pinch of action.  Please, just go to sleep, will you both?  J


Lexi the Dog fights off nap time.


Sid the Dog fights off nap time.

And then again, when we adopted Sid from the Contra Costa Animal Services shelter in Pinole, CA, we never envisioned a 70 pound lap dog.


Comfortable, Sid?

Oh, how we do enjoy life with our Faithful Canine Companions!

Mary Rae Fouts

January 15, 2016

Stock Market jitters making you anxious? Take a deep breath and enjoy life.

Stock Market jitters making you anxious?  Or perhaps you are draining a checking account to make Estimated Tax payments today?

Take a deep breath and enjoy life.

The small things in life we sometimes miss
are often providers of  
peace and contentment during the day.

Like this pretty hanging basket of pink petunias and a perching goldfinch that greeted me in the sunshine through my kitchen window on New Year's morning.  The petunias were planted in early summer and are still doing beautifully through winter.


Or, try Sid the Dog's relaxation technique.  Smile, stick your moist snoot up in the air, and let out a happy Husky howl!


For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Have a great weekend!  

Mary Rae Fouts


January 14, 2016

Al Jazeera America Cable News Pulling the Plug. No Surprise to Me.

The New York Times reported in today's national print edition that Qatar-owned cable news channel
Al Jazeera America is pulling the plug (no pun intended) and will shut down by April.

My immediate thought?  No surprise to me.  Al Jazeera America was doomed to fail from the start.

Al Jazeera America never "got"
the national cable news audience in the United States.

As reported in the Times' article, when Al Jazeera America started broadcasting in August 2013, "[i]t promised be thoughtful and smart, free of the shouting arguments that have defined cable news in the United States over the last decade."

Ok, sounds like a laudatory goal.  Just a couple itty bitty problems.  Did Al Jazeera executives (and the country of Qatar that bankrolled the project) give even a minute of meaningful thought to the possibility probability that United States cable news viewers generally would not trust an Arab controlled cable news channel?  Or give any thought to why cable news channels such as Fox News  and MSNBC are successful?  That perhaps their success is because viewers actually enjoy the mudslinging, arguing, and vitriol present on the programs?

Just look at the popularity of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.  The more Trump escalates his vulgar vitriol, the higher his poll numbers rise.  While society in the United States is supposedly fostering and supporting an anti-bullying environment, truth is some people thrive on just that:  bullying and mud-slinging vitriol.  (Disclosure:  I very much dislike Donald Trump and his vulgar, nearly undefinable narcissistic behavior.  Practically makes me throw up in my mouth.)

If it bleeds it leads.  And loud mouth vitriol gets attention, just as some say no publicity is bad publicity.  Looks like Al Jazeera America learned the hard way.
 
Mary Rae Fouts

January 13, 2016

Obamacare: Looking to Sign Up or Change your Coverage?

Open enrollment for "Obamacare" health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act runs through January 31, 2016.  If you are (1) looking to sign up for Obamacare health insurance plan for the first time, or (2) considering changing your current Obamacare coverage, cost is likely an important consideration.

Obamacare Health Insurance Cost
Which Health Insurance Plan is Most Expensive?

Comparing costs for health insurance policies (often called "plans") involves more than simply looking at annual premiums.  Among other considerations, comparing costs involves looking at additional plan expenses including calculating the true overall costs for a worst case scenario in which you to fully meet your plan’s deductible.  Compare worst case scenario costs by adding up the annual premium, deductible, any co-pays, and any co-insurance.

Do you take medication, or see a specialty physician or other health care provider?  Find out if your current medication and/or specialty physician or other health care provider are covered under any considered Obamacare plan.  If they are not, add your annual out-of-pocket costs for this care into the overall cost of the Obamacare plan.

Lastly, if you receive any Obamacare Cost Assistance Subsidies (including a premium tax credit or cost sharing reduction subsidy), deduct the estimated savings from the above calculated annual cost.

You may be surprised to discover the most expensive health insurance plan is not what you initially expected.

