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Eight Tips for Planning Your Retirement

March 15th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

A few simple steps to help you get started on the right foot.

Planning financially for retirement may feel overwhelming. For some, that feeling is what keeps them from really focusing on and implementing a plan. If you haven’t started planning for your retirement – do yourself a favor and make TODAY the day you begin.

1. The earlier the better.

Time is definitely one of your greatest allies. A person who begins contributing a modest amount to a retirement plan in their early twenties could end up on par with someone who contributes much more aggressively but does not start until their mid-thirties. Even if you have to start small, start now. Whatever amount you can afford to set aside for later, do it – and let it grow.  If you don’t have the luxury of starting young, don’t waste time worrying about it. Start now. You’ll never again be younger than you are today.

2. Be smart about what you’ll need.

Yes, it’s true – the senior discount is alive and well, and the general cost of living may be less for those who have retired. But don’t forget, there are other costs to consider. Your healthcare costs, for example, may be greater in retirement simply because you’re not as healthy as you were in your youth. Additionally, you’ll want to take inflation into account. If you plan your retirement based on the cost of living and income of your 30’s, by the time you hit your retirement years, you may find you greatly underestimated your needs.

3. Be smart about how long you’ll need it.

When Social Security was being developed, in the 1930’s, a male retiring in the United States was really only expected to live about 12 years past his date of retirement.2 However, the average life expectancy of a United States citizen has risen fairly steadily throughout the last fifty years.1 Depending on when you retire, you may need to plan for 20 or more years of income.

4. Take advantage of tax-deferred contributions.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes people determine how much they can afford to contribute to a retirement account based on their net income, rather than their gross income. You may decide you can only afford $50 less per paycheck, net. But remember that some contributions, like those to your 401(k) for example, may be made with pre-tax dollars. That means you can afford to contribute a bit more from your gross income and still only “miss” $50 from your net income. This is an important consideration.

5. Take advantage of matching contributions.

If your employer offers a 401(k) match – consider scrimping here and there in order to take maximum advantage of it. It’s a very positive domino effect. The more you contribute, the more you earn in matching contributions (up to the maximum allowable amount). Think of it this way – if your employer offers a 50% match, then for every $100 you don’t contribute, you’re missing out on $50 in “free money”. You’re also missing out on the growth potential of that money as well.

6. Do the math.

This might be the most important retirement tip of all. Block off some time to sit down and do some calculations. Consider the different levels of contributions you could make and calculate how far those could take you by the time you reach retirement. Once you see what you COULD achieve, you may be more motivated to increase your contributions.

7. Trim the fat.
Keep careful track of your spending for one month (if you bank online, you may have access to tools that help you do this). After one full month, sit down and take a careful look at what you spent money on. Did it all make sense? Was some of it frivolous? Any regrets? Taking a close look at exactly where your money is going is often the best way to discover areas that need improvement, and ways you could adjust your spending habits. Add up all the money you feel you spent unnecessarily, then add that amount to the contribution math you did previously … how much further might that extra monthly contribution have taken you?

8. Get help.

These retirement tips are intended to help you get started down a path toward, potentially, a more successful retirement. But they’re just that – a starting point. While it’s definitely important to educate yourself and understand your finances, seeking the assistance of a financial professional may be one of the best moves you could make.

Citations
1 – google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=sp_dyn_le00_in&idim=country:USA&dl=en&hl=en&q=life+expectancy [10/29/10]
2 – http://www.newretirement.com/Planning101/Retiring_Too_Soon.aspx [10/25/10]

Social Security Retirement Workshop

March 15th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Prime Solutions News

It is not too soon for you to start thinking in more detail about your retirement and how Social Security fits into the picture. PRIMESolutions Advisors is hosting this workshop presented by the Public Affairs office of the Social Security Administration.

This workshop will answer the following questions:

   • What is Social Security?
   • Will Social Security be there for me?
   • How is my Social Security benefit computed?
   • Who can receive a benefit on my work record?
   • Is it better for me to start receiving a reduced benefit at age 62?
   • Or, should I wait until full retirement age to collect full benefits?
   • Will retirement in my 50’s affect my Social Security benefit?
   • Can I work while receiving Social Security?
   • What if I die? How much will my spouse receive?
   • If I stop work and become disabled, will I be able to collect?
   • How do I become eligible for Medicare?

