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Insuring Your Business Against Cyber Liability

Cyber crime can be a serious threat to businesses.

One survey found that 44% of small businesses have been a victim of a cyber-attack. And, unbeknownst to 75% of owners, business checking accounts are not protected when it comes to online hacking, unlike consumer accounts.¹

Business owners are also required to protect their customers’ personal information. In 47 states, and the District of Columbia, businesses are required to notify individuals of security breaches involving personally identifiable information.²

As evidenced by news of large-scale data breaches, online hacking has become another form of risk that businesses now face everyday. Like many risks, businesses can insure themselves against the financial damage a cyber-attack may inflict.

Cyber liability insurance may cover a range of risks, including:

  • Data Breach Management: Pays expenses related to the investigation, management and remediation of an incident, including customer notification, credit check support and associated legal costs and fines.
  • Media Liability: Covers third-party damages such as website vandalism and intellectual property rights infringement.
  • Extortion Liability: Reimburses for expenses associated with losses arising from a threat of extortion.
  • Network Security Liability: Covers costs connected with third-party damages due to a denial of access and theft of third-party information.

Cyber liability insurance is fairly new so expect a wide divergence of coverage and costs. It may be purchased separately, or as a rider to your current business insurance policy. Be prepared to comparison shop to get a better understanding of coverage and costs.

Small business owners might also keep in mind that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” There are steps you can take to protect your business from becoming a cyber victim.

Consider steps to protect your data.

  1. Maintain robust malware detection software and keep existing software updated.
  2. Train employees not to open links contained in emails from unknown senders.
  3. Encrypt your important data, such as bank account information, customer credit card numbers, etc.
  4. Perform a security audit.

As obvious and simple as these precautions may sound, some businesses fall victim to cyber-attacks because of their failure to take them.

  1. National Small Business Association, 2013
  2. National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015

Business Succession

Succeeding at Business Succession

LegalZoom reported that 75% of small-business owners have no formal succession plan.¹ While the number may shock, it doesn’t surprise since so many small business owners are consumed by the myriad responsibilities of running their businesses.

Nevertheless, owners ignore succession planning at their peril, and possibly at the peril of their heirs.

There are a number of reasons for business owners to consider a business succession plan sooner rather than later. Let's take a look at two of them.

The first reason is taxes. Upon the owner’s death, estate taxes may be due that a proactive strategy may help to better manage.² Failure to properly plan can also lead to a loss of control over the final disposition of the company.

Second, the absence of a succession plan may result in a decline in the value of the business in the event of the owner’s death or unexpected disability.

The process of business succession planning is comprised of three basic steps:

  1. Identify Your Goals: When you know your objectives, it becomes easier to develop a plan to pursue them. For instance, do you want future income from the business for you and your spouse? What level of involvement do you want in the business? Do you want to create a legacy for your family or a charity? What are the values that you want to ensure, perhaps as they relate to your employees or community?
  2. Determine Steps to Pursue Your Objectives: There are a number of tools to help you follow the goals you’ve identified. They may include buy/sell agreements, gifting shares, establishing a variety of trusts or even creating an employee stock ownership plan if your desire is that employees have an ownership stake in the future.
  3. Implement the Plan: The execution step that converts ideas into action. Once implemented, you should revisit the plan regularly to make sure it remains relevant in the face of changing circumstances, such as divorce, changes in business profitability, or the death of a stakeholder.

Keep in mind that a fundamental prerequisite to business succession planning is valuing your business.

As you might imagine, business succession is a complicated exercise that involves complex set of tax rules and regulations. Before moving forward with a succession plan, consider working with legal and tax professionals who are familiar with the process.

  1. National Federation of Independent Business, October 2013

When Does Your Personal Car Become a Commercial Vehicle?

For small business owners, the line between the personal and their business can be a bit hazy at times. Yet, when it comes to a vehicle that may be used for personal and business-related reasons, it’s important to know how your auto insurer is expected to define what constitutes commercial use.

If you own a car and cover it under a personal auto insurance policy, an insurance company may not pay claims for any damages you incur if the insurance company deems that it was used as a commercial vehicle.