Please contact me if you have questions about  health insurance coverage.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

January 12, 2016

Sid and Lexi: The Very Bonded Former "Pound" Dogs in Action

We adopted Husky-mix Sid and Chow-mix Lexi from local public animal shelters one month apart in Autumn 2014.  Sid the Dog was a stray found by a County Animal Control officer.  Sid had a red collar on, no tags, and was never claimed by his former owner.  Lexi the Dog was one of 7 dogs seized by Antioch, California police for severe abuse and neglect in a backyard puppy mill.  Lexi was in very bad emaciated shape when seized by police, and sadly the only 1 of the 7 dogs to survive.

Lexi was, as my husband says, "scared of everything including her shadow" when we adopted her.  Lexi's healthy recovery and overall transformation in our home has been amazing.  She is a healthy, happy, and content dog; a superb watch dog; a much bonded fur sister to Sid; and the slight alpha of our Faithful 2-Dog Pack.

Both Sid and Lexi have thrived with us, yet never would we have imagined the dogs would become such a bonded pair.  Here are videos of a couple of daily events in the always eventful world of Sid the Dog and Lexi the Dog.

Sid and Lexi say "Good Morning!"
Time to Groom Each Other



Morning Walk is Over
Time to Chase and Roughhouse, All Bets are Off!


As you can see in the Chase and Roughhouse video, Lexi may be 25 pounds lighter than Sid, but that tenacious vocal girl ain't no pushover!  (Sid's fur looks blotchy in the video as he is currently blowing his undercoat and is shedding heavily in patches.)

Mary Rae Fouts

January 11, 2016

Don't Mortgage your Home for a Speculative Investment in Wine Futures

As much as I enjoy wine (and yes, in the past I've purchased wine futures after vetting the winery) and also have a high risk tolerance for investing, I would never mortgage my home for money to "invest" in wine futures for future resale as done by the Florida resident mentioned in the article below.  (I don't know what Florida law is, but in California an unlicensed person cannot legally sell a bottle of wine to an unlicensed person.)  Premier Cru, a high-end wine store in Berkeley, California accused of running a pyramid scheme involving non-delivered wine futures, has filed for Chapter 7 (liquidation) bankruptcy.
Word to the Wise

Enjoy your wine, whether it be collecting, drinking, or both.  
But don't bet the farm home on your vino.

Please contact me if you have questions about financial planning concerns.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

Cedar Waxwing Birds have Arrived!

Cedar Waxwings arrived this morning!


Every winter, a flock of gorgeous Cedar Waxwing birds arrives at my front yard to feast on ripe berries in our Privet tree.  Their distinctive call reminds me of bird call background recordings I've listened to at the Blue Bayou restaurant in Disneyland.

Cedar Waxwings eat and roost in a flock; they will be in my front yard for just a couple days as they feast on the Privet's berries, completely stripping the tree of fruit.  (Which is a good thing, as the fruit can otherwise make a mess!)  Then it's off to another food location for the flock.

Interestingly, every year I notice other Privet trees in the neighborhood that are untouched by the Cedar Waxwings.  So perhaps our Privet tree is extra tasty?

Cedar Waxwings:  A Flocking, Feeding Frenzy this Morning

Here video of this morning's Cedar Waxwing feeding frenzy; the birds are flying in and out of the Privet tree on the left.  As you can see, the day was gray and dreary, yet made spectacular outside by the arrival of these fabulous birds.

Video:  Cedar Waxwing birds block to feast on Privet tree berries (tree on left).

For more information, the National Audubon Field Guide has a very informative write-up about the Cedar Waxwing.

Mary Rae Fouts

January 9, 2016

Christmas Fun with Sid and Lexi!

Christmas 2015 was a glorious, happy, and relaxing Holiday for all of us.  We all had a grand day, including Sid the Dog and Lexi the Dog, as you will see here.  (Note: video links have been fixed.)

We gave Sid a new toy for Christmas, which he unwrapped himself.  I thought the toy would be pretty durable, but I obviously was mistaken :) .  Sid was very excited to open the present and proceed to fling it about, then, well, de-stuffed the poor toy.  Sorry the photo quality is poor, but Sid was moving around with excitement.  (FYI, he still plays with the felt carcass!)

