All Things Financial Planning Blog


7 Comments

Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft


Young Adults Should Learn to Manage Money Without Credit CardsIdentity theft is an increasingly worrisome topic for many. With more than a million people affected by identity theft each year, the below are some steps and strategies you can implement to ensure you and your family are protected:

Check Your Credit Annually. Visit a website such as www.annualcreditreport.com for a free copy of your credit report and verify all information is accurate. For an extra layer of protection, consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service which can monitor all 3 credit reporting agencies in real time and alert you of any unusual activity.

Review Credit and Debit Card Statements Monthly. Take time to ensure all transactions are legitimate. If you see a questionable charge, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.

Keep Your Personal Information Secure. Don’t share personal information such as your full name, date of birth, SSN, address or phone number over the internet unless it’s a site you’ve initiated contact with and you’re certain it’s secure. Refrain from posting personal details such as your birthday or address on social media sites.

Limit What You Carry. Don not carry your social security card and limit the number of credit cards you have on hand.

Purchase a Micro-Cut Shredder. This machine ensures that your documents cannot be pieced back together. Use it to turn old financial statements, bills, credit card offers and any other secure or personal information into paper confetti.

Opt Out. You can opt out of prescreened offers for credit cards, insurance and more by calling 1-888-567-8688 or visiting www.optoutprescreen.com.

Keep Your Snail Mail Safe. Instead of leaving your outgoing mail in your mailbox, drop it off at a secure USPS center. In addition, if you know you’ll be out of town for a few days, request a vacation hold on your mail.

Keep Your Passwords Safe, Secure and Unique. Make sure your passwords are strong and get creative with them. Use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols and update them every few months. Think you’re already unique? Check out this list for 2012’s most common passwords: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57539366/the-25-most-common-passwords-of-2012.

Bulk Up on Security. Safeguard your computer with firewall, antivirus and spyware protection and update them often. This will protect your computer and files against intrusions.

Be Cautious of What You Click. If you receive an e-mail from a stranger or even a friend with links and attachments, know that opening them could expose your computer and files to a virus. Ask yourself if any part of the e-mail looks suspicious before clicking on links or files.

The above are just a few smart steps to ensure your identity is protected. Remain vigilant about how you share your personal information and who you share it with. Do your research and take necessary precautions to ensure your identity remains with you and you only.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®, CDFA
Senior Financial Planner
HoyleCohen
San Diego, CA


4 Comments

Your Credit Score: Knowing What’s Behind the Number


Your credit score is one of the most important numbers in life. It ranks right up there with your Social Security number – except this one can affect your lifestyle, your finances, and your ability to retire comfortably.

When managed wisely, your credit score can bring you the benefits of low interest rates, higher credit limits, and the personal satisfaction of knowing your credit history isn’t weighing you down. However, before you can even begin to worry about what your credit score actually is, you first need to have an idea of what factors go into the score and how they affect the final number.

There are five elements that make up your FICO (Fair Isaac and Company) score:

  • 35% of your score is based on your payment history. The key factor here is whether you’re making your bill payments on time. Having one or two missed payments won’t necessarily wreck havoc on your score. What can hurt is if you’re consistently making late payments or have been sent to collections. Work as early as possible to set a solid track record of on-time payments to boost your score.
  • 30% of your score is based on the amount of money you owe versus the amount of credit available to you. Owing money on a credit account doesn’t automatically reflect negatively in your score. What can be damaging is if you’re seen as overextended. This means that you’ve utilized a high percentage of the credit available to you, and may be close to maxing out your limits. Try to minimize the amount of credit balances you carry by paying more than the minimum payment due each month and if possible, pay off your credit card monthly.
  • 15% of your score is based on the length of your credit history. Items looked at here are how long your credit accounts have been opened and how frequently or infrequently the credit is utilized. If you’ve only had credit accounts for a short time, work to build up a positive payment history with a few accounts before adding any others.
  • 10% of your score is based on the mix of your credit. Pay attention to whether your credit accounts include both revolving credit, such as credit cards, and installment credit, such as mortgages and car loans. Having a good record with both types of credit will reflect positively.
  • 10% of your score is based on new credit applications. Be cautious about applying for too many new credit accounts in a short period of time. The number of new accounts you have along with the type of credit (revolving vs. installment) will factor into your score.

