Discover Your Retirement Number

September 22, 2021

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Rich & Kristina Messenger

Rich & Kristina Messenger

Senior Vice President



McKinney, TX

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August 23, 2021

Financial Essentials for Retiring Baby Boomers

Financial Essentials for Retiring Baby Boomers

Are Baby Boomers out of time for retirement planning?

At first glance, it might seem like they are. They’re currently aged 57-75, meaning a good portion have already retired!¹

And those who are still working have only a few precious years to create their retirement nest eggs and get their finances in order.

Perhaps you’re in that boat—or at least know someone who is. If so, this article is for you. It’s about some essential strategies retiring Baby Boomers can leverage to help create the futures they desire.

Eliminate your debt. The first step is getting rid of your debt. After all, it’s not optional in retirement—you’ll need every penny to fund the lifestyle you want.

That means two things…

  1. Don’t take on any new debt. No new houses, boats, cars, or credit card funded toys.
  2. Use a debt snowball (or avalanche) to eliminate existing debts.

That means focusing all of your financial resources on a single debt at a time, knocking out either the smallest balance or highest interest debt.

Eliminating, or at least reducing, your debt can help create financial headroom for you in retirement. It frees up more cash flow for you to spend on your lifestyle and on preparing for potential emergencies.

Maximize social security benefits. Delay Social Security as long as possible (or until age 70). Delaying Social Security increases your monthly payments, so it’s a simple way to maximize your benefit.

For example, if you started collecting Social Security at age 66, you would be entitled to 100% of your social security benefit. At 67, it increases to 108%, and by 70 it increases 132%. That can make a huge difference towards living your dream retirement lifestyle.

Check out the Social Security Administration’s website to learn more.

Protect your wealth and health with long-term care (LTC) coverage. The next step is to protect your assets from the burden of LTC. It’s a challenge 7 out of 10 retirees will have to overcome, and it can be costly—without insurance, it can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000. That’s a significant chunk of your retirement wealth!²

The standard strategy for covering the cost of LTC is LTC insurance. It pays for expenses like nursing homes, caretakers, and adult daycares.

But it can be pricey, especially as you grow older—a couple, age 55, can expect to pay $2,080 annually combined, while a 65 year old couple will pay closer to $3,750.³

The takeaway? If you don’t have LTC coverage, get it ASAP. The longer you wait, the more cost—and risk—you potentially expose yourself to.

Pro-tip: If you have a permanent life insurance policy, you may be able to add a LTC rider to your coverage. Meet with a licensed and qualified financial professional to see if this option is available for you!

Review your income potential with a financial professional. The final step on your path to retirement is reviewing your income options. You want to strike a balance between maximizing your sources of cash flow and keeping control over your retirement plan.

Many retirees lean heavily on two primary income opportunities: Social security and withdrawals from their retirement savings accounts.

And that’s where a financial professional can help.

They can help you review your current retirement lifestyle goals, savings, and potential income. If there’s a gap, they can help come up with strategies to close it.

You’ve worked hard and made sacrifices—now it’s time to reap the rewards of all that elbow grease. Which of the essentials in this article do you need to tackle first?

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¹ “Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, and Gen A Explained,” Kasasa, Jul 6, 2021, https://www.kasasa.com/articles/generations/gen-x-gen-y-gen-z

²”Long-term care insurance cost: Everything you need to know,” MarketWatch, Feb 19, 2021, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/long-term-care-insurance-cost-everything-you-need-to-know-01613767329

³ “Long-Term Care Insurance Facts - Data - Statistics - 2021 Reports,” American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, https://www.aaltci.org/long-term-care-insurance/learning-center/ltcfacts-2021.php

August 16, 2021

Financial Moves to Improve Your Mental Health

Financial Moves to Improve Your Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 11, 2021

Saving Money With Credit Cards: The Ultimate Guide

Saving Money With Credit Cards: The Ultimate Guide

Credit cards are one of the most useful tools for saving money.

That may seem counter-intuitive. In fact, if you’re struggling with credit card debt, it might seem like an all out fantasy!

But if you have your credit cards under control, they can offer significant opportunities to save money.

Here’s your strategy guide for saving money with credit cards.

