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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June 3, 2019

Life Insurance: Before or After Baby?

Life Insurance: Before or After Baby?

Many people get life insurance after one of life’s big milestones:

  • Getting married
  • Buying a house
  • Loss of a loved one
  • The birth of a baby

And while you can get life insurance after your baby is born or even while the baby is in utero (depending on the provider), the best practice is to go ahead and get life insurance before you begin having children, before they’re even a twinkle in their mother’s eye.

A reason to go ahead and get life insurance before a new addition to the family?

Pregnancies can cause complications for the mother – for both her own health and the initial medical exam for a policy. Red flags for insurance providers include:

  • Preeclampsia (occurs in 5-10% of all pregnancies)
  • Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (affects 9.2% of women)
  • High cholesterol (rises during pregnancy and breastfeeding)
  • A C-section (accounts for 32% of all deliveries)

Also, the advantage of youth is a great reason to go ahead and get life insurance – for both the mother and father.

The younger and healthier you are, the easier it is for you to get life insurance with lower premiums. It’s a great way to prepare for a baby: establishing a policy that will keep them shielded from the financial burden of an unexpected and traumatic life event.

Whether you’re a new parent or beginning to consider an addition to your family, contact me today, and we can discuss your options for opening a policy with enough coverage for a soon-to-be-growing family or updating your current one to include your new family member as a beneficiary.

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May 20, 2019

Don't Panic: What You Need To Know For Your Life Insurance Medical Exam

Don't Panic: What You Need To Know For Your Life Insurance Medical Exam

I don’t know about you, but most people don’t like exams – either taking one or having one done to them.

But there’s no need to panic over your life insurance medical exam (yes, you’re probably going to have one). I’ve got some steps you can take before the “big day” to help prevent readings which may skew your test results or create unnecessary confusion.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the exam’s purpose isn’t to pass or fail you based on your health. Your insurer just needs to understand the big picture so they can assign an accurate rating. Oftentimes, the news can be better than expected, and generally good health is rewarded with a lower rate. Alternatively, the exam might uncover something that needs attention, like high cholesterol. That might be something good to know so you can make necessary lifestyle changes.

Think of your exam as a big-picture view. Your insurer will measure several key aspects of your health. These areas help determine your life insurance class, which is simply a group of people with similar overall health characteristics.

Your insurer will most likely look at:

  • Height and weight
  • Pulse/blood pressure tests
  • Blood test
  • Urine test

Tests can indicate glucose levels, blood pressure levels, and the presence of nicotine or other substances. Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measurement of overall fitness in regard to weight – may also be measured as part of your life insurance exam.

So let’s find out what you can do to prepare for your exam!

The most obvious cause that could affect your results is medications you’ve taken recently. These will probably show up in your blood tests. Bring a list of any prescription medications you’re taking so your insurer can match those to the blood analysis.

Over the counter meds can interfere with test results and create inaccurate readings too, so it might be best to avoid them for 24 hours prior to your medical exam if possible. Caffeine can elevate blood pressure as well.

Alcohol can also spike blood pressure readings temporarily. If you can, avoid strenuous exercise for 24 hours before your medical exam.

Some types of foods can create false readings or temporarily raise cholesterol levels. It’s best to avoid eating for 12 hours prior to your exam, giving your body time to clear temporary effects. Scheduling your exam for the morning makes this easier.

Stress can affect blood pressure readings. (Surprise, surprise.) Try to schedule your life insurance medical exam for a time when you’ll be less stressed. After work might not be the best time, but maybe after a good night’s rest would be better.

Have any further questions on how you can prepare for your exam? I’m here to help!

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May 15, 2019

3 Advantages to Being the Early Bird

3 Advantages to Being the Early Bird

Extra-large-blonde-roast-with-a-double-shot-of-espresso, anyone?

As the old saying goes, “The early bird catches the worm.” But not everyone is an early riser, and getting up earlier than usual can throw off a night owl’s whole day.

But there are a couple of things that, if started early in life (and with copious amounts of caffeine, if you’re starting early in the day, too), could benefit you greatly later in life. For example, learning a second language.

The optimal age range for learning a second language is still up for debate among experts, but the consensus seems to be “the younger you start, the better.” It’s a good idea to start early – giving your brain an ample amount of time to develop the many agreed upon benefits of being bilingual that don’t show up until later in life:

  • Postponed onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s (by 4.5 years)
  • Much more efficient brain activity – more like a young adult’s brain
  • Greater cognitive reserve and ability to cope with disease

Imagine combining that increased brain power with a comfortable retirement – an important goal to start working towards early in life!

