Category Archives: Everyday Financial Tasks

Understanding Mutual Funds: More than a roll of the dice

Each month I meet people, including clients, who own mutual funds, but either aren’t sure what they are or what role they can play in their retirement planning. I blame 401(k) and 403(b) retirement funds for this. One opportunity to learn more is via my new class Mutual Funds and Merlot!

What I mean is that very often, companies of all kinds (including employers, financial services reps and the information you receive from your Benefits department leads you towards the decision tree of “We have these 20 funds for our plan – pick one now”  – and go!  By the way, you have five minutes. Whether it is five minutes or five days, sometimes; indeed many times, the information is not understood by the employee.  Despite everyone’s best efforts, employees may not understand the foundation of how mutual funds work. And without wine!

Mutual funds are more like the Monopoly houses than the dice. Photo via Flickr woodleywonderworks

Feel like the market is just a roll of the dice? Mutual funds are more like the Monopoly houses than the dice. Photo via Flickr woodleywonderworks

I’ve created an opportunity for you to spend some time with me and a glass of Merlot, in order to better absorb the information about what mutual funds are, (yes, an index fund is a type of mutual fund), how to use them, and why they can lower the risk in your portfolio (retirement or other investment account). Like wine, mutual funds are both simple and complex, full of sin-or part of daily life, global and local, and some are meant for holding a long time in your cellar (or your retirement accounts).

Please join me at my office for an after-work, pre-weekend, informative way to put some fun in mutual funds!

More information and registration is here.         

Registration via Brown Paper Tickets.Logo.BPT_small_black

Leave a comment

Filed under Corporate Retirement Plans, Everyday Financial Tasks, New to the Work Force, Women and Finance

5 Reasons Your Credit Report Matters

5 Reasons Your Credit Report Matters More Than You Think

Think of your credit report as giant file cabinet and the score as a point in time.

Your credit history here!

Your credit history here!

The report summarizes a lifetime of using credit and your score is a snapshot of your current situation plus your accumulated use of credit experience.

  1. The contents could be inaccurate (did you really live in Minnesota?)
  1. Not all creditors report to all three credit bureaus

What if you have something that is affecting your score, but you don’t know what it is. Pull reports from all three bureaus once a year to see how they are the same and what shows up on only one report.

  1. Is it really your credit report?

Two situations I’ve seen recently:

  • a dad and son with the same first and last names ended up with [unintentionally] shared debt on credit reports
  • a mom and daughter are co-signers – what if one person’s credit goes south?
  1. Inaccuracies/errors and outright falsehoods need to be fixed

Your report has contact information for creditors and the place to make a consumer statement about certain aspects of the report.

  1. Only looking at your scores, (available through Credit Karma, Discover, USAA to name a few) doesn’t help you improve them as fast. Without pulling the reports, you may not know the reasons your score is depressed, or the reasons your score is excellent. 65% of your score is derived from paying on time, every time and your credit utilization ratio (how much of your available credit are you using).

For example, one client I knew had an item from another state on her credit report, so she ignored it, as she had never visited that state. Turned out it was the billing headquarters for an old medical bill incurred in her home state. She needed to contact that creditor to resolve that item.  Another example, you and your spouse agreed to split debt payoffs in your divorce, but one of you has not lived up to that bargain. Make a consumer statement to that effect on your credit report.

Pulling your report is free if you use the legislatively created www.annualcreditreport.com.  For the last month I’ve been able to pull credit reports for service members and their families via http://www.saveandinvest.org. These reports include free scores from all three credit bureaus. FINRA  established this site which also includes calculators and how to check out a financial advisor.

Home

Bonus: New version of FICO  [9] will be treating old medical debt differently http://bit.ly/YH9cMJ

Related Link: Getting and Changing Your Credit Report from Debt Slapped Grad: http://bit.ly/1JfbLtb

1 Comment

Filed under Be Prepared, Everyday Financial Tasks, Military, New to the Work Force

Employer Retirement Plans: The Power of 1%

Did you fail to grab some cash last year?

