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April 19, 2021

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Rich & Kristina Messenger

Rich & Kristina Messenger

Senior Vice President



McKinney, TX

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April 14, 2021

The Time Value of Money and College

The Time Value of Money and College

College is one of the most expensive things that you can spend your money on, but it might not always be a good investment.

College graduates make much more than high school graduates over their lifetimes.¹ Some people think this means going to college is worth the cost because they’ll be able to pay off the loans with their higher salaries after graduation. But as you’ll see in this article, there’s another critical factor you should consider before going off to school.

Which career path will empower you to start saving sooner? The longer your money can accrue compound interest, the more it can grow. Working an extra four years instead of attending school could result in retiring with more. Let’s consider two hypotheticals that illustrate this point…

Let’s say you land a job straight out of high school at age 18 earning $35,000 total annual salary. You’re able to save 15% of your income in an account where the interest is compounded monthly at 9%. Assuming you work until 67, or 49 years, and consistently save the same amount each month over that time period at the same interest rate, you would retire with almost $4 million!

What if instead you attend college and graduate after 4 years? You land a job that pays $60,000 annually and are able to save 15% of your income. If you also retire at 67 after 45 years of work, saving 15% every month, you’ll retire with $4.7 million. That’s almost $700,000 more than the non-graduate!

But what if student loans prevent you from saving for 5 years after graduation? You’d retire with $3 million. In this hypothetical scenario, losing 9 years of saving results in a college graduate actually retiring with less than someone who diligently works and saves right out of high school.

The takeaway isn’t that you shouldn’t attend college. It’s that you should carefully weigh the costs of higher education. Is there a career path you could take right out of high school that would have you saving right away? Will your degree land you deep in debt and behind the 8-ball for building wealth? Or do the benefits of the degree substantially outweigh the costs? Don’t attend a college just because it’s what your peers are doing. Consider your passions, weigh the benefits, and calculate the costs before you make your decision!

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

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“The College Payoff,” Georgetown University, https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/the-college-payoff/

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

March 15, 2021

What You Need To Know About Life Insurance

What You Need To Know About Life Insurance

Buying life insurance is something that many people put off.

But it’s important to take the time to learn about what type of policy you may need and how much coverage you should buy. If you have a family, buying enough life insurance might be the most important part of your financial strategy.

Here are 4 things you need to know before you buy life insurance.

What is life insurance? Simply put, life insurance is an agreement between an insurer and a policyholder. When the policyholder dies, the insurer is legally obligated to pay a set amount of money, called a death benefit, to whomever the policyholder had predetermined.

Do you need life insurance? If people you love are dependent on your income, you may need life insurance. The death benefit can serve as a replacement for income that would vanish in the case of your passing. A personal tragedy doesn’t have to become a financial crisis!

What if I don’t have any dependents? Then life insurance may not be for you! However, you should note that life insurance might be useful if you’re carrying high levels of debt like student loans or a mortgage.

How much coverage should I get and how long should my policy last? As a rule of thumb, your life insurance coverage should be worth 10X your annual income. That should provide your family with a financial cushion while they grieve and plan for the future.

If you buy a term policy, be sure that it lasts through periods of high financial responsibility like paying a mortgage or raising a family.

If you want to learn more about life insurance, let me know! I can help you evaluate your financial situation and what a policy would look like for you.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or policies that may be available to you. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before enacting a savings or retirement strategy, or purchasing a life insurance policy, seek the advice of a licensed and qualified financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

March 1, 2021

How to Find Your Net Worth

How to Find Your Net Worth

Usually when we think of net worth we imagine all the holdings of a wealthy tycoon who owns several multi-million dollar businesses.

Net worth is just a balance sheet of a person’s assets and liabilities, not unlike the balance sheets used in business. You also have a net worth, and it’s important to know what it is.

Calculating your net worth is simple. First, you’ll want to tally up all your assets. These would include:

  • Personal property and cars
  • Real estate equity
  • Investments
  • Vested retirement plans
  • Cash or savings
  • Any amounts owed to you
  • Cash value of life insurance policies

Next, you’ll calculate your liabilities (what you owe someone else). These would include:

  • Loans
  • Mortgage balance
  • Credit card balances
  • Unpaid obligations

Your total liabilities subtracted from your total assets equals your net worth.

The number could be positive, or it could be negative. Students, for example, often have a negative net worth because they may have student loans but haven’t had a chance to build any personal assets.

