Headed in the Right Direction: Managing Debt for Millennials

June 12, 2019

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Dani Sumner

Dani Sumner

Financial Professional

791 Price Street
Suite 320
Pismo Beach, CA 93449

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April 10, 2019

When should you see a financial professional?

When should you see a financial professional?

Just about anyone may benefit from seeing a financial professional, but how do you know when it’s time to get some professional guidance?

Many people work through much of their financial life without needing to talk to a financial professional, but then something may change. Maybe you are approaching retirement and want to make sure you have your bases covered. Perhaps you just received an inheritance and aren’t quite sure what to do with it, or maybe you received a big promotion with a substantial raise and want a little help with your existing financial strategy.

Whatever the case may be, here are a few signposts that indicate it may be time to see a financial professional.

You are unsure about your financial future
If when thinking about your financial future, and you keep coming up with a blank slate, a financial professional may help you formulate a solid savings strategy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by differing financial responsibilities, a conversation with a financial professional may help you sort it all out and develop a roadmap. If you’re juggling a lot of financial balls, such as student loan debt, retirement savings, credit card debt, building an emergency fund, trying to buy a house, etc., you may benefit from some professional financial input.

You have inherited a large sum of money
Coming in to an inheritance is a key signal to seek out a financial professional. A financial professional may be able to help you determine the options you have to manage the money that you may not be aware of. The important thing with an inheritance is to take your time when making decisions and consider any long term implications for your family.

You want a professional opinion
Say you like managing your own money, and you’ve been doing a pretty good job of it. You read the financial news and keep up with the latest from Wall Street. You may feel you’re doing just fine without the help of a financial professional, and that’s great. But, getting a second opinion on your finances from a qualified financial professional may go a long way.

Sometimes with our finances we may have a blind spot – a risk we may not see, or an opportunity to do something better that we haven’t noticed. A financial professional may help you find those opportunities and help eliminate those risks. Even if your finance game is on a roll, a little professional guidance may help make it even better.

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March 27, 2019

Emergency Fund Basics

Emergency Fund Basics

Unexpected expenses are a part of life.

They can crop up at any time and often occur when you least expect them. An emergency expense is usually not a welcome one – it can include anything from car repairs to veterinary care to that field trip fee your 12 year old informed you about the day of. So, what’s the best way to deal with those financial curve balls that life inevitably throws at you? Enter one of the most important personal financial tools you can have – an emergency fund.

What is an emergency fund?
An emergency fund is essential, but it’s also simple. It’s merely a stash of cash reserved solely for a financial emergency. It’s best to keep it in a place where you can access it easily, such as a savings account or a money market fund. (It also might not hurt to keep some actual cash on hand in a safe place in your house.) When disaster strikes – e.g., your water heater dies right before your in-laws arrive for a long weekend – you can pull funds from your emergency stash to make the repairs and then feel free to enjoy a pleasant time with your family.

Some experts recommend building an emergency fund equal to about 6-12 months of your monthly expenses. Don’t let that scare you. This may seem like an enormous amount if you’ve never committed to establishing an emergency fund before. But having any amount of money in an emergency fund is a valuable financial resource which may make the difference between getting past an unexpected bump in the road, and having long term financial hindrances hanging over you, such as credit card debt.

Start where you are
It’s okay to start small when building your emergency fund. Set manageable savings goals. Aim to save $100 by the end of the month, for example. Or shoot for $1,000 if that’s doable for you. Once you get that first big chunk put away, you might be amazed at how good it feels and how much momentum you have to keep going.

Take advantage of automatic savings tools
When starting your emergency fund, it’s a good idea to set up a regular savings strategy. Take a cold, hard look at your budget. Be as objective as possible. This is a new day! Now isn’t the time to beat yourself up over bad money habits you might have had in the past, or how you rationalized about purchases you thought you needed. After going through your budget, decide how much you can realistically put away each month and take that money directly off the top of your income. This is called “paying yourself first”, and it’s a solid habit to form that can serve you the rest of your life.

Once you know the amount you can save each month, see if you can set up an automatic direct deposit for it. (Oftentimes your paycheck can be set to go into two different accounts.) This way the money can be directly deposited into a savings account each time you get paid, and you might not even miss it. But you’ll probably be glad it’s there when you need it!

Don’t touch your emergency fund for anything other than emergencies
This is rule #1. The commitment to use your emergency fund for emergencies only is key to making this powerful financial tool work. If you’re dipping into this fund every time you come across a great seasonal sale or a popular new mail-order subscription box, the funds for emergencies might be gone when a true emergency comes up.

So keep in mind: A girls’ three day weekend, buying new designer boots – no matter how big the mark-down is – and enjoying the occasional spa day are probably NOT really emergencies (although these things may be important). Set up a separate “treat yourself fund” for them. Reserve your emergency fund for those persnickety car breakdowns, unexpected medical bills, or urgent home repairs.