Saturday April 2, 2011
Continental Breakfast Starting at 9:30 a.m.
Workshop 9:45 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Radisson Hotel, 101 Radisson Dr
Greentree PA 15205 412‐922‐8400
Click Here to Download the Registration Form

FAX your RSVP to: 412-341-7091
or E-MAIL your RSVP to Daryl Lynn: dehrler@primesolutionsadvisors.com
or Simply call us to let us know you are coming: 412-341-6642 x10

Six Tips for 401k Investing in Today’s Volatile Market

March 15th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

With the recent volatile financial markets, many 401k plan participants are asking for guidance on how to manage their 401k plan assets. To help answer provide some guidance, Charles Schwab & Co. has released these six tips from Senior Vice President Mark W. Riepe, CFA. Participants should keep these tips in mind as they manage their 401k in today’s unpredictable market.

Here are Mr. Riepe’s six tips.

Keep Doing the Right Thing

Continue to make contributions to your retirement accounts. Our economy isn’t the greatest right now, but the fact remains that practically all of us will retire from the work force at some point in our lives. Even those of us who love work and can’t imagine doing anything else will come to a point where we can’t work any longer.

We need to be pay for our lifestyles during our retirement years somehow, and I believe Social Security is simply not going to cut it for most of us. That means we need a backstop, and that backstop is our own savings and investing.

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example of the importance of regular saving and investing. Consider a 25-year-old in 1973 who got a job making $21,000 per year and saved 10% per year. This particular individual received a 3% cost of living increase every year, and a 10% promotional increase once every five years. The savings were invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks.

By sticking with the savings plan through thick and thin, and keeping that portfolio invested in stocks, despite the big short-term swings in value, this saver, under these hypothetical assumptions, had an account value of more than one million dollars by 2007.

Everyone’s situation is different, and this is merely one example, but this saver displayed particular traits that I believe are associated with long-term investing success. More importantly, these are traits that I believe you can replicate and use to improve your situation whatever your particular facts and circumstances may be.

Don’t Succumb to the Market Roller Coaster

It is common for people to have an emotional reaction to the market’s ups and downs. Emotions change as markets move through their normal cycles. As prices go up, we feel good about ourselves. Optimism turns to enthusiasm, then exhilaration, and peaks at euphoria. Inevitably, markets move both up and down. During the downward swings, our emotions turn darker, and they seem to be at their worst despair when the market news is the most bleak.

Many studies have documented how individual investors, and even professionals, chase performance. When markets are doing well, investors get less concerned about risk and put their money to work in investments that have been doing well recently. Too often that means investing while looking through a rearview mirror. In the real world, that simply doesn’t work out too well.

One recent example of this behavior was during 2006 and 2007. The stock markets in other countries were performing quite well. When we looked at mutual fund investors as a whole, almost all of the money that was going into stock funds was going into funds that invested in foreign stocks. This happened just in time for foreign stocks to do extremely poorly in 2008—in fact, much worse than U.S. stocks.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Generally, if you have money available, I think it’s a good idea to take some of your account and invest it in foreign stock funds as a way of diversifying away from any bad markets in the United States, but it’s all about finding the right balance. Good investing is rarely about having an all-or-nothing attitude, but that’s exactly what often happens when investors are always looking at yesterday’s good ideas.

Think About Risk

Investing is always about finding that delicate balance between our desire for high rates of return with the dread and pain that comes from losing our hard-earned money. Determining the level of risk you’re comfortable with is incredibly difficult and sometimes is revealed only when rough times, like now, arrive.

My general rule is that if you can’t sleep at night because you’re worrying about your investments, then you’re probably taking on too much risk. But before you make dramatic changes to your investment allocations, keep in mind that determining the right level of risk for your portfolio shouldn’t be solely driven by whether big swings in the value of your portfolio bother you. Your capacity for risk matters, as well.

