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June 23, 2021

Begin Your Budget In 5 Easy Steps

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Begin Your Budget In 5 Easy Steps

June 23, 2021

Begin Your Budget In 5 Easy Steps

A budget is a powerful tool.

No matter how big or small, it gives you the insight to track your money and plan your future. So here’s a beginner’s guide to kick-start your budget and help take control of your paycheck!

Establish simple objectives <br> Come up with at least one simple goal for your budget. It could be anything from saving for retirement to buying a car to paying down student debt. Establishing an objective gives you a goal to shoot for, and helps motivate you to stick to the plan.

Figure out how much you make <br> Now it’s time to figure out how much money you actually make. This might be as easy as looking at your past few paychecks. However, don’t forget to include things like your side hustle, rent from properties, or cash from your online store. Try averaging your total income from the past six months and use that as your starting point for your budget.

Figure out how much you spend <br> Start by splitting your spending into essential (non-discretionary) and unessential (discretionary) spending categories. The first category should cover things like rent, groceries, utilities, and debt payments. Unessential spending would be eating at restaurants, seeing a movie, hobbies, and sporting events.

How much is leftover? <br> Now subtract your total spending from your income. A positive number means you’re making more than you’re spending, giving you a foundation for saving and eventually building wealth. You still might need to cut back in a few areas to meet your goals, but it’s at least a good start.

If you come up negative, you’ll need to slash your spending. Start with your unessential spending and see where you can dial back. If things aren’t looking good, you may need to consider looking for a lower rent apartment, renegotiating loans, or picking up a side hustle.

Be consistent! <br> The worst thing you can do is start a budget and then abandon it. Make no mistake, seeing some out-of-whack numbers on a spreadsheet can be discouraging. But sticking to a budget is key to achieving your goals. Make a habit of reviewing your budget regularly and checking your progress. That alone might be enough motivation to keep it up!

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The Better Choice: Federal or Private Loans for College

May 26, 2021

The Better Choice: Federal or Private Loans for College

Education can be one of the best investments you can make in your future.

Those with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, almost $1 million more over their lifetime than those with just a high school diploma. And a person who gets a master’s degree can earn more money than someone with a bachelor’s degree!¹

But how should you pay for higher education? You may not have enough cash on hand to afford school. That means you’ll need student loans. That begs another question—should you get a federal or a private loan? There are many factors that go into answering this question. Let’s break down some pros and cons for both federal and private loans so you can decide which route is right for you.

Federal loans come straight from Uncle Sam. It all begins with filling out a FAFSA form. This form determines your eligibility for loans, grants, and work-study programs.

Federal student loan rates are typically lower than for private lenders. Federal loans also offer more flexible repayment options—you can make payments as a percentage of income or defer them until after school ends. You may also qualify for relief if you default on your loans. In general, a federal loan can be a good choice for many students, whether they’re pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

But remember, there are potential limitations to how much the federal government will lend you. Private loans may be needed to fill in the gaps. They typically charge higher interest rates and have stricter payment options. But they can sometimes be refinanced for better terms.

So if you need loans to afford your education, opt for federal loans first. Then, use private loans to cover the rest, refinancing as needed.

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¹ “The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings,” Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2011 https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/the-college-payoff/

² “Federal Versus Private Loans,” Federal Student Aid, https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/loans/federal-vs-private

A Beginners Guide to Saving and Shredding Documents

May 12, 2021

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

The Time Value of Money and College

April 14, 2021

The Time Value of Money and College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Buying for Couples: A Starter Guide

April 12, 2021

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

What You Need To Know About Life Insurance

March 15, 2021

What You Need To Know About Life Insurance

Buying life insurance is something that many people put off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Find Your Net Worth

March 1, 2021

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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2 Strategies to Build Credit When You’re Young

February 24, 2021

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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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 <br> 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 <br> 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 <br> 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 <br> 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 <br> 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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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? <br> 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? <br> 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? <br> 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 <br> 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? <br> 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 <br> 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 <br> 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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Source:

  1. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/insurance/car-insurance-basics/car-depreciation/#:~:text=Your%20car’s%20value%20decreases%20around,more%20of%20their%20initial%20value.