Here are 3 big advantages to starting your retirement savings early:

1. Less to put away each month.
Let’s say you’re 40 years old with little to no savings for retirement, but you’d like to have $1,000,000 when you retire at age 65. Twenty-five years may seem like plenty of time to achieve this goal, so how much would you need to put away each month to make that happen?

If you were stuffing money into your mattress (i.e., saving with no interest rate or rate of return), you would need to cram at least $3,333.33 in between the layers of memory foam every month. How about if you waited until you were 50 to start? Then you’d need to tuck no less than $5,555.55 around the coils. Every. Single. Month.

A savings plan that aggressive is simply not feasible for a majority of North Americans. Nearly half of Canadians are just getting by, living paycheck-to-paycheck. So it makes sense that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the less you’ll need to put away each month. And the less you need to put away each month, the less stress will be put on your monthly budget – and the higher your potential to have a well-funded retirement when the time comes.

But what if you could start saving earlier and apply an interest rate? This is where the second advantage comes in…

2. Power of compounding.
The earlier you start saving for retirement, the longer amount of time your money has to grow and build on itself. A useful shortcut to figuring out how long it would take your money to double is the Rule of 72.

Never heard of it? Here’s how it works: Take the number 72 and divide it by your annual interest rate. The answer is approximately how many years it will take for money in an account to double.

For example, applying the Rule of 72 to $10,000 in an account at a 4% interest rate would look like this:

72 ÷ 4 = 18

That means it would take approximately 18 years for $10,000 to grow to $20,000 ($20,258 to be exact).

Using this formula reveals that the higher the interest rate, the less time it’s going to take your money to double, so be on the lookout for the highest interest rate you can find!

Getting a higher interest rate and combining it with the third advantage below? You’d be on a roll…

3. Lower life insurance premiums.
A well-tailored life insurance policy may help protect retirement savings. This is particularly important if you’re outlived by your spouse as he or she approaches their retirement years.

End-of-life costs can deal a serious blow to retirement savings. If you don’t have a strategy in place to help cover funeral expenses and the loss of income, the money your spouse might need may have to come out of your retirement savings.

One reason many people don’t consider life insurance as a method of protecting their retirement is that they think a policy would cost too much.

How much do you think a $250,000 term life insurance policy would cost for a healthy 30-year-old?

Less than $14 per month. That’s a cost that would easily fit into most budgets!

You may still need a little caffeine for the extra kick to get an early start on powering up your brain (or your retirement savings), but sacrificing a few brand-name cups of coffee per month could finance a well-tailored life insurance policy that has the potential to protect your retirement savings.

Contact me today, and together we can work on your financial strategy for retirement, including what kind of life insurance policy would best fit you and your needs. As for your journey to the brain-boosting benefits of being bilingual – just like with retirement, it’s never too late to start. And I’ll be here to cheer you on every step of the way!

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May 8, 2019

What is your #1 financial asset?

What is your #1 financial asset?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 29, 2019

What Happens If a Life Insurance Policy Lapses?

What Happens If a Life Insurance Policy Lapses?

The dollar amount of death benefit payouts that seniors 65 and older forfeit annually through lapsed or surrendered life insurance policies is more than the net worth

That’s $112 billion worth of death benefits, inheritance, donations to charities, and cash value down the drain. Or, more specifically, that’s $112 billion that goes right back to insurance companies – all because policyholders surrendered their policies or allowed them to lapse.

A lapse in a life insurance policy occurs when a premium isn’t paid. There is a brief grace period in which a premium payment for a life insurance policy can still be made. But if the payment is not made during the grace period, the life insurance policy will lapse. At this point, all benefits are lost.

There are circumstances in which the life insurance policy can be recovered. It could be as simple as resuming premium payments… or it could involve a lengthy process that includes a new medical exam, repaying all premium payments from the lapsed period, and possibly the services of an attorney.

The best practice to avoid a policy lapse is to make premium payments on time. To help out their customers, many insurance companies can automatically withdraw the monthly payment from a checking account, and some companies may take missed premium payments out of the policy’s cash value – but please note: term life insurance has no cash value. In this case, missed premium payments won’t have the cash value failsafe.

If you’re in danger of a lapse, contact me today. Together we can review your financial strategy to help you and your loved ones stay covered.

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April 22, 2019

A Pocket Guide to Homeowners Insurance

A Pocket Guide to Homeowners Insurance

Homeowners insurance should bring peace of mind.

