Take Your Dream Vacation Without Causing a Retirement Nightmare

September 28, 2022

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Katherine Zacharias

Katherine Zacharias

Financial Professional



Encinitas, CA 92024

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August 31, 2022

A Beginners Guide to Saving and Shredding Documents

A Beginners Guide to Saving and Shredding Documents

It’s time to manage all those papers that are taking up space in your filing cabinets!

But how? Which documents should you preserve? Which ones should you shred? Here are 11 helpful tips on what to do with tax documents, legal documents, and property records.

Documents to keep.

At the top of this list? Estate planning documents. Your will, your living trust, and any final instructions should be carefully labeled, stored, and protected. Your life insurance policy should be safeguarded as well.

Records of your loans should be preserved. That includes for your mortgage, car and student loans. Technically, you can shred these once they’re paid off, but it’s wise to keep them around permanently. Someday you may have to prove you’ve actually paid off these debts.

Tax returns.

Here’s a trick—keep tax returns for at least 7 years. Why? Because there’s a 6 year window for the IRS to challenge your return if they suspect you’ve underreported your income.¹ Keep your records around to prove that you’ve been performing your civic duty by properly reporting your income.

(Check your state’s government website to determine exactly how long you’re supposed to keep state tax returns.)

Property records.

Keep all of your records pertaining to…

  • Your ownership of your house
  • The legal documents for buying your house
  • Commissions to your real estate agent
  • Major home improvements

Save these documents for a minimum of 6 years after you move out of your home. If you’re a renter, keep all of your records until you’ve moved out. Then, fire up your shredder and get to work!

Speaking of your shredder…

Annual documents to destroy.

Every year, you can shred paycheck stubs and bank records. Just be sure of two things…

First, make sure that you’re not shredding anything that might belong in your tax records.

Second, be sure that you’ve reviewed your finances with a professional who will know which documents may need preserving.

Once you’ve done that, it’s fine to feed your shredder at your discretion!

Credit card receipts, statements and bills.

Once you’ve checked your monthly statement against your bank records and receipts, you’re free to shred them. You may want to hold on to receipts for large purchases until the item breaks or you get rid of it.

When in doubt, do some research! It’s better than tossing out something important. And schedule an annual review with a licensed and qualified financial professional. They can help you discern which documents you need and which ones can be destroyed.

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¹ “Save or Shred: How Long You Should Keep Financial Documents,” FINRA, Jan 27, 2017, https://www.finra.org/investors/insights/save-or-shred-how-long-you-should-keep-financial-documents

August 17, 2022

Why Families Buy Term Life Insurance

Why Families Buy Term Life Insurance

Why does term life insurance seem to be so common among your friends and family?

For many, it’s simply the most affordable strategy for securing life insurance. And that means it can provide critical financial protection for many different situations. Here are a few of the most common reasons families choose term life insurance.

The power of term life insurance is that it’s typical affordable. It provides a death benefit for a limited term, typically 20-30 years, which means you can often purchase more protection at a lower price than other types of policies. As long as your protection lasts while you have financial dependents, you’re covered.

But there are more pragmatic reasons why families buy term life insurance. For many, it serves as a source of income replacement. When a breadwinner passes away, the income they provide is gone. That means a family might find themselves with a serious cash flow deficiency in addition to the tragic loss. The death benefit can replace the lost income.

A family might also need to purchase life insurance when they have dependents, such as college-aged kids with high educational expenses. If a family has dependents and no life insurance, the burden of funding higher education falls on the family, who are down an income. With term coverage in place, they have the financial power to help cover those bills with confidence.

Term life insurance can also be invaluable for families with high debt obligations. Because it’s often so affordable, term life insurance may provide significant coverage without diverting financial resources away from getting out of debt. And, if the policyholder passes away before the debt is eliminated, the death benefit can also go towards finishing off loans.

Finally, term life insurance can be used to cover the costs of funeral expenses. Families who don’t have any other form of coverage for these out-of-pocket bills often need extra cash to cover the costs of burial. Term life insurance is a simple way to pay for the funeral the family needs.

In conclusion, term life insurance can be a great way to cover the costs of many big ticket items and expenses at a reasonable cost. Would that be a good fit for your family? Contact me, and we can explore what it would look like for you!

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August 8, 2022

Moves to Make Before Maxing Your 401(k)

Moves to Make Before Maxing Your 401(k)

Maxing out your 401(k) is boilerplate financial advice.