It’s important to realize that net worth isn’t always equal to liquid assets. Your net worth includes non-liquid assets, like the equity in your home.

Measuring your net worth regularly can be a strong motivation when saving for the future—it can mark progress toward a well-reasoned financial goal.

When you’re ready to put together a personalized strategy based on your net worth and (more importantly) your future goals, reach out! We can use your current net worth as a starting point, while keeping focused on the real target: your long-term financial picture.

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February 24, 2021

2 Strategies to Build Credit When You’re Young

2 Strategies to Build Credit When You’re Young

The sooner you establish your credit score, the better positioned you’ll be for financial success.

Why? Because your credit score touches every aspect of your financial life—a high score can help you obtain a lower interest rate on mortgages and car loans, insurance payments, and even your rent!¹ That can help free up more cash for building wealth.

So, where do you start?

Apply for a credit card… and then use it responsibly! Credit cards are excellent tools for building your credit history. If you attend a university, you might be able to score a student credit card. However, just remember that credit cards are not free money. The less you use your credit card, the higher your credit score. Choose a few recurring expenses, and limit your credit card usage to those. Then make sure you pay off the balance every month, on time.

Use automatic payments on all your debts. Missing payments on your debt obligations can torpedo your credit score. It’s absolutely critical to pay on time for your credit card bill, student loan payments, and anything else you owe.

Consider automating all of your debt payments. It’s a simple, one-time move that can steadily reduce your balances and help boost your credit score.

As you build your credit history, you’ll be able to apply for credit in larger amounts, and you may even start receiving pre-approved offers. But beware. Having credit available is useful for certain emergencies and for demonstrating responsible use of credit—but you don’t need to apply for every offer you receive!

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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.
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.
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.
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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December 28, 2020

More financial tips for the new year

More financial tips for the new year

There’s nothing like the start of a brand new year to put you in a resolution-making, goal-setting, slate-cleaning kind of mood.

Along with your commitment to eat less sugar and exercise a little more, carve out some time to set a few financial aspirations for the new year. Here are some quick tips that may add up to significant benefits for you and your family.

Check your credit report
Start the new year with a copy of your credit report. Every consumer is entitled to one free credit report per year. Make it a point to get yours. Your credit report determines your credit score, so an improved score may help you get a better interest rate on an auto loan or a better plan for utilities or your phone.

Check your credit report carefully for accuracy. If you find anything that shouldn’t be there, you can file a dispute to have it removed. There are several sites where you can get your free credit report – just don’t get duped into paying for it.

Up your 401(k) contributions
The start of a new year is a great time to review your retirement strategy and up your 401(k) contributions. If saving for retirement is on your radar right now – as it should be – see if it works in your budget to increase your 401(k) contribution a few percentage points.

Review your health insurance policy
The open enrollment period for your health insurance may occur later in the year, so make a note on your calendar now to explore your health insurance options beforehand. If you have employer-sponsored health insurance, they should give you information about your plan choices as the renewal approaches. If you provide your own health insurance, you may need to talk to your representative or the health insurance company directly to assess your coverage and check how you might be able to save with a different plan.

Make sure your coverage is serving you well. If you have a high deductible plan, see if you can set up a health savings account. An HSA will allow you to put aside pretax earnings for covered health care costs throughout the year.

No spend days
Consider implementing “no spend days” into your year. Select one day per month (or two if you’re brave) and make it a no spend day. This only works well if you make it non-negotiable! A no spend day means no spur of the moment happy hours, going out to lunch, or engaging in so-called retail therapy.

A no spend day may help you save a little money, but the real gift is what you may learn about your spending habits.

Do some financial goal setting
Whether we really stick to them or not, many of us might be pretty good at setting career goals, family goals, and health and fitness goals. But when it comes to formulating financial goals, some of us might not be so great at that. Still, financial goal setting is essential, because just like anything else, you can’t get there if you’re not sure where you’re going.

Start your financial goal setting by knowing where you want to go. Have some debt you want to pay off? Looking to own a home? Want to retire in the next ten years? Those are great financial goals, but you’ll need a solid strategy to get there.

If you’re having trouble creating a financial strategy, consider working with a qualified financial professional. They can help you draw your financial roadmap.