Here is Sid so excited with his new Christmas toy ...

Thanks for the Christmas present, Daddy and Mommy!

And 20 minutes later, all gone!  Poor toy didn't even make it through the opening of the Christmas presents.

Oops!  Daddy and Mommy, my new toy exploded!  I swear it did.

Lexi's Christmas present (not shown here) was a new blanket for her Doggie Sofa.

Here are two videos highlighting Sid and Lexi's enjoyment of Christmas 2015 as we opened presents that morning.  As you can see from the sunlight streaming in the window, it was an absolutely glorious day, filled with lots of sunshine.

Video:  Sid the Dog enjoys Christmas morning and his new toy.



Video:  Lexi the Dog enjoys Christmas morning with Sid, Daddy, and Mommy.

Sid and Lexi hope you had a Merry Christmas, too!

Mary Rae Fouts

January 8, 2016

Sid, Lexi, and their "Toy" of the Day

Time to share something Fun for Friday!

My life is so wonderfully enhanced by the antics of my very bonded Faithful Canine Companions Husky-mix Sid and Chow-mix Lexi.  Here is one example ...

Last autumn in October 2015, I heard a commotion in the backyard and went out to investigate.  Sid or Lexi (I suspect the honor goes to princess Lexi) had dragged a cardboard box (previously on the patio) into the yard.  After a canine roughhouse session, just what did they decide was their favorite Toy of the Day?  See for yourself in the video below ...  (Note:  video link has been fixed.)

Oh, Lexi may be 25 pounds lighter than Sid, but that tenacious girl ain't no pushover!   

Video:  Sid the Dog and Lexi the Dog roughhouse, then choose their favorite "toy". 

Mary Rae Fouts

January 7, 2016

If Only Fixing Yahoo was Truly this Easy ...

Must be a slow news day for business reporters at Silicon Valley's San Jose Mercury News.  Why would they otherwise devote a 352 word article to a delayed letter written by Yahoo investor Starboard Value, which owns less than 1% of Yahoo's shares. (Disclosure: I own Yahoo stock.)

In the letter, Jeff Smith, Starboard Value's managing member, calls for the ouster of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and any board members that do not agree with kicking Mayer to the street.


But wait, there's more. 

Starboard Value seems to think fixing Yahoo is a non-complicated, simple task. According to Jeff Smith,

 "All they [Yahoo's Board of Directors] have to do is choose different
priorities, concentrate on what's making money and cut costs."

I'm no fan of Marissa Mayer's performance at Yahoo; I (and some of my Fouts Financial Group clients) share frustration with Yahoo's lackluster performance.  But wow, if fixing Yahoo was that simple, the task would have been done long ago. 

Please contact me if you have questions about financial planning matters.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.


January 6, 2016

Client Couple Divorce Affects Professional Advisors, Too

In my 28-year career in the Financial Services industry, I have yet to develop a Play Book for dealing with client couples who are either divorcing or severing a relationship after living together and commingling assets.  Specifically, this concerns client couples with whom I have an existing professional relationship prior to the client couple initiating divorce or separation proceedings.

Each couple client divorce or separation is different and presents unique obstacles.  Sure, as a professional advisor with a fiduciary duty to clients there are some basic rules I follow, including disclosing conflicts of interest and returning documents to each client if asked.  However, the proceeding parameters, potential animosity, and other emotional aspects of each client couple divorce or separation differs so that each case is truly unique.  That’s been my experience, anyway.

Immediate Acknowledgement:  Conflict of Interest

When a client couple divorces or separates, and each client asks me to provide ongoing professional services during the divorce or separation proceedings, I send a letter to each individual acknowledging the inherent conflict of interest I have providing professional services to both during the divorce or separation proceedings.  I ask that each client sign the letter to acknowledge the conflict of interest, and return it to me for continued professional services.  If a client fails to do so, I send a follow-up letter stating that I am no longer able to provide professional services to that client.


Manage Expectations and Deal with the Unexpected

At the beginning of a couple client divorce or separation in which each person requests my ongoing professional services, I initially assume proceedings will be conducted civilly enough so that I can serve both persons as individual clients, and that my conflict of interest will be manageable. 