Eliminate your credit card debt. The simple truth is that credit card debt can derail your financial strategy. No matter how advantageous credit card rewards seem, they won’t offset the high interest rates that most cards feature.

So before you start leveraging the benefits a card can offer, take steps to eliminate your credit card debt completely.

The two most common strategies are the “debt snowball” and the “debt avalanche.”

Debt Snowball: Make only minimum payments on your other cards, and focus all of your financial firepower on your smallest balance. Once that’s gone, move on to the next smallest. Repeat until your debt is gone.

Debt Avalanche: Make only minimum payments on your other cards, and focus all of your financial firepower on the balance with the highest interest rate. Once that’s gone, move on to the next highest. Repeat until your debt is gone.

Another strategy is opening a new card with a 0% introductory APR. Then, use your new card to pay off your old card with no interest. This is called a balance transfer, and there are specialized cards with benefits tailored for this strategy. Check out this Nerdwallet article for a few options! (Note: Make sure you understand any fees that may be charged for a transfer.)

Build your credit score. It’s no joke—the higher your credit score, the greater the rewards you may earn. To help maximize your savings with a card, start building your credit score ASAP.

A simple step towards increasing your score is automating all of your loan payments. You can do this with your credit card, mortgages, and car loans. Once your credit crosses a certain threshold, look for cards with greater benefits. You might be surprised by the difference your score makes!

Choose benefits that align with your lifestyle. DO NOT get a travel card and then plan four international vacations to “maximize your benefits.”

Instead, choose a card that rewards you for your current habits, behaviors, and the way you live your life. It’s a chance to get something back for going about your daily routine!

Travel frequently for work or lifestyle? Consider a card that rewards you for flying or that waives foreign transaction fees.

Loyal to certain brands and stores? Look for cards that offer points for shopping with your favorites.

Above all, remember that credit cards ARE NOT FREE MONEY. The more disciplined you are with your credit card usage, the more you stand to benefit from the rewards.

Ask a financial professional about how you can leverage credit cards for your advantage. They can help you understand your financial position and develop a strategy to maximize your benefits.

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August 2, 2021

5 Warning Signs That You Need a Financial Professional

5 Warning Signs That You Need a Financial Professional

With the cost of living on the rise, many people are struggling to make ends meet.

It’s important to know when you’re in over your head and need some help from a professional. Here are five warning signs that could indicate it’s time for some financial advice.

You’re not sure if you can afford to retire. The first warning sign that you may need financial advice is when you’re not sure if you can afford to retire when you want to. Retirement is the centerpiece of many financial strategies, so if you feel like you’re short here, it’s a serious red flag.

A financial professional can help you…

  • Determine how much wealth you’ll need to retire comfortably
  • Create a plan that can help you reach your goal

So if there’s any uncertainty about your financial future, schedule a meeting ASAP!

You have a lot of credit card debt and don’t know how to pay it off. When credit card balances start piling up, it can quickly become overwhelming. If left unchecked, your credit card debt can drain your cash flow and slow your progress towards financial goals. A financial professional can help you figure out a strategy to attack debt to help mitigate damage to your finances and avoid potentially lowering your credit score.

You struggle to afford necessities. Sometimes, life throws us curveballs and our budget gets stretched to the max. If you’re struggling to pay rent or put food on the table, it’s time to consider getting some help. Most people are at their best when they’re working towards goals. That’s exactly what a financial professional is here to offer—guidance so you can be the best version of yourself and accomplish your dreams.

You’ve been living paycheck-to-paycheck. If you have a lot of expenses but no savings, it’s likely that your financial strategy is lacking one or more key components. That’s because living paycheck-to-paycheck hampers your ability to build wealth—all of your cash is going straight from your wallet into someone else’s pocket. A financial professional can help you discover areas to dial back your spending and start saving.

You feel like your savings are shrinking, not growing. Have you started to rely on your retirement savings, today? If so, contact a financial professional immediately. They can help you discover the roots of your financial condition and put a financial strategy in place to help protect your nest egg for the future.

It’s important that you know when you need help. These five warning signs could indicate your financial situation is in dire straits and requires professional help. If any one of these apply to you or if you’re just not sure if they do, contact me today!

