Getting a Degree of Financial Security

June 14, 2021

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Denise and Chris Arand

Denise and Chris Arand

Executive Vice Presidents/Financial Strategists

2173 Salk Ave
#250
Carlsbad, CA 92008

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April 28, 2021

The Power of Reading

The Power of Reading

Reading regularly is one of the most important disciplines you can have in life.

Practically, it’s almost impossible to function in the modern world without being able to read. But there’s a far deeper benefit to regular reading. Just ask Bill Gates—he reads 50 books per year! Why? Because “You don’t really start getting old until you stop learning… Reading fuels a sense of curiosity about the world, which I think helped drive me forward in my career.”¹

That’s high praise! Let’s explore the benefits of consistent, disciplined reading.

First, reading is quite literally good for your brain. Studies have demonstrated that even reading fiction strengthens brain connections, reduces your risk for mental ailments like depression, and brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.² So if you want your brain to thrive, grab a book, even if it’s a light-hearted novel, and start reading!

Second, reading can improve your quality of life. As mentioned earlier, reading can combat mental health issues like depression. But studies seem to suggest that reading fiction can also improve qualities like empathy.³ After all, novels can offer explorations of the human experience. Reading about how others feel and live, even if they’re invented, can broaden your emotional horizons and encourage you to reflect on your own feelings. It also exposes you to new information and new ideas that can enrich your perspective. It’s an introduction to a virtually limitless world of knowledge and experiences.

The takeaway? Make a habit out of reading! There’s no shame in what you read, whether it’s a fantasy series, a Jane Austen novel, or philosophy essay! Start a book club with some friends and discuss what you read. You may be surprised by the benefits you experience.

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¹ “Bill Gates Discusses His Lifelong Love for Books and Reading,” Claire Howorth and Samuel P. Jacobs, Time, May 22, 2017, https://time.com/4786837/bill-gates-books-reading/

² “Benefits of Reading Books: How It Can Positively Affect Your Life,” Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA, Healthline, Oct. 15, 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-reading-books

³ “How Reading Fiction Increases Empathy And Encourages Understanding,” Megan Schmidt, Discover Magazine, Aug 28, 2020, https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/how-reading-fiction-increases-empathy-and-encourages-understanding

April 21, 2021

5 Challenges for Entrepreneurs

5 Challenges for Entrepreneurs

Starting a business can be an exhilarating experience.

It may seem like the next logical step for someone who’s looking to grow and develop their career. But before you take that leap, it’s smart to consider the pros and cons involved with entrepreneurship. In this article we’ll explore five things that budding entrepreneurs should think about before starting a new business venture!

The first thing to consider? Startup cost. Depending on your idea, take some time to research what equipment or things will be necessary for getting started. Every penny counts. For example, if you’re opening an ice cream shop— which may seem simple enough—you’ll need freezers, scoopers, a storefront, and, of course, ice cream. That’s a lot of upfront investment for a little ice cream shop!

The second thing to consider is competition. It’s wise to research what types of businesses already exist in your space before jumping into entrepreneurship. For example, what if there are five dog parks within a couple of miles from where you live and you want to open up a sixth? This may be fine if there’s a large population of dog owners in your area. But unless you’ve got a unique idea or innovation that will blow your competition out of the water, you may want to consider another type of business or a different location to get started.

The third thing to consider is customer acquisition. How will you reach your customers? Do you know your exact market, their needs, desires, and insecurities? What’s the strategy for getting them in and keeping their business over time, even if there are competitors nearby with similar products/services?

At first, you might be able to rely on your friends and family as your first customers. But eventually, you’ll need to develop a marketing and brand strategy to acquire and keep new customers.

The fourth consideration should be building product inventory. If you’re producing goods, do your finances allow for significant inventory investment? What if it’s a service-based business—will customers need to wait weeks or months before they receive the first round of services from their purchase with no cash flow in between?

When you first open, stock your business with every service or product you can possibly offer. Then, track which ones seem most popular and how much they sell. Then, start building inventory accordingly. You may need to scrap the services or products that aren’t making you money.

Finally, think about compliance with legal standards. Some industries are regulated in ways that you may not anticipate. Food and beverage businesses need to follow health codes. Construction contractors must be bonded for their work on public projects like schools. And the financial industry is heavily regulated to protect clients. Whatever your industry, make sure you understand the legal requirements you’ll be asked to meet as a business owner.

There’s more to starting a business than excitement and glamour. It’s hard work that requires careful research and diligent preparation. Tackle these considerations before you start so you can lay the foundation for your business’s future success.

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April 14, 2021

The Time Value of Money and College

The Time Value of Money and College

College is one of the most expensive things that you can spend your money on, but it might not always be a good investment.

College graduates make much more than high school graduates over their lifetimes.¹ Some people think this means going to college is worth the cost because they’ll be able to pay off the loans with their higher salaries after graduation. But as you’ll see in this article, there’s another critical factor you should consider before going off to school.

Which career path will empower you to start saving sooner? The longer your money can accrue compound interest, the more it can grow. Working an extra four years instead of attending school could result in retiring with more. Let’s consider two hypotheticals that illustrate this point…

Let’s say you land a job straight out of high school at age 18 earning $35,000 total annual salary. You’re able to save 15% of your income in an account where the interest is compounded monthly at 9%. Assuming you work until 67, or 49 years, and consistently save the same amount each month over that time period at the same interest rate, you would retire with almost $4 million!

What if instead you attend college and graduate after 4 years? You land a job that pays $60,000 annually and are able to save 15% of your income. If you also retire at 67 after 45 years of work, saving 15% every month, you’ll retire with $4.7 million. That’s almost $700,000 more than the non-graduate!

But what if student loans prevent you from saving for 5 years after graduation? You’d retire with $3 million. In this hypothetical scenario, losing 9 years of saving results in a college graduate actually retiring with less than someone who diligently works and saves right out of high school.