Clean out your financial closet
Financial tools like budgets, savings strategies, and household expenses need to be revisited. Think of your finances like a closet that should be cleaned out at least once a year. Open it up and take everything out, get rid of what’s no longer serving you, and organize what’s left.

Review your household budget
Take a good look at your household budget. Remember, a budget should be updated as your life changes, so the beginning of a new year is an excellent time to review it. Don’t have a budget? An excellent goal would be to create one! A budget is one of the most useful financial tools available. It’s like an x-ray that reveals your income and spending habits so you can see and track changes over time.

Make this year your financial year
A new year is a great time to do a little financial soul searching. Freshen up your finances, revisit your financial strategies, and greet the new year on solid financial footing.

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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. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, health insurance representative, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

December 21, 2020

Permanent or Term Life: Which is right for you?

Permanent or Term Life: Which is right for you?

Life insurance has many benefits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the key points regarding permanent life insurance include:

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

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

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

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

December 7, 2020

How To Save Money On Transportation

How To Save Money On Transportation

Americans drain a huge portion of their income on transportation.

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

But what if you made that money work for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 19, 2020

When Education Isn't Worth It

When Education Isn't Worth It

After room and board, a degree from a private university costs $46,950 per year.¹

A public university charges less than half that, with an annual price tag of $20,770.² That’s over double what it was in 1980 after adjusting for inflation.³ Why the sharp increase? Part of the answer is that demand has skyrocketed over the past 40 years. An information age requires knowledgeable, highly-skilled workers, and getting a degree is the traditional way of meeting those criteria. Rising demand has occurred alongside a steady decline in state funding for public education. One report found that 79% of tuition increases stemmed from such cuts.⁴

But there’s always been an assumption, despite the ballooning costs of higher education, that attending university would be worth it. Afterall, graduates almost always earn more than their peers.⁵ It’s an investment in a future income, right?

The diminishing returns of a degree
But that old model is simplistic at best. College simply doesn’t pay off for some graduates. Data demonstrates that the lowest earning college grads actually earn less than their highschool educated counterparts. ⁶ They actually lost income by going to university! It makes sense when you do the math. Going into crippling debt to get a speech and drama degree only earns you about $28,300 after graduation. ⁷ And the huge supply of highly-educated workers has put pressure on once prosperous careers. For example, more people graduate from expensive law schools in the United States than there are job openings for attorneys. ⁸ Sure, there’s 6-figure potential there if you can land a job, but you’re competing with dozens of other qualified prospects. It’s easy to see why people have become so cynical about higher education.

Simple solutions?
Overall, there are certainly times when a college degree is not worth the time and treasure. Spending 12 years at a private institution to get a doctorate in an obscure field with low pay and a brutal job market? There are probably more profitable ways to spend your time. But overall, there are numerous degrees that may still pay off; the average Bachelor’s degree is worth around $2.8 million over a lifetime. ⁹ But you must plan strategically. It all comes down to how you reduce the cost of your education and maximize your upside potential post-graduation.

Narrow your search to only include public schools in your state. Do as much research on scholarships and apply for as many as possible. Live with your parents to cut down on room and board costs. Take a gap year of work between your bachelors and masters degree. And do some research on job opportunities in the field before you get a diploma. You might decide that going into debt to become a petroleum engineer is a better investment than signing your life away to the humanities!

If you’re a parent, start planning your child’s higher education today. That will involve choosing the right schools and encouraging them to work hard and love learning. But you must also provide them with a steady financial foundation to pursue their dreams. Helping them get a degree debt-free might empower them to study their passions instead of chasing paychecks to fight off loans. There are financial products on the market designed to help you save for your child’s future, no matter what level of education they decide to pursue. Let’s schedule a time to meet and we can discuss your options in detail!

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¹ Hillary Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been, and the 5 reasons why suggest it’s only going to get worse,” Business Insider, JunE 26, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/why-is-college-so-expensive-2018-4

² Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been,” Business Insider

³ Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been,” Business Insider

⁴ Abigail Hess, “The cost of college increased by more than 25% in the last 10 years—here’s why,” CNBC, Dec 13 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/13/cost-of-college-increased-by-more-than-25percent-in-the-last-10-years.html

⁵ Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, Andrew R. Hanson, “The Economic Value Of College Majors: Executive Summary,” Georgetown University Center On Education And The Workforce, 2015, https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Exec-Summary-web-B.pdf

⁶ Emma Kerr, “Is College Worth the Cost?,” U.S. News & World Report, June 17, 2019, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2019-06-17/is-college-worth-the-cost

⁷ Alison Doyle, “Average College Graduate Salaries: Expectations vs. Reality,” The Balance, June 6, 2020, https://www.thebalance.com/college-graduate-salaries-expectations-vs-reality-4142305

⁸ “Occupational Outlook Handbook, Lawyers” Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Sept 1, 2020 https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm#tab-6

⁹ Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose and Ban Cheah, “The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings” Georgetown University Center On Education And The Workforce, 2011, https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/the-college-payoff/

September 28, 2020

So You Want to Buy Life Insurance for Your Parents...