Here’s the scoop on how many people left employer matches on the table last year. I read this study from Financial Engines and was astounded at the billions of dollars unclaimed.

financialengines_infographic_final (3)

What if you can’t set aside even the minimum for the employer match? Then what?

I would not be living up to this blog’s title, if I didn’t address this issue. Here are some reasons I’ve heard for not participating in an employer retirement plan:

  • I can do better on my own.  Really? Tell me about it then.
Wring out your own retirement dollars....and show me the money

Wring out your own retirement dollars….and show me the money.

  • The plan is too complicated. That could be true, but there is no excuse for not asking for guidance in order to figure it out. Sometimes the guidance, advice, information is free. Begin with your company resources, then go outside the company if their resources and/or people cannot help you make sense of it all.
cropped-calculator-with-numbers-and-glasses-seniorliving-org.jpg

Seek assistance, whether it is virtual or from a live human!

  • I don’t have enough money. If you are living in a basement, eating noodles and drinking Mountain Dews [for the calories] , this could be true. However, even 1% in the traditional 401(k) or federal thrift savings plan (TSP) will lower your taxable income and you might not miss it. At $15.00 per hour, or $30,000 per year gross income, let’s see what that looks like over 45 years (67-22) until retirement, with minimum salary increases (1% annually). See chart below:
Results Summary
Current 401(k) balance $0
Years to invest 45
Annual rate of return 7%
Annual salary $30,000
Expected annual salary increase 1%
Percent to contribute 1%
Your 401(k) contribution* $300.00 per year
Your employer’s 401(k) match $0.00 per year
This is a 0% employer match to a maximum of 0% of your annual salary.
Total you will contribute over 45 years $17,113.77
Total your employer will contribute $0.00
Total at age 67 $100,836
(chart constructed with Index of Retirement Calculator)

With minimal effort, while not making much money, you could save $100,836 for your future. Note: this example assumes an average annual return of 7%, which would mean not being in a bank account, but at least in a mutual fund composed of a combination of stocks and bonds. (Posted rate for illustration purposes only. Not FDIC insured…)

Start saving now!

Visit your company intranet or HR department now. No time like the present to begin saving!

Leave a comment

Filed under Corporate Retirement Plans, Everyday Financial Tasks, New to the Work Force

How Do I Love Thee (Post Valentines Day Edition)

How Do I Love Thee? On Paper, Online and On Time

In life and in death, let me count the ways that I love thee.  Let’s review the beneficiaries, the online accounts, and the papers.

Rosemary is for Remembrance

Rosemary is for Remembrance. Wikimedia

To paraphrase Meghan Trainor, modern philosopher:

It’s all about that signature

It’s all about survivorship

It’s all about that heir, no trouble.

When you love someone, you are told you should have “your affairs in order”.

This is much harder to do than say. What affairs, what is order?

When you have a family, you want to look ahead into a future where you may not be in the picture.

“Yikes, this means I have to pretend I am dead; that makes me uncomfortable and I’ll just hope nothing happens.”

It’s going to happen, trust me. Photo credit: http://www.pdpics.com 4211

This is a common reaction, due to your present, your past or reluctance to look too far into that uncertain future. I have met many people who think that they don’t need to consider these things, because “they don’t have any assets”, “they don’t have any children”, or all they have are the photos on their Facebook and Instagram pages. But you do, you do! You have your organs, your online life and photos, and your entire financial life to care for and secure.

You may have missed the opportunity to send roses or a sentimental card this past weekend, but here are several steps to take in this next week, to say “I love you” to those special people in your life. I’d like to help you move into action!

On paper: Check your retirement plan beneficiaries at work and for your personal retirement accounts. Do the beneficiaries match up with your current sweetie and family? Just sayin’. By the way, for those of you with older pension plans (could be frozen, or discontinued), check those too and keep a copy of the beneficiary page.) You can keep a paper copy, scan or photograph, then store in your cloud somewhere.

