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Stress Test Your Financial Health


Take this financial checkup, and in ten easy questions, you will know which essential aspects of your financial plan are healthy and what needs attention. Your score will also give you clues about the level of risk in your investment strategy that’s healthy for you.   

Circle the answer that best fits your situation and tally up the total at the end. Ready, set, go! 

Goals:

  • 10 Points: I know my goals, and their estimated cost and timeline.
  • 5 Points: I have goals, but don’t know the details yet.
  • 1 Point: The future looks really fuzzy and it’s too hard to set goals.

Income:

  • 10 Points: My income, from sources like my job,  investments, pension, Social Security etc. is reliable and grows each year, and is more than enough to pay the bills.
  • 5 Points: My income is enough to pay the bills, but I’m worried that my income may not be enough in the future.
  • 1 Point: There’s barely enough to pay the bills.

Job/Career:

  • 10 Points: My job is secure, and my skills are in high demand.
  • 5 Points: My job is pretty secure, but it could be difficult to find another job at the same pay. 
  • 1 Point: I need new skills to find a decent job in today’s economy.

Cash Reserves:

  • 10 Points: I have cash savings equal to at least half of my annual income or expenses.
  • 5 Points: I have cash savings equal to less than half of my annual income or expenses.
  • 1 Point: Cash in the bank? I wish. 

Saving:

  • 10 Points: I’m saving 10% or more of my annual income.
  • 5 Points: I’m saving 1 – 9% of my annual income.
  • 1 Point: Saving? No can do.  

Debt:

  • 10 Points: I pay all my debts on time and in full. (Or, I have no debt at all.)
  • 5 Points: I can afford the monthly minimum payments on my debts, and sometimes a little more.
  • 1 Point: I don’t know how I’m going to repay my debts.  

FICO Score:

  • 10 Points: My FICO score is good enough to get the credit I need without paying a premium.
  • 5 Points: My FICO score isn’t as good as I want it to be, but I’m working on a plan to improve it.
  • 1 Point: My FICO score makes it difficult for me to buy a home, buy or lease a car, rent an apartment, or get a cell phone.    

Health Insurance

  • 10 Points: I have health insurance and use it.
  • 5 Points: I have health insurance but hesitate to use it because it costs too much to get medical care.
  • 1 Point: I don’t have health insurance right now.

Life Insurance

  • 10 Points: People (like a spouse and children) depend on me financially, and I have life insurance equal to at least four times my income. Or, no one is financially dependent on me, and I have life insurance equal to at least one year’s income.
  • 5 Points: People depend on me financially, and I have life insurance equal to at least 2 times my income. 
  • 1 Point: People are dependent on me financially, and I have insurance equal to less than 2 times my income.

Estate Plan:

  • 10 Points: My will, durable power of attorney, and healthcare power of attorney are up to date.
  • 5 Points: I have an up to date will, but not a durable or healthcare power of attorney.
  • 1 Point: I just haven’t gotten around to updating or completing my estate plan. 

My Total Score:   _____________

 Your Financial Health Assessment:

Score What This Means for My Financial Health & Investment Strategy
85 – 100 Congratulations! Keep up your healthy financial habits and decisions to maintain your financial strength. With a healthy financial base, you have strength and resiliency to cope with the ups and downs of the investment markets. You can consider having some, but not all, of your investments in risky assets, like stocks and stock mutual funds.
50 – 84 Good start! You’ve made some progress towards financial health, but don’t stop here. With expert help or on your own, address one essential area at a time, and work on making it stronger. Until you improve your overall financial health, play it safe with your investments, with little to no risky assets, so that you don’t put the savings you do have at risk of loss.
Under 50 Get help now, and avoid the stock market completely. It’s never too late to improve your financial health. It’s not easy to make changes in your financial situation, habits, or mindset, but it is possible to take one step at a time to create a new financial future. Do it for yourself, and for the people you love.

Plan Well. Live Well.

karinMaloneyStiflerKarin Maloney Stifler, CFP®, AIF®
President
True Wealth Advisors
Hudson, OH


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Limited Time Offer: Taxes on Sale through Year End 2012


“Pay no tax before it’s time” is generally good advice, except when you think taxes may cost more in the future than they do now.  

What are the odds that tax rates could be higher after 2012? 

Ask yourself if you believe one of these two scenarios could happen: 

  1. Congress introduces new, higher taxes for wage income, capital gains and/or estates, or 
  2. Congress lets the current tax law expire at year end 2012, without a new tax plan, thereby defaulting to the higher tax rates that existed under “pre-Bush tax cut era”, as seen below.