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July 26, 2021

6 Viable Passive Income Sources

6 Viable Passive Income Sources

The idea of having a passive income is something that many people dream about.

That’s because it means you can earn money above and beyond physical hours of work that you might put in! And there are plenty of ways to establish a passive income. In this article, we’ll discuss 6 different sources of passive income and how you can take advantage of each.

1. Rental income. This could come from renting out a room in your home, a basement, or a property you’ve purchased. The income from your tenants can help cover maintenance costs and provide you with a reliable, consistent source of income. It’s a simple, classic cash flow creator.

But it’s not perfect. Buying properties may require you to borrow money, which can create risk. Furthermore, managing unruly tenants can be time-consuming, taking the “passive” out of passive income.

2. Affiliate marketing. What if you could get paid to sell someone else’s products? It doesn’t get much more passive than that. Affiliate marketing is where you simply place a link to a product on your social media feed, YouTube video, blog, or website. You get a cut of the profit every time that link leads to a sale.

Just know that affiliate marketing works best for those with some measure of online following—more eyes on your affiliate link means more potential clicks!

3. Create ebooks and courses. Online educational content isn’t the purest form of passive income—it requires upfront work to research and create. But once they’re published, they can provide regular extra cash. Just be sure that you’re creating content on a subject matter you’re familiar with!

4. Blogging. Overwhelmed by writing an entire eBook? Start with a blog! It’s a simple way to get your ideas down on (digital) paper AND generate some ad revenue at the same time. Just remember, blogging may have a long lead time before it becomes profitable.

5. Peer-to-peer lending. Investing in loans has been around for ages—and with peer-to-peer platforms like Lending Club or Prosper, investing can be done quickly online. It’s a simple, quick way to earn interest on the fly.

But be warned—putting money into this type of service could be a substantial risk. There’s no guarantee that your creditors will repay their debts, which could leave you out to dry. So while it’s a viable option for passive income, it may not be 100% safe.

6. Start flipping! And I don’t mean doing gymnastics in the park (though that could earn you some cash—maybe). Instead, hit up a local thrift store. If you see a find that catches your eye, check to see how much you could sell it for on eBay or Craigslist. You might be surprised by the price difference! Buying at the thrift store and selling online could result in a serious profit.

This isn’t a fully passive income—it requires some investment and time searching and shopping for items. But it’s far more fun and feasible for most than real estate or writing an eBook.

So what are you waiting for? If you have the skills, time, and patience for it—then go for it! You might be surprised by how much you can earn with minimal effort.

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July 14, 2021

Is Refinancing Worth It?

Is Refinancing Worth It?

What do you think of when you hear the word “refinancing?”

If you’re like most people, your first thought might be that it has something to do with a mortgage. And you’re not wrong! However, refinancing can apply to many different types and forms of loans. In this article we will explore what refinancing is, how it works, and when it can work to your advantage.

What is refinancing?

Refinancing is the process of transferring all or part of an existing loan from one loan to another. This is done in order to achieve a…

  • Lower interest rate
  • Lower monthly payments
  • More favorable repayment period
  • Or all of the above

Let’s consider an example. Say you have a $10,000 loan with a 5% interest rate and a 10-year term. You’ll pay $106 every month to service the debt, and over $12,000 in total once interest is included.

But you think you can do better! You find someone else who’s willing to loan you $10,000 at a 2.5% interest rate over a 10-year term. You’d save more than $1,000 in interest and pay less every month. That’s a far better deal.

So, you would borrow money from your new creditor and use that sum to eliminate your existing loan. You’ve used another loan to decrease your interest burden and increase your cash flow. That’s the power of refinancing in a nutshell. It’s often worth the effort if you can decrease your interest rate without increasing your term.

But it may not be a silver bullet for your debt.

Refinancing only works if you can score a new loan with a more favorable contract. There may be times when interest rates are high and finding lower rates simply isn’t possible. Even then, a lower interest rate may not offset the costs of a longer loan term.

That’s why it’s always best to work with a financial professional before you refinance any loan. Their expertise can help you determine whether refinancing will help or hinder your progress towards your financial goals.

