What All Early Retirees Have in Common

January 20, 2021

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Jonathan Brutto

Jonathan Brutto

Financial Professional

15150 Preston Rd Suite 300

Dallas, TX 75248

January 11, 2021

Simple Ways to Streamline Your Budget

Simple Ways to Streamline Your Budget

Is your budgeting system slowing your financial progress?

It’s not hard to tell if it is. Consistently ignoring your budget and failing to see results like increased cash flow and reduced debt could be indicators that something’s wrong.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to streamline your budgeting process. Here are two simple steps you can take to make your budget more manageable and more effective.

Prioritize your short-term budgeting goals
Splitting your cash flow between non-discretionary spending, savings, your emergency fund, and debt reduction may make you feel like you’ve got all the bases covered, but spreading yourself too thin might actually be diminishing the power of your money. It creates a house of cards that’s waiting to collapse!

Instead of trying to knock out everything at the same time, your budget should reflect your current financial situation. Prioritize where you put your money for the goal you’re trying to achieve. Start by putting all your excess cash flow towards an emergency fund. Then, target your debt. And finally, start directing your income towards building wealth. You’ll more effectively clear the obstacles that block the way towards financial independence.

Automate everything
What if there were a way to automatically make wise financial decisions without even thinking about it? That’s the power of automation.

Once you’ve determined your short-term budgeting goal, set up automatic deposits that move you closer towards achieving it. If you’re building an emergency fund, set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a high-interest savings account every payday. You can do the same with essential bills and utilities as well.

Once you prioritize and automate your budget, there’s a great chance that you’ll see real progress towards your goals. And once you see progress you’ll feel empowered, maybe even excited, to keep pushing towards building wealth and creating financial independence.

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December 21, 2020

Permanent or Term Life: Which is right for you?

Permanent or Term Life: Which is right for you?

Life insurance has many benefits.

Most people purchase life insurance to serve as a safety net for the financial health of their family if something happens to them as the primary provider. A life insurance policy in such cases could be used for funeral costs, medical bills, mortgage payments, or other expenses.

You’re finally convinced you need a life insurance policy, and you’re ready to buy. But what do you need exactly? What type of life insurance is best for you?

When preparing to purchase life insurance, there are two main types of policies to consider – permanent and term. Read on for a short primer on the differences and which one may be right for you.

Term life insurance at a glance
Term life insurance offers life insurance coverage for a set amount of time – the “term”. If you pass away during the term, the policy pays out to your beneficiary. A term policy is sometimes called a pure life policy because it doesn’t have financial benefits other than the payout to your dependents should you die within the term.

There are different terms available depending on your needs. You could purchase a term life policy for 10, 20, or 30 years.

Term life insurance pointers
When purchasing a term life policy, consider a term for the number of years you’ll need coverage. For example, you may want life insurance to provide for your child in case you die prematurely. So, you may select a 25-year term. On the other hand, you may want a life insurance policy to help with the mortgage should something happen to you. In this case, you may opt for a 30-year term which will expire when your mortgage is paid off.

You’ll need to purchase enough insurance to cover your family’s needs if something happens to you and you cannot provide for them. Term life insurance benefits could serve as income replacement for your wages, so buy enough to pay for the expenses your paycheck covers.

For example, if you cover the mortgage, car payment, and child care, make sure the term life policy you purchase can cover those expenses.

Term life insurance policies when appropriately used should expire around the time the need for them goes away, such as when your children are self-sufficient, or your mortgage is paid off.

Permanent insurance at a glance
This type of policy can provide coverage for your entire life, unlike a term policy that expires at a set time. A permanent life policy also contains an investment benefit which is known as the policy’s cash value. The cash value of a permanent life policy grows slowly over time but is tax-free (provided you stay within certain limits), so you don’t pay taxes on the accumulating value.

A permanent life policy can be borrowed against. You can borrow against the cash value, but you must abide by the repayment terms to keep the policy payout unchanged.

Some permanent life insurance policies offer dividends. The dividends are paid to the policyholders based on the insurance company’s financial profits. Policyholders can take dividends in the form of cash payouts or use them to earn interest, payback a loan on the policy, or purchase additional life insurance coverage.

Some of the key points regarding permanent life insurance include:

  • The premium can remain the same throughout the policy term if you abide by the conditions and terms in the policy
  • The policy offers a guaranteed death benefit

Cost of life insurance
Term life insurance is generally less expensive than permanent life insurance because the policy has a pre-selected term. Permanent life insurance, on the other hand, covers the insured for their entire lifespan, so you can expect premiums to be higher.

