Sun Current http://current.mnsun.com Local News for Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina and Richfield Minnesota Thu, 30 Jul 2015 01:42:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Protesters gather at Bloomington dental office to denounce shooting of Cecil the lion http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/more-than-100-gather-for-protest-at-bloomington-dental-office/ http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/more-than-100-gather-for-protest-at-bloomington-dental-office/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 00:38:08 +0000 http://current.mnsun.com/?p=150319 Rachel Augusta, left, and Kristen Hall, center, lead a group of protestors in chants in front of Dr. Palmer's dental office on Rhode Island Ave. this afternoon in Bloomington.
Rachel Augusta, left, and Kristen Hall, center, lead a group of protestors in chants in front of Dr. Palmer’s dental office on Rhode Island Ave. this afternoon in Bloomington. (Sun Current photo by Adam Warner)

A crowd of approximately 150 people gathered outside River Bluff Dental on Old Shakopee Road in Bloomington July 29 to protest the shooting of Cecil the lion by Walter Palmer, owner of the dental office.

The Bloomington dentist came under fire Tuesday after The Telegraph in London revealed he had killed Cecil the lion. Cecil is a local favorite at Hwange National Park and is known for his amiability towards humans, according to Zimbabwean authorities.

Roughly 50 activists and 100 spectators stood outside River Bluff Dental from 4-6 p.m. today to protest Palmer’s shooting of Cecil in early July during a hunting trip in Zimbabwe.

According to Zimbabwean authorities, Palmer’s hunting party illegally lured Cecil away from Hwange National Park, where he had protected status, and onto a neighboring game farm before wounding him with a crossbow. They tracked Cecil for 40 hours before finishing him with a gun. They then beheaded him and left the carcass, according to numerous reports.

Many protesters have called for Palmer’s extradition to Zimbabwe, where the other two members of his party have already been arrested and released on bail.

“African lions are threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, but that wasn’t a concern for Walter Palmer, who paid nearly $55,000 U.S. dollars to fly across the world to kill one. Tragically, African lions are sought out by trophy hunters as part of the big five: African elephant, black rhino, cape buffalo, African lion and African leopard – chosen for their difficulty to hunt on foot,” according to an Animal Rights Coalition press release.

Palmer statement

Palmer released a statement on July 28 following the global response to a story that he was involved in the shooting of a renowned lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe.

“In early July, I was in Zimbabwe on a bow hunting trip for big game. I hired several professional guides and they secured all proper permits. To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted,” he wrote.

“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt,” he explained.

“I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have.

“Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”

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Economy & Market: Linked? http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/economy-market-linked/ http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/economy-market-linked/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 19:22:49 +0000 http://current.mnsun.com/?guid=f981601ed37fba4055151dce07cad7d6 Summer rolls along, theme parks are open and lines for roller coasters are long. Wild rides are fun, but you probably want a more predictable path when investing. Let’s look at some parallels and distinctions between the equity markets, thrill rides and the overall economy.

First, you’re accustomed to Cyclone metaphors if you follow financial news and its ups and downs. “Hanging on to China’s stock-market roller coaster,” reads a recent Wall Street Journal report. “In the bond world, that's a stomach-churning roller coaster ride,” says CNN Money of last fall’s whipsaw of U.S. Treasuries’ rates.

Second, the connection of the stock market and an economy is either obvious or, right now, nonexistent, depending on what you read.

We do know that recreational riders of roller coasters spend “discretionary dollars” that these consumers choose to spend. In contrast, other items that we all must buy, such as food, are staples.

Housing is a staple that economists carefully watch and tightly link it to jobless numbers. We in turn watch unemployment numbers to know when household income ought to increase, and we track how and where households spend.

Currently, housing sales are the strongest in five years – great news for many, from homeowners and builders to appliance manufacturers and furniture stores. Mortgage applications continue to surge and the National Association of Realtors reports that home sales remained on a brisk pace in recent months.

Of course, as consumers spend on their homes, they do redirect money from discretionary purchases (such as tickets to amusement parks). Assessing the economy through a single filter is difficult. Overlooking a dollar here or there can lead to serious – not to mention wrong – revisions of economic estimates or predictions.

The equity markets often move to new economic data, yet, oddly enough, also seem to ignore subsequent revisions. As investors we must look at the economy broadly and try to pinpoint sectors attracting consumer dollars and the areas that are shrinking. Equity markets are unlike the economy in important ways.

Economic data, reports and outlooks take into account the larger view regarding the flow of money measured against all of the goods and services we produce (our gross domestic product, or GDP, a periodically fixed figure). Equity markets tend to care more about trajectory and rate of change.

Next year’s looming election season already spotlights trade deals, immigration and other issues to potentially change how our economy expands in the future. (Not to mention that “the richest among us … can ride the roller coaster up and protect themselves when the inevitable peak is reached,” according to a recent pre-election article on income inequality from Salon).

As an investor, you must primarily consider how certain issues might help or hinder your returns. If the housing market keeps humming as theme-park attendance withers, for example, earnings of companies that own amusement parks – such as the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) or Six Flags Entertainment Corp. (SIX) – might suffer while the overall economy thrives.

