J.P. Morgan Sells Retirement Plan Services


Kirk Lunger

Investment Adviser Representative

Stone House Investment Management, LLC


Montrose: 570-278-6926

Tunkhannock: 570-836-7020


Last Thursday, April 3rd, J.P. Morgan sold its retirement plan services division to Great-West Financial, located in Denver, Colorado.  Based off the current details released, outside of a company name and logo change, there will be no change to your retirement plan account.  The name and logo change is likely to occur in the third quarter this year (July, August, or September).  The overall acquisition to Great-West Financial could take roughly two to three years.   Your individual funds selected will remain the same and the plan will hold the same investment choices.  You are still able to make transactions within your account using the plan’s website (www.retireonline.com) or by calling the retirement service center.  Exciting, right?  While, this information is bland and dry, your retirement is not.  If you’re nearing retirement and would like a retirement evaluation to see where you stand, contact our retirement specialists today @ 570-836-7020.

An Untapped Tax Credit for Royalty Owners

Robert J. Brown

Certified Financial PlannerTM

Stone House Investment Management, LLC

Managing Partner





For quite a few years, there has been a Pennsylvania Tax Credit available to certain types of businesses in the Commonwealth.  It’s known as the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program and you can read more information about it at this link.


Upon its inception, this credit was only available for certain entities (ie: corporations) who were subject to specific types of taxes.  (see the link for more details)  In recent years, the program’s eligibility was expanded to included other entities such as S-Corps, LLC’s and partnerships. My company, Stone House, is an LLC and we’ve been taking advantage of this great opportunity for the last several years.  What makes it such an attractive tax strategy for us is that it’s so much more than just a tax credit.  In effect, it allows us to redirect money that we would have paid out in state taxes anyway to local educational programs supporting our local youth.  That’s a win-win in our eyes.

In addition to being able to keep this money local, it allows us the ability to leverage donated dollars to see more bang for our buck.  For example, when we donate $5,000 into the program and commit to doing this for a 2-year period, we receive a 90% tax credit on that annual amount. ($4,500)  That means that for an out-of-pocket amount of $500 we actually are able to donate $5,000 to local organizations; this is a leverage factor of TEN times!  That’s a great value for each dollar donated!

Now, because of our business structure, we are able to take that PA Tax Credit of $4,500 and pass it through directly to our owners and they, in turn, are able to apply those credits against their personal PA income tax owed on their return that year.   Good deal.

As a royalty owner, you may be reading this thinking, “well, that’s good for you but what does that have to do with me?”  Well, it may be “good for you” too.  Why?

IF you have a relatively large flow of royalties coming into your cash flow right now AND…  you have created an entity for those royalties such as an LLC or Limited Partnership… there is a good chance that you too may be eligible to take advantage of this tax credit program.  If you fit that criteria and are interested in learning more about the program and whether or not you are eligible, contact your accountant to start that discussion.  No one knows more about your tax situation better than your tax preparer and he/she should be able to determine whether it’s a viable option for you.  If they are not familiar with the plan, you can also contact Stone House for additional information.

Our company donates through the Community Foundation of the Endless Mountains, which has been administering this EITC program for many years.  They are always available to field any questions as well.  http://www.community-foundation.org/eitc/business-eitc-donations.html

My disclosure here is that I have been a Board Member of this foundation for years along with many other great community-minded people.

I’m sure there are many royalty owners who are NOT receiving their checks through an entity like an LLC or Limited Partnership but that does not mean you can’t take advantage of charitable donations.  You may not be eligible for this EITC program but there are many other ways to donate, receive the tax deduction and direct your dollars to specific places of your choice.  I invite you to explore all of these options.  Giving dollars back to your community to people and places who truly need and appreciate it should be an extremely fulfilling experience.  It’s really a whole lot more than just writing a check.


Educator Education: PSERS Retirement


Raymond “Scott” Stone

Stone House Investment Management, LLC

Managing Partner





As we near the end of another school year, it’s that magical time when children and teachers alike leave their classrooms for summer break. Some students will never return to those cement block buildings of our local schools as they press on in life and begin college or get their first jobs. As these students enter the work force, some of their teachers will be exiting it.

The Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) has been providing teachers, staff and administrators with excellent retirement benefits for decades. Thanks to the PSERS system, public school employees are consistently among the best prepared for retirement. We are excited to be one of the premier firms in our area to help public school employees through the maze that is the public school retirement process. As you will see, the process can be confusing and frustrating, but with a good guide, your retirement from the school can be smooth and trouble free.

First, it is helpful to understand the roles of the various institutions involved. The PSERS is the first part of what you need to know about public school retirement. The PSERS provides several options to their retirees to allow then to custom design their retirement benefits. First is the option to roll out the participant’s contributions and the interest that these contributions have accrued over the years. This money can be easily invested with ANY qualified investment provider. This provides the participant with a lump sum of tens of thousands of dollars that they can use discretionarily in retirement and makes a nice compliment to the fixed monthly payment that the PSERS provides with the remaining funds in the participants retirement account. The fixed monthly payment can be taken in several ways. Participants can choose to take a larger payment that ends when they are no longer alive, or they can choose a variety of options to leave money to a beneficiary, commonly a spouse.

The second part of a public school retirement is taking care of any 403(b)’s that the employee may have voluntarily contributed to over the years. These 403(b)’s typically can be left as is, transferred to a new 403(b) or rolled over to IRA.

The final part comes from your accrued sick and vacation time and any incentive pay the school district may provide retiring teachers. This can be the most confusing part as some school districts have opted to require their employees to contribute this accrued sick, vacation and incentive pay to a 403(b) through a specific list of approved investment providers. Some districts are even more restrictive and require that this money be contributed to an investment with a specific company. Though this can create a convoluted process for getting your sick, vacation and incentive pay upon your retirement, it does have some benefit in that the taxation on these payments is deferred until you take a distribution from your 403(b) which may be years in the future. Typically, with enough effort, this money can ultimately be transferred or rolled to an investment with your desired investment provider even if they are not on the designated list of providers.

Your retirement should be stress-free. With the right amount of planning and the right advisor guiding you through the process, you can enjoy your well-deserved retirement.

Are People Getting “Rich” From Natural Gas?



Robert J. Brown, CFP®

Partner/Investment Manager

Stone House Investment Management, LLC

210 Maple Street, Montrose, Pa 18801





Remember when you used to drive on the road and rubberneck at the newest drilling rig with mixed emotions going through your mind?  You feared the unknown risks yet felt optimistic about what this could mean to our area.  What a difference a couple of years make!   On my way back and forth between Montrose, Tunkhannock, Wyalusing, etc… I see the rigs and pads along the way but honestly pay them no mind, much like the hundreds of telephone poles that I pass on that same trip.

Yet there is still a cause for concern about the environmental risks and whether the powers-that-be will do what is necessary to mitigate the dangers as they should.  Each company is unique in how it prepares and moves through the drilling process and each well pad seems to hold its own story as to how this will play out.  Oddly enough, the same can be said for the financial side of the equation.  Each well unit has its own story and each individual landowner has his/her own experiences.  As an owner and financial planner of a premier firm in NEPA, I can honestly say that there is absolutely no consistency with what people are doing with their newfound ‘wealth’.

I am asked all the time, “What’s everyone doing with their money?”

My answer:  “Everything… and nothing at all”.

What?  I’m not trying to be cryptic, just honest.  Let me elaborate by pointing out that many things in life move in cycles.  Look at nat gas since it hopped onto the scene over 6 years ago.  It was priced through the roof; then plummeted to basement low prices for some time and now it’s showing signs of life again.  Look at the volumes of our wells; remember six years ago when those vertical wells were putting out impressive volumes?  Now you cross your fingers that they don’t even drill vertical wells on your land; now you want horizontal or nothing!  Everyone knows how the volume/royalties were higher in the early months of production compared to the current months.  With all of these moving parts, what does that do to the spending habits of royalty owners?  Again, let’s focus on the cycles that take place.

Much like any demographic in history, royalty owners go through their own growth cycle.  For those who have not had ‘extra’ or disposable income before, there is a sense of discomfort, excitement and nervousness.  They do their best to make wise decisions but we’re all human and sometimes we spend with our eyes instead of our minds (we all do it).  It’s usually when the monthly amounts begin to taper to less than half of where they started that there is a shift in mindset.  Wait a minute!  What if this money runs out?  Here comes a whole shift to the spending… until the next cycle.