The right policy is there to help protect you if something happens to your home. Since a home may be the most significant investment many of us make in our lives, the proper homeowners insurance should be a major consideration.

Getting the right homeowners insurance is essential, but doesn’t have to be difficult. Still, how do you know if you’re selecting the right type of insurance policy for your house? Read on for answers to some common questions you might have.

What is the purpose of a homeowners insurance policy?
A homeowners insurance policy is a contract by which an insurance company agrees to pay for repairs or to replace your home or property if it is involved in a covered loss, such as a fire. A home insurance policy may also offer you liability protection in case someone is injured on your property and files a lawsuit.

Do I have to have homeowners insurance?
Your mortgage company will probably require a homeowners insurance policy. A lender wants to make sure their investment is protected should a catastrophe strike. The mortgage company would need you to insure your home for the cost to replace it if it were to be destroyed in a covered accident.

How do I know how much insurance to buy for my home?
The limit – or amount of insurance you place on your home – is determined by several factors. The construction of your home is typically going to be the largest determinant of the cost to replace it. So consider what your home is made of. Construction types include concrete block, masonry, and wood frame. Also, consider the size of your home.

Personal property is another consideration when determining how much insurance to purchase for your home. A typical homeowners insurance policy usually offers a personal property limit equal to half the replacement cost of your home. So if your home is insured for $100,000, your policy may automatically assign a personal property limit of $50,000.

What is the best deductible for a homeowners insurance policy?
When it comes to deductibles, consider selecting one that you can easily and quickly come up with out of pocket, just in case. Homeowners insurance policy deductibles may range from $500 to $10,000. Some policies offer percentage deductibles for certain damages, such as windstorm damage. For example, a coastal resident may have a windstorm deductible of two percent of the dwelling limit and a $1,000 deductible for all other perils.

There may be some cost savings features when you select a higher deductible on your homeowners insurance. Talk with a licensed insurance professional about your deductible options and premium savings.

Know the policy exclusions
All homeowners insurance policies typically contain exclusions for accidents and damages they don’t cover. For example, your policy likely does not cover damage to your home caused by an ongoing maintenance problem. Also, most homeowners insurance policies don’t automatically cover losses resulting from a flood.

Exclusions are important because they drive coverage. Talk to your insurance professional about your policy’s exclusions.

Know the basics and talk to a professional
As far as homeowners insurance policies are concerned, it’s crucial for homeowners to know the basics – limits, coverages, deductibles, and special exclusions. If you have specific concerns about your homeowners insurance, seek guidance from a licensed insurance professional.

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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 licensed financial professional, realtor, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

April 17, 2019

Handling your car loan like a boss

Handling your car loan like a boss

Cars may be necessary to get around, but they can be expensive.

At some point, many of us will need to finance a car. Coming up with enough cash to buy a car outright – even a used car – can be difficult. Enter the auto loan.

Financing a car isn’t all bad, especially if you follow a few best practices that can help keep your car loan in good shape. Avoiding the dreaded upside down car loan – owing more on your car than it’s worth – is the name of the game when it comes to a good automobile loan.

Why do car loans go upside down?
Being upside down on your car loan is surprisingly common. It happens to many of us, and the root cause is depreciation. Depreciation is the decline in value of a good or product over time. Many physical goods depreciate – furniture, electronics, clothing, and cars.

There is a saying that a car begins depreciating as soon as you drive it off the lot. Unlike a good such as fine art or precious stones that you would expect to appreciate over time, a car usually will lose its value over time.

For example, say you buy a new car for $25,000. After three months your car depreciates by $3,000, so it’s now worth $22,000. If your down payment was less than $3,000 or you didn’t use a down payment at all, you are now upside down – owing more money on your car than it’s actually worth.

Some cars, however, hold their value better than others. Luxury cars have a slower depreciation rate than an inexpensive compact car. The popularity of a vehicle can also affect depreciation rates.

What happens when you’re upside down on a car loan?
Being upside down on your car loan may actually not mean much unless you’re involved in a loss and your car gets totaled. Assuming you have proper auto insurance, your policy should pay out the actual cash value of your totaled vehicle, which may not be enough to pay off the remaining balance of your auto loan. Then you’re stuck paying the balance on a loan for a car that you don’t have anymore. That is why it’s essential to avoid being upside down in your car loan.