The underpinning of financial security
An emergency fund is about staying prepared financially and having the resources to handle life if (and when) things go sideways. If you don’t have an emergency fund, begin building one today. Start small, save consistently, and you’ll be better prepared to catch those life-sized curve balls.

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March 6, 2019

Back to the basics

Back to the basics

It seems many of us can over-complicate how to achieve good financial health and can make the entire subject much harder than it needs to be.

Despite what you might read in books, hear on television, or see on blogs and websites, good financial health can be simple and sustainable.

Some of the following basic principles may require a paradigm shift depending on how you’ve thought about finances and money in the past, or if you have current not-so-great habits you want to change. Hang in there!

Let’s start with frugality.

Retail therapy may not always be good therapy
One of the biggest financial pitfalls we may get into is believing that money will make us happy. To some degree, this may be true. Stress over finances can rob us of peace of mind, and not having enough money to make ends meet is a challenging – sometimes even difficult – way to live. Still, thinking that more money will alleviate the stress and bring us more happiness is a common enough trap, but it doesn’t seem to usually pan out that way.

Get yourself out of the trap by reminding yourself that if you don’t have a money problem, then don’t use money to solve it. The next time you’re tempted to do some indiscriminate “retail” therapy, think about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Do you truly need three new shopping bags of clothes and accessories or are you trying to fill some other void? Give yourself some space to slow down and think it over.

Build a love for do-it-yourself projects
Any time you can do something yourself instead of paying someone to do it for you should be a win. A foundation of frugality is to keep as much of your income in your pocket as possible. Learning to perform certain tasks yourself instead of paying someone to do them for you may save more money.

Do-it-yourself tasks can include changing the oil in your car, mowing your grass, even doing your taxes. The next time you’re about to shell out $50 (or more) to trim the lawn, consider doing it yourself and saving the money.

Curb your impulse buying habit
An impulse buying habit can rob us of good financial health. The problem is that impulse purchases seem to be mostly extraneous, and they can add up over time because we probably don’t give them much thought. A foundational principle is to try to refrain from any impulse buying. Get in the habit of putting a little pause between yourself and the item. Ask yourself if this is something you actually need or just want. Another great strategy to combat impulse buying is to practice the routine of making a shopping list and sticking to it.

It may take some time and effort to retrain yourself not to impulse buy, but as a frugal foundational principle, it’s worth it.

Build your financial health with simple principles
Achieving an excellent financial life doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. Mastering a few foundational principles will help ensure your financial health is built on a good, solid foundation. Remember that money isn’t always the solution, aim to keep as much of your income as possible and stay away from impulse buying. Simple habits will get you on the road to financial health.

A fresh perspective, a little commitment, and some discipline can go a long way toward building a solid financial foundation.

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February 18, 2019

Do you use the 20/4/10 rule?

Do you use the 20/4/10 rule?

If you’re in the market for a new car, you may already be aware that the average cost of a new car is about $35,000.

This pricetag has been increasing steadily in recent decades.[i] As a result, there are some “new” loan options that allow you to spread out your payments for up to 7 years.

Having a longer time to pay back your auto loan may seem like a great idea – stretching out the loan period may lower the payments month-to-month, and help squeeze a new car purchase into your family budget without too much financial juggling.

Reality check
One thing to keep in mind is that cars depreciate faster than you might imagine. Within the first 30 days, your new car’s value will have dropped by 10%. A year later, the car will have lost 20% of its value. Fast forward to 5 years after your purchase and your car is now worth less than 40% of its initial cost.[ii]

If you go with a longer loan term, it will take that much more time to build equity in the vehicle. A forced sale due to an emergency or an accident that totals your vehicle may mean you’ll still owe money on a car you no longer have. (This is what’s meant by being “upside down” in a loan: you owe more than the item is worth.)

If you’re not sure what to do, consider the 20/4/10 rule.

1. Try to put down 20% or more. Whether using cash or a trade-in that has equity, put down at least 20% of the new vehicle’s purchase price. This builds instant equity and may help you stay ahead of depreciation. Also add the cost for tax and tags to your down payment. You won’t want to pay interest on these expenses.

2. Take a loan of no longer than 4 years. Longer term loans may lower the monthly payments, but feeling like you need a loan term of more than 4 years may be a red flag that you’re buying more car than you can comfortably afford. With a shorter term loan, you may get a better interest rate and pay less interest overall because of the shorter term. This may make quite a difference in savings for you.

3. Commit no more than 10% of your gross annual income to primary car expenses. Your primary expenses would include the car payment (principal and interest), as well as your insurance payment. Other expenses, like fuel and maintenance, aren’t considered in this figure. The 10% part of the 20/4/10 rule may be the most difficult part to follow for many households considering purchasing a new car. Feeling pinched if you go with a new car could suggest that a reliable used car may be a better financial fit.

