What It Means To Live Paycheck to Paycheck

August 12, 2020

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Luis Puente

Luis Puente

Financial Education

2711 LBJ Freeway
Suite 300
Farmers Branch, TX 75234

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August 3, 2020

Business Ideas for Students

Business Ideas for Students

Starting a business is never easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 13, 2020

The Gambler’s Fallacy

The Gambler’s Fallacy

Humans are amazing.

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

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

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

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

Wrong!

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

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

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

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

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

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July 6, 2020

Should You Only Use Cash?

Should You Only Use Cash?

Bills and coins are outdated.

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

Except when they’re not.

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

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

And that’s the problem.

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

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

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

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

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June 19, 2020

3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

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

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

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

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

Here are 3 ways to shift from indulgence to independence:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 10, 2020

The Food Waste Epidemic... And What You Can Do About It

The Food Waste Epidemic... And What You Can Do About It

Food waste is a big problem.

Don’t believe me? Just check out these food waste facts:

- The average family throws away around $1,500 of food every year.(1)

- One recent study found that we toss around a third of all consumable food, with wealthy nations being the biggest culprits.(2)

- Cutting back our food waste just 15% would free up enough food to feed 25 million Americans.(3)

Those are incredible numbers. And they touch everything from the poor in other parts of the world to your own wallet! But what can you do? How can you not only combat a global problem but also look out for your own financial needs? Here are a few practical ways to reduce food waste and save some money while you’re at it!

Shop with a plan
The first step to not wasting food is only buying food you plan on eating. That means deciding ahead of time what you want to eat, making a list, and only buying those items at the store. Sure, it’s thrilling to walk down the produce aisle just waiting for an exotic veggie to catch your eye or buying extra meat just in case you want pork chops instead of chicken thighs. But you’ll quickly find that shopping without a strategy can lead to overbuying. This raises the potential that food won’t get prepared and will get thrown out. Always start with a list and shop from there.

Online shopping may help you stay on track with your list—and save you a ton of time! It’s fairly simple these days to log in to your favorite grocery store app, check items off, then click Delivery or Pick-up. (Keep in mind the store may charge a small fee for these services, but if it means not throwing out yet another unopened box of spinach, it might be worth it!)

Store wisely
Even the best planner will overbuy at some point. Maybe there’s a great sale on your kids’ favorite snack crackers, or you want to pick up a couple extra bottles of wine since they’re BOGO. You might stock up on Monday and then remember you have dinner plans with the in-laws on Friday. Don’t panic! Keeping your food from going bad is actually pretty simple. For many perishable items, just take a deep breath, open your freezer, and put your food inside. Close the freezer door. Your food should be safe from going bad until your schedule clears up. Just remember to dethaw your food before you try cooking it!

If you find you’re stocking up often on dry goods, you might want to invest in some quality containers (plastic, glass or metal) to help keep your food fresher, longer.

Reuse (safely)
But what happens if you prepare a ton of food for a meal only to discover that your stomach is smaller than you anticipated? Open up the trash can and dump all of that delicious, edible food?

Never!

The classic leftovers loophole is to put your food in proper containers and leave them in the fridge until you can get back to them in the next day or two. You can also freeze leftovers if you need. But why stop there? Those leftovers are just begging to be transformed into something fresh and delicious! Why not stir fry them with some rice or cook them into a casserole? Get creative and make something new and amazing!

Reducing food waste takes a little work and planning. But with the right attitude, it can be a fun way of contributing to your community, helping the planet, and avoiding a hunger strike by your bank account!

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May 6, 2020

How Much Should You Save Each Month?

How Much Should You Save Each Month?

How much are you saving?

That might be an uncomfortable question to answer. 45% of Americans have $0 saved. Almost 70% have under $1,000 saved (1). That means most Americans don’t have enough to replace the transmission in their car, much less retire (2)!

But how much of your income should you send towards your savings account? And how do you even start? Keep reading for some useful strategies on saving!

10 percent rule
A common strategy for saving is the 50/30/20 method. It calls for 50% of your budget to go towards essentials like food and rent, 30% toward fun and entertainment, and the final 20% is saved. That’s a good standard, but it can seem like a faraway fantasy if you’re weighed down by bills or debt. A more achievable goal might be to save around 10% of your income and start working up from there. For reference, that means a family making $60,000 a year should try to stash away around $6,000 annually.

A budget is your friend
But where do you find the money to save? The easiest way is with a budget. It’s the best method to keep track of where your money is going and see where you need to cut back. It’s not always fun. It can be difficult or even embarrassing to see how you’ve been spending. But it’s a powerful reality check that can motivate you to change your habits and take control of your finances.

Save for more than your retirement
Something else to consider is that you need to save for more than just your retirement. Maintaining an emergency fund for unexpected expenses can provide a cushion (and some peace of mind) in case you need to replace your washing machine or if your kid needs stitches. And it’s always better to save up for big purchases like a vacation or Christmas gifts than it is to use credit.