Capacity refers to whether your financial situation allows you to take risks. For example, I generally encourage younger investors to be more aggressive because they have decades to make up any losses. Here’s why. Based on historical experience for the U.S. stock market from 1926 to 2007, during short periods of time, stocks have sometimes done incredibly well and, at other times, have done poorly. If you need to pull a large amount of money from your investments within the next year, the stock market is not a wise place to put it.

For those investors who are able to commit their money in the market for longer periods, the results have been much better. For example, the worst five-year period in the stock market had an annual average return of negative 12.5%. But when we look at all the five-year periods, 87% were positive, 97% of 10-year periods were positive, and since 1926, there’s never been a 20-year period where stocks lost money.

For younger investors, a heavy dose of mutual funds that invest in stocks will usually make sense. For older investors, those who have less time to make up for any losses, it makes sense for them to be less aggressive. Whatever the right risk tolerance is for you, review the options in your plan and select the ones that makes sense for your situation.

As I mentioned earlier, in order to choose the right level of risk in your account, you ultimately need to make a choice regarding how much of your account value you will be investing in stocks. That’s typically referred to as your asset allocation. In the example of our saver, the asset allocation was aggressive. In other words, the money in the account was invested in mutual funds that invest in stocks. That may not be appropriate for everyone.

Let’s assume that you’re more comfortable with taking your account and dividing it. You decide to put some money into mutual funds that invest in stocks and the rest into mutual funds that invest in bonds, or fixed income investments. That’s perfectly okay if it best matches your situation.

Rebalance Your Investments

My fourth recommendation is to stick with that allocation by rebalancing your investments from time-to-time.

For example, assume an investor chose to place 60% of his or her account into mutual funds that invest in stocks and 40% into mutual funds that invest in bonds. If left unattended, that percentage will change over time. If our investor had selected this allocation in 1994, by 1999 the account had become 79% stocks and 21% bonds. This is a much riskier account than it was originally set up to be. It became riskier because stocks did better than bonds during those five years, and gradually came to make up a bigger piece of the portfolio.

We suggest investors rebalance their portfolios to bring them back in line with what they had originally intended. Keep in mind that a portfolio with a large percentage in stocks would probably have done quite poorly during the so-called tech-wreck in the early part of this decade.

Let’s assume our investor had set up this asset allocation in the year 2000 and left it unattended. By the end of 2002, the account would have been 41% stocks and 59% bonds. This is a much lower level of risk than originally intended, and would also have been costly to the investor but in a different way. This investor, by not having enough invested in stocks, probably would not have gained as much during the years in the middle part of this decade.

What effect could rebalancing have on risk and return over time? Let’s consider the effect an annual rebalancing strategy had on the risk and return of a portfolio over a long period of time.

In our example, a rebalanced portfolio was less volatile, which I think most of us would agree is a good thing. The rebalanced portfolio also had slightly better returns. In this example, you’re able to see why we think rebalancing makes sense, because under certain conditions it can lower risk and increase return.

Rebalancing does require effort on your part. It requires you to periodically monitor your account and adjust either the amount you have invested in different investments, or to change how new contributions to your account are allocated. To make this process easier, your plan may have an investment choice where rebalancing is done for you automatically.

Periodic rebalancing is always a good idea, but it is particularly appropriate right now. Since the latter part of 2007, the stock market has taken investors on a wild ride. It would not surprise me if you were to take a look at your account right now and find that it is out of balance and deserves some attention.

Take a Close Look at Your Account

While you’re rebalancing your account, take a close look at what’s in it. When you allocate your contributions, which investments are they going toward? Do you still feel good about those choices? Your plan might have added new choices since you enrolled. Now is a good time to take a look at those new choices and see if any of them make sense for you.

It’s also a good time to take a look at your contribution level. Does that level still make sense? For example, one suggestion I make to investors is to reconsider their contribution rate whenever they get a boost in their wages. Let’s say you contribute 5% of your pay to your 401k account. You then receive a 3% pay increase. I recommend taking part of your pay increase, for example, one-third of it, or 1%, and boosting your contribution rate to 6%. Doing this allows you to enjoy your good fortune today, and also helps secure your future.

Treat Your Account Like a Lockbox

This year has been tough for many working families. In times like this, it’s tempting to tap into your retirement savings accounts but the penalties and taxes will cost you in the short and long term.