Federal Taxes: 

2012
NOW

2013
“Pre-Bush Tax Cuts”

Top Rate on Ordinary Income

35%

39.6%

Unearned income Medicare Contribution Tax

0%

3.8%

Top Rate on Capital Gains
*18% for assets held > 5 years. 

15%

20%*

Top Rate on Qualified Dividend Income

15%

39.6%

Federal Estate Tax Exemption
(single person – married couple)

$5.12 – $10.24 Million

$1 – $2 Million

Top Rate on Estates

35%

55%

If it seems possible that you may pay higher taxes in the future, talk with your CPA and/or estate tax attorney now to explore legitimate tax saving strategies, such as:

  • Accelerating Income
  • Giving Gifts
  • Selling “Winning” Investments

Take the time to plan and save while you can. Hurry! The current deal on taxes may expire after December 31, 2012.

karinMaloneyStiflerKarin Maloney Stifler, CFP®, AIF®
President
True Wealth Advisors
Hudson, OH


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Falling Behind on Retirement: What Would Tim Tebow Do?


Have you ever considered football as a metaphor for life? Over life stages or quarters, players with different jobs and strengths work together, and share moments of pain and glory. Why? To triumph over adversity and “win”. To win at life or football takes gut-busting hard work at each stage of the game. But the pressure to win is volcanic when you fall behind and are running out of time. Take the team that’s out of time-outs, down by 6, with only five seconds left on the clock. The prospect of a last minute turnaround may be good for fans and TV ratings, but is a heart-stopper for players, coaches and owners who have the most to lose if the “Hail Mary” pass doesn’t work.

If you can relate to the Baby Boomers who are behind on retirement plans, now is not the time to quit. Instead, turn your game around by digging deeper into your wallet and your mindset. Tim Tebow reminds us how: The strength to triumph over tough situations comes down to stubborn optimism (that is, belief in yourself and maybe a higher power), the composure to think clearly and perform, and true grit.

Move towards your long term financial goals with these tips from Tebow’s playbook:

  1. Define success your way.  
    “Success comes in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t come with money and it doesn’t come with fame. It comes from having a meaning in your life, doing what you love and being passionate about what you do. That’s having a life of success. When you have the ability to do what you love, love what you do and have the ability to impact people…That’s having a life of success. That’s what having a life of meaning is.” – Tim Tebow 

    Financial Lesson: Keep score based on what “winning” truly means to you, not anybody else. Rethink how much retirement income you really need to be happy.  

  2. Use your talents and abilities fully.
    “Every time I step on the field, I’m going to give my whole heart regardless of the score.” – Tim Tebow 

    Financial Lesson: Give your job skills a regular workout and get in the game with all you’ve got. And guess what, you get to decide what is the “normal retirement age”, not the Social Security folks.             

  3. Control what you can.
    “Something I learned early in college (is) to not worry about what I can’t control…But what I can control is my attitude, my effort, my focus every single day and that’s what I’m trying to worry about.” – Tim Tebow 

    Financial Lesson: Don’t get sidelined by what you can’t change. Get off the bench and tackle one thing everyday to be more financially secure. 

  4. Expect challenges.
    ”You’re going to get knocked down but it’s how many times you get back up.” – Tim Tebow 

    Financial Lesson: Getting sacked is part of football and life. Work your defensive and offensive line to protect and strengthen your income, your health, your assets, your relationships. Trust your preparation and equipment to rebound from the inevitable blows.   

  5. Don’t give up.  
    ”I’ve never quit anything I’ve decided to start…that’s how you succeed at achieving your dreams.” – Tim Tebow via Twitter 

    Financial Lesson: Don’t punt when you can run one more play. This life is your Super Bowl game. Play with no regrets.

karinMaloneyStiflerKarin Maloney Stifler, CFP®, AIF®
President
True Wealth Advisors
Hudson, OH


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Perfect Last Minute Gift Ideas


ImageAre you still searching for that “perfect present” for someone on your holiday shopping list? If the thought of wrapping up another gift card or Christmas tie leaves you uninspired, open your mind to these fresh gift ideas. There’s something here for every budget.

