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How Much of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s Money are You Entitled To?

charityAre people who are critical of Mark and Priscilla’s donation more like Robin Hood, or the Sheriff of Nottingham?

I am sure you have heard the wonderful news: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have a new daughter, Max. Mazal tov! They are doing some pretty heavy-duty estate planning for both her benefit and mankind. It’s called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, LLC, and is a family-run foundation. Here is a news bulletin on it.

Good for them. I hope that we all have the money to do what they are doing.

Let me ask you something:

Do you think that the world can tolerate only a fixed amount of rich people? That for every rich person there must necessarily be a poor person? Or worse, a thousand poor people for every one person with money?

That seems to be the viewpoint of people who are criticizing Mark and Priscilla for their good deed. Their complaints are instructive for getting a firmer understanding of wealth and estate planning. More than that: they point to what I think is a misinformed notion of morality.

Here are some examples:

Complaint #1: Mark and Priscilla will realize tax benefits when making their donations.

To quote the Daily Beast:

Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t need massive tax benefits to do whatever he wants. He can just do whatever he wants. But he will get those tax benefits and estate planning benefits and he’ll be able to give up his stock while holding onto power over his company. So will others. Yermack’s work reveals that, in aggregate, when we pay people like Zuckerberg to fund their own foundations, we are really helping the rich and coddled few even as we thank and honor them for their charity.

Here are my questions:

Are we looking for some type of “moral purity” in people who are generous? Is their gift somehow “tainted” if they benefit in the process – even if the benefit is just to pay less taxes than they would if they had used another legal tool for the gift?

What is so bad about rich people getting to keep more of their money so they can put it to further use for the betterment of society?

It doesn’t seem fair to castigate people who take advantage of existing tax laws. If people think we have an unbalanced taxation system, then they should fix the system. That should not involve attacking people who are legally and legitimately making use of it. Does that seem fair to you?

Complaint #2: Mark and Priscilla will control where the money goes.

To quote

It is absolutely fair and necessary to be critical of Zuckerberg’s philanthropic efforts, both past and present, to ensure that this gift of $45 billion dollars is put to good use…   The most valuable path may well be to simply invest this enormous pool of resources in the people and institutions that are already doing this work (including, yes, public institutions funded by tax dollars) and trust that they know their domains better than someone who’s already got a pretty demanding day job.

Here are my questions:

Since when should a private donation be considered public property? By what right is anyone entitled to tell somebody else what to do with their money?

If people don’t like the way Mark and Priscilla are allocating their money, aren’t they free to allocate their own money the way they see fit?

If Mark and Priscilla had obtained their fortune illegally or unethically, then people could legitimately protest. Then you could say that one person’s illicit gain was another person’s tragic loss, and justice must be served. But if they got their wealth through entrepreneurship and smart financial management, then no one has a right to complain. Do they?

I get the feeling that people who are criticizing Mark and Priscilla are trying to play Robin Hood, but in a misguided way. Robin Hood did not steal from the rich to give to the poor. He took back from the Sheriff of Nottingham the money this tyrant had stolen from the people of the land, and returned it to their rightful owners. To me, going after people’s money that is not yours is a bit too much like what the Sheriff did, and not Robin Hood. What do you think?

Please feel free to comment, or to contact me directly with a specific question.

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Should Employers Stop Providing Medical Insurance?

Michael Tanner, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, has a great follow-up to the Hobby Lobby case in National Review Online. I talked about this Supreme Court ruling last week, in the context of putting the government in its place with regard to employer-sponsored benefits. With his article, Michael is taking the debate a step further. He asks, why are the employers of this country providing medical insurance in the first place?

Michael gives us a brief history lesson and shows how employer-provided life insurance is really an historical anomaly dating back to World War II. It stems from a “perfect storm” of two government actions:

Government action #1: the imposition of wage and price controls.

At the time of a significant labor shortage, President Roosevelt imposed wage (and price) controls, preventing employers from competing for available workers by raising salaries. In an effort to circumvent the regulations and attract workers, employers began to offer non-wage benefits, among them health insurance.

Government action #2: IRS rulings regarding the taxation of compensation.