Real life story: This just happened to a friend-her husband hadn’t updated his old pension plan documents when he got married. When he passed away suddenly in 2014, his cousins were still his beneficiaries, not his wife. These cousins were sympathetic, but not all relatives would be as thoughtful.

It is important to create, review, or update important documents (will, power of attorney, health care directives) before any major life transitions. This probably also applies to people who take part in extreme sports, marathons, and those races in the mud. If you are in the military, they will place you in a workshop with your significant other to cover many things like this before deployment.

Online: However, online access may still be a problem. In real life, (IRL) your loved ones do not have the access to your emails, online accounts and photos that spammers or identity thieves do. In the Terms and Conditions of our online accounts, there is usually a line or two which explains this privacy policy. Google has tried to fix this with their Inactive Account Manager, and just last week Facebook offered the opportunity to set up a Legacy Contact after your death is proven. Yahoo Japan launched a service to manage your digital profile after you die. https://ending.yahoo.co.jp/ See if you want to set up one of these contacts.

Real life story: http://cnet.co/1Mn3RPO Yahoo denies family access to dead Marine’s email.

 On Time: This has to do with matching your documents and decisions to your actions. Wedding coming up? Do you need to alter your current will and property distribution? Would the laws of your state (and your family) allow your loved one to make medical decisions for you and visit you in the hospital?

Real life story: a relative with a terminal illness lived into the last month of his car loan, so his wife didn’t have to  worry about that last payment. This relative also hadn’t changed two pieces of property to be jointly owned with his [second] wife, so altering those property deeds occupied some stressful hours of his last days.

Love in a box, or a document, or in your will...

Love in a box, or a document, or in your will…

PS For those readers who may have several kinds of pensions (military, Social Security, employer plans), it is important to check the pension payouts with your spouse. For example, will you choose a single life or joint and survivor payout? A single life payout goes for one person’s (the retired employee) life. A joint and survivor payout is calculated over the joint life expectancies of the couple. It is usually less than the single life payout, but it provides a lifetime income for the survivor. See definition of joint life payout from Investopedia here.

If this post inspires you to take action, from creating new documents to reviewing existing ones, you will feel better afterwards. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but the relief generated upon accomplishment will feel wonderful. Plus, your family members will thank you for remembering them.  Get from To-Do to To-Done! (Shout out to https://transmutable.com for my first To-Done experience.)

Related links

http://organdonor.gov/index.html 

http://www.usa.gov/topics/money/personal-finance/wills.shtml

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/advancedirectives.html

http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/powerofattorney.asp

Leave a comment

Filed under Be Prepared, Everyday Financial Tasks, Life and Death

New Year’s Resolutions-How Are You Doing?

As a nation, we are making fewer New Year’s Resolutions each year. Usual categories are in the areas of smoking (less), eating (less and better), and finances (all the things). Which ones are easier to keep?

General_Work_Out According to a study by Fidelity: financial resolutions are easier to keep than the ones about smoking and eating differently!

42% of people surveyed find financial resolutions easier to keep than smoking less or exercising more.

And, the top three financial resolutions continue to be:

  • Saving more (55%)
  • Paying off debt (20%)
  • Spending less (17%)

After six weeks, many of us give up forget revise our resolutions (you can ask me about my goals for planks!)

Very different from planking! By the way, I would be most likely to be seen planking in a public library.

"Planking on a people mover" by Danielleevandenbosch - Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Planking_on_a_people_mover.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Planking_on_a_people_mover.jpg

“Planking on a people mover” by Danielleevandenbosch – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Everyday Financial Tasks, Self Awareness

Spending – It’s Handled

How do you handle your spending? Is it an aimless stream of expenses, or do you have a plan for each month and year? Sometimes  a budget is hard to follow, especially if it is inspired by a particular event, such as a move, a raise or a layoff. Or, as happened to me once-it was someone else’s idea that I have a budget. First: words matter. I prefer the term spending plan, as I think when you are planning your spending, it implies more forethought and care for yourself. Be proactive!