Saving isn’t always easy. Quitting your spending habit cold turkey can be overwhelming and make you feel like you’re missing out. However, getting your finances under control so you can begin a savings strategy is one of the best long-term decisions you can make. Start budgeting, find out how much you spend, and start making a plan to save. And don’t hesitate to reach out to a financial professional if you feel stuck or need help!

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March 30, 2020

A Quick Guide to Influencers

A Quick Guide to Influencers

We all know the word influencer.

It probably conjures images of attractive young people setting weird trends on the internet that, let’s face it, don’t make a lot of sense. But the world of influencers, especially in social media, is more than fun and games. Huge amounts of money can be involved and fortunes get made almost overnight. This is a quick guide to the wild world of internet influencers.

What’s an influencer?
An influencer is technically anyone with the power to affect purchasing decisions. It’s a really broad net that includes old-school movie stars and musicians. But lately it’s used in a more specific way to refer to social media stars.

Social media is relatively new. Platforms started off with content from normal viewers. For instance, the first YouTube video is from 2005, only 19 seconds long, and is about elephants at a zoo (1). Some content hit it big back then and went viral, but there still wasn’t a way of using those 15 minutes of online fame to start a real career.

That started to change. People started following specific content makers, and certain personalities built huge followings. Some YouTube channels started getting more weekly views than television shows!

With those huge followings came the potential to advertise. Soon, social media icons started getting paid to promote products. Brands could get attention from a huge audience in key demographics just from an Instagram post or shoutout during a YouTube video.

Why they matter so much
But there’s more to social media marketing than audience size. What makes social media influencers so powerful is that they feel like someone you know. They give their followers a window into their thoughts, routines, and lives. A suggestion from them feels like advice from a friend.

This isn’t to say that social media influencers accurately present their lives to the world. Plenty of publicity stunts and carefully manicured public images exist online. What matters is that the interactions between influencer and follower feel personal and genuine. And there’s potentially a gold mine to be found in that appearance of authenticity if companies look to you for a recommendation.

Audience size is less important than you might think
Interestingly, this means that having a small audience doesn’t necessarily hamper an influencer’s impact. Having a social media personality who focuses on a highly specific field promoting your product to a few hundred followers can make a big difference. It’s more likely for those potential customers to feel like they’ve had a personal recommendation than they would after viewing a TV ad or even an online ad, thus increasing brand loyalty.

Influencers have become a key building block in any modern marketing strategy. They’re a perfect combination of accessibility and credibility that can hold the attention of a key demographic or get your name on the radar for millions of followers.

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February 10, 2020

Is Your Employer-Provided Life Insurance Enough?

Is Your Employer-Provided Life Insurance Enough?

Just because your company provides you with free life insurance coverage doesn’t mean you’re fully protected.

While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have, it may not be enough to provide for your family in the event of a tragedy.

For the first time ever, more Americans have employer-provided life insurance (108 million) than have individual life insurance coverage (102 million), according to a new LIMRA study. This is important especially during Life Insurance Awareness month to make sure you’re aware that typically life insurance through your job is not portable. Which means you can’t take it with you. Everyone should make sure they have individually owned insurance to protect their family just in case they switch jobs or lose their job or potentially start your own company.

How employer-provided life insurance works.
A life insurance policy from your employer is typically a group plan that’s offered to you and your co-workers. Your policy is held by the company, and they’ll often pay most if not all the premium costs. The amount of insurance you’ll receive varies, but it’s normally one to two times your annual salary.

Problems with employer-provided life insurance.
A $50,000 payout, for example, may seem like a lot. But you may notice a problem when you stop thinking in terms of numbers on paper and look at how long the insurance money would last. You go from $50,000 per year to just $50,000, period! A life insurance benefit is essentially buying your family time to grieve and plan for their future in your absence. That might mean looking for new jobs, adjusting to a single-income lifestyle, taking out student loans, and so on.

If your employer-provided policy just matches your annual salary, your loved ones would only be covered for a single year as they go through the process of readjustment (assuming their spending habits don’t change and they don’t encounter any emergencies). In fact, 5 to 10 times your annual income is considered a reasonable amount of insurance for just this reason; it gives your loved ones plenty of time to figure things out.

Another problem with an employer-provided life insurance policy is that it depends on your employment status. If you leave that job (voluntarily or involuntarily), what might happen to your family if they are left unprotected? While employer-provided life insurance is definitely a perk, it often might not be enough.

Alternatives to employer-provided life insurance.
That’s why considering an individual plan is so important. It may not be provided by your employer, but you’ll get what you pay for – a safety net for the ones you love and the time they’ll need to recover… regardless of where you’re working.

Have questions? Feel free to contact me! I would love to help you prepare your insurance strategy and help protect your family’s future.