That’s because so few Americans are on track to retire with wealth—as of 2017, workers age 55-64 had saved only $107,000 for retirement.¹

With such bleak numbers, it’s no wonder financial professionals encourage 401(k) maxing. When possible, it’s a simple strategy that can help you reach your retirement goals and avoid a post-career catastrophe.

But consider this—the 401(k) contribution maximum as of 2022 is $20,500. For a single professional making over $100,000, that’s no big deal.

But what if you earn $60,000? Or have a family? Or have medical bills?

Suddenly, $20,500 seems like a much larger pill to swallow!

The simple fact is that saving shouldn’t be your first financial priority.

Before you save, you should create an emergency fund with 3-6 months worth of expenses.

Before you save, you should secure financial protection for your income in the form of life insurance.

Before you save, you should eliminate your debt to maximize your saving power.

Even then, you may not have the financial firepower to max out your 401(k) and make ends meet. It may take a side hustle to supplement your incomes to increase your contribution ability.

A helpful rule of thumb is to at least match your employer’s contribution. It’s a simple way to get the most out of your 401(k) without overextending your finances.

And above all, consult with a financial professional. They can help evaluate your retirement goals, your cash flow, and steps you can take to make the most of your 401(k).

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¹ “Jaw-Dropping Stats About the State of Retirement in America,” Jordan Rosenfeld, GOBankingRates, May 13, 2022, https://www.gobankingrates.com/retirement/planning/jaw-dropping-stats-state-retirement-america/#:~:text=According%20to%20a%20TransAmerica%20Center,saving%20 for%20 retirement%20is%2027.

July 27, 2022

Two Rules That Could Save Your Financial Life

Two Rules That Could Save Your Financial Life

Almost 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 saved.¹

That means most Americans couldn’t cover unplanned car repairs, home maintenance, or medical bills without selling something or going into debt. They’re constantly living on the edge of financial ruin.

That’s where your emergency fund comes in. It’s a stash of cash that you can easily access in a pinch. You’ll be able to pay for that blown transmission without visiting a payday lender or selling your grandma’s silverware!

But here’s the catch: Your emergency savings account won’t help you much if it’s under-funded.

Follow these two rules to ensure that your rainy day savings can withstand the storms of life.

Rule #1: Only use your emergency fund for real emergencies.

I get it. Your emergency fund is an easily accessible chunk of money. Of course it’s going to be tempting to tap into it when you’re buying a new car or planning a dream vacation.

But your rainy day savings shouldn’t fund your lifestyle. They should protect it.

Think of it like this. Your vacation fund pays for your annual beach trip. Your emergency fund covers the bill when your car breaks down on the drive home. Only touch your emergency fund for unexpected expenses and enjoy the peace that comes from being prepared.

Rule #2: Always refill your emergency fund when it’s low

Ideally, your emergency fund should be stocked with 3 to 6 months of your income at all times. That should be enough to cover the gambit from small unexpected costs to a month or two of unemployment.

Don’t be afraid to tap into your emergency savings when you face unforeseen financial hiccups. Just remember to refresh your fund when the emergency has passed. The last thing you need is to be caught in the crosshairs of another crisis without a buffer.

Don’t let a financial storm blow you off course. Prepare for your future, and start building an emergency fund now. If you follow these rules, it can help financially protect you from the challenges life will inevitably send your way.

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May 16, 2022

Why Retirees Are Going Bankrupt

Why Retirees Are Going Bankrupt

“Bankruptcy” and “retirement” are words that shouldn’t belong in the same sentence.

But it’s become an increasingly common phenomenon—12.2% of bankruptcies in 2018 were filed by people over 65, up from 2.1% in 1991.¹

What’s driving this unexpected trend? The collapse of pensions and the lack of savings by people nearing retirement age are the two primary culprits.

The pension problem is relatively straightforward. In the past, pensions were pretty much a given—a common benefit that companies provided to their employees as part of their compensation package. Employees would work a set number of years, and then receive a monthly check from their employers upon retirement.

But in recent years, pensions have all but disappeared. Today, only 15% of workers have access to a pension plan.²

That alone isn’t enough to fuel the increase in bankruptcies among retirees. After all, workers now have access to 401(k)s and 403(b)s, which can help replace pensions to some extent.

The problem is that most people nearing retirement age don’t have enough saved up in these accounts to support themselves. In fact, the median retirement account balance for baby boomers (age 57-75) is just $202,000.3 Using the 4% rule, that’s a retirement income of about $8,000 per year, well below the poverty line.