Best you keep an eye on the trajectory of the markets and the overall indicators of our economy. One or both may provide a clue about when your next roller coaster ride starts on Wall Street.  

Follow AdviceIQ on Twitter at @adviceiq.

Joseph “Big Joe” Clark, CFP, is the managing partner of the Financial Enhancement Group LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisory firm in Indiana. He is the host of Consider This with Big Joe Clark, found on WQME and iTunes. Big Joe can be reached at bigjoe@yourlifeafterwork.com, or (765) 640-1524. Follow him on Twitter at @Big Joe Clark and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/FinancialEnhancementGroup.

Securities offered through and by World Equity Group Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services can be offered by the Financial Enhancement Group (FEG) or World Equity Group. FEG and World Equity Group are separately owned and operated.

AdviceIQ delivers quality personal finance articles by both financial advisors and AdviceIQ editors. It ranks advisors in your area by specialty, including small businesses, doctors and clients of modest means, for example. Those with the biggest number of clients in a given specialty rank the highest. AdviceIQ also vets ranked advisors so only those with pristine regulatory histories can participate. AdviceIQ was launched Jan. 9, 2012, by veteran Wall Street executives, editors and technologists. Right now, investors may see many advisor rankings, although in some areas only a few are ranked. Check back often as thousands of advisors are undergoing AdviceIQ screening. New advisors appear in rankings daily.

]]>
Summer rolls along, theme parks are open and lines for roller coasters are long. Wild rides are fun, but you probably want a more predictable path when investing. Let’s look at some parallels and distinctions between the equity markets, thrill rides and the overall economy.

First, you’re accustomed to Cyclone metaphors if you follow financial news and its ups and downs. “Hanging on to China’s stock-market roller coaster,” reads a recent Wall Street Journal report. “In the bond world, that’s a stomach-churning roller coaster ride,” says CNN Money of last fall’s whipsaw of U.S. Treasuries’ rates.

Second, the connection of the stock market and an economy is either obvious or, right now, nonexistent, depending on what you read.

We do know that recreational riders of roller coasters spend “discretionary dollars” that these consumers choose to spend. In contrast, other items that we all must buy, such as food, are staples.

Housing is a staple that economists carefully watch and tightly link it to jobless numbers. We in turn watch unemployment numbers to know when household income ought to increase, and we track how and where households spend.

Currently, housing sales are the strongest in five years – great news for many, from homeowners and builders to appliance manufacturers and furniture stores. Mortgage applications continue to surge and the National Association of Realtors reports that home sales remained on a brisk pace in recent months.

Of course, as consumers spend on their homes, they do redirect money from discretionary purchases (such as tickets to amusement parks). Assessing the economy through a single filter is difficult. Overlooking a dollar here or there can lead to serious – not to mention wrong – revisions of economic estimates or predictions.

The equity markets often move to new economic data, yet, oddly enough, also seem to ignore subsequent revisions. As investors we must look at the economy broadly and try to pinpoint sectors attracting consumer dollars and the areas that are shrinking. Equity markets are unlike the economy in important ways.

Economic data, reports and outlooks take into account the larger view regarding the flow of money measured against all of the goods and services we produce (our gross domestic product, or GDP, a periodically fixed figure). Equity markets tend to care more about trajectory and rate of change.

Next year’s looming election season already spotlights trade deals, immigration and other issues to potentially change how our economy expands in the future. (Not to mention that “the richest among us … can ride the roller coaster up and protect themselves when the inevitable peak is reached,” according to a recent pre-election article on income inequality from Salon).

As an investor, you must primarily consider how certain issues might help or hinder your returns. If the housing market keeps humming as theme-park attendance withers, for example, earnings of companies that own amusement parks – such as the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) or Six Flags Entertainment Corp. (SIX) – might suffer while the overall economy thrives.

Best you keep an eye on the trajectory of the markets and the overall indicators of our economy. One or both may provide a clue about when your next roller coaster ride starts on Wall Street.  

Follow AdviceIQ on Twitter at @adviceiq.

Joseph “Big Joe” Clark, CFP, is the managing partner of the Financial Enhancement Group LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisory firm in Indiana. He is the host of Consider This with Big Joe Clark, found on WQME and iTunes. Big Joe can be reached at bigjoe@yourlifeafterwork.com, or (765) 640-1524. Follow him on Twitter at @Big Joe Clark and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/FinancialEnhancementGroup.

Securities offered through and by World Equity Group Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services can be offered by the Financial Enhancement Group (FEG) or World Equity Group. FEG and World Equity Group are separately owned and operated.

AdviceIQ delivers quality personal finance articles by both financial advisors and AdviceIQ editors. It ranks advisors in your area by specialty, including small businesses, doctors and clients of modest means, for example. Those with the biggest number of clients in a given specialty rank the highest. AdviceIQ also vets ranked advisors so only those with pristine regulatory histories can participate. AdviceIQ was launched Jan. 9, 2012, by veteran Wall Street executives, editors and technologists. Right now, investors may see many advisor rankings, although in some areas only a few are ranked. Check back often as thousands of advisors are undergoing AdviceIQ screening. New advisors appear in rankings daily.

