All Posts by Chris Chen CFP


About the Author

Chris Chen CFP CDFA is the CEO and a Wealth Strategist with Insight Financial Strategists LLC in the Boston area. He specializes in retirement planning and divorce financial planning

May 12

Marriage and Building Wealth: Finding a Happy Balance

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning , Retirement Planning

Marriage and Building Wealth: Finding a Happy Balance

As we are entering marriage season, best wishes to all the new brides and grooms! Here are some thoughts to keep in mind.

Marriage affects your finances in many ways, including your ability to build wealth, plan for retirement, plan your estate, and capitalize on tax and insurance-related benefits. Here are some considerations to keep in mind if you are thinking of getting married or have just tied the knot.

Building wealth –If both you and your spouse are employed, two salaries can be a considerable benefit in building long-term wealth. For example, if both of you have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans, your joint contributions are double the individual maximums ($17,500 for 2013). Similarly, a working couple may be able to pay a mortgage more easily than a single person can, which may make it possible for a couple to apply a portion of their combined paychecks for family savings or investments.
Retirement benefits –Some (but not all) pensions provide benefits to widows or widowers following a pensioner’s death. When participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, married workers are required to name their spouse as beneficiary unless the spouse waives this right in writing. Qualifying widows or widowers may collect Social Security benefits up to a maximum of 50% of the benefit earned by a deceased spouse.
Estate planning –Married couples may transfer real estate and personal property to a surviving spouse with no federal gift or estate tax consequences until the survivor dies. But surviving spouses do not automatically inherit all assets. Couples who desire to structure their estates in such a way that each spouse is the sole beneficiary of the other need to create wills or other estate planning documents to ensure that their wishes are realized. In the absence of a will, state laws governing disposition of an estate take effect. Also, certain types of trusts, such as QTIP trusts and marital deduction trusts, are restricted to married couples.
Tax planning –When filing federal income taxes, filing jointly typically results in lower tax payments when compared with filing separately.
Debt management –In certain circumstances, creditors may be able to attach marital or community property to satisfy the debts of one spouse. Couples wishing to guard against this practice may do so with a prenuptial agreement.

The opportunity to go through life with a loving partner may be the greatest benefit of a successful marriage. That said, there are financial and legal benefits that you may want to explore with your beloved.


Apr 29

Beware of the Mortgage Tax Deduction

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning

Beware of the Mortgage Tax Deduction

Last week I wrote this short piece for the Boston Globe’s website series on tax planning for 2013 (it’s never too early!):

“For many of us, the mortgage tax deduction provides the single largest reduction in taxable income.

With mortgage interest rates continuing to be very attractive, it makes sense to consider refinancing your mortgage, if you have not already done so.

A mortgage refinance has the potential of reducing your payments, and improving your cash flow. It will also reduce reduce your mortgage tax deduction, and therefore increase your taxes due. Make sure to adjust your tax withholding so that you won’t owe taxes (and interest and penalties) as a result of refinancing.

Apr 22

High-Yield Bonds: Income Potential at a Price

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning , Retirement Planning

High-Yield Bonds: Income Potential at a Price

High-yield bonds have long been a popular source of diversification for long-term investors who seek to maximize yield and/or total return potential outside of stocks.(1)  High-yield issues often move independently from more conservative U.S. government bonds as well as the stock market.

These bonds — sometimes referred to as “junk” bonds — are a class of corporate debt instruments that are considered below investment grade, due to their issuers’ questionable financial situations. These situations can vary widely — from financially distressed firms to highly leveraged new companies simply aiming to pay off debts.

As the name “high yield” suggests, the competitive yields of these issues have helped attract assets. With yields significantly higher than elsewhere in the bond market, many investors have turned to high-yield bonds for both performance and diversification against stock market risks.

These are valid reasons for investing in high-yield bonds, especially long term. But as you read about what these issues could offer your portfolio, it’s also wise to consider how these bonds earned their nicknames.

The Risk-Return Equation

In exchange for their performance potential, high-yield bonds are very sensitive to all the risk factors affecting the general bond market. Here are some of the most common risks.