This is normal.  Most have heard the statistic that many winners of the lottery turn out to be worse off financially than before they won their millions.  But hold on… royalty owners have an advantage here… the checks typically keep coming.  Even if mistakes are made, you might get a “do over”.  In fact, you may get several of them.  Great news!  So what should you do with it this time?  Well, here is what some people are doing:

  • Paying down their debts
  • Helping children do the same
  • Gifting to children and grandchildren
  • Buying new homes, additions, remodeling and landscaping
  • Picking up a few toys here and there… car/truck/tractor/skid steer
  • Building storage for their new toys
  • Investing into their own business/farm in ways they could not before
  • Turning their hobbies into actual business models
  • Buying more real estate to attempt to compound the nat gas effect
  • Investing into a variety of portfolios (ie: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities)
  • Tucking it under the mattress (CDs, Savings, Checking, Money Markets, etc…)
  • Lending it out to others (serving as a personal bank)

Now, each of these above items can be a wonderful strategy, or they can prove to be a recipe for disaster.  The trick is to know which to use and when.  Ultimately the best idea is almost always balance.  Several of these items happening at once can mean better diversification of risk and a better stance for whatever tomorrow throws at you.

As a financial planner, my job is often to help sort through these options and weigh the pros/cons with the clients to find that balance.  I will say that I’ve noticed a difference with the newest generation of royalty owners in that they seem to have heard some good and bad stories from earlier landowners and now seem to be approaching this wealth building opportunity pragmatically and with a purpose.  This is an amazing time to be doing what I’m doing and it’s exciting when clients come into our offices looking for that second opinion and hoping to establish a comfort level with us so they have a place to come back to when they need that advice.

Try Hard Investments vs. Hope For The Best Portfolios

October 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Scott Stone


Raymond “Scott” Stone

Partner/ Investment Manager

Stone House Investment Management, LLC




For our current clients and those of you who are considering using our services, I want to give you a quick guide for whether you should be choosing an active or passive investment management strategy. I want to keep it brief and easy to understand, so I won’t be able to go through all of the details, but my hope is that it will give you enough information to make an educated decision.

We have designed Stone House so that it offers our clients the best chances of achieving their financial goals. One of the ways that we have done this is by offering several very different investment management strategies that can be used in tandem with one another to create a “Super Portfolio”. The strategies we offer function very differently and can consequently have very different outcomes year to year. I would like to pretend that I know which one will be the best over any given time, but I have invested money for people long enough to know that the best we can do is make smart decisions to protect and grow our clients assets and then adjust as the world changes (And boy, does it change). I want to talk about three of our portfolios management styles and how their performance has differed over the years to illustrate this point.

First, is our “Flagship” portfolio strategy that we call Keystone. Keystone is a strategy that we built in-house that is very different from almost any other portfolio in which you may currently invest. Keystone allows us to evaluate the market daily, then determine if we feel there is a strong reason to stay invested based on historical behavior of the stock market. It has done extremely well for our investors in some years, but more recently the performance of this strategy has been lackluster. That isn’t to say that it has been bad, but it hasn’t kept up with some investment benchmarks like the S&P 500. The investment decisions we make inside of Keystone are well educated preparations for an uncertain future. Because the future is uncertain, no amount of intelligence can guarantee that any decision today will pan out to be correct in the future. In a “normal” year, the markets may be…. 60% to 70% predictable and 30% to 40% unpredictable. The past few years have been unusual to say the least.  The unprecedented actions taken by governments around the world have manipulated the functioning of most equity, commodity and fixed income markets. As there is no precedent to rely on to understand how certain actions will effect our clients’ investments, it dramatically raises the unpredictability of the markets leaving investment managers in a very difficult position. Seemingly, the more we try to protect and grow our clients’ portfolios, the more Congress, or the President, or the Federal Reserve Chairman, or some foreign central banker want to ruin our plans.