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Video: Hometown Sound Episode 2 with Paul Imholte http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/video-hometown-sound-episode-2-with-paul-imholte-2/ http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/video-hometown-sound-episode-2-with-paul-imholte-2/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 18:46:32 +0000 http://current.mnsun.com/?p=150313 Something went wrong: connect() timed out!

Old MacDonald may have had a farm, but Paul Imholte thought there was no reason he couldn’t have a banjo. The Saint Cloud native is singing and playing string instruments to songs like “Old MacDonald Had A Farm” and “You are my Sunshine” for young audiences.

After growing up near St. Joseph, Minnesota, he said he enjoys writing and performing songs about the region.

“I have an interest in writing songs about the Midwest, about Minnesota, about, well, kind of the five-state area and rural life, small towns from where I come,” Imholte said.

He got the idea for the “Old MacDonald Had a Banjo” album and tour after eating pizza with his family. He said he liked the idea that Old MacDonald could have something different than just a farm.

“He could have a banjo, but he could have an accordion or a penny whistle or a dobro, or a bag pipe or a tuba, or electric guitar or an orchestra, and all those instruments fell into this recording, and it was so much fun,” Imholte said.

He said back a long time ago he made a children’s cassette, and now people were asking to get a CD of the old tunes.

“Children that grew up with that cassette were asking for their children if they could get a recording, so I said, ‘Yeah, it’s time I re-record some of these songs,’” Imholte said.

Whether the concert is at a library or a festival, he hopes the audience is having a good time while learning about different instruments.

“I feel like I’m introducing string instruments and folk music to young people,” Imholte said.

Imholte became interested in learning instruments after playing with his grandfather’s fiddle as a young boy. He started taking lessons for the fiddle when he was around 10 years old, but he was ready to start learning other instruments.

“I was intrigued by cowboys, and cowboys played guitars, so a little bit later I got myself a guitar and those were the two instruments I played through high school,” Imholte said.

After that came learning the mandolin, which he says is a cross between a fiddle and guitar and uses techniques to both instruments. Throughout his life, he continued to take a few more music lessons and learned several new instruments. He now also knows how to play the banjo, violin, cello, mandola, mountain dulcimer, viola, harmonica, autoharp, jaw harps and spoons. While enjoying to play each instrument, he says he is best known for his skills on the hammer dulcimer.

“It’s a very ancient instrument, very beautiful instrument,” Imholte said.

He remembers learning the hammer dulcimer after his friend lent him the instrument.

“I learned a tune out of a book, and then I started adapting other things that I knew from the fiddle and playing guitar and started composing for the instrument,” Imholte said.

The hammer dulcimer is an instrument that originated from the Middle East and helped create the modern day piano. His trapezoid-shaped instrument has 74 strings that are doubled allowing him to play on three different octaves. He creates the tune by holding a hammer in each hand and striking the strings. The instrument can create a unique opportunity for harmony and melody to be played whether it’s in a folk, jazz or classical  song.

“There aren’t as many hammer dulcimer players as there are guitarists or violinists,” Imholte said.

Imholte has nearly 10 CDs, that are made up mostly of his original work. In the next 10 years, he said he hopes to spend more time working on composition.

“Music is my lifework, so you know making music, playing for people is very very enjoyable,” Imholte said.”

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Edina could take video production to the sky http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/edina-could-take-video-production-to-the-sky/ http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/edina-could-take-video-production-to-the-sky/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 17:52:26 +0000 http://current.mnsun.com/?p=150296  

It is a matter of time, really. Thirty days to return an item to the store after it’s purchased. The time it takes to fill out paper work for a Federal Aviation Administration exemption. The time it takes before drone use becomes a common occurrence.

For around $2,000 and with the blessing of the FAA, Edina – and any city – could have permitted aerial photography in its media offense. City staff attended a conference for some perspective on the latest in drone technology and walked out with an itch to test one themselves.

Edina Video Production Coordinator Scott Denfeld said he and a couple other staff members have been testing out a 3DR brand, Solo model drone.

They wanted to make sure that it was user-friendly and had the video quality and capabilities before making a final decision. With GPS navigation, the ability to pre-set routes, smartphone controls and easy piloting, they are pleased, he said.

“We quickly decided, ‘Yes, thumbs up,’” Denfeld said. “It’s good.”

An industry favorite are DJI Phantoms, according to many reports, but Denfeld liked its ease of use and its quality. The video production crew would use the drone video and photography for a different angle on some events and subjects it already captures with grounded lenses, Denfeld said, subjects such as community events and city-owned facilities like Braemar Golf Course.

“We’re pretty excited,” Denfeld said. “We obviously want to take our time and do it right. Once I think we use it, I think it’s going to add another level of quality we produce for residents.”

Now that the 30-day free trial is over, the city will return it until the FAA’s certificate of authorization process is completed, which could take four months, Denfeld said. The FAA has various classified uses for drones – technically called unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – that have their own permitted uses.
Essentially, there are four different categories of use, according to attorney Donald Chance Mark, Jr., of Fafinski, Mark and Johnson, P.A., based in Eden Prairie. The firm began a UAS practice in 2014 and was contacted by the Sun Current for clarifications and background on FAA regulations. An FAA representative did not respond to an interview request before deadline.