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January 29, 2020

Saving For Retirement: Where Do I Start?

Saving For Retirement: Where Do I Start?

We all know we should be saving for the future.

But depending on your stage in life, it might feel like retirement is either too far away or it’s too late in the game to make much of a difference. Regardless of your income—or which season of life you’re in—you can (and should) start saving for retirement. Here’s how to get started:

Make savings automatic
Have your employer deposit a set dollar amount or percentage from each paycheck to a savings account or your 401(k). It’s an effortless way to start loading your savings account while also reducing temptations to overspend.

Pay yourself first
Your attitude towards saving makes a big difference. It shouldn’t be something that is optional after all of your other spending. If you view saving the way you would a bill and pay it to yourself first, you will be far more likely to save.

Investigate IRA options
An IRA is a retirement account that invests your money in stocks and bonds. Many people opt for either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, though there are other types to choose from. The big difference between the traditional and the Roth is how and when their tax exemptions kick in. Contributions to the traditional are tax deductible until they are withdrawn. A Roth, on the other hand, gets taxed on contributions but withdrawals are tax deductible and get to grow tax free. The maximum amount you can contribute to an IRA is $6,000 – $7,000 per year (depending on your age), so you’ll need to consult your budget to see how much you can put away.

Establish your permanent lifestyle
It’s easy to be tempted to try to one-up our friends’ and neighbors’ lifestyles. But continually increasing your cost of living can set your retirement up for failure. Establish a basic amount of what it takes for you to live a comfortable lifestyle, and stick to that mode of living. Doing so can help you save money right now and also give you an idea of how much you’ll need to save for retirement.

Meet with a financial professional
Investing can be intimidating, especially when it’s your future on the line. Be sure to meet with a licensed professional before you make any big saving decisions. Getting an extra pair of qualified eyes on your goals and strategies is always a good move and can help bring you peace of mind about your retirement strategy!

Whether you’re just entering the workforce or retirement is right around the corner, there are many ways to contribute to your future. By adjusting your lifestyle, investing carefully, and making it a priority to prepare for the future, you can nurture your peace of mind and look forward to seeing how your financial strategy unfolds in your golden years.

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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. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial profes

January 20, 2020

Tips for Getting Out of Debt

Tips for Getting Out of Debt

Americans owe a whopping amount of debt.

Total consumer debt, for example, tops $4 trillion (1), and the average household owes $6,829 on credit cards alone (2).

Debt can cause a serious drain on your financial life, not to mention increase your stress levels. You may be parting with a big slice of your income just to service the debt—money that could be put to better use to fund things like a home, your own business, or a healthy retirement account.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to get out of debt. Here are 3 of them…

Create a budget
Before you can start digging yourself out of debt, you need to know how you stand with your income versus your outgo every month. Otherwise, you may be sliding deeper into debt as each week passes.

The solution? Create a budget.

First, start tracking your expenses—there are apps you can get on your phone, or even just a notebook and pencil will do. Divide your expenses into categories. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Food, utilities, rent, entertainment, misc. Add them together every week and then every month.

Then, review your spending and compare it with your income. Spending more than you make? That has to be reversed before you’ll ever be able to get out of debt. Make a plan to either reduce your expenses or find a way to raise your income.

If debt payments are driving your expenses above your income, call your lender to see if you can get a plan with lower monthly payments.

Seek out lower interest rates
If you’re paying a high interest rate on credit card debt, a good portion of your monthly payment may be going towards interest alone. That means you may not be reducing the principal—the amount you originally borrowed—as much as you could with a lower interest rate. The lower your interest rate, the more your monthly payments can lower your debt—and eventually help you get out of it.

Find out the annual percentage rate (APR) on your current credit card debt by looking at the monthly statements. Then shop around to find any lower interest rates that might be out there. The next step would be to transfer your credit card debt to that new account with the lower rate. The caveat, however, is if any fees you may be charged now or after an introductory period would nullify the savings in interest. Always make sure you understand the terms on a new card before you transfer a balance.

Another option is to apply to a lender for a personal loan to consolidate your high interest rate debt. Personal loans can have interest rates significantly below those on credit cards. Again, make sure you understand any fees, penalties, and terms before you sign up.

Increase your monthly debt payments
Now that you’ve got your spending under control, it’s time to see if you can raise your debt payments every month. There are two primary methods to do this.

First, review your expenses to see if you can cut back in some categories. Can you spend a little time each week clipping coupons to reduce your grocery bill? Can you make coffee at home rather than purchasing it at the coffee shop every day? These changes can add up! Review entertainment costs, too. Can you cut out one or more streaming or cable services? It might be a good idea to find introductory offers that can reduce your monthly payments. Check into introductory cell phone offers, too, but always read the fine print so you don’t have any surprise fees or costs down the road.