Not being on the same page with your insurance carrier may result in financial losses, so it pays to ask yourself important questions about your vehicle’s use in order to select the right policy for your car.¹

The key distinction for determining if a personally owned car may need commercial auto insurance coverage is whether the vehicle is used for any business-related purpose.

Defining Business-Related Purpose

Your auto may be defined as a commercial vehicle if you use your vehicle to:

  • pick up or deliver any goods,
  • provide a service for a fee,
  • travel to a remote work location or between work locations, or
  • visit client locations.

Additional conditions under which your car may be defined as a commercial vehicle include:

  • the owner named on the vehicle title is a business—incorporated, unincorporated or LLC,
  • the vehicle is rented or leased by others,
  • the vehicle is equipped with a snow plow, has an altered suspension system or other equipment or modification, or
  • driven by you or your employees for both business and personal use on a consistent basis.

If you use your personal vehicle for business reasons only occasionally, it may be covered under your personal policy, but you may need to indicate that on your application for auto insurance.

The wisest course of action is to describe how you expect to use your vehicle for personal and business purposes and let your insurance agent guide to the most appropriate policy for your situation.

  1. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.

Good Health Is Good Business

Wellness programs in the workplace can help boost productivity and reduce costs.

Approximately 27% of payroll for U.S. employers is attributable to health and productivity costs.¹ Business owners and managers understand very well the rising cost of health care and the loss of productivity associated with absenteeism and employee disengagement.

Which is why 89% of employers surveyed by Optum, a health management consulting firm, believe that offering health and wellness programs plays an important role in increasing worker productivity.²

And, employer efforts are bearing fruit. According to one report, medical costs fell approximately $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs, while absenteeism costs fell about $2.73 for every dollar spent.³

The Profile of a Successful Wellness Program

Tailored: An effective employee wellness program is multifaceted and must reflect the personal needs and interests of a diverse workforce.

Incentives: Incentives, such as rewards and recognition, communicate the employer’s care and support for the program and help drive employee participation.

Measurable: To maintain ongoing support, there should be tracking of the program’s impact.

Common Wellness Program Offerings

The most common employer wellness offerings include smoking cessation, physical activity, mental health, health club membership and weight management.

Yet while these offerings may be obvious “essentials,” employers can misread the needs of their employees. For instance, according to a survey by Virgin Pulse (an affiliate of the Virgin Group), less than 10% of employees were interested in smoking cessation programs, while a top employee preference—healthy on-site food choices and nutrition programs—did not register as high with employers.⁴

A Bonus

Good health is as much a social endeavor as it is a personal journey. These programs can often create employee interactions unlikely to occur during the workday, prompting conversations and relations that catalyze new ideas and improve your work culture.

Using CRUTs & CRATs to Sell Your Business Interest

Using CRUTs & CRATs to Sell Your Business Interest

These estate planning tools may also help in exit planning.

 

Provided by PlanningWorks

     

Discover a pair of underappreciated exit planning vehicles. Charitable remainder unit trusts (CRUTs) and charitable remainder annuity trusts (CRATs) are commonly seen as estate planning tools. What frequently goes unseen is their value in exit planning for business owners.

 

Does it look like you will sell your company to a third party? Do your “second act” or “third act” goals include financial independence, philanthropy and leaving significant wealth for your heirs? If you find yourself answering “yes” to these questions, a CRUT or CRAT may help you accomplish those objectives and enhance your outcome.

CRUTs & CRATs are variations of charitable remainder trusts (CRTs). A CRT is an irrevocable tax-exempt trust that you can fund with highly appreciated C corporation stock (or optionally, other types of highly appreciated assets).

How do you sell your ownership interest through a CRUT or CRAT? As the trust creator (or grantor), you donate said C corp stock to the CRUT or CRAT. Because the trust is tax-exempt, it can sell those highly appreciated C corp shares without triggering immediate capital gains tax.1

The CRUT or CRAT sells your ownership shares to the outside buyer of your company, and it becomes your tax-exempt retirement fund. It invests the cash realized from the sale of your ownership shares in either fixed-income or growth securities; it provides you with recurring payments out of the trust principal, which occur for X number of years or for the duration of your life (or even longer). The payments can even go to people other than yourself – they can optionally go to your parents, they could go to your grandkids.1,2