The four categories cover: hobbyists, governmental use, private entities working with government agencies, and purely commercial use, according to Mark. Regardless of what category drone use falls in, it must be kept below 500 feet in the air and be within line of natural eyesight – not binoculars. Drones cannot be flown over populated areas; they cannot be flown at night, and the pilot must have a spotter for commercial uses, according to Mark.

“Those are the basic parameters,” he said. Those parameters are relevant regardless of purpose.

There are other parameters for particular areas, such as flying near airports. Drones are not allowed to fly in Washington D.C., either, according to FAA regulations.

Hobbyists must follow the rules of any radio-controlled airplane. If someone buys a drone for hobby purposes – if she does not plan on producing a commercial product with it – they do not need an FAA certificate of authorization to use it, Mark said.

“They don’t have to do anything with the government,” he said.

Edina staffers, to this point, have not created a commercially-produced video. They have only tested functionality of one drone to ensure that they like it, according to Denfeld. Governmental uses commonly include law enforcement purposes, Mark said. These do require certification from the FAA, as does any drone use between government agencies and private companies – such as flying over acres of land to identify erosion problems or identify areas for further development, Mark said.

And, for the fourth category, commercial use of a drone – such as a utility company using drones to inspect miles of electrical wires – requires certificate of authorization from the FAA as well.

Mark said he was not familiar with Edina’s proposed use. He was contacted for clarity on FAA regulations, based on his firm’s private law practice. For any entity using drones, there will be two main concerns, he said.

“Safety will take precedence. Individual privacy will take precedence,” he said.

Anecdotal stories of manned aircraft pilots reporting nearby drones during take off, landing or while fighting forest fires in Canada have shown how dangerous misuse could be, Mark said.

“That’s a huge concern,” he said. Cockpit or engine collisions would be the two obvious catastrophes that should be prevented and that pilots are concerned about, he said.

Contact Paul Groessel at paul.groessel@ecm-inc.com or follow the Sun Current on Twitter
@EdinaSunCurrent.

 
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Bloomington dental office demonstration planned http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/bloomington-dental-office-demonstration-planned-this-afternoon/ http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/bloomington-dental-office-demonstration-planned-this-afternoon/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:06:18 +0000 http://current.mnsun.com/?p=150289 A Minneapolis group is planning a demonstration this afternoon in response to the allegation that an Eden Prairie man was involved in the shooting of a lion in Zimbabwe.

Stuffed animals sit outside teh door of the Bloomington dental office on July 28. (Sun Current staff photo by Mike Hanks)
Stuffed animals sit outside the doors of River Bluff Dental of Bloomington on July 28. (Sun Current staff photo by Mike Hanks)

The demonstration is planned for 4 p.m. Wednesday outside the offices of River Bluff Dental of Bloomington. Minneapolis-based Animal Rights Coalition is organizing the protest.

“African lions are threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, but that wasn’t a concern for Walter Palmer, who paid nearly $55,000 U.S. dollars to fly across the world to kill one. Tragically, African lions are sought out by trophy hunters as part of the big five: African elephant, black rhino, cape buffalo, African lion and African leopard – chosen for their difficulty to hunt on foot,” according to an Animal Rights Coalition press release.

The demonstration is intended to “draw attention to the shameful conduct of Palmer, and to bring the thousands of angry and anguished voices from around the globe to Palmer himself, near his dental practice in Bloomington,” according to the Animal Rights Coalition.

Palmer released a statement on July 28 following the global response to a story that he was involved in the shooting of a renowned lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe.

“In early July, I was in Zimbabwe on a bow hunting trip for big game. I hired several professional guides and they secured all proper permits. To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled and conducted,” he wrote.

“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt,” he explained.

“I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have.

“Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion.”

Information about the protest is available online at tr.im/protest.

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Annuity? Depends on Needs http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/annuity-depends-on-needs/ http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/annuity-depends-on-needs/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 15:52:48 +0000 http://current.mnsun.com/?guid=3054c653a4bc4e27de95fce8478e22e3 With an annuity, you invest a lump sum of cash to produce a monthly stream of income for a fixed period or for life. Whether annuities are good, bad or ugly rides on the type you choose and what you want it to do. Here’s what to know.

The income from your annuity can start now (aka an immediate annuity) or in the future (a deferred annuity). The issuers neither protect nor insure your funds, though, and the size of your future monthly check isn’t always a given. Your payout depends if the annuity is fixed or variable (where your payout depends on the performance of the managed portfolio fueling your annuity fund).

Also, not everyone needs an annuity. If you receive Social Security or a pension, you already have a variety of fixed annuity that pays you for the rest of your life. If you still want to pursue this kind of investment, here’s what to look for:

The good. If you’re a high-income earner in a high tax bracket, low-cost variable annuities can make sense if you max out your tax-advantaged 401(k) and individual retirement account deferrals and expect to land in a lower bracket when you retire. These variable annuities typically charge less than 1% per year.

A low-cost fixed or variable annuity may work if you want to convert a lump sum into a stream of income and you can afford to tie up a certain amount of your money for an extended time – possibly forever.