Strategies to keep your car loan healthy
Keeping your car loan right side up starts with putting a healthy down payment on your car. Typically, a 20 percent down payment may give you enough equity right off the bat to keep your car loan from going upside down when the vehicle begins depreciating. So, if you’re purchasing a $25,000 car, aim to put at least $6,000 down.

Another way to avoid being upside down on your car loan is to select the shortest repayment term possible. If you can afford it, consider a 36-month repayment plan. Your monthly payments may be a bit higher, but the chances of your loan going upside down may be less.

Choose carefully
Keeping your car loan from going upside down is important. Make sure you have a healthy down payment, shop for vehicles within your budget, and stick to the shortest repayment term you can afford. Simple strategies can help make sure your car loan stays in the black.

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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 licensed financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

April 15, 2019

Is a home really an investment?

Is a home really an investment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 3, 2019

Phishing, Part 2

Phishing, Part 2

Phishing can be perpetrated via text or voice (and it may even be done in person).

Here are a few pointers on how to avoid becoming a victim. Since subtle phishing attacks can be very sophisticated, you should always be alert and proceed with caution when interacting online or when giving out your personal information.

Avoiding phishing in text…

1) Know and trust the hyperlink.
It’s important to be on the lookout for phishing attempts both in your private and professional life. Obvious scams that show up in your spam folder – like a solicitation to invest in an overseas company you’ve never heard of – are easy to avoid. But what if you receive a message from an “old colleague” with a link to their Facebook page or their new business? Would you click it? If yes, before clicking, would you check the link address at the bottom of the browser or your email client? If not, and that old colleague isn’t who they claim to be, you might become the victim of a phishing attack.

A stop-now red flag is when the link doesn’t look like it will go exactly where it says it will. The email message may show the text “www.example.com” which looks legitimate, but in reality this link leads to “www.this-is-a-scam.com”. That’s an obvious one, but scammers are clever. The deception could be something less conspicuous, wherein www.example.com would lead to www.exanple.com. If you’re not paying close attention, the latter might be an imitator site.

2) Be wary of impostors
Once the victim lands on www.exanple.com (with the “n”), they may not notice the site isn’t authentic. A good rule of thumb is that after you click a link – after determining as best you can that it is legitimate, of course – you should always double check the URL bar to ensure it is the website you intended to visit. If the visuals look like what you were expecting but the address in the URL bar is not, then it could be an impostor site. If you enter any personal information on this page, you may be directed to a fake internal site or receive an error that asks you to try again later. While you wait to try again, the phisher can take the information you just sent them and do the damage.

Shortened links can present a problem, since they offer legitimate uses for many messaging services to help trim character counts. Unfortunately, this means it is easy to hide the true destination until the person clicks the link and lands on a malicious page. It is essential to check the URL bar in the browser to ensure you are where you want to be.

3) Be aware of what information you make public
Social media is a treasure trove of personally identifying information. Attackers don’t even need to really phish for it since there are some nefarious techniques they can employ, like utilizing memes and social media response posts. For example, a post may ask for three pieces of information about you to generate your “Hollywood nickname”: your first pet’s name, your high school’s first word, and the name of the street you grew up on. You might end up with something like “Fluffy North Oak”. Amusing? Sure. But those three words are partial answers to commonplace security questions that grant access to bank accounts, corporate IT systems, and other valuable entities, as well. If the attacker knows that information about you, they may be able to thwart one more layer of IT security.

Avoiding attacks on the phone…

1) Know the right number
Phone- and voice-based phishing tends to rely heavily on high pressure tactics and smooth talking. If you get a call you’re not expecting from someone you don’t know, you should immediately be on your guard. If someone calls claiming to be from your credit card company, do not give them any important information. Tell them you will call back. You should then look up the correct number on their website or your bill and call that number to avoid connecting to a fraudster. If the other party then insists you talk to them during this call or that they call you back, then there is a good chance they are not actually an employee of that company.

2) Be wary of driving callers
Driving callers are those that keep pushing you to answer. This type of caller will encourage you to do something and may even become angry if you do not comply. Many people, to restore social cohesion, will comply. That can quickly lead to divulging personal information. If someone is pressuring you on the phone, you should be very wary of giving them the information they want.

They might make claims like they are government officials investigating a case, that you owe their company money for some obscure subscription you supposedly bought years ago, and other high-pressure scenarios. Conversely, they may try to use other tactics like guilt. They may state that if they do not resolve this issue with you, right here and right now, they will be fired or not have enough in their next paycheck for rent. Don’t fall for these tactics and remain alert.