Is it any wonder then that retirees are going bankrupt? They go from having a stable income to having almost no income at all, and they don’t have enough saved up to cover the basics. What are they supposed to do when the medical bills start piling up or the car needs repairs?

If you’re approaching retirement age, don’t become a statistic. Meet with a licensed and qualified financial professional ASAP to discuss your retirement options and see what steps you might need to take now to support yourself.

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¹ “Retirees and Bankruptcy,” Bill Fay, Debt.org, Sep 30, 2021, https://www.debt.org/retirement/bankruptcy/

² “The Demise of the Defined-Benefit Plan,” James McWhinney, Investopedia, Dec 18, 2021, investopedia.com/articles/retirement/06/demiseofdbplan.asp

³ “Average Retirement Savings for Baby Boomers,” Lee Huffman, Yahoo, Apr 10, 2022, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/average-retirement-savings-baby-boomers-125500443.html#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Transamerica%20Center,income%20of%20%248%2C000%20per%20year

February 23, 2022

Is Saving Money on Utilities Worth the Effort?

Is Saving Money on Utilities Worth the Effort?

Penny pinchers and smart savers have developed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ways to save money on their utility bills.

Have you heard of any of these…?

Putting rocks in the toilet tank to save money on water. Cranking down the thermostat in winter and cranking it up in the summer to save on power. Manically unplugging every appliance that’s not in use.

Maybe you knew a family growing up that used all these strategies to make ends meet. Or maybe it was your family!

But is it really a good idea to cut back on utilities?

If you’re backed into a financial corner or new to saving, it’s not a bad place to start. But if you’re working toward financial independence, you likely have greater obstacles to overcome.

Here’s a breakdown of the average American’s annual consumer spending…

Housing: $21,409

Transportation: $9,826

Food: $7,316

Personal insurance and pensions: $7,246

Healthcare: $5,177

Entertainment: $2,912

Cash Contributions: $2,283

Apparel and Services: $1,434

That’s a lot of money flying out the door each year!

Where do utilities fit into the picture? According to Nationwide, families spend an average of $2,060 on utilities each year.

That puts it towards the bottom of the average American’s budget.

Cutting your spending on housing, transportation, or food by one-third would free up more cash flow than reducing your utilities by half.

So before you invest in some space heaters or start lugging rocks into your bathroom, evaluate your overall spending. Are there problem areas where cutting back would create greater results?

If you answer yes, focus your time and attention first on those categories. Find a cheaper apartment or recruit roommates. Carpool with friends. Dine out less.

But if you’ve already budgeted and you still need more cash flow, turning off some lights and using an extra blanket or two at night won’t hurt.

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¹ “How much is the average household utility bill?” Nationwide, https://www.nationwide.com/lc/resources/personal-finance/articles/average-cost-of-utilities

² “Average annual expenditures of all consumer units in the United States in 2020, by type,” Statistia, Dec 9, 2021 https://www.statista.com/statistics/247407/average-annual-consumer-spending-in-the-us-by-type/#:~:text=This%20statistic%20shows%20the%20average,amounted%20to%2061%2C334%20U.S.%20dollars.

February 21, 2022

Debt is a Big Deal. Here's How to Use It Wisely

Debt is a Big Deal. Here's How to Use It Wisely

Debt must be respected. If you don’t take it seriously, it could derail your finances for good.

But while debt is no joke, it’s not necessarily bad. If handled wisely, debt can help you reach financial milestones and provide for your family.

It all starts with understanding the difference between good debt and bad debt.

Good debt is debt that you can afford and that can help you build wealth.

Think of it like this—often, you need to spend money to make money. But what if you don’t have mountains of cash to throw at every opportunity that comes your way?

That’s where good debt can help. It can give you the cash you need to seize opportunities like…

- Starting a business

- Buying a home

- Getting an education

Those can help you boost your income, purchase an appreciating asset, or increase your earning potential. And as long as you’ve done your homework and can afford your payments, good debt can help you leverage those opportunities with no regrets.

Bad debt is the exact opposite—it’s borrowing money to buy assets that lose value. That includes…

- Cars

- Video games

- Clothes

Debt can simply make these items more expensive than they already are. And what do you get in return? Nothing. Just more bills.