Which life insurance policy is right for you?
If you aren’t sure which policy is right for you, talk to a qualified financial professional who can help you find the right type of life insurance policy to meet your goals and budget.

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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.

December 7, 2020

How To Save Money On Transportation

How To Save Money On Transportation

Americans drain a huge portion of their income on transportation.

It eats up roughly 16% of our income every month, the majority of which is spent on car purchases ($331 per month), then gas and oil ($176 per month), and then insurance ($81 per month).¹

But what if you made that money work for you?

Here are some simple ways to spend less on getting around, so you can save more for your future!

Drive the speed limit
Speeding is never a good strategy. Zipping around town with your pedal to the floor is dangerous for you and others and realistically doesn’t save you much time.¹ Even worse, speeding can cost you money in the long term.

Obviously, speeding tickets are expensive. They cost about $150 on average.² They also have a nasty habit of increasing insurance premiums by up to 25%.³ But that’s not all. Rapidly accelerating and suddenly stopping reduces the efficiency of your engine and can cost you at the pump as well. Stick to the posted speed limit, accelerate gradually, and drive safely!

DIY the basics
There are plenty of car maintenance basics you can handle from the comfort of your own garage. For instance, a new air filter can boost your gas mileage by up to 10%.⁴ They’re also cheap and usually easy to change out once they get dirty. Even something as simple as inflating your tires can boost your car’s performance.⁵ Remember to do your research and consult your car’s owner manual.

Take the bus
If public transportation is available, use it! Research says trading your car for a bus or train can save you over $10,000 annually.⁶ The cost of tickets and metro passes pales in comparison to car insurance premiums, car maintenance, loans, and gas.

Buy Used
Don’t have access to public transportation? Stick with used cars and drive them as long as you can.

New cars almost always lose value. By the end of their first year, a new ride will shed 20% to 30% of its value. Over 5 years it loses 60% of its value.⁴ Unless you’re restoring a vintage masterpiece or have cash to blow, you’re much better driving an older model of the same car for a fraction of the price.

Remember, how you get around is a practical problem. It doesn’t need to be fancy or flashy when you’re starting your journey towards financial freedom. Utilize local transportation options, buy a clunker that you maintain yourself, and drive the speed limit. Your wallet will thank you in the long term!

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December 2, 2020

Facts About Disability Insurance

Facts About Disability Insurance

How are you protecting your income?

Maybe you already have a life insurance policy worth about 10 times your annual earnings. That should help protect your family in the case of your untimely passing.

But what if you aren’t able to work during your lifetime?

It’s more common than you might think. 1 in 4 20-year-olds will become disabled before they reach 67, and 67% of private-sector workers have no disability insurance.¹ Here are some basic facts about this essential line of protection for you and your family.

Disability insurance has a lot in common with life insurance.
At first blush, it might be hard to distinguish between life insurance and disability insurance. But there are some key differences that are worth exploring.

Disability insurance activates when you can’t work
Life insurance pays out in the case of your passing. Disability insurance can provide a stable income replacement if an injury, accident, illness, or something else renders you unable to work.

There are two types of disability insurance: long-term and short-term Short-term disability insurance can replace your income if you can’t work for a few months. Long-term disability insurance can protect you if a serious health issue takes you out of the field for more than 6 months.

Employers sometimes offer disability insurance (but it might not be enough) It’s not uncommon for employers to provide their workers with some form of disability insurance. As of 2018, 42% of private sector employees had access to short-term disability insurance via their work, while 34% had long-term disability insurance options.²

However, it’s worth noting that this might not be enough to fully protect you and your family. Disabilities can increase your expenses, so you’ll need a strategy that replaces your current income and then some. Make sure your employer-provided plan will give you enough to cover all of your needs in the case of a disability and help your family for the long haul. If it doesn’t do either of those, you may need to turn to private coverage.

The government offers disability benefits (but they might not be enough, either)
Social Security does provide disability coverage to individuals who have worked long enough and paid enough into the system. However, applying for it is a time consuming process. Also, average monthly payments were just over $1,000 as of 2017.⁴ Do your research to see if you’re eligible and if you’ll receive enough before you apply.

