12-05-2019 Columns


Why do you invest? For many people, here’s the answer: “I invest because I want to enjoy a comfortable retirement.” And that’s certainly a great reason, because all of us should regularly put money away for when we’re retired. But you can also benefit by investing in your family and your community. Let’s start with your family members, particularly the younger ones. How can you invest in their future? One of the best ways is to help send them to college. A college degree is still a pretty good investment: The average lifetime earnings of a college graduate are nearly $1 million higher than those of someone with a high school degree, according to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau. To help your children or grandchildren pay for any college, university, vocational school or other postsecondary education, you may want to open a 529 savings plan. With this account, withdrawals are federally tax free, as long as the money is used for qualified higher education expenses, including those from trade and vocational schools. (However, if you withdraw some of the earnings on your account, and you don’t use the money for qualified expenses, it will be taxable and can also incur a 10% federal tax penalty.) Plus, you retain control of the funds until it’s time for them to be used for school, so if your original beneficiary chooses not to pursue some type of higher education, you can name a different eligible beneficiary. Another way to invest in your family is to help your adult children avoid feeling obligated to provide financial assistance to you. For example, if you ever required some type of long-term care, such as an extended stay in a nursing home, could you afford it? The average cost for a private room in a nursing home is more than $100,000 per year, according to a study by Genworth, an insurance company. And Medicare typically pays very few of these expenses. So, to avoid burdening your adult children – while also preserving your own financial independence – you may want to consider some type of long-term care insurance. A financial advisor can help you determine what coverage may be appropriate. Moving beyond your family, you may want to invest in the social fabric of your community by contributing to local charitable, civic, educational or cultural groups. Of course, now that we’re in the holiday season, it’s the perfect time for such gifts. Furthermore, your gift will be more appreciated than in years past because one of the chief incentives for charitable giving – a tax deduction – was lost for many people due to tax law changes, which raised the standard deduction so significantly that far fewer people chose to itemize deductions. However, you might still be able to gain some tax benefits from your charitable gifts. To name one possibility, you could donate financial assets, such as stocks that have risen in value, freeing you of potential capital gains taxes. In any case, contact your tax advisor if you’re considering sizable charitable gifts. Saving for your retirement will always be important. But don’t forget about investing in your family and your community – because these investments can provide satisfying returns. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor. 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.

A year in review

It has truly been an honor to serve you this year. As 2019 draws to a close, I wanted to share some highlights from my work on your behalf this year. Some of the best ideas for legislation come directly from members of our community, and as your Representative, I believe it’s my job to ensure that your voices and ideas are heard in Lansing. This year alone, I have worked on two separate packages of bills that have spawned out of the thoughtfulness and creativity of our community members. I’ve started the process of reforming our commercial fishing regulations that will help our local charter fishermen and protect Michigan’s natural resources. I’m also partnering with Michigan’s craft brewers to help them grow their businesses and our local communities. Both of these packages will have a direct impact on the people and economy of Southwest Michigan. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on other issues that are important to the people of Southwest Michigan. Some of this year’s highlights include: Maintaining a perfect voting record – my job is to represent you and being there to vote on every issue ensures that you are heard in Lansing; delivering meaningful auto-insurance reform that will save money for every Michigan driver; supporting open and accountable government by joining a bipartisan group of my colleagues to increase transparency in the Legislature and Governor’s office; and making Michigan a national leader in terms of reforming our criminal justice system. In 2020, I will continue to fight for an efficient, effective, and accountable state government. I hope you and your family has a safe and happy holiday season, and if I may be of any assistance to you, please don’t hesitate to reach out by phone at 517-373-1403 or by email at PaulineWendzel@house.mi.gov.

Protecting the Great Lakes from nuclear waste

My fondest memories of growing up in St. Joseph are centered around spending time on Lake Michigan. Many Michiganders share my love for the Great Lakes. When I was elected to Congress, I promised to do all that I could to protect these lakes for future generations of Michiganders. This past week, my friend Rep. Debbie Dingell and I led an effort in the Energy and Commerce Committee to pass a bipartisan amendment that protects the Great Lakes from nuclear waste. This common-sense amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019 disallows the permanent or long-term storage of nuclear waste near the Great Lakes by the governments of the United States or Canada. It passed the committee unanimously. While not every member of the committee is from a Great Lakes state, everyone understands the importance of the Great Lakes as one of the greatest natural resource this nation has to offer. Great Lakes votes are always easy for me – they are always a yes. And as long as I have the opportunity to serve in Congress, I will continue to fight to protect the Great Lakes for generations to come. To learn more about important legislative issues, follow me on Twitter at @RepFredUpton or visit my website: upton.house.gov. You can also call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/ Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

It’s not too late for a flu vaccine

As long as flu viruses are spreading, it’s not too late to get a vaccine to protect yourself and your loved ones. Flu season typically peaks between December and February but significant activity can occur as late as May. For millions of people every season, the flu can mean a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, fatigue, and miserable days spent in bed. However, you may not realize that each flu season, flu also causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands or sometimes tens of thousands of deaths. But there is a vaccine that can prevent flu. While how well the vaccine works can vary, the benefits from vaccination are well documented. Studies show that flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. This is why CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. Some people are at high risk for serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia, that can lead to hospitalization and even death. This includes young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people with certain medical conditions, like asthma, diabetes or heart disease. For those at high risk for complications, getting the flu vaccine is especially important. It’s also important to get the vaccine if you care for anyone at high risk, including babies younger than 6 months because they are too young to get the vaccine. You can get a flu vaccine in a variety of places, including at your doctor’s office, pharmacies, and at the Berrien County Health Department. Most health insurance plans cover the cost of recommended vaccines. For more information about influenza or the flu vaccine, talk to your doctor or call the Berrien County Health Department at 269-926-8121 or visit www.bchdmi.org.

Is automatic criminal expungement a solution in search of a problem?

Michigan, like most other states, has a criminal expungement process that allows a person to petition the court to clear, or expunge, a criminal conviction when they have paid their debt to society. Our state’s current law allows for a person to apply for the expungement of one felony or two misdemeanor convictions five years after an individual has finished their criminal sentence, based on certain criteria. This is a relatively obscure process that few who are eligible apply for. A recent University of Michigan study indicated that, of the eligible criminals in our state, only 6.5% have their records expunged within five years of becoming eligible. In fact, over 90% of people who are eligible don’t even apply to have their convictions expunged. Perhaps in response to this data, legislation was introduced to increase participation in the expungement process. The bills aim to accomplish this by making more offenses eligible, by increasing the maximum number of felonies and misdemeanors that can be set aside, and by automatically expunging certain eligible offenders. Supporters of the bills say they would address an awareness issue and help former convicts find employment. Those who oppose argue the current system works when utilized and perhaps an awareness campaign would be better than automatically expunging convictions, which they say doesn’t take into account crime victims and could come at a significant expense to taxpayers. If changes to Michigan’s expungement process are needed, it is my goal to make sure they are meaningful and done without unintended consequences. I invite your thoughts and ideas on this issue as the legislation makes its way through the Legislature. If you would like to share further comments or concerns, please send me an email at SenKLaSata@senate.michigan.gov.

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