So if you find yourself borrowing money to buy things, stop and ask yourself: Am I making an investment? Do I think the value of this purchase will increase? Or am I simply spending because it feels good?

Here’s the takeaway—debt is a powerful tool that can be good or bad. Handle it wisely, and it can help you build businesses, buy homes, and increase your earning potential. Handle it carelessly, and you can cause serious harm to your financial stability. So do your homework, evaluate your opportunities, and meet with a licensed and qualified financial professional to see what good debt would look like for you.

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February 14, 2022

Tips for Saving Money on Homeowners Insurance

Tips for Saving Money on Homeowners Insurance

Trying to free up cash flow? Then look no further than your homeowners insurance.

That’s because there are several techniques you can use to help cut down your monthly premiums. Here are a few worth trying!

Go all out on security. One of the easiest ways to save money on homeowners insurance is to make your home more secure. Installing deadbolts, window locks, smoke detectors and fire alarms, motion detectors and video surveillance will not only help keep burglars out but may also reduce your premiums.

Just be sure to count the costs before you deck out your home. It may be more expensive to go all out on security than to pay your premiums as they are. Depending on how secure you already feel in your home, investing in extra measures may not be something you choose to do just yet.

Boost your credit score. Your credit score can have a big impact on your insurance premiums. The majority of insurers use it as a factor to determine what you will pay for homeowners insurance, so if your score is low, expect to pay more.

What can you do to improve your score? For starters, focus on paying all your bills on time. Next, reduce the balance on your credit cards. It’s a good idea to set up automatic monthly payments for your utility bills and other recurring expenses. It’s a simple, one-time action that can save your credit score from slip ups and oversights.

Eliminate attractive nuisances. If you have a swimming pool or trampoline on your property, expect to pay more for homeowners insurance. Insurers view them as attractive nuisances, and raise your premiums accordingly. That includes things like…

Swimming pools Trampolines Construction equipment Non-working cars Playground equipment Old appliances

It’ll be a weight off your shoulders—and your bank account.

Maximize discounts. You might be surprised by the wide range of discounts insurance companies offer homeowners. They include everything from not smoking to choosing paperless billing to membership in specific groups. It never hurts to ask your insurer what discounts are available.

Bundle your home insurance with auto insurance. Businesses love loyalty. And they’re not afraid to incentivize it. That’s why insurance companies will often reward you for bundling your home and auto insurance together. So if you already own a car, ask your insurer if you can purchase discounted home insurance. It may significantly lower your monthly rate.

Some methods are more obvious than others, but all of them can add up to big savings over time. Ask your financial professional for their insights, then reach out to your insurer. You may be surprised by how much you save!

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January 5, 2022

Introducing The Worst Financial Advice Ever

Introducing The Worst Financial Advice Ever

“I’m about to show you how to never stress about money ever again.”

Sounds too good to be true. But the man continues…

“And you’ll be able to afford whatever you want, whenever. Buy a Ferrari and drive off the lot if you want! And it’s real simple…”

He leans in close.

“Just stop paying your bills.”


This is, without a doubt, the worst financial advice ever given. And it’s incredibly common.

Need proof? Just go to Reddit and search for ‘worst financial advice ever.’ It shows up multiple times in every thread.

And it’s not only crazy uncle types living in McMansions giving it. Apparently, paying off debt isn’t a priority for a vast swathe of the population.

But here’s the truth—not paying debt can have serious consequences.

At best, it will ruin your credit score and make it nearly impossible to rent, purchase a home, or buy a car.

At worst, you can go bankrupt. In other words, you could lose everything.

Instead, seek to eliminate debt swiftly and effectively. Don’t bury your head in the sand about the damage it can cause to your financial future.

And if someone ever tells you to not pay off your debt, ignore them. They’re living on borrowed time… and money.

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September 15, 2021

Big Financial Rocks First

Big Financial Rocks First

A teacher walked into her classroom with a clear jar, a bag of rocks, a bucket of sand, and a glass of water. She placed all the large rocks carefully into the jar.

“Who thinks this jar is full?” she asked. Almost half of her students raised their hands. Next, she began to pour sand from the bucket into the jar full of large rocks emptying the entire bucket into the jar.

“Who thinks this jar is full now?” she asked again. Almost all of her students now had their hands up. To her student’s surprise, she emptied the glass of water into the seemingly full jar of rocks and sand.

“What do you think I’m trying to show you?” She inquired.

One eager student answered: “That things may appear full, but there is always room left to put more stuff in.”