Longevity annuities, which you can set up to begin an income stream late in your life, can help if you’re concerned about outliving your assets and can afford to lock up some of your money.

Let’s say Alice is 73, in good health and comes from a long-lived family. She puts no more than 15% ($150,000) of her investments into a deferred (as in, until later in her life) fixed annuity to begin receiving monthly income when she turns 80; these payments will continue until she dies.

If she dies before any payments, the principal may be returned to her estate without interest. She might also forfeit the entire annuity if she dies after beginning to receive her stream of income.

New government initiatives allow you to put a portion of your 401(k) into an annuity. This option provides greater predictability and certainty for retirees, as investors don’t always invest wisely and retirement plan returns can suffer.

Finally, charitable annuities can be a beneficial way to make a tax-deductible donation to a charity and to receive a portion of your donation as a stream of income for life.

The bad and the ugly. Variable annuities can tie you down with 3% to 4% annual fees and surrender penalties – what you pay to cash in your annuity before it matures – applicable for up to 15 years or longer. Looking at variable annuities that you really don’t understand? Get a second opinion from an impartial advisor.

Are you in a low or moderate tax bracket? Buying an annuity with after-tax dollars (to defer investment income) may prove disappointing if your bracket ends up as high or higher in your retirement. Further, buying an annuity with after-tax money may be a poor tax decision: You swap lower capital gains rates on taxable income for higher ordinary income tax rates on all annuity gains.

You don’t need an annuity in an IRA, which is already tax-deferred. Holding an annuity in an IRA is largely redundant unless you specifically want the insurance/death benefit for your heirs.

A fixed annuity may augment your overall financial and investment strategy – but interest rates do remain unappealingly low. You’re better off waiting until rates rise to buy a fixed annuity that locks in those higher rates.

After-tax annuities also can’t be undone – once your money is in an annuity structure, it remains there. If you need or want to exit an annuity, you can only roll it over to a less-expensive annuity if you no longer face surrender penalties.

Are you planning to leave heirs your variable annuity? Annuities invested in equities make poor inheritances, with no step-up in basis (adjustment from the asset’s original price) to the current value when the initial owner (you, the annuitant) dies.

Fixed annuities can be attractive when interest rates move higher. I think that variable annuities come with more cons than pros. Buyer beware.

Follow AdviceIQ on Twitter at @adviceiq.

Eve Kaplan, CFP, is a fee-only advisor in Berkeley Heights, N.J. Kaplan Financial Advisors is a Registered Investment Advisor in New Jersey and New York.

AdviceIQ delivers quality personal finance articles by both financial advisors and AdviceIQ editors. It ranks advisors in your area by specialty, including small businesses, doctors and clients of modest means, for example. Those with the biggest number of clients in a given specialty rank the highest. AdviceIQ also vets ranked advisors so only those with pristine regulatory histories can participate. AdviceIQ was launched Jan. 9, 2012, by veteran Wall Street executives, editors and technologists. Right now, investors may see many advisor rankings, although in some areas only a few are ranked. Check back often as thousands of advisors are undergoing AdviceIQ screening. New advisors appear in rankings daily.

]]>
With an annuity, you invest a lump sum of cash to produce a monthly stream of income for a fixed period or for life. Whether annuities are good, bad or ugly rides on the type you choose and what you want it to do. Here’s what to know.

The income from your annuity can start now (aka an immediate annuity) or in the future (a deferred annuity). The issuers neither protect nor insure your funds, though, and the size of your future monthly check isn’t always a given. Your payout depends if the annuity is fixed or variable (where your payout depends on the performance of the managed portfolio fueling your annuity fund).

Also, not everyone needs an annuity. If you receive Social Security or a pension, you already have a variety of fixed annuity that pays you for the rest of your life. If you still want to pursue this kind of investment, here’s what to look for:

The good. If you’re a high-income earner in a high tax bracket, low-cost variable annuities can make sense if you max out your tax-advantaged 401(k) and individual retirement account deferrals and expect to land in a lower bracket when you retire. These variable annuities typically charge less than 1% per year.

A low-cost fixed or variable annuity may work if you want to convert a lump sum into a stream of income and you can afford to tie up a certain amount of your money for an extended time – possibly forever.

Longevity annuities, which you can set up to begin an income stream late in your life, can help if you’re concerned about outliving your assets and can afford to lock up some of your money.

Let’s say Alice is 73, in good health and comes from a long-lived family. She puts no more than 15% ($150,000) of her investments into a deferred (as in, until later in her life) fixed annuity to begin receiving monthly income when she turns 80; these payments will continue until she dies.

If she dies before any payments, the principal may be returned to her estate without interest. She might also forfeit the entire annuity if she dies after beginning to receive her stream of income.

New government initiatives allow you to put a portion of your 401(k) into an annuity. This option provides greater predictability and certainty for retirees, as investors don’t always invest wisely and retirement plan returns can suffer.

Finally, charitable annuities can be a beneficial way to make a tax-deductible donation to a charity and to receive a portion of your donation as a stream of income for life.

