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September 28, 2020

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

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

September 28, 2020

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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Who Needs Life Insurance?

September 23, 2020

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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Does healthy living have to cost more?

September 21, 2020

Does healthy living have to cost more?

Many of us may be chair-bound during the workday and may come home lethargic and sluggish – seeming results of a sedentary lifestyle and some potentially unhealthy habits of office life.

You might be itching to break this cycle and establish some healthier habits for yourself, but you don’t want to break your budget either.

If you’re interested in improving your healthy habits – but aren’t interested in spending a lot of money to do it – read on!

Getting more exercise
Many people equate maintaining a regular exercise regimen with an expensive gym membership, but you don’t have to have one to exercise. One can perform body-weight exercises just about anywhere, so getting in some sit ups, push ups, squats, and a brisk jog can be free of charge. Other body-weight exercises, like pull-ups, may require finding a place to do them, but all one needs is a horizontal bar. This can range from a sturdy tree limb to the monkey bars at the playground.

Not sure where to begin? There are a myriad of free videos and programs online for all ages, goals, and body types. (As always, get your doctor’s approval before starting any exercise program.) If an exercise program is all new to you, you might want to start with only 10-15 minutes, then work up from there.

It does require forming a habit to establish a regular exercise routine. For that reason, it’s a good idea to build exercise into a part of your day. That way, a sense of something missing may arise when the exercise is not completed, which can be a motivation to get the workout in.

Eating healthy
This one may be a little harder to solve than the exercise issue, because saving money on your food bill may require a bigger time commitment than you’re used to, with additional shopping and food preparation. The good thing about fruits and vegetables is that many of them can be eaten raw with minimal prep time.

Internet shopping provides a myriad of resources for finding good deals for nutritious foodstuffs. If you’re feeling more adventurous and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, there may also be a local communal garden[i] in your area. Some apartment complexes offer their roofs to be used as gardens, and for those with no other options, growing right in your high-rise apartment is feasible[ii]. One of the best parts about gardening? It may give you some exercise in the process.

Unfortunately, most people can’t raise their own livestock, so for meat (and alternative protein sources) online delivery is an option, as well as shopping sales and using coupons at your local grocery store.

If all of this seems like too great of a commitment (admittedly it may take some extra work), there are other ways to start the journey without running headlong into an agricultural venture. Simply avoiding processed and fast foods is a start, as these options can be more expensive and may offer less in the way of solid nutrition. And if you find the “healthy” option too bland, make a pledge to yourself to stick with it until your taste buds become accustomed to the new foods, or experiment with spices and herbs to increase the flavor intensity.

Eating healthy and beginning an exercise program certainly demand a degree of attention and commitment, but they do not always require a lot of money. Regardless of what advertisers want you to believe, it is possible to stay in shape without a gym membership or expensive home gym equipment, and you can eat healthy without spending a week’s paycheck in the grocery store’s organic aisle.

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A Life Insurance Deep Dive

September 16, 2020

A Life Insurance Deep Dive

We’ve explored the basics of life insurance, how it works, and what it’s for.

Today we’ll be fleshing out some concepts you might encounter as you look at your options for protecting your family. Let’s start with the different kinds of life insurance.

Different types of life insurance
Life insurance will almost always have a few basic parts—the death benefit (the amount paid to your loved ones upon your passing), the policy itself (the actual insurance contract), and the premium (how much you pay for the life insurance policy).

There’s a wide range of life insurance policies, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Term life insurance is the most straightforward form. It lasts for a set amount of time (the term), during which you pay a premium. You and your beneficiaries won’t receive any benefits if you don’t pass away during the term. This type of policy typically doesn’t feature other benefits on its own (you may be able to add other benefits with what is called a rider).
  • Whole life insurance is exactly what it sounds like. It never expires and is guaranteed to pay a benefit whenever you pass away. But it often comes with other benefits. For instance, it can include a saving component called a cash value. It usually builds with interest and you can take money from it any time.
  • Indexed Universal Life Insurance is similar to whole life insurance, but the cash value is tied to the market. The market is up? Your cash value goes up. The market goes down? Your cash value is actually shielded from loss.

Each of these types of life insurance have different strengths and weaknesses. A term policy might be right for you while a whole life policy might be better for your neighbor. Talk with a financial professional to see which one fits your needs and budget!