The teacher smiled and shook her head.

“Good try, but the point of this illustration is that if I didn’t put in the large rocks first, I would not be able to fit them in afterwards.”

This concept can be applied to the idea of a constant struggle between priorities that are urgent versus those that are important. When you have limited resources, priorities must be in place since there isn’t enough to go around. Take your money, for example. Unless you have an unlimited amount of funds (we’re still trying to find that source), you can’t have an unlimited amount of important financial goals.

Back to the teacher’s illustration. Let’s say the big rocks are your important goals. Things like buying a home, helping your children pay for college, retirement at 60, etc. They’re all important –but not urgent. These things may happen 10, 20, or 30 years from now.

Urgent things are the sand and water. A monthly payment like your mortgage payment or your monthly utility and internet bills. The urgent things must be paid and paid on time. If you don’t pay your mortgage on time… Well, you might end up retiring homeless.

Even though these monthly obligations might be in mind more often than your retirement or your toddler’s freshman year in college, if all you focus on are urgent things, then the important goals fall by the wayside. And in some cases, they stay there long after they can realistically be rescued. Saving up for a down payment for a home, funding a college education, or having enough to retire on is nearly impossible to come up with overnight (still looking for that source of unlimited funds!). In most cases, it takes time and discipline to save up and plan well to achieve these important goals.

What are the big rocks in your life? If you’ve never considered them, spend some time thinking about it. When you have a few in mind, place them in the priority queue of your life. Otherwise, if those important goals are ignored for too long, they might become one of the urgent goals - and perhaps ultimately unrealized if they weren’t put in your plan early on.

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August 16, 2021

Financial Moves to Improve Your Mental Health

Financial Moves to Improve Your Mental Health

Can wise money moves help improve your mental health, decrease your stress, and boost your peace of mind? Absolutely.

It’s easy to see why. A lot of stress comes from worrying about the future, as well as problems that might seem small but are stressful in practice (such as getting stuck with a $400 car repair bill because your brakes went out).

How much better would it feel if you could stop stressing about money? How much less anxiety would you experience if your retirement savings were on track? And how much more secure would you feel, knowing that should an emergency arise, you have the resources to handle it?

With that end in mind, here are simple financial moves you can make to help improve your mental health!

Create a financial vision statement. Whether you use a financial professional or do it on your own, creating a financial vision statement is the first step to improving your quality of life with personal finance.

What’s a “vision statement?” It’s a one or two sentence description of where you want your money to take you in the future.

Why does it help your mental health? For starters, it gives you a goal to strive towards, and goals tend to increase mental resilience.¹

It also may help reduce uncertainty and ambiguity about the future. When your financial vision statement is clear and complete, your next actions may become clear and obvious.

But while it may seem simple on paper, it can feel overwhelming in practice. Try this process to help take the stress out of creating your vision statement…

Create a list of things you value. That could be family, adventure, stability, comfort, and more.

Write out what a future full of your values would look like. This gives you a more concrete—and inspiring—vision of your goals.

Describe how money can make your vision a reality. This final piece is your financial vision statement. It’s how much money you’ll need to enjoy the lifestyle you want in the future.

Save up an emergency fund. Juggling a paycheck, credit card bills, student loans and other debt repayment, rent, and groceries is stressful.

Unexpected—and expensive—emergencies can make things even harder.

But being prepared helps! Having an emergency fund means that when something goes wrong, you’ll have cash on hand to help cover it.

In general, aim to save 3-6 months’ worth of income and keep it easily accessible. Then, when an emergency strikes, simply reach into your emergency fund to help cover the costs.

Will it totally eliminate the stress of emergencies? Probably not. But it can mitigate the financial anxiety that can loom over you if you’re not prepared.

Meet with a financial professional. Nothing reduces your stress levels quite like knowing your finances are in good hands. That’s where a licensed and qualified financial professional can help.

They can help you develop strategies for reaching your goals, identify obstacles early on, and refine your financial vision statement.

Plus, having someone you can talk to about money can make your finances far less intimidating and stressful. Find a professional who you’re comfortable with and who’s knowledgeable, and start cultivating your relationship. It may be one of the best investments you make!

If you’re feeling stressed about money, know that you’re not alone. And the good news is that you can do something about it. Try these simple steps, and see how you feel!

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¹ “Goal setting,” healthdirect, https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/goal-setting

April 26, 2021

Pay Yourself First!