Additionally, because of the uncertainty in the United States, we thought it prudent to diversify internationally in case our government made choices that did not favor our stock market. Europe was a mess with its own issues, so we ended up weighting our less conservative Keystone portfolios to Emerging Markets.  Unfortunately, the actions taken by our government to prop up our stock market have had a negative impact on Emerging Market countries causing many of their markets to fall precipitously even as our stock market has moved higher. This has added to the disparity of globally diversified investments verses the S&P 500 over the past few years. Again, in our attempt to protect our investors, we missed out on some gains.

As an alternative, you could choose a more buy-and-hold management strategy like that of our Essential and Diversidex Investment management strategies. These portfolios each invest expecting the stock market to go up over time, but are less concerned with the day to day movements in the market. These strategies have worked great over the past few years. No matter how dark the economic skies got, no matter how dysfunctional our government is,  no matter how high our national debt goes or how low the US dollar goes, our stock market keeps going up! Being fueled by the “money printing” of the Federal Reserve, our Stock Market has either blissfully ignored the dangers, or quickly recovered from any downturns due to these accumulating economic risks.  So that’s the answer, right? Just buy and hold? Not so fast!

The reason that this strategy has worked is because the governments of the world (particularly our own) have taken a series of deliberate actions to favor the short-term performance of the stock market at the cost of addressing our long-term sustainability. That is not to say that this is not a “smart” economic policy, only time can tell us that, but it is important to remember that every 3 months or so, an organization within some nations’ government has chosen to take unpopular actions to bolster their financial markets. Had they chosen a different path, buy-and-hold portfolios would likely look very different. For example, in the latest debt ceiling debate, there was talk by certain members of Congress of letting the government default on its debt. Even if they had chosen to do this for a very short time, it would have been disastrous to our economy and a buy-and-hold portfolio. A catastrophic mistake like this would have had you wishing that your advisor put your money on the sidelines leading up to the decision. Such events have happened in the recent stock market crashes of 2000-2002 and 2008-2009. However, because in recent years the governments of the world have taken extraordinary actions time and time again to prop up the stock market,  the market rose significantly and had you been sitting on the sidelines, you would have fallen behind the averages.

So which is better? Trying to protect your portfolio at the risk of potentially missing out on some return, or to blindly hope that the boogieman never comes out of the closet and that your buy-and-hold stock portfolio doesn’t get eaten? There is no right answer to this question. It largely comes down to your attitude as an investor. However, Stone House offers the option to take part in both of these categories of investment strategy. We encourage our clients to choose to divide their investments into multiple strategies to give them the best chance of success. Additionally, we offer our Cornerstone portfolios which have elements of active and passive investment management.

When you partner with Stone House, we do our best to help you prepare for an uncertain future. Through helping clients invest using multiple investment philosophies, we promote more stable portfolios and hopefully a return that allows our clients to achieve their financial goals. Over the past few years, buy-and-hold management has beaten out more actively managed portfolios, but as asset values inflate, the potential for return decreases and the risk of a correction or bear market goes up.  Only time will tell how long buy-and-hold strategies will hold out. One thing is for sure, in a buy-and-hold strategy, you will make a lot of money when things do well and lose a lot of money when things are bad. Markets move in cycles and the longer this bull market runs, the more likely we are to see a bear. Active management strategies may help protect you from the next inevitable market downturn, but may not return as much while the Bull market rages on. It might be a good time to try some of each in your portfolio.

-Raymond “Scott” Stone

Hey Royalty Owners… Lower Your Taxes!

October 21, 2013 Leave a comment



Robert J. Brown, CFP®

Partner/Investment Manager

Stone House Investment Management, LLC

210 Maple Street, Montrose, Pa 18801




We are often asked if there are ways to contribute royalty income to IRA’s or retirement plans. The answer is no, but there is a work around you may want to consider. Think about increasing your contributions to a retirement plan at work.

Who does this work for?  Anyone receiving royalties AND who is employed somewhere that offers a retirement plan or is self-employed.

What you need to do?  Dial up your contribution amounts from your paycheck and into your retirement plan.  It’s that simple.

Why does it work?  It works because you are only allowed to contribute EARNED income to a retirement plan/account. Royalties do not qualify, but you can spend your royalties for your daily expenses and instead contribute your earned income from work to your retirement plan or IRA.