The right amount of life insurance
But can you have too little life insurance? How about too much? The answer to both of those questions is yes. In general, the purpose of life insurance is to replace your income in case of your passing for your loved ones and family. That should be your guidestone when deciding how substantial a policy to purchase. Typically, you’re looking at about 10 times your annual income. That’s enough to replace your yearly earnings, pay-off potential debts, and guard against inflation. That means someone earning $35,000 would want to shop around for about $350,000 worth of coverage.

Employer life insurance
This means that most employer-provided life insurance isn’t enough to fully protect you and your family. There’s no doubt that a free policy from your workplace is great. But they typically only cover about a year of wages. That’s not nearly what you need to provide peace of mind to your beneficiaries! Don’t necessarily refuse your employer-provided life insurance, but make sure that it supplements a more substantial policy.

Still have questions? Reach out to a licensed financial professional and ask for guidance! And stay tuned for next week’s article where we’ll debunk some common life insurance myths!

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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 enacting a life insurance policy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional to discuss your options.

Tap the Brakes! Life Insurance and Your Driving Record

September 14, 2020

Tap the Brakes! Life Insurance and Your Driving Record

Oh boy. It happened again: You hit the snooze button one too many times.

After a frenzied dash around your home – one sock on, a toothbrush hanging out of your mouth, and one kid asking why there’s a can of tuna in his lunchbox – you kiss the family goodbye and finally half-dive behind the wheel of your car.

It may seem like the only way to get to work on time is to go just a little over the speed limit. But just a little. Say, maybe 10 miles per hour over. But speeding doesn’t actually get you where you want to go that much faster.

Take this scenario for example: Say there are 100 miles between you and your destination.

  • At the 65 mph speed limit, it would take 92 minutes.
  • At 75 mph (speeding), it would take 80 minutes.

That’s only 12 minutes saved! And factoring in how quickly traffic can negate all time gained or how going faster burns more of your fuel, speeding isn’t really helping. In fact, it’s costing you. And if any of the consequences of speeding earn you a citation, those will definitely cost you when applying for life insurance.

During the life insurance underwriting process, the underwriter will take everything on your Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) into account.

  • Accident reports
  • Traffic citations
  • DUI convictions
  • Vehicular crimes
  • Driving record points

Just like looking at your health history, occupation, and risky hobbies, an underwriter looks at your driving record to determine how risky you will be to insure. Even some violations that you’d consider to be minor can have drastic consequences for your life insurance application. Any indication of reckless and risky behavior is a red flag to an underwriter. The more negative activity on your driving record, the worse your insurance classification will be. And the higher your life insurance rate will likely be.

Another important thing to keep in mind: time plays an important role for your driving history. Depending on which state you live in, an MVR can feature violations from 5-7 years ago. Some violations will seat you in a lower classification for anywhere from 3-5 years after the fact. So if you’ve changed your ways (and made a personal pledge to never hit that snooze button and speed into the office parking lot again), some insurance companies may take that into account. But finding which one will give the most grace as time passes is key to a potentially lower life insurance rate.

No matter what your driving record looks like, working with me gives you an advantage: you have access to numerous providers and life insurance policies, upping your chances for approval and a more affordable rate. It’s not a guarantee for success, but working together is one way to slow down and work on your options for a life insurance policy that will protect you and your loved ones.

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Life Insurance Myths

September 9, 2020

Life Insurance Myths

We love facts.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of the modern age, but many of us desire an accurate worldview that’s based on evidence and data. Who wants to live with their head in the clouds, believing myths or superstitions?

Unfortunately, there are those of us who have fallen prey to certain life insurance urban legends. Here are some common myths that many people believe and some cold, hard facts to debunk them!

Myth: Life insurance is less important than my other financial obligations
Here’s how the story goes. You have a spouse you love, a house you’re proud of, a reliable car, and kids you care for. All of that takes money; date nights, mortgages, and tuition aren’t cheap! It can be hard to swallow taking on another financial obligation like life insurance on top of the bills you’re already paying.

But life insurance isn’t simply another burden for you to carry. It’s an essential line of protection that empowers you to provide for your family regardless of what happens. The payout can act as a form of income replacement that can help your loved ones maintain their lifestyle, pay their bills, and pursue their dreams when they need financial help the most. Life insurance isn’t less important than your other financial responsibilities. It’s an essential tool that helps the people in your life meet their financial obligations if something were to happen to you!