However, if the divorce or separation proceedings break down into a war of hostility and vitriol, or if I am threatened or intimidated by either client (yes, this has happened), I re-examine the professional relationships and make a determination about severing the professional relationship with one or both clients.  I have found this incident is more likely to occur when (1) one or both clients conducts divorce proceedings pro per (without an attorney), (2) both clients have a history of disagreeing about money issues, (3) children are involved and the clients cannot agree on custody or support matters, (4) mental health issues are present for which a person does not receive proper care, or (5) drug or alcohol abuse is present.

Prudently Address Concerns During the Proceedings

Divorce and separation matters always present challenges, not only for the couple, but also for the couple’s professional advisors.  All parties  - including professional advisors such as myself - need to be aware of the unique challenges presented by client couple divorce and separation, and prudently address concerns as they arise during the proceedings.

Please contact me if you have questions about this topic or divorce-related financial planning or tax matters.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

January 5, 2016

Perfect Roast Turkey – Slow Roasted and Oh So Tender

Slow Roast Turkey

I'm a huge fan of slow roasting and slow cooking; we eat this slow roast turkey all year round.  Here is the perfect recipe for moist, tender, unstuffed slow roast turkey; so economical for multiple meals including soups, club sandwiches, warmed up roast turkey, turkey enchiladas, and pasta dishes.   Easy and perfect every time if you follow the directions, nearly fall-off-the-bone tender.  I've included my preparation and roasting hints.  This will become a family favorite!

Ingredients

1 high quality turkey, 18 pounds or smaller. (I always purchase a Diestel Turkey from my local Lunardi’s Market in Walnut Creek, California.  Do not use a brined turkey, or an infused turkey brand such as Butterball.)
Fresh fruit such as apple, orange, lime, and lemon.  If using apple, using a crisp apple. I used Pink Lady apple slices with this turkey.  Granny Smith, Fugi, and Honeycrisp apple slices are also good.
Fresh vegetables:  onion and celery slices.
Fresh herbs, not dried. I used fresh oregano, sweet marjoram, rosemary, and bay leaves from my gardens with this turkey.  Don't chop the herbs, leave in pieces as shown in photo.
2 hot peppers, fresh or dried.
Butter. Use 1/2 cup for a 13-18 pound turkey, less for a smaller turkey.
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Smoked paprika


Cooking Utensils


1 turkey roasting pan with rack.  I use an All-Clad stainless steel turkey roasting pan with rack.  (This All Clad pan is great for many uses, including roasting multiple chickens and holding larger quantities of food.  Heavy duty and will last forever.)

Roasting Temp and Time: 300⁰ F for 30 minutes per pound for turkeys 13 pounds and under.  For turkeys over 13 pounds, roast for 33-34 minutes per pound.  I target getting the turkey done 45 minutes to 1 hour before we intend to eat, just in case a bit longer roasting time is needed.  The turkey should also sit for 20 minutes or more before eating (lightly covered with foil), so it has time to settle.

Directions and Hints

Remove giblets from turkey, discard all except turkey neck; place rinsed turkey neck in bottom of pan to flavor au jus.  Rinse turkey, place on rack in a heavy duty turkey roasting pan, placing the turkey on the pan's cooking rack.  Season turkey lightly with salt inside and out.   Season with black pepper and smoked paprika on outside.  (Be generous with the smoked paprika, it imparts an exceptional flavor.)

Fill cavity with herbs, fruit, and hot peppers.  (The hot peppers will add flavor but not heat, discard them after roasting).  Place additional fruit, vegetables, and herbs on top of turkey and a few pieces in bottom of pan.  Be generous with the fruit, vegetables, and herbs; they are critical for imparting delicious flavor to the turkey and au jus.  Melt butter and pour over turkey.   Add water to cover bottom of pan 1/4 inch deep.  Cover with 3 strips of aluminum foil, first placing strips on ends and lastly a middle strip on top.  Seal foil around edges of roasting pan.