Follow your instincts
If your gut is telling you that a situation feels off, then listen to it. Always do your due diligence to stay safe online and before you share personal information. This can’t be said enough – if something seems like it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

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April 1, 2019

Phishing, Part 1

Phishing, Part 1

If you’ve ever peeked in your spam folder, you’ve probably noticed multiple emails from people claiming all sorts of nonsensical and unbelievable things.

It is not recommended that you open these emails, but be aware they most likely contain links that will claim to send you to a particular webpage but in fact will send you elsewhere.

This is an example of “phishing”, and thanks to advanced spam filtering today, you may never have to deal with these kinds of threats directly. But there are other kinds of phishing you should be aware of.

What is phishing?
Phishing is the act of looking for individuals who are willing to hand over their important personal information. One technique is to use a “shotgun approach”, where the phisher attempts to contact as many people as possible. General phishing like this relies on large numbers: Even if the probability that someone would actually give their information to a phisher is something like 0.001%, if the attack vector reaches 100,000 people – which isn’t unusual – there is that chance there will be at least one victim.

Phishing can also be targeted, in which the attacker directs the strike against a particular individual. This type of attack usually involves employees of an organization or high-ranking officials, as these targets are the most valuable. This kind of phishing often requires a degree of social engineering as well, wherein the phisher may appeal to various tactics to gain information. They may pose as coworkers or customers who have lost their passwords, for example, or they may try to subtly encourage the victim through conversation.

An example of conversational phishing may unfold as follows:

Through a seemingly normal conversation with a stranger, the attacker volunteers information about their own (fictitious) children, then asks the victim about their children. To follow social norms and reciprocate, the target may provide information like school holidays, partial names, or even birthdates. This may be inadvertent, like mentioning their child recently had a birthday party. School holidays can be cross-referenced against nearby school districts to potentially find the school the victim’s children attend. Once neighborhoods are determined, this could connect to full names or addresses of the victim. And since names and birthdates are still used by many people as passwords (not recommended), this could be a lead for the phisher. Armed with passwords, addresses, birthdates, and names, a lot of damage can potentially be done.

Phishing and hacking
Since high-value targets are more likely to be educated in internet security and less likely to fall for simple spam email attacks, phishers may use more subtle tactics. These kinds of attacks usually occur against people at work. A lot of IT security relies on trust, since employees need to be able to access the systems to do their work. If someone’s credentials are compromised, though, the person who has those credentials can potentially infiltrate the IT system. This is how a lot of “hacking” is perpetrated. Certainly there are plenty of attacks against software code, but if an insider can be compromised, it may be quicker, easier, and less detectable than finding a hole in the system’s security. So phishing is a prime tool for hackers, simply because humans are more easily hacked emotionally and psychologically than IT systems with established electronic security measures.

Most people should already be aware of shady tactics a phisher might use to gain access to sensitive information – but if these attacks didn’t work, no one would use them. So someone out there must be falling victim. Make sure it isn’t you.

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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 25, 2019

Credit unions: What you should know

Credit unions: What you should know

If you’ve always used the services of a traditional bank, you might not know the ins and outs of credit unions and if using one might be better for your financial situation.

Credit unions are generally known for their customer-focused operations and friendliness. But the main difference between a bank and a credit union is that a credit union is a nonprofit organization that you have to be a member of to participate in its services. Credit unions may offer higher interest rates and lower fees than banks, but banks may provide more services and a greater range of products.[i]

Read on for some basics about what you should know before you join one.

Protection and insurance
Just like banks, your accounts at a credit union should be insured. The National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) functions to protect consumer deposits if the credit union becomes insolvent. The fund protects up to $250,000 per customer in deposits.[ii] Be sure the credit union you select is backed by the NCUSIF.

What credit union is best for you?
Today there are many credit unions available. Many now offer 100 percent online banking so you may never need to visit a branch at all.

The most important feature in selecting a credit union is to make sure they meet your personal banking needs and criteria. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Does the credit union offer the products and services you want? Can you live without the ones they don’t?
  • Do they have competitive interest rates when compared to banks?
  • Are the digital and online banking features useful?
  • What are the fee schedules?
  • What are the credit union membership requirements? Do you qualify for membership?

Take your time and do some research. Credit unions vary in the services provided as well as the fees for such services.

What to expect when opening a credit union account
Each credit union may have slightly different requirements when opening an account, but in general, you will most likely need a few things:

Expect to complete an application and sign documents. When opening a credit union account, you will likely have to fill out some forms and sign other paperwork. If you don’t understand something you are asked to sign, make sure you get clarification. Be prepared to show identification. You will likely be asked to show at least two forms of identification when opening an account. Your credit union will also probably ask for your social security number, date of birth, and physical address. Be prepared to show proof of your personal information.