Myth: Life insurance is unaffordable
This is an incredibly common myth, especially among Millennials; 44% overestimated the cost of life insurance by five times!(1) 65% of people who don’t have life insurance say they can’t afford it.(2) But life insurance is far more affordable than you might think. A healthy, non-smoking 25 year old could only pay $25 per month for a policy.(3) That’s about what a subscription to three popular streaming services would cost!(4) Do some online shopping and be amazed by how affordable life insurance really is!

Myth: My employer-provided insurance is enough
Just under half the workforce has life insurance from their employer.(5) That’s great! The more life insurance you have available to you the better. But it simply might not be enough to fully protect your family. Professionals typically advise that you purchase about 10 times your annual income in life insurance coverage. Most employer-provided life insurance gives only one to three years of protection.(6) That’s not to say you should refuse a policy through work. But you might need to get some extra protection!

Contact a financial advisor if you still have doubts or concerns. They’re full-time myth busters who will help you navigate the sometimes confusing world of financially protecting your family!

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(1) Nupur Gambhir, “9 common life insurance myths debunked,” Policygenius, March 13, 2020 https://www.policygenius.com/life-insurance/common-life-insurance-myths-debunked/

(2) “Is Life Insurance Tomorrow’s Problem? Findings from the 2020 Insurance Barometer Study,” LIMRA, June 16, 2020 https://www.limra.com/en/newsroom/industry-trends/2020/is-life-insurance-tomorrows-problem-findings-from-the-2020-insurance-barometer-study/

(3) Sterling Price, “Average Cost of Life Insurance (2020): Rates by Age, Term and Policy Size,” Aug. 10, 2020, valuepenguin.com/average-cost-life-insurance

(4) Joe Supan, “Americans already subscribe to three streaming services on average. Is there room for more?,” Allconnect, Jun 20, 2020, https://www.allconnect.com/blog/average-american-spend-on-streaming#:~:text=One%20poll%20from%20The%20Hollywood,at%20just%20over%20%2414%2Fmo.

(5) Marvin H. Feldman, “4 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Your Life Insurance at Work,” Life Happens, Sept. 22, 2017 https://lifehappens.org/blog/4-things-you-probably-dont-know-about-your-life-insurance-at-work/#:~:text=Press-,4%20Things%20You%20Probably%20Don’t%20Know,Your%20Life%20Insurance%20at%20Work&text=For%20the%20first%20time%20ever,to%20a%20new%20LIMRA%20study.

Life Insurance Crash Course

September 2, 2020

Life Insurance Crash Course

Does life insurance intimidate or confuse you? You’re not alone.

A recent study found that 65% believed life insurance was too expensive for them, and another 52% didn’t know how much or what kind they needed. 42% of respondents didn’t have life insurance because they didn’t like thinking about passing away!(1)

But life insurance doesn’t have to be mentally or emotionally overwhelming.

That’s why we’ve created this beginner’s guide to life insurance. We’ll give you a simple explanation of life insurance, define the purpose of life insurance, and see who needs it most!

What is life insurance?
Life insurance is typically a contract between you and an insurer where the insurer promises to pay an agreed upon amount to your beneficiary(s) when you pass away. The contract itself is called a policy, making you the policy holder. The money your beneficiary receives (depending on the type of policy you have) is called a death benefit. The monthly or yearly payment you give to the insurer in exchange for the insurance is called a premium. In short, you pay an insurer a little bit each month in exchange for a payout to your loved ones in the case of your passing (or because of other circumstances stipulated in the policy).

What is it for?
Life insurance can’t replace your presence for your family and loved ones. But it can replace your income. There might be people who depend on your income to make ends meet or to achieve their dreams, like a spouse or college-aged child. Life insurance can offer them the financial resources to maintain their lifestyles. It also provides them some time to grieve and plan their future.

Who needs it?
As a rule of thumb, it is recommended that people with dependents have some form of life insurance. Typically that means people with families that rely on their income to pay bills or with aging parents that need financial support. But there are some surprising ways that loved ones in your life might depend on you. Keep an eye out for a blog post with more details on who needs life insurance later this month!

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Life insurance, at its core, can be straightforward and simple. It’s one of the most important layers of financial protection you can provide for your family to help replace your income and give your loved ones some peace of mind. Next week we’ll take a closer look at the different types of life insurance and how much coverage is enough for you!

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How to Avoid Financial Infidelity

How to Avoid Financial Infidelity

If you or your partner have ever spent (a lot of) money without telling the other, you’re not alone.

