So You Want to Buy Life Insurance for Your Parents...

September 28, 2020

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Jonathan Brutto

Jonathan Brutto

Financial Professional

15150 Preston Rd Suite 300

Dallas, TX 75248

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September 28, 2020

So You Want to Buy Life Insurance for Your Parents...

So You Want to Buy Life Insurance for Your Parents...

Playing Monopoly as a young kid might have given you some strange ideas about money.

Take the life insurance card in the Community Chest for instance. That might give the impression that life insurance is free money to burn on whatever the next roll of the dice calls for.

In grown-up reality, life insurance proceeds are often committed long before a policy holder or beneficiary receives the check they’re waiting for. Final expenses, estate taxes, loan balances, and medical bills all compete for whatever money is paid out on the policy.

If your parents don’t have a policy or if you think their coverage won’t be enough, you can plan ahead and buy a life insurance policy for them. Your parents would be the insured, but you would be the policy owner and beneficiary.

A few extra considerations when buying a life insurance policy for your parents:

  • Insurable interest still applies. If your parents already have a significant amount of life insurance coverage, you may find that some insurers are reluctant to issue more coverage. Insurable interest requires that the amount of coverage doesn’t exceed the potential financial loss. (In other words, if your parents already have enough coverage, a company may not want to insure them for more.)
  • Age can limit coverage amounts. Assuming that your parents are older and no longer generating income, coverage amounts will be limited. If your parents are younger and still have 20 or more years ahead of them before they retire, they can qualify for a higher amount of coverage.
  • Age can limit policy types. Certain types of life insurance aren’t available when we get older, or will be limited in regard to length of coverage. Term life insurance is a good example. Your options for term life insurance will be fewer once your parents are into their sixties. The available term lengths will also be shorter. Policies with a 30-year term aren’t commonly available over the age of 50.

How Can I Use The Life Insurance For My Parents?

Depending on the amount of coverage you buy – or can buy (remember, it may be limited), you could use the policy to plan for any of the following:

  • Final expenses: You can expect funeral costs to run from $10,000 to $15,000, maybe more.
  • Estate taxes: Estate taxes and so-called death taxes can be an unpleasant surprise in many states. A life insurance policy can help you plan for this expense which could come at a time when you’re not flush with cash.

Can Life Insurance Pay The Mortgage Or Car Loans?

It isn’t uncommon for parents to pass away with some remaining debt. This might be in the form of a mortgage, car loans, or even credit card debt. These loan balances can be covered in whole or in part with a life insurance policy.

In fact, outstanding loan balances are a very big consideration. Often, people who inherit a house or a car may also inherit an additional mortgage payment or car payment. It might be wonderful to receive such a generous and sentimental gift, but if you’re like many families, you might not have the extra money for the payments in your budget.

Even if the policy doesn’t provide sufficient coverage to retire the debt completely, a life insurance policy can give you some breathing room until you can make other arrangements – like selling your parents’ house, for example.

You Control The Premium Payments.

If you buy a life insurance policy for your parents, you’ll know if the premiums are being paid because you’re the one paying them. You probably wouldn’t want your parents to be burdened with a life insurance premium obligation if they’re living on a fixed income.

Buying insurance for your parents is a great idea, but many people don’t consider it until it’s too late. That’s when you might wish you’d had the idea years ago. It’s one of the wisest things you can do, particularly if your parents are underinsured or have no life insurance at all.

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September 16, 2020

A Life Insurance Deep Dive

A Life Insurance Deep Dive

We’ve explored the basics of life insurance, how it works, and what it’s for.

Today we’ll be fleshing out some concepts you might encounter as you look at your options for protecting your family. Let’s start with the different kinds of life insurance.

Different types of life insurance
Life insurance will almost always have a few basic parts—the death benefit (the amount paid to your loved ones upon your passing), the policy itself (the actual insurance contract), and the premium (how much you pay for the life insurance policy).

There’s a wide range of life insurance policies, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Term life insurance is the most straightforward form. It lasts for a set amount of time (the term), during which you pay a premium. You and your beneficiaries won’t receive any benefits if you don’t pass away during the term. This type of policy typically doesn’t feature other benefits on its own (you may be able to add other benefits with what is called a rider).
  • Whole life insurance is exactly what it sounds like. It never expires and is guaranteed to pay a benefit whenever you pass away. But it often comes with other benefits. For instance, it can include a saving component called a cash value. It usually builds with interest and you can take money from it any time.
  • Indexed Universal Life Insurance is similar to whole life insurance, but the cash value is tied to the market. The market is up? Your cash value goes up. The market goes down? Your cash value is actually shielded from loss.

Each of these types of life insurance have different strengths and weaknesses. A term policy might be right for you while a whole life policy might be better for your neighbor. Talk with a financial professional to see which one fits your needs and budget!

The right amount of life insurance
But can you have too little life insurance? How about too much? The answer to both of those questions is yes. In general, the purpose of life insurance is to replace your income in case of your passing for your loved ones and family. That should be your guidestone when deciding how substantial a policy to purchase. Typically, you’re looking at about 10 times your annual income. That’s enough to replace your yearly earnings, pay-off potential debts, and guard against inflation. That means someone earning $35,000 would want to shop around for about $350,000 worth of coverage.

Employer life insurance
This means that most employer-provided life insurance isn’t enough to fully protect you and your family. There’s no doubt that a free policy from your workplace is great. But they typically only cover about a year of wages. That’s not nearly what you need to provide peace of mind to your beneficiaries! Don’t necessarily refuse your employer-provided life insurance, but make sure that it supplements a more substantial policy.

Still have questions? Reach out to a licensed financial professional and ask for guidance! And stay tuned for next week’s article where we’ll debunk some common life insurance myths!

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before enacting a life insurance policy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional to discuss your options.

August 17, 2020

Dig yourself out of debt

Dig yourself out of debt

I hate to break it to you, but no matter what generation you are – Baby Boomer, Generation X, or Millennial – you’re probably in debt.