The takeaway isn’t that you shouldn’t attend college. It’s that you should carefully weigh the costs of higher education. Is there a career path you could take right out of high school that would have you saving right away? Will your degree land you deep in debt and behind the 8-ball for building wealth? Or do the benefits of the degree substantially outweigh the costs? Don’t attend a college just because it’s what your peers are doing. Consider your passions, weigh the benefits, and calculate the costs before you make your decision!

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing, enacting a savings or retirement strategy, or taking on any loans or debt, seek the advice of a licensed and qualified financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

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“The College Payoff,” Georgetown University, https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/the-college-payoff/

January 13, 2021

Is the RV Life Right For You?

Is the RV Life Right For You?

2020 was the year of the RV.

You might have noticed as you scrolled through social media that more of your friends, family, and maybe even your in-laws are moving out of their homes and living on the open road. Don’t believe it? Search #vanlife on Instagram and see what comes up!

It’s not hard to see why. The RV lifestyle pairs material minimalism with adventure. The possessions and mortgage payments that can weigh you down are replaced by bare essentials and the open road.

People crave freedom. A bigger house and lots of toys can’t promise happiness. If you’re a born adventurer, exploring the country in an RV might be the opportunity for escape that you’ve been waiting for.

But it’s not a decision to be made lightly. RVs cost anywhere between $60,000 and $600,000.¹ Beyond that, you’ll have to buy gas, food, and pay for vehicle maintenance. Unless you have a job that allows you to work remotely, you’ll need to save diligently in order to afford life on the road.

That fact has made the RV lifestyle an attractive retirement choice. It’s increasingly common for retirees to sell their homes and use the proceeds to buy a van or RV.

So if you are an adventurer, love freedom, and have the career or savings to afford it, life on the road might be the choice for you!

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¹ “Is an RV the Perfect Retirement Lifestyle for You?,” Margo Armstrong, The Balance, July 21, 2020, https://www.thebalance.com/retire-in-an-rv-2388787

January 6, 2021

Bridging the Retirement Gap

Bridging the Retirement Gap

If you’re already eyeing the perfect recliner for your retirement, hold that thought. And you might want to start rifling through the ol’ couch cushions for a little extra change…

Here’s a doozy: women age 65 and older are 80% more likely to be impoverished than men of the same age.¹

That number represents a staggering degree of human tragedy. But there’s a sad logic to it when you consider that women save 43% less for retirement than their male counterparts.¹

But that’s not all. According to the 2016 Financial Finesse Gender Gap in Financial Wellness Report, to retire at age 65 (without a career break):

  • Men need $1,559,480.
  • Women need $1,717,779.

Women have to come up with $158,299 more! This increase is due to the unique set of circumstances women face while preparing for retirement:

  • Women live longer
  • Women pay more for healthcare

To summarize, women all too often aren’t in a position to save as much as men, even though they need more to sustain their retirements. The tragic result is that many spend their retirements in poverty instead of living out their dreams.

But that doesn’t have to be your story. The savings gap may seem huge, but it can be bridged. And it all starts with a solid insurance strategy. Just think of it as pulling the footrest lever on your dream retirement recliner!

Your unique situation and goals all factor into how you want to kick back when you retire. I’m here to help. When you have a moment, give me a call or shoot me an email.

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December 28, 2020

More financial tips for the new year

More financial tips for the new year

There’s nothing like the start of a brand new year to put you in a resolution-making, goal-setting, slate-cleaning kind of mood.

Along with your commitment to eat less sugar and exercise a little more, carve out some time to set a few financial aspirations for the new year. Here are some quick tips that may add up to significant benefits for you and your family.

Check your credit report
Start the new year with a copy of your credit report. Every consumer is entitled to one free credit report per year. Make it a point to get yours. Your credit report determines your credit score, so an improved score may help you get a better interest rate on an auto loan or a better plan for utilities or your phone.

Check your credit report carefully for accuracy. If you find anything that shouldn’t be there, you can file a dispute to have it removed. There are several sites where you can get your free credit report – just don’t get duped into paying for it.

Up your 401(k) contributions
The start of a new year is a great time to review your retirement strategy and up your 401(k) contributions. If saving for retirement is on your radar right now – as it should be – see if it works in your budget to increase your 401(k) contribution a few percentage points.

Review your health insurance policy
The open enrollment period for your health insurance may occur later in the year, so make a note on your calendar now to explore your health insurance options beforehand. If you have employer-sponsored health insurance, they should give you information about your plan choices as the renewal approaches. If you provide your own health insurance, you may need to talk to your representative or the health insurance company directly to assess your coverage and check how you might be able to save with a different plan.

Make sure your coverage is serving you well. If you have a high deductible plan, see if you can set up a health savings account. An HSA will allow you to put aside pretax earnings for covered health care costs throughout the year.

No spend days
Consider implementing “no spend days” into your year. Select one day per month (or two if you’re brave) and make it a no spend day. This only works well if you make it non-negotiable! A no spend day means no spur of the moment happy hours, going out to lunch, or engaging in so-called retail therapy.

A no spend day may help you save a little money, but the real gift is what you may learn about your spending habits.

Do some financial goal setting
Whether we really stick to them or not, many of us might be pretty good at setting career goals, family goals, and health and fitness goals. But when it comes to formulating financial goals, some of us might not be so great at that. Still, financial goal setting is essential, because just like anything else, you can’t get there if you’re not sure where you’re going.

Start your financial goal setting by knowing where you want to go. Have some debt you want to pay off? Looking to own a home? Want to retire in the next ten years? Those are great financial goals, but you’ll need a solid strategy to get there.

If you’re having trouble creating a financial strategy, consider working with a qualified financial professional. They can help you draw your financial roadmap.

Clean out your financial closet
Financial tools like budgets, savings strategies, and household expenses need to be revisited. Think of your finances like a closet that should be cleaned out at least once a year. Open it up and take everything out, get rid of what’s no longer serving you, and organize what’s left.