Above all, meet with a licensed and qualified financial professional to weigh your options and start developing a plan. They’ll assist you as you evaluate your need for protection, what employer-provided options you might have, and how disability insurance fits into your overall financial strategy.

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¹ “Fact Sheet: Social Security,” Social Security Administration, https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/basicfact-alt.pdf

² “Employee access to disability insurance plans,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2018/employee-access-to-disability-insurance-plans.htm

³ “Disability Benefits,” Social Security Administration, https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/

⁴ “Disability Insurance: Why You Need It and How to Get It,” Barbara Marquand, Nerwallet, Oct. 20, 2017, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/insurance/disability-insurance-explained/

November 25, 2020

Money Black Holes You Should Avoid

Money Black Holes You Should Avoid

It’s true that sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money.

But there are plenty of things that people spend money on that give them absolutely no return. Some of these are obvious (lottery tickets and ponzi schemes), but others are subtle parts of our lifestyle. Here are three money black holes that you should avoid at all costs!

New Cars
Nothing feels better than driving off the lot with a new set of wheels. Until, that is, you realize that your car’s value has already started plummeting.

The most important rule to remember is that cars are practical tools, not long-term investments. Blowing a huge stack of cash might feel cool, but it’s a huge misallocation of money if you don’t have any to spend. Try to find a used model of the same car that’s five years old or more. Chances are you’ll get many of the same features for a fraction of the cost.

Pricey Phones
It seems like phones are improving every day and in every way. But is your high-end, name brand personal assistant really worth the steep price tag? Phones always decline in value after you buy them; The highest value-retaining phone dropped almost 50% a year after its release.¹ Unless your mobile device is a tool of your trade (i.e., you’re a TikTok influencer), dodge the hype and choose a cheaper or refurbished alternative.

Designer Clothes
New threads are awesome. You’ll never feel more like a hero than when you first hit the town in a freshly fitted suit or a designer t-shirt.

They’re also insanely expensive. Sure, they might not all cost $1,690 like a Tom Ford long sleeve solid T-Shirt. But regularly buying top-of-the-line clothes can burn huge holes in your wallet.

Fortunately, you have some fun alternatives at your fingertips. Off-price retailers might sometimes carry your favorite brands at a fraction of the cost. And thrift stores can be goldmines of high quality finds if you’re adventurous enough to explore them with a friend!

Remember, it’s okay to spend money on cool gadgets and gear if you’ve saved up for them or you’re already financially independent. But if you’re just setting out on your journey, it’s best to practice some discipline and seek out cheaper alternatives to these potentially dangerous money black holes.

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“Depreciation among top smartphone brands compared: Apple’s iPhone tops the list as the least depreciating brand,” Abhin Mahipal, SellCell, Oct 14, 2019, https://www.sellcell.com/blog/depreciation-among-top-smartphone-brands-compared-apples-iphone-tops-the-list-as-the-least-depreciating-brand/#:~:text=Apple%20once%20again%20blows%20the,release%2C%20making%20it%20worth%20%24580.

November 23, 2020

Dollar Cost Averaging Explained

Dollar Cost Averaging Explained

Most of us understand the meanings of “dollar” and “cost”, and we know what averages are…

But when you put those three words together – dollar cost averaging – the meaning may not be quite as clear.

Dollar cost averaging refers to the concept of investing on a fixed schedule and with a fixed amount of money. For example, after a careful budget review, you might determine you can afford $200 per month to invest. With dollar cost averaging, you would invest that $200 without regard to what the market is doing, without regard to price, and without regard to news that might impact the market temporarily. You become the investment equivalent of the tortoise from the fable of the tortoise and the hare. You just keep going steadily.

When the market goes up, you buy. When the market goes down, you can buy more.

The gist of dollar cost averaging is that you don’t need to be a stock-picking prodigy to potentially succeed at investing. Over time, as your investment grows, the goal is to profit from all the shares you purchased, both low and high, because your average cost for shares would be below the market price.

Hypothetically, let’s say you invest your first $200 in an index fund that’s trading at $10 per share. You can buy 20 shares. But the next month, the market drops because of some news that said the sky was falling somewhere else in the world. The price of your shares goes down to $9.

You might be thinking that doesn’t seem so great. But pause for a moment. You’re not selling yet because you’re employing dollar cost averaging. Now, with the next month’s $200, you can buy 22 shares. That’s 2 extra shares compared to your earlier buy. Now your average cost for all 42 shares is approximately $9.52. If your index fund reaches $10 again, you’ll be profitable on all those shares. If it reaches $12, or $15, or $20, now we’re talking. To sum up, if your average cost goes up, it means your investment is doing well. If the price dips, you can buy more shares.

