www.chornyak.com                                                                                 chornyak@chorrnyak.com                                                                                               
What's Happening Now
Over 80 companies have publicly announced bonuses, wage increases, or other benefits since Trump signed tax reform into law. 

Millennials are saving early for retirement, thanks to the great recession.
Passenger wearing eight pairs of pants, 10 shirts blocked from flying.


The one thing you can't forget to take when leaving a job.

Get a raise? Choose savings inflation, not lifestyle inflation.

Eight things that could happen if you don't pay parking tickets.  

Seven easiest ways to catch up on retirement savings later in life.

Seven morbid money questions to ask yourself even if you plan to live forever. 

Seven ways to spot e-mail scams

February 2018
How much do you know about ABLE accounts? The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 provides significant aid to people with disabilities. ABLE accounts are valuable because they permit savings without jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits. Be sure to read this month's article provided by Commonwealth (below). 
Our What's Happening Now column on the left is worth perusing to learn more about such issues as savings inflation, catching up on retirement savings, e-mail scams, leaving a job, paying parking tickets, and more.
We hope you are keeping warm this winter!

ABLE Accounts Frequently Asked Quesations
ABLE accounts, also known as 529A or 529 ABLE accounts, were established as part of the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014. This act created these tax-advantaged accounts for people with disabilities under section 529A of the Internal Revenue Code.
But who is eligible to establish an ABLE account, and what are the advantages? We'll answer these frequently asked questions and more in this in-depth look at ABLE accounts.
Who is eligible?  

Eligibility to establish an ABLE account is limited to individuals living with significant disabilities and whose disability onset began before age 26. (Note, this does not mean a person must be younger than 26 to be eligible.) Those who meet these criteria and are already receiving benefits under Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are automatically eligible to establish an ABLE account. Those who meet these criteria but are not receiving benefits under SSI and/or SSDI must first obtain a disability certification from a doctor.
Here, it is important to keep in mind that ABLE accounts are owned by the disabled individual, but contributions can be made by the beneficiaries, their family, and their friends.
How does an ABLE account affect government benefits?

For individuals with disabilities and their families, these accounts are valuable because they allow for saving without jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits. Without an ABLE account, a disabled person cannot earn more than $700 per month or have more than $2,000 in savings or other assets in order to remain eligible for Medicaid health coverage or SSI. With an ABLE account, on the other hand, a balance of up to $100,000 can accrue before federal benefits are affected, allowing disabled people to save for the future and use the funds for a range of needs.
Is there a contribution limit?

For 2018, the annual contribution limit for an ABLE account is $15,000 (the amount of the annual gift tax exclusion). This figure may be adjusted periodically to account for inflation. Many states have set total contribution limits of $300,000; however, if a person's ABLE account balance exceeds $100,000, his or her SSI cash benefit will be suspended until the account balance falls below $100,000. The ability to receive or be eligible to receive medical assistance through Medicaid is not affected by the individual's account balance.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) made one minor but significant change to ABLE accounts. The TCJA permits tax-free rollovers of funds between 529 and ABLE accounts for the benefit of the same beneficiary or a family member of the beneficiary. The $15,000 contribution limit still applies, so a maximum of $15,000 can be rolled over from a 529 to an ABLE account in 2018.
How can ABLE accounts be used?

Similar to a 529 plan for college, contributions to an ABLE account can grow and be spent tax free on qualified disability expenses for the designated beneficiary. These include any expense related to the designated beneficiary as a result of living a life with disabilities, such as:
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Employment training and support
  • Assistive technology
  • Personal support services
  • Health care expenses
  • Financial management and administrative services
  • Other expenses that help improve health, independence, and/or quality of life
Continue reading here. 
Eighteen ways to keep you and your home warm without big energy bills
Trent Hamm of the Simple Dollar gives some important tips for keeping warm and saving money during the cold months.

Cold weather can be a challenge. The simple solution, of course, is to just crank up the heat and not worry about it. That certainly works, of course, but then the huge energy bill comes in a month later, leaving you with a drained checking account and frustration about the expensive energy costs.
Clearly, there is great value in figuring out ways to combat the cold without turning up the heat. How can you keep the chill away without spending lots of money on energy bills?
Here are 18 things that our family does to keep energy costs low, even during the coldest months.

#1: Lower the temperature at bedtime; only raise it when you feel the need to do so.

Before bedtime, we turn the temperature in the house down quite low. After all, we're all climbing into warm beds with plenty of blankets and covers over us to keep us warm. So we simply turn down the heat so that we're not heating the house when we're all in bed snuggled under blankets.
In the morning, when we get up, we raise the temperature a little, but we're mostly warm in our pajamas, so we don't raise it a whole lot. We only raise it if someone actually complains about being cold.
This cycle repeats itself each day when the weather is cold. We turn it down for bedtime, raise it just a bit in the morning, and then raise it by a degree or two any time someone mentions being cold, while also suggesting that they do the other things in this thread.