Cars are often symbolic of freedom, so it’s no wonder that we sometimes get emotional about car-buying decisions. It’s often best – as with any major purchase – to take a step back and look at the numbers and how they would affect your overall financial strategy, budget, emergency fund, etc. The money you save if you need to go with a used car could be used to build your savings or treat your family to something special now and then – and you’ll enjoy the real freedom of not being a slave to your monthly auto payment.

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

[i] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/average-new-car-prices-jump-2-percent-for-march-2018-on-suv-sales-strength-according-to-kelley-blue-book-300623110.html
[ii] https://www.carfax.com/blog/car-depreciation

February 4, 2019

When is it OK to use a credit card?

When is it OK to use a credit card?

Even though your budget might be 100% on point, your retirement accounts well-funded, and you’ve got something stashed away for the kids’ college tuition, sometimes an emergency rears its ugly head.

And despite your best efforts, your only option to cover it might be to use a credit card.

Let’s face it. Once in a blue moon there may not be enough emergency fund to go around. Sometimes the water heater needs replacing right before the in-laws arrive for Thanksgiving. Doesn’t this kind of thing seem to always happen the same week your child falls off the swingset and needs an ER visit?

What is the best way to handle using your credit card for an emergency? Here are a few tips that may help you get out of a jam if you choose to use your credit card.

Take out a loan
If you’re planning on putting an emergency expense on a credit card, make sure it’s truly a last resort. If possible, try to find other ways to cover the expense first. Can you ask a friend or family member for a loan? You may consider other loan options such as a personal bank loan or a home equity loan. These options do carry interest, but the rate may be lower than the one for your credit card.

Use a low interest card
Find and keep the lowest interest rate card you can. Many credit cards may come with an introductory zero percent interest rate for a specified period. But pay attention to the interest rate that applies after the initial period. This is what you’ll be obligated to pay after the introductory period expires.

Keep a healthy credit score
If you have good to excellent credit, you may be able to secure a zero percent interest card to use specifically for the emergency. The idea is that you would plan to pay off the balance during the introductory period.

If your credit score isn’t high, work on it. Make your payments on time and strive to keep a low credit card balance.

Build your emergency fund
At one time or another, many of us have been caught off guard with an emergency. A well-stocked emergency fund is the first line of defense when those unplanned expenses come up.

Aim for an emergency fund equivalent of 6 to 12 months’ worth of expenses. If that seems overwhelming, focus on smaller goals such as saving $500 and then try hitting $1,000. With time and diligence, your emergency fund will grow, and you may not have to worry so much about needing to put emergency expenses on a credit card.

Getting through a pinch with a credit card
If you are in a pinch and absolutely must put emergency expenses on a credit card, shoot for the lowest interest rate and pay it off as quickly as you can. Meanwhile, continue to build your emergency fund so you can be prepared in the future.

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January 21, 2019

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.

January 14, 2019

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Credit card statements and auto loan statements are often among the bigger bills the mail carrier brings.

Wouldn’t it be great to just pay them off and then use those monthly payments for something else, like building your savings and giving yourself a bit of breathing room for a treat now and then?

Paying extra money on your credit card bills and your car loan at the same time may not be an option, so which is better to pay off first?

In most cases, paying down credit cards might be a better strategy. But the reasons for paying off your credit cards first are numerous. Let’s look at why that usually may make more sense.

  • Credit cards have high interest rates. When you look at the balances for your auto loan vs. your credit card, the larger amount may often be the auto loan. Big balances can be unnerving, so your inclination may be to pay that down first. However, auto loans usually have a relatively low interest rate, so if you have an extra $100 or $200 per month to put toward debt, credit cards make a better choice. The average credit card interest rate is about 15%, whereas the average auto loan rate is usually under 7%, if you have good credit.[i]

  • Credit cards charge compound interest. Most auto loans are simple-interest loans, which means you only pay interest on the principal. Credit cards, however, charge compound interest, which means any interest that accrues on your account can generate interest of its own. Yikes!

  • You’ll lower your credit utilization. Part of your credit score is based on your credit utilization, which specifically refers to how much of your revolving credit you use. As you pay down your balance, you’ll not only pay less in interest, you may also give your credit score a boost by reducing your credit utilization.

The numbers don’t lie
Let’s say you have a 5-year auto loan for $30,000 at 7% interest. You also have an extra $100 per month you’d like to use to pay down debt. By adding that 100 bucks to your car payments, over the course of the loan you can cut your loan length by 10 months and save $972.32.[ii] Impressive.

Let’s look at a credit card balance. Maybe the credit card interest rate is higher than the car loan, but hopefully the balance is lower. Let’s assume a balance of only $10,000 and an interest rate of 15%. With your minimum payment, you’d probably pay about $225 monthly. Putting the extra $100 per month toward the credit card balance and paying $325 shortens the payment length for the card balance by 26 months and saves $1,986 in interest expense.[iii] Wow!