If you’re not – good on you! Keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you are in debt, you’re not alone. A study[i] by the financial organization, Comet, found:

  • 80.9 percent of Baby Boomers are in debt
  • 79.9 percent of Generation X is in debt
  • 81.5 percent of Millennials are in debt

There are some folks whose goal is to eliminate all debt – and if that’s yours, great! But one thing to keep in mind while you’re working towards that finish line is that not all debt is created equal. Carrying a mortgage, for example, may be considered a “healthy” debt. Student loan debt may feel like an encumbrance, but hopefully, your education has given you more earning power in the workforce. A car loan may even be considered a healthy debt. So, there are some types of debt that may offer you advantages.

Any credit card debt you have, however, should be dealt with asap. Credit card debt can cost money every month in the form of interest, and it gives you nothing in return – no equity, no education, no increase in earning potential. It’s like throwing money down the drain.

So, let’s get to work and look at some of the best tips for paying down credit card debt.

1. Get to know your debt
Make a commitment to be honest with yourself. If you’re in denial, it’s going to be hard to make positive changes. So take a good, hard look at your debt. Examine your credit card statements and note balances, interest rates, minimum monthly payment amounts, and due dates. Once you have this information down in black and white you can start to create a repayment strategy.

2. Get motivated
Taking on your debt isn’t easy. Most of us would rather not confront it. We may make half-hearted attempts to pay it off but never truly get anywhere. Need a little motivation? Getting rid of your credit card debt may make you happier. The Comet study asked respondents to rate their happiness on a scale of one to seven.[ii] It turns out that those who selected the lowest rating also carried the highest amounts of credit card debt. Want to be happier? It seems like paying off your credit card debt may help!

3. Develop your strategy
There are many strategies for paying off your credit card debt. Once you understand all your debt and have found your motivation, it’s time to pick a strategy. There are two main strategies for debt repayment. One focuses on knocking out the highest interest debt first, and the other method begins with tackling the smallest principal balances first. Here’s how they work:

  • Start with the highest interest rate: One of the items you should have noted when you did your debt overview is the interest rate for each account. With this method, you’ll throw the largest payment you can at your highest interest rate debt every month, while paying the minimum payments on your other debts. Utilizing this method may help you pay less interest over time.

  • Start with the smallest balance: As opposed to comparing interest rates, this method requires you to look at your balances. With this strategy, you’ll begin paying the smallest balance off first. Continue to make the minimum payments on your other accounts and put as much money as you can towards the smallest balance. Once you have that one paid off, combine the amount you were paying on that balance with the minimum you were paying on your next smallest balance, and so on. This strategy can help keep you motivated and encouraged since you should start to see some results right away.

Either strategy can work well. Pick the one that seems best for you, execute, and most importantly – don’t give up!

4. Live by a budget
As you begin chipping away at your credit card debt, it’s important to watch your spending. If you continue to charge purchases, you won’t see the progress you’re making, so watch your spending closely. If you don’t have a budget already, now would be a good time to create one.

5. Think extra payments
Once you are committed to paying off your debt and have developed your strategy, keep it top of mind. Make it your number one financial priority. So when you come across “found” money – like work bonuses or gifts – see it as an opportunity to make an extra credit card payment. The more of those little extra payments you make, the better. Make them while the cash is in hand, so you aren’t tempted to spend it on something else.

6. Celebrate your victories
Living on a budget and paying off debt can feel tedious. Paying off debt takes time. Don’t forget to take pride in what you’re trying to accomplish. Celebrate your milestones. Do something special when you get that first small balance paid off, but try to make the occasion free or at least cheap! The point is to reward yourself for your hard financial work. (Hint: Try putting up a chart or calendar in your kitchen and marking off your progress as you go!)

Reward yourself with a debt-free life Getting out of debt is a great reward in and of itself. It takes discipline, persistence, and patience, but it can be done. Come to terms with your debt, formulate a strategy, and stick to it. Your financial future will thank you!

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August 12, 2020

What It Means To Live Paycheck to Paycheck

What It Means To Live Paycheck to Paycheck

A 2017 survey found that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.(1)

“Paycheck to paycheck” is an expression we’ve all heard, but what does it really mean? Have we taken the time to understand its implications for our daily lives and futures? Here’s a crash course in what it means to live paycheck to paycheck.

Living paycheck to paycheck technically means that all of your “income” goes towards your “outgo” each month and you’re not saving anything. You get paid, spend everything, and have to rely on that next check to make ends meet. And millions of Americans seem okay with this lifestyle of razor thin margins. They’re certainly comfortable with sharing it on their social media!

But the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle means more than just spending all you earn. It means you’re constantly on the verge of a financial catastrophe. What happens if you’re spending your whole paycheck each and every month and you lose your job? Suddenly, you’re facing your normal expenditures but the cash isn’t coming in. Or what if you face an emergency car repair? Where will you find the money to cover that unexpected expense? Living paycheck to paycheck means you’re standing right on the knife’s edge of money mayhem!

Thoughtless spending doesn’t just leave you exposed to a present-day disaster. It also means you aren’t preparing for your future. By definition, a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle excludes saving. You can’t stash money away for a house or your retirement if you let every penny fly out the window. Most Americans are poorly situated for the future; 70% have less than $1,000 in savings, and 45% have saved exactly $0.00.(2) That’s not enough to cover a new transmission, much less the retirement lifestyle most of us envision!

But there are alternatives to the paycheck to paycheck trap. You can take steps to move away from financial insecurity towards financial freedom. Let’s talk about what that would look like for you!

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August 3, 2020

Business Ideas for Students

Business Ideas for Students

Starting a business is never easy.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 65% of businesses fail within 10 years.(1) Only 25% make it past 15 years.(2) Those odds aren’t great. It would take a full time effort and a huge arsenal of resources to even consider starting a business, right?

But you might be surprised how easy it is to get started, even if you have a full time commitment like school. Here are a few ideas to get you situated on the path towards entrepreneurship!