Read this before you walk down the aisle

June 24, 2020

Read this before you walk down the aisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pros and Cons of Simple Interest

Pros and Cons of Simple Interest

Brace yourself: You’ve been brought here under false pretenses.

This post is not so much about a list of pros and cons as it is about one big pro and one big con concerning simple interest accounts. There are many fine-tooth details you could get into when looking for the best ways to use your money. But when you’re just beginning your journey to financial independence, the big YES and NO below are important to keep in mind concerning your unique goals. In a nutshell, interest will either cost you money or earn you money. Here’s how…

The Pro of Simple Interest: Paying Back Money <br> Credit cards, mortgages, car loans, student debt – odds are that you’re familiar with at least one of these loans at this point. When you take out a loan, look for one that lets you pay back your principal amount with simple interest. This means that the overall amount you’ll owe will be interest calculated against the principal, or initial amount, that was loaned to you. And the principle decreases as you pay back the loan. So the sooner you pay off your loan, you’re actually lowering the amount of money in interest that you’re required to pay back as part of your loan agreement.

The Con of Simple Interest: Growing Money<br> When you want to grow your money, an account based on simple interest is not the way to go. Setting your money aside in an account with compound interest shows infinitely better results for growing your money.

For example, if you wanted to grow $10,000 for 10 years in an account at 3% simple interest, the first few years would look like this:

  • Year 1: $10,000 + 300 = $10,300
  • Year 2: $10,300 + 300 = $10,600
  • Year 3: $10,600 + 300 = $10,900

In a simple interest account, the 3% interest you’ll earn is a fixed sum taken from the principal amount added to the account. And this is the amount that is added annually. After a full 10 years, the amount in the account would be $13,000. Not very impressive.

But what if you put your money in an account that was less “simple”?

If you take the same $10,000 and grow it in an account for 10 years at a 3% rate of interest that compounds, you can see the difference beginning to show in the first few years:

  • Year 1: $10,000 + 300 = $10,300
  • Year 2: $10,300 + 309 = $10,609
  • Year 3: $10,609 + 318 = $10,927

At the end of 10 years, this type of account will have earned $429 more! And that’s even at a typically lower 3% rate and without continuing regular contributions to the account! Just imagine the possibilities with a higher interest rate and a financial plan for your future.

Don’t forget: Simple isn’t always the way to go, and that can be a good thing.

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Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Going to college can be a great way to invest in your future and get the training and education you need to thrive in the modern job market.

But we’ve all heard the horror stories of students saddled with thousands in loans that they struggle to pay back, sometimes for years. Student loan debt is often the most pressing financial issue for college students and recent grads.

So how do you take advantage of the benefits of a college education without burdening your future with years of debt? Here are some tips to help you avoid high student loan payments and pay your student debt off more quickly after graduation.

Work through school <br> The days of working a minimum wage job to put yourself through school seem to be over. However, working enough to cover at least some of your books and living expenses may make a huge dent in the amount of money you’ll have to borrow to graduate.

Work-study programs on campus are often good options, as they are willing to work around your class schedules. Off-campus part-time jobs can be a good option as well, and may offer better pay.

Live as cheaply as possible <br> Everyone knows the cliché of the broke college student existing on nothing but ramen noodles. While not many people would recommend trying to live on nutritionless soup every day, you should be able to find ways to cut your cost of living to reduce the amount of money you need to borrow to sustain your lifestyle.

Try living off campus with family or roommates and packing sandwiches instead of paying expensive meal tickets and dorm fees. Bike, walk, or take public transportation to avoid parking. Take advantage of free on-campus healthcare, counseling, free food events, free entertainment, and more so you can spend as little as possible on living campus life.

It’s okay to go out and have fun sometimes, but don’t borrow from your future in order to live beyond your means now.