Review your household budget
Take a good look at your household budget. Remember, a budget should be updated as your life changes, so the beginning of a new year is an excellent time to review it. Don’t have a budget? An excellent goal would be to create one! A budget is one of the most useful financial tools available. It’s like an x-ray that reveals your income and spending habits so you can see and track changes over time.

Make this year your financial year
A new year is a great time to do a little financial soul searching. Freshen up your finances, revisit your financial strategies, and greet the new year on solid financial footing.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, health insurance representative, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

October 28, 2020

Should You Listen To Music While You Work?

Should You Listen To Music While You Work?

There are some workplace distractions that we all know torpedo our productivity.

We don’t need an article to tell us that social media and break room chatter hinder us from getting things done. But what about music? Afterall, that’s what we use to block out distractions and get in the zone. Do our favorite tunes actually make us productive or do they slow us down? It turns out that the answer to that question depends on why you listen, how easily you get bored, and what you’re playing.

The goal: avoid multitasking
The golden rule of music and productivity is that you must avoid multitasking at all costs. There’s no better way to hamstring your productivity, torpedo your IQ, and potentially damage your brain than by trying to divide your focus between two tasks.¹ So if you’re listening to music to drown out your talkative co-workers or that weird noise the AC makes, you’re on the right track. If you’re jamming out to tracks that make you think about highschool crushes and epic concerts, you might be doing yourself more harm than good.

Complexity and distraction
But it gets more complicated. Some people respond better to working while listening to music than others. A study discovered that boredom-prone individuals performed both simple and complex tasks better in silence, while the opposite was true for the less boredom-prone.² The researchers hypothesized that the jobs at hand were engaging enough to keep the easily bored occupied. The music was unnecessary external stimulation that dragged their attention away.

This means that there isn’t a one size fits all solution for using music for productivity. If you’re easily bored and distracted, you might want to avoid music while you work altogether. Noise cancelling headphones might come in handy, but be sure not to pump music through them. By contrast, more naturally focused individuals might find soft background music helps them zone out the noise and laser in on what they need to do.

What makes good focus music?
So let’s say you’re not distraction prone and you like working to some tunes. What music should you listen to? Despite what your uncle in the orchestra would have you believe, there isn’t a single best genre of music to stimulate your brain (sorry, Mozart). What you’re looking for is music with certain qualities.

First, find music that’s the right tempo. You’re shooting for around 60 beats per minute to minimize stress and promote focus. No dance music or break-neck metal! Second, avoid words. You’re probably listening to music in an attempt to cancel out conversation, not distract you with lyrics chock full of hidden meaning and symbolism that may catch your curiosity. Choose instrumental music over your favorite lyrical genius next time you need to work. A third option is to find something to listen to that’s not even music: nature sounds. Weirdly enough, trickling streams and the soft fall of rain are all random enough sounds that your brain doesn’t even bother with attempting pattern recognition. It’s a great way to mask office noise if music just isn’t working for you.

Ultimately, you’re looking for music (or nature sounds or white noise) that reduces diversions without becoming a diversion itself. Make this an opportunity to explore new kinds of music and try listening to them next time you need to focus on a project. And let me know if you find any hidden gems of slow classical music being performed in front of a gurgling mountain stream!

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¹ “Multitasking Damages Your Brain And Career, New Studies Suggest,” Travis Bradberry, Forbes, Oct 8, 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2014/10/08/multitasking-damages-your-brain-and-career-new-studies-suggest/#22ceaf9956ee

² “Does Classical Music Help Our Productivity?,” Adi Gaskell, Forbes, Mar 11, 2019, https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2019/03/11/does-classical-music-help-our-productivity/#89f9fc411bba

October 19, 2020

When Education Isn't Worth It

When Education Isn't Worth It

After room and board, a degree from a private university costs $46,950 per year.¹

A public university charges less than half that, with an annual price tag of $20,770.² That’s over double what it was in 1980 after adjusting for inflation.³ Why the sharp increase? Part of the answer is that demand has skyrocketed over the past 40 years. An information age requires knowledgeable, highly-skilled workers, and getting a degree is the traditional way of meeting those criteria. Rising demand has occurred alongside a steady decline in state funding for public education. One report found that 79% of tuition increases stemmed from such cuts.⁴

But there’s always been an assumption, despite the ballooning costs of higher education, that attending university would be worth it. Afterall, graduates almost always earn more than their peers.⁵ It’s an investment in a future income, right?

The diminishing returns of a degree
But that old model is simplistic at best. College simply doesn’t pay off for some graduates. Data demonstrates that the lowest earning college grads actually earn less than their highschool educated counterparts. ⁶ They actually lost income by going to university! It makes sense when you do the math. Going into crippling debt to get a speech and drama degree only earns you about $28,300 after graduation. ⁷ And the huge supply of highly-educated workers has put pressure on once prosperous careers. For example, more people graduate from expensive law schools in the United States than there are job openings for attorneys. ⁸ Sure, there’s 6-figure potential there if you can land a job, but you’re competing with dozens of other qualified prospects. It’s easy to see why people have become so cynical about higher education.

Simple solutions?
Overall, there are certainly times when a college degree is not worth the time and treasure. Spending 12 years at a private institution to get a doctorate in an obscure field with low pay and a brutal job market? There are probably more profitable ways to spend your time. But overall, there are numerous degrees that may still pay off; the average Bachelor’s degree is worth around $2.8 million over a lifetime. ⁹ But you must plan strategically. It all comes down to how you reduce the cost of your education and maximize your upside potential post-graduation.

Narrow your search to only include public schools in your state. Do as much research on scholarships and apply for as many as possible. Live with your parents to cut down on room and board costs. Take a gap year of work between your bachelors and masters degree. And do some research on job opportunities in the field before you get a diploma. You might decide that going into debt to become a petroleum engineer is a better investment than signing your life away to the humanities!