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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. Any examples used are hypothetical. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a licensed and qualified financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

May 17, 2021

A Matter of Life and Debt

A Matter of Life and Debt

You might never have thought about this before, but how are debt and life insurance connected?

Well, the answer is very simple. Debt is one of the largest financial struggles in society today—total consumer debt has grown to a staggering $14.9 trillion as of 2020.¹ That represents a staggering financial burden on Americans throughout the country.

But what happens if someone in debt passes away? The debt doesn’t just vanish. The estate of the deceased is often responsible for repaying creditors.² That means a family, already down an income, has to cope with the stress of managing debt.

That’s where life insurance can help.

Life insurance pays out a lump sum in the event of death. The money can help family members repay debt, care for children or other dependents, and provide financial security to those left behind.

So how much life insurance do you need? That’s something only you can answer for your own household. Typically, experts recommend 10X your annual income to provide a sufficient financial cushion for your family. But, depending on your level of debt or the particular needs of your spouse and children, you may require more coverage!

Life insurance could be critical for the financial well-being of your family if you’re carrying debt. It might provide the cash they need to pay your creditors and start building a new future.

If you’re looking for life insurance, contact me. We can estimate the amount of protection that’s right for your family!

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May 12, 2021

A Beginners Guide to Saving and Shredding Documents

A Beginners Guide to Saving and Shredding Documents

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

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

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

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

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

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

Property records <br> Keep all of your records pertaining to…

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

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

Speaking of your shredder…

Annual documents to destroy <br> Every year, you can shred paycheck stubs and bank records. Just be sure of two things…

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 19, 2021

How Do Checking Accounts Work?

How Do Checking Accounts Work?

You probably use your checking account every day, but do you really know how it works?

This article will explore exactly what a checking account is and how it works!

A checking account is a simple way to store your money. You can make deposits and withdrawals whenever you need to. They’re easy to access with checks, the ATM, your debit card, and online payments.

The checking account advantage? It’s liquid. You have instant access to those funds at all times without penalty if needed. That makes it ideal for daily expenses like buying groceries, paying for a babysitter, or making an emergency car repair. That’s why they’re so common—there are a total of 600 million checking accounts in the United States!¹

The disadvantage? Low (or no) interest rates! Because many checking accounts come with various fees and minimums to maintain them (usually elevated monthly account balances), the average interest rate is only about 0.04% APY on these types of accounts,² which may not be worth it in some cases if you’re saving up money without investing funds elsewhere as well.

Another downside? Overdraft fees. You might be liable for an overdraft penalty if the money in your checking account doesn’t match what you’ve spent! This could lead to some hefty fees. Thankfully many banks have overdraft protection policies which will prevent these charges, but not all do so check before signing up for a new checking account.

You should probably have a checking account if you don’t already, simply for the ease of living life. They’re not the most exciting thing in the world, but they can be hugely helpful for daily transactions. Just be sure you’re not relying on one to build wealth!

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¹ “Checking Accounts Shrink by Nearly 100 Million Accounts Since 2011,” Tina Orem, Credit Union Times, May 8, 2018, https://www.cutimes.com/2018/05/08/checking-accounts-shrink-by-nearly-100-million-acc/

² “Average Checking Account Interest Rates 2021,” Chris Moon, ValuePenguin, https://www.valuepenguin.com/banking/average-checking-account-interest-rates

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 31, 2021

Leadership: 4 Ways to Inspire and Engage

Leadership: 4 Ways to Inspire and Engage

Leaders are often the ones who both create and maintain a positive work environment.

But that’s far easier said than done. It can feel like the success of your entire team falls squarely on your shoulders. That can create stress. Lots of it. And that can make it difficult to create a positive atmosphere in your workspace.

But there are some simple practices that can help foster a healthy and happy work environment. Here are a few!

Be an active listener. Don’t just hear what someone says. Focus, engage, and show interest in what is being said while asking questions. Showing that you’re listening will make others feel better about themselves and force you to take more seriously what they’re saying. It helps you get to know people on a deeper level—you’ll know exactly how best to talk with someone during your next interaction!

