Money Lessons From Mom

Mom Day Card

What money lessons did you learn from Mom (or Dad)? Whether good lessons or bad lessons we all learn something from our parents about finances. Do any of these lessons sound familiar (click The Wall Street Journal link below)?

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324244304578472891268466304.html?mod=WSJ_article_comments#articleTabs%3Darticle

The follow up question for you is – what lessons are you teaching your children about money? What do you want them to remember about their household finances?

Middle Class Struggles to get Good Financial Advice

Financial advisors work under so many different business models. Many models are geared for those with $1 million or more in assets to manage. What happens if you don’t have $1 million to manage? There are choices as usatoday.com points out in this article:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2013/05/05/middle-class-financial-advice/2090441/

Do you want to know more about how Direction Financial Management works with middle class clients? Our business model is designed around your specific needs. Call us at 414.333.3396 or Contact Us to learn more.

Checklist for Finances

Spring cleaning pix1

Have you started to feel the spirit of spring time? I’ve been doing my spring cleaning around the house and within my business which has provided me with a sense of energy and rejuvenation. Thankfully Spring is measured by more than the temperature outside (we still have snow on the ground in Wisconsin) – it’s a feeling from within your soul.  Now’s the time to capture that spirit from within, clean your house, and  get your financial house in order too.  Here’s a checklist for finances to help you get started.

Get Paperwork Organized

  • Store important papers (birth certificates, passports, marriage license, etc.) in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box.
  • Set up or reorganize your personal filing system.  Check out Alejandra’s website at www.alejandra.tv.com   for some great tips on how to do this.  You’ll also find some great tips on organizing your pantry, closets and drawers or anything else that needs it.
  • Buy a scanner and go paperless at home!  Not only will you save some trees, you will experience less clutter and discover new uses for your desk or countertops.  Review, scan or shred all mail within one or two days.

 

Make Sure your Family is Protected

  • Review your life insurance, annuities, and retirement plans to ensure beneficiary designations are updated and reflect your preferences.
  • See an estate planning attorney to draft new documents or review your existing documents. With the recent tax law changes its important to make sure your estate plan is up to date.
  • Review health, disability, long term care, life, auto, homeowner, and umbrella policies to ensure you have adequate coverage, desired policy features, deductibles and competitive premiums.

 

Take Control of Debt

  • Look into refinancing your mortgage if current rates are lower than your existing rate.
  • Check the terms of credit cards and switch to lowest-cost cards.  Better yet, create a debt management plan to pay off those credit cards and remove the debt burden.  Visit www.debtmovement.com for motivation and tips on how to do this.  Join the debt movement and be proud that you took control of your life!
  • Consider consolidating student loans to reduce interest rate.

 

Maximize Savings & Review Investments

  • Review your retirement plan contributions for the year. Are you set up to make the maximum allowed by year end? If not, it’s not too late. Most employers allow you to make changes at least quarterly. If you are saving in a traditional or Roth IRA set up automatic transfers from your checking account.
  • Do you have at least 6 months of living expenses set aside in an emergency fund? Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a money market or savings account. That’s how easy it is!
  • Now’s the time to start saving for college. Open up a 529 college savings plan for your children.
  • Review your investment strategy, asset allocation and risk tolerance.  Are they aligned?

Join me over at Jeff Rose’s blog goodfinancialcents.com for money management tips for couples.

http://www.goodfinancialcents.com/couples-money-management-tips/#comments

 

The Rising Success of Women through the Years

March is Women’s History month.  What’s interesting is that most teenagers today do not realize the challenges and battles that women have encountered through the years.  Your children may think that women have always worked outside the home, obtained college degrees and have always had the same abundant opportunities they have today.  It’s Women’s History Month so let’s take a look at a timeline of women’s progress from the 1800s through current times.  Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, of KBK Wealth Connection, lays this out best in her March 6th blog titled The History of Women and Wealth (full post located at http://www.kbkwealthconnection.com/women-and-money/history-women-wealth/).  Here is the timeline excerpt from her blog:

1839: Women received the right to own property in America.

Before this right was granted, the primary method for women to gain access to any level of economic power was through marriage. That’s why a young woman’s sole purpose was to fall in love, start a family and be taken care of financially by a man for the rest of her life.

While women were granted the right to own property in American in 1839, the legislative process was not completed nationally until the early twentieth century.

1880: Female investors entered the stock market.

But they were seen as “too impulsive and impressionable” to be on Wall Street. The mindset at the time was that women should turn the management of their funds over to male advisors.