This has become such a widespread problem for couples that there’s even a term for it: Financial Infidelity.

Calling it infidelity might seem a bit dramatic, but it makes sense when you consider that finances are the leading cause of relationship stress. Each couple has their own definition of “a lot of money,” but as you can imagine, or may have even experienced yourself, making assumptions or hiding purchases from your partner can be damaging to both your finances AND your relationship.

Here’s a strategy to help avoid financial infidelity, and hopefully lessen some stress in your household:

Set up “Fun Funds” accounts.

A “Fun Fund” is a personal bank account for each partner which is separate from your main savings or checking account (which may be shared).

Here’s how it works: Each time you pay your bills or review your whole budget together, set aside an equal amount of any leftover money for each partner. That goes in your Fun Fund.

The agreement is that the money in this account can be spent on anything without having to consult your significant other. For instance, you may immediately take some of your Fun Funds and buy that low-budget, made-for-tv movie that you love but your partner hates. And they can’t be upset that you spent the money! It was yours to spend! (They might be a little upset when you suggest watching that movie they hate on a quiet night at home, but you’re on your own for that one!)

Your partner on the other hand may wait and save up the money in their Fun Fund to buy $1,000 worth of those “Add water and watch them grow to 400x their size!” dinosaurs. You may see it as a total waste, but it was their money to spend! Plus, this isn’t $1,000 taken away from paying your bills, buying food, or putting your kids through school. (And it’ll give them something to do while you’re watching your movie.)

It might be a little easier to set up Fun Funds for the both of you when you have a strategy for financial independence. Contact me today, and we can work together to get you and your loved one closer to those beloved B movies and magic growing dinosaurs.

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Your credit score – 4 things you need to know

August 26, 2020

Your credit score – 4 things you need to know

You’re probably aware that your credit score is usually accessed when you apply for new credit, such as a credit card or an auto loan.

But you may not know it might also be requested by landlords, employers, and even romantic partners.[i]

So what are your credit score and report, what are the factors that determine them, and why do so many diverse parties request to see them?

What is a credit score and what is a credit report?
Your credit score is simply a number that encapsulates your ability to repay debt. It isn’t the only way interested parties can assess your creditworthiness, but it’s certainly often used as a preliminary factor. Having a higher score may lead to lower interest rates, more successful credit applications, and possibly more trust in general.

Your credit report is much more comprehensive and shows your outstanding debts, how well you pay them, the age of the accounts, and so forth. A single bad account on your credit report might damage your score, but your counterparty may be willing to work with you if you can show a strong history with your other accounts – and can justify the problem account.

What constitutes your credit score?
Credit reports are maintained by the three main credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. A credit score is generated by FICO, VantageScore, and some financial institutions may have their own proprietary algorithms to determine their own scores.

In general, scores are determined by the variously-weighted categories of payment history, the amount owed (credit utilization), the age of the accounts, how much new credit you’ve requested recently, and the types of accounts (revolving, mortgage, student loans, etc.).[ii] Of course proprietary scores may take many other factors into consideration.

Who wants to see your credit score?
Lenders may screen you based on your credit score, then use other factors to determine if they’ll give you a loan. Instant-approval lenders, like credit card companies, may just use your credit score to determine your creditworthiness. For large, long-term loans, like mortgages, you can expect to have to turn over your credit report as well.

Landlords may ask for a report, but might also request your credit score as well. They have the obvious financial interest in relying on you to pay your rent from month to month, but they also may have in mind that if you’re responsible with your money, perhaps you’ll also be responsible to take care of your rented living quarters.

Employers may ask to see your credit report. They may make hiring decisions based on the report, but some states have disallowed the practice.[iii] The chance that financial hardship may prompt employee theft is one reason they may ask, as well as wanting to see your consistency in paying debts over time, which may correlate with your punctuality and persistence at work.

How to improve your score
Those with poor credit may want to improve their credit history, which may in turn improve their credit scores. Payment history makes up 35% of the FICO scoring factors, and this will take time to improve. However, 30% of the score is determined by how much you owe, which can quickly be improved by paying down your debt. The 15% determinant that is credit age can, of course, only improve with time, but the 10% of your score attributed to new requests and 10% to types of credit can be managed in a short timeframe, too; try to avoid applying for a lot of new credit and, when you do, try to get different types of credit.[iv]

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Good Debt?