Second, make a plan to increase your income. Can you ask for a raise at work, make a case for a promotion, or find a higher paying job? If that’s not in the cards, consider working a side gig. A few extra hours a week may increase your monthly income significantly—and help get you out of debt a little faster.

Are you struggling with debt? Get in touch with me and we can work on a strategy for a debt-free future.

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January 6, 2020

Are You Unwinding Yourself Into Debt in 2020?

Are You Unwinding Yourself Into Debt in 2020?

Americans owe more than $800 Billion in credit card debt.

You read that right: more than $800 billion.

It seems like more and more people are going to end up being owned by a tiny piece of plastic rather than the other way around.

How much have you or a loved one contributed to that number? Whether it’s $10 or $10,000, there are a couple simple tricks to get and keep yourself out of credit card debt.

The first step is to be aware of how and when you’re using your credit card. It’s so easy – especially on a night out when you’re trying to unwind – to mindlessly hand over your card to pay the bill. And for most people, paying with credit has become their preferred, if not exclusive, payment option. Dinner, drinks, Ubers, a concert, a movie, a sporting event – it’s going to add up.

And when that credit card bill comes, you could end up feeling more wound up than you did before you tried to unwind.

Paying attention to when, what for, and how often you hand over your credit card is crucial to getting out from under credit card debt.

Here are 2 tips to keep yourself on track on a night out.

1. Consider your budget. You might cringe at the word “budget”, but it’s not an enemy who never wants you to have any fun. Considering your budget doesn’t mean you can never enjoy a night out with friends or coworkers. It simply means that an evening of great food, fun activities, and making memories must be considered in the context of your long-term goals. Start thinking of your budget as a tough-loving friend who’ll be there for you for the long haul.

Before you plan a night out:

  • Know exactly how much you can spend before you leave the house or your office, and keep track of your spending as your evening progresses.
  • Try using an app on your phone or even write your expenses on a napkin or the back of your hand – whatever it takes to keep your spending in check.
  • Once you have reached your limit for the evening – stop.

2. Cash, not plastic (wherever possible). Once you know what your budget for a night out is, get it in cash or use a debit card. When you pay your bill with cash, it’s a concrete transaction. You’re directly involved in the physical exchange of your money for goods and services. In the case that an establishment or service will only take credit, just keep track of it (app, napkin, back of your hand, etc.), and leave the cash equivalent in your wallet.

You can still enjoy a night on the town, get out from under credit card debt, and be better prepared for the future with a carefully planned financial strategy. Contact me today, and together we’ll assess where you are on your financial journey and what steps you can take to get where you want to go – hopefully by happy hour!

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December 23, 2019

Setting Up Your Reindeers For Success

Setting Up Your Reindeers For Success

Dasher. Dancer. Prancer. Vixen. Comet. Cupid. Donner. Blitzen. (And Rudolph too, of course.)

This is a holiday roll-call that’s instantly recognizable: the reindeer that pull Santa’s magical sleigh. But what if things got so hectic at the North Pole (not a stretch when you’re in charge of delivering presents to every child on Earth), that when it was time to hitch up the reindeer on Christmas Eve, they were all out of order?

Prancer. Cupid. Dasher. Comet. Dancer. Vixen. Blitzen. Donner.

Hmmm, someone’s missing…. what happened to Rudolph? (Looks like he got left behind at the North Pole. In all the hubbub one of Santa’s elves forgot to review the pre-flight checklist.)

Since so much can change during the year from one crazy “Happy Holidays!” to the next, your ducks – or reindeer, that is – may not even be in a row at this point. They could be frolicking unattended in a field somewhere! And who knows where your Rudolph even is.

We can help with that. An annual review of your financial strategy is key to keeping you on track for your unique goals. Lots of things can change over the course of a year, and your strategy could need some reorganizing. I mean, did you hear about everything that changed for Prancer? (What do you call a baby reindeer, anyway?)

Here are some important questions to consider at least once each year (or even more often):

1. Are you on track to meet your savings goals? A well-prepared retirement is a worthy goal. Let’s make sure nothing drove you too far off track this year, and if it did, let’s explore what can be done to get you back on the right path.

2. Do you have the potential for new savings? Did your health improve this year? Did that black mark on your driving record expire? Changes like these have the potential to positively impact your life insurance rate, but we’d need to dig in and find out what kinds of savings might be in store for you.

3. Have your coverage needs increased? Marriage, having a child, or buying a home are all instances in which your life insurance coverage probably should be increased. Have any of these occurred for you over the last year? Have you added the new family member as a beneficiary?

If you haven’t had a chance to review your strategy this year, we can fit one in before Santa shimmies down the chimney. Which of your reindeer do you need to wrangle back into the ranks before the New Year gets going?

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November 25, 2019

What to Do First If You Receive an Inheritance

What to Do First If You Receive an Inheritance

In many households, nearly every penny is already accounted for even before it’s earned.