1920s: Women entered the business world.

This was the same time that women won the right to vote in the United States. Women who entered the business world were anomalies and often seen as renegades in a time when the feminine ideal was to marry, stay at home, and raise a family.

1930: 24% of women were employed outside the home.

But they were primarily employed in very traditional female occupations, such as teaching, nursing, and housekeeping.

1940s: 35% of women were employed outside the home.

The number jumped due to World War II and the need for more “manpower” to replace the men who had enlisted to fight the war.

1970: Women’s Rights Movement started the real shift in women becoming wealth creators.

This was the first time women received access to credit and were entering the workforce in significantly larger numbers. Women were becoming millionaires in their own right.

1990: Commonplace for women to have careers.

Pay inequity resulted in women earning less than men and accumulating assets at a slower pace. Women were still viewed as those who supplemented the household income, not as the creators of wealth.

2010: 50% of the personal wealth in the USA was controlled by women.

While women still struggled to earn equal pay, more and more were starting businesses, accumulating assets, and investing in the market with the purpose of building wealth.

Isn’t it amazing to see how women have progressed to the point that 50% of the personal wealth in the US is controlled by women?  That’s an incredible number and chances are it will continue to rise as women become the inheritors of their husband’s wealth and their parents’ wealth and continue to experience growth in their careers and as business owners.  Managing household finances and family wealth may come with challenges new to women if they have not previously managed day-to-day finances, investment accounts, or long-term plans.  Contact Us if you are a woman looking for guidance in these areas of if you know someone that would welcome the opportunity to gain confidence in their decisions.

What experiences have you had with the changing role of women in your family and workplace? 

 

How to Get Things Done

Are you wondering how to get things done?  At Direction Financial Management our tag line is “plan for what matters.”  I work with clients to define life goals and structure their finances around these life goals.  In this blog post I want to share with you how to “focus on what matters” to get things done in your day-to-day life.  This topic is an inspiration from Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing, an innovative company that is geared towards helping individuals and entrepreneurs get organized, take action and get things done .  We all have projects and tasks in our personal and professional lives which remain in an unfinished state because we feel “stuck” on what to do next.  Projects flow through a series of stages – initial creation of an idea, planning the project, doing the project, shepharding the project and following through.  We all have strengths and weaknesses that help us and hinder us through the stages of progress. How do you we make it through all stages when we feel “stuck” so that we can get things done?

Why Do We Get “Stuck?”

  • We need more clarity or perspective on the project itself
  • We need more clarity on the next step in the project

How Do We Move Beyond “Stuck?”

  • To get more clarity or perspective on the project, ask yourself (1) What am I doing? (2) Why am I doing this? (3) Who am I trying to serve? (4) Where am I trying to go?  Reconnect with the meaning and purpose of your project.
  • To get more clarity on the next step, write down the next step in verb format.  For example write the next blog, clean out the garage, pay the bills, reconcile my checkbook, or track my mileage.  Break it down further to identify the steps involved in each action step and document how to approach them.  You’ll find yourself moving forward.

Use Visual Tools

  • Use a white board and illustrate your project and the steps
  • Use a calendar or planner and place sticky notes on it to document the steps in the project
  • Use an online tracking system
  • Ask yourself “What do I see?” instead of “What do I think?” Name the future state.

Move into Action & Stay in Action

  • Use your strengths and find help for your weaknesses.  If you have difficulty with numbers and the financial end, ask a friend or hire an advisor to help   If you need help with the creative side of things, find a friend or cohort to help create the vision and visuals you need to see things clearly.  You’ll become more efficient, and less stressed, by concentrating your efforts on the things you do best.  Leave the tasks you don’t like doing or are not qualified to do to someone who enjoys doing these tasks.
  • Manage your energy flow.  Pay attention to how you work best during all times of the day.  Plan your day around your energy flow.  For example, if you have the most energy early in the morning and find that to be your creative and productive time, schedule your big projects early in the day.  If you have less energy in the afternoon plan to catch up on emails and other tasks that require less brain power during the afternoon.  Plan to sneak in a workout, or other physical activity, at a time you need to lift up your energy level and clear your mind.  Also pay attention to your energy level within a week’s time frame and plan around your highs and lows.
  • Use the Pomodoro technique, or similar time management system, to make best use of a block of time.  Set a timer for a time period between 25 minutes and 90 minutes and work solely on the task at hand.  When the timer goes off take a small break (3-5 minutes) and continue on.