Writing
The written word gives us the power to communicate our ideas, learn from others, and persuade. No wonder the demand for high quality writing is so consistent! And if you’re a student with a gift for prose, you might be sitting on a cash cow. Businesses all across the country need good writers, and they’re willing to pay for your services. There’s a good chance that you already have the tools you need (i.e., a laptop and writing software). Find a site for freelance work and start writing!

Tutoring
Do you have a special grasp of a particular subject? Is that subject taught at your university? You might want to consider tutoring if you answered yes to both of those questions. University is hard! Students need all the help they can get and they might be willing to pay you for your insights and expertise. Make sure you actually know your stuff, do some research on teaching techniques, and make a paper ad you can post on campus. The level of interest may surprise you!

Exercising
Maybe you’re the person who prefers sound nutrition and pumping iron to reading and studying. Have no fear, my creatine and protein shake pounding friend; there are plenty of opportunities for you to leverage your fitness know-how to make money. That’s right; you could try being a personal trainer! Get some videos of your lifting exploits out on social media, ask your more puny friends if they’re trying to get yoked, and get the word out there.

Marketing
You’re surrounded by marketable brands. It might seem counterintuitive, but technically speaking, anyone with a social media presence has the power to become an influencer. And that’s where you come in! Do you have a knack for social media? Do you seem to intuitively know what kind of content will get followers and likes? Then your skills are in huge demand. Companies, small businesses, and even your classmates might be willing to shell out big dollars for your help creating content. Assemble a collage of your most popular posts, come up with some strategy ideas, and start giving your peers advice.

Starting a business takes some work. But if you use skills you’ve already mastered and make sure you keep your commitment levels reasonable, you might find it’s not as difficult as you think. Do some brainstorming, identify your strengths, come up with a plan, and spread the word!

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July 22, 2020

What Are We Spending Money On?

What Are We Spending Money On?

We spend a lot of money.

All things told, we spend about $101 per day, whether we feel it directly or not.(1) That comes out to roughly $36,764 per year. Over half of all Americans spend more than what they earn.(2) The bulk of that goes to important categories like shelter and utilities.(3) But it doesn’t take much digging to find some less important spending patterns. Here’s a quick look at what we’re spending (i.e., wasting) our money on!

Food
How can you waste money on food? It’s essential to survival and health!

But it turns out that throwing away cash on food is really easy. Americans spend an average of $209 per month on just eating at restaurants, which comes to a total of $2,508 yearly. Add in the cost of drinks and you’re at $4,776!(4) But that’s just eating when you’re out. Another huge issue is chronically overbuying food to consume at home. We throw out around $1,600 of food per family every year.(5)

That brings us to a grand total of $6,376 dollars spent each year on restaurants, drinks, and wasted food. And that’s not including categories like takeout!

Shopping
We’re notorious shoppers. We spend around $108 on approximately five impulse purchases per month. Online shopping is a substantial category as well, with our digital purchases costing us around $84 monthly. Interestingly, we spend nearly $94 per month on subscription boxes. That adds up to $3,432 on non-essential shopping annually.

Personal care
Everyone wants to look, smell, and feel attractive. And it turns out that most people are willing to pay a king’s ransom on their appearance. Personal grooming comes out to $94.25 monthly. Gym memberships (which often go unused) cost the average American $72.53 per month. All told, we spend around $2,000 annually on looking good.

Cable and streaming
Another big category of spending is entertainment and apps. The biggest culprit here is—surprisingly—cable. On average, we shell out $90 per month for unlimited access to reality shows and documentaries, many of which are now available online. Throw in spending on movie streaming ($23.09), music streaming ($22.41), and other paid apps ($23.24), and our overall spending on digital entertainment is around $1,904.88 per year!

Tallying these four categories, we see that Americans are spending about $13,712.88 annually on non-essential items. That’s a staggering amount of money! It’s enough for a full year of college, including tuition and books.(6)

Non-essential spending does have its place—it can actually be very important to your quality of life and overall well being. But you might be surprised by how much of your financial power is getting wasted on things that are truly unnecessary or have cheaper alternatives.

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July 20, 2020

How much will this cost me?

How much will this cost me?

If you’re dipping your toe in the pool of life insurance for the first time, you’re bound to have a lot of questions.

At the top of your list is probably how much setting up a policy is going to cost you.

There are several things that can determine how much you’ll pay for life insurance, including the type of policy you select. But before we dive in and look at cost, let’s check out the types of life insurance available.

Major types of life insurance
Life insurance is customizable and can suit many different needs, but for the most part, life insurance comes in three main varieties.

Term life insurance: A term life policy is active for a preselected length of time. It could be 15, 20, or 30 years. If something happens to you during that term, your beneficiary will receive the death benefit of the policy.

Permanent life insurance: Permanent life insurance is a policy that stays active as long as you’re alive. When you pass away, the policy pays out to your named beneficiary. The value of the policy increases over time, and you can borrow against this “cash value” in some circumstances.

Universal life insurance: Universal life insurance works like a permanent life policy in that it pays out to your beneficiary, but it also accrues interest over the policy term (which may be affected by market performance).

How your cost is calculated
The insurance company estimates the cost of a life insurance policy based on your risk factors. Risk factor data is gathered and evaluated based on the information in your application. Then the insurance company uses historical data, trends, and actuarial processes to come up with a premium for you.

The cost of some life insurance policies can change over time, while others remain the same.

What risk factors does the company use?
When the insurance company is calculating your rate, they look at several factors, including:

Your demographics: Your demographics include your age, weight, gender, and health. The company will also want to know if you smoke, and other health-related issues you may have.

The amount of the death benefit: The death benefit is the amount the policy will pay to your beneficiaries when you pass away. The larger the death benefit you select, the more expensive the policy.

Your lifestyle: Lifestyle habits and hobbies can affect the cost of your policy. The insurance company will want to know if you ride a motorcycle regularly, or how often you drink alcohol, for example.

Your risk and life insurance cost
The risk of when your death will occur ultimately determines your life insurance costs. That’s why the younger you are the less the policy should cost. If you wait to purchase your life insurance policy when you’re older, the policy will most likely cost more.