You are offered another tax break as well. You can take a one-time charitable income tax deduction for the value of the donation used to fund the trust (i.e., a tax deduction applicable in the current tax year). This demands an appraisal of the highly appreciated assets being donated to the CRUT or CRAT, obviously. The deduction amount also depends on calculations using IRS life expectancy tables, the term of the trust, interest rates, and payout schedules and amounts.1,3

On one level, a CRUT or CRAT is an agreement you make with the IRS. In exchange for all these tax perks, you agree to give 10% or more of the initial value of the CRUT or CRAT to a qualified charity or non-profit organization. Many CRUT or CRAT grantors intend to leave no more than that to charity.2

When the grantor passes away, a last tax break occurs. While 100% of the trust assets now become part of his or her taxable estate, the estate may take a deduction for the remainder interest that goes to the qualified charity or non-profit.3

Some CRUT and CRAT grantors strategize to offset the eventual gifting of 10% (or more) of trust assets. They have the beneficiaries of the CRUT or CRAT fund an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). When the grantor passes away, they receive insurance proceeds sufficient to replace the “lost” wealth. Since the ILIT owns the life insurance policy, the life insurance payout isn’t included in the taxable estate of the deceased and it isn’t subject to transfer taxes.3

 

What’s the fundamental difference between a CRUT & a CRAT? The difference concerns the recurring payments out of the trust to the grantor. In a CRUT, those payments represent a percentage of the fair market value of the principal of the trust (and that principal is revalued annually). In a CRAT, they represent a fixed percentage of the initial value of the principal.1

 

Older business owners may find the CRAT is a more appealing choice, while younger business owners may be more attracted to the CRUT. Yearly distributions from a CRUT must amount to at least 5% and no more than 50% of the trust principal revalued annually. Yearly distributions from a CRAT must come to at least 5% but no more than 50% of the initial value of the donated assets.1,3

 

Can an owner fund a CRUT or CRAT with S corp shares? No. A charitable remainder trust can’t serve as a shareholder in an S corp, so if you donate S corp stock to a CRT, there goes your S corp status. It should also be noted that C corp stock subject to recourse debt can’t go into a CRT.1

     

Are you interested in learning more? Talk to a financial or tax professional about the potential of CRUTs and CRATs. What you learn may lead you toward a better outcome for your business.

   

PlanningWorks may be reached at 512 498-7526 or info@planningworks.biz

 

Avoiding the Common 1040 Mistakes

Avoiding the Common 1040 Mistakes

 

Don’t let these slip-ups creep into your federal tax return.

 

Provided by PlanningWorks

 

No one wants to delay their federal tax refund. As you certainly don’t, filling out your 1040 form correctly is essential. To that end, it is worth noting some of the common 1040 mistakes – the little slip-ups that aggravate both the IRS and the taxpayer. 

 

Not signing your return. If you file online (and who doesn’t), you have to type your name on the “Your Signature” line in the “Sign Here” section, along with your spouse’s name if you file jointly. If you still file a hard-copy return, you’ve got to sign your name on the “Your Signature” line, and the same goes for your spouse on the “Spouse’s signature” line. No valid signature equals an invalid return.1

 

Not getting your name right. Believe or not, some people mistype their names as they e-file. More commonly, they enter an old name – a maiden name, for example – that doesn’t match the name linked to this taxpayer identification number. If you’ve changed your name, the Social Security Administration (and other federal agencies, as applicable) need to know that.1

 

Missing the filing deadline(s) applicable to you or your business. Is your company an S corp? That means you will probably need to file a Form 1120S by March 15. Is it a sole proprietorship? That means you have until April 15 to file a Form 1040C. If you are new to making estimated tax payments, you have hopefully pored over Form 1040-ES with a tax professional to figure out how much tax is due by each quarterly payment period.2

 

Turning in Form 4868 (the “extension”) gives you until October 15 to file, although any federal taxes owed must still be paid by April 15. If you are a servicemember on duty outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico, you have until June 15 to file your return and pay taxes, and you can also use Form 4868 to file as late as October 15.3

 