The math tells the truth. In the above hypothetical scenarios, even though the balance on the credit card is one-third that of the total owed for the car, you would save more money by paying off the credit card balance first.

Financial strategy isn’t just about paying down debt though. As you go, be sure you’re saving as well. You’ll need an emergency fund and you’ll need to invest for your retirement. Let’s talk. I have some ideas that can help you build toward your goals for your future.

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[i] https://www.valuepenguin.com/auto-loans/average-auto-loan-interest-rates
[ii] https://www.bankrate.com/calculators/auto/early-payment-payoff-calculator.aspx
[iii] https://www.bankrate.com/calculators/credit-cards/credit-card-payoff-calculator.aspx

December 31, 2018

Top 10 ways to save more than last year

Top 10 ways to save more than last year

If you’re starting the new year resolving to save a little more money than last year – great idea!

A healthy savings habit is foundational to good financial health. But maybe you’re looking at your budget (you have a budget, right?) and wondering how you’re going to come up with that extra money to put away.

Maybe your budget is already pretty tight with very little wiggle room. Don’t despair! Read on for ten ways even the most financially strict households can save a little more this year.

Automatic savings from your paycheck
One of the easiest ways to stash some extra cash is to have it directly deposited into a separate savings account. Update your direct deposit to include a percentage or a dollar amount from your paycheck that will go directly into a savings account every time you get paid.

Cashback offers
If you use credit cards for household expenditures such as groceries or gas, find a card that gives you money back on the purchases you make. When it comes time to redeem the rewards, opt to deposit the extra cash right into your savings account.

Cut the grocery bill
Food for your household can often be one of the biggest monthly expenses. You can help cut your food costs by meal planning, buying what’s on sale, using coupons strategically, and shopping at farmers markets. Try to steer clear from pre-made foods and convenience frozen items. The least expensive way to buy food is often to purchase whole food items in bulk.

Make sure that if and when you fall under budget for groceries, you’re saving that leftover money. If this becomes a trend, try cutting your grocery budget by the average amount you’re falling under each month and officially allocating the surplus to your savings.

Shop the sales
Using coupons or buying items that are only on sale is a great way to save extra money. The challenge here is to avoid buying something just because it’s been marked down. Simply put, if you do need a new item, like a pair of glasses, try not to pay full price. It’s worth it to shop around for the best deal.

Eat at home
Whether you’re single or have a family, cooking and eating at home is probably going to be better for your wallet. No one could deny that eating out can be expensive, and the cost can quickly add up. Prep meals ahead of time and pack your lunches and snacks.

Make sense of your cents
What do you do with your pocket change? Most of us find a little of it everywhere – in our car, on the dresser, in the washing machine, and at the bottom of our purses. Pocket change is money, and it adds up. Treat your pocket change with the same attention you give to paper money.

Start by keeping it in one place, like a change jar or dish. Then, periodically deposit it into your bank account.

Take advantage of free entertainment
Learn where to look, and you’ll find free entertainment abounds. Instead of paying to see a local band, look for a free show. Craving a little café culture? Save the cost of a designer coffee and bring your homebrew to the city park.

Create an emergency fund
Creating an emergency fund doesn’t sound like a money-saving strategy, but it is. Why? Because when an emergency comes up, you’ll have money at hand to deal with it. An emergency fund keeps you from putting surprise expenses on a credit card and potentially incurring interest.

Stash the windfalls
Found money can boost your savings this year. Found money may include bonuses, gifts or inheritance. Any income that is not accounted for in your regular budget is found money. Stash found money and your savings account will grow. If you can’t bear not to treat yourself to something, go for it but commit to saving half.

Curb impulse buys
Impulse purchases may wreck even the most conscientious savings plan. If you want to save successfully, you’ve got to curb your impulse buys. Try using the 24-hour rule. For any non-essential purchase, wait 24 hours. This will give the impulse a chance to fade, and you might realize you don’t really need or want the item.

Reward yourself
Saving money isn’t easy, but with the right strategy, you can make your savings goals a reality. Good luck and here’s to a prosperous year!

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December 10, 2018

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.

December 3, 2018

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

If you’re getting into the home buying game, chances are you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.

Purchasing a home for the first time is exciting but it can also be very stressful! Anyone who’s been through that process could probably share a story about a surprise hidden expense that came along with their dream home.

Read on to help prepare yourself for some common costs that can pop up unexpectedly when you’re purchasing a home.

Emergency fund
Before we get into the hidden costs of homeownership, let’s talk a little about how to help handle them if and when they do arise. If you’re getting ready to buy a home but don’t have an emergency fund, you may want to strongly consider holding off that purchase, if at all possible, until you do have an emergency fund established. It’s recommended to put aside at least $1,000, but preferably you should save 3-6 months of your expenses, including mortgage payments. An emergency fund is the most fundamental personal finance tool you can have in your toolkit. It’s like the toolbox itself that holds all your other financial tools together. So, before you start home shopping, build your emergency fund.