But there are things you can do that may help lessen the cost of the policy. Anything that will increase your health status may help with your life insurance costs. Quitting smoking and starting a regular exercise program can promote your health and in turn this may also have a positive effect on your health insurance premium.

A life insurance agent can help
If you’re looking for a life insurance policy and wondering about the cost, a qualified life insurance agent can be a great help. A life insurance agent has access to many different insurance companies and can work to get you matched with the right policy at the right price for you.

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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 savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

July 13, 2020

The Gambler’s Fallacy

The Gambler’s Fallacy

Humans are amazing.

We’ve sent people to the moon, we’ve constructed gravity-defying skyscrapers, and developed incredible medicines and machinery to make our lives better.

But there is something we’re generally not great at—understanding probability.

It’s a mental blind spot that many of us seem to have. Sure, we can learn math formulas that help us make predictions in the abstract, but most of us will fall prey to a common misjudgment called the Gambler’s Fallacy. Here’s how it works!

Consider a coin toss
You and some friends are incredibly bored one day and start tossing a coin to pass the time. Somehow you flip 5 heads in a row, so maybe you can make a little cash off this run! You wager $10 that the next coin toss will be tails. Afterall, isn’t there a huge chance that the next toss won’t be heads?

Wrong!

You flip the coin, slap it on your wrist, and see heads for the 6th time. Congratulations, you’ve fallen prey to the Gambler’s Fallacy. You assumed that because an event frequently happened in the past, it was less likely to occur going forward.

But the past doesn’t always predict the future
We love noticing patterns and seeing trends. They are mental shortcuts to understanding the world, and they help us predict future events so we can come up with a game plan. It seems intuitive that 5 coin flips for heads somehow means that getting tails is right around the corner! We expect a 50/50 overall outcome, so the coin must have exhausted its ability to land with heads up for a bit, right?

But that’s not how pure randomness works. Each coin flip is its own separate event. The past few tosses have nothing to do with how the next one will turn out. It’s always 50/50, no matter what has happened in the past!

The cost of the Gambler’s Fallacy The Gambler’s Fallacy might not seem like a big deal. But if you’re not careful, your assumptions about the future could lead to big mistakes in the present. The Gambler’s Fallacy is sometimes called the Monte Carlo Fallacy because of an incident at the Monte Carlo Casino in 1913. A ball fell on the black several times on a roulette table. Gamblers noticed the string of black and decided to start betting on red. Surely the streak couldn’t last much longer! But the run of black continued for 26 rounds. Millions of dollars were lost because people fell into the classic trap of the Gambler’s Fallacy.

It’s easy to trust your gut. Sometimes certain decisions just feel right! But traps like the Gambler’s Fallacy can crop up when we’re trying to plan our futures. How many people make wild emotional calls when they see the market going up or down? How many people assume they’ll never need financial protection because everything is fine right now? It’s always worth seeking professional guidance when you’re making an important call. They can help cut through the confusion and help you avoid pitfalls and mental blindspots!

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July 6, 2020

Should You Only Use Cash?

Should You Only Use Cash?

Bills and coins are outdated.

Who actually forks over cash when they’re out and about anymore? Paper money and copper coins are a relic of the past that are useless in a world of credit cards and tap-to-pay…

Except when they’re not.

Using cards and digital payment systems actually comes with some pretty serious drawbacks. Here’s a case for considering going cash only, at least for a little while!

The card convenience (and curse)
Plastic cards can make spending (a little too) easy. See an awesome pair of shoes in the store? No problem! Just swipe at the counter and you’re good to go. Online shopping is even more frictionless. Everything from new clothes to lawn chairs is a few clicks away from delivery right to your front door.

And that’s the problem.

You might not notice the effect of swiping your card until it’s too late. Those shoes were a breeze to buy until you check your bank account and see you’re in the red, or you get your credit card bill. It’s easy to find yourself in a hopeless cycle of overspending when buying things just feels so easy.

The pain of spending cash
Handing over cash can be a different phenomenon. Paying with actual dollars and cents helps you connect your hard-earned money with what you’re buying. It makes you more likely to question if you really need those shoes or clothes or lawn chairs. Studies show that people who pay with cash spend less, buy healthier foods, and have better relationships with their purchases than those who use credit cards.(1) That’s why going with cash only might be a winning strategy if you find yourself constantly in credit card debt or just buying too much unnecessary stuff every month.

Security
To be fair, cash does have some safety concerns. It can be much more useful to a criminal than a credit card. You can’t call your bank to lock down that $20 bill someone picked out of your pocket on the subway! That being said, cards expose you to the threat of identity theft. A criminal could potentially have access to all of your money. There are potential dangers either way, and it really comes down to what you feel comfortable with.

In the end, going cash only is a personal decision. Maybe you rock at only buying what you need and you can dodge the dangers of overspending with your cards. But if you feel like your budget isn’t working like it should, or you have difficulty resisting busting out the plastic when you’re shopping, you may want to consider a cash solution. Try it for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference!

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July 1, 2020

Considering a home equity loan?

Considering a home equity loan?

Home prices may be leveling off in some areas but they’ve had a healthy recovery nationwide, leading to massive amounts of untapped equity.

According to a recent report, the average homeowner gained nearly $15,000 in equity in the past year and has nearly $115,000 available to draw.[i]

This can be good news if you need to increase your cash flow to pay for a special project or unusual expense.

Home equity risks
It might be obvious, but a home equity loan is secured by your home, based on the equity you’ve built. Your eligibility for a home equity loan involves several factors, but a primary consideration is going to be the difference between your home’s market value and the remaining balance on the mortgage. Keep in mind that missed payments due to a job loss, illness, or another financial setback may put your home at risk from two loans – the original mortgage and the home equity loan. Before you take out this type of loan, make sure you have a solid strategy in place for repayment.

Home equity loan costs
Funds acquired through a home equity loan can feel like found money, but keep in mind that a home equity loan takes an asset and converts it to debt – often for up to 30 years. As such, you’ll be paying certain fees to use the money.