Try to avoid unsubsidized loans <br> Subsidized loans are offered by the Department of Education at lower interest than many private bank loans, and they do not begin accruing interest until after you graduate. Take advantage of these loans first and try to avoid the unsubsidized private loans which begin accruing interest immediately and often have a higher rate. (1)

Be mindful of your future payments <br> It can be tempting to expect that you’ll have a great job earning plenty of money and time to pay back the student loans you’ve accumulated. But each time you take out a loan, you make your future payments higher and your payback time longer. Be sure to look at the numbers of how much your payment will be every time you up your loan amounts. Can you realistically envision yourself being able to pay that amount every month in just a few years? If not, it may be time to rethink the student loans you’re racking up, and possibly even reconsider your degree or career plan.

Go to trade school, earn an apprenticeship, or work in your chosen field before you commit to a college degree in that field <br> It’s not a popular topic with many high school guidance counselors, but learning a trade and finding a well-paying job without a degree is not only possible but a great option. Try finding an internship or trade school where you could get training for much less money than a university.

Consider community colleges and state schools <br> It’s a common misconception that private, ivy league, “big name” colleges are far superior to state schools and automatically the better option. However, state schools can often have great programs for far less money. Also, if you choose a local school, you can live close to your family support system while working through college. It’s possible to have a very successful career with a college degree from a state school, and be more financially stable in your future than someone struggling to pay off loans from an expensive private college.

Likewise, an associate’s degree from a community college can save money toward your bachelor’s degree, allowing you to pay far less than you would even to a state school. Just make sure your degree and credits will transfer to the university of your choice.

Find a graduate program that pays YOU <br> If you choose to pursue a Masters or Doctorate degree, try to find a program with a teaching assistant position, fellowship, or some other option for getting reduced tuition or getting paid to get the work experience you need.

Resist the urge to move up in lifestyle when you graduate <br> When you scrimp your way through school, it’s tempting when you get your first degree-related job to celebrate by loosening the reins on your frugal ways and start living it up as a young professional.

It’s great to reward yourself, and you need to adapt to your new financial situation (you may need a new wardrobe or a better car), but resist going too crazy with all the “extra” money a new job in your field can make you feel like you have. You should still live on a budget and manage your money carefully to pay off your student loans as soon as possible so you’re better prepared to move into the next phase of life unencumbered by a mountain of debt. Make paying back debt a priority, and pay extra when you’re able.

Education can be expensive and in some cases impossible to get without loans. But with frugality and an eye toward the future, you’ll be better prepared to get the education you need to succeed in life without being encumbered by debt for years. The high cost of education combined with the high cost of living can make a college education more of a financial burden for today’s students than ever before. By thinking outside the box and carefully prioritizing your educational goals—balanced with your finances—you can pursue your dream degree and have a better chance at a stable financial future.

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Headed in the Right Direction: Managing Debt for Millennials

Headed in the Right Direction: Managing Debt for Millennials

Three simple words can strike fear into the heart of any Millennial:

Student.

Loan.

Debt.

The anxiety is not surprising: In 2015, 7 out of 10 college graduates had $30,100 in student debt.

$30 grand? For that you could travel the world. Put a down payment on a house. Buy a car. Even start a new business! But instead of having the freedom to pursue the American Dream in the palm of their hands, there’s a $30,000 ball and chain around Millennials’ feet.

That many young people owing that much money before they even enter the workforce? It’s unbelievable!

Now just imagine adding car payments, house payments, health insurance premiums, and more on top of that student debt. No wonder 57% of Millennials report that paying for essentials alone is a “somewhat-to-very-significant” source of stress!

Now is the time to get ahead of your debt. Not later. You can manage that debt and get out from under it!

So how do you do that? Sometimes improving your current situation involves more than making smarter choices with the money you earn now. Getting out of that debt ditch means finding a way to make more.

There are 2 things you can monetize right now:

  • Your education
  • Your experience

Both have their own challenges. You may not have spent much time in a particular field yet, so not a lot of experience. And what if you’re working a job that has nothing to do with your major? There goes education.

Two speed bumps. One right after the other. But you can still gain momentum in the direction you want your life to go!

How? A solid financial strategy. A goal you can see. A destination for financial independence.