Treat your retirement accounts as a lockbox, only to be opened when you reach retirement. Every one of us encounters unexpected financial difficulties at one point or another during our lives, including unexpected medical bills. In order to build sufficient wealth so that we’re able to retire we need to, as much as possible, emulate the saver we looked at earlier. That saver built wealth because through thick and thin, the contributions continued and he resisted the urge to withdraw from the account when times were tough.

Realistically, it’s impossible for me to sit here and say never touch the money in your 401k account prior to your retirement. It would be terrific if our lives played out in such a fortunate fashion. I do think, however, that withdrawing money from your retirement account should be a last resort.

Withdrawing money from a retirement account is very expensive, and, therefore, is a costly source of money. For example, if you withdraw money from a 401k prior to age 59½, not only do you need to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw, but you also owe a 10% penalty for withdrawing early.

Think about that for a moment. Imagine you have a $20,000 balance in your account and withdraw it all for some reason. You don’t get to keep the full $20,000. If you’re in a 20% tax bracket, you have to pay $4,000 in taxes plus another $2,000 in penalties. Suddenly, your $20,000 has shrunk to $14,000.

Time is our most precious asset, and stock markets can move with amazing speed and direction. What surprises many investors is that the stock market is forward-looking. It moves based on what conditions savvy traders think will occur in the future.

For example, right now, I think we’re in a recession and have been in one for some time. It seems like a bad time to be invested in stocks, right? That’s true up to a point. If we knew with perfect foresight that a recession was coming, it would make sense to avoid stocks. Unfortunately, that kind of crystal ball insight is a far rarer commodity than is generally supposed.

What matters for stock investors right now is when we’ll get out of this recession. If history is any guide, the stock market will start recovering well before the economy itself starts turning around. Historically, when that happens, the stock market tends to move up quickly.

In my experience, too many investors wait to get back into the stock market until after the economic storm clouds have cleared. Unfortunately for them, by waiting for the all-clear sign, much of the opportunity for gain is no longer there. If you’re investing in equity mutual funds, resist the temptation to try to time the market by jumping out of those funds and trying to get back in at just the right time.

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Remember, this information is provided as general guidance on the subject and is not provided as legal, tax or investment advice. Individual situations vary. Please be sure you consult with your tax, legal or financial advisor for more detailed information and advice.

Steelers Fans Explain Fiduciary

March 15th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Videos

IRA Changes for 2011

March 15th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Financial News

Little details you need to know about.

What’s new? Every year brings changes in tax law, and some of these revisions always seem to affect IRAs. Here is a look at some of the new wrinkles for 2011.

You can’t defer income resulting from a Roth IRA conversion in 2011. If you converted a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2010, you could opt to divide the income resulting from the conversion between your 2011 and 2012 federal tax returns. (If you did go Roth in 2010, you have until October 17, 2011 to choose this income deferral option.) You don’t have this choice in 2011 – the income can’t be deferred to a future tax year.1

The IRA charitable rollover is back. In 2011, IRA owners aged 70½ or older can again donate IRA proceeds to charity tax-free. The Tax Relief Act of 2010 brought back the opportunity, at least for this year.2

A charitable IRA rollover lets an IRA owner gift up to a total of $100,000 in IRA assets to one or more qualified charities or non-profit organizations. The distribution has to go directly from the IRA custodian to the charity. You don’t get a tax deduction for the move, but you could use this qualified charitable distribution to fulfill some or all of your 2010 RMD.2

The Tax Relief Act also gives IRA owners until January 31, 2011 to make 2010 charitable IRA donations. So you could transfer up to $100,000 from your IRA to a charity in January and have it retroactively count as a 2010 distribution, then transfer another donation of up to $100,000 to the charity later this year.3

Here’s the irritating asterisk on all this: if you took your 2010 RMD assuming that you couldn’t make a charitable IRA donation in 2010, there is no do-over available. You can’t put back your 2010 RMD into your IRA and redirect those assets toward charity. The IRS issued a statement on January 5 citing existing language in IRS Publication 590, explaining that “required minimum distributions (RMD) from an IRA received by a taxpayer cannot be rolled over to an IRA.”4

You have three extra days to make your 2010 IRA contribution. The District of Columbia observes Emancipation Day on April 15, so the deadline for your 2010 IRA contribution is April 18, 2011.5,6 (Remember to tell your IRA custodian that you are making a contribution for the 2010 tax year.)