Make the required opening deposit. On the day you open your credit union account, you’ll likely be asked to make an opening deposit. Each credit union may have a different minimum deposit required to open the account. It could be up to $100 (or more), but call the credit union to make sure.

Unique benefits
Credit union accounts offer some unique advantages for members. You may enjoy more comfortable access to personal loans or even auto financing and mortgages. Credit unions may offer other perks such as fee waivers, as well as discounts on other products and services that come from being a member.

If participating in a customer-owned bank sounds interesting to you, a credit union may be a good option. There are more credit unions available today than ever. Do your research. You may find an option that compares to your current bank, but offers some greater benefits that will make it worth the switch.

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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. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

[i] https://www.creditkarma.com/advice/i/difference-between-credit-union-and-bank/
[ii] https://www.ncua.gov/support-services/share-insurance-fund

March 13, 2019

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.

March 4, 2019

Tackling long term financial goals

Tackling long term financial goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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February 20, 2019

Your health and your finances

Your health and your finances

Staying healthy has obvious physical benefits, like the chance for a longer and higher quality of life.

There is also the increased opportunity to partake in physical activities like team sports, or hiking and skydiving.

But there are also potential financial benefits to staying healthy. These may manifest in lower insurance premiums, lower medical care costs, and other less obvious ways.

The Immediate Benefits
Some benefits may be immediately observable, like a potential drop in insurance premiums for those who quit smoking or who allow an insurance company to track their daily exercise goals and accomplishments.[i] Of course, a healthier body may translate to fewer doctor visits and medication expenses, which may mean lower costs for anyone with high deductibles and copays.

For family members, a longer, healthier, higher quality life may also mean fewer expenses in your twilight years, when senior citizens may continue to live in their own homes without assistance. Of course, genetics play a role in the development and progress of health, but many leading causes of death may be entirely or partially preventable.[ii] Actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle may lead to lower risk of disease and debilitation.

Health and life insurance companies want to attract these kinds of clients (who are long-lived, make fewer claims, and pay premiums for a greater amount of time), so these companies may offer benefits in return. Family members and friends may potentially have less to pay for end-of-life care and even benefit from being able to spend more time with loved ones. This may produce positive financial results, like fewer sick days from stress-related illness and better mental health.

The Less Obvious Benefits
Lower insurance premiums, lower medical costs, and more time to live in a meaningful way are obvious potential benefits of good health. But many latent financial benefits are also derived from maintaining good health. One example is being able to perform certain daily activities that may save you money.

Those with health problems often simply cannot perform tasks that may be taken for granted by healthy individuals, like packing and moving house, walking to the grocery store 15 minutes away, or living in a more affordable walk up building on a non-ground floor. Those who are unhealthy may need to hire people to help them move, to shop for them, or be required to pay a premium for access to a building with an elevator (or potentially even more costly, have a chair lift installed in their home).

A possible benefit of healthier eating is an appreciation for more subtle tastes that are not overpowered by sugar and salt. Those who regularly eat low salt or low sugar foods may create a positive feedback cycle wherein they remain healthy because they start to truly enjoy healthier food. This can lead to a wider range of options of enjoyable food and may help lower food costs.[iii]

Saving on transportation costs can be a benefit of health as well if you’re able to bike or walk to work. Living too far from your place of employment may make this impossible, but for those who live nearby, commuting by bicycle or walking on days with suitable weather may cut down costs on transportation while simultaneously providing the benefit of exercise.

One of the less evident but easily identifiable benefits of maintaining good health may be stronger cognitive abilities and better mood balancing. Eating healthy[iv] may contribute to brain health, while regular exercise[v] may help stimulate improved memory function and thinking skills. Better health may lead to more opportunities. Improved mood may also help navigate society more adeptly, possibly leading to even further opportunity, both economically and in personal fulfillment.

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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. As with any health-related change you may wish to make, seek the advice of a professional nutritionist, medical doctor, or health practitioner.

[i] https://qz.com/1396035/life-insurance-giant-john-hancock-is-asking-customers-to-wear-health-trackers/
[ii] https://www.healio.com/cardiology/chd-prevention/news/online/%7b3fa64285-7e6e-4068-833e-eb85182aa285%7d/cdc-heart-disease-cancer-leading-causes-of-death-in-2017
[iii] https://www.consumerreports.org/healthy-eating/healthy-food-does-not-have-to-cost-more/
[iv] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
[v] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

February 4, 2019

Renter or Owner: What type of insurance do you need?