Using dollar cost averaging means that you don’t have to know everything (no one does) and that you don’t know for certain what the market will do in the next day, week, or month (no one does). But over the long term, we have faith that the market will go up. Because dollar cost averaging removes the guesswork involved with deciding when to buy, you’re always putting money to work, money that may provide a solid return in time.

You may use dollar cost averaging with funds, ETFs, or individual stocks, but diversified investments are potentially best. An individual stock may go down to zero, while the broad stock market may continue to climb over time.

Dollar cost averaging is an important concept to understand. It may save you time and it may prevent costly investment mistakes. You don’t have to try to be an expert. Once you understand the basics of dollar cost averaging, you may start to feel like an investment genius!

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Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. 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. 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, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

September 30, 2020

Life Insurance Next Steps

Life Insurance Next Steps

During the course of Life Insurance Awareness Month, we’ve been focusing on understanding the ins and outs of life insurance.

We’ve discussed why life insurance is necessary, who needs it, what kinds of protection are available and even defined key terms so you can know exactly what you’re looking at!

So what’s next? Application.

Dale Carnegie once said, “Knowledge isn’t power until it is applied.”

There’s an obvious difference between knowing about life insurance and actually being insured. So how do you get started? If you’re looking at getting life insurance for yourself or a loved one, here are 3 helpful steps to consider.

1. Reflect on what’s important. Now this may seem like an obvious thing to do, but it’s absolutely critical that you think about the areas of your life that you really care about and nail those down. Ask yourself, “If something happened to my ability to earn income, who would be affected and who do I specifically want to be cared for?” Your answer(s) to this question will help determine what needs to be protected.

2. Determine your budget. After you’re done with the first step, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. How much would you be willing to set aside to ensure those things are protected? Run a thought experiment in your mind: “Would I be willing to set aside $50 per month? $100? $200? $400?” This process will help you ‘take the temperature’ about what you’re willing to commit.

3. Seek guidance. Find a licensed and trained financial professional you trust and who offers life insurance products to give you an accurate quote or illustration based on your situation. They will be able to guide you on finding the right type and the right amount of insurance to fit your needs.

No one likes to think about what would happen in the event of a premature death, disability, or critical illness. But whether we think about it or not, the reality is the same: people we care about will be affected by the loss of an income earner. Remember, life insurance isn’t something we can buy in a store. You have to apply! Owning life insurance is more of a privilege than it is a right. So don’t merely spend time accumulating knowledge. We encourage you to apply that knowledge…and in this case, apply for life insurance!

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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.

September 9, 2020

Life Insurance Myths

Life Insurance Myths

We love facts.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of the modern age, but many of us desire an accurate worldview that’s based on evidence and data. Who wants to live with their head in the clouds, believing myths or superstitions?

Unfortunately, there are those of us who have fallen prey to certain life insurance urban legends. Here are some common myths that many people believe and some cold, hard facts to debunk them!

Myth: Life insurance is less important than my other financial obligations
Here’s how the story goes. You have a spouse you love, a house you’re proud of, a reliable car, and kids you care for. All of that takes money; date nights, mortgages, and tuition aren’t cheap! It can be hard to swallow taking on another financial obligation like life insurance on top of the bills you’re already paying.

But life insurance isn’t simply another burden for you to carry. It’s an essential line of protection that empowers you to provide for your family regardless of what happens. The payout can act as a form of income replacement that can help your loved ones maintain their lifestyle, pay their bills, and pursue their dreams when they need financial help the most. Life insurance isn’t less important than your other financial responsibilities. It’s an essential tool that helps the people in your life meet their financial obligations if something were to happen to you!

Myth: Life insurance is unaffordable
This is an incredibly common myth, especially among Millennials; 44% overestimated the cost of life insurance by five times!(1) 65% of people who don’t have life insurance say they can’t afford it.(2) But life insurance is far more affordable than you might think. A healthy, non-smoking 25 year old could only pay $25 per month for a policy.(3) That’s about what a subscription to three popular streaming services would cost!(4) Do some online shopping and be amazed by how affordable life insurance really is!