  • College Education– Set up and contribute to a “529 college savings account” for your niece, nephew, grandchild or family friend. Your gift of as little as $25 can grow to be so much more. With the high cost of education, this is a treasured gift that keeps on giving to the student– and their parents, too. Learn more about tax-advantaged options at www.savingforcollege.com.
  • Charity – Make a world of difference this holiday season with a contribution in the name of your special person. Chose a cause that touches their heart and matters to them.  Check out charities at www.givesmart.org. You may benefit too, with a tax deduction.
  • Service – Doing for others can be the best gift for someone who doesn’t need more stuff. The possibilities are endless, and don’t have to cost a lot…pick up the mail for an elderly neighbor this winter, babysit for a young mother, or prepare a favorite meal or shovel a driveway for a busy family.
  • Experiences – Give a gift that engages, energizes, and inspires. An experience not only creates a lasting memory, but can also be a life-changer. Imagine the positive impact an experience in the arts, sports, nature, travel, or do-good activities can bring to a person’s life. A gift of financial planning fits into this category, too.
  • Time – Simply, give the gift of being together. Time and relationships are our most precious resources. Pledge to visit on a regular basis, and listen, share, laugh, and cry with someone you care about. 

The best gifts are thoughtfully and carefully chosen to be as special as the person who receives it. Happy shopping, and happy holidays to you and yours!

karinMaloneyStiflerKarin Maloney Stifler, CFP®, AIF®
President
True Wealth Advisors
Hudson, OH


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“Risk Less and Prosper: A Guide to Safer Investing”


A Must Read New Book

Reviewed by Karin Maloney Stifler, CFP®

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WARNING:  What you are about to read will challenge your longstanding investment beliefs and practices.

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So, how are you feeling about the financial markets these days? Has the white-knuckled ride of the stock market rollercoaster exhausted your patience, if not your resources? Have extreme market declines delayed, downsized, or decimated your dreams for retirement or your children’s education? Do you question whether conventional investment wisdom really works? 

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then pause and ask yourself if this is how you want to continue to live and manage your financial well-being. If you’ve had enough of the risky business of conventional investing, then Risk Less and Prosper: A Guide to Safer Investing is arriving just in time to unveil new wisdom to guide your investment decisions.

Co-authors Zvi Bodie, Ph.D. Professor of Finance at Boston University (author of Worry Free Investing) and Rachelle Taqqu, CFA and Principal of New Vista Capital, reveal a smart and safer way to plan for your lifetime goals.

Like Christopher Columbus discovering that the world is not flat, the authors debunk timeworn investment beliefs and practices that expose investors to more risk than ever imagined — and more risk than investors can afford to take. Here’s a sampling from the authors’ view of a brave, new investment world: 

#1 Investment Myth: Financial wellbeing is measured by total wealth. Thus, it is important to take risks in order to grow wealth.

New Investment Truth: Financial wellbeing is measured by the ability to create reliable income to sustain your fundamental standard of living, especially during tough economic times. 

Start the investment decision-making process by defining your goals and the relative importance of each goal. Then craft a safety-first strategy that achieves your basic lifetime needs with as little risk as possible. This strategy matches assets and income with goals, rather than investing assets for the promise of more growth. The benefit of investing safely is to avoid catastrophes and protect your ability to afford your most important goals. The tradeoff is potentially lower investment returns — even negative — inflation-adjusted rate of return, but is as valuable as buying insurance that protects your home in the event of a fire.  

#2 Investment Myth: The longer your time horizon, the more risk you can afford to take. 

New Investment Truth: Your tolerance for risk of losses is determined by many factors, but least of all, your time horizon (meaning how long until you need the money).

The primary drivers of how much to risk includes the relative importance of your goals, the risk and flexibility of your career and income, and your ability to adapt to adverse circumstances. In truth, it’s common for your tolerance for risk to vary for each goal based on how essential and valued they are to you, and to vary based on what’s happening in your life or the world around you. Basically, the more secure your income and career, and the less important the goals, the more able you are to adapt to market risks. Conversely, you may be less able to recover from investment losses if your career and income have stalled and you’re unable or unwilling to reduce the goal — at any age.   

#3 Investment Myth: Stocks aren’t risky in the long run.

New Investment Truth: Stocks are risky over any time horizon — short or long.

“Arguments to the contrary are junk science,” proclaims Professor Bodie. There is a wide range of possible outcomes when investing in stocks over any time period, as we have witnessed from the two stock market collapses in the past seven years. Investors and even the “experts” often underestimate the risk of things going badly. The less able you are to adapt to a worst case outcome (i.e. by working longer and saving more), the less stocks make sense in your strategy, no matter your time horizon.  

Risk Less and Prosper: A Guide to Safer Investing is due on bookshelves by year-end, and is available to pre-order now. Authors Bodie and Taqqu will show you so much more about the brave new investment world in which you can enjoy your life with less financial risk and drama.

karinMaloneyStiflerKarin Maloney Stifler, CFP®, AIF®
President
True Wealth Advisors
Hudson, OH


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Where the Heck is Easy Street?