Debts can become overwhelming – remember that stat up there? But with a strategy in mind for the quick and consistent repaying of your loans, so much of that stress and burden could be lifted.

Contact me today. A quick phone call is all we need to help get you rolling in the direction YOU want to go.

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How to Get Off of the Post-Grad Financial Roller Coaster

How to Get Off of the Post-Grad Financial Roller Coaster

Congratulations on earning a college degree!

Your years of hard work could result in better job prospects (including better benefits for you and your family), job security, a larger income – and years of repaying student loan debt that could adversely affect your retirement savings! Wait a minute…

According to the Young Invincibles ‘Financial Health of Young America’ study, the average retirement accounts of those with a college degree and no student loan debt grew at double the rate of those with a college degree and student loan debt.

That makes sense: if someone does not have to pay back loans, they’ll potentially have more to set aside for retirement, putting them in a better position than someone who has to wait to set aside the same amounts due to student debt loans.

What doesn’t make sense is that your future should suffer such a potentially lengthy setback right on the heels of dedicating yourself to bettering your chances. What an emotional roller coaster – working hard for years to improve your future but having to delay the benefits of your hard work because of debt!

There’s a way out from under your student debt: a solid financial strategy to pay it back and a life and a solid plan to help with financing your future. I can help you with both.

Contact me today, and together we can work on a strategy that could bring back a little of the excitement of earning that degree!

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Making Money Goals That Get You There

Making Money Goals That Get You There

Making financial goals is like hanging a map on your wall to remind you of where you want to go someday.

Your map might have your whole journey outlined with tacks and twine. It may be dotted with pictures pulled from travel magazines and Google searches. You could know every twist and turn by heart. But to get where you want to go, you still have to make a few real-life moves toward your destination.

Here are 5 tips for making money goals that have the potential to get you closer to the financial destination you set:

1. Figure out what’s motivating your financial decisions. Thinking about your “why” is a great way to start moving in the right direction. Goals like early retirement, paying off your house or car, and even a second honeymoon in Hawaii may immediately leap to mind. Take some time to evaluate what you value most and where they rank in relation to each other. This can help set your financial destination.

2. Manage Your Money. This doesn’t mean getting an MBA in finance or becoming a mutual fund manager. Managing your money can be as simple as organizing your money into appropriate accounts – and organizing the documents and details related to your money. Account statements, insurance policies, tax returns, or wills – important papers like these need to be as well-managed as your incoming paycheck. A large part of getting to your financial destination is knowing where to find a document when you need to find it.

3. Track Your Money. After your money comes in, where does it go out? Keep careful record of your spending habits for a while and the answer may surprise you. There are a plethora of tools you can find on app stores to link to your bank account to see where things are actually going. Are you a stress buyer, usually good with your money until it’s the only thing within your control? Or do you spend, spend, spend as soon as your direct deposit hits, then transform into the most frugal individual on the planet… until the next direct deposit hits? Track your spending habits for a while, and you may find you have a pattern that will be good to keep in mind (or avoid) as you trek toward your financial destination.

4. Keep an Eye on Your Credit. Building a strong credit report will assist in striving for many of your future financial goals. Building good credit relies heavily on making loan payments on time and reducing debt. Not doing either of those could mean being denied for loans, higher interest rates, and more unpleasant consequences that can keep you from getting closer to your financial destination. There are multiple programs can let you know where you stand and help to keep track of your credit score.

5. Know Your Number. This is the ultimate financial destination: How much money are you trying to save? Retirement at 65 is a great goal, but without an actual number to work towards, it’s just a passing fancy. Paying off your car or your student loans has to happen, but if you’d like to do it on time – or maybe even pay them off sooner – you need a number to set aside each month. And that second honeymoon to Hawaii? Even this one needs a number attached to it!

What do you already have in place for your trip to your financial destination? Do you know how much you can set aside aside for retirement and still have some left over for that Hawaii trip? And do you have any ideas about how to raise that credit score? Looking at where you are and figuring out what you need to do to get where you want to go can be easier with help. Plus, what’s a road trip without a buddy? Call me anytime!

… All right, all right, you can pick the road tunes first.