Myth: My employer-provided insurance is enough
Just under half the workforce has life insurance from their employer.(5) That’s great! The more life insurance you have available to you the better. But it simply might not be enough to fully protect your family. Professionals typically advise that you purchase about 10 times your annual income in life insurance coverage. Most employer-provided life insurance gives only one to three years of protection.(6) That’s not to say you should refuse a policy through work. But you might need to get some extra protection!

Contact a financial advisor if you still have doubts or concerns. They’re full-time myth busters who will help you navigate the sometimes confusing world of financially protecting your family!

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(1) Nupur Gambhir, “9 common life insurance myths debunked,” Policygenius, March 13, 2020 https://www.policygenius.com/life-insurance/common-life-insurance-myths-debunked/

(2) “Is Life Insurance Tomorrow’s Problem? Findings from the 2020 Insurance Barometer Study,” LIMRA, June 16, 2020 https://www.limra.com/en/newsroom/industry-trends/2020/is-life-insurance-tomorrows-problem-findings-from-the-2020-insurance-barometer-study/

(3) Sterling Price, “Average Cost of Life Insurance (2020): Rates by Age, Term and Policy Size,” ValuePenguin, Aug. 10, 2020, valuepenguin.com/average-cost-life-insurance

(4) Joe Supan, “Americans already subscribe to three streaming services on average. Is there room for more?,” Allconnect, Jun 20, 2020, https://www.allconnect.com/blog/average-american-spend-on-streaming#:~:text=One%20poll%20from%20The%20Hollywood,at%20just%20over%20%2414%2Fmo.

(5) Marvin H. Feldman, “4 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Your Life Insurance at Work,” Life Happens, Sept. 22, 2017 https://lifehappens.org/blog/4-things-you-probably-dont-know-about-your-life-insurance-at-work/#:~:text=Press-,4%20Things%20You%20Probably%20Don’t%20Know,Your%20Life%20Insurance%20at%20Work&text=For%20the%20first%20time%20ever,to%20a%20new%20LIMRA%20study.

August 31, 2020

How to Avoid Financial Infidelity

How to Avoid Financial Infidelity

If you or your partner have ever spent (a lot of) money without telling the other, you’re not alone.

This has become such a widespread problem for couples that there’s even a term for it: Financial Infidelity.

Calling it infidelity might seem a bit dramatic, but it makes sense when you consider that finances are the leading cause of relationship stress. Each couple has their own definition of “a lot of money,” but as you can imagine, or may have even experienced yourself, making assumptions or hiding purchases from your partner can be damaging to both your finances AND your relationship.

Here’s a strategy to help avoid financial infidelity, and hopefully lessen some stress in your household:

Set up “Fun Funds” accounts.

A “Fun Fund” is a personal bank account for each partner which is separate from your main savings or checking account (which may be shared).

Here’s how it works: Each time you pay your bills or review your whole budget together, set aside an equal amount of any leftover money for each partner. That goes in your Fun Fund.

The agreement is that the money in this account can be spent on anything without having to consult your significant other. For instance, you may immediately take some of your Fun Funds and buy that low-budget, made-for-tv movie that you love but your partner hates. And they can’t be upset that you spent the money! It was yours to spend! (They might be a little upset when you suggest watching that movie they hate on a quiet night at home, but you’re on your own for that one!)

Your partner on the other hand may wait and save up the money in their Fun Fund to buy $1,000 worth of those “Add water and watch them grow to 400x their size!” dinosaurs. You may see it as a total waste, but it was their money to spend! Plus, this isn’t $1,000 taken away from paying your bills, buying food, or putting your kids through school. (And it’ll give them something to do while you’re watching your movie.)

It might be a little easier to set up Fun Funds for the both of you when you have a strategy for financial independence. Contact me today, and we can work together to get you and your loved one closer to those beloved B movies and magic growing dinosaurs.

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August 24, 2020

Renting vs. buying a home: Which is right for you?

Renting vs. buying a home: Which is right for you?

100 million Americans live in homes they or their families rent.

Which means about 250 million live in homes that are owned by themselves or their families.[i]

What about you? Are you a renter or an owner? If you’re thinking about making a change, take a look at these important factors when deciding to rent or own.

The Case for Ownership One very oft-cited benefit of owning over renting is building up equity. When one rents, the entire rent payment goes to the landlord, and the tenant does not own any part of the dwelling at all. With a mortgage, on the other hand, the payer receives some percentage of ownership after every payment (assuming the payment is going towards the principal rather than interest alone), eventually leading to full ownership of the property.