If you’re a parent, start planning your child’s higher education today. That will involve choosing the right schools and encouraging them to work hard and love learning. But you must also provide them with a steady financial foundation to pursue their dreams. Helping them get a degree debt-free might empower them to study their passions instead of chasing paychecks to fight off loans. There are financial products on the market designed to help you save for your child’s future, no matter what level of education they decide to pursue. Let’s schedule a time to meet and we can discuss your options in detail!

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¹ Hillary Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been, and the 5 reasons why suggest it’s only going to get worse,” Business Insider, JunE 26, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/why-is-college-so-expensive-2018-4

² Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been,” Business Insider

³ Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been,” Business Insider

⁴ Abigail Hess, “The cost of college increased by more than 25% in the last 10 years—here’s why,” CNBC, Dec 13 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/13/cost-of-college-increased-by-more-than-25percent-in-the-last-10-years.html

⁵ Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, Andrew R. Hanson, “The Economic Value Of College Majors: Executive Summary,” Georgetown University Center On Education And The Workforce, 2015, https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Exec-Summary-web-B.pdf

⁶ Emma Kerr, “Is College Worth the Cost?,” U.S. News & World Report, June 17, 2019, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2019-06-17/is-college-worth-the-cost

⁷ Alison Doyle, “Average College Graduate Salaries: Expectations vs. Reality,” The Balance, June 6, 2020, https://www.thebalance.com/college-graduate-salaries-expectations-vs-reality-4142305

⁸ “Occupational Outlook Handbook, Lawyers” Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Sept 1, 2020 https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm#tab-6

⁹ Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose and Ban Cheah, “The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings” Georgetown University Center On Education And The Workforce, 2011, https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/the-college-payoff/

March 30, 2020

A Quick Guide to Influencers

A Quick Guide to Influencers

We all know the word influencer.

It probably conjures images of attractive young people setting weird trends on the internet that, let’s face it, don’t make a lot of sense. But the world of influencers, especially in social media, is more than fun and games. Huge amounts of money can be involved and fortunes get made almost overnight. This is a quick guide to the wild world of internet influencers.

What’s an influencer?
An influencer is technically anyone with the power to affect purchasing decisions. It’s a really broad net that includes old-school movie stars and musicians. But lately it’s used in a more specific way to refer to social media stars.

Social media is relatively new. Platforms started off with content from normal viewers. For instance, the first YouTube video is from 2005, only 19 seconds long, and is about elephants at a zoo (1). Some content hit it big back then and went viral, but there still wasn’t a way of using those 15 minutes of online fame to start a real career.

That started to change. People started following specific content makers, and certain personalities built huge followings. Some YouTube channels started getting more weekly views than television shows!

With those huge followings came the potential to advertise. Soon, social media icons started getting paid to promote products. Brands could get attention from a huge audience in key demographics just from an Instagram post or shoutout during a YouTube video.

Why they matter so much
But there’s more to social media marketing than audience size. What makes social media influencers so powerful is that they feel like someone you know. They give their followers a window into their thoughts, routines, and lives. A suggestion from them feels like advice from a friend.

This isn’t to say that social media influencers accurately present their lives to the world. Plenty of publicity stunts and carefully manicured public images exist online. What matters is that the interactions between influencer and follower feel personal and genuine. And there’s potentially a gold mine to be found in that appearance of authenticity if companies look to you for a recommendation.

Audience size is less important than you might think
Interestingly, this means that having a small audience doesn’t necessarily hamper an influencer’s impact. Having a social media personality who focuses on a highly specific field promoting your product to a few hundred followers can make a big difference. It’s more likely for those potential customers to feel like they’ve had a personal recommendation than they would after viewing a TV ad or even an online ad, thus increasing brand loyalty.

Influencers have become a key building block in any modern marketing strategy. They’re a perfect combination of accessibility and credibility that can hold the attention of a key demographic or get your name on the radar for millions of followers.

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February 5, 2020

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Going to college can be a great way to invest in your future and get the training and education you need to thrive in the modern job market.

But we’ve all heard the horror stories of students saddled with thousands in loans that they struggle to pay back, sometimes for years. Student loan debt is often the most pressing financial issue for college students and recent grads.

So how do you take advantage of the benefits of a college education without burdening your future with years of debt? Here are some tips to help you avoid high student loan payments and pay your student debt off more quickly after graduation.

Work through school
The days of working a minimum wage job to put yourself through school seem to be over. However, working enough to cover at least some of your books and living expenses may make a huge dent in the amount of money you’ll have to borrow to graduate.

Work-study programs on campus are often good options, as they are willing to work around your class schedules. Off-campus part-time jobs can be a good option as well, and may offer better pay.

Live as cheaply as possible
Everyone knows the cliché of the broke college student existing on nothing but ramen noodles. While not many people would recommend trying to live on nutritionless soup every day, you should be able to find ways to cut your cost of living to reduce the amount of money you need to borrow to sustain your lifestyle.

Try living off campus with family or roommates and packing sandwiches instead of paying expensive meal tickets and dorm fees. Bike, walk, or take public transportation to avoid parking. Take advantage of free on-campus healthcare, counseling, free food events, free entertainment, and more so you can spend as little as possible on living campus life.

It’s okay to go out and have fun sometimes, but don’t borrow from your future in order to live beyond your means now.

Try to avoid unsubsidized loans
Subsidized loans are offered by the Department of Education at lower interest than many private bank loans, and they do not begin accruing interest until after you graduate. Take advantage of these loans first and try to avoid the unsubsidized private loans which begin accruing interest immediately and often have a higher rate. (1)

Be mindful of your future payments
It can be tempting to expect that you’ll have a great job earning plenty of money and time to pay back the student loans you’ve accumulated. But each time you take out a loan, you make your future payments higher and your payback time longer. Be sure to look at the numbers of how much your payment will be every time you up your loan amounts. Can you realistically envision yourself being able to pay that amount every month in just a few years? If not, it may be time to rethink the student loans you’re racking up, and possibly even reconsider your degree or career plan.