#2: Dress warmly and comfortably around the house.

This one's easy. Just dress in warm, comfortable clothes around the house. If you feel cool, toss on a hoodie as a layer on top of the t-shirt you're already wearing. Wear long pants, ideally in layers. Wear socks and slippers. Everything should feel comfortable and warm.
If you're dressing in a warm, comfortable fashion around the house, there isn't much need to raise the thermostat to a high temperature. It can stay rather low and you'll feel fine.
As I write this, I'm wearing a t-shirt, a long sleeved t-shirt, and a hoodie on top, and a pair of sweatpants under my jeans, along with some wool socks. The temperature in our house is fairly low, but I feel great!

#3: Have blankets available in each room.

If there's a room that you spend a lot of time in, have two or three blankets sitting around that are easily available just to grab if you feel cold. You can put one under you when you sit down and another on your lap. Again, it's all about feeling warm and cozy, and if you feel warm and cozy due to blankets and clothes and body heat, there's little need to raise the temperature.
We have a big pile of blankets that we keep in our family room during the winter and, almost automatically, we grab one when we walk in there to watch a television show or play a video game or read a book. It just feels cozy to have a blanket around you.
The key is simple availability. Just have blankets sitting out in a pile in each room. Fold them up when you're done. It's just that easy.

#4: Make sure your windows are sealed.

Check each of the windows in your house. Put your hand around all of the edges of the window and see if you can feel any exceptionally cool air coming in. If you do, you have an air leak, and that air leak is costing you money.
Sealing it is pretty easy. All you need is a putty knife with a rounded corner for spreading caulk, a caulking gun, and some caulk. Just put a thin line of caulk along the leaking edge, then spread it evenly with the rounded corner of the putty knife. Boom - the caulk fills the gap and blocks the flow of air.
Cutting out those air leaks means that your house is much more efficient in terms of retaining heat, and when the heat stays inside rather than leaking outside, it's going to result in your furnace or other heaters running much less frequently to maintain your home's temperature, which will save you money.

#5: Make sure your doors have weather strips.

Another useful strategy is to make sure that there aren't any big leaks along the edges of the doors in your home, particularly along the bottom but also along the top. If you can run your hand along the edge of a door and feel the flow of cold air even though the door is closed, you need to be blocking that flow.
Adding a weatherstrip is the easiest solution. They attach very easily to the edges of doors, providing a block against the flow of cold air. Much like caulk around the edges of windows, cold air is kept from flowing in, which means that your house stays warmer for longer without hot air being added by your furnace, which saves you money.
Another thing to note about weather strips and caulk is that they provide the same help in the summer. They keep hot air from coming 
in during the summer, which means that your air conditioner will work less, too.

#6: If not, make sure your doors have draft blockers.

If you have a big draft through the bottom of a door but aren't able to install a weather strip, simply block the draft with a large piece of cloth. A rolled-up blanket will work perfectly fine for this in a pinch, but you can also buy (or make) draft blockers that sit along the bottom of doors.
If you want to just use an old blanket, just roll one up in a tube and pin it closed with a few safety pins, then set it along the bottom of the door and stuff it into the crack a bit. That will block much of the cold air with minimal effort, though it's not a perfect block.
A better solution is to buy a draft blocker that's filled with material designed to insulate, which will provide a much better block for keeping cold air outside.
To continue reading, click here.
Market Update
Market Update

Stock markets have strong start to the year

As we transitioned from 2017 to 2018, equity markets continued their advance, with all three major U.S. indices posting large gains in January. The Nasdaq Composite led the way, climbing 7.40 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index followed closely behind with gains of 5.88 percent and 5.73 percent, respectively. Despite a dip at the end of the period, this was another great month for investors.
This strong performance was supported by better-than-expected earnings results for the fourth quarter of 2017. According to FactSet, as of January 25, the blended earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 was 12 percent-a number seemingly buoyed by the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This was up from estimates of 11-percent growth at the end of December. Further, the growth was widespread, with all 11 sectors showing higher profits. As earnings ultimately power long-term results, this faster growth could help keep equity markets moving higher.
U.S. markets were also supported technically in January, as all three indices remained above their respective trend lines.

International markets did equally as well. The MSCI EAFE Index increased 5.02 percent during the month. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index fared even better with a gain of 8.34 percent. International stocks benefited from continued global expansion and a weaker dollar. Both indices also stayed above their 200-day moving averages in January.