The bad and the ugly. Variable annuities can tie you down with 3% to 4% annual fees and surrender penalties – what you pay to cash in your annuity before it matures – applicable for up to 15 years or longer. Looking at variable annuities that you really don’t understand? Get a second opinion from an impartial advisor.

Are you in a low or moderate tax bracket? Buying an annuity with after-tax dollars (to defer investment income) may prove disappointing if your bracket ends up as high or higher in your retirement. Further, buying an annuity with after-tax money may be a poor tax decision: You swap lower capital gains rates on taxable income for higher ordinary income tax rates on all annuity gains.

You don’t need an annuity in an IRA, which is already tax-deferred. Holding an annuity in an IRA is largely redundant unless you specifically want the insurance/death benefit for your heirs.

A fixed annuity may augment your overall financial and investment strategy – but interest rates do remain unappealingly low. You’re better off waiting until rates rise to buy a fixed annuity that locks in those higher rates.

After-tax annuities also can’t be undone – once your money is in an annuity structure, it remains there. If you need or want to exit an annuity, you can only roll it over to a less-expensive annuity if you no longer face surrender penalties.

Are you planning to leave heirs your variable annuity? Annuities invested in equities make poor inheritances, with no step-up in basis (adjustment from the asset’s original price) to the current value when the initial owner (you, the annuitant) dies.

Fixed annuities can be attractive when interest rates move higher. I think that variable annuities come with more cons than pros. Buyer beware.

Follow AdviceIQ on Twitter at @adviceiq.

Eve Kaplan, CFP, is a fee-only advisor in Berkeley Heights, N.J. Kaplan Financial Advisors is a Registered Investment Advisor in New Jersey and New York.

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It’s all about making the catch in 35 & Over rec softball http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/its-all-about-making-the-catch-in-35-over-rec-softball/ http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/its-all-about-making-the-catch-in-35-over-rec-softball/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 15:38:42 +0000 http://current.mnsun.com/?p=150280 A long drive to deep center field appeared to be headed out of the park during Edina 35 & Over Softball July 22 at Van Valkenburg Park.
Outfielder Steve Cordes of the Cruisers took off running, but the task looked hopeless.

Steve Cordes
Steve Cordes

Jeff Febel, playing outfield alongside him, suddenly yelled, “Turn!”

When Cordes spun around, he saw that he had over-run the ball, so he dove back toward the infield and caught the ball in the webbing of his glove. In the old days, they called that kind of catch a “snow cone.”

“Steve had the presence of mind to hold his glove up in the air,” said Febel. “He sold it.” And umpire Billy Moes made the emphatic out call to end the inning.

The catch was so spectacular that it was all anyone talked about after the Cruisers finished off C-Side 8-2.

“In all the years I’ve played here, that’s one of the finest catches I’ve seen,” said Cruisers second baseman Denny Murphy.

“There’s no substitute for speed,” said Cruisers pitcher Jack Meenan. “That’s one of the best ones I’ve seen.”

Cordes said he plays outfield for the Cruisers because “I’m one of the younger guys.”

“I try to play shortstop sometimes, but they tell me I’m too young,” he said.

This is Cordes’ fifth season with the Cruisers, and someday he knows he’ll have a chance for the coveted infield spot. But as long as he’s making spectacular grabs in the outfield, that infield berth is still several summers away.

In another game on the same field later that evening, Matt Dahlien of the Love Handles made a great catch of his own.

A long run and a dive made Dahlien’s big play possible.

“He laid out for it, just like this,” said Love Handles captain Dave Mielke, who tossed his hat aside and dove on the grass with the ball in his glove.

Dahlien smiled, wondering if his big play really looked like that.

At any rate, the catch helped the Love Handles clinch the No. 1 seed for the 35 & Over playoffs with an 18-5 win over Federated Insurance.

In other league games, the Bruce Avenue All-Stars roped the Northeast Moose 17-7, the Boys of Summer cooled off the Average Bros 16-10 and Bunny’s Bar & Grill closed down the Urgency Room 17-2.

Contact John Sherman at john.sherman@ecm-inc.com

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Mechanical bull can’t keep ‘Vegas’ down http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/mechanical-bull-cant-keep-vegas-down/ http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/mechanical-bull-cant-keep-vegas-down/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 15:35:01 +0000 http://current.mnsun.com/?p=150275 “Have you ever ridden a mechanical bull?” Mortgage Capital outfielder Craig Oestreich asked a fan after his team won the Edina Monday Slowptich Softball League title July 27 at Van Valkenburg Park.

Craig “Vegas” Oestreich plays the game with reckless abandon. Here, the Mortgage Capital slowpitch softball player slides into third base in an 11-5 playoff win over Fulton Brewery. (Sun Current staff photo by John Sherman)
Craig “Vegas” Oestreich plays the game with reckless abandon. Here, the Mortgage Capital slowpitch softball player slides into third base in an 11-5 playoff win over Fulton Brewery. (Sun Current staff photo by John Sherman)

Well, Oestreich, whose nickname is “Vegas,” rode a bull in Iowa two nights before Championship Monday.

The 45-year-old ballplayer lost the battle to the bull and was bucked off, injuring his back in the process. He didn’t know if he’d be able to play on Monday, but his mantra was “play or die trying.”