Homeowners associations
If your dream house happens to be in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), be prepared to pony up HOA fees each month (some HOA’s may charge these fees every quarter, or even annually). HOA fees may cover costs to maintain neighborhood common areas, such as pools or parks. They may also cover maintenance to your front lawn, and/or snow removal from driveways, etc. Typically, a homeowners association will have a board that enforces any agreed-upon property standards, such as having you remove ivy from your home exterior, or making sure your sidewalk is pressure washed regularly.

If you purchase a home with an HOA, be prepared for the added cost in fees as well as adhering to the rules. You may incur a fine for such things as your grass not being mowed properly, or parking your boat or camper in your yard.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
PMI comes into play if you can’t make at least a 20% down payment on your new home. If that’s the case, your mortgage lender charges PMI which would kick in to protect them if you default on the loan. It can cost 0.3 to 1.5% of your mortgage. However, once you have 20% equity in the home, you don’t have to pay it anymore. (Note: You may have to proactively call your mortgage company and tell them to remove it.)

Maintenance costs
If you’ve been living the maintenance-free life in an apartment or rental home, the cost of maintaining a house that you own may come as a shock. Even new homes require maintenance – lawn care, pressure washing, clearing rain gutters, painting, etc. There’s always going to be something to upgrade or repair on a home, and many first-time home buyers aren’t prepared for the expense.

A good rule of thumb is to budget about 10 percent of the value of your home for maintenance per year. So, if you buy a $250,000 home, you should prepare for $2,500 a year in maintenance costs.

Home insurance
Be prepared for some sticker shock when purchasing your homeowners’ insurance. Homeowners insurance is typically significantly more expensive than purchasing a renter’s policy. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, be prepared to pay top rates for homeowners’ insurance. If you live near a body of water, you may also need flood insurance.

Life insurance
Many first-time homebuyers may not give life insurance a thought, but it’s an important factor that can help protect your investment. You probably need life insurance if anyone is depending on your income. Especially if your income helps pay your mortgage every month, you should strongly consider a life insurance policy in case something were to happen to you. This will help ensure that your spouse or significant other can continue to live in your home.

Homebuying is exciting and part of the American dream. But don’t neglect to come back to reality – at least when making financial decisions – so you can budget properly and anticipate any hidden costs. This will help ensure that your first-time home buying experience is a happy one.

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November 19, 2018

How to handle an inheritance

How to handle an inheritance

If you’ve just come into an inheritance or another windfall like a settlement, it may be tempting to spend a little (or a lot) on some indulgences.

Even if – especially if – you’re already prudent with your budget and spending habits. You might be thinking, “I’m on top of my finances. What’s the harm of blowing a little cash on a few treats?” But read on. An inheritance or other monetary bonus – if handled wisely – has the potential to make a lifelong financial difference.

Start with these tips to help you make some lasting decisions about your newfound money.

Don’t make quick decisions
If you’ve received an inheritance from the death of a family member, you may want to take some time to grieve and start to develop a “new normal” before you make any big financial decisions.

Consider parking the money in a money market account or a high-interest rate savings account and letting it sit until you’re ready. A good rule of thumb when making a major financial decision is to give it at least 30 days. Shelve it for 30 days and then see how you feel. If you’re still not sure, put it back on the shelf for another 30 days.

Don’t feel rushed into making decisions about how to handle the money. It’s more important to take your time and make a careful decision than rushing into purchasing big-ticket items or making investments that may not be right for you.

Don’t shout it from the rooftops
Be cautious with whom you talk to about the inheritance. It’s best to discuss it with only a few trusted friends or family members. The more people you tell, the more “advice” you’re going to get about what you should do with the money. Some might even ask you to invest in one of their interests. (Which may be OK – that’s up to you!)

If you do come in to some money, one of your first calls should be to a qualified financial professional. Remember, it’s probably best to keep input minimal at this point, so tell as few people as possible.

Create a financial strategy
When you’re ready, it’s time to create a financial strategy. A financial professional can help you clarify your financial goals and offer a roadmap to get you there. No matter how much you inherited, developing a financial strategy is a must. Here are a few considerations to start:

Debt: If you have debt that is costing you money in the form of interest, this may be a good time to pay it off.
Emergency fund: If you don’t have a proper emergency fund, consider using some of the inheritance to fund one. An emergency fund should be 6-12 months of expenses put away in an easily accessible account for emergencies. An emergency is something like home or car repairs or unexpected medical bills (not a spur of the moment vacation or purchase).
Pay down your mortgage: If you have a mortgage, you may want to pay down as much as possible with some of the inheritance. The smaller your mortgage the better, because you’ll end up spending less in interest.
Saving for retirement: Saving some of your inheritance is probably never going to be a bad choice. Work with a financial professional to see what your options are.
Charitable donations: A charitable gift is always a good idea.