So You Want to Buy Life Insurance for Your Parents...

Playing Monopoly as a young kid might have given you some strange ideas about money.

Take the life insurance card in the Community Chest for instance. That might give the impression that life insurance is free money to burn on whatever the next roll of the dice calls for.

In grown-up reality, life insurance proceeds are often committed long before a policy holder or beneficiary receives the check they’re waiting for. Final expenses, estate taxes, loan balances, and medical bills all compete for whatever money is paid out on the policy.

If your parents don’t have a policy or if you think their coverage won’t be enough, you can plan ahead and buy a life insurance policy for them. Your parents would be the insured, but you would be the policy owner and beneficiary.

A few extra considerations when buying a life insurance policy for your parents:

  • Insurable interest still applies. If your parents already have a significant amount of life insurance coverage, you may find that some insurers are reluctant to issue more coverage. Insurable interest requires that the amount of coverage doesn’t exceed the potential financial loss. (In other words, if your parents already have enough coverage, a company may not want to insure them for more.)
  • Age can limit coverage amounts. Assuming that your parents are older and no longer generating income, coverage amounts will be limited. If your parents are younger and still have 20 or more years ahead of them before they retire, they can qualify for a higher amount of coverage.
  • Age can limit policy types. Certain types of life insurance aren’t available when we get older, or will be limited in regard to length of coverage. Term life insurance is a good example. Your options for term life insurance will be fewer once your parents are into their sixties. The available term lengths will also be shorter. Policies with a 30-year term aren’t commonly available over the age of 50.

How Can I Use The Life Insurance For My Parents?

Depending on the amount of coverage you buy – or can buy (remember, it may be limited), you could use the policy to plan for any of the following:

  • Final expenses: You can expect funeral costs to run from $10,000 to $15,000, maybe more.
  • Estate taxes: Estate taxes and so-called death taxes can be an unpleasant surprise in many states. A life insurance policy can help you plan for this expense which could come at a time when you’re not flush with cash.

Can Life Insurance Pay The Mortgage Or Car Loans?

It isn’t uncommon for parents to pass away with some remaining debt. This might be in the form of a mortgage, car loans, or even credit card debt. These loan balances can be covered in whole or in part with a life insurance policy.

In fact, outstanding loan balances are a very big consideration. Often, people who inherit a house or a car may also inherit an additional mortgage payment or car payment. It might be wonderful to receive such a generous and sentimental gift, but if you’re like many families, you might not have the extra money for the payments in your budget.

Even if the policy doesn’t provide sufficient coverage to retire the debt completely, a life insurance policy can give you some breathing room until you can make other arrangements – like selling your parents’ house, for example.

You Control The Premium Payments.

If you buy a life insurance policy for your parents, you’ll know if the premiums are being paid because you’re the one paying them. You probably wouldn’t want your parents to be burdened with a life insurance premium obligation if they’re living on a fixed income.

Buying insurance for your parents is a great idea, but many people don’t consider it until it’s too late. That’s when you might wish you’d had the idea years ago. It’s one of the wisest things you can do, particularly if your parents are underinsured or have no life insurance at all.

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September 23, 2020

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Life insurance is important… or so you’ve been told.

But do you really need it? And how can you know? Let’s take a look at who does and doesn’t need the family and legacy protecting power of life insurance and some specific examples of both.

Protecting your dependants
Is there anyone in your life who would suffer financially if your income were to vanish? If so, then you have dependents. And anyone with financial dependents should buy life insurance. Those are the people you’re aiming to protect with a life insurance policy.

On the other hand, if you live alone, aren’t helping anyone pay bills, and no one relies on you financially to pursue their dreams, then you still might need coverage. Let’s look at some specific examples below.