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The Shelf Life of Financial Records

June 24, 2019

The Shelf Life of Financial Records

When you finally make the decision to organize that pile of financial records, where are you supposed to start?

One method could be sorting your documents into this famous trio: the Coffee Stains Assortment, the Crumpled-Up Masses, and the Definitely Missing a Page or Two Crew.

Instead of that ineffective system or a stack of disorganized papers that you end up shuffling from one corner of your desk to the top of your filing cabinet and back again, try the following list instead. Based on FINRA’s “Save or Shred” ideas, here’s a list of the shelf life of some financial records to help you begin whittling that stack down to just what you need to keep. And remember, when disposing of any financial records, shred them; don’t just toss them into the trash can (Don’t make it easy for identity thieves to steal yours!).

1. The Indefinite Keepers: Mortgages, Student Loans, Car Loans, Etc.
These records are ones to keep until you’ve completely paid of the loan, absolutely. However, keeping these records indefinitely to be on the safe side is a good idea. You never know if any questions relating to the loan or payment of the loan are going to come up. Label the records clearly, then feel free to put them at the back of your filing cabinet. They can be out of sight, but make sure they’re still in your possession if that info needs to come to mind.

2. Seven Years in the Cabinet: Tax-Related Records.
These records include your tax returns and receipts/proof of anything you might claim as a deduction. Keep your tax documents – including proof of deductions – for 7 years. Period. Why? If the IRS thinks you underreported your gross income by 25%, they have 6 whole years to challenge your return. Not to mention, they have 3 years to audit you if they think there might be a good faith error on your return. (Note: Be sure to check with your state tax office to learn how long you should keep your state tax records!) Some of the items included in your tax-records may also pull from other categories in this list, so be sure to examine your records carefully.

3. The Sixers: Property Records.
This one goes out to the homeowners. While you’re living in your home, keep all documents from the purchase of the home and any remodeling or additions you make to it. After you sell the home, keep all of those documents for at least 6 years.

4. The Annually Tossed: Brokerage Statements, Paycheck Stubs, Bank Records.
“Annually Tossed” is used a bit lightly here, so please read carefully: What can be tossed after an annual review is anything not worth keeping from your year-long collection of brokerage statements, paycheck stubs (if not enrolled in direct deposit), and bank records. This may sound kind of obvious, but a full stack of these papers can get overwhelming, leading to a “keep it all” or “trash it all” attitude. Neither is completely accurate. What should be kept in this category are records related to those of long-term importance (see #2).

5. The Easy One: Rental Documents.
This one’s – you guessed it – easy! If you rent a property, keep all financial documents and rental agreements until you’ve moved out and gotten your security deposit back from the landlord. Then shred away!

6. The Check-‘Em Againsts: Credit Card Receipts/Statements and Bills.
Check your monthly credit card statement against physical receipts and bank records from that month. If everything matches and nothing sends up any red flags, shred away! (Note: Plan to claim anything on your statement as a tax deduction? See #2.) As for bills, you’re in the clear to shred them as soon as your payment clears – with one caveat: Bills for any big-ticket item that you might make an insurance claim on later (think expensive sound system, diamond bracelet, all-leather sofa with built-in recliners) should be held onto indefinitely or at least as long as you own the item.

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6 Financial Commitments EVERY Parent Should Educate Their Kids About

6 Financial Commitments EVERY Parent Should Educate Their Kids About

Your first lesson isn’t actually one of the six.

It can be found in the title of this article. The best time to start teaching your children about financial decisions is when they’re children! Adults don’t typically take advice well from other adults (especially when they’re your parents and you’re trying to prove to them how smart and independent you are).

Heed this advice: Involve your kids in your family’s financial decisions and challenge them with game-like scenarios from as early as their grade school years.

Starting your kids’ education young can help give them a respect for money, remove financial mysteries, and establish deep-rooted beliefs about saving money, being cautious regarding risk, and avoiding debt.

Here are 6 critical financially-related lessons EVERY parent should foster in the minds of their kids:

1. Co-signing a loan

The Trap: ‘I’m in a good financial position now. I want to be helpful. They said they’ll get me off the loan in 6 months or so.’