The typical household budget that covers the cost of raising a family, making loan payments, and saving for retirement usually doesn’t leave much room for extra spending on daydream items. However, occasionally families may come into an inheritance, you might receive a big bonus at work, or benefit from some other sort of windfall.

If you ever inherit a chunk of money (or large asset) or receive a large payout, it may be tempting to splurge on that red convertible you’ve been drooling over or book that dream trip to Hawaii you’ve always wanted to take. Unfortunately for many, though, newly-found money has the potential to disappear quickly with nothing to show for it, if you don’t have a strategy in place to handle it.

If you do receive some sort of large bonus – congratulations! But take a deep breath and consider these situations first – before you call your travel agent.

Taxes or Other Expenses
If you get a large sum of money unexpectedly, the first thing you might want to do is pull out your bucket list and see what you can check off first. But before you start spending, the reality is you’ll need to put aside some money for taxes. You may want to check with an expert – an accountant or financial advisor may have some ideas on how to reduce your liability as well.

If you suddenly own a new house or car as part of an inheritance, one thing that you may not have considered is how much it will cost to hang on to them. If you want to keep them, you’ll need to cover maintenance, insurance, and you may even need to fulfill loan payments if they aren’t paid off yet.

Pay Down Debt
If you have any debt, you’d have a hard time finding a better place to put your money once you’ve set aside some for taxes or other expenses that might be involved. It may be helpful to target debt in this order:

  1. Credit card debt: These are often the highest interest rate debt and usually don’t have any tax benefit. Pay these off first.
  2. Personal loans: Pay these off next. You and your friend/family member will be glad you knocked these out!
  3. Auto loans: Interest rates on auto loans are lower than credit cards, but cars depreciate rapidly – very rapidly. If you can avoid it, you don’t want to pay interest on a rapidly depreciating asset. Pay off the car as quickly as possible.
  4. College loans: College loans often have tax-deductible interest but there is no physical asset you can convert to cash – there’s just the loan.
  5. Home loans: Most home loans are also tax-deductible. Since your home value is likely appreciating over time, you may be better off putting your money elsewhere rather than paying off the home loan early.

Fund Your Emergency Account
Before you buy that red convertible, put aside some money for a rainy day. This could be liquid funds – like a separate savings account.

Save for Retirement
Once the taxes are covered, you’ve paid down your debt, and funded your emergency account, now is the time to put some money away towards retirement. Work with your financial professional to help create the best strategy for you and your family.

Fund That College Fund
If you have kids and haven’t had a chance to save all you’d like towards their education, setting aside some money for this comes next. Again, your financial professional can recommend the best strategy for this scenario.

Treat Yourself
NOW you’re ready to go bury your toes in the sand and enjoy some new experiences! Maybe you and the family have always wanted to visit a themed resort park or vacation on a tropical island. If you’ve taken care of business responsibly with the items above and still have some cash left over – go ahead! Treat yourself!

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November 20, 2019

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

American combined consumer debt now exceeds $13 trillion. That’s a stack of dollar bills nearly 900,000 miles high.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Credit cards: $931 billion
  • Auto loans: $1.22 trillion
  • Student loans: $1.38 trillion
  • Mortgages: $8.88 trillion
  • Any type of debt: $13.15 trillion

Nearly every type of debt can interfere with your financial goals, making you feel like a hamster on a wheel – constantly running but never actually getting anywhere. If you’ve been trying to dig yourself out of a debt hole, it’s time to take a break and look at the bigger picture.

Did you know there are often advantages to paying off certain types of debt before other types? What the simple list above doesn’t include is the average interest rates or any tax benefits to a given type of debt, which can change your priorities. Let’s check them out!

Credit Cards
Credit card interest rates now average over 15%, and interest rates are on the rise. For most households, credit card debt is the place to start – stop spending on credit and start making extra payments whenever possible. Think of it as an investment in your future, one that pays a 15% guaranteed return – the equivalent of a 20% return in the stock market or other taxable investment.

Auto Loans
Interest rates for auto loans are usually much lower than credit card debt, often under 5% on newer loans. Interest rates aren’t the only consideration for auto loans though. New cars depreciate nearly 20% in the first year. In years 2 and 3, you can expect the value to drop another 15% each year. The moral of the story is that cars are a terrible investment but offer great utility. There’s also no tax benefit for auto loan interest. Eliminating debt as fast as possible on a rapidly depreciating asset is a sound decision.

Student Loans
Like auto loans, student loans are usually in the range of 5% to 10% interest. While interest rates are similar to car loans, student loan interest is often tax deductible, which can lower your effective rate. Auto loans can usually be paid off faster than student loan debt, allowing more cash flow to apply to student debt, emergency funds, or other needs.

Mortgage Debt
In most cases, mortgage debt is the last type of debt to pay down. Mortgage rates are usually lower than the interest rates for credit card debt, auto loans, or student loans, and the interest is usually tax deductible. If mortgage debt keeps you awake at night, paying off other types of debt first will give you greater cash flow each month so you can begin paying down your mortgage.