Renter or Owner: What type of insurance do you need?

Whether you’re renting or you own your home, there are various insurance options you may want to consider.

Like any insurance, they’ll help provide financial coverage in the event of an unexpected disaster. There are also varying levels of insurance that you may choose.

For Homeowners
There’s a general category known as “homeowner’s insurance”, which usually covers four categories: interior and exterior damage, damage to or loss of possessions on the property, and personal liability coverage that will help cover the cost of injuries sustained while on the property (such as if a guest slips and falls down the steps to the front door). The damages section of the policy usually won’t cover acts of war or nature, the latter including things like volcanic eruptions or floods. However, many policies will cover lodging and meals while the property is under construction and not able to be inhabited for the duration, such as if an exterior wall is destroyed by fire.

For geographical areas prone to certain disasters, a separate, specialized insurance policy may need to be purchased in order to cover damages or loss caused by such disasters. For example, for areas that are low-lying and near rivers where frequent heavy storms occur, general insurance may not cover damage to the property. Conversely, properties in mountainous areas are unlikely to need flood insurance but may need earthquake and/or landslide insurance if such events are more common there.

For Renters
While homeowner insurance will cover damage to the property – which is a major concern for those with a financial stake in the property – renter’s insurance usually covers damage to and loss of possessions, and also offers coverage for personal liability for injuries sustained on the property. The landlord likely has an insurance policy on the property to help protect against financial loss in the event of physical damage, but their insurance unlikely will extend to the tenant’s possessions or guests’ injuries. Thus, those who rent the property will need to consider insurance policies for these events.

Which Policies to Choose
As with any insurance policy, there may be deductibles, liability limits, covered and noncovered events and assets, and premiums. Generally the higher the limits and the broader the group of included incidents or assets, the higher the premium will be.

Some issues to consider:

  • If you choose a high deductible you may have a lower premium.
  • If you have guests over regularly, greater coverage for personal liability may be worthwhile.
  • If you travel often, an extension to protection may be a good idea. This is because many insurance policies may not cover theft or certain damages (like those arising from fire) for “vacant” homes, since these can be a greater risk when no one is living there for an extended period.
  • Many companies and policies may offer discounts to the premium if you have certain protections, like an alarm system, if you regularly perform maintenance, or opt for fire-retardant materials.
  • Some companies offer premium discounts if you have for example, both your car insurance and your renter’s or homeowener’s insurance with them.

The bottom line is that you should shop around for the best rates and coverage. Each individual will need to find the best fit. Make sure you have coverage for any specific circumstances that may be common in your area. And most importantly, make sure you thoroughly read and understand your policies, and the situations they cover, and don’t cover.

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January 28, 2019

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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[i] https://www.citylab.com/life/2018/08/who-rents-their-home-heres-what-the-data-says/566933/
[ii] https://www.thebalancesmb.com/causes-of-property-value-decrease-2124863

January 21, 2019

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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January 14, 2019

A quick reference guide to car insurance

A quick reference guide to car insurance

Been shopping around for auto insurance but you’re befuddled by all the options?

Auto insurance is a common type of insurance we purchase, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be confusing. Buying the right policy for your needs begins with understanding typical coverages.

Read on for a quick reference guide to auto insurance coverage.

Liability coverage is the basis
One of the most important types of insurance is liability protection. Liability insurance is what steps in to help protect you when you are at fault in an accident. Most auto insurance policies contain two types of liability insurance.

Bodily injury liability: Bodily injury liability coverage helps protect you if you injure someone in an accident. The coverage will contribute towards the injured person’s medical bills.

Property damage liability: Property damage liability works just like bodily injury, only it helps pay to repair the property you’re responsible for damaging. For example, the coverage helps pay to fix someone’s car if you rear end them or to replace a guardrail if you slide off an icy road.

First party physical damage coverage
So now you may be thinking, “That’s great, but what if my car gets damaged?” Good point. You may purchase coverage on your auto policy to help protect your car if it’s damaged. This would usually be referred to as physical damage coverage. There are two main types:

Comprehensive: Comprehensive should help cover your vehicle if it’s damaged in anything other than a collision accident. For example, if a tree limb falls on it, it has damage from a hail storm, is flooded, or stolen, you would make a comprehensive claim.