Go to trade school, earn an apprenticeship, or work in your chosen field before you commit to a college degree in that field
It’s not a popular topic with many high school guidance counselors, but learning a trade and finding a well-paying job without a degree is not only possible but a great option. Try finding an internship or trade school where you could get training for much less money than a university.

Consider community colleges and state schools
It’s a common misconception that private, ivy league, “big name” colleges are far superior to state schools and automatically the better option. However, state schools can often have great programs for far less money. Also, if you choose a local school, you can live close to your family support system while working through college. It’s possible to have a very successful career with a college degree from a state school, and be more financially stable in your future than someone struggling to pay off loans from an expensive private college.

Likewise, an associate’s degree from a community college can save money toward your bachelor’s degree, allowing you to pay far less than you would even to a state school. Just make sure your degree and credits will transfer to the university of your choice.

Find a graduate program that pays YOU
If you choose to pursue a Masters or Doctorate degree, try to find a program with a teaching assistant position, fellowship, or some other option for getting reduced tuition or getting paid to get the work experience you need.

Resist the urge to move up in lifestyle when you graduate
When you scrimp your way through school, it’s tempting when you get your first degree-related job to celebrate by loosening the reins on your frugal ways and start living it up as a young professional.

It’s great to reward yourself, and you need to adapt to your new financial situation (you may need a new wardrobe or a better car), but resist going too crazy with all the “extra” money a new job in your field can make you feel like you have. You should still live on a budget and manage your money carefully to pay off your student loans as soon as possible so you’re better prepared to move into the next phase of life unencumbered by a mountain of debt. Make paying back debt a priority, and pay extra when you’re able.

Education can be expensive and in some cases impossible to get without loans. But with frugality and an eye toward the future, you’ll be better prepared to get the education you need to succeed in life without being encumbered by debt for years. The high cost of education combined with the high cost of living can make a college education more of a financial burden for today’s students than ever before. By thinking outside the box and carefully prioritizing your educational goals—balanced with your finances—you can pursue your dream degree and have a better chance at a stable financial future.

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November 18, 2019

Matters of Age

Matters of Age

The younger you are, the less expensive your life insurance may be.

Life insurance companies are more willing to offer lower premium life insurance policies to young, healthy people who will likely not need the death benefit payout of their policy for a while. (Keep in mind that exceptions for pre-existing medical conditions or certain careers exist – think “skydiving instructor”. But in many cases, the odds are more in your favor for lower premiums than you might guess.)

At this point you might be thinking, “Well, I am young and healthy, so why do I need to add another expense into my budget for something I might not need for a long time?”

Unlike a financial goal of saving up for a downpayment on your first house, waiting for “the right moment” to get life insurance – perhaps when you feel like you’re prepared enough – is less beneficial. A huge part of that is due to getting older. As your body ages, things can start to go wrong – unexpectedly and occasionally chronically. Ask any 35-year-old who just threw out their back for the first time and is now Googling every posture-perfecting stretch and cushy mattress to prevent it from happening again.

With age-related health issues in mind, remember that the premium you pay at 22 may be very different than the premium you’ll pay at 32. Most people hit several physical peaks in that 10 year window:

  • 25 – Peak muscle strength
  • 28 – Peak ability to run a marathon
  • 30 – Peak bone mass production

If you’re feeling your mortality after reading those numbers, don’t worry! You’re probably not going to go to pieces like fine china hitting a cement floor on your 30th birthday. But there is one certainty as you age: your premium will rise an average of 8-10% on each birthday. Combine that with an issue like the sudden chronic back problems from throwing your back out that one time (one time!), and your premium will likely reflect both the age increase and a pre-existing condition.

If you experience certain types of illness or injury prior to getting life insurance, it often goes in the books as a pre-existing condition, which will cause a premium to go up. Remember: the less likely a person is going to need their life insurance payout, the lower the premium will likely be. Possible scenarios like the recurrence of cancer or a sudden inability to work due to re-injury are red flags for insurance companies because it increases the likelihood that a policyholder will need their policy’s payout.

A person’s age, unique medical history, and financial goals will all factor into the process of finding the right coverage and determining the rate. So taking advantage of your youth and good health now without bringing an age-borne illness or injury to the table could be beneficial for your journey to financial independence.

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November 13, 2019

You Can’t Take It With You

You Can’t Take It With You

A LinkedIn study found that Millennials are likely to change jobs 4 times in their first 10 years out of college. That equates to landing a new job roughly every 2.5 years by age 32!

So if you’re feeling the itch to leave your current job and head out for a new adventure in the workforce, the experience you’ve gained along the way will go with you. You may have made some great business connections too, and gotten some fabulous on-the-job-training. All of these things will “travel well” to a new job.

But there’s one thing you can’t take with you: An employer-supplied life insurance policy. While the price is right at “free” for many of these policies, there are several drawbacks that may deter you from relying on them solely for coverage.

1. An employer-provided policy turns in its two weeks notice when you do. Since your employer owns the policy – not you – your coverage will end when you leave that job. And unless you’re walking right into another employment opportunity where you’re offered the same type and amount of coverage, you might experience gaps or a total loss of coverage in an area where you had it before. When you’re not depending on an employer to provide your only life insurance coverage, you can change jobs as often as you please without the worry of the rug being pulled out from under you.

2. The employer policy is touted as ‘one size fits most.’ But it’s not likely that a group policy offered through an employer will be tailored to you and your unique needs. There may be no room for you to chime in and request certain features or a rider you’re interested in. However, when you build your own policy around your individual needs, you can get the right coverage that suits who you are and where you’d like to go on your financial journey.