You may have a chance to go Roth with your 401(k) or 403(b) in 2011. As a result of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, some employer-sponsored retirement plans are now allowing in-plan Roth conversions, i.e., the chance to “convert” a percentage of the pre-tax dollars you have saved to after-tax dollars without the necessity of a rollover to a Roth IRA. However, there are criteria to meet.

   • Your employer’s retirement plan document has to permit after-tax Roth contributions.

   • You must be older than 59½, or you have to have assets in a 401(k) or 403(b) account at a
     past employer that could potentially be rolled over to your current employer’s plan.7,8

Roth IRA phase-outs have been set higher for 2011. While anyone can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, not everyone can contribute to a Roth IRA because of MAGI limits. For 2011, those phase-out limits have increased by $2,000 for joint and single filers. The phase-out range for joint filers and qualifying widows this year is $169,000-179,000. For single filers, it is $107,000-122,000.6

Traditional IRA deduction phase-outs are also higher for 2011. If you own an IRA and participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, your IRA contributions may or may not be deductible, depending on your MAGI. In 2011, the MAGI phase-out ranges are bumped up slightly to $90,000-110,000 for joint filers and qualifying widows and $56,000-66,000 for single filers and heads of households.6

One thing that hasn’t changed… With minimal inflation for 2010, there was no COLA to send the annual IRA contribution limit higher. You may contribute up to $5,000 to your IRA in 2011, $6,000 if you are 50 or older. If you have more than one IRA, your total 2011 IRA contributions to your IRAs cannot exceed the above limits.9

Citations
1 – online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703675904576063903166546250.html [1/8/11]
2 – online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703395904576025610771041244.html [12/18/10]
3 – blogs.forbes.com/ashleaebeling/2011/01/06/taxwise-giving-from-your-ira-the-january-do-over/ [1/6/11]
4 – online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703730704576065931348238132.html [1/7/11]
5 – irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=233910,00.html [1/14/11]
6 – irs.gov/publications/p17/ch17.html#en_US_2010_publink1000252730 [1/14/11]
7 – bankrate.com/financing/retirement/converting-to-a-roth-401k/ [11/4/10]
8 – sibson.com/publications-and-resources/compliance-alert/archives/?id=1534 [10/27/10]
9 – irs.gov/retirement/article/0,,id=202510,00.html [11/1/10]
10 – montoyaregistry.com/Financial-Market.aspx?financial-market=required-ira-distributions&category=1 [1/16/11]

Monthly Economic Update for March

March 15th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Monthly Economic Update

Top 10 Romantic Getaways

March 15th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle


While we tend to think most of romance around Valentine’s Day, our favorite romantic getaways are guaranteed to rekindle a long-standing romance, or kick a new one up a notch, all year long.

Whether you choose to cuddle up on a gondola ride in Venice; snuggle under a blanket on a caleche ride in Quebec City; dance cheek-to-cheek in Buenos Aires; spend long days canoodling on spectacular islands like Bora Bora, Santorini, and Nevis; cruise magical Halong Bay; or discover breathtaking Dubrovnik together, you’re bound to feel a renewed (or new) sense of intimacy with your partner.

Of course, no list of this sort would be complete without a nod to Paris, the epitome of romantic getaways (and site of countless marriage proposals), but dear Santa Barbara, closer to home, is just as ripe for a tryst, with countless spas and vineyards in the vicinity that are sure to help you and yours relax — and lose your inhibitions.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango — and there’s no better place to practice your moves with your partner than on a romantic getaway to Buenos Aires, the birthplace of this incredibly sexy dance.

Watching expert tango dancers spin around the dance floor at one of the local venues here is already hot stuff — women dress the part in fishnet stockings, heels, and high-slit dresses, while men doff tailored suits and cravats — but taking to the floor with your honey can make the temperature go higher still.