When you’ve paid off your other debt and are ready to start tackling your mortgage, try paying bi-monthly (every two weeks). This simple strategy has the effect of adding one extra mortgage payment each year, reducing a 30-year loan term by several years. Because the payments are spread out instead of making one (large) 13th payment, it’s likely you won’t even notice the extra expense.

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November 13, 2019

You Can’t Take It With You

You Can’t Take It With You

A LinkedIn study found that Millennials are likely to change jobs 4 times in their first 10 years out of college. That equates to landing a new job roughly every 2.5 years by age 32!

So if you’re feeling the itch to leave your current job and head out for a new adventure in the workforce, the experience you’ve gained along the way will go with you. You may have made some great business connections too, and gotten some fabulous on-the-job-training. All of these things will “travel well” to a new job.

But there’s one thing you can’t take with you: An employer-supplied life insurance policy. While the price is right at “free” for many of these policies, there are several drawbacks that may deter you from relying on them solely for coverage.

1. An employer-provided policy turns in its two weeks notice when you do. Since your employer owns the policy – not you – your coverage will end when you leave that job. And unless you’re walking right into another employment opportunity where you’re offered the same type and amount of coverage, you might experience gaps or a total loss of coverage in an area where you had it before. When you’re not depending on an employer to provide your only life insurance coverage, you can change jobs as often as you please without the worry of the rug being pulled out from under you.

2. The employer policy is touted as ‘one size fits most.’ But it’s not likely that a group policy offered through an employer will be tailored to you and your unique needs. There may be no room for you to chime in and request certain features or a rider you’re interested in. However, when you build your own policy around your individual needs, you can get the right coverage that suits who you are and where you’d like to go on your financial journey.

3. An employer policy may not offer enough to cover your family. What amount of coverage is your employer offering? When you’re first starting out in your career, a $50,000 or even a $25,000 employer-provided policy might sound like a lot. But how far would that benefit really go to protect your family, cover funeral costs, or help with daily expenses if something were to happen to you?

Whether or not your 5-year plan includes 5 different jobs (or 5 entirely unrelated career paths), with a well-tailored policy that you own independent of your employment situation – you have the potential for a little more freedom and security in your financial strategy. And you won’t be starting from square one just because you’re starting a new opportunity.

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November 6, 2019

Common Financial Potholes

Common Financial Potholes

The journey to financial independence can feel a bit like driving around with your entire retirement fund stashed in the open-air bed of a pickup truck.

Every dollar bill is at the mercy of the elements. Think of an unforeseen medical emergency as a pop-up windstorm that whips a few thousand dollars out of the truck bed. And that time your refrigerator gave out on you? That’s swerving to avoid a landslide as it tumbles down the mountain. There goes another $1,000.

Emergencies like a case of appendicitis or suddenly needing a place to store your groceries usually arrive unannounced and can’t always be avoided. But there are a few scenarios you can bypass, especially when you know they’re coming.

These scenarios are the potholes on the road to financial independence. When you’re driving along and see a particularly nasty pothole through your windshield, it just makes sense to avoid it.

Here are some common potholes to avoid on your financial journey.

Excessive or Frivolous Spending
A job loss or a sudden, large expense can change your cash flow quickly, making you wish you still had some of the money you spent on… well, what did you spend it on, anyway? That’s exactly the trouble. We often spend on small indulgences without calculating how much those indulgences cost when they’re added up. Unless it’s an emergency, big expenses can be easier to control. It’s the small expenses that can cost the most.

Recurring Payments
Somewhere along the line, businesses started charging monthly subscriptions or membership fees for their products or service. These can be useful. You might not want to shell out $2,000 all at once for home gym equipment, but spending $40/month at your local gym fits in your budget. However, unused subscriptions and memberships create their own credit potholes. If money is tight or you’re prioritizing your spending, take a look at your subscriptions and memberships. Cancel the ones that you’re not using or enjoying.

New Cars
Most people love the smell of a new car, particularly if it’s a car they own. Ownership is strange in regard to cars, however. In most cases, the bank holds the title until the car is paid off. In the interim, the car has depreciated by 25% in the first year and by nearly 50% after 3 years.

What often happens is that we trade the car after a few years in exchange for something that has that new car smell – and we’ve never seen the title for the first car. We never owned it outright. In this chain of transactions, each car has taxes and registration fees, interest is paid on a depreciating asset, and car dealers are making money on both sides of the trade when we bring in our old car to exchange for a new one.

Unless you have a business reason to have the latest model, it’s less expensive to stop trading cars. Think of your no-longer-new car as a great deal on a used car – and once it’s paid off, there’s more money to put each month towards your retirement.