Have some fun
Coming into some unexpected money is exciting! You may be tempted to rush out and start spending. Make sure you do your financial decision-making first and then be sure to have some fun. Maybe give yourself 10 percent of the money to just enjoy. Maybe you want to take a cruise or buy a new high-end kayak. The point is to treat yourself to something, but only after you have a solid financial strategy in place.

An inheritance is a gift
Keep in mind that an inheritance is a gift. Somewhere along the line, someone worked for every one of those dollars. Something to keep in mind is that you can honor that person’s hard work by being a responsible steward of their gift.

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October 22, 2018

How to expect the unexpected

How to expect the unexpected

Unexpected expenses can put a damper on your financial life.

You never know what may come up – vet bills, car repairs, unplanned travel expenses. Life is nothing if not full of surprises.

So, how do you pay for unexpected expenses when they arise? Borrow? Use your credit card? Take out a payday loan?

There is a better way. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some cash stored away to help you out when those emergencies pop up? Well, you can! It’s called an emergency fund. That’s what it’s for!

What is an emergency fund?
An emergency fund is a designated amount of cash – easily accessible – to prevent you from going into debt in case of a financial emergency. But how much should you put aside? Most experts agree a suitable amount for an emergency fund is 6-12 months’ worth of expenses.[i]

Sound like a lot of money? It is, but don’t let that stop you. An emergency fund can help make the difference between getting through a single emergency with merely a hiccup or spiraling down the financial rabbit hole of debt. Or it may help you ride through a few months if you lose your source of income.

It’s okay to start small
The thought of saving six months’ worth of income might make most of us throw up our hands in defeat before we even start.

Don’t let that get you down, though. The point is to start, even if it’s small. Just don’t give up. Begin with a goal of saving $500. Once you’ve achieved that, celebrate it! And then work on the next $500.

Slowly, over time, your emergency fund will increase and hopefully, so will your peace of mind.

Take advantage of “found money”
Found money is extra money that comes your way, that isn’t part of your normal income. It can include things like bonuses, inheritances, gifts, or cash from selling personal items.

When you find yourself with some found money, keep the 50/50 rule in mind. Put half the money toward your emergency fund, and put half toward whatever you like – your retirement, making this holiday season a little extra special, or add it to the college fund.

Let’s say you earned a bonus of $500 at your job. You worked hard and want to reward yourself. Go for it! Use half the bonus to buy the new shoes or the basketball game tickets, but put the other half in your emergency fund. It’ll be a win-win for you.

Take advantage of direct deposit
One of the best ways to help build your emergency fund is to make your deposits automatic. Siphon off a percentage of your paycheck into your emergency fund. Again, it’s key to start small here.

Know what an emergency is and what it is not
One of the fundamentals of building and maintaining an emergency fund is knowing what an emergency is and what it’s not. Unexpected expenses that require a dip into your emergency fund will happen – that’s what it’s for. But tapping in to your emergency fund on a regular basis shouldn’t be the norm. (If it is, you might need to take a look at your overall budget.)

Unexpected expenses your emergency fund may help cover:

  • Car repairs
  • Unexpected medical bills
  • Emergency home repairs
  • Unplanned travel for a death in the family

Some expenses that are not really emergencies:

  • A great sale on a cute winter coat
  • A spur of the moment weekend getaway
  • A spa day – no matter how much you need it!

Keep financial safety in mind
So the next time you see a gorgeous pair of shoes that you just “have to have” – ask yourself if they’ll be worth it if your 10-year-old dishwasher fails and your next dishwasher has to be you!

Don’t forget – start small. An emergency fund is about helping put a financial safety net in place. Don’t find yourself potentially compounding the difficulty of a true emergency by not having the funds to deal with it.

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[i] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/banking-basics/life-build-emergency-fund/

October 15, 2018

The More You Know! Building a Financial Vocabulary

The More You Know! Building a Financial Vocabulary

Part of gaining financial literacy is becoming familiar with the lingo.

Like all subjects, finance has its own terms, acronyms, abbreviations, and slang.

If you’re just beginning to dip your toe into the pool of personal financial planning, here’s a handy guide to some terms that are likely to come up when learning about finance and investments.

ROI: ROI stands for Return on Investment. It’s an acronym usually used when referring to the performance of a stock. ROI can also refer to the performance of other investments, including real estate and currencies. In short, the term describes how much bang you get for your investment buck.

Compound Interest: Compound interest refers to the instance of interest collecting on interest. The best way to understand compound interest is with an example. Let’s say you invest $1,000 in a high interest bearing account. Over the course of one year, your savings collects $100.00 in interest. The next year you’ll earn interest on $1,100.00, and so forth.

Money Market Account: You may hear about money market accounts if you’re shopping for a savings account. A money market account is like a savings account, but it may earn higher interest rates – making it a better choice for some.