Play the voyeur at neighborhood spots like Bar Sur, or, put on your dancing shoes and trot your stuff at Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso, which also offers lessons for first-timers.

When you need to rest your feet, this Paris of South America has a lot more to tempt visiting lovebirds, from elegant turn-of-the-century mansions and tree-lined boulevards reminiscent of European cities like Paris, Rome and Barcelona, to cozy bistros in trendy neighborhoods where diners linger over long meals.
Plus, with the peso so low nowadays, this city — which once rivaled Manhattan in terms of price — is extremely affordable.

Bora Bora
If there’s one destination to blow your savings on in the name of love, this tiny, pricey South Pacific island is it.

Novelist James A. Michener described Bora Bora as, “the most beautiful island in the world” and visitors to its far-flung shores rarely disagree.

So small that the island road is a mere 19 miles long, this Polynesian idyll sits 143 miles northwest of Tahiti and boasts the best that nature can offer: a high-mountain center cloaked in jungle, a superb cobalt lagoon, a colorful coral reef, and pristine stretches of bone-white sand dotted with fallen coconut husks.
When you’re not discovering the many bounties of this island paradise, hang out at the local watering hole, Bloody Mary’s, where Pierce Brosnan has been known to woo his leading lady, or send off the sun with a sunset catamaran cruise.

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Couples in search of romance are flocking to this wondrous city on the southernmost stretch of Croatia’s coast, as enchanted by its beauty today as the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who once proclaimed, “If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik.”

The city has been magnificently restored to its former glory to emerge as one of the most fashionable vacation spots in all of Europe.

Dubrovnik’s resurgent popularity should come as no surprise, however — this “jewel of the Adriatic,” as the coastal resort town is often referred to in tourist brochures, is breathtakingly beautiful and a magnet for dreamy-eyed lovers in search of a romantic getaway.

The city’s fortified old town overlooks the dazzling Adriatic from a shelter of limestone cliffs and its marble-paved streets are lined with marvelously preserved churches, stately palaces, squares, and terracotta-roofed townhouses.

Meanwhile, down below, along the seaside coast, fine beaches beckon — as do a slew of offshore islands — making Dubrovnik uniquely appealing to just about any taste.

Come nightfall, few can resist bedding down at a lavishly appointed over-the-water bungalow.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Now that you’ve found your knight in shining armor, put his dragon-slaying skills to the test in this ancient dragon’s lair near the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

Indeed, “Ha Long” means “where the dragon descends into the sea” and, once you’re sailing the enchanting emerald-green waters here, you’ll easily understand why the bay is believed to have been formed by the thrashing of a dragon’s tail.

It’s a sight that confirms this corner of Vietnam’s status as one of the most romantic getaways in Asia; undoubtedly the country’s most mesmerizing natural setting, this UNESCO-protected area is dotted with grottoes, some 3,000 limestone islets (only one of which is inhabited), and often shrouded in mist, which only adds to its mystique.

While day trips are available, we strongly recommend booking an overnight cruise to experience the bay’s phenomenal sunset and sunrise, as well as more of its splendid landscapes.
Our favorite agencies for 2-day cruises are Emeraude Classic Cruises and Buffalo Tours.

Nevis
If you’re craving a Caribbean getaway that’s just as high on romance as it is on R & R, look no further than darling Nevis (pronounced n-EE-vis), the sister island of St. Kitts.

A quiet, old-Caribbean charm reigns on this 36-square-mile patch of land that famously produced Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States.

Nowadays, cocooning lovers can hole up on romantic getaways in converted plantation houses — rather than sterile high-rise beach resorts — where atmospheric verandahs, louvered windows, and four-poster beds guarantee your hours, if not days, will be spent canoodling.

Should you decide to leave your room, the island’s scenery is equally entrancing: disused stone sugar mills are now overgrown with vines, lush island paths invite hiking and horseback riding, and sugarcane fields lead to remarkable restaurants serving fine Creole fare.

Add in the fact that Nevis is still relatively difficult to get to (you have to change planes in Antigua, St. Maarten, or Puerto Rico), and you’ll be looking at spending serious quality time with your sweetie — without having to share him or her with other vacationing sun worshipers.