Home equity loans often have closing costs of 2% to 5% of the loan amount.[ii] It might be worth it to shop around, however, to see if you can find a lender who won’t bury you in fees and loan charges. Interest rates may vary depending on your credit rating and other factors, but you can expect to pay about 6% or higher. If you were to borrow $100,000 of the $115,000 the average homeowner now has in equity, the interest costs over 30 years would be $115,000 – $15,000 more than you borrowed. If you can manage a 15-year term instead, this would drop the interest costs down to about $52,000.[iii] Carefully consider what you’ll use the funds to purchase. A new patio addition to your home or a pool with a deck may not add enough value to your home to offset the interest costs.

Tax benefits
Once upon a time, the interest for a home equity loan was tax deductible, much like the interest on a primary mortgage. Now, there are some rules attached to the tax benefit. If you use the loan funds to make improvements to the home you’re borrowing against, you can usually deduct the interest. In the past, the tax benefit didn’t consider how the funds were used.[iv]

Home equity loans can be a powerful financial tool. But as with many tools, it’s important to exercise caution. Before signing on the dotted line, be sure you understand the long-term cost of the loan. With interest rates climbing, a home equity loan isn’t as attractive a source of funding as it once was.

Depending on how the funds are used, a home equity loan can make sense. If you’re buried in high-interest debt, like credit cards, the math might work to your favor. However, if the money is spent on a shiny, red sports car and a trip to Vegas, it might be tough to make a financial argument for that – unless you win big.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

[i] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/09/homeowners-sitting-on-record-amount-of-cash-and-not-tapping-it.html
[ii] https://www.lendingtree.com/home/home-equity/home-equity-loan-closing-costs/
[iii] https://www.mortgageloan.com/calculator/loan-line-payment-calculator
[iv] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/21/5-things-to-know-before-taking-out-a-home-equity-loan.html

June 8, 2020

What Happens When You Don't Pay Your Debts

What Happens When You Don't Pay Your Debts

Movies make defaulting on debt look scary.

Broken glass, bloody noses, and shouts of “Where’s my money!” come flooding to mind when we think of those poor souls in films who can’t pay back the down-and-dirty street lender. But what happens if we’re late on a mortgage payment or our credit card bill? It turns out there are several steps that creditors typically go through to get their money (and none of them involve baseball bats!).

Debt collectors
Debt that doesn’t get paid within 60 days typically gets handed over to a debt collection agency. These companies will attempt to entice you into coughing up what you owe. They’ll then hand that cash over to whoever hired them, keeping a portion for themselves. Remember, debt collectors can’t drain your account directly. Instead, you’ll receive calls and notifications and reminders to pay up. This can occur until up to 180 days after you fail to make a payment.

Credit score hit
Lenders want to know if you’ll be able to pay back money that they loan you. They look at your credit report (a history of your debt payments) to determine if they can trust you. The information in that report gets crunched by an algorithm to produce a credit score. It’s a shorthand way for lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness and decide if they want to loan you money.

Failure to pay your debts can end up on your credit report. Consistently missing payments and not paying for days and months can seriously affect your credit score. That means creditors can deny you loans or crank up your interest rate. Yikes.

Lawsuits
But what happens if you don’t pay when the debt collectors come around? After about 180 days your debt will be considered charged-off, meaning it’s not likely to be paid.(1) This presents creditors with a few different options. Sometimes, they’ll decide that the debt just isn’t worth it, cancel the collection effort, and move on. Collectors could also negotiate, settle for a smaller portion of the debt, and call it done. But creditors could also take the debtor to court and legally attempt to recover the money they’re owed.

A great practice is to not rack up debt at all. A good practice is to take on debt only in rare circumstances. But the best practice is to make sure you pay off any debt you owe on time!

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June 3, 2020

Do you know your net worth?

Do you know your net worth?

Usually when we think of net worth we imagine all the holdings of a wealthy tycoon who owns several multi-million dollar businesses.

Or a young heiress on the New York social scene, or a successful blockbuster movie actor.

However, you have a net worth too. Essentially, your net worth is a personal balance sheet of your assets and liabilities, not unlike the balance sheets used in business.

Calculating your net worth
First, you’ll want to tally up all your assets. These would include:

  • Personal property and cars
  • Real estate equity
  • Investments
  • Vested retirement plans
  • Cash or savings
  • Amounts owed to you
  • Cash value of life insurance policies

Next, you’ll calculate your liabilities (amounts you owe someone). These would include:

  • Loans
  • Mortgage balance
  • Credit card balances
  • Unpaid obligations

Your total liabilities subtracted from your total assets establishes your net worth.

The number could be positive, or it could be negative. Students, for example, often have a negative net worth because they may have student loans but haven’t had much of a chance to build personal assets yet.

It’s also important to realize that net worth isn’t always equal to liquid assets. Your net worth includes non-liquid assets, like the equity in your home.

What should your net worth be?
The notion that you should be at a certain net worth by a certain age is mostly arbitrary; wealth is relative. Having a hundred thousand dollars stashed away might sound like a lot, but if you live in an affluent area or have a large family to provide for, it may not last long if your job disappears suddenly. In other situations, the same hundred thousand dollars might be a fabulous starting point to a growing net worth.

Net worth can be a way of “keeping score”, but it’s important to remember the game is one in which you are the only player and you’re playing to best yourself. What someone else has or doesn’t have isn’t relevant to your needs and your future goals for your family.

Looking ahead
Measuring your net worth can be a strong motivation when saving for the future. Do you want to be a certain net worth by a certain age? Not if the number is pulled out of thin air. If your net worth marks progress toward a well-reasoned goal, however, it’s extremely relevant.

When you’re ready to put together a personalized plan based on your net worth and (more importantly) your future goals, reach out anytime. We can use net worth as a starting point and a measurement tool, while keeping squarely focused on the real target: your long-term financial strategy.

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May 27, 2020

How Do Youtubers Make Money?

How Do Youtubers Make Money?

People make tons of money on YouTube.