August 24, 2020

Good Debt?

Debt is often seen as something you don’t want.

Monthly payments can be a huge drain on your bank account and can seriously lower your saving and investing power. That’s why eliminating debt is often an early step in most financial strategies.

But does good debt exist?

Are there situations where it’s acceptable or even wise to borrow money? Let’s explore what makes debt “good” or “bad” and some examples of both!

What makes debt good?
Not many would argue that living within your means isn’t good. But there are opportunities that you might not be able to afford with your basic income. It turns out that it sometimes takes money to make money! Taking out a loan to pursue those opportunities might be considered good debt. Sure, you might be in the hole for a little while, but you’re hoping you’ll increase your income and net worth further down the line.

Good debt
Most of us simply can’t afford a house or college education with money from our checking account, so we have to borrow those funds. But we’re expecting that those investments will pay off. Higher education paid for with student loans will hopefully equip you to land a better paying job that will help you pay down your debt and make you more money long-term. A wise real estate investment might be pricey, but you hope that your property will increase in value and you can make a profit when you sell. Taking out a loan to launch your entrepreneurial dreams is considered an example of good debt. Starting a business, while risky and expensive, can increase your value over the long-term. You’re taking the calculated risk that your long-haul earnings will heavily outweigh your short-term debts.

Bad debt
It’s important to remember that bad debt still exists. Most of what we buy loses value very quickly. Try reselling lunch meat a few days after you buy it to see what I mean! Cars depreciate by about 60% in the first 5 years of ownership.(1) And while it might be worth going into some debt to get a reliable vehicle, you shouldn’t typically treat a car purchase as an investment.

It’s also worth considering that even what appears to be good debt might come back to bite you. Neighborhoods and real estate markets change, and a once solid property might end up losing value over the long haul. And while a better education is usually a good thing, going into huge amounts of debt at a private school to study a non-lucrative field might not pay off.

Debt should never be taken lightly. Whether it’s a credit card, a personal loan, or a mortgage, make sure you do your homework to figure out the best move for you. Some of those decisions might be easy (not buying a high-end sports car) but others might take some serious consideration and research (starting a business). Figure out the costs and the earning potential and then make your decision!

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What To Cut In Your Budget

August 19, 2020

What To Cut In Your Budget

Intro
Budgeting is empowering. It gives you information so you can make those decisions that will impact your future. But budgeting can often feel discouraging. It might even make us miserable! Especially if we look at our budget and decide to slash all the little things that make us happy. How many times have we been lectured about the amount of money wasted at coffee shops?

It turns out that’s not where most of your money is going. Here are some suggestions for where you should really focus when you’re slashing your budget.

Focus big first
We spend roughly $1,100 per year on coffee.(1) That’s about $3 per day. But that’s nothing compared to how much we spend on big ticket items. Housing alone costs $19,884 per year, and transportation an additional $9,576.(2) They’re by far the biggest drain on our income. So the question is, are you paying more than you should for housing and transportation?

Are you renting a large apartment in a ritzy part of town without roommates? Are you driving a stunning new sports car? Those might have more to do with your financial woes than your latte habit. Consider how you can reduce your rent, refinance your mortgage, or consider trading in your sports car for a more modest ride before you totally remove life’s simple pleasures.

Food
We spend about $7,729 on food every year.(3) Broken down monthly, that’s about $372 on food at home and $228 on eating out.(4) Around $133 of that ends up getting thrown in the trash due to spoilage or just not wanting to deal with leftovers. That’s a lot of money going to restaurant owners and landfills!

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a nice meal out on the town every now and then. But, while you’re budgeting, come up with a strategy for eating at home more often. You’ll be surprised by how much that alone can save you in the long run! And if you end up with leftovers, there are plenty of ways to use those up so they won’t go to waste.

Replace cable
Americans still spend a staggering amount on cable television. The average bill is more than $200 per month!(5) That’s about as much as we spend eating out every month for access to shows and programming we could probably find online for less or even free. Cut the cord, sign up for a streaming service, and save bigtime!

The key takeaway is to try cutting back on the big items first before you take aim at your little daily joys. Use whatever you’re able to cut to reduce your debt or start saving for your retirement. You might be able to put away a bit of that extra cash towards your next down payment for a house or that fancy new car!