For those with enough capital to outright purchase a property, ownership is almost certainly the best decision financially: no money is paid to a landlord for a service that is consumed but non-saleable in the future. Even for those without sufficient capital, mortgages tend to offer low interest rates (compared to other loan products), and the buyer can usually justify the mortgage interest in return for eventual full ownership. Even if the owner decides to move before the mortgage is completely paid off, the equity that was built thus far can be recouped and used later.

Other reasons to own may include more privacy and greater ability to customize the property. There is also the feeling of stability that you won’t have to renew a contract or potentially pay higher rent during the next cycle when your lease renews.

One of the biggest drawbacks of ownership is the potential that the property value may decline, particularly when still under mortgage. If the value of the property goes down – possibly due to a natural disaster or a lot of foreclosures in your neighborhood [ii] – the equity that was built by the owner may decline, not the amount owed on the loan. Thus a substantial decrease in prices as happened in the late 2000s, could cause an owner to be in the same position financially as a renter – that is, with no equity to speak of.

The Case for Rentership For those who cannot meet ownership’s capital requirements, renting is not a choice – it’s a necessity. However, even those who would qualify for a mortgage may be better off renting, especially if they insist on flexibility. Selling a property is an involved, complex financial transaction that may take many months to complete. If you’re renting and you need to move, finding a subletter (if allowed) is a possibility, and even when not, a standard rental agreement usually only lasts one year, after which the renter may decline to renew. Thus flexibility is one of the most important factors for those who wish to rent.

And while there is usually much less customization allowable at rental properties, there may be significant benefits included in rent with utilities paid, maintenance performed, and communal facilities like gyms, pools, or laundry facilities available. For owners, maintenance, utilities, and tax bills are solely the responsibility of the owner, whereas for renters, these may be paid in part or in full by the landlord. Regarding the investment side, renters do not own the property, so they do not have to worry about losing equity if the property market decreases in value.

Some drawbacks of renting may be less privacy, not being able to build equity, and the uncertainty of future rental prices or even availability. Of course, if the rent increases too much, the renter has the flexibility to leave the property at the next cycle.

So whether you’re thinking of renting or buying, before you sign on the dotted line, examine your short and long term goals, the risks you’re willing to take, and your budget.

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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 5, 2020

Savings accounts vs. CDs – which is better?

Savings accounts vs. CDs – which is better?

Interest rates are on the rise, which might not be great news if you carry revolving debt.

But savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs) might start looking more attractive as places to put your money. Currently, both savings accounts and CDs might be good options, so which is better? In large part, whether a savings account or a CD is the better tool for saving depends on your savings goal.

Access to funds Savings accounts offer more flexibility than CDs if you need to withdraw your money. However, be aware that many banks charge a fee if your balance falls below a certain threshold. Some banks don’t have a minimum balance requirement, and some credit unions have minimum balance requirements as low as a penny. It could be worth it to shop around if you think you might need to draw down the account at any moment.

CDs, on the other hand, have a maturity date. If you need access to your funds before the maturity date, which might range from six months to up to five years depending on which CD you choose, expect to sacrifice some interest or pay a penalty. Accessing funds held in a standard CD before its maturity date is called “breaking the CD”.

“Liquid CDs” allow you to withdraw without penalty, but typically pay a lower interest rate than standard CDs.

Interest rates CDs are historically known for paying higher interest rates than savings accounts, but this isn’t always the case. Interest rates for both types of accounts are still hovering near their lows. Depending on your situation, it might be better to choose an account type based on convenience. If interest rates continue upward, CDs may become more attractive.

In a higher interest rate environment, CDs might be a great tool for saving if you know when you’ll need the money. Let’s say you have a bill for college that will be due in thirteen months. If you won’t need the money for anything else in the meantime, a twelve-month CD might be a fit because the CD will mature before the bill is due, so the money can be withdrawn without penalty.

If your goal is to establish an emergency fund, however, a CD might not be the best option because you don’t know when you’re going to need the money. If an emergency comes your way, you won’t want to pay a penalty to access your savings. Keep an eye on current rates, and if CD interest rates start to increase, then you might consider them for longer-term savings if you won’t need the funds until a fixed date in the future. For emergency savings, consider a savings account that keeps your money separate from your checking account but still provides easy access if you need it.

Depending on your situation, a CD or a savings account may be the better fit. Shop around for the best rates you can find, and make sure you understand any penalties or fees you might incur for withdrawing funds.