Pay Yourself First!

Pay yourself first!

Why? Because it can help you take control of your finances and reach your goals. But what does it mean to “pay yourself first?” It means the very first thing you should do with your paycheck is put money towards saving, then use what’s left for bills, and then finally for personal spending. Let’s break down how—and why—you should pay yourself first in 3 steps!

Step 1: Figure out your goals. What are you saving up for? Knowing what goal you’re trying to reach can help guide how much money should go towards it—saving for retirement would look different than saving for a downpayment on a house. Having a goal can also give you the motivation and inspiration you need to start saving in earnest. Write down your goal or goals, and start planning accordingly.

Step 2: Make a budget that prioritizes saving. When you’re creating your budget, the first category you should create is saving. Then, figure out how much rent, bills, food, and transportation will cost. Whatever you have left can go towards discretionary spending.

Your focus should be to treat saving like a mandatory bill. It’s a simple mental trick that can help you prioritize your financial goals and help make it much easier to say no when you’re tempted to overspend. You actually might literally not have the cash on hand because you’re saving it!

Step 3: Automate your saving. Once you’ve got your savings goal in place, automate the process. Whether it’s through an app or automatic deposits from your checking into a savings account, automating saving helps make building wealth so much easier. You can start building wealth without even thinking about it! Just be sure to automate your deposits to initiate right after your paycheck comes in. It removes the temptation to cheat yourself and overspend.

Remember, this doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Just because you can’t save a massive amount each month doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! It’s about saving as much as you can. And paying yourself first with your paycheck is an easy way to start!

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April 12, 2021

Home Buying for Couples: A Starter Guide

Home Buying for Couples: A Starter Guide

Buying your first home is an exciting, yet daunting process.

You and your significant other already have a lot on your plate in planning this huge purchase—from deciding how much house you need to fitting it all into a budget. Read on for some tips that will help ease the process of buying a house as well as help you save money in the long run!

Evaluate your financial situation before you start house hunting. It’s important to know what kind of mortgage payment is feasible for the income in a household. You’ll also have to contend with hidden housing costs like property taxes, renovations, and repairs. Calculate your total income, and then subtract your current expenses. That’s how much you have at your disposal to handle the costs of homeownership.

Improve your credit score. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, your credit score is important—it can profoundly affect your ability to get approved for loans and mortgages! The higher that number goes up, the easier it may become to get approval from lenders. You can help yourself out by paying off any outstanding debt balances such as student loan payments, medical bills, and credit card debt before going house hunting.

Start saving for a downpayment. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to put down at least 20% of the home’s purchase price. This can take years, especially if your budget is tight! However, it’s well worth it—you may avoid the hassle of paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can substantially add to your monthly housing payments. A sizeable downpayment can also lower your interest rate and reduce the size of your loan.¹

Decide how much house you need. This is a tough question to answer, but it’s crucial that both partners are united on this front. Otherwise, one partner might feel like a house doesn’t meet their needs. Sit down with your partner and discuss what exactly you desire out of your home. How many bedrooms will you need? Do you want a big yard or a small one? How close to work do you want to live? Hammer out the important details of what you want in a home before the shopping begins!

Decide on your budget. Knowing how much you can afford before shopping for a home will help narrow down the options. Typically, housing costs should account for no more than 30% of your budget. That includes your mortgage payment, repairs, HOA fees, and renovations. Spending more than 30% can endanger your financial wellness if your income ever decreases.

Buying a home can be an exciting time for couples. But it’s important to take the necessary steps before you start house hunting. Remember, you want your new home to be a source of joy, not financial stress! Do your homework, talk with your partner, and start saving!

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“Do you need to put 20 percent down on a house?,” Michele Lerner, HSH, Sep 2, 2018, https://www.hsh.com/first-time-homebuyer/down-payment-size.html

April 7, 2021

The Power of Living Benefits

The Power of Living Benefits

Preparing for the possibility of a critical medical illness or condition is probably not high on your list of fun things to do.

But its importance cannot be overstated—two-thirds of people who file for bankruptcy do so because of medical debt.¹

What many don’t know, however, is that life insurance can help you shoulder the high cost of medical care… if you utilize living benefits!

How living benefits work <br> Almost all life insurance policies come with a death benefit. It’s money that will go to your beneficiaries when you pass away. A living benefit is a feature of some life insurance policies that allows you to access the death benefit while you’re still alive.