The hardest part for people is to record all income and spending. No, I am mistaken – the income part is usually easier than the spending. When recording income, include wage income, as well any other sources along the way (rental income, refunds, rebates, gift cards, checks from any side gigs etc.).

Now, you are ready to record your spending (you can use online tools such as mint.com) or check your bank or credit union-they may have a free online solution already integrated into your accounts. Or use a notebook, a napkin or your bank statement. Low tech is better than no tech.

Stop and review your spending first.

Stop and check your spending first.

Which expenses are fixed? These may include rent/mortgage, insurance, tuition, commuting costs (tolls, parking, gas), groceries, utilities, loan payments (student loans, car payments, minimum on your credit card bills, if any), tax withholding, child care, pet care or babysitting costs, condo fees.

Which expenses are variable? These may include eating out, any phone/internet/cable costs above the basics, paying extra on any loans or credit card bill, clothing, gifts, personal care, charitable contributions, and entertainment. How do you handle vacation spending?

Next, look at some ratios and categories more closely: Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Be Prepared, Everyday Financial Tasks

Credit Card Theft: When the Target is You

Did you get a present of credit card fraud for the holidays, courtesy of Target? This could lead to identity theft.  To be fair, this is not the only recent large case. Neiman Marcus Group announced a similar breach on January 22, 2014. We all need to be aware of this possibility. With credit card fraud and identity theft, my first recommendation is to realize what factors are within your control.

First, know what you have:

  • “What’s in Your Wallet ?” says Capitol One but really, what’s in your wallet? First, try this exercise-make a list from memory. Did you capture everything? Scan or copy the front and back of everything in your purse or wallet. Save the scan in a secure, encrypted file on a device. Secure the copied card copies in a safe, locked file, or even a safe deposit box if you have one. The backs of credit cards usually have the customer service or theft reporting number on them. (As does your statement.)
  • Reduce, reduce, reduce! Many people (men first on this one) are sitting on too full a wallet. This is back for your back and could be bad for your bank accounts. Also, if you are fumbling at a gas tank, or ATM for the correct card, someone watching may decide you are a good target for them. Common mistakes are Social Security card (definite no-no) and Medicare cards (they have the Social Security number on them-black it out or use a copy with the SS# blacked out); too many credit cards. Passport-leave that one at home.
How many of these are in your wallet?

How many of these are in your wallet?

  • What credit cards are you using online? Your heirs and family will need this information if something happens to you so may as well do the research! To reduce risk, use only one card for online purchases and don’t link it to any other accounts or financial relationships that you have. If you have already used more than one card online, consider getting a new card just for online use, or eliminating the use of all but one.

Second, what behaviors can you change?

  • When you shop online, check for the https in the URL, not http. The added ‘s’ means the site has added security. Look for a lock symbol next to the https or elsewhere on the site.  (Norton, Verisign and Symantec are companies that offer this protection to the company you do business with.)

    Usually looks like this!

    Usually looks like this!

  • When shopping in person, be aware of other shoppers being too close while you are finishing your transaction. Shield your PIN when using your debit card. Even if it feels rude or awkward.
  • In restaurants or bars, be aware of where your  credit card is when paying your bill. Can you see the server ring up your transaction?
  • Consider using cash or checks for some transactions. This may be impractical-as carrying around $2000 in cash for that big-screen TV you want for this weekend is not safe.

Third, check your credit report annually by using this tool, authorized by federal legislation: (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003). It’s time to order the first one for 2014, to spread them out throughout the year. This is the source of your credit score aka FICO®. Verify that all card history is correct, including payment history, your name(s), addresses and employers. Note: There are many imitators for this website (annualcreditreport.com) with large advertising budgets. They will try to up sell you at every turn.