If you file late (that is, you submit your return after April 15 without using Form 4868 to request an extension), you face a penalty – a 5% penalty per month following the return’s due date, capping out at a 25% maximum penalty after five months. The penalty for unpaid taxes is .5% per month after the April 15 deadline, and 6% interest a year. If you have taxes a year overdue, you will be assessed both the monthly and yearly penalties.2

 

Making numerical errors. Even with some of the great tax prep software now available, math errors still happen. In fact, they happen largely because people don’t use the software: the taxpayers who insist on filing paper returns are 20 times more likely to commit math mistakes than those who e-file, the IRS reports.1

 

If an electronically filed return contains a math mistake, it gets sent back to the taxpayer or tax professional for correction and resubmission. If a paper return has a math mistake, the IRS has to refigure it on the taxpayer’s behalf. That takes time.1

 

Additionally, some taxpayers get Social Security numbers wrong – not necessarily their own, but those of their spouses. Also, a smooth direct deposit of a federal tax refund won’t happen if a taxpayer types in an inaccurate bank account number.1

 

Selecting the wrong filing status. This happens a lot with divorced moms and dads. To determine if they should check the “head of household” box or the “single” box, they should take the online interview at irs.gov/uac/What-is-My-Filing-Status%3F.4

 

Claiming a credit or deduction you shouldn’t. Again, tax prep software tends to ward off this mistake. Credits often inappropriately claimed (or ignored): the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and even the standard deduction.1

 

Many business owners overlook deductions or claim them in error. Sometimes this can be traced back to slipshod recordkeeping; other times, it stems from faulty assumptions. According to a survey from small business accounting software maker Xero, the most common merited deductions that aren’t claimed by SBOs are those for depreciation (30%), out-of-pocket capital expenses (29%) and car and truck expenses (16%).2

 

Claiming employees as independent contractors. Some small business owners try to save money by doing this, but the IRS may disagree with such claims. If so, the business can end up on the hook for employment taxes related to that employee.2

 

So what steps can you take to try and reduce the risk of errors on your 1040 form? You can file electronically, you can use some of the terrific tax prep software available, and you can turn to a skilled tax professional to help you prepare and file your return. No one is perfect, but those are all good moves to make this tax season.

 

PlanningWorks may be reached at 512 498-7526 or info@planningworks.biz

 

Section 105 Plans

Section 105 Plans

Medical reimbursement plans to benefit the smallest businesses.

 

Provided by PlanningWorks

 

Some businesses start small and stay small, by design. You may own such a business. Perhaps things begin and end with you, or maybe you employ one other person – your spouse. If this is the case, you should know about Section 105 plans.

 

Being self-employed, you already know that you can deduct 100% of your healthcare premiums from your federal and state taxes. The tax savings needn’t stop there. A properly structured Section 105 plan may let you deduct 100% of your family’s out-of-pocket medical expenses from federal, state and FICA/Medicare taxes.1,2

 

That’s right – all of them. TASC, a major provider of microbusiness employee benefits administration services, estimates that a Section 105 plan saves a family an average of $5,000 in taxes a year.2

 

How does this work? Section 105 of the Internal Revenue Code permits a self-employed person to set up a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) for tax-free repayment of major qualified medical expenses not covered under a health plan. Alternately, that self-employed individual may hire a salaried employee (read: his/her spouse) and offer that employee an HRA.1,3

 

If the latter choice is made, the benefits offered will not only cover the employee, but also his/her spouse and dependents. So if the new hire is the business owner’s spouse, what results is effectively a family healthcare expense account.1

 

Most solopreneurs need to hire someone to get this perk. Can you set up a Section 105 plan without hiring an employee? Yes, if your business is a C-corp, an S-corp, or an LLC that files its federal tax return as a corporation. In a corporate structure, the corporation is defined as the employer and the business owner is defined as a salaried employee.1,3  

 

Otherwise, hiring an employee is a precondition to implementing a Section 105 plan. You don’t necessarily have to hire your spouse – the new hire could be your son or daughter, a more distant relative, or even someone to whom you aren’t related.1

 

Did the Affordable Care Act restrict the implementation of these plans? Not for microbusinesses. When the IRS issued Notice 2013-54 as a follow-up to the Affordable Care Act, most businesses lost the chance to offer a discrete medical reimbursement plan. One-employee HRAs are still allowed under Section 105 using group or individual insurance coverage.2