So let’s say you have a life insurance policy with a $400,000 death benefit. You suddenly get diagnosed with a serious illness that requires you to take time off work and undergo intensive medical treatment.

That means you’re facing a substantial expense with a decreased income. Your medical crisis has also become a financial crisis!

But what if you could access your death benefit in the present? $400,000 may cover a substantial portion—perhaps even all—of the cost of treatment.

And you don’t have to use your entire benefit. If your medical bills add up to $100,000, you could use $100,000 from your life insurance policy to cover your expenses, and leave the remaining $300,000 as the death benefit!

Keep in mind that only certain types of illness may trigger your ability to access your benefit. That’s why it’s important to work with a licensed and qualified financial professional to create the right policy for you.

If you’re interested in what living benefits would look like for you, contact me. We can review your income and how much life insurance your family needs!

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¹ “This is the real reason most Americans file for bankruptcy,” Lorie Konish, CNBC, Feb 11 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/11/this-is-the-real-reason-most-americans-file-for-bankruptcy.html

March 8, 2021

What to Do If You Can't Pay Your Bills

What to Do If You Can't Pay Your Bills

If you’re having a hard time paying your bills, there are two strategies that might help you find relief.

A financial professional can help you decide which one works best for you, but here’s what we know about each approach…

Contact everyone you owe. You don’t need to worry about getting punished for asking a creditor if they’re willing to negotiate. Even if they say no, you still gain the satisfaction of knowing you tried. Doesn’t it make sense that a landlord would want their tenant to pay more than nothing? Or credit card companies would want some level of payment over none at all? It’s worth giving it a shot!

Write a letter explaining your situation. Detail why you’re not able to make payments, state how much you can pay instead, when you believe you’ll start making regular payments, and list your income and assets. You might be surprised by how effective your request for relief actually could be!

Work with a debt counselor. Debt counselors can feel like a life-saving resource if you’re drowning in debt and unable to manage your finances. They can help you understand your credit report, help you negotiate with creditors, and offer advice on how to pay off your debts.

However, verify that the debt counseling agency you work with is properly qualified to help you. Here’s how…

■ Find your counselor through the Financial Counseling Association of America or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. ■ Ask what services they provide for free. Be cautious if they charge for workshops or if they immediately recommend a debt management program. ■ Check their standing with the Better Business Bureau.

Finally, check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website to learn more. They have educational resources, links to useful services, and even templates for appeal and complaint letters.

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February 3, 2021

Strategies for Coping With Medical Bills

Strategies for Coping With Medical Bills

What’s your strategy for paying medical bills?

It’s a question anyone serious about protecting their finances must answer. Afterall, medical expenses are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the country.¹

But there are resources at your disposal. Read on for some strategies to help you lighten the financial burden of medical bills.

Review your bill for mistakes. Somewhere between 30% to 80% of medical bills contain errors.² Check every bill you receive for any mistakes and report them immediately. You don’t need to pay for medical services you didn’t use!

Negotiate a payment plan. The scary price tag on your medical bill isn’t always final. Hospitals are sometimes willing to negotiate a lower cost if they’re aware of your financial situation. Contact your healthcare provider and inform them if you’ll struggle to pay the sticker price. Then, ask for price alternatives or for a more lenient payment plan.

Avoid using credit cards for medical bills, if possible. Using credit cards to cover medical bills can be a critical blunder. Instead of paying a low interest–or maybe no interest–bill to a hospital, you may end up making high-interest payments to your credit card company.

Whenever possible, use cash to pay for medical expenses. That may mean cutting on vacations, not dining out, and holding off on purchasing new clothes until the bill is settled. (Hint: A great reason to keep an emergency fund is to pay unexpected medical bills.)

If none of these strategies make a dent in your medical expenses, consider reaching out to a professional for help. Hospitals and insurance companies sometimes have case workers who can point you towards programs, organizations, and agencies who may be able to help provide some financial relief.

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¹ “Top 5 Reasons Why People Go Bankrupt,” Mark P. Cussen, Investopedia, Feb 24, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0310/top-5-reasons-people-go-bankrupt.aspx

² “Over 20 Woeful Medical Billing Error Statistics,” Matt Moneypenny, Etactics, Oct 20, 2020, https://etactics.com/blog/medical-billing-error-statistics#:~:text=80%25%20of%20all%20medical%20bills%20contain%20errors.&text=Some%20experts%20across%20the%20web,between%2030%25%20and%2040%25.