The Realities: If the person you’re co-signing for defaults on their payments, you’re required to make their payments, which can turn a good financial situation bad, fast. Also, lenders are not incentivized to remove co-signers – they’re motivated to lower risk (hence having a co-signer in the first place). This can make it hard to get your name off a loan, regardless of promises or good intentions. Keep in mind that if a family member or friend has a rough credit history – or no credit history – that requires them to have a co-signer, what might that tell you about the wisdom of being their co-signer? And finally, a co-signing situation that goes bad may ruin your credit reputation, and more tragically, may ruin your relationship.

The Lesson: ‘Never, ever, EVER, co-sign a loan.’

2. Taking on a mortgage payment that pushes the budget

The Trap: ‘It’s our dream house. If we really budget tight and cut back here and there, we can afford it. The bank said we’re pre-approved…We’ll be sooo happy!’

The Realities: A house is one of the biggest purchases couples will ever make. Though emotion and excitement are impossible to remove from the decision, they should not be the driving forces. Just because you can afford the mortgage at the moment, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to in 5 or 10 years. Situations can change. What would happen if either partner lost their job for any length of time? Would you have to tap into savings? Also, many buyers dramatically underestimate the ongoing expenses tied to maintenance and additional services needed when owning a home. It’s an accepted rule of thumb that home owners will have to spend about 1% of the total cost of the home every year in upkeep. That means a $250,000 home would require an annual maintenance investment of $2,500 in the property. Will you resent the budgetary restrictions of the monthly mortgage payments once the novelty of your new house wears off?

The Lesson: ‘Never take on a mortgage payment that’s more than 25% of your income. Some say 30%, but 25% or less may be a safer financial position.’

3. Financing for a new car loan

The Trap: ‘Used cars are unreliable. A new car will work great for a long time. I need a car to get to work and the bank was willing to work with me to lower the payments. After test driving it, I just have to have it.’

The Realities: First of all, no one ‘has to have’ a new car they need to finance. You’ve probably heard the expression, ‘a new car starts losing its value the moment you drive it off the lot.’ Well, it’s true. According to Carfax, a car loses 10% of its value the moment you drive away from the dealership and another 10% by the end of the first year. That’s 20% of value lost in 12 months. After 5 years, that new car will have lost 60% of its value. Poof! The value that remains constant is your monthly payment, which can feel like a ball and chain once that new car smell fades.

The Lesson: ‘Buy a used car you can easily afford and get excited about. Then one day when you have saved enough money, you might be able to buy your dream car with cash.’

4. Financial retail purchases

The Trap: ‘Our refrigerator is old and gross – we need a new one with a touch screen – the guy at the store said it will save us hundreds every year. It’s zero down – ZERO DOWN!’

The Realities: Many of these ‘buy on credit, zero down’ offers from appliance stores and other retail outlets count on naive shoppers fueled by the need for instant gratification. ‘Zero down, no payments until after the first year’ sounds good, but often may bite back in the end. Accepting an offer can require a full rate of interest to be paid dating back to the day of the purchase if a single payment is missed. Shoppers who fall for these deals don’t always read the fine print before signing. Retail store credit cards can be enticing to shoppers who are offered an immediate 10% off their first purchase when they sign up. They might think, ‘I’ll use it to establish credit.’ But that store card can have a high interest rate. Best to think of these cards as putting a tiny little ticking time bomb in your wallet or purse.

The Lesson: ‘Don’t buy on credit what you think you can afford. If you want a ‘smart fridge,’ save up and pay for it in cash. Make your mortgage and car payments on time, every time, if you want to help build your credit.’

5. Going into business with a friend

The Trap: ‘Why work for a paycheck with people I don’t know? Why not start a business with a friend so I can have fun every day with people I like building something meaningful?’