And a lot of it doesn’t seem to make any sense. The highest paid YouTuber is Ryan Kaji, an eight-year-old child who opens toys and plays with them on camera. He made $26 million from June 1, 2018 to June 1, 2019 (1). The list of highest earning YouTubers includes another child, multiple gamers, and a group of guys who do tricks.

So how do people make money opening toys, playing video games, or doing makeup tutorials? What value are these people bringing to their millions of viewers?

The power of the parasocial
It’s important to understand why people watch YouTube. Part of it is for the occasional funny video. Those are great, but they’re difficult to monetize. What’s become more common is for someone to start a channel dedicated to creating a certain kind of content. It can be anything from music reviews to makeup tutorials to skit comedy. Viewers stumble onto the channel and enjoy what they see, but soon something special starts to happen; they form a type of relationship with the content creator.

This is a well-observed phenomenon called a parasocial interaction. People start to feel like they know someone without ever actually meeting them in real life. You’re not just watching someone play video games or watching the news or listening to a music review. You’re spending time with someone you relate to and think of as a friend, sort of. And that results in racking up consistent viewing hours.

Ads
Roughly 1 billion hours of YouTube videos get watched every single day (2). It’s really the perfect platform for almost anyone trying to advertise their business. Content creators can become YouTube partners once they have a certain number of subscribers and watched hours. This allows them to put ads in their videos with Google Adsense, provided they follow certain guidelines.

On paper, ads don’t pay much; Forbes estimated in 2018 that top YouTube talent could make about $5 per 1,000 views from ads (3). That’s why the key is to create lots of bankable content. Uploading 5 days a week with an average of 100,000 views per video 52 weeks per year could hypothetically earn you $130,000 annually. But there’s more ways to monetize YouTube than ads.

Sponsorships
There are plenty of businesses looking for more personal ways of marketing their products. (Remember that YouTubers can have parasocial relationships with their audiences.) A recommendation from your favorite channel feels like a recommendation from a trusted friend. And brands are willing to pay big dollars to cash in on that opportunity. Compensation for a sponsored video varies on the size of a YouTuber’s audience, but on average it’s around $2,000 per 100,000 subscribers. This is where the numbers start to skyrocket. A single sponsored video per week with 100,000 views can now potentially net you $130,000 annually. At that point, you’re poised to grow your audience and further increase your cash flow.

Realistically, YouTubers make money the same way entertainers have for years. They draw attention to ads and are mouthpieces for brands. The differences are that the barriers to entry are incredibly low and scope of the audience essentially limitless. There’s no doubt that YouTube has revolutionized who gets to shape modern media.

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May 11, 2020

When Wall Street Bailed Out Washington

When Wall Street Bailed Out Washington

We all know about government bailouts.

They’ve been around for a while. But did you know that the government was once bailed out by Wall Street?

Gold Runs
Dollars used to represent actual gold in the treasury—what we call the “gold standard”. Dollars had value because they could be traded in for gold. But here’s the catch; the US didn’t have gold to match every dollar floating around the economy. If everyone suddenly decided to trade in their dollars for gold, the government would eventually run out and have to start turning people away. Faith in the US economy would collapse.

This nightmare situation was called a gold run, and it was pretty common in the 19th century. But the Panic of 1893 was especially bad. European investors, startled by collapsing investments in South America, started what became a huge gold run on the U.S. Treasury, pulling out millions of dollars. People quickly started pulling their money out of banks, trying to secure as much of their cash as possible. The economy was in total meltdown.

J.P. Morgan Enters the Scene
Business mogul J.P. Morgan had enough powerful connections to realize that the U.S. Treasury was in deep trouble. Morgan wasn’t the wealthiest man in the world; his fortune of $120 million ($1.39 billion in 2020) was pocket change compared to the net worth of John D. Rockefeller, who would be worth about $340 billion today (1 & 2). But Morgan had influence and connections, and he was committed to bailing out the government.

However, there was a problem. Morgan and the gold standard were both unpopular. Grover Cleveland, president at the time, wasn’t excited about aligning himself with either to save the economy. Fortunately, Morgan had a trump card; he knew from inside sources that the government was almost literally within hours of defaulting. And he had done his research. An obscure statute from the Civil War allowed for the government to sell Morgan bonds while he gave them enough gold to avoid going broke. Cleveland knew he was picking his poison. He would either look like a Wall Street pawn or let his country go broke. But he eventually gave Morgan the bonds and accepted the gold.

The aftermath
It worked. The economy restabilized and the country was solvent. Cleveland lost his next election. Morgan continued to prosper. But the days of Wall Street bailouts were numbered. Business owners decided after a panic in 1913 that the government should be the one to fix economic downturns. And the Fed has been bailing out Wall Street ever since!

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May 4, 2020

Where Did Banks Come From?

Where Did Banks Come From?

Banks are so common that we never really question where they came from.

But banks actually have come a long way since they first got started. Here’s a quick lesson on the origins of banks!

The First Banks
Coins first came on the scene as a way to pay for goods or services around the 5th or 6th century BC. But there was a problem; where do you store huge troves of them? Homes were vulnerable to robbery. So people started trusting temples with their cash. They were everything you would want—accessible but still secure, temples were the perfect balance of public and prestigious. Eventually, temples started loaning out money in addition to protecting it.

Eventually, the Romans created distinct banking institutions. These were large-scale enterprises that developed enormous power; they could confiscate land from nobles if they weren’t paying back their obligations. Some of these institutions even outlasted the empire after it fell.

Medieval Banks
The Middle Ages were an odd time for banking. The Catholic Church developed strict rules about usury; lending money for profit was seen as decidedly unchristian. In a somewhat dark twist, small-time money lenders were often heavily regulated as the Church started employing private merchant bankers to fund its various exploits.

These bankers had one problem; they failed a lot. The Middle Ages were violent and kings often turned to papal bankers for war time loans. It wasn’t uncommon for rulers to default on these loans either due to defeat or costly victories, bankrupting lenders.