There are money market accounts that come with checks or a debit card, so your funds are easily accessible. If you’re planning on opening a money market account to hold your savings or emergency fund, pay attention to any minimum balance requirements and fees.

Liquidity: Liquidity refers to how easy it is for an asset to convert to cash. You can think of it as an investment’s ability to “liquidate” into cash. For example, real estate investments may offer great returns over time, but they aren’t considered liquid assets because they are not easily turned into cash.

A stock or bond, on the other hand, has high liquidity because you can sell a stock and have access to its cash value quickly.

Roth IRA: A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account. IRA stands for “Individual Retirement Account”. A Roth IRA allows you to make contributions or deposits to fund your retirement. The contributions are made with taxed income, but when you take deposits from the account in retirement, the income is not taxed.

A few characteristics of a Roth IRA:

  • Your contribution is always accessible, tax and penalty-free at any time
  • It can help keep you in a lower taxable income bracket during retirement
  • You can contribute to a Roth IRA at any time if you have a job

Bear Market: A Bear Market is a term used to refer to the stock market while there are certain characteristics present. Those characteristics include falling stock prices and low investor confidence.

The term is said to originate from the way a bear attacks – swiping its arm downward on its prey. The downward motion illustrates falling stock prices as investors lose confidence, become pessimistic about the market, and they may begin to sell their stocks to try to prevent further losses.

Bull Market: A Bull Market is a period in which stock prices are increasing and investor confidence is high. A Bull Market mostly refers to stocks, but it can also be used to describe real estate, currencies, and other types of markets.

This term may come from the action of how a bull attacks, by swiping its horns upward.

Finance lingo is for everyone
No matter where you are on the personal finance spectrum – just beginning to create a budget with your first job or preparing to retire – there are special terms to describe financial phenomena, tools, and features. Learning some of the lingo is a great first step toward taking charge of your financial life!

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October 15, 2018

Budget Like a Rock Star with Your First Job

Budget Like a Rock Star with Your First Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 17, 2018

Getting the Most Bang for Your Savings Buck

Getting the Most Bang for Your Savings Buck

Savvy savers know that if they look after their pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.

So, if you’re looking for places to gain a few extra pennies, why not start by maximizing your savings account?

Granted, a savings account might not be a flashy investment opportunity with a high return. But most of us use one as a place to park our emergency fund or the dream car fund. So, if you’re going to put your money somewhere other than under your mattress, why not put it in the place that gets the best return? Here are some tips for getting the most out of your savings account.

Try an Online-only Account
Your corner bank branch isn’t the only option for a savings account. Why not try an online account? As of September 2018, several well-known banks are offering online savings accounts with rates of 1.85 (some even higher).[i]

With the help of technology, you can link one of these high-interest savings accounts directly to your checking account, making moving money a breeze. Say goodbye to the brick and mortar bank, and hello to some extra cash in your pocket!

Check Out Your Local Credit Union
A credit union offers savers some unique benefits. They differ from a traditional bank as they are usually not for profit. They function more like a cooperative – even paying dividends back to members periodically.

A credit union can also be beneficial as they typically offer a higher interest rate than your everyday bank. Membership in a credit union may also have other perks, such as low-interest rates on personal loans as well as exceptional customer service.

Money Market Accounts
A money market account is like a savings account except it’s tied to bonds and other low-risk investments. A money market can deliver the goods by giving you more for your savings, but there are often account minimums and fees. Before putting your savings into a money market account, check the fees and account minimums to make sure they’ll coincide with your needs.

Don’t Use a Parking Place When You Need a Garage
A savings account is a like a good parking place for cash. Its usefulness is in its ease of access and flexibility.

This makes it a great place to keep savings that you may need to access in the short term – say, within the next 12 months.

For long-term saving (like for retirement), it’s generally not a good idea to rely on a savings account alone. Retirement savings doesn’t belong in a parking place. For that, you need a garage. Talk to your financial professional today about a savings strategy for retirement, and the options that are available for you.

Shopping for a Savings Account
Just because a savings account doesn’t offer high yields, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it carefully. To get the most bang for your savings buck, search out the highest interest possible (which might be online), be aware of fees and penalties, and remember – any saving is better than not saving at all!

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[i] https://www.magnifymoney.com/blog/earning-interest/best-online-savings-accounts275921001/

August 6, 2018

The Birds Have Flown the Coop!

The Birds Have Flown the Coop!

The kids (finally) moved out!

Now you can plan those vacations for just the two of you, delve into new hobbies you’ve always wanted to explore… and decide whether or not you should keep your life insurance as empty nesters.

The answer is YES!

Why? Even though you and your spouse are empty nesters now, life insurance still has real benefits for both of you. One of the biggest benefits is your life insurance policy’s death benefit. Should either you or your spouse pass away, the death benefit can pay for final expenses and replace the loss of income, both of which can keep you or your spouse on track for retirement in the case of an unexpected tragedy.