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Dig yourself out of debt

August 17, 2020

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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What It Means To Live Paycheck to Paycheck

August 12, 2020

What It Means To Live Paycheck to Paycheck

A 2017 survey found that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.(1)

“Paycheck to paycheck” is an expression we’ve all heard, but what does it really mean? Have we taken the time to understand its implications for our daily lives and futures? Here’s a crash course in what it means to live paycheck to paycheck.

Living paycheck to paycheck technically means that all of your “income” goes towards your “outgo” each month and you’re not saving anything. You get paid, spend everything, and have to rely on that next check to make ends meet. And millions of Americans seem okay with this lifestyle of razor thin margins. They’re certainly comfortable with sharing it on their social media!

But the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle means more than just spending all you earn. It means you’re constantly on the verge of a financial catastrophe. What happens if you’re spending your whole paycheck each and every month and you lose your job? Suddenly, you’re facing your normal expenditures but the cash isn’t coming in. Or what if you face an emergency car repair? Where will you find the money to cover that unexpected expense? Living paycheck to paycheck means you’re standing right on the knife’s edge of money mayhem!

Thoughtless spending doesn’t just leave you exposed to a present-day disaster. It also means you aren’t preparing for your future. By definition, a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle excludes saving. You can’t stash money away for a house or your retirement if you let every penny fly out the window. Most Americans are poorly situated for the future; 70% have less than $1,000 in savings, and 45% have saved exactly $0.00.(2) That’s not enough to cover a new transmission, much less the retirement lifestyle most of us envision!

But there are alternatives to the paycheck to paycheck trap. You can take steps to move away from financial insecurity towards financial freedom. Let’s talk about what that would look like for you!

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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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Credit Card Self-Control

August 5, 2020

Credit Card Self-Control

Have you ever fallen under the spell of a credit card?

We don’t think of those little pieces of plastic as having magical properties, but they certainly have a way of making our money vanish! And what’s more, they seem to hold a mystical power over our spending habits. What starts as innocent online window shopping can suddenly become a credit fueled buying bender.

But credit cards aren’t sorcery. There are actually some very simple steps you can take to help achieve credit card self-control!

Review your spending habits
The first step to controlling your credit card habit is to acknowledge that you need to change it. And there’s no better way of doing this than by facing the numbers and confronting yourself with how much you’re actually spending. It’s not always easy to do! Avoiding looking at your bank account or monthly statement is something that many of us have done at some point in our lives. Sweeping the issue under the rug is much easier than confronting the problem!

That’s all well and good until you’ve dug yourself into a debt hole. Take a deep breath, find the information you need, and survey the damage. The shock of seeing those numbers might be enough to cool your spending habits.

Hide your credit cards
But you might need to take more direct measures. Perhaps just the sight of a credit card is all it takes for you to unleash a torrent of foolish spending. Consider physically separating yourself from your cards if this is the case. There are several ways to accomplish this. You can take your cards out of your wallet and leave them on the bedside table. Erase your cards from your preferred browser. There are even stories of people placing their cards in a bowl of water and placing that in the freezer! Find whatever method works best for you.

Visit a store without your card
Like it or not, you can’t hide from credit card temptation forever. You’ll eventually find yourself in a setting where you feel the itch to make a wild purchase on your card. But there are ways to head those desires off at the pass. Try visiting one of your favorite stores without the card. Bring a little bit of cash for an emergency, but not enough to be dangerous. Walk around, take it all in, then walk out. This ritual will remind you that you don’t have to buy something every time you visit a store. You can also try visiting with an accountability buddy who can inspire you to use self-control.

Your credit card spending habit might feel like it has magical power to control your actions. But it doesn’t! You actually have much more power than you might think. Try out a few of these tips and see if they make a difference in how much you spend each month.

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Business Ideas for Students

August 3, 2020

Business Ideas for Students

Starting a business is never easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tips For Working At Home

Tips For Working At Home

You’ve most likely become a work-at-home pro over the last few months.

At this point you’re probably perfectly comfortable with your routine and feel like you’re highly productive!

But you also might need a refresher on some working at home basics. Even at the office—where you’re more likely to be held accountable—it’s easy to slide into bad habits. Here’s a quick rundown of some tips to help you get back in your groove!

Start strong
Sleeping in is almost always a temptation. Crawling out of bed, hitting the snooze button until it breaks, and rushing out the door just feel like a routine to many of us! Working from home can compound this. Suddenly, you have the luxury of peacefully sleeping until 8:55am, making some tasteless instant coffee, and booting up your laptop in your PJs right before your 9 o’clock video call. Sounds like the life, right?