From Main Street to Wall Street, people are desperately looking for Easy Street. The troubling state of affairs is infusing fear into America’s spirit like the toxic oil that pumped into the emerald Gulf waters just over a year ago. Despair and anger over economic and leadership crises have choked off the flow of creativity and optimism that have been the fuel of our country’s greatness. The times are anything but easy.

It’s natural to seek Easy Street, a quick fix, a painless way out of this mess. But that’s just not how America rolls when working at its best. 

“Life is difficult” is the opening line in the book “The Road Less Traveled”, written by M. Scott Peck in 1978.

Peck continues, “This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

No one understood this truth better than Steve Jobs. Time and again, he boldly and bravely accepted failure, human imperfection, pain and death, and showed us that adversity is not a reason to quit, but the inspiration to find a better way.

A brighter day begins by choosing to believe in new possibilities.

Only in America can we dare to heed the wisdom of Robert Frost,  as Steve Jobs did: “I took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference.” 

With Steve Jobs as a shining example, let’s bypass Easy Street, and discover the uncharted paths that can make all the difference now. Not easy, but worthy of everything we’ve got to get America back on track.

karinMaloneyStiflerKarin Maloney Stifler, CFP®, AIF®
President
True Wealth Advisors
Hudson, OH


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Earn Higher Pay Without Negotiating


It turns out that the “lost decade” of zero growth not only pertains to the stock market, but to personal income too. The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that median household income fell 10% from 2000 to 2010 when inflation is factored in. In a slow growth/high unemployment economy, you may not have the power to negotiate for fat raises. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to raise your “pay.” 

Imagine you dropped a $100 bill on the street, would you keep on walking or pick it up? Bet you wouldn’t dream of walking away from cash that is rightfully yours. Yet that’s what happens if you don’t take full advantage of benefits offered by your employer.   

Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 National Compensation Survey, employee benefits add up to 30% of total compensation for private sector employees, and 35% – 40% for government employees. At a salary of $50,000, benefits are worth way more than chump change at $15,000 – $20,000.

Are you cashing in on your total compensation? 

You’re about to have another chance to make sure you are. September to November is the typical time of year for benefits re-enrollment. The menu of benefits varies for each company, with the most common being medical, life and disability insurance, paid time off, and a retirement plan – with or without a company contribution. Less common perks can include tuition reimbursement, subsidies for transportation, lunches, cell phones, adoption, legal, tax and financial services. New benefit trends include rewards for health and wellness activities — because a healthy workforce saves companies (and you) money. 

Whatever is on your benefit menu, follow these tips to get the maximum reward for your hard work.

  1. Be on time and complete. There is a starting and an ending date for benefits enrollment. Incomplete paperwork can be the same as never having turned it in at all. You know that sick feeling when you miss an airplane? Spare yourself and be on time. 
  2. Dig through benefit materials like you’re on a treasure hunt. Look at benefit information with fresh $$$ eyes. Don’t assume last year’s benefits are the same this year. In today’s cost-cutting environment, benefits and costs can change dramatically from year to year. Opt into benefits that make your life better, protect you or someone who depends on you, and/or save you money. Remember that group employee benefits are almost always better values than if you bought them on your own. Closely consider benefits available to your immediate and extended family, like medical, life and even long term care (LTC) insurance. 
  3. Evaluate and choose your best options, with input from your partner/spouse. Compare options based on your needs, taking into account choices your partner may have too. Determine the benefits with “best value” not just the cheapest. Health insurance is a benefit where it doesn’t pay to cut corners. Utilize decision-making tools provided by your employer, or create your own side-by-side comparison of benefits, deductibles, co-pays, premiums and exclusions.

Lastly, take note of benefits that are “portable”, meaning you get to keep them even if you leave the company. If you’re concerned that losing certain benefits would put yours or your family’s wellbeing in jeopardy, consider supplementing with your own “benefits” that are not employer dependent. For instance, buy your own life insurance policy to supplement what your employer offers. That way, if your employer coverage ends, your dependents are still protected. This is especially important if you’re concerned that a health condition may limit your ability to get life insurance later on. 

It pays to invest time and effort to make the most of your employee benefits, and may take the sting out of stingy salary raises.   

Plan Well…Live Well

karinMaloneyStiflerKarin Maloney Stifler, CFP®, AIF®
President
True Wealth Advisors
Hudson, OH

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