3. An employer policy may not offer enough to cover your family. What amount of coverage is your employer offering? When you’re first starting out in your career, a $50,000 or even a $25,000 employer-provided policy might sound like a lot. But how far would that benefit really go to protect your family, cover funeral costs, or help with daily expenses if something were to happen to you?

Whether or not your 5-year plan includes 5 different jobs (or 5 entirely unrelated career paths), with a well-tailored policy that you own independent of your employment situation – you have the potential for a little more freedom and security in your financial strategy. And you won’t be starting from square one just because you’re starting a new opportunity.

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May 8, 2019

What is your #1 financial asset?

What is your #1 financial asset?

What is your #1 financial asset? It’s not your house, your retirement fund, or your rare baseball card collection gathering dust.

Your most valuable financial asset is YOU!
Today – Labor Day, the unofficial last day of summer – let’s look at ways you can develop your skills and outlook in the workforce as we move from summertime vacation mode into finishing 2018 strong.

You might be savvy at home improvement, you might be a whiz with your finances, or you might have the eye to spot a hidden treasure at a yard sale, but how do you increase your value as a laborer in the workforce? One of the top traits of successful people is that they come up with a plan and they execute. Waiting for things to happen or taking the crumbs life tosses their way isn’t on their to-do list. Whether you’re dreaming of a secure future for yourself and your family, or if you want to build a career that enables you to help others down the road (or both!), the path to your goal and how fast you get there is up to you.

Increase your value as an employee
Working for someone else doesn’t have to feel like a prison sentence. In a recent study, nearly 60% of entrepreneurs worked full time as an employee for someone else while planning and building their own business on the side. Being employed is a chance to learn alongside experienced mentors, and prime time to experiment with how you can best add value. In many cases, successful entrepreneurs spent their time in the workforce amassing a wealth of information on how businesses are run, making mental notes on what doesn’t work, and practicing what can be done better.

View your time as an employee as an opportunity to hone your problem solving skills. It’s a mindset – one that can make you a more valuable employee and prepare you for great things later. Being seen as a problem solver can grant you more opportunity for promotions, pay increases, greater responsibility, and perhaps most importantly, open up more chances for life-enriching experiences.

Build your financial strategy
While you’re working to increase your value as a laborer, you’ll benefit from steady footing before taking your next big step. This is where building a solid financial strategy comes into play. Nearly everyone has the potential to be financially secure. Where most find trouble is often due to not having a plan or not sticking to the plan. A few simple principles can guide your finances, setting you up for a future where you have freedom to choose the life you envision.

  • Pay yourself first. Starting early and continuing as your earnings grow, begin the habit of paying yourself first. Simply, this means putting away some money every month or every paycheck that can help you reach your financial goals over time. Ideally, this money will be invested where it can grow. The goal is to get the money out of harm’s way, where you would have to think twice before dipping into your savings before you spend.
  • Develop a budget and consider expenses carefully. Think about expenditures before opening your wallet and swiping that credit card. Avoid debt wherever possible. Most people are able to have more money left over at the end of the month than they might realize. Don’t be afraid to tell yourself “no” so you can reach a bigger goal.
  • Plan for loved ones with life insurance. Here is where the value you provide your family through your hard work comes into sharp focus. Life insurance is essentially income replacement, should the worst happen. Meet with your financial professional and put a tailored-to-you life insurance policy in place that assures your family or dependents are taken care of.

Put your skills to work as a leader
Once you’ve established a level of financial security, now is the time to think about giving back by providing opportunities and helping others to realize their goals. There’s an old saying: “You’ll never get rich working for someone else.” While that’s not always true, trying to realize your long-term financial goals in an entry-level position might be an uphill climb. Moving up into a leadership position can teach you new skills and can increase your earning power. The average salary for managers approaches six figures!

You might even be ready to branch out on your own, investing the knowledge and leadership skills you’ve gained over the years in your own venture. Consider becoming an entrepreneur with your own financial services business – this can allow you to help others while building on your continuing success as a financial professional.

Whether you choose to strike out on your own, start a new part-time business, or grow within the organization or industry you’re in now, there are key traits that will help you succeed. Having a future-driven, forward-thinking mindset will guide your decisions. Your sense of commitment and the leadership skills you’ve honed on your journey will define your career – and perhaps even your legacy – as others learn from your example and use the same principles to guide their own success.

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April 15, 2019

Is a home really an investment?

Is a home really an investment?

The housing market has experienced major peaks and valleys over the past 15 years.

If you’re in the market for a new home, you might be wondering if buying a house is a good investment, or if it even should be considered an investment at all…

“Owning a home is the best investment you can make.”
We’ve all heard this common financial refrain: “Owning a home is the best investment you can make.” The problem with that piece of conventional wisdom is that technically a home isn’t an investment at all. An investment is something that (you hope) will earn you money. A house costs money. We may expect to save money over the long term by buying a home rather than renting, but we shouldn’t (typically) expect to earn money from buying a home.

So, a home normally shouldn’t be considered an investment, but it may offer some financial benefits. In other words, buying a home may be a good financial decision, but not a good investment. A home may cost much more than it gives back – especially at the beginning of ownership.

The costs of homeownership
One reason that buying a home may not be a good investment is that the cost of homeownership may be much higher than renting – especially at first. Many first time homebuyers are unprepared for the added expense of owning a home, plus the amount of time maintaining a home may often require. First-time homebuyers must be prepared to potentially deal with:

  • Higher utility costs
  • Lawn care
  • Regular maintenance such as painting or cleaning gutters
  • Emergency home repairs
  • Higher insurance costs
  • Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) if you don’t provide a full 20 percent down payment

A long term commitment
Another problem with considering a house as an investment is that it may take many years to build equity. Mortgages are typically interest heavy in the beginning. You can expect to be well into the life of your mortgage before you may see any real equity in your home.

Having the choice to move without worrying about selling your home is a benefit of renting that homeowners don’t enjoy. The freedom to move for a career goal, romantic interest, or even just a lifestyle choice is mostly available to a renter but may be out of reach for a homeowner. So, be sure to consider your long term goals and aspirations before you start planning to buy a house.