 

Look at all you can potentially deduct. A properly designed Section 105 plan allows eligible employee(s) and their family/families to deduct all health and dental insurance premiums, all life and disability insurance premiums, all premiums for qualified long term care coverage, all Medicare Part A and Medigap premiums, all out-of-pocket medical, dental, and vision care expenses, psychiatric care, orthodontics ... anything stipulated as a qualified medical expense in Section 213 of the Internal Revenue Code. Section 105 plans can even be structured so that if an employee doesn’t max out his/her yearly deduction, the unused portion can be carried over to subsequent years.1 

 

To keep up the plan, keep the paper trail going. A business owner and a financial or tax professional should collaborate to put a Section 105 plan into play. The IRS does look closely at these plans to check that the other spouse is legitimately employed – salaried, working a set schedule of hours, and hired per a written agreement. In addition, appropriate tax forms must be filed with the IRS, including Form 940 if the employee is unrelated to the business owner.1

 

If you want to lessen your tax liability and create an expense account to meet unanticipated medical costs, do what other microbusiness owners have done: set up a Section 105 plan.

   

PlanningWorks may be reached at 512 498-7526 or info@planningworks.biz

Why People Want Independent Financial Advisors (Updated 2014)

Why People Want Independent Financial Advisors

In some cases, “independent” is better.

 

Provided by PlanningWorks

 

Times have changed – and so have financial advisors. Today, people don’t want financial advice from a salesman. Instead, they want a relationship with a financial professional who is candid, trustworthy and thoroughly educated, and who provides personalized financial consulting for each client.

 

That search often leads them to a fee-based or fee-only financial advisor or a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

A pleasant alternative to Wall Street. A paradigm shift has happened, and the traditional brokerage houses are witnessing its impact. Although old-school “stock brokers” have pretty much gone the way of the wooly mammoth, you still have a sales-first mentality in place at the big banks and Wall Street brokerages. If you’re employed by one of them, the mantra is simple: make a sale, earn a commission. As they try to serve their clients, these “wirehouse” brokers regularly contend with sales quotas and the inherent potential for conflicts of interest.

 

In a recent Charles Schwab survey of brokers at large financial firms, 78% of the respondents expressed their belief that their clients felt more loyalty to them than the Wall Street firm and that 70% of their clients would follow them if they left it. Many investment professionals start their careers with the wirehouses, and 65% of the brokers under the age of 40 surveyed said becoming an independent Registered Investment Advisor appealed to them. Not only that, 76% of respondents felt that the number of registered representatives leaving the wirehouses would increase in the coming years.1,2

 

Consumers are savvy, and it isn’t surprising that they are turning elsewhere for financial advice. In particular, there are three popular resources.

 

A fee-based financial advisor has structured his or her practice to promote earning income from fees instead of commissions. The emphasis is on advice. An independent, fee-based financial advisor also has freedom – freedom to choose the most appropriate products and services for your risk tolerance and investment goals. (More about that in a moment.)

 

Fee-only financial advisors earn no commissions at all. They derive 100% of their income from client fees, either annual management fees or hourly or per-project consulting fees. With this compensation arrangement, you know that the advisor is available to help you address myriad issues in your financial life, not simply those that could generate commissions linked to product sales.

 

A Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) usually works to manage the assets of high net worth investors. The management fees usually represent a percentage of the assets a client has invested. RIAs have to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission or the securities authorities in the states in which they operate. They also have a fiduciary duty to their clients – that is, their actions and investment recommendations must be in the client’s best interest.3

 

In 2014, Registered Investment Advisors are managing $1.5 trillion of invested assets. From 2008-12, assets under management by RIAs grew an average of 8.8% per year. In that same stretch, the population of RIAs grew 8% per year.4

 

People need unbiased advice. That’s probably the #1 reason why people seek an independent financial advisor. They know that the advice they receive is not shaped by sales incentives or directives. There is often a candor to the discussion that may not always be present at a bank or a brokerage.

 

People want more investment choices. An independent financial advisor is free to offer investments from dozens, maybe hundreds of companies, rather than the investments of a single company. In addition, that independent advisor can unhesitatingly tell you if an investment is or isn’t appropriate for your financial situation.