In 1953, the IRS compounded the problem by holding that employer-provided health insurance was not part of wage compensation for tax purposes. This means that if a worker is paid $40,000 and their employer also provides an insurance policy worth $16,000, the worker pays taxes on just the $40,000 in wages. If, however, instead of providing insurance, the employer gave the worker a $16,000 raise — allowing the worker to purchase his or her own insurance — the worker would have to pay taxes on $66,000 in income, a tax hike of as much as $2,400. This puts workers who buy their own insurance at a significant disadvantage compared to those who receive insurance through work.

As a result, Americans were driven to get health insurance through their job: In 1960, just a third of non-elderly Americans received health insurance at work, roughly. Today, 58.4 percent do. (That’s actually down from the peak of 71.4 percent in 1980).

Michael points out that the current situation can impose two forms of financial burden on consumers and employees:

Employer-provided insurance is problematic for several reasons. Most significantly, it hides much of the true cost of health care from consumers, encouraging over consumption. Basing insurance on employment also means that if you lose your job, you are likely to end up uninsured. And once you’ve lost insurance, it can be hard to get new coverage, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.

But at the time, employer-sponsored benefits have a political downside that affects both employees and employers:

But, in the context of Hobby Lobby, employer-provided insurance is even more insidious: It gives your boss the power to determine what is and is not included in your insurance plan. The government’s answer, of course, is simply to mandate that certain benefits, in this case contraceptives, be included. But that merely substitutes the government’s judgment for your boss’s. Thus we infringe on your employer’s desires and your own, leaving both of you at the mercy of politicians.

Michael has a solution to this problem.

It involves a shift in tax policy, and also tax liability offsets. The net result could be higher wages as well as increased consumer control over medical insurance benefits. It sounds like a win-win strategy to me. Take a look at his article – it’s a short read. Does it have any merit in your eyes?


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A Second Look at Life Insurance Myths recently published a very good article about life insurance myths and facts.

Listed below are each of the myths mentioned in the article.

After each myth I made a few comments about the real facts of the situation.

Do any of them surprise you?

Myth #1: Your employer-provided life insurance is all you need.

Good points regarding employer coverage:

  1. It may not be enough;
  2. It may not be portable; and
  3. It may not be the best price.

Myth #2:  Only the breadwinner needs life insurance.

Good points regarding the stay-at-home spouse.

Money is needed to replace his or her services, as well as to allow the surviving parent to spend more time with the children.

Myth #3: Life insurance is really expensive.

People very frequently fear life insurance is too costly.

Unfortunately, a lot of this stems from brokers misleading them on prior shopping occasions.

Myth #4: My health disqualifies me from life insurance.

These are good points regarding eligibility for coverage.

I would add that since companies tend to specialize in underwriting specific risks, extraordinary offers can be made for policies that do not have coverage limits.

Myth #5: Everyone should buy term and invest the difference.

The strategy of buying term and investing the rest only works for people who really need term insurance and who can really invest the rest.

People often make changes in their financial plan as life goes along. These changes can include having an unexpected child, refinancing a mortgage, taking out an unexpected loan, or having a retirement fund underperform. All these events could call for life insurance for a longer period of time than anticipated.

In addition, people need discipline, focus, and effective management to “invest the rest”. If even one of these factors is not in place, then that strategy may very well not work.

Myth #6: You get a better deal purchasing life insurance online.

I think the Internet is not just a poor place to buy life insurance, but a poor place to even shop for life insurance.

People really have no idea how their insurability will be assessed until they deal with an expert broker.

Looking at rates on a website in the hope and prayer you qualify for them is not productive.

Myth #7: You’re too young to worry about life insurance.

Since life insurance pricing is based on age, it makes much more sense to buy it when you’re young.

In addition, buying a cash value policy early can give it enough time to accumulate significant funds.



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The Roaring Twenties

Okay. You are in your twenties and starting your career. Or, maybe your child, grandchild, sister or brother is in the work world at last. A job! Time to take care of all that stuff people must when they have responsibilities. The list is long: personal relationships, business relationships, rent money, transportation, food, clothing, fun money…

… and of course, life insurance. No? Not yet?

It really makes perfect sense to pick up a policy now. The price will never be cheaper. Huge amounts of cash could grow inside the policy over time. The death benefit will protect your future spouse and children, and help you get a mortgage or business loan.