To sum up, you may already have the best shocks on your financial vehicle (i.e., a well-tailored financial strategy), but slamming into unnecessary potholes could damage what you’ve already built. Don’t damage your potential to go further for longer – avoid those common financial potholes.

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October 28, 2019

3 Simple Benefits of Indexed Universal Life Insurance

3 Simple Benefits of Indexed Universal Life Insurance

If you’re not familiar with indexed universal life insurance, you’ve come to the right place.

What is an IUL?
Indexed universal life insurance (IUL) is a type of permanent life insurance that has an investment element that helps the policy build cash value.

Part of the premium for an IUL is invested in stock options that track an index, like the S&P 500 or NASDAQ 100. This provides a higher growth potential than a whole life policy or a standard universal life policy (both of which provide a conservative fixed return). Gains may be capped in an indexed universal life policy, but the policy provides protections that prevent stock market meltdowns or slow slides from eroding the cash value in your policy.

Here are some of the main benefits of an IUL:
1. It protects your downside. Unlike direct investments, mutual funds, or other types of investments – an indexed universal life policy protects your downside. If the market drops for the index (or indexes) your policy tracks, you keep the gains and are sheltered from the losses. Don’t you wish your 401k or private investments could do that?

2. The cash value in your policy grows tax-deferred. Without the frequent tax liability that often comes with trading in and out of stocks or funds, the cash value can grow unhindered by the ball and chain of capital gains or income taxes.

3. Gains for an indexed universal life policy can be significantly higher than with a whole life policy or a universal life policy. Even with capped gains, which is a tradeoff in exchange for providing a floor to protect your policy from losses, the gains in an indexed universal life policy can outpace the earnings in fixed-rate policies. As with any investment, time tends to be your best friend, smoothing the down years (flat years for an IUL) with strong years to build an upward trend line.

An indexed universal life insurance policy can help supplement your retirement savings strategy and work in parallel with your existing 401k and IRAs – but with access to your cash value before age 59 ½ – or after – and without the dreaded 10 percent penalty for early withdrawal.

Summing It Up
As both a permanent life insurance policy and a tax-deferred investment vehicle that shields you from market losses, an indexed universal life policy can help provide for your family at nearly any point in life and then provide for your beneficiaries when you pass away.

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October 23, 2019

Top Reasons Why People Buy Term Life Insurance

Top Reasons Why People Buy Term Life Insurance

These days, most families are two-income households.

That describes 61.9% of U.S. families as of 2017. If that describes your family (and the odds are good), do you have a strategy in place to cover your financial obligations with just one income if you or your spouse were to unexpectedly pass away?

Wow. That’s a real conversation-opener, isn’t it? It’s not easy to think about what might happen if one income suddenly disappeared. (It might seem like more fun to have a root canal than to think about that.) But having the right coverage “just in case” is worth considering. It’ll give you some reassurance and let you get back to the fun stuff… like not thinking about having a root canal.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Term insurance and how it may help with your family’s financial obligations, read on…

Some Basics about Term Insurance
Many of life’s financial commitments have a set end date. Mortgages are 15 to 30 years. Kids grow up and (eventually) start providing for themselves. Term life insurance may be a great option since you can choose a coverage length that lines up with the length of your ongoing financial commitments. Ideally, the term of the policy will end around the same time those large financial obligations are paid off. Term policies also may be a good choice because in many cases, they may be the most economical solution for getting the protection a family needs.

As great as term policies can be, here are a couple of things to keep in mind: a term policy won’t help cover financial commitments if you or your spouse simply lose your job. And term policies have a set (level) premium during the length of the initial period. Generally, term policies can be continued after the term expires, but at a much higher rate.

The following are some situations where a Term policy may help.

Pay Final Expenses
Funeral and burial costs can be upwards of $10,000. However, many families might not have that amount handy in available cash. Covering basic final expenses can be a real burden, especially if the death of a spouse comes out of the blue. If one income is suddenly gone, it could mean the surviving spouse would need to use credit or liquidate assets to cover final expenses. As you would probably agree, neither of these are attractive options. A term life insurance policy can cover final expenses, leaving one less worry for your family.

Pay Off Debt
The average household in the U.S. is carrying nearly $140,000 in debt. For households with a large mortgage balance, the debt figures could be much higher. Couple that with a median household income of under $60,000, and it’s clear that many families would be in trouble if one income is lost.

Term life insurance can be closely matched to the length of your mortgage, which helps to ensure that your family won’t lose their home at an already difficult time.

But what about car payments, credit card balances, and other debt? These other debt obligations that your family is currently meeting with either one or two incomes can be put to bed with a well-planned term life policy.

Income Protection
Even if you’ve planned for final expenses and purchased enough life insurance coverage to pay off your household debt, life can present many other costs of just… living. If you pass unexpectedly, the bills will keep rolling in for anyone you leave behind – especially if you have young children. Those day-to-day living costs and unexpected expenses can seem to multiply in ways that defy mathematical concepts. (You know – like that school field trip to the aquarium that no one mentioned until the night before.)