Young singles
Let’s say you’ve just graduated from college, you’ve started your first job, and you’re living in a new city. Your parents don’t need you to help support them, and you’re on your own financially. Should you get life insurance? If you have serious amounts of student or credit card debt that would get moved to your parents in the event of your passing, then it’s a consideration. You also might think about if you have saved enough in emergency funds to cover potential funeral expenses. Now would also potentially be a better time to buy a policy early while rates are low, especially if you’re considering starting a family in the near future.

Married without children
What if your family is just you and your spouse? Do either of you need life insurance? Remember, your goal is to protect the people who depend on your income. You and your spouse have built a life together that’s probably supported by both of your incomes. A life insurance policy could protect your loved one’s lifestyle if something were to happen to you. It would also help them meet lingering financial obligations like car payments, credit card debt, and a mortgage, even if they still have their income.

Single or married parents
Anyone with children must consider life insurance. No one relies on your income quite like your kids. It’s what clothes them and feeds them. Later on, it can empower them to pursue their educational dreams. Life insurance can help give you peace of mind that all of those needs will be protected. Even a stay-at-home parent should consider a policy. They often provide for needs like childcare and education that would be costly to replace. Life insurance is an essential line of defense for your family’s dreams and lifestyle.

Business owners
No one wants to think about what would happen to their business without them. But entrepreneurs and small business owners can use life insurance to protect their hard work. A policy can help protect your family if you took out loans to start your business and are still paying down debt. More importantly, it can help offset the losses if your family can’t operate the business without you and has to sell in poor market conditions.

Not everyone needs life insurance right now. But it’s a vital line of defense for the people you care about most and should be on everyone’s radar. The need might not be as urgent for a young, debt-free single person, but it’s still worth it to start making plans to protect your future family. Contact a financial professional today to begin the process of preparing!

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August 17, 2020

Dig yourself out of debt

Dig yourself out of debt

I hate to break it to you, but no matter what generation you are – Baby Boomer, Generation X, or Millennial – you’re probably in debt.

If you’re not – good on you! Keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you are in debt, you’re not alone. A study[i] by the financial organization, Comet, found:

  • 80.9 percent of Baby Boomers are in debt
  • 79.9 percent of Generation X is in debt
  • 81.5 percent of Millennials are in debt

There are some folks whose goal is to eliminate all debt – and if that’s yours, great! But one thing to keep in mind while you’re working towards that finish line is that not all debt is created equal. Carrying a mortgage, for example, may be considered a “healthy” debt. Student loan debt may feel like an encumbrance, but hopefully, your education has given you more earning power in the workforce. A car loan may even be considered a healthy debt. So, there are some types of debt that may offer you advantages.

Any credit card debt you have, however, should be dealt with asap. Credit card debt can cost money every month in the form of interest, and it gives you nothing in return – no equity, no education, no increase in earning potential. It’s like throwing money down the drain.

So, let’s get to work and look at some of the best tips for paying down credit card debt.

1. Get to know your debt
Make a commitment to be honest with yourself. If you’re in denial, it’s going to be hard to make positive changes. So take a good, hard look at your debt. Examine your credit card statements and note balances, interest rates, minimum monthly payment amounts, and due dates. Once you have this information down in black and white you can start to create a repayment strategy.

2. Get motivated
Taking on your debt isn’t easy. Most of us would rather not confront it. We may make half-hearted attempts to pay it off but never truly get anywhere. Need a little motivation? Getting rid of your credit card debt may make you happier. The Comet study asked respondents to rate their happiness on a scale of one to seven.[ii] It turns out that those who selected the lowest rating also carried the highest amounts of credit card debt. Want to be happier? It seems like paying off your credit card debt may help!

3. Develop your strategy
There are many strategies for paying off your credit card debt. Once you understand all your debt and have found your motivation, it’s time to pick a strategy. There are two main strategies for debt repayment. One focuses on knocking out the highest interest debt first, and the other method begins with tackling the smallest principal balances first. Here’s how they work:

  • Start with the highest interest rate: One of the items you should have noted when you did your debt overview is the interest rate for each account. With this method, you’ll throw the largest payment you can at your highest interest rate debt every month, while paying the minimum payments on your other debts. Utilizing this method may help you pay less interest over time.