When is buying a home the right move?
Buying a home in many cases can be an excellent financial decision. If you are committed to living in a specific area but the rent is very high, homeownership may have some benefits. Some of those may be:

  • Not having a landlord make decisions about your property
  • Tax savings
  • Building equity
  • A stable place to raise a family

Buying a home: Not always a good investment, but may be a good financial decision
Although buying a home may not pay you in high returns, it can be an excellent financial decision. If owning a home is one of your dreams, go for it. Just be aware of the costs as well as the benefits. If you’ve always wanted to own your own home, then the rewards can be myriad – dollars can’t measure joy and the priceless memories you’ll create with your family.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional, accountant, realtor, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

March 4, 2019

Tackling long term financial goals

Tackling long term financial goals

Many of us have probably had some trouble meeting a long-term goal from time to time.

Health, career, and personal enrichment goals are often abandoned or relegated to some other time after the initial excitement wears away. So how can you keep yourself committed to important long term goals – especially financial ones? Let’s look at a few strategies to help you stay committed and hang in there for the long haul.

Start small when building the big financial picture
Most financial goals require sustained commitment over time. Whether you’re working on paying off credit card debt, knocking out your student loans, or saving for retirement, financial heavyweight goals can make even the most determined among us feel like Sisyphus – doomed for eternity to push a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down.

The good news is that there is a strategy to put down the rock and reach those big financial goals. To achieve a big financial goal, it must be broken down into small pieces. For example, let’s say you want to get your student loan debt paid off once and for all, but when you look at the balance you think, “This is never going to happen. Where do I even start?” Cue despair.

But let’s say you took a different approach and focused on what you can do – something small. You’ve scoured your budget and decided you can cut back on some incidentals. This gives you an extra $75 a month to add to your regular student loan payment. So now each month you can make a principal-only payment of $75. This feels great. You’re starting to get somewhere. You took the huge financial objective – paying off your student loan – and broke it down into a manageable, sustainable goal – making an extra payment every month. That’s what it takes.

Use the power of automation
It seems there has been a lot of talk lately in pop psychology circles about the force of habit. The theory is if you create a practice of something, you are more likely to do it consistently.

The power of habit can work wonders for financial health, and with most financial goals, we can use automation tools to help build our habits. For example, let’s say you want to save for retirement – a great financial goal – but it may seem abstract, far away, and overwhelming.

Instead of quitting before you even begin, or succumbing to confusion about how to start, harness the power of automation. Start with your 401(k) plan – an automated savings tool by nature. Money comes out of your paycheck directly into the account. But did you know you can set your plan to increase every year by a certain percentage? So if this year you’re putting in three percent, next year you might try five percent, and so on. In this way, you’re steadily increasing your retirement savings every year – automatically without even having to think about it.

Find support when working on financial goals
Long term goals are more comfortable to meet with the proper support – it’s also a lot more fun. Help yourself get to your goals by making sure you have friends and allies to help you along the way. Don’t be afraid to talk about your financial goals and challenges.

Finding support for financial goals has never been easier – there are social media groups as well as many other blogs and websites devoted to personal financial health. Join in and begin sharing. Another benefit of having a support network is that it seems like when we announce our goals to the world (or even just our corner of it), we’re more likely to stick to them.

Reaching large financial goals
Big, dreamy financial goals are great – we should have those – but to help make them attainable, we must recast them into smaller manageable actions. Focus on small goals, find support, and harness the power of habit and automation.

Remember, it’s a marathon – you finish the race by running one mile at a time.

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November 12, 2018

You're not too young for life insurance

You're not too young for life insurance

If you’re young, you may not be thinking you need life insurance yet, but life insurance isn’t something only for your parents or grandparents.

Even if you have a free life insurance policy through your employer, you may not have as much coverage as you need.

There are many great reasons to buy life insurance – and a lot of those great reasons are even better reasons for young people.

So, read on for a little illumination about why you are not too young for life insurance. If you have dependents, life insurance is a must.

Take a moment and think about who depends on you and your income for their well-being. You may be surprised. Most of us think immediately of children, but dependents can include your parents, siblings, a relative with a disability, or even a significant other. A solid life insurance policy can protect the people that count on you.

What would they do without your financial help? A life insurance policy can ensure they are protected if something were to happen to you.

The older you get, the more life insurance costs.
From a simple, cost/benefit perspective, the best time to buy life insurance is when you are young. That’s when it’s the most affordable. As you age (i.e., become more likely to suffer from accident or illness), the cost of the policy will most likely go up. So buying a life insurance policy while you’re young may save you money over the long term.

Your employer-provided life insurance may be problematic.
Getting life insurance through your employer is a great benefit (you should take advantage of it if it’s free).

But it may present some problems. One of the drawbacks is that this type of life insurance policy doesn’t go with you when you leave the company. That may be a challenge for young people who are moving from company to company as they climb the career ladder.

Second, employer-sponsored life insurance may simply not be enough. Even dual-income couples with no dependents should consider purchasing individual policies. Keep in mind that if one of you passed away, would the other afford to maintain your current lifestyle on a single income? Those “what if?” scenarios may be uncomfortable, but they are the best way to determine how much life insurance you need.

You’re never too young to think about your legacy.
It’s not too soon to think about this. Did you know a life insurance policy can provide a lump sum to an organization you select, not just to a family member or other beneficiary? A life insurance policy can allow you to leave a meaningful legacy for the people or causes you care about. When it comes to buying life insurance, generally the younger you are when you start your policy, the better off you’re going to be.

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October 15, 2018

Budget Like a Rock Star with Your First Job

Budget Like a Rock Star with Your First Job

Congratulations! Landing your first full-time job is exciting, especially if you’ve been dreaming of that moment throughout college.