Here’s an example:  Let’s say you’re making $60,000/yr at your current job.  You were putting 3% ($1,800/yr) into your retirement plan at XYZ Company because the company would match it.  However, NOW you’re seeing royalty checks of $2,000/month! You can spend that $2000/month of royalties  on living expenses such as groceries, your mortgage payment, your car payment, etc (after you set aside enough for taxes).  Then you can instruct your employer to hold out much more from your paycheck to put into your retirement account at work.  How much you can contribute depends on your company’s plan.  Some plans allow for more than $20,000 per year!

What if you’re self-employed and don’t currently have a retirement plan in place?  Now might be the perfect time to set one up.  There are many types of plans to choose from depending on the size of your business and what type of contributions you want to make to your own retirement and the retirement of your employees.

For many people, this will give you a great chance to save more for the future and pay less in taxes today.  That’s a win-win in most investors’ minds!

Why Bother Checking My Royalties?

July 19, 2013 1 comment

Robert J. Brown

Certified Financial PlannerTM

Stone House Investment Management, LLC

Managing Partner



Why Bother Checking My Royalties?

As more and more of our residents fall into the category of “royalty owners”, we are beginning to see a trend.

Upon opening the first check, you face sticker shock! Even though you estimated different amounts AND you knew that the first check is often a buildup of several months; once it’s in your hands, the moment is a bit alarming.  You glance through the whole statement but it’s all a blur compared to that amount on the final check.

After several of these months go by, you begin to feel more emboldened and knowledgeable about these payments.  Now some of the things that your friends and neighbors talked about, like decimal interest and gross vs. net, are starting to make sense.

In many cases, the total amounts begin to wane.  Your curiosity turns to skepticism as you sort through the details of the pay stubs in hopes of trying to find out for yourself if things are “adding up”.  After your eyes turn bloodshot and you’ve pulled enough of your hair out, you throw your hands up and officially declare it unsolvable!

As time goes by, you wrestle with the internal dilemma that plagues so many royalty owners:

Happy – “I don’t want to seem greedy.  I’m thankful for what I’m getting.  This is more than I ever thought I’d see.”

Unhappy – “What if I’m NOT getting paid correctly?  How can I even determine that?  These statements are seemingly impossible to read.  If mistakes were found, what would I even do about it?”

Keep It Simple… PLEASE!

Let’s discuss a few simple terms as defined according to Wikipedia.org:

lease is a contractual arrangement calling for the lessee (user) to pay the lessor (owner) for use of an asset.

partnership is an arrangement where parties agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.

The gas leases that the majority of landowners have signed have formed partnerships between themselves, as owners of the asset and the gas companies as the producers/developers of the asset.  In the simplest of terms, that’s pretty much it.

Yet, as this begins to play out, we’re sometimes seeing a substantial communication breakdown between the two parties which can lead to the royalty owner feeling frustrated and less trusting.  Does it need to be so complicated?  The root of the problem stems from a lack of understanding by most royalty owners on the topic combined with broad assumptions by the gas companies that simply by putting numbers on a check stub, we (the royalty owners) should be able to figure it all out.

In defense of the gas companies, they’ve been very proactive of late in posting tutorials on their websites and inserts of how-to-read-your-royalty-check in their mailings.  In cases where you have just ONE company producing the gas and that same ONE company paying your royalties, that type of learning material is helpful.  What happens though when your checks begin coming from more than one company?  Simply put… it gets complicated.

Look At It From This Angle

Joint Ventures (more than one company) can create complexity based on accountability.  Let’s say you lease your 100 acres to a farmer who decides to plant corn and give you 15% of the profits.  He comes at the end of the season, harvests the corn and leaves.  3 months later, he sends you a check with a statement.  The statement is a bit confusing but you eventually make sense of the calculations.  What doesn’t make sense to you is the total amount of corn he took from your property.  You thought it would be much more than that.  You are confused?

A few weeks later you hear from a few of your neighbors that the farmer who leased from you is working closely with some other farmers (whom you’ve never heard of) and it looks like they’ve formed some sort of Joint Venture to work your field and others around you.  You feel a bit odd that you weren’t told this directly and certainly still feel in the dark about the details.

A month after that initial check, you are surprised to get a check from 2 different farmers, paying you for the corn that was taken by the farmer you knew. Each of these farmers use different calculations that look similar but a lot of the details and terms they use are different.  You try to add them to what the original farmer sent last month but it doesn’t really add up.  Now what?