In the next post: If your identity is stolen, five things to do immediately.

Remember, even though you don’t control all factors, the first brick in this wall can be strengthened by you.

What's in Your Wallet?

What’s in Your Wallet?

Disclosure: I shopped at Target last year and have signed up for the free credit card monitoring, which Experian is running for them.

Related article via NerdWallet.com: http://bit.ly/1iF9sAy

Leave a comment

Filed under Be Prepared, Everyday Financial Tasks, Learning About Finance

Obamacare and You: Subsidies

A special section on the ACA (Obamacare) was published in my local newspaper on September 22nd and has valuable information for Washingtonians and others.

For the moment, let’s set aside the economics debate about whether subsidies create disincentives or not. That is not my concern now, nor does it need to be yours. This post is aimed at people who have waited for Obamacare so they can use it! (not discuss it in a theoretical fashion) 

English: Barack Obama signing the Patient Prot...

English: Barack Obama the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post wants to share the facts and then you can make an     informed decision, get health  coverage, and maybe save some money along the way.

One valuable section of the ACA allows for subsidies:

If you make up to $45,950 ($94,200 for a family of four) you may get a subsidy that will decrease your premiums, or even allow you to trade up for better coverage while using the subsidy.

Some of us will just be happy to save a few bucks per month to apply to our increased deductibles. I’m not blaming the ACA for that change -the $250 annual deductible (as recently as 5 years ago and fondly recalled by me) is insurance history. Good news: there is dental coverage for children under 19. Bad news:  adult dental coverage was excluded  from the ACA, so those of us with previously bundled dental coverage will have to shop outside the exchange for dental (will it be more expensive?)

However, people who earn less than a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)  of $45,950 per year may very well immediately reallocate any savings  to other parts of their budget. Deductibles, groceries, retirement savings.  This could be good for our collective economy.
Here is one link to a subsidy calculator that anyone from across the country can use. The calculator shows prices for a ‘Silver’ plan, there are also Bronze, Gold and Platinum plans. I didn’t see a Platinum plan for my state yet, but that may change.

If you receive a subsidy how will you use the money you save? Will you trade up in coverage? Will you be getting coverage for the first time?
Please tell us in the comments.

Related articles

Leave a comment

Filed under Be Prepared, Everyday Financial Tasks

Uncomfortable Conversations: Zero Left in the Food Budget

It’s the end of the month and here is what could be an uncomfortable conversation with your family: Zero money in the food budget-what to do next?

Here’s what happens: creativity, improvisation and community. This post focuses on what happens if you run out of money in the food budget and creative ways to make do. Please add your ideas to the stew in the comments.

The Stew

Did your family do any of these things?

  • Buy groceries on a credit card
  • Scrounge around in the freezer, fridge and cupboards to see if you can make a casserole with what is on hand-even if it is with something unfamiliar
  • Make “stone” soup
  • Throw a potluck with your neighbors
  • Get invited over to someone else’s house
  • Eat instant noodles or peanut butter sandwiches until payday
  • Create one meatless dinner night (or more?)
  • Have “breakfast for dinner”
  • Search for all of your restaurant coupons, eat out, then box up half of dinner for lunch the next day?
  • Skip meals
  • Skip the coffee shop  and buy Folgers instead (number one coffee brand in America)
  • Cruise the local big box grocery at free sample time
  • Join the local grocery online club to get preferred pricing or free items
  • Use a federal or state government program such as SNAP
  • Transfer funds from another account to cover food until payday

Do you have any childhood memories like these? Did your family  make it more of a game? If there was scarcity of some kind, how was it handled by your family?

Please leave your stories in the Comments.

English: A brick of Instant noodles as they ar...

English: A brick of Instant noodles as they are commonly available in Europe. Deutsch: Ein Block Fertignudeln (Photo credit: Wikipedi

Leave a comment

Filed under Everyday Financial Tasks, Family Lessons About Money, Learning About Finance