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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 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 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 29, 2020

All About Food Deserts

All About Food Deserts

You’re hungry.

You just got home from work, you haven’t had anything since lunch, and you need a bite to eat ASAP. What do you do? Most of us just pop over to the local grocery store, pick up some ingredients, and prepare a meal. But that’s actually not possible for many Americans who live in areas without access to fresh groceries. It’s a phenomenon known as “food deserts”, and it affects millions of people throughout the country.

What’s a food desert?
Defining food deserts can be tricky. Roughly speaking, a food desert is an area where residents have limited access to healthy food options. But limited access doesn’t always look the same. The United States Department of Agriculture looks at things like distance from grocery stores, income, and access to vehicles when delineating a food desert.(1) Consider a few examples…

Let’s say you live in a densely populated, low income, urban area. You and your neighbors mostly take public transportation to work, and there aren’t many cars to go around. While there might be plenty of gas stations and corner stores nearby, the closest supermarket or grocery store is around a mile away. Technically speaking, you live in a food desert. You don’t have easy access to healthy food options.

But there are examples from the other side of the spectrum. Let’s say you live in a low income rural area. You own a vehicle out of necessity, but your closest neighbors are a mile away and the closest real grocery store is over ten miles away. Once again, you would technically live in a food desert. The settings and details are totally different, but getting healthy food is still a massive hassle.

Why do food deserts matter?
Remember that a food desert is all about access to healthy food. There might be plenty of fast food and processed food to be found in urban and rural food deserts. But living on junk food carries a steep price tag. The upfront cost of constantly eating out can add up quickly. That’s already less than ideal for a family in a low-income neighborhood. But consuming junk food may also increase your risk for obesity and other health problems. That could eventually translate into increased healthcare expenses. It’s a double whammy of problems; you pay more for bad food that will cost you more later down the road!

How many people live in food deserts?
According to a 2009 report by the USDA, there were roughly 23.5 million people who lived in food deserts.(2) About half of those people were impoverished.(3) Americans drive on average over 6 miles to go grocery shopping.(4) In the Lower Mississippi Delta, locals sometimes drive over 30 miles just to find a supermarket!(5)

We’re still trying to figure out solutions for food deserts. Some communities have formed local gardens that grow fresh produce. Grocery trucks have started to pop up throughout the country, bringing healthy options into neighborhoods. Only time will tell for the long-term effectiveness of these solutions!

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June 17, 2020

3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

On Monday mornings, we’re all faced with a difficult choice.

Get up a few minutes early to brew your own coffee, or sleep a little later and then whip through a drive-thru for your morning pick-me-up?

When that caffeine hits your bloodstream, how you got the coffee may not matter too much. But the next time you go through a drive thru for that cup o’ joe, picture your financial strategy shouting and waving its metaphorical arms to get your attention.

Why? Each and every time you indulge in a “luxury” that has a less expensive alternative, you’re potentially delaying your financial independence. Delay it too long and you might find yourself working when you should be enjoying a comfortable retirement. Sound dramatic? Alarmist? Apocalyptic? But that’s how it happens – one $5 peppermint mocha at a time. This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy an indulgence every once in a while. You gotta “treat yourself” sometimes, right? Just be sure that you’re sticking with your overall, long-term strategy. Your future self will thank you!

Here are 3 ways to shift from indulgence to independence:

1. Make coffee at home. Reducing your expenses can start as simply as making your morning coffee at home. And you might not even have to get up earlier to do it. Why not invest in a coffee pot with a delay brewing function? It’ll start brewing at the time you preset, and what’s a better alarm clock than the scent of freshly-brewed coffee wafting from the kitchen? Or from your bedside table… (This is a judgment-free zone here – do what you need to do to get up on time in the morning.)

Get started: A quick Google search will yield numerous lists of copycat specialty drinks that you can make at home.

2. Workout at home. A couple of questions to ask yourself:

1) Will an expensive gym membership fit into your monthly budget? 2) How often have you gone to the gym in the last few months?

If your answers are somewhere between “No” and “I’d rather not say,” then maybe it’s time to ditch the membership in favor of working out at home. Or perhaps you’re a certified gym rat who faithfully wrings every dollar out of your gym membership each month. Then ask yourself if you really need all the bells and whistles that an expensive gym might offer. Elliptical, dumbbells, and machines with clearly printed how-tos? Yes, of course. But a hot tub, sauna, and an out-of-pocket juice bar? Maybe not. If you can get in a solid workout without a few of those pricey extras, your body and your wallet will thank you.