  • Credit risk: A high-yield bond’s above-average credit risk is reflected in its low credit ratings. This risk — that the bond’s issuer will default on its financial obligations to investors — means you may lose some or all of the principal amount invested, as well as any outstanding income due.
  • Interest rate risk: High-yield bonds often react more dramatically than other types of debt securities to interest rate risk, or the risk that a bond’s price will drop when general interest rates rise, and vice versa.
  • Liquidity risk: This is the risk that buyers will be few if and when a bond must be sold. This type of risk is exceptionally strong in the high-yield market. There’s usually a narrow market for these issues, partly because some institutional investors (such as big pension funds and life insurance companies) normally can’t place more than 5% of their assets in bonds that are below investment grade.
  • Economic risk: High-yield bonds tend to react strongly to changes in the economy. In a recession, bond defaults often rise and credit quality drops, pushing down total returns on high-yield bonds. This economic sensitivity, combined with other risk factors, can trigger dramatic market upsets. For example, in 2008, the well-publicized downfall of Lehman Brothers squeezed the high-yield market’s tight liquidity even more, driving prices down and yields up.

The risk factors associated with high-yield investing make it imperative to carefully research potential purchases. Be sure to talk to your financial professional before adding them to your portfolio.

Note (1): Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market.

© 2013 S&P Capital IQ Financial Communications. All rights reserved.


Apr 09

Health Insurance Issues Post Divorce

By Chris Chen CFP | Divorce Planning

Health Insurance Issues Post Divorce

With children and income issues on top of the list of critical concerns, health insurance is often overlooked by divorcing individuals, their divorce mediators and divorce lawyers . Everyone agrees that health insurance is important, but expects or hopes that a solution will find itself.
In the case when one of the divorcing parties has employer provided health insurance, it is assumed that this will continue for the divorcing spouse, as mandated by Massachusetts law. In addition,, people usually don’t think of the tax consequences of continuing employer based health insurance for a divorcing spouse . That is because employer based health insurance is considered a non-taxable fringe benefit for the employee and his or her family under IRS rules. Yet that does not necessarily imply a tax free benefit for an ex-spouse.

Health Insurance, Divorce and the IRS

Under IRS rules, a benefit provided by an employer to the former spouse of an employee, is a taxable benefit to the employee. Hence the employee must pay federal income tax on his ex-spouse’s health insurance. In turn that imputed income could be deducted as alimony by the taxed employee. That would create additional taxable income for the ex-spouse.

Under IRS rules, a benefit provided by an employer to the former spouse of an employee, is a taxable benefit to the employee

To make matters worse, employers are just waking up to the issue. Starting in 2013, employers have started to apportion the value of fringe benefits on employees’ W2 forms. This will greatly facilitate including an ex-spouse’s share of health care insurance on the employee’s W2 form in January 2014, and, thus increase the employee’s taxable income.  In turn, should the employee deduct the insurance as alimony, the ex-spouse must add the amount to his or her own taxable income, or face the consequences of under-reporting income.

Dealing with Health Insurance in a Divorce

In a divorce negotiation where the amount of alimony and the sharing of tax benefits are vigorously negotiated between the parties, to add health insurance choices and their consequences to the menu may not be welcome. It would be hardly better, for the parties find out the consequences after the fact.
As financial planners with a divorce specialty, we recommend that the ex-spouse should get his or her own insurance as soon as possible. That is not always feasible in the short run. As an alternative, we recommend to choose the best option available with all eyes open to the consequences.
If you would like to learn more, ask for the white paper that I co-authored with Justin Kelsey, Esq., or call one of the authors for a consultation.

Apr 09

In a Divorce, can we share a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™?

By Chris Chen CFP | Divorce Planning

In a Divorce, can we share a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™?

Sometimes we get asked by clients who are working through a divorce whether it is OK to share financial analysts with their spouse. In some cases it works.

For instance in a Collaborative divorce, the financial planner often works neutrally for both parties, while the spouses are represented separately by lawyers . In mediation cases, we have worked for both parties as well. In either the collaborative or mediation methods, the parties often aim to shape their divorce agreements in good faith as it best suits them. They will try to reach an agreement that is “fair and equitable” without the court making decisions for them. In those cases, it may make sense to share a financial planner. Indeed, it may even facilitate and speed up the process.

In the more common adversarial process (each party talks through their own lawyer), people ask us also whether they can share financial specialists.

We do not recommend it. We do not do it. We believe it is important in a divorce to get competent financial advice  in addition to competent legal advice, however we could not provide that should our loyalties be split.  In that case the answer is no.

Apr 02

Tax Season Dilemna: Invest Money in a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA?