Squeaky Wheel

What often happens at this point is that you start to make assumptions.  The mind is a powerful tool and it begins to reach for all kinds of conclusions.  In this hypothetical, the farmer and anyone else affiliated with him seem to be out for themselves.  When you call any of them they seem to give you answers but not exactly what you’re looking for… or what you wanted to hear.  You wanted to hear them tell you that it got confusing but we’ll make it less confusing and pay you more.  Instead you got some vague answers.  Why? Maybe that’s because you asked them vague questions?

In the case of royalties, you can’t expect real thorough explanations when you call up and say “I feel like you took more gas than what I got paid for” or “My gas check seems lower than it should be”.  If I’m on the other side of that phone call, my response might be, “Uh… well it’s all on your statements”.

Does the squeaky wheel always get attention?  Not if you’re making noise just for the sake of making noise.  Unless you provide the specific details that evidence your concern, then it sounds like you’re just saying “I wish I had more”.

Are Mistakes Being Made?

Yes.  In our experience with our client base, we’ve identified a fair number of issues; some have been corrected while others remain in question.  Often these fall into two categories.

Industry Side – Frequently, during normal reconciliation done by the gas company, “adjustments” will need to be made to previous months’ payments often related to a change in unitization, incorrect calculation assumptions, realized gas price, etc…  Joint Venture agreements are a factor in how payments flow to the royalty owners and inconsistencies in how these are paid and reported sometimes contribute to errors to your bottom line.

As basic as the math is, we’ve still seen simple mistakes made with things like the Decimal Interest being off, acreage included in the unit not being the same as what’s on the lease, and other clerical type mistakes.  By and large, the gas companies seem very willing to examine and correct these when brought to their attention.

Royalty Owner Side – Occasionally, things are happening behind the scenes of ownership that the gas companies are not privy to or may have misunderstood.  The probability of these types of errors increases with each degree of complexity; family LLCs, joint ownership, transferred interest, etc…

For example, a family owns substantial acreage broken up into multiple parcels.  Several years ago, during the planning process, even though some of these parcels were owned by various combinations of family members, it was mutually decided to transfer the royalties associated with each of them into the new Family LLC.

For more than a year now, money has been flowing into the LLC as the majority of these parcels are included within three side-by-side units.  The issue that has now come to light is that royalties on one sizable parcel are not being paid to the LLC.  Instead, those monies are going directly to one daughter.  Why was this not noticed much earlier?

When everything was being transferred a few years back, it was mutually decided that this daughter would maintain her roughly 10 acre lot that was nearby since it was never considered to be part of the “family farm”.  She and her husband remained owners of both the surface and sub-surface. However, the larger parcel which she had ownership in DID have its royalty rights transferred into the LLC. (or so everyone thought)

Eventually, the daughter and her husband began receiving royalties from the XYZ Unit and were pleased with the amounts.  What they did not realize was that their checks were based on not just their 10 acres… but also the much larger parcel that was supposed to be going to the LLC.  None of this was apparent to them because the check statements were confusing to them and they got lost in the details.

Quite a mess!  Now this couple is faced with finding a way to make the Family LLC whole.  In addition to the money, this took place over two calendar years, which means the couple paid tax on the extra money they received and now need to pay back.  Yikes!

We are only one financial planning firm in NEPA but our office alone has seen errors like this take place.  Fortunately, we’ve built quite a sophisticated system to help identify irregularities in royalties but due to the complexity of such matters, we currently only offer it to our clients who also have us managing other investments for them.  We view their land as another asset that, especially at this time, needs to be monitored.

Recently, we had the pleasure of meeting with our local State Senator and two State Representatives on this topic and were very pleased to see how attentive they were to these details and aware of how many people were affected by these complex statements.  At their request, we submitted a proposal to enhance the transparency of royalty reporting to benefit the land owner and gas company.  It is our hope that with their help and the cooperation of the gas industry, some standardization will be in our future so royalties become easier to decipher.  Someday Mom and Dad should be able to sit at their kitchen table and sort out their own details; confident that they are receiving a fair share of the partnership they signed up for years ago.

Robert J. Brown, CFP®

Managing Partner

Stone House Investment


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