Ask your team for input. Your team is made up of people with many backgrounds and ideas. That’s why you need to make it a practice to ask your teammates or friends for input when coming up with a new idea. You won’t just discover possibilities that you had never thought of—workers will feel like they’re truly integrated into the team when you get their perspectives.

Give credit where it’s due. When you see an employee doing a great job, speak up! Recognize their work and let them know they’re appreciated. It will inspire the team and motivate your employees to keep striving for excellence.

Be mindful of your mood. Mindfulness is a difficult skill to master—but it can yield big results! Being aware of how you are feeling and being present in the moment is always beneficial. This one may not be easy, but with practice, mindfulness can help you respond wisely to difficult situations when they arise. Instead of getting lost in emotion-driven reactions, try monitoring your mental state and notice when you’re feeling tense—this will empower you to take productive action instead of giving way to more stress. It’s a critical ability that all leaders should invest in!

These tips aren’t just for CEOs or managers. Anyone can develop these skills and start to make their work environment a more positive place. They might be the edge you need to make difference in your company and stand out from the crowd.

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March 8, 2021

What to Do If You Can't Pay Your Bills

What to Do If You Can't Pay Your Bills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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February 3, 2021

Strategies for Coping With Medical Bills

Strategies for Coping With Medical Bills

What’s your strategy for paying medical bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 18, 2021

3 Strategies to Increase Your Credit Score

3 Strategies to Increase Your Credit Score

Is your credit score costing you money?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 23, 2020

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

More than 174 million Americans spent an average of $335.47 between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday this year. And the holidays are just getting started!

You and your wallet don’t have to suffer if you follow these simple ways to curb holiday spending. Well, ways to curb the rest of your holiday spending.

1. Decide beforehand how much you’re going to spend on gifts. Yes: Budget. This is one of the most spoken of tricks to curb spending, but do you actually follow through? Before you ever start your holiday spending, have a firm plan about what you’re willing to spend, and do not go a penny over. If you’re one of the millions mentioned above that already spend a good chunk of cash, be sure to take that into account when you set your new amount. A budget can help get the creative gift-giving juices flowing, too. Remember White Elephant parties where no one could bring a gift that cost over $15? There had to be a little extra thought involved: What would be an unforgettable gift that would fit right into your budget?

2. Dine in. When you’ve budgeted for picking up the tab on a big family meal outing, it can be no sweat! But when you haven’t, the cost can really sneak up on you. Say you venture out with a party of 15 family members. At $10 an entree plus appetizers, desserts, cups of cocoa for the kids, eggnog or something harder for grown ups, and any other extras… Whew, that’s going to be a credit card statement to remember! But what if you instead planned a night in with the whole family? A potluck or pizza night. The warmth and comfort of home. Baking cookies. Still with cups of cocoa and eggnog, but at a fraction of the cost. And with much more comfortable chairs.

3. Stay with relatives when you travel home for the holidays. This practice is standard for some, but if this suggestion makes your face flush and your blood run cold, this may help you change your mind: the average hotel stay costs $127.69 per night. That’s not including taxes and fees. Let’s say you head to the town where you grew up for 4 days and 3 nights. The 3 nights at a hotel are going to cost you…

$127.69 x 3 = $383.07

Add in tax and hotel fees as well as the daily cost of gas to and from the hotel, and the thought of a few nights spent in your childhood bedroom that now has the surprise treadmill-as-a-clothing-rack addition might not be so terrible.

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December 16, 2020

Save Money This Holiday Season

Save Money This Holiday Season

Have you ever looked at your wish list and thought you heard a muffled scream coming from your wallet?

Inevitably, someone you love will wish for a $1,000 t-shirt or a chocolate fountain. And because you love them, you might go with it. But when December 26th rolls around and the ripped up wrapping paper settles, your wallet might feel a little battered and bruised!

The holidays don’t have to derail your financial future. Here are some straightforward tips that will help keep you on track during your annual shopping spree.

Establish a holiday budget <br> Entering a department store without a cap on how much you’re willing to spend is like walking into a bakery when you’re on a diet. Could you resist picking up a dozen donuts “for the family” or a couple of fresh baked loaves of bread “to make sandwiches later”?