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning , Retirement Planning

Invest in a Roth IRA or a Traditional IRA?

This being tax season, you may want to know, should you put your money in a (traditional) IRA or a Roth IRA?

In a traditional IRA, your contribution will be deductible from your taxable income, and will grow tax-deferred .  Income taxes will be paid when you take distributions at retirement.  The immediate benefit is that a contribution will help you reduce your taxable income, and, therefore, your taxes.  (For the 2012 tax year, you have until April 15 to make that contribution.)

For a Roth IRA, your contribution is not tax deductible .  However, it will grow tax free, and distributions in retirement will not be taxable.  Hence, your retirement income from the Roth would be tax-free.

The traditional IRA helps you save on taxes now , and the Roth IRA helps you save on taxes later .  What then should you do: save on taxes now or save on taxes later?

The answer is entirely about what you expect your taxes to be when you retire.  If you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement than today, you may want to consider a regular IRA.  That is because, you will be saving a relatively large amount in taxes today, and paying at a relatively low rate in retirement.

On the other hand, should you expect your tax rate to be higher in retirement than today, you may want to consider a Roth.  That is because you would be paying at a low tax rate today, and saving even more taxes later on.

So, you might ask, how can you figure out what your tax rate will be in retirement?  That is a different question altogether!

Mar 21

Have you updated your financial plan yet?

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning

Have you updated your financial plan yet?

As originally published in

If we could predict the future, we would always be ready for anything that life throws our way, right?

The truth is that even for what we do know, many of us are not ready. We do know that most of us should probably contribute more to our retirement plans, that we should save for the college fund; and that we should purchase long term care insurance. Yet we don’t do it.

We do know that the sooner we contribute to a retirement plan, the more there will be when we need it. We do know that the more we contribute to the college fund, the easier the burden when our son or daughter goes to college. We do know that the longer we delay buying long term care insurance, the more likely we won’t be able to.

The reason is simple: We are overwhelmed. We are overwhelmed by all the things we know we need to do, and all the other things we need to spend on. We don’t know how to prioritize them.

Yet, imagine that we were to take a minute to prioritize all these very important issues, that we were to realize the benefits of planning sooner, and the penalties for delaying, then surely we would get back on track, wouldn’t we? Plan sooner.

Mar 15

Are your affairs in order?

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning

While it is not  pleasant to think of one’s own passing, having your affairs in order can help ease the burden on friends and family, when the time comes, and can contribute to your own peace of mind knowing that you have done all you can to prepare. There are many factors that should be considered when trying to create an effective and comprehensive estate plan. Some considerations include:

  • Instructions on your own care in sickness
  • Guardians for your minor children should both parents pass
  • Protection from creditors
  • Charitable contributions
  • Continuation of a family business
  • Reducing or eliminating tax
  • Maintaining family harmony
  • Legacy creation and support of future generations

In addition, all these factors should integrate appropriately with your retirement income planning and your investment decisions.

Even if you already have an estate plan in place, you may want to conduct a review. Decisions made years ago may not accurately reflect your current wishes. Estate plans are not for the significantly wealthy alone. If you have children in your care or a business you wish to leave to future generations, it is important that protections and guidance are put in place now and are not put off until your retirement years. It is always a possibility that you may not have the luxury to wait so long.

A poorly executed estate plan, or the lack of one at all, could leave those you most care about suffering needlessly in your absence.  Get ready today to gain control of your estate plan!

Feb 22

Alice in Wonderland and financial planning

By Chris Chen CFP | Divorce Planning , Financial Planning , Retirement Planning

Alice in Wonderland and Financial Planning

Those who have read Alice in Wonderland may know the Cheshire Cat as a mysterious and baffling being.  The Cat often makes some very good points, although rarely in a very helpful way.  One is in the picture below.  Unfortunately,  I took it with my phone, and the  text is a little blurry.  So I re-wrote it.

Financial Planning

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here”

“That depends a great deal on where you want to go” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where ___” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat

“__ so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said  the Cat, “if only you walk long enough.”

If you are reading this blog post, chances are you are interested in financial planning.  Alice has taken the first step: she knows she would like to get somewhere, she realizes that she does not know how to, and she has asked for advice.

Hopefully in real life you won’t have to rely on the Cheshire Cat for advice, or any Cat for that matter!  Do remember though: if you walk long enough, you will eventually get somewhere.

Will it be where you want to?