In the semifinals, Oestreich raced from first to third on a teammate’s single, diving for the bag with two hands. That was a critical play in Mortgage Capital’s 11-5 win over Fulton Brewery.

It was one of three head-first slides for Vegas, whose shirt was more brown than red by the end of the night. He scored a total of six runs in two games, as Mortgage Capital followed its win over Fulton with a 14-10 victory over Cowboy Jack’s/YMCA in the title contest. Cowboy Jack’s had beaten Denali’s 10-7 in the other semifinal.

Mortgage Capital posted a modest 12-8 regular-season record, but heated up with three straight playoff wins.

“When my back snapped on Saturday, I was worried,” said Oestreich. “I didn’t want to let my teammates down.”

This is the winners’ second title in three years. Their first, in 2013, was won on a base hit by Oestreich in the bottom of the seventh.

Another key player for Mortgage Capital, pitcher Dirk Updike, hit a 350-foot homer late in the game against Cowboy Jacks’/YMCA. The timely blast boosted the lead from 11-9 to 14-9 in the bottom of the sixth.

“Tonight, everybody had a big hit when we needed one,” said Updike. “In the sixth, I went up there telling myself, hit a homer no matter what. I have some good buddies on this team … this is what softball is all about.”

Left-center fielder Mike Christen said, “Dirk has been a great addition to the team this year. He’s a good teammate and an all-around good player. We knew Cowboy Jack’s/YMCA could hit. They were in the championship game for a reason, and we needed to make a lot of defensive plays to win tonight.”

Many of those key plays were made by veteran second baseman Bill Schmidt, the team captain.

“That’s the most action I’ve had all year,” said Schmidt. “The outfielders had a good game, and we made the plays we needed to make in the infield. We even stole a few outs. The play of the game was Dirk’s homer in the bottom of the sixth. We needed that three-run bomb.”

Oestreich said he plans to savor the victory, adding that he is going to avoid riding mechanical bulls for a while.

Contact John Sherman at john.sherman@ecm-inc.com

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John Sherman and the unveiling of the Sherman Cup http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/john-sherman-and-the-unveiling-of-the-sherman-cup/ http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/john-sherman-and-the-unveiling-of-the-sherman-cup/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 14:56:47 +0000 http://current.mnsun.com/?p=150269 John Sherman has spent 43 years of his life covering sports in Edina for the Sun Current, as well as for the communities of Wayzata, Excelsior, Minnetonka, Hopkins and Plymouth for the Sun Sailor.

The Sherman Cup will be permanently placed at Bunny’s Bar & Grill, and the name of each year’s league champion will be placed on the side of the trophy. (Sun Current staff photo by Chris Chesky)
The Sherman Cup will be permanently placed at Bunny’s Bar & Grill, and the name of each year’s league champion will be placed on the side of the trophy. (Sun Current staff photo by Chris Chesky)

Throughout his time with the Sun Current, Sherman has built relationships with local athletes, made many sports memories, and has had an impact on almost everybody he has met.

John is known by many names including “Sherm,” “Scoop,” or, just simply, John. No matter what he is called, his impact on the local sports community has been great.

I first met John in January when I was an intern for Sun Newspapers through the Murphy News Service program at the University of Minnesota. I had no idea what to expect when I showed up on my first day and was fairly nervous.

Then I saw John walking towards me in the hallway.

He introduced himself and asked me about my experience in sports writing and really took the time to listen and get to know me. As my internship went along, I got to know John very well and he quickly became a mentor for me and gave me the confidence to continue pursuing my journalism career.

The impact he made on my life has been a substantial one. John is the reason I was able to develop my writing skills and hone my own writing style during my final semester at the University of Minnesota. John and the guidance he provided during my internship is also the reason why I am now a staff member here at Sun Newspapers.

While John is the main reason why my life has changed for the better, my life is not the only one John has impacted. Through his 43 years, John has met many different people and his positive attitude and his outlook on life has impacted each one of them.

One of the groups of people John has had the biggest impact on during his 43 years has been the members of the Edina 35 & Over Softball League. John has spent almost 20 years covering the league and has gotten close to many of its members, many of whom met John when they were playing sports in high school. Many remember the time he spent covering their teams and attending their games in high school.

That dedication to local sports has not faded as years have gone by, and John is as dedicated to these players in the Edina 35 & Over Softball League as he was during their time in high school.

He spends countless hours attending games every Monday and Wednesday evening and writes up stories about the league each week that are featured in the Edina Sun Current.

In honor of the time John spends every year covering their games, the members of the Edina 35 & Over Softball League wanted to recognize him and the hard work he has put in over the years.

In honor of John, members of the Edina 35 & Over Softball League created the Sherman Cup, the first championship trophy the league has had.

Chris Cooper (left), Bryan Fricke (right) and Rick LaVercombe (middle) represent the recent championship teams of Concord USA (2012), Bunny’s Bar & Grill (2013) and the Love Handles (2014). (Sun Current staff photo by Chris Chesky)
Chris Cooper (left), Bryan Fricke (right) and Rick LaVercombe (middle) represent the recent championship teams of Concord USA (2013), Bunny’s Bar & Grill (2012) and the Love Handles (2014). (Sun Current staff photo by Chris Chesky)

“Sherman’s always out here talking stories and talking with the guys,” Bunny’s Bar & Grill third baseman Bryan Fricke said. “He’s always involved with us, and we really appreciate everything he does for us. It’s fun to give him something back and give him recognition.”