Our days are busy and filled with so many activities.  A true gift to ourselves and our families is finding the best use of our time so that we can enjoy the parts of life that bring us joy and happiness.  Uncluttering our minds of unfinished projects will allow us to move forward in our personal and professional lives.  By finishing the projects that matter we can feel excited, proud, renewed and energized.  For more tools and resources visit www.productiveflourishing.com.  Charlie Gilkey offers some free planners at www.productiveflourishing.com/free-planners.

What projects do you have to complete?  What resources and techniques are you using to get things done?    Please share in the comments below.

Couples and Money – Building a Solid Relationship with Money and Each Other

Couples and money are not always a good recipe for a happy marriage.  Do you understand how your partner thinks about money?  Do you understand how you think about money?   Are you financially in sync with your partner? Do you have a financial map that combines your household finances?   If you can’t answer “yes” to all these questions, read on.  Money is one of the topics most couples argue about.  Arguments surrounding money can be a result of many things – different views about money and its purpose, feelings of guilt or uncertainty, not having a household finance plan, or simply not having the time, desire and energy to make finances a priority.  It’s ideal to have the “money talk” before saying “I Do” but it’s never too late to get started.  Planning to buy a home or welcoming a new baby are perfect reasons to begin the money talk if you haven’t done so already.

It’s critical to gain an understanding of your finances together before financial distress takes over.  Money conflicts come at a cost.  Stress-related health problems, insecurity about the future, emotional and spiritual depletion, pressure to work and earn more, and heavy debt burdens are examples.  Start to build a solid financial foundation now by carving out some special time together every week.  Begin by exploring the following questions in your “money talk.”

  • What is your biggest money fear?
  • In what ways should we “live for today” and in what ways should we “save for tomorrow”?
  • What did you learn about money from watching your parents?
  • Were you rich or poor growing up?  In what ways?
  • If you found out you only had five years left to live, what would you want to do with it?
  • How would you like us to handle money better?
  • Name something you bought, but wish you hadn’t.  Are there ways we can help each other prevent this in the future?
  • What would we do if family members or friends ask to borrow money?
  • What amount of money should each of us be comfortable spending without consulting the other?
  • What is our biggest financial challenge?
  • How should we handle making big purchases?
  • How should we pay our daily living expenses?
  • Should we combine our money or have separate accounts?

These questions offer you a starting point.  Add to the list questions relating to your specific situation.  Maybe you want to find clarity and set boundaries on how to pay for expenses relating to your home, children, hobbies, gifts or vacation.  Once you tackle these questions and gain a better understanding of how each of you individually, and as a team, approaches your finances you will be better suited to create a household finance map.   It’s important to note that there is no right solution.  Every couple is unique and therefore has a unique solution and finance map.  Your finance map is a one-page navigation tool that depicts how to pay joint expenses and individual expenses in addition to building your savings.  Here’s a basic blank template courtesy of www.beforeido.org.

ConnectingIncomesWithoutArrows

The idea is to draw arrows from the income in row one to the checking and savings accounts in row two and from the expenses in row three to the checking and savings accounts in row two. You can start at the top and move down the page or you can start at the bottom and work up.  This process will help you decide whether having one joint account is sufficient or if you should have separate accounts in addition to a joint account.  Here’s an example of a plan involving the use of joint and individual accounts to cover all expenses.  All the income is deposited into the joint savings account.  Joint expenses are paid directly from the joint savings account.  Transfers are made from the joint savings account to each individual savings account to cover individual expenses.  In your own diagram you may want to include dollar amounts for the income received, transfer amounts and expenses.  Once you have your household finance map in place automate all the transfers and you will be living a stress-free financial life.

ConnectingIncomes

As life changes your financial map will need some tweaking so keep on top of the plan and adjust when needed.  A good practice is to review your map once a year, on New Year’s Day or your anniversary, and plan the year ahead.  You’ll reap the rewards of building a stronger relationship with each other, and money, leading to a brighter future filled with harmony, confidence and freedom to enjoy the other parts of your life.  If you need help creating a household finance map or discussing the “money talk” questions seek out a neutral third party such as a financial planner or financial coach who is experienced in this area.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on couples and money, what’s working best for you and what challenges you have overcome.

Protect your Online Activity, Mail and Conversations from Identity Theft

Statitics show that there were 11.6 million victims of identity theft fraud in the U.S. in 2011.  This was a 13% increase from the previous year (Javelin Strategy & Research).  The only good news about this study is that the dollar amount stolen remained steady in spite of the drastic shift upward in number of victims.  What can you do to protect yourself from becoming a victim?  Start by looking carefully at your online activity, snail mail and conversations.