Get started: Instead of a using a treadmill inside the gym, take a walk or jog around your local park each day – it’s free! If you prefer to work out at a gym, look into month-to-month membership options instead of paying a hefty price for a year-long membership up front.

3. Ditch cable and use a video streaming service instead. Cable may give you access to more channels and more shows than ever before, but let’s be honest. Who has time to watch 80 hours of the greatest moments in sports every week? Asking yourself if you could cut the cable and wait a little longer for your favorite shows to become available on a streaming service might not be a bad idea. Plus, who doesn’t love using a 3-day weekend to binge-watch an entire series every now and then? There’s also the bonus of how easy it is to cancel/reactivate a streaming service. With cable, you may be locked into a multi-year contract, installation can be a hassle (and they may add an extra installation fee), and you can forget about knowing when the cable guy is actually going to show up.

Get started: Plenty of streaming services offer free trial periods. Go ahead and give them a try, but be careful: You may have to enter your credit card number to access the free trial. Don’t forget to cancel before your trial is over, or you will be charged.

Taking time to address the luxuries you can live without (or enjoy less often) has the potential to make a huge impact on your journey to financial independence. Cutting back here and investing in yourself there – it all adds up.

In what areas do you think you can start indulging less?

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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 25, 2020

Preparing to buy your first home

Preparing to buy your first home

Home buying can be both very exciting and very stressful.

Picking out your dream home is thrilling, but credit scores, applications, and mortgage underwriting requirements? Well, not so much. Don’t let yourself be deterred. Here are a few moves to make before you amp up your home buying search that will help increase the fun and decrease the stress.

Know what you can afford
One of the first steps to home buying is knowing how much you can afford. Some experts advise that a monthly mortgage payment should be no more than 30% of your monthly take-home pay. Some say no more than 25%. If you stretch past that you could become “mortgage poor”. Consider this carefully. You might not want to be in your dream house and struggling to pay the utility bills, grocery bills, etc., or find yourself in a financial jam if an emergency comes up.

Get your finances ready for home buying
If you’re scouring listings, hunting for your dream home, but you’re not sure what your credit score is – stop. There are few things more disappointing than finally finding your dream home and then not having the financial chops to purchase it. You’ll need to get your finances in order and then start shopping. Focus on these areas:

Credit score: Your credit score is something you should know regardless of whether you’re home shopping. Usually, to get the best mortgage rates, you’ll want a score in the good to excellent range. If you’re not quite there, don’t despair. If you make payments toward your other obligations on time and pay off any debt you’re carrying, your credit score should respond accordingly.

Down payment: A conventional mortgage usually requires a 20 percent down payment. That may seem like a lot of money to come up with, but in turn, you may get the best interest rates, which can save you a significant amount over the life of the mortgage. Also, anything less than 20 percent down and you may have to purchase Private Mortgage Insurance – it’s a type of insurance that protects the lender if you default. Try to avoid it if you can.

Get pre-qualified before you shop for a home
Once you have your credit score and down payment in order, it’s time to get pre-qualified for a mortgage. A prequalification presents you as a serious buyer when you make offers on houses. Mortgage pre-approval doesn’t cost you anything, and it doesn’t make you obligated to any one house or mortgage. It’s just a piece of paper that says a bank trusts you to pay back the loan.

If you go shopping without a pre-approval, expect to get overlooked if there are other bidders. A seller will likely go with the buyer who has been pre-approved for a mortgage.

Prepare your paperwork
Getting approved for a mortgage is going to require you to do a little legwork. The bank will want to see documentation to substantiate your income and lifestyle expenses. Be prepared to cough up income tax documents such as W-2’s, paystubs, and bank statements. The sooner you get the paperwork together, the easier it will be to complete the mortgage application.

Shop for the best mortgage
Mortgage rates differ slightly depending on the lender, so shop for the lowest possible rate you can get. You may wish to use a mortgage broker to help. Also, get familiar with mortgage terms. The most common household mortgages are a 30-year term with a fixed rate, but there are 15-year terms, and mortgages with variable interest rates too.

Do your pre-home-buying homework
With a little legwork early on, home buying can be fun and exciting. Get your finances in order and educate yourself about mortgage options and you’ll be decorating your dream home in no time.

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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.