Still not on the top of your hit list? There are reasons for that. Entrepreneur and author Jason Nazar talked recently in about the mindset people have in their twenties. He identified many advancements people can make in their thinking to get their lives together. By following his advice, it can become easier to make commitments that really pay off – such as buying a life insurance policy.

Here are some of his tips, and examples of how they can relate to this essential financial decision.

Jason Tip #1: “Time is Not a Limitless Commodity – I so rarely find young professionals that have a heightened sense of urgency to get to the next level. In our 20s we think we have all the time in the world to A) figure it out and B) get what we want. Time is the only treasure we start off with in abundance, and can never get back. Make the most of the opportunities you have today, because there will be a time when you have no more of it.” (1)

Steve comment: This advice is extremely relevant to the purchase of life insurance. The mortality clock is ticking, even though you do not hear it so loudly when you are young. Do not take for granted your mortality, your insurability, or your eligibility for the lowest rate available. One never knows.

Jason Tip #2: “You Need At Least 3 Professional Mentors – The most guaranteed path to success is to emulate those who’ve achieved what you seek. You should always have at least 3 people you call mentors who are where you want to be. Their free guidance and counsel will be the most priceless gift you can receive. (TIP: ‘The Secret to Finding and Keeping Mentors’) Pick an Idol & Act ‘As If’ – You may not know what to do, but your professional idol does. I often coach my employees to pick the businessperson they most admire, and act ‘as if.’ If you were (fill in the blank) how would he or she carry themselves, make decisions, organize his/her day, accomplish goals? You’ve got to fake it until you make it, so it’s better to fake it as the most accomplished person you could imagine. (Shout out to Tony Robbins for the tip).”

Steve comment: Your life insurance broker should be a key person on your financial team. Make sure he is a specialist in this product. He should be an able guide into the mysterious world of life insurance underwriting, and how to qualify for the best coverage.(1)

Jason Tip #3: “Spend 25% Less Than You Make – When your material needs meet or exceed your income, you’re sabotaging your ability to really make it big. Don’t shackle yourself with golden handcuffs (a fancy car or an expensive apartment). Be willing and able to take 20% less in the short term, if it could mean 200% more earning potential. You’re nothing more than penny wise and pound-foolish if you pass up an amazing new career opportunity to keep an extra little bit of income. No matter how much money you make, spend 25% less to support your life. It’s a guaranteed formula to be less stressed and to always have the flexibility to pursue your dreams.” (1)

Steve comment: A life insurance benefit costs pennies on the dollar. It can have extremely strong guarantees. It is one of the few products that really helps you sleep at night because it can secure those dreams.

(1) Nazar, Jason. “20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don’t Get.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 23 July 2013. Web. 30 July 2013.


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Principles for Growth

Our principles for growth

A. Principle #1: “Helping each employee to meet his or her potential within the company.”
We will help all employees to put their talents to use for the maximum benefit of themselves and the company. This empowers them to increase their value to the business and be paid accordingly.

B. Principle #2: “Growth from the core”.
We need all employees to be proud of our company and believe in what we do, They can then serve as “good will ambassadors” for us when interacting with clients, prospects, vendors, and the general public. The training and orientation of everyone – regardless of the department in which they specialize – will include a strong foundation in prequalification/brokerage operations, as that is the core of our business.

C. Principle #3: “Mutual support among departments.”
Employees will maintain a specialization in one department yet also receive a general background in the company. They can thereby serve as viable back-ups in cases of manpower shortages.

D. Principle #4: “Mentoring as the means of passing on the core values of the company and facilitating employee career growth.”
Managers will provide personal coaching and direction throughout the business day, as well as educational meetings in the office. On occasion reading and research material will be assigned as homework. This collaboration will facilitate employee career with the core values of integrity, professionalism, service, and profit.

E. Principle #5: “Maintaining a Spirit of Adventure in the enterprise!”
Many factors influence business success. We will stay focused and committed to the goal, but keep in mind the big picture. We will all be in a learning and growth curve, so we will have to band together, learn from our mistakes, remain optimistic, and- have fun! We can celebrate the small victories that we make along the way!


Want to learn more?
Read my free guide, How To Get Great Life Insurance Rates and learn how you can get life insurance companies to compete for your business, at no risk or extra cost.