January 18, 2021

3 Strategies to Increase Your Credit Score

3 Strategies to Increase Your Credit Score

Is your credit score costing you money?

A recent survey found that increasing a credit score from “Fair” to “Very Good” could save borrowers an average of $56,400 across five common loan types like credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages.¹ That’s roughly $316 in extra monthly cash flow!

If your credit score is anything but “Very Good,” keep reading. You’ll discover some simple strategies that may seriously help improve your credit score and increase your cash flow.

Pay your bills at the strategic time. <br> Credit utilization makes up a big portion of your credit score, sometimes up to 30%.¹ The closer your balance is to your credit limit, the higher your credit utilization. The lower your utilization, the less you’re using your available credit. Creditors view a lower utilization as an indicator that you’re responsible with managing your credit.

Here’s a simple way to lower your credit utilization–ask your creditors for when your balance is shared with credit reporting agencies. Then, automate your bill payments to just before that day. When credit reporting agencies review your balances, they’ll see lower numbers because you just paid them down. That can result in a lower credit utilization and a higher credit score!

Automate debt and bill payments. <br> Late payments for your credit card bill, phone bill, and utilities can negatively affect your credit score. If you have a habit of paying your bills late, consider automating as many of your payments as possible. It’s a convenient and simple way to make your finances more manageable and help increase your credit score in a single swoop!

Leave old credit accounts open. <br> So long as they don’t require a monthly fee, leave old and unused credit accounts open. Any open line of credit, even if it’s unused, increases the amount of available credit you have at your disposal. And not using that credit lowers your overall credit utilization, which can help increase your credit score.

Closing unused credit accounts does the opposite. It lowers your available credit and spikes your credit utilization, especially if you have large balances in other accounts. So if you have credit cards you don’t use anymore, leave those accounts open and hide the cards in a place where they won’t tempt you to start spending!

The best part about these strategies? You can act on them all today. Ask your creditors when your balance is shared with credit reporting agencies, then automate your deposits to go through right before that day.

When you’re done automating your payments, put your unused credit cards into a plastic bag and put them deep into your freezer. In just a few hours, you’ll have set yourself up to increase your credit score and save money!

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January 11, 2021

Simple Ways to Streamline Your Budget

Simple Ways to Streamline Your Budget

Is your budgeting system slowing your financial progress?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 21, 2020

Permanent or Term Life: Which is right for you?

Permanent or Term Life: Which is right for you?

Life insurance has many benefits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the key points regarding permanent life insurance include: <br>

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

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

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

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

November 18, 2020

The Most Important Retirement Rule

The Most Important Retirement Rule

The best way to determine your retirement target savings is to use your income.

Here’s why.

Almost nobody wants to work 40 hours a week in retirement. Not you, not me. To avoid that, you must have money at your disposal to cover expenses like food, travel, and medical bills.

But how much do you need?

There’s a 38% chance that if you retire at 65 you will live to 85, and a 5% chance that you’ll make it to 95.¹ That means you’ll need enough cash to cover at least 20 years of life with no income.

This is where your paycheck comes into play.

Aiming to save 20 to 30 times your income helps prepare you to maintain your current lifestyle into retirement. You might even have extra spending money if you’re debt free!

Plus, it forces you to scale your savings as your income grows.

Setting a goal based solely on how much you want to spend in retirement can result in lowering your savings goal. You might splurge more now, telling yourself that you’ll just live on less later. But you’re cheating your future self!

Using your income as a retirement benchmark forces you to increase your savings amount as your paycheck grows. Let’s say you make $80,000 annually and you start saving. Your goal is to stash away 20 times your income, or about $1.6 million.

After a while, you’re able to save 5 years worth of earnings, or about $400,000.

But then you get a raise! Suddenly you’re making $100,000 per year. Your retirement target shifts up accordingly to $2 million. That $400,000 you have in the bank is a hefty slice of cash, but it’s now only worth 4 years of income instead of 5.

In other words, basing your saving around your income actually encourages you to save more as your income increases.

The best thing about this method is that it focuses on the most important part of retiring—to sustain the lifestyle that you envision. Meet with a licensed financial professional to map out what that would look like for you and how much you must save to make that vision a reality.

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¹ “How Long Will Your Retirement Really Last?,” Simon Moore, Forbes, Apr 24, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/simonmoore/2018/04/24/how-long-will-your-retirement-last/?sh=31a59fb37472

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