But this ritual of jumping right from your mattress to your dining room table/temporary desk can have serious drawbacks. Staring at a computer screen while barely keeping your eyelids open is an incredibly uninspiring way to start a day. It’s much better to do things that help you wake up and get your mind focused. Make breakfast! Go for a walk! Meditate! Use that time you would normally spend looking at brake lights for something productive.

Make a workspace
Homes are (hopefully) relaxing. They’re where we go at the end of a long, stressful day to binge watch shows, eat delicious food, and spend time with our families and friends. Those associations can make working from home tricky. You might notice that the temptations to watch TV, talk to a roommate, or reorganize your kitchen for the 100th time are interfering with your job performance.

The solution to this problem is to create a workspace in your home that is dedicated to being productive. Remind your family that you love them, but that you’ll need some space when you’re in your home office. Move TVs and other distractions out and create a place where you can focus. And it’s probably wise to avoid setting yourself up in your bedroom unless absolutely necessary!

Always communicate
One of the biggest downsides of working at home is that it can strain communication with your coworkers. On one hand, that’s probably not awful. Less chatter with your office buddies about the latest reality TV show might be a welcome productivity booster! But collaborating with your team, getting approvals from bosses, and receiving feedback are essential parts of getting projects done and growing your skillset.

So don’t go off the grid. Stay in touch with your colleagues. Ask your boss for feedback. Get advice from your mentors. Staying vocal keeps work moving forward, it keeps you socialized and feeling accomplished, and it reminds the higher-ups that you still exist!

Whether you’ve finally decided to upgrade your work-at-home game or you just needed a reminder, try out these tips and let me know how it goes!

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Power Naps

July 27, 2020

Power Naps

It’s 3:00 pm on a Wednesday and you’re running out of steam.

You didn’t get much sleep last night and keeping your eyes open feels impossible. The energy drinks and coffees and caffeine pills gave you a quick boost in the morning, but your yawns are getting deeper and that stack of papers is starting to look like a comfy pillow. What can you do?

It turns out that a quick power nap might be the solution to your midday energy slump. But there’s an art and a science to productive sleep. Here’s a quick guide to power naps!

The science of sleep
Sleep is surprisingly complicated. Even though we all need it to function and survive, scientists haven’t been able to figure out exactly why our bodies and brains have to shut down for about 8 hours every night. Theories exist (you can read those here), but there’s no definitive answer. For the purpose of power naps, what’s important is understanding what happens while you sleep.

Your body goes through 4 different stages while it sleeps. The first three are essentially your body’s transitioning from a light sleep (stage 1) to a deep sleep (stage 3). These are followed by the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage. This is when your brain processes information and when most people experience dreams. You then start the cycle over at stage one and repeat. A full four stage cycle happens over about 90 minutes, and it occurs multiple times when you get the recommended 8 hours of sleep.

The art of power naps
The key to nap powerfully is to control when you wake up in the sleep cycle. The goal is to wake up during the lightest stage of sleep. That normally occurs within 20 to 30 minutes after drifting off. Anything more than that will have you waking up in the middle of a deep stage of sleep. Ever emerge from a nap feeling like you’re on a different planet? Then you know how awful waking up too far into a sleep cycle can feel!

The benefit of power naps
A quick nap that doesn’t go through all the sleep cycles can have big benefits. It can boost alertness and motor function for up to two to three hours.(1) And it normally doesn’t produce the stress-inducing and hyperactive side effects of caffeine. Naps that go over 30 minutes can still have benefits as well, despite the grogginess.(2)

The greatest drawback of the power nap is how inconvenient it can be in an office setting. But if you find yourself working at home, it might be worth developing a nap routine. Skip the mid-afternoon coffee, let everyone know you’ll be unavailable for around 30 minutes, get some quick shut-eye and see how it goes!

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What Are We Spending Money On?

July 22, 2020

What Are We Spending Money On?

We spend a lot of money.

All things told, we spend about $101 per day, whether we feel it directly or not.(1) That comes out to roughly $36,764 per year. Over half of all Americans spend more than what they earn.(2) The bulk of that goes to important categories like shelter and utilities.(3) But it doesn’t take much digging to find some less important spending patterns. Here’s a quick look at what we’re spending (i.e., wasting) our money on!