What’s another reason to keep your life insurance policy? The cash value of your policy. Now that the kids have moved out and are financially stable on their own, the cash value of your life insurance policy can be used for retirement or an emergency fund. If your retirement savings took a hit while you helped your children finance their college educations, your life insurance policy might have you covered. Utilizing the cash value has multiple factors you should be aware of before making any decision.

Contact me today, and together we’ll check up on your policy to make sure you have coverage where you want it - and review all the benefits that you can use as empty nesters.

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July 9, 2018

You'll Still Need This After Retirement

You'll Still Need This After Retirement

Ask anyone who’s had a flat tire, a leaky roof, or an unexpected medical bill – having enough money tucked away in an emergency fund can prevent a lot of headaches.

It may seem obvious to create a cushion for unexpected expenses while you’re saving up for retirement, especially if you have kids that need to get to their soccer games on time, a new-to-you home that’s really a fixer-upper, or an injury that catches you off guard. But an emergency fund is still important to keep after you retire!

Does your current retirement plan include an emergency fund for unexpected expenses like car trouble, home or appliance repair, or illness? Only 41% of Americans surveyed said they could turn to their savings to cover the cost of the unexpected. That means nearly 60% of Americans may need to turn to other methods of coverage like taking loans from family or friends or accruing credit card debt.

After you retire and no longer have a steady stream of income, covering unexpected expenses in full (without interest or potentially burdening loved ones) can become more difficult. And when you’re older, it might be more challenging to deal with some of the minor problems yourself if you’re trying to save some money! You’re probably going to need to keep the phone number for a good handyman, handy.

Don’t let an unexpected expense after retirement cut into your savings. A solid financial strategy has the potential to make a huge difference for you – both now and during your retirement.

Contact me today, and together we can put together a strategy that’s tailored to you and your needs.

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June 25, 2018

A Lotto Bad Ideas

A Lotto Bad Ideas

A full third of Americans believe that winning the lottery is the only way they can retire.

What? Playing a game of chance is the only way they can retire? Do you ever wonder if winning a game – where your odds are 1 in 175,000,000 – is the only way you’ll get to make Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops your everyday uniform?

Do you feel like you might be gambling with your retirement?

If you do, that’s not a good sign. But believing you may need to win the lottery to retire is somewhat understandable when the financial struggle facing a majority of North Americans is considered: 78% of American full-time workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and 71% of all American workers are currently in debt.

When you’re in a financial hole, saving for your future may feel like a gamble in the present. But believing that “it’s impossible to save for retirement” is just one of many bad money ideas floating around. Following are a few other common ones. Do any of these feel true to you?

Bad Idea #1: I shouldn’t save for retirement until I’m debt free.
False! Even as you’re working to get out from under debt, it’s important to continue saving for your retirement. Time is going to be one of the most important factors when it comes to your money and your retirement, which leads right into the next Bad Idea…

Bad Idea #2: It’s fine to wait until you’re older to save.
The truth is, the earlier you start saving, the better. Even 10 years can make a huge difference. In this hypothetical scenario, let’s see what happens with two 55-year-old friends, Baxter and Will.

  • Baxter started saving when he was 25. Over the next 10 years, Baxter put away $3,000 a year for a total of $30,000 in an account with an 8% rate of return. He stopped contributing but let it keep growing for the next 20 years.
  • Will started saving 10 years later at age 35. Will also put away $3,000 a year into an account with an 8% rate of return, but he contributed for 20 years (for a total of $60,000).

Even though Will put away twice as much as Baxter, he wasn’t able to enjoy the same account growth:

  • Baxter would achieve account growth to $218,769.
  • Will’s account growth would only be to $148,269 at the same rate of return.

Is that a little mind-bending? Do we need to check our math? (We always do.) Here’s why Baxter ended up with more in the long run: Even though he set aside less than Will did, Baxter’s money had more time to compound than Will’s, which, as you can see, really added up over the additional time. So what did Will get out of this? Unfortunately, he discovered the high cost of waiting.

Keep in mind: All figures are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect an actual investment in any product. Additionally, they do not reflect the performance risks, taxes, expenses, or charges associated with any actual investment, which would lower performance. This illustration is not an indication or guarantee of future performance. Contributions are made at the end of the period. Total accumulation figures are rounded to the nearest dollar.

Bad Idea #3: I don’t need life insurance.
Negative! Financing a well-tailored life insurance policy is an important part of your financial strategy. Insurance benefits can cover final expenses and loss of income for your loved ones.

Bad Idea #4: I don’t need an emergency fund.
Yes, you do! An emergency fund is necessary now and after you retire. Unexpected costs have the potential to cut into retirement funds and derail savings strategies in a big way, and after you’ve given your last two-weeks-notice ever, the cost of new tires or patching a hole in the roof might become harder to cover without a little financial cushion.

Are you taking a gamble on your retirement with any of these bad ideas?

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