 

This is the age of independence. When it comes to the financial future, no one wants to be “sold” – just advised. That’s why we’ve seen the rise of a new kind of financial advisor who puts the client relationship first.

     

PlanningWorks may be reached at 512 498-7526 or info@planningworks.biz

 

The Ins & Outs of Life Insurance (Updated 2014)

 

The Ins & Outs of Life Insurance

Breaking down the different choices.

 

Provided by PlanningWorks

 

When it comes to life insurance, there are many options. You may have heard terms like “whole life insurance,” “term insurance,” or “variable insurance,” but what do they really mean? And what are the differences between them?

 

Well, first let me point out what they have in common: all life insurance policies provide payment to a beneficiary in the event of your death. Aside from that basic tenet, the differences between policy types can be major.

 

Whole life insurance. This type of insurance covers your entire life (not just a portion or “term” of it) and is sometimes called “straight life insurance” or “permanent life insurance.” The premium payments on a whole life policy are fixed from day one and so is the dollar amount of the coverage.1

 

Whole life policies accumulate cash value. Just how does that happen? An insurer takes in much more money than it pays out on recently issued whole life policies, as the premium payments are higher relative to the actuarial risk the insurer assumes (those new policyholders are relatively young). The insurance firm directs a portion of these early premium payments into a reserve account, putting those funds into investments (typically conservative ones). The policyholder receives an interest credit linked to the investment performance – and that is how the cash value builds up over time.1,2

 

When you have held a whole life policy for more than a few years, you can borrow against its cash value, and you can even cancel it and receive its surrender value. The longer you wait, the greater the cash value becomes. Whole life generally isn’t a good choice for young families, who may find the premiums unduly high.1 

 

Universal life insurance. This is basically whole life insurance, but with a lower net cost over time and a death benefit that isn’t fixed from the outset. Like whole life policies, universal life policies build cash value with tax deferral, but the death benefit actually depends on three factors: your ability to keep making premium payments, the insurer’s policy charges and the credit rating of the policy.1,3

 

You have some flexibility with universal life policies: you can vary premium payments. That variance may affect the cash value and the payout, however. Month by month, the insurer is calculating the premiums you pay vis-à-vis the policy cost. Any “excess” premium received (plus interest) gets credited to the cash value and that ultimately determines the death benefit. Should you stop paying the premiums or borrow against the cash value such that the policy doesn’t have enough cash to meet expenses, the insurer can simply cancel the policy. (Some universal life policies do offer no-lapse guarantees.) 1,3

   

Term insurance. Essentially, this is life insurance that you “rent” for X number of years rather than own. Term insurance provides coverage for a set time period (usually 10-30 years). Should you die within that time period, your beneficiaries will receive a death benefit. Both the premium payments and the death benefit on a term policy are fixed from the start.3

 

If you can’t qualify for whole life or universal life, you may be able to qualify for a term policy. When the term is over, you may be offered the option to renew the coverage for another term, or to convert the policy to a form of permanent life insurance.2

 

Term life is cheap, but the tradeoff comes when the term is up. Just as you don’t build up home equity by renting, you don’t build up cash value by “renting” life insurance. When the term of coverage is over, you usually walk away with nothing for the premiums you have paid.2

 

Variable life insurance. A variable life policy is essentially a whole life policy with a riskier investment component. (Correspondingly, a variable universal life policy is a universal life policy with the same characteristic.) In VL and VUL policies, percentages of the cash reserve in your policy may be directed into investment sub-accounts managed by the insurer. Assets allocated to sub-accounts may optionally be put into equity investments rather than fixed-income investments. So in exchange for the possibility of greater reward (greater cash value), you (and the insurer) assume greater risk. The performance of the subaccounts cannot be guaranteed.2

 

So, which coverage is right for you? Many factors come into play when deciding what type of life insurance will best suit your needs. The best thing to do is speak with a trusted and qualified financial professional who can assist you in looking at all the factors and help you to choose the policy that will work best for you.

 

PlanningWorks may be reached at 512 498-7526 or info@planningworks.biz

New 2015 IRA Rollover Rules

Avoid the penalties and stay up‐to‐date on the new IRA rollover rules for 2015:

http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/mutual-funds/articles/201...

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