Protect your Online Activity

  • Watch out for links provided in email – never click on a link given in an email as it may contain a virus that can contaminate your computer and steal your information.  Ignore or delete these messages.
  • Passwords – create strong passwords, change them often and never let websites auto-save passwords.
  • Financial accounts – connect to your financial accounts only from your own computer or secure Wi-Fi locations.  Do not access these accounts in an airport or other public place using public Wi-Fi.  Regularly monitor your financial accounts for charges you didn’t make.
  • Online shopping – shop with merchants with authenticated payment programs such as Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecuraCode.
  • Use privacy settings on all your social media sites to control who can see your information.  Better yet, don’t reveal any personal information on social networking sites.
  • Be smart about your posts – don’t reveal that you are on vacation, publish birth dates, email addresses, mother’s maiden name (or any of your typical security question answers), or any other personal information on social networking sites.
  • Firewalls and Antivirus software – make sure your computer and wireless router are protected and up to date to catch viruses, hackers, spyware and crimeware.
  • Opt out of receiving unsolicited emails by registering at www.dmachoice.org.

Protect your Snail Mail

  • Online statements – use online bill pay whenever possible and request online statements.  Enroll in direct deposit.
  • Phone book – remove your name and address from the phone book.
  • Locked mail box – install a locked mail box at your home or use a post office box or commercial mailbox service such as The UPS Store.
  • Personal Checks – never use your Social Security Number, phone number, or driver license on your checks.  Insist retailers do not write this information on your checks at the time of purchase.  If they do, choose to pay with another form of payment.  When ordering new checks from your bank ask them to be sent to the bank and you can pick them up there, instead of your home mailbox.
  •  Do not leave bills being paid by check in your mail box for delivery.  Mail them at work or at the post office.
  •  Hold mail – if you are away from home ask your post office to hold your mail if a trusted neighbor is not available.
  • Shred all mail that comes to your home after you are done with it.  Invest in a micro-shredder or cross-cut shredder for the best security.
  • When moving forward all mail.
  • Social Security card – never carry the card or number in your wallet or purse.  Never leave your wallet, purse, cell phone, mobile device or laptop unattended in public places.
  • Opt out of preapproved credit card offers by calling 1-888-5OPTOUT.  You will be asked for your Social Security Number.
  • Sign up for the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Mail Preference Service.  Your name is added to name deletion lists used by nationwide marketers.  Write to Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512 or opt out online at www.dmachoice.org (there is a $1 fee for either method).

Protect your Conversations

  • Refuse to give personal identifying information to anyone who asks for it over the phone, including phone surveys and solicitors.  Keep in mind that the IRS, your bank, and credit card companies already have this information and they will not ask for it over the phone.  If you are asked to provide personal information, tell the caller that you will call the company back at a publicly published phone number to confirm that the inquiry is legitimate.
  • Do not say, or let anyone else say, your Social Security Number in public. 
  • Watch out for “shoulder surfers” who use binoculars, video or camera phones to capture your information.
  • Unsolicited phone calls – do not provide any personal information to unsolicited callers and don’t act on it
  • Secure mobile device data (email, etc.) stored in your phone with encryption software.
  • Sign up for the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry at donotcall.gov.

These tips are a great starting point to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft.  It pays to be vigilant and always be aware of your surroundings and who is reaching out to you.  Use extreme caution with your parents to ensure they are aware of these preventative tips and stay protected.  For elderly parents you may want to keep a much closer eye on their mail and phone conversations as these are typically their primary means of communication.  See our prior post on IRS Tax Scams  to learn more about protecting your tax identity.  Alternatively, Contact Us to learn more.

Sources:  Wells Fargo “Protect Yourself From Identity Theft” and Javelin Strategy & Research.

 

 

The Best Way to Spend Your Tax Refund

What is the best way to spend your tax refund to provide the biggest benefit?  Create a plan and spend it wisely.  Consider your refund one of your paychecks, not a special “gift” from the government .  What should you do with your refund once it’s in your hands?  Here are 3 suggestions that will help you get ahead with your finances:

Increase (or Jump Start) Your Emergency Fund

Deposit it into your emergency fund.  If you don’t have have an emergency fund, now’s the perfect time to get started.  As a general rule strive to save at least six months of living expenses in an interest-bearing savings or money market account.  This will help protect you and your family in the event of a disability, job change or other unforeseen event.