Collision: Collision coverage repairs your car if it’s in a collision accident. Also, you may use your collision coverage no matter who’s at fault for the crash. Physical damage coverages may come with a deductible. That’s the part you’re responsible for paying if you need the coverage, so choose carefully. Deductibles may range from $50 to $2,500.

Medical payments coverage
Medical payments coverage helps pay for you and your passengers’ medical bills if you’re injured in an accident. Typically, the coverage can be used regardless of fault. It’s usually primary to your health insurance, so it would pay out first in that case.

Other options
While those are the most significant and common auto insurance coverages, many companies offer add-on coverages that may be of some benefit. Two are:

Roadside assistance: Roadside assistance can be purchased from some insurers and will help pay for towing or emergency services such as a tire change or jump start. Each insurance company has different limits on coverage, so make sure you know what they are and what would be covered.

Rental reimbursement: Rental reimbursement coverage would help pay for a rental car for you up to a certain length of time and dollar limit. The coverage would kick in if your vehicle is in the shop due to a covered loss.

State requirements
Each state has different minimum auto insurance requirements for drivers. These are usually referred to as state minimums. While state minimum limits would get you on the road legally, they typically don’t offer the best option for coverage. Speak to a qualified insurance professional about getting the best auto coverage for your needs in your state.

Auto insurance needs differ among drivers
Everyone has different auto insurance needs. There are many factors to consider including how much you drive, the types of vehicles you own, and what kind of assets you need to protect.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain insurance products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before enacting a policy, seek the advice of a qualified insurance agent.

January 7, 2019

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Don’t let financial trouble ruin your future wedded bliss.

Most newlyweds have a lot to get used to. You may be living together for the first time, spending a lot of time with your new in-laws, and dealing with dual finances. Financial troubles can plague even the most compatible pairs, so read on for some tips on how to get your newlywed finances off to the best possible start.

Talk it out
If you haven’t done this already, the time is ripe for a heart to heart talk about what your financial picture is going to look like. This is the time to lay it all out. Not only should you and your fiancé discuss your upcoming combined financial situation, but it can be beneficial to take a deep dive into your past too. Our financial histories and backgrounds can influence current spending and saving habits. Take some time to get to know one another’s history and perspective when it comes to how they think about money, debt, budgeting, etc.

Newlyweds need a budget
Everyone needs a budget, but a budget can be particularly helpful for newlyweds. A reasonable, working household budget can go a long way in helping ease financial stress and overcoming challenges. Money differences can be a big cause of marital strife, but a solid, mutually-agreed-upon budget can help avoid potential arguments. A budget will help you manage student loans or new household expenses that must be dealt with. Come up with a budget together and make sure it’s something you both can stick with.

Create financial goals
Financial goal setting can actually be fun. True, some goals may not seem all that exciting – like paying off credit cards or student loans. But formulating financial goals is important.

Financial goal setting should start with a conversation with your new fiancé. This is the time to think about your future as a married couple and work out a financial strategy to help make your financial dreams a reality. For example, if you want to buy a house, you’ll need to prepare for that. A good start is to minimize debt and start saving for a down payment.

Maybe you two want to start a business. In that case, your financial goals may include raising capital, establishing business credit, or qualifying for a small business loan.

Face your debt head on
It’s not unusual for individuals to start married life facing new debt that came along with their partner – possibly student loans or personal credit card debt. You may also have combined debt if you’re planning on financing your wedding. Maybe you’re going to take your dream honeymoon and put it on a credit card.

Create a strategy to pay off your debt and stick to it. There are two common ways to tackle it – begin with the highest interest rate debt, or begin with the smallest balance. There are many good strategies – the key is to develop one and put it into action.

Invest for the future
Part of your financial strategy should include preparing for retirement, even though it might seem light years away now. Make sure you work a retirement strategy into your other financial goals. Take advantage of employer-sponsored retirement accounts and earmark savings for retirement.

Purchase life insurance
Life insurance is essential to help ensure your new spouse will be taken care of should you die prematurely. Even though many married couples today are dual earners, there is still a need for life insurance. Ask yourself if your new spouse could afford to pay their living expenses if something happened to you. Consider purchasing a life insurance policy to help cover things like funeral costs, medical expenses, or replacement income for your spouse.

Newlywed finances can be fun
Newlywed life is fun and exciting, and finances can be too. Talk deeply and often about finances with your fiancé. Share your dreams and goals so you can create financial habits together that will help you realize them. Here’s to you and many years of wedded bliss!

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