The trophy will be stationed at Bunny’s Bar & Grill in St. Louis Park, and each year’s champion will have their picture taken with the trophy and their name will be added to the cup.

Chris Cooper, formerly with the 2013 champion Concord USA, Love Handles’ Rick LaVercombe and Fricke all believed that the trophy was the perfect way to thank John for all the time he has spent covering the league.

“It’s special knowing that he’s always here,” Cooper said. “He’s more of a friend than anything else. The fact that he’s willing to contribute that much of his life to people he doesn’t necessarily know is pretty amazing. He’s a generous guy.”

The Sherman Cup will make it’s debut tonight at Van Valkenburg Park prior to the first round of the playoffs.

Contact Chris Chesky at chris.chesky@ecm-inc.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports.

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Opinion: Education commissioner should require penalty for MCA disruptions http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/opinion-education-commissioner-should-require-penalty-for-mca-disruptions/ http://current.mnsun.com/2015/07/opinion-education-commissioner-should-require-penalty-for-mca-disruptions/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 14:25:47 +0000 http://current.mnsun.com/?p=150258 Taking the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests in reading, math and science last spring was important for thousands of Minnesota high school students. Passing the tests with good scores enables them to demonstrate their knowledge and graduate high school. The scores also are used to measure school performance and evaluate curriculum and teachers.

Most students take these tests online. The testing system last spring was run by testing company Pearson, which is under contract with the Minnesota Department of Education. The company has a two-year $33.8 million contract, ending in 2016.

Last spring, all went well for the first 400,000 tests until late April when the program sputtered, and there was widespread disruption of the testing of students. Some couldn’t log into the system, the testing quit entirely half way through for some, and tests had to be rescheduled.

It got so bad that Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius suspended the testing for April 22 after three days of school districts and charter schools reporting issues with the Pearson server. Josh Collins, spokesperson for MDE, said the first two days involved technical problems with a server. The third day, testing was disrupted due to an online distributed denial of service attack on the system to disrupt the testing process, Pearson said. Testing resumed April 23, and eventually the remaining 600,000 tests were completed.

On May 13, MDE suspended the MCA science testing for May 14 after Pearson reported another outside cyber attack. Testing resumed May 15.

Some Minnesota teachers want the MCA scores tossed out, contending the repeated problems made the test scores unreliable. Other critics said Pearson should be fined heavily for the disruption.

Laura Howe, vice president of media and communication for Pearson, described the intermittent disruptions in Minnesota from a distributed denial of service attack as a “malicious, third-party attack and a deliberate attempt to overload and slow down system traffic.”

She said: “Our goal is to minimize disruptions for students, teachers and administrators. We closely monitored the activity on our systems, while the attacks were ongoing and had teams on standby-available around the clock to respond.”

Many school districts and charter schools reported significant disruption for their students. The problem was not just the impact on student test scores; it was a major disruption of district and charter schools.

Lisa Snyder, Lakeville superintendent, summed up the comments of other superintendents: “The technical difficulties presented by Pearson resulted in some students not being able to log into their tests, slow testing, freezing and an inability to pause or save responses for those that were logged in. Further, the inability to test has resulted in an additional loss of valuable instructional time with our students.”

On the other hand, Jaclyn Swords, Eden Prairie district director of communications and community relations, said they have planned well and are prepared both technically and administratively to deliver MCA online exams. She said they followed their protocols and successfully rescheduled student assessments.

This month Commissioner Cassellius must decide how much of a penalty Pearson should pay for the testing difficulties. Pearson bills the school district monthly and the contract has provisions for failure to live up to the testing standards.

So far state officials are not taking legal action, although they are consulting with the attorney general’s office to determine the options, Collins said.

The commissioner has hired a consultant to help determine the testing damage. She will examine the impact on the test results, system reports, calls and comments from the schools.

Howe said Pearson could not comment on the negotiations except to say they are working to strengthen their defenses to fend off similar attacks in the future. She said, ”We understand the frustration these disruptions caused to students and we apologize for the inconvenience they caused.”

Mindful that Pearson has a two-year contract and will be conducting the MCA testing next spring, Cassellius is also facing a legislative cut of $20 million for testing over this year and next.

One option for Cassellius would be to discontinue with Pearson, but that’s unlikely because putting another whole testing system in place in that timeframe would be difficult.

So the next option is to negotiate with Pearson to pay a penalty to the MDE. That process is underway and the commissioner is expected to make her decision this month.

There should be some consequences for Pearson. After all, Pearson has been doing this for years and they should be expected to have adequate defenses and systems to prevent this disruption from happening again.

“We hold our students to high standards and we expect no less of Pearson,” said Cassellius. “Students deserve a worry-free testing experience without interruptions.”

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers Inc. Reactions to this column are always welcome. Send to: editor.sun@ecm-inc.com.

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