Our Christmas Turkey:  14.02 pounds, ready for foil and the oven.

Bake in preheated 300⁰ oven for time as mentioned above.  No peeking and no basting (!) until 30 minutes before the final roasting time, when you should check the turkey with a meat thermometer to see if it is done.  When the breast’s internal temperature reads 165⁰, the turkey is done.  Remove from oven and allow to rest on cooling racks until ready to slice and serve.  (Keep foil on until about 15 minutes before slicing and serving.)   The turkey will be nearly fall-off-the-bone tender with a slightly browned skin. When cool, you can debone most with your hands, so tender.  The au jus in the bottom makes the perfect gravy substitute, no extra seasoning or thickening needed.  Save any leftover au jus to make homemade turkey soup.



The Slow Roasted Christmas Turkey 7 Hours Later - Perfect!

Hint:   Fruit, vegetables, and herbs can be prepared the evening ahead and kept in refrigerator, stored in covered containers or zip lock bags.  No need to keep items separate, go ahead and mix together.  Also, throw in some cinnamon stick if you have some, as the cinnamon flavor blends wonderfully with fresh sage and bay leaf.

Important:  Do not place traditional bread stuffing in the turkey cavity, the lower temperature is not safe for traditional stuffing.  We don’t care for traditional stuffing, anyway, but if you do, make some in a slow cooker.

Also, do not use a  turkey 19 pounds or larger; your turkey will not be as tender.  I’ve used this recipe with 9-18 pound turkeys.  And you must use a rack inside the roasting pan so that the turkey essentially steams and bastes itself as it roasts but does not just sit in the au jus.

Perfect and no fuss, melt-in-your mouth moist and tender.  Enjoy!

Mary Rae Fouts

E-file your taxes? The California Franchise Tax Board wants your driver's license or state ID number.

In its January 2016 Tax News publication, the California Franchise Tax Board announced it prefers that taxpayers who e-file 2015 tax returns provide their driver's license or state ID number, but will not require the information.  Reason?  The taxing authority says the information will "help process a tax return more efficiently" in efforts to (1) address stolen-identify tax fraud and (2) process tax refunds.


What will you do?

If you e-file a state tax return with the California Franchise Tax Board, will you provide this information?  I am advising my clients not too, as I do not believe in providing sensitive personal and financial information to taxing authorities and other government agencies unless specifically required to do so by law.  What other uses will the Franchise Tax Board have for your driver's license number or state ID number in the future?

This is another reason I am not a fan of e-filing tax returns.  Seems to me the Franchise Tax Board already has enough identifying information to efficiently process tax returns without requiring more.

Please contact me if you have questions about  tax preparation and tax planning matters.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

January 4, 2016

Obamacare and the Risk Corridor Financial Mess

When the Affordable Car Act ("Obamacare") was created, a little publicized provision called the Risk Corridor was written into the law.  To entice insurance providers to participate in the Obamcare insurance exchange, the Risk Corridor provision promised insurance cooperatives and insurance companies participating in the exchange that their losses would be fully reimbursed for the first 3 years.  Participating health insurance providers who made profits were required to give a portion of profits to the Obamacare program to use for reimbursing providers who lost money.

Not so fast.


Obamacare losses have been huge, way beyond prior estimates, for participating insurance cooperatives and insurance companies; only a few have made profits.  The Washington Post and other national media outlets reported in December 2015 that the Risk Corridor had only 13% of necessary funding.  Result?  Providers who lost money in by participating in the Obamacare exchange received only 13 cents for every dollar expected.

Yikes.

During 2015, more than half of new insurance cooperatives formed specifically for the Obamacare program failed.  Other previously established insurance cooperatives and insurance companies  left the program.  United Healthcare, one of the largest providers of health insurance in the United States, has stated it may leave the Obamacare exchange in 2016.