Food
How can you waste money on food? It’s essential to survival and health!

But it turns out that throwing away cash on food is really easy. Americans spend an average of $209 per month on just eating at restaurants, which comes to a total of $2,508 yearly. Add in the cost of drinks and you’re at $4,776!(4) But that’s just eating when you’re out. Another huge issue is chronically overbuying food to consume at home. We throw out around $1,600 of food per family every year.(5)

That brings us to a grand total of $6,376 dollars spent each year on restaurants, drinks, and wasted food. And that’s not including categories like takeout!

Shopping
We’re notorious shoppers. We spend around $108 on approximately five impulse purchases per month. Online shopping is a substantial category as well, with our digital purchases costing us around $84 monthly. Interestingly, we spend nearly $94 per month on subscription boxes. That adds up to $3,432 on non-essential shopping annually.

Personal care
Everyone wants to look, smell, and feel attractive. And it turns out that most people are willing to pay a king’s ransom on their appearance. Personal grooming comes out to $94.25 monthly. Gym memberships (which often go unused) cost the average American $72.53 per month. All told, we spend around $2,000 annually on looking good.

Cable and streaming
Another big category of spending is entertainment and apps. The biggest culprit here is—surprisingly—cable. On average, we shell out $90 per month for unlimited access to reality shows and documentaries, many of which are now available online. Throw in spending on movie streaming ($23.09), music streaming ($22.41), and other paid apps ($23.24), and our overall spending on digital entertainment is around $1,904.88 per year!

Tallying these four categories, we see that Americans are spending about $13,712.88 annually on non-essential items. That’s a staggering amount of money! It’s enough for a full year of college, including tuition and books.(6)

Non-essential spending does have its place—it can actually be very important to your quality of life and overall well being. But you might be surprised by how much of your financial power is getting wasted on things that are truly unnecessary or have cheaper alternatives.

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How much will this cost me?

How much will this cost me?

If you’re dipping your toe in the pool of life insurance for the first time, you’re bound to have a lot of questions.

At the top of your list is probably how much setting up a policy is going to cost you.

There are several things that can determine how much you’ll pay for life insurance, including the type of policy you select. But before we dive in and look at cost, let’s check out the types of life insurance available.

Major types of life insurance
Life insurance is customizable and can suit many different needs, but for the most part, life insurance comes in three main varieties.

Term life insurance: A term life policy is active for a preselected length of time. It could be 15, 20, or 30 years. If something happens to you during that term, your beneficiary will receive the death benefit of the policy.

Permanent life insurance: Permanent life insurance is a policy that stays active as long as you’re alive. When you pass away, the policy pays out to your named beneficiary. The value of the policy increases over time, and you can borrow against this “cash value” in some circumstances.

Universal life insurance: Universal life insurance works like a permanent life policy in that it pays out to your beneficiary, but it also accrues interest over the policy term (which may be affected by market performance).

How your cost is calculated
The insurance company estimates the cost of a life insurance policy based on your risk factors. Risk factor data is gathered and evaluated based on the information in your application. Then the insurance company uses historical data, trends, and actuarial processes to come up with a premium for you.

The cost of some life insurance policies can change over time, while others remain the same.

What risk factors does the company use?
When the insurance company is calculating your rate, they look at several factors, including:

Your demographics: Your demographics include your age, weight, gender, and health. The company will also want to know if you smoke, and other health-related issues you may have.

The amount of the death benefit: The death benefit is the amount the policy will pay to your beneficiaries when you pass away. The larger the death benefit you select, the more expensive the policy.

Your lifestyle: Lifestyle habits and hobbies can affect the cost of your policy. The insurance company will want to know if you ride a motorcycle regularly, or how often you drink alcohol, for example.

Your risk and life insurance cost
The risk of when your death will occur ultimately determines your life insurance costs. That’s why the younger you are the less the policy should cost. If you wait to purchase your life insurance policy when you’re older, the policy will most likely cost more.

But there are things you can do that may help lessen the cost of the policy. Anything that will increase your health status may help with your life insurance costs. Quitting smoking and starting a regular exercise program can promote your health and in turn this may also have a positive effect on your health insurance premium.

A life insurance agent can help
If you’re looking for a life insurance policy and wondering about the cost, a qualified life insurance agent can be a great help. A life insurance agent has access to many different insurance companies and can work to get you matched with the right policy at the right price for you.

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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.

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