The Realities: “This trap actually can sound really good at first glance. The truth is, starting a business with a friend can work. Many great companies have been started by two or more chums with a shared vision and an effective combination of skills. The danger can center around maturity. If either of the partners isn’t prepared to handle the challenges of entrepreneurship, the outcome might be disastrous, both financially and relationally. It can help if inexperienced entrepreneurs are prepared to:

  • Lose whatever money is contributed as start-up capital
  • Agree at the outset how arguments will be resolved
  • Not always talk business around friends and family
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities
  • Sign a well-thought-out, legally sound operating agreement

The Lesson: ‘Understand that the money, pressures, successes, and failures of business have ruined many great friendships. Consider going into business individually and working together as partners, rather than co-owners.’

6. Signing up for a credit card

The Trap: ‘I need to build credit and this particular card offers great points and a low annual fee! It will only be used in case of emergency.’

The Reality: There are other ways to establish credit, like paying your rent and car loan payments on time. The average American household carries a credit card balance averaging over $16,000 dollars. Credit cards can lead to debt that may take years (or decades) to pay off, especially for young people who are inexperienced with budgeting and managing money. The point programs of credit cards are enticing – kind of like when your grocer congratulates you for saving five bucks for using your VIP shopper card. So how exactly did you save money by spending money?

The Lesson: ‘Learn to discipline yourself to save for things you want to buy and then pay for them with cash. Focus on paying off debt – like student loans and car loans – not going further into the hole.’

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Tackling long term financial goals

March 4, 2019

Tackling long term financial goals

Many of us have probably had some trouble meeting a long-term goal from time to time.

Health, career, and personal enrichment goals are often abandoned or relegated to some other time after the initial excitement wears away. So how can you keep yourself committed to important long term goals – especially financial ones? Let’s look at a few strategies to help you stay committed and hang in there for the long haul.

Start small when building the big financial picture
Most financial goals require sustained commitment over time. Whether you’re working on paying off credit card debt, knocking out your student loans, or saving for retirement, financial heavyweight goals can make even the most determined among us feel like Sisyphus – doomed for eternity to push a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down.

The good news is that there is a strategy to put down the rock and reach those big financial goals. To achieve a big financial goal, it must be broken down into small pieces. For example, let’s say you want to get your student loan debt paid off once and for all, but when you look at the balance you think, “This is never going to happen. Where do I even start?” Cue despair.

But let’s say you took a different approach and focused on what you can do – something small. You’ve scoured your budget and decided you can cut back on some incidentals. This gives you an extra $75 a month to add to your regular student loan payment. So now each month you can make a principal-only payment of $75. This feels great. You’re starting to get somewhere. You took the huge financial objective – paying off your student loan – and broke it down into a manageable, sustainable goal – making an extra payment every month. That’s what it takes.

Use the power of automation
It seems there has been a lot of talk lately in pop psychology circles about the force of habit. The theory is if you create a practice of something, you are more likely to do it consistently.

The power of habit can work wonders for financial health, and with most financial goals, we can use automation tools to help build our habits. For example, let’s say you want to save for retirement – a great financial goal – but it may seem abstract, far away, and overwhelming.

Instead of quitting before you even begin, or succumbing to confusion about how to start, harness the power of automation. Start with your 401(k) plan – an automated savings tool by nature. Money comes out of your paycheck directly into the account. But did you know you can set your plan to increase every year by a certain percentage? So if this year you’re putting in three percent, next year you might try five percent, and so on. In this way, you’re steadily increasing your retirement savings every year – automatically without even having to think about it.

Find support when working on financial goals
Long term goals are more comfortable to meet with the proper support – it’s also a lot more fun. Help yourself get to your goals by making sure you have friends and allies to help you along the way. Don’t be afraid to talk about your financial goals and challenges.

Finding support for financial goals has never been easier – there are social media groups as well as many other blogs and websites devoted to personal financial health. Join in and begin sharing. Another benefit of having a support network is that it seems like when we announce our goals to the world (or even just our corner of it), we’re more likely to stick to them.

Reaching large financial goals
Big, dreamy financial goals are great – we should have those – but to help make them attainable, we must recast them into smaller manageable actions. Focus on small goals, find support, and harness the power of habit and automation.

Remember, it’s a marathon – you finish the race by running one mile at a time.

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