How will this financial mess affect consumers who have health insurance through Obamacare?
  1. Health insurance providers leaving the Obamacare exchange equates to less choice for consumers.
  2. Health insurance providers that remain in the exchange clearly have to raise health insurance rates - perhaps dramatically - in order to make participating in the exchange financially viable.  Dramatically increased rates only serve to entice healthy people to drop coverage (this is already happening), particularly when the tax penalty for not participating can be significantly lower than the annual insurance premiums.
  3. As more healthy people drop Obamacare coverage, the pool of people remaining in Obamacare will be sicker, creating greater costs for participating health insurance providers and, once again, subsequent increased rates for Obamacare consumers.

Outcome for Obamacare consumers?  (1) Bad.  (2) Bad.  (3) Very Bad.  A potential deadly spiral out of control for the future of Obamacare and consumers.

Glad I was able to retain my family's grandfathered PPO health insurance coverage.  What a mess for Obamacare consumers.

Please contact me if you have questions about health insurance matters.  For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

Poor Sid! He's blowing his coat ... dog hair!

Our Husky-mix Sid is in the midst of his bi-annual Blowing of the Coat.  Sid sheds his dense undercoat every six months.  Not because he is too warm, but rather because new fur is coming in.  Just think "out with the old undercoat fur, and in with the new."

Yikes!  Dog hair galore.

Sid sheds - or molts, as my husband Jim says - in patches, with fur coming out in tufts.  The whole process takes about 8 weeks.  Yes, 8 weeks.  Twice a year.  Poor Sid started blowing his coat in mid-December, so this will continue through mid-February.  He gets extra TLC during this time.

Fur from Sid's Blowing Coat

Here is a pile of fur I gently raked off Sid one recent morning.  I smiled as I thought
"Golly gee.  Perhaps I can send Sid's shed fur to Kim Kardashian so a truly environmentally friendly and sustainable fur coat (or should I say swag) can be made for her 2-year old daughter North West?"
Let me know, Kim.  I'll be glad to keep Sid's shed fur and send it to you.

Huh.  Not sure Sid is too happy about my suggestion of sharing his fur with Kim Kardashian.
What do you think?

Mary Rae Fouts

January 2, 2016

Homemade Chip Cookies ... Yum!

I am often asked for my Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, and my secret for making a cookie that stays moist and soft on the inside.  (Secret?  Two must-do things:  cold dough and do not overbake the cookies.)  Remember to pull cookies from the oven before they look done, as they will continue to bake on the cookie sheet and cooling rack.

Enjoy!

Mary Rae's Chip Cookies


About this recipe:  Easy and delicious; very chip filled.  Baked correctly (cold dough and no overbaking), the cookies will be moist and soft on the inside and stay that way when stored.  They keep well at room temperature in a tightly covered container.  I generally keep a day or so supply in the cupboard, and replenish with cookies stored in the freezer.

And yes, 1 Tablespoon of vanilla is correct.  And yes again, the recipe does not include extra salt, but does use salted butter.

These cookies also make a great small ice cream sandwich.  Take 2 cookies and make a sandwich with your favorite ice cream.  Roll ice cream edge in chips, coconut, or sprinkles if you want to be extra fancy.

Ingredients

1 cup salted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 9 to 12 ounce bags chocolate or other chips of your choice  (I use Nestle chips, including their DelightFulls filled baking morsels, and always use 2 different flavors of chips.  Can also substitute M&M candies for some of the chips.)
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Directions

In large bowl, beat butter, sugars, eggs, vanilla, baking soda, and baking powder until creamy.  Add flour.  Mix well with wooden spoon or spatula.  Add chips and nuts.  Mix well.

Unbaked Chip Cookies waiting for the oven.



Chill covered dough in refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours until cold.  (Can also freeze raw dough for use in later days.)  Heat oven to 375° F.  Using your hands or a metal spoon (a wooden spoon may break due to the stiff dough, as I know from experience), break off pieces of cold dough approximately golf ball size, form into balls, and place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake 8 to 9 minutes.  If baking 2 racks at a time, rotate half way through baking time.  

Do not overbake!  Cookies may look too soft and a bit underdone, but will finish baking when taken out of the oven.  Let cookies rest on cookie sheets (place cookie sheets on cooling racks) for a minute or so before removing cookies to cooling racks.


Freshly baked Chip Cookies just out of the oven.
Mary Rae Fouts