Goldsmiths and Endless War
This only got worse as wars became intercontinental during the Age of Discovery. The English in particular found themselves in constant war with both Spain and France and started looking for innovative ways of funding their conquests. Private citizens in England had started taking their money to goldsmiths for safekeeping. Goldsmiths often had huge vaults, meaning they could easily protect cash for a fee. They also started issuing notes that allowed customers to withdraw money as they needed.

The crown was not so lucky. The credit of England was so bad that by the end of the 1600s they couldn’t borrow enough money to build a navy. Merchants came together to form a centralized lending institution to raise money and make loans on behalf of the government. They started issuing bonds and banknotes to customers and essentially became one of the first centralized banks in the world.

Banking would evolve by leaps and bounds as the industrial revolution transformed European economies in the 18th and 19th centuries. But the foundations of modern banking had already been set to fuel the massive technological changes of the next few centuries.

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April 8, 2020

Are Solar Panels Cost Effective?

Are Solar Panels Cost Effective?

Cutting down on energy bills can be brutal.

Leaving the heat off during a Montana winter? Terrible. Not touching the AC during a Georgia summer? Forget about it. What if there were a way to fully power your house and not pay monthly bills? What if the sun could power your house for free? Sounds too good to be true right?

And it is. But there’s a case to be made that provided you have the cash for them upfront, solar panels can be cost effective over the long haul. Here’s a breakdown on how.

How much do you spend on power?
The first consideration is how much you spend annually on power. The cost of electricity and usage vary from state to state, but they average out to about $0.13/kWh (1). The average household uses about 867kWh per month, so the average annual cost for power comes out to be around $1,352 (2). Over a 25 year period that adds up to roughly $33,800.

What’s the total cost of installation?
Power is expensive. But so are solar panels. The average cost for a solar panel system is between $15,000 and $25,000 (3). And let’s assume hiring a contractor for installation would run you about $6,300 (though self-installation is possible). Your total costs could be between $21,300 and $31,300 dollars. Part replacement is also worth keeping in mind. Panels are typically warranted for 25 years, but individual parts might have shorter warranty periods (4).

Tax Incentives
One of the big perks of going solar is tax incentives. Right now, the federal government allows citizens to claim 26% of the cost for solar panels installed by Dec. 31, 2020. That gets reduced in 2020 to 22% and vanishes entirely on Dec. 31, 2021 (5). That could make a big difference in your total long-run savings.

Total Savings
So let’s assume you spend $20,000 on a solar panel system and pay $6,300 on installation and claim the 26% tax incentive. That brings your total to $19,462. That’s $14,338 less than you would have originally spent on power!

There are several factors to consider before you go out and install solar panels. Remember that all these numbers will vary depending on your state and region. Daily hours of sunshine will affect your panels’ efficiency. Do research on costs in your area and consult with professionals before you make any big decisions!

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April 1, 2020

Banks vs. Credit Unions

Banks vs. Credit Unions

On the hunt for a new bank?

You might find yourself looking at local credit unions vs. big national banks and wondering “what’s the difference?” It turns out that there are significant differences between the two financial institutions. Here’s a quick summary of the distinctives of credit unions and banks.

Credit Unions
Credit unions are not-for-profit. Becoming a member makes you both a customer and a co-owner. Money that the credit union makes from car loans and mortgages gets used to help other credit union members. However, membership in a credit union can be restricted. It might require a certain religious, social, or community affiliation to join.

Banks
Commercial banks (we’ll just call them banks for now) are for-profit entities with one goal—make money for their shareholders. How exactly do banks accomplish that? It’s not too complicated. They loan money out to people (or you) at a high interest rate. It’s their business model: Use other people’s money to grow their own. That means the top priority for banks is getting as many customers as possible into low interest accounts while providing high interest loans.

Which one is the better fit for you?
It might seem like credit unions are the obvious choice. They’re designed to work for the customer and may offer better interest rates. But they also have limitations. They’re highly localized, meaning you might have a hard time withdrawing cash if you’re on the road. Plus they might lag behind in online or phone app banking. All of these benefits and drawbacks vary greatly between credit unions, so do your research before you decide which one to go with!

The big advantage (and disadvantage) of banks is that they’re often massive nationwide institutions. That means you’re almost guaranteed to find an ATM or branch no matter where you go. Their for-profit model gives them the resources to develop technology, meaning you can probably manage your bank account on the go via your laptop or phone. Just realize that the bank’s primary goal is to make a profit off of your money, so sometimes customer service isn’t a priority.

There are big differences between banks and credit unions that could save you time, money, or both. Don’t just trust your money to a bank because it’s convenient or to a credit union just because it’s local. Do your research to find the right fit for you!

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March 4, 2020

A Brief History of Credit Cards

A Brief History of Credit Cards

We’re all familiar with credit cards.

You probably have a few in your wallet! But did you know that they’re actually fairly modern inventions with an interesting, and surprisingly controversial, backstory. This is a brief history of credit cards!

Credit before cards
The concept of credit is actually thousands of years old. It dates back to the time of the first recorded laws, if not further. But the practice of credit fell on hard times following the fall of the Roman Empire; the Church opposed lending someone money and then adding on interest when they pay it back. But the Renaissance, coupled with the discovery of a huge resource filled continent, saw a revolution in Western banking and investing. Businesses started collaborating to find out which borrowers were reliable and which ones couldn’t pay their debts.

The birth of charge cards
It wasn’t uncommon for businesses to loan money to customers. General Motors, for instance, started offering credit in 1919 to car buyers who couldn’t pay up front with cash (1). Merchants with more regular customers, like department stores, started handing out credit tokens that would allow purchases to be made on credit.

But things changed in 1949 when New York businessman Frank McNamara realized he didn’t have his wallet at a restaurant when it came time to pay the check. Luckily his wife was there to rescue him. He and his business partner, Ralph Schneider, then came up with the idea of a card that would allow users to dine around New York on credit. It wasn’t a full-blown credit card; it had to be paid off in full at the end of each month, making it a “charge” card. But it was a hit. By 1951, the Diners Club Card was being used by 10,000 people (2)!