A gift list and realistic budget can cut through the feverish fog of free-for-all shopping and impulse buys. They help you focus as you navigate aisle upon aisle of half-off sales and shiny things you don’t really need but feel like you do.

A budget can also help curtail extravagant gift requests. Telling someone that you want to buy them a gift that’s under $50 can hedge against extravagant designer clothes or the latest technological gadget.

Use cash! <br> Part of the power of cash is that it works in tandem with your budget. Walking into a store with no cards and just $50 limits your spending and forces you to buy only what you intended.

Cash also reduces your reliance on credit. Unleashing your cards to cover Christmas shopping is an easy way to enter the New Year with extra debt. Plus, the interest payments can add up and make your holiday shopping even more expensive in the long run. Stick with cash and save yourself the headache!

Play Secret Santa <br> Secret Santa has long been a staple of huge families that don’t have the time or money to get gifts for two parents, nine siblings, the in-laws, and all the cousins, nieces, and nephews. Everyone still gets a gift or two, but it helps the whole family out on their holiday budgets. Here’s how it works!

Have everyone write their names on scraps of paper. Include some highly specific gift ideas with the names. Then, put all the paper into a hat and shake it up. Have the secret Santas choose names from the hat one at a time. You get to buy gifts for ONLY the person you select!

What’s great about Secret Santa is that the mystery of the game offsets the expectation of getting tons of presents. It’s a fun way to save some extra cash!

So let chance decide who’s been naughty and nice, make a budget and list and check them twice, remember that some cash will suffice, and do some holiday shopping that won’t make you think twice (about derailing your financial dreams)!

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November 30, 2020

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

On paper, paying off debt seems simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

In fact, it can get downright discouraging if you don’t see any progress on your balances, especially if you feel like your finances are already stretched.

Fortunately, there are ways to take your debt escape plan to the next level. Here are a few insightful tips for anyone who feels like their wheels are spinning.

You must create a plan <br> Planning is one of the most important steps towards eliminating debt. Studies show that creating detailed plans increases our follow-through.¹ It also frees up our mental resources to focus on other pressing issues.²

Those are essential components of overcoming debt. A plan helps you stick to your guns when you’re tempted to make an impulse buy on your credit card or consider taking that last-minute weekend trip. And tackling problems that have nothing to do with debt can be a breath of fresh air for your mental health.

You have to stop borrowing <br> Seems obvious, right? But it might be easier said than done. Credit cards can seem like a convenient way to cover emergency expenses if you’re strapped for cash. Plus, spending money can feel therapeutic. Kicking the habit of borrowing to buy can be hard!

That’s why it’s so important to fortify your financial house with an emergency fund before you start eliminating debt. Save up enough money to cover 3 months of expenses. Then quit borrowing cold turkey. You should always have enough cash in reserve to cover car repairs and doctor visits without using your credit card.

Your lifestyle has to change <br> But, as mentioned before, debt can embed itself into lifestyles. You can’t get rid of debt without cutting back on spending, and you can’t cut back on spending without transforming your lifestyle.

When you’re making your escape plan, identify your highest spending categories. How important are they to your quality of life? Some of them might be essential. But you may realize that others exist just out of habit. Be willing to sacrifice some of your favorite activities, at least until you’re debt free.

You can still do the things you want <br> This does NOT mean that you have to be miserable. You can still enjoy a vacation, buy an awesome gadget, or treat your partner to a romantic dinner. You just have to prepare for those events differently.

Create a “fun fund” that you contribute money to every month. Budget a specific amount to put in it and dedicate it to a specific item. This allows you to have some fun every now and then without derailing your journey to financial freedom.

Debt doesn’t have to be overwhelming. These insights can help you stay the course as you eliminate debt from your financial house and start pursuing your dreams. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more about debt-destroying strategies!

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¹ “Making the Best Laid Plans Better: How Plan-Making Prompts Increase Follow-Through,” Todd Rogers, Katherine L. Milkman, Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton, Behavioral Science and Policy, 2016, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/todd_rogers/files/making_0.pdf

² “The Power of a Plan,” Timothy A Pychyl Ph.D., Psychology Today, Nov 17, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/201111/the-power-plan

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