Fixed income had a more challenging month, as increasing inflation expectations caused an upswing in rates. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury rose from 2.46 percent to 2.72 percent during the month. This caused the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index to decline by 1.15 percent in January.
Although rising rates reflect growing inflation worries, the Federal Reserve (Fed) voted to keep interest rates steady at its January meeting. This was Janet Yellen's last meeting as Fed chair; Jerome Powell is scheduled to be sworn in as the next chair this month. Meanwhile, the market continues to expect a rate hike in March, with further hikes later in the year.

High-yield bonds, which are typically less dependent on changes in interest rates, had a better start to the year. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate High Yield Index managed a gain of 0.60 percent in January. Valuation levels for high-yield bonds remained near post-recession highs.
The economy keeps getting better

Like the markets, the economy started 2018 in good shape. Growth continued, and consumer and business confidence remained high. The first estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the fourth quarter of 2017 came in at 2.6 percent. Although this was slightly below expectations, seasonal factors likely contributed to this miss, and the surge in imports appears unsustainable. In fact, strong spending and confidence levels indicate that growth could well accelerate in 2018.

Business investment is poised to be one drive of that acceleration. Corporate confidence remains quite strong, holding near multiyear highs. The Institute for Supply Management's Manufacturing and Nonmanufacturing indices both retreated slightly from December highs, but they remain in healthy expansionary territory. In fact, at its current level, the Manufacturing index has historically pointed to GDP growth of 4 percent or more. Given the recent tailwinds from tax reform and the weaker dollar, it is not surprising that businesses are feeling confident, but it is still good to see.
Of course, high levels of confidence alone are not enough to increase growth; we need to see hard spending figures as well. Businesses are walking the walk as well as talking the talk. Durable goods orders increased by 2.9 percent in December, against expectations for more modest 0.9-percent growth. This is the highest month-over-month growth level in six months. The November figure was revised upward as well.
Industrial production and manufacturing output also grew in the fourth quarter. Despite lower-than-expected growth in December, manufacturing still had the strongest fourth quarter in seven years. The weaker dollar likely played a large part in supporting manufacturers. 
This boosts manufacturers and exporters, as U.S.-made goods become more competitive around the world.
Consumers also confident-and spending

January was a very good month for consumers as well, as confidence and spending both beat expectations. The Conference Board's measure of consumer confidence increased by more than expected during the month and sits at levels consistent with strong consumption growth.
On the spending side, both headline and core retail sales figures had another strong month. Personal spending data also came in stronger than expected-growing 3.8 percent, annualized, in the fourth quarter. Consumer spending accounts for roughly 70 percent of GDP, so growth at this level is something we need to see.

Although consumers did well in general, one important sector of the economy slowed down. Housing, which has been a major driver of the expansion, slowed across the board in January. Homebuilder confidence pulled back from previous multidecade highs, while housing starts and permits both decreased as rising construction costs and lack of labor put a damper on new development. Buyers also stepped back, as existing and new home sales declined from previous months. Given the previous strength in the housing sector, this slowdown may prove to be a temporary speed bump. As affordability declines, however, this remains a sector to watch.
Finally, on a more positive note, the January jobs report came in better than expected. The U.S. added 200,000 jobs against expectations for a more modest 183,000. December's headline figure was also revised upward. The underlying data was solid as well: Annual wage growth increased to 2.9 percent, and the unemployment rate stayed at 4.1 percent. This bump in wage growth was very positive, as the tight labor market has so far failed to produce meaningful wage increases. Given the low unemployment rate and the large number of open positions, this could be the year that wage growth finally takes off.
Political risks persist

While the economic picture appears quite healthy, political developments could rattle markets. The most pressing is the ongoing need to pass a long-term federal funding bill to avoid a potentially lengthy government shutdown. The brief shutdown in January was proof that politicians are willing to use this issue as leverage for their respective platforms. So, the next vote in February remains a concern. Given the high level of political confrontation, there is a real possibility that this situation could get worse than anyone now expects-making this the story to watch.
International risks, though not gone, have pulled back a bit. With the Olympics scheduled to begin in South Korea, and a delegation of North Korean athletes expected to compete, this may be a chance for further diplomatic efforts to resolve tensions in the region. In Europe, there seems to be real progress in the German governmental negotiations. Meanwhile, the pending Italian elections are looking to be less of a concern than had been feared. With that said, there is still the potential for volatility if any negative developments occur.
Foundation in place for a strong year

Despite the brief government shutdown, markets had a great start to the year, cushioned by a strong economy. As we look toward the rest of the year, we seem to be well positioned for growth. The positive economic data and improving earnings situation should provide a strong tailwind to help weather potential short-term turbulence.

Risks certainly exist, but many of the most pressing concerns appear to have moderated. As always, though, a well-diversified portfolio that aligns with your time horizon can be the best way to achieve financial goals.

Co-authored by Brad McMillan, senior vice president, chief investment officer, and Sam Millette, investment research associate, at Commonwealth Financial Network®.

All information according to Bloomberg, unless stated otherwise.