  • Start with the smallest balance: As opposed to comparing interest rates, this method requires you to look at your balances. With this strategy, you’ll begin paying the smallest balance off first. Continue to make the minimum payments on your other accounts and put as much money as you can towards the smallest balance. Once you have that one paid off, combine the amount you were paying on that balance with the minimum you were paying on your next smallest balance, and so on. This strategy can help keep you motivated and encouraged since you should start to see some results right away.

Either strategy can work well. Pick the one that seems best for you, execute, and most importantly – don’t give up!

4. Live by a budget
As you begin chipping away at your credit card debt, it’s important to watch your spending. If you continue to charge purchases, you won’t see the progress you’re making, so watch your spending closely. If you don’t have a budget already, now would be a good time to create one.

5. Think extra payments
Once you are committed to paying off your debt and have developed your strategy, keep it top of mind. Make it your number one financial priority. So when you come across “found” money – like work bonuses or gifts – see it as an opportunity to make an extra credit card payment. The more of those little extra payments you make, the better. Make them while the cash is in hand, so you aren’t tempted to spend it on something else.

6. Celebrate your victories
Living on a budget and paying off debt can feel tedious. Paying off debt takes time. Don’t forget to take pride in what you’re trying to accomplish. Celebrate your milestones. Do something special when you get that first small balance paid off, but try to make the occasion free or at least cheap! The point is to reward yourself for your hard financial work. (Hint: Try putting up a chart or calendar in your kitchen and marking off your progress as you go!)

Reward yourself with a debt-free life Getting out of debt is a great reward in and of itself. It takes discipline, persistence, and patience, but it can be done. Come to terms with your debt, formulate a strategy, and stick to it. Your financial future will thank you!

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August 10, 2020

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 1, 2020

Considering a home equity loan?

Considering a home equity loan?

Home prices may be leveling off in some areas but they’ve had a healthy recovery nationwide, leading to massive amounts of untapped equity.

According to a recent report, the average homeowner gained nearly $15,000 in equity in the past year and has nearly $115,000 available to draw.[i]

This can be good news if you need to increase your cash flow to pay for a special project or unusual expense.

Home equity risks
It might be obvious, but a home equity loan is secured by your home, based on the equity you’ve built. Your eligibility for a home equity loan involves several factors, but a primary consideration is going to be the difference between your home’s market value and the remaining balance on the mortgage. Keep in mind that missed payments due to a job loss, illness, or another financial setback may put your home at risk from two loans – the original mortgage and the home equity loan. Before you take out this type of loan, make sure you have a solid strategy in place for repayment.

Home equity loan costs
Funds acquired through a home equity loan can feel like found money, but keep in mind that a home equity loan takes an asset and converts it to debt – often for up to 30 years. As such, you’ll be paying certain fees to use the money.

Home equity loans often have closing costs of 2% to 5% of the loan amount.[ii] It might be worth it to shop around, however, to see if you can find a lender who won’t bury you in fees and loan charges. Interest rates may vary depending on your credit rating and other factors, but you can expect to pay about 6% or higher. If you were to borrow $100,000 of the $115,000 the average homeowner now has in equity, the interest costs over 30 years would be $115,000 – $15,000 more than you borrowed. If you can manage a 15-year term instead, this would drop the interest costs down to about $52,000.[iii] Carefully consider what you’ll use the funds to purchase. A new patio addition to your home or a pool with a deck may not add enough value to your home to offset the interest costs.

Tax benefits
Once upon a time, the interest for a home equity loan was tax deductible, much like the interest on a primary mortgage. Now, there are some rules attached to the tax benefit. If you use the loan funds to make improvements to the home you’re borrowing against, you can usually deduct the interest. In the past, the tax benefit didn’t consider how the funds were used.[iv]

Home equity loans can be a powerful financial tool. But as with many tools, it’s important to exercise caution. Before signing on the dotted line, be sure you understand the long-term cost of the loan. With interest rates climbing, a home equity loan isn’t as attractive a source of funding as it once was.

Depending on how the funds are used, a home equity loan can make sense. If you’re buried in high-interest debt, like credit cards, the math might work to your favor. However, if the money is spent on a shiny, red sports car and a trip to Vegas, it might be tough to make a financial argument for that – unless you win big.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

[i] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/09/homeowners-sitting-on-record-amount-of-cash-and-not-tapping-it.html
[ii] https://www.lendingtree.com/home/home-equity/home-equity-loan-closing-costs/
[iii] https://www.mortgageloan.com/calculator/loan-line-payment-calculator
[iv] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/21/5-things-to-know-before-taking-out-a-home-equity-loan.html

June 24, 2020

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Read this before you walk down the aisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 15, 2020

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 8, 2020

What Happens When You Don't Pay Your Debts

What Happens When You Don't Pay Your Debts

Movies make defaulting on debt look scary.