But Wait, There’s More
A well-planned term life insurance policy can provide other benefits as well, including living benefits that can help prevent medical expenses from wreaking havoc on your family’s financial plan if you become critically ill. One note about the living benefits policies, though: If the critical and chronic illness features are used, the face value of the policy is reduced. But which might be more prepared to take a financial hit: the face value of the life insurance policy that just helped you cover your medical expenses… or your child’s college fund?

In some cases, policies with built in living benefits may cost more than a standard term policy, but it may still cost less than permanent insurance policies! And because a term policy is in force only during the years when your family needs the most protection, premiums can be lower than for other types of life insurance.

Term life insurance can provide income protection to help keep your family’s financial situation solid, and help things stay as “normal” as they can be after a loss.

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October 21, 2019

Is Survivorship Life Insurance Right For You?

Is Survivorship Life Insurance Right For You?

A survivorship life insurance policy is a type of joint insurance policy (a policy built for two).

You may not have thought much about that type of insurance before, or even knew it existed. But joint policies, especially survivorship policies, are important to consider because they can provide for heirs, settle estates, and pay for final expenses after both spouses have passed.

Most joint life insurance policies are what’s known as “first to die” policies. As the unambiguous nickname suggests, a first to die policy is designed to provide for the remaining spouse after the first passes.

A joint life insurance policy is a time-tested way of providing for a remaining spouse. But without careful planning, a typical joint life policy might leave a burden for surviving children or other family members.

A survivorship life insurance policy works differently than a first to die policy. Also called a “last to die” policy, a survivorship policy provides a death benefit only when both insured spouses have passed. A survivorship policy doesn’t pay a death benefit to either spouse but rather to a separate named beneficiary.

You’ll find survivorship life insurance referred to as:

  • Joint Survivor Life Insurance
  • Second-to-Die Life Insurance
  • Variable Survivorship Insurance

Survivorship life insurance policies are sometimes referred to by different names, but the structure is the same in that the policy only pays a benefit after both people insured by the policy have died.

Reasons to Buy Survivorship Life Insurance
We all have our reasons for buying a life insurance policy, and often have someone in mind who we want to protect and provide for. Those reasons often dictate the best type of policy – or the best combination of policies – that can meet our goals.

A survivorship policy is well-suited to any of the following considerations, perhaps in combination with other policies:

  • Final expenses
  • Estate taxes
  • Lingering medical expenses
  • Payment of debt
  • Transfer of wealth

It’s also most common for a survivorship life insurance policy to be a permanent life insurance policy. This is because the reasons for using a survivorship policy, including transfer of wealth, are usually better served by a permanent life policy than by a term insurance policy. (A term life insurance policy is only in force for a limited time and doesn’t build any cash value.)

Benefits of Survivorship Life Insurance

  • A survivorship life policy can be an effective way to transfer wealth as part of a financial strategy.
  • Life insurance can be difficult to purchase for individuals with certain health conditions. Because a survivorship life insurance policy is underwriting coverage based on two individuals, it may be possible to purchase coverage for someone who couldn’t easily be insured otherwise.
  • As a permanent life insurance policy, a survivorship life policy builds cash value that can be accessed if needed in certain situations.
  • Costs can be lower for a survivorship life policy than insuring two spouses individually.

The good news is that life insurance rates are more affordable now than in the past. That’s great! But keep in mind, your life insurance policy – of any type – will probably cost less now than if you wait for another birthday to pass for either spouse insured by the policy.

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October 14, 2019

Getting a Degree of Financial Security

Getting a Degree of Financial Security

The financial advantage gap between having a college degree and just having a high school diploma is widening!

In 2015, the average college graduate earned 56% more than the average high school graduate. This is the widest gap between the two that the Economic Policy Institute has recorded since 1973!

This income difference is making saving for retirement difficult for millennials without a college degree. According to the Young Invincibles’ 2017 ‘Financial Health of Young America’ study, millennial college grads – even with roadblocks like student debt – have saved nearly $21,000 for retirement. That’s quite a lot more as compared to the amount saved by those with a high school diploma only: under $8,000.

However, a college grad may encounter a different type of retirement savings roadblock than a reduced income – student loan debt. But the numbers show that even with student loan debt, the advantages of having a college degree and a solid financial strategy outweigh the retirement saving power of not having a college degree.

Here’s an issue plaguing both groups:more than two-thirds of all millennial workers surveyed do not have a specific retirement plan in place at all.

Regardless of your level of education or your level of income, you can save for your retirement – and take steps toward your financial independence. Or maybe even finance a college education for yourself or a loved one down the road.

The first step to making the most of what you do have is meeting with a financial advisor who can help put you on the path to a solid financial strategy. Contact me today. Let’s work to get your money working for you.

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