Pay Down Debt

Take this opportunity to pay down or pay off credit card balances, car loans or student loans.  Start by paying down loans with the highest interest rate first.  Clearing debt at the beginning of the year is a great accomplishment and sets you up to apply those ear-marked debt payments to savings for the rest of the year.

Save for Retirement

If your emergency savings account is already funded and your debt is paid off, consider making a contribution to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA account.  It’s never too soon to start saving for retirement.  Consult with your tax preparer or financial advisor to determine which IRA account is right for you based on your age, income level and goals.

Remember that a tax refund is a result of your employer withholding too much taxes during the year.  This is actually your money the government is using instead of you.  If you receive a large refund consider adjusting your federal (and possibly state) withholding amounts with your employer to decrease your withholding and increase your net paychecks.   Do you need help determining the best way to spend your tax refund?  Contact us today to discuss your specific situation and plan for what matters.

How to Get a Free Credit Report and 4 Other Things to Understand about Your Credit

Credit Report ImageRead on to learn how to get a free credit report and four other things about your credit report and credit score.  Share this information with your children or siblings who may have these same questions.

#1 – Why are my credit report and credit score important to me?

Your credit report is like a story of your finances that follows you for life.  Any time you make a purchase using credit lenders will rely heavily on your credit report to determine if they will lend you money, and if they do, at what interest rate.  A good, clean credit report can save you thousands of dollars in interest over the life of your home and auto loans.  A credit history marked by late payments and inaccurate information can cost you that dream car or home in the future.  Keep in mind that your individual credit report can also affect your spouse’s record so maintaining a good credit history can be critical in maintaining a happy marriage.

#2 – What information is found in a credit report?

  • Personal information – name, spouse’s name, address history for the past 5-10 years, date of birth, Social Security number, phone number and current and previous employers
  • Tradeline – a list of your credit accounts, the opening and closing date (if applicable), if payments are made timely or late, the balance, joint account information and any negative information
  • Public record – information such as monetary judgments, state and federal tax liens, and bankruptcies
  • Inquiries – by everyone who has viewed your credit report.  This includes employers, retailers, landlords, insurance companies, promotional (i.e. pre-approved credit offers) and lenders reviewing customer reports.

#3 –  What is my credit score?

You are assigned a three digit credit score which lenders use to quickly evaluate a potential borrower’s creditworthiness.  This score fluctuates throughout your life based on several factors – outstanding account balances, number of open accounts, payment history, and frequency of credit requests and inquiries.  Credit scores typically range from 300 to 850, though this scale can vary depending on who developed the credit score model. Generally, a credit score of 720 is considered “good,” and will get you the best rates available on loans and credit cards. However, it’s important to remember that lenders can have different standards for what they consider to be a good credit score.

#4 –  What’s the process to get a free credit report and how often should I obtain one?

It’s recommended to obtain a copy of your credit report annually.  Your credit report can be obtained at no cost by visiting annualcreditreport.com.  The most secure way to enter this website is by typing in the web address directly.  It’s best to not follow any links from other websites.  You are entitled to receive one free credit report every 12 months from each of the 3 nationwide consumer credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.  You can order all three reports at one time or space the requests out during the year.  The advantage to spacing out the requests is that you can keep track of any changes occurring during the year.  On the other hand, ordering all three reports at once allows you to compare the reports.  Whether you decide to order all three at the same time or space out the requests, set up a reminder on your calendar so you can stay current with your credit activity.  Note that you can obtain your credit reports for free but there is a nominal fee to obtain your FICO score (credit score).

#5 –  What are the steps to take if I find a mistake on my credit report?

Your credit report and credit score are valuable assets so it’s worth the effort involved to fix any problems.  If you spot inaccurate or suspicious information on your report, take these steps:

  • Write a letter to each credit reporting bureau, giving your full name and mailing address, date of birth, and Social Security number.  Provide an explanation of the information that is inaccurate.
  • Request a deletion or correction.
  • Clearly identify each items that you dispute.
  • Sign your letter by hand.
  • Enclose a copy of your credit report with the items in question circled.
  • Include copies (not originals) of documents that support your position.
  • Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can prove that the credit bureau received the information.
  • Keep a log of your efforts and everyone you talk with.

Here is the contact information for all three credit reporting bureaus:

Equifax – P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374 800-685-1111, equifax.com

Experian – P.O. Box 9595, Allen, TX 75013, 888-397-3742, experian.com

TransUnion – P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022, 800-916-8800, transunion.com

Order your free credit report and get started understanding and monitoring your credit now!  Would you like Direction Financial Management to help you understand your credit report?  Contact us to learn more.