“Giving sugar to diabetics”
Big banks were quick to realize that they could make a pretty penny if they started offering easily accessible credit to the masses. In 1958, Bank of America released its own credit cards. Debt from one month was carried over to the next month, meaning consumers could carry revolving credit card debt for as long as they pleased. Magnetic strips—invented in the early 60s—were added to the plastic cards and used to store transaction information at special payment terminals.

But banks had a problem; they had to make sure that the cards were actually accepted by stores. Otherwise, why bother using your brand new credit card? But stores would only accept the cards if enough people actually had them. A mass mailing campaign began, with banks sending out millions of cards to families across the nation. It worked, and soon credit cards became increasingly normalized.

Not everyone was pleased. There were huge issues with cards being stolen out of mailboxes and used to rack up debt. Furthermore, some were uncomfortable with popular access to massive amounts of credit. The President’s assistant at the time described it as “giving sugar to diabetics (3).” Regulations were introduced throughout the 70s to reduce some of the excesses of credit card distribution and protect consumers.

Conclusion
But despite the backlash, credit cards had arrived on the scene for good. Banks united to strengthen their network in 1970, forming the group that would eventually become Visa. Interbank Card Association (i.e., MasterCard) formed in 1966 and then introduced a vast computer network in 1973, connecting consumers with merchants in unprecedented ways.

Today, credit cards are everywhere. In 2017, 40.8 billion credit transactions were made, totalling 3.6 trillion dollars (4). The technology of consumer credit has continued to evolve too. The magnetic strips of the 60s and 70s have given way to chips, and now cards are slowly being replaced by phones and digital watches. What started as a way of paying for dinner if you forgot your wallet has become an international and digital phenomenon that’s changed the lives of millions of consumers.

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February 24, 2020

A Crash Course in Cryptocurrency

A Crash Course in Cryptocurrency

“Cryptocurrency” was one of the trendiest words of the 2010s.

We probably all know at least one person who was planning to retire early by cashing out their bitcoins in the winter of 2017. But where do cryptocurrencies come from? What even is a cryptocurrency in the first place? And more importantly, is it just a flash-in-the-pan trend or will it permanently reshape how we think of wealth?

Cryptocurrency 101
First, it’s important to know a little about how cryptocurrencies work. They’re built around blockchains. A blockchain is essentially a complex digital record of every transaction made using a currency. The more the currency is used, the longer the blockchain gets. Think of it like a ledger that doesn’t record who makes a transaction but keeps track of how often a currency gets used and assigns a code to each trade. Multiple copies of the blockchain get stored and updated in servers around the world, meaning that no single government or institution regulates how the currency gets used.

Bitcoins and Blackmarkets
Simply put, cryptocurrencies are decentralized ways of paying for goods and services that are essentially impossible to track. Early demand for anonymous money came from exactly where you’d expect: criminals. For instance, the FBI seized 144,000 bitcoins (roughly $122 million) when they shut down the online underground marketplace Silk Road in 2013. But cryptocurrency soon picked up mainstream attention; excitement began to build that decentralized digital currency was the wave of the future and that governments would soon adopt them instead of paper money.

The Bitcoin Bubble
All of the hype resulted in a massive buying spree throughout 2017. Bitcoin saw its value skyrocket from around $1,000 at the beginning of the year to over $19,000 in December. That means that an investment of $10,000 in January would net almost $200,000 for Christmas! The bitcoin boom, however, turned out to be more of a bubble than a permanent revolution. By December 2018 it had lost 82% of its value (2). Cryptocurrencies haven’t vanished from the market (bitcoin itself has recovered some of its lost ground), but they’re too volatile to replace traditional currencies like the dollar or euro. We’ll have to settle for paper and pennies for the foreseeable future!

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February 19, 2020

A Brief History of Stock Exchanges

A Brief History of Stock Exchanges

Stock markets didn’t exist four hundred years ago.

Wealth was highly concentrated in the hands of monarchs, lords, and elite merchants, and trade was risky at best. Raising money for an expedition (or war) meant either asking for a loan, collecting taxes, or both.

A Whole New World
But something changed for Europeans in the 1400s. The Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople (now Istanbul) and effectively cut off trade routes that had always brought in goods and big profits from China. Things that were previously thought impossible suddenly sounded like worthwhile possibilities. One thing led to another and before long a fellow named Christopher Columbus had introduced Europeans to a massive continent rich in resources. Major powers like Spain, Portugal, France, and England started to seriously invest in getting as much out of this “New World” as they could!

Disease, Famine, and Risk Reduction
“What does any of this have to do with trading stocks?” you might ask. Well, imagine that you’re living in 16th century Europe and you decide you’ve had it with all this groveling and servitude and poverty and want to make some cash. The New World is your best option to make it big; land is easy to come by and there are plenty of new resources like tobacco to grow and sell. There’s just one problem: it’s insanely risky. Between disease, famine, and bad weather, there’s a good chance you’ll either die or lose everything in the attempt. So what can you do?

Traders realized that they could reduce how much they risked on an expedition if they got multiple people to chip in. Everybody would get a portion of the profits if everything went well, and if not, any losses would get spread out. It didn’t take long for people to figure out that selling small portions or “shares” of trading voyages was a great way to raise cash that didn’t require levying taxes or stumbling on massive gold deposits.

The First Coporation
At first, shares were only good for a single voyage. But the Dutch East India Company changed all of that in 1602. The Dutch government decided they wanted to dominate trade with Asia, and they looked to the public for funding. Shares were priced so that most merchants could buy in, and the promise of government backing and continuing profits convinced hundreds to purchase the stock. It worked. The Dutch East India company became one of the first truly transnational corporations in history and essentially became its own state, flooding the Dutch people with valuable resources and prosperity.

Everyone took note of the Dutch model and decided to imitate it. Publicly traded companies started to pop up across Europe, with stock exchanges becoming a place where anyone with the means could buy and sell shares of different corporations. It was a huge step away from the older model of raising capital and created a new kind of institution, one that continues to dominate the world of business to this day.

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