Broken glass, bloody noses, and shouts of “Where’s my money!” come flooding to mind when we think of those poor souls in films who can’t pay back the down-and-dirty street lender. But what happens if we’re late on a mortgage payment or our credit card bill? It turns out there are several steps that creditors typically go through to get their money (and none of them involve baseball bats!).

Debt collectors
Debt that doesn’t get paid within 60 days typically gets handed over to a debt collection agency. These companies will attempt to entice you into coughing up what you owe. They’ll then hand that cash over to whoever hired them, keeping a portion for themselves. Remember, debt collectors can’t drain your account directly. Instead, you’ll receive calls and notifications and reminders to pay up. This can occur until up to 180 days after you fail to make a payment.

Credit score hit
Lenders want to know if you’ll be able to pay back money that they loan you. They look at your credit report (a history of your debt payments) to determine if they can trust you. The information in that report gets crunched by an algorithm to produce a credit score. It’s a shorthand way for lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness and decide if they want to loan you money.

Failure to pay your debts can end up on your credit report. Consistently missing payments and not paying for days and months can seriously affect your credit score. That means creditors can deny you loans or crank up your interest rate. Yikes.

Lawsuits
But what happens if you don’t pay when the debt collectors come around? After about 180 days your debt will be considered charged-off, meaning it’s not likely to be paid.(1) This presents creditors with a few different options. Sometimes, they’ll decide that the debt just isn’t worth it, cancel the collection effort, and move on. Collectors could also negotiate, settle for a smaller portion of the debt, and call it done. But creditors could also take the debtor to court and legally attempt to recover the money they’re owed.

A great practice is to not rack up debt at all. A good practice is to take on debt only in rare circumstances. But the best practice is to make sure you pay off any debt you owe on time!

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June 3, 2020

Do you know your net worth?

Do you know your net worth?

Usually when we think of net worth we imagine all the holdings of a wealthy tycoon who owns several multi-million dollar businesses.

Or a young heiress on the New York social scene, or a successful blockbuster movie actor.

However, you have a net worth too. Essentially, your net worth is a personal balance sheet of your assets and liabilities, not unlike the balance sheets used in business.

Calculating your net worth
First, you’ll want to tally up all your assets. These would include:

  • Personal property and cars
  • Real estate equity
  • Investments
  • Vested retirement plans
  • Cash or savings
  • Amounts owed to you
  • Cash value of life insurance policies

Next, you’ll calculate your liabilities (amounts you owe someone). These would include:

  • Loans
  • Mortgage balance
  • Credit card balances
  • Unpaid obligations

Your total liabilities subtracted from your total assets establishes your net worth.

The number could be positive, or it could be negative. Students, for example, often have a negative net worth because they may have student loans but haven’t had much of a chance to build personal assets yet.

It’s also important to realize that net worth isn’t always equal to liquid assets. Your net worth includes non-liquid assets, like the equity in your home.

What should your net worth be?
The notion that you should be at a certain net worth by a certain age is mostly arbitrary; wealth is relative. Having a hundred thousand dollars stashed away might sound like a lot, but if you live in an affluent area or have a large family to provide for, it may not last long if your job disappears suddenly. In other situations, the same hundred thousand dollars might be a fabulous starting point to a growing net worth.

Net worth can be a way of “keeping score”, but it’s important to remember the game is one in which you are the only player and you’re playing to best yourself. What someone else has or doesn’t have isn’t relevant to your needs and your future goals for your family.

Looking ahead
Measuring your net worth can be a strong motivation when saving for the future. Do you want to be a certain net worth by a certain age? Not if the number is pulled out of thin air. If your net worth marks progress toward a well-reasoned goal, however, it’s extremely relevant.

When you’re ready to put together a personalized plan based on your net worth and (more importantly) your future goals, reach out anytime. We can use net worth as a starting point and a measurement tool, while keeping squarely focused on the real target: your long-term financial strategy.

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May 25, 2020

Preparing to buy your first home

Preparing to buy your first home

Home buying can be both very exciting and very stressful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

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