Paris
Parisian culture seems inherently designed for romance, with countless settings tailor-made for those only-in-the-movies-type kisses: manicured gardens with perfect make-out benches lie around every corner; lamp-lit pedestrian quays along the Seine invite stolen smooches; and majestic plazas and tucked-away squares like Place des Vosges offer storybook backdrops for marriage proposals.

A perch atop any of the city’s famous ponts (bridges) are also sure to get your heart racing: linger on Paris’s oldest bridge, Pont Neuf; check out the animated arts-and-music scene of Pont des Arts; or take in the phenomenal views of the Eiffel Tower from the elaborate Pont Alexandre III.

Undoubtedly, for some, the height of romance can be found at the top of the Eiffel Tower itself; coordinate your viewing with one of Paris’s lovely sunsets, and the city will blush pink right along with you.

Quebec City
With its homegrown French language, colonial architecture, and horse-drawn carriages, Quebec City is inherently designed with romantic getaways in mind.

Encircled by ancient stone ramparts, and speckled with lovely squares, quaint cafes, and striking historical buildings, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is also blessed with a phenomenal natural setting above the mighty St. Lawrence River, with plenty of vantage points from which to view the coursing waters.

Each season brings its own special charms, too: While summers encourage late-night lingering over wine at outdoor cafes, the chilly winters give lovers all the more reason to snuggle up under a blanket in a horse-drawn caleche or get cozy with a delectable fondue for two at a first-rate French restaurant.
No matter what time of year you choose to visit, stay in a quaint 17th-century auberge (inn) complete with wood-beamed ceilings and exposed brick walls to complete the otherwordly experience.

Santa Barbara, Calif.
Bona fide beach town, the Santa Ynez wine-producing region next door, and loads of spa retreats within driving distance … it’s no wonder California’s Santa Barbara gets our nod in the romantic getaways department.

Its splendid location, between palm-fringed Pacific beaches and the ever-green Santa Ynez Mountains, quaint Spanish- and Mediterranean-style architecture, gourmet fare, and posh hotels have attracted West Coast residents for quiet weekends for decades.

And no wonder: From wine-tasting in the country’s largest wine-producing region and supping on sublime organic foods, to enjoying massages for two and strolling barefoot on the beach at sunset, a visit here is an undeniably heady experience.

Tack on an outing in a hot-air balloon — a favorite local activity — and you’ll be guaranteed to swoon over the scenery, as well as your companion!

Santorini, Greece
Some may think island romance is overrated, but then they’ve probably never been to Santorini.

The most visually stunning of all the Greek Cyclades, this beguiling honeymoon spot has all the trappings of a dream vacation: Postcard-perfect cliffside villages, exotic black-sand volcanic beaches, transcendent sunsets, luxurious cave-rock hotels, dramatic striated red-and-gray cliffs stretching to the sky, and the Aegean’s finest wineries.

Built atop volcanic ashes — on the ruins of what some theorize to be the lost city of Atlantis — the resplendent white-washed beauty’s remarkable physical characteristics — its jagged cliffs, dark volcanic rock, and crescent shape carved out by the sea — are manifestations of its eruptive history.

These days, romantic getaways to Santorini are more likely to incite personal passions, whether on a visit to the enchanting cliff-side village of Oia, gazing at mesmerizing sunsets over the Aegean, or simply absorbing the best of Mediterranean romance in all its glory.

Venice, Italy
An extraordinary waterfront wonderland where ancient palazzi seemingly float above water, Venice manages to be both serene and seductive all at once.

While its labyrinthine cobblestone streets certainly encourage lovers to stroll hand in hand, it’s the city’s iconic gondolas that really up the romantic ante.

Picture yourself, a due, tucked in an intricate, hand-carved boat, and punted along dreamlike canals by a young Italian gondolier who serenades you as you glide under delicately-arched bridges — the aptly-named Bridge of Sighs among them — and past flower-laden balconies.

Other Venetian draws sure to set your heart aflutter include sipping Bellinis to the sounds of classical music in the majestic Piazza San Marco or catching a sunset view of spires and rooftops from atop the Campanile di San Marco.

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