Now you can loosen your belt a little and not spend so much brain power on creative ways to make ramen noodles. But before you go and start spending on the things you’ve had to skimp on in school, it’ll be worth it to take a breath, do some self-examination, and create a budget first.

This is probably the absolute best time in your life to start a habit of budgeting that will last you a lifetime – before life gets more complicated with a family, mortgage, etc. If you become a whiz at your personal financial strategy, tackling all the things that life will bring your way may (hopefully) go a lot smoother.

So here are a few tips on setting up your budget with your first job:

1. Think about why you want a budget
It may sound silly, but knowing why you’re putting yourself on a budget will help you stick to it when temptations to overspend flare up. Beginning a budget early in life when you start your first job will help lay the foundation for responsible financial management.

Think about your goals here. Having a budget will help you (when the time is right) to acquire things like a home, new car, or a family vacation to the islands. Budgeting can also help you enjoy more immediate wants, like a designer handbag or new flat screen TV.

2. Get familiar with your spending
You can’t create a budget without knowing your expenses. Take a good, hard look at not just your income but also your “outgo”. Include all your major expenses of course – rent, insurance, retirement savings, emergency funds. But don’t forget about miscellaneous expenses – even the small ones. That coffee on the way to work – it counts. So does the $3.99 booster pack in your favorite phone game.

Track your expenses over the course of a couple of weeks to a month. This will give you insight into your spending, so your budget is accurate.

3. Count your riches
Now that you have your first job, add up your income. This means the money you take home in your paycheck – not your salary before taxes. Income can also include earnings from side jobs, regular bonuses, or income investment. Whatever money you have coming in counts as income.

4. Set your budget goals
Give yourself permission to dream big here and own it! Set some financial goals for yourself – and make them specific and personal. For example, don’t make “save up for a house” your goal because it’s not specific or personal. Think about the details. What type of house do you want, and where? When do you see yourself purchasing it?

For example, your budget goal may look something like this: “Save $20,000 by the time I’m 27 for a down payment on an industrial loft downtown.“ A good budget goal includes an amount, a deadline, and a specific and detailed outcome.

5. Use a tracker
A budget tracker is simply a tool to create your budget and help you maintain it. It can be as simple as a pen and paper. A budget tracker can also be an elaborate spreadsheet, or you can use an online tool or application.

The best budget tracker is the one you’ll stick to, so don’t be afraid to try a few different methods. It may take some trial and error to find the one that’s right for you.

6. Put it to the test
Test your budget and tracking system to see if it’s working for you. Try to recognize where your pitfalls are and adjust to overcome them, but don’t give up! It’s something your future self will thank you for.

7. Stick to it
Creating a budget that works is a process. Take your time and think it through. You’re probably going to need to tweak it along the way. It’s ok!

The best way to think about a budget is as an ongoing part of your life. Make it your own so that it works for your needs. And as you change – like when you get that promotion – your budget can change with you.

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October 8, 2018

Retirement planning tips you can use right now

Retirement planning tips you can use right now

The sooner you start planning for retirement, the better off you’re going to be.

That’s hard to argue with. But no matter where you are on your retirement planning journey, there are always great financial planning steps you can take to help you get and stay on the road to a happy retirement.

Time is money
When it comes to retirement savings, the old expression, “Time is Money” means more than ever. It makes sense that the sooner you start saving, the more you’ll have when your retirement comes. But there’s a phenomenon you can take advantage of that can help your money grow while you’re saving.

It’s called compound interest. This is basically earning interest on the interest. This is how it works: Your principal investment earns interest. The following year, your principal plus last year’s interest earns interest. You could stuff the same amount of cash under your mattress – and you might be able to store away a hefty sum over the years that way – but with compound interest, your money can “grow”. Taking advantage of compound interest can be one of the best ways to build your retirement savings.

Starting to save in your 20s and 30s: Set yourself up
If you’re in your 20s or 30s and you’re already thinking about retirement – give yourself a pat on the back. This is the best time to begin planning for your golden years. At this age, a retirement strategy is probably going to be the most flexible, and it’s more likely that your retirement dream can become a reality.

One of the best tools to take advantage of during this time is an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of it. There are two major benefits:

  1. Time: Remember compound interest? The more you invest now in a retirement savings plan, the more you’ll have come retirement time.
  2. Company match: This is the money your employer puts in your 401(k) plan for you. Most employers will match your contributions up to a certain percentage. It’s like free money. Be sure you don’t leave it on the table.

Starting in middle age: Maximize your retirement savings
If you’re in your middle years, you still have some advantages when it comes to a retirement strategy. First, retirement should feel a little less like a fantasy and more like reality at this age – it’s not too far beyond the horizon! Use this reality check as motivation to start some serious planning and saving.

Second, your earnings may be higher on the career curve than they were when you were just starting out. If so, this is a great time to go all out with your savings plan. Try these tips for starters:

  1. Consider an IRA: An IRA can function as a savings tool when you’ve maxed out your 401(k). The savings are pre-tax as well.
  2. Professional financial planning: If you’re having a hard time getting your head around retirement planning, seek financial planning expertise. A financial professional can help make sense of your particular retirement picture. This way you can better identify needs and create strategies to fill them.

Your 50s and 60s: Getting real about retirement income
This is the age when retirement planning gets real. You’re thinking may now shift from savings to distributions. The question that arises is how you’ll replace that paycheck you’ve been earning with another source of income, if you’re not willing or able to work beyond a certain age.

  1. Social security benefits: You become eligible to tap into your social security benefits at 60. You can collect full benefits at around 65, but if you wait until you’re 70, you’ll get the largest possible payout from social security.
  2. Distributions: When you’re 59 ½ you can take distributions from your retirement accounts without a penalty. But keep in mind those distributions may count as taxable income.

A good retirement favors the prepared
No matter where you are on the road to retirement, wise financial planning is the key to a happy and healthy retirement. Start today!

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing or enacting a retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

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