Knowing how your credit score is calculated is just one piece of the puzzle. What you choose to do with the information and how you manage your accounts will be the ultimate influence in how good (or bad) your score is. Be proactive in making on-time payments, reaching out to creditors if you encounter any problems, and refraining from overextending yourself. Remember to check your credit score annually and report any discrepancies to the credit reporting bureaus.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®, CDFA
Senior Financial Planner
HoyleCohen
San Diego, CA


1 Comment

Ingredients for Holiday Spending Success


It’s that time of year again. There’s excitement in the air, discussions and twitter posts about all that we’re grateful for, and holiday decorations popping up in the stores so fast that you’d think we all but missed Thanksgiving already. The holidays are officially upon us, which means so is the season for gift giving, additional expenses, and trying to hold tight to our spending plan all the way into the New Year.

One key thing to remember with holiday gifts and expenses is to have a clear-cut strategy for purchases. By following the steps listed below, not only can you keep yourself on track with holiday spending, but you can also prevent a post-holiday spending hangover from wrecking havoc on your finances:

  1. Know your current expenses. Ensure you have a detailed spending plan in place and are aware of where your money is currently being allocated. Utilize a website such as www.mint.com or a simple excel spreadsheet to track your fixed and discretionary expenses. Once you’ve determined where your money is currently being spent, you can begin to pinpoint areas within your current budget where there is flexibility to trim back. By cutting back on certain expenses now, you can begin to save and free up additional funds for holiday purchases.
  2. Create a list. Check it twice. Draft a holiday budget that includes amounts for gifts, meals and parties, travel, decorations and any year-end charitable donations that you make. Before heading out to the stores, create a list of whom you specifically need to shop for or what you need to purchase. Allocate a predetermined dollar amount to be spent on each person or item in order to keep your spending inline.
  3. Research. Look through holiday advertisements and browse websites for gift and discount ideas. Compare the pros and cons of shopping online versus in-store so that you can stretch your dollar further. In addition, if you typically donate more money to charitable causes at year-end, research a few issues you’re passionate about and commit a set dollar amount to one or two charities instead of “sprinkling” funds around. Or perhaps establish a donor advised fund, which allows for the tax efficiency of a charitable donation and helps eliminate any stress caused by making a “rushed” gift.
  4. Get Creative. Once you know the “who” and “how much” of your shopping – then the fun begins! Allow yourself to be creative with gift giving. Look into using credit card points for gifts or working on some DIY crafts. Remember that it truly is the thought behind a gift that counts. Figuring out someone’s favorite type of baked good and then whipping up a batch of cookies could be a meaningful and cost effective route. Similarly, hosting a gift exchange and limiting the gifts to “board games” or “favorite bottles of wine” can help to cut costs and create a fun theme for an event.

Ultimately, the holidays are a time to spend with loved ones, celebrating all we have to be thankful for. Remember that planning, organization, creativity and flexibility are four key ingredients for conquering holiday expenses.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®, CDFA
Senior Financial Planner
HoyleCohen
San Diego, CA


1 Comment

Thinking about an Ethical Will


When thinking about one’s estate and the planning that goes along with it- many times we only think of the tangible assets. We consider the investment accounts, the home and the various other types of personal property that will be taxed, sheltered or ultimately distributed to our heirs. What’s not typically considered though are the memories, values and life lessons that we may want to share with our loved ones either now or posthumously.

There are so many unique experiences that shape who we are as individuals, yet many people don’t ask themselves who will share the life lessons they’ve been taught or how to carry on the values they’ve held after they’re gone. This is where an ethical will can help. An ethical will can act as a supplement to your various other estate planning documents and is a way to express and communicate your beliefs, values, life lessons and hopes to friends, family and future generations. By documenting these things, you’re able to leave behind a piece of yourself and your legacy to share with others.

Think of an ethical will as a letter or memoir of sorts for your family and loved ones. Your ethical will is a document unique to your specific situation. It can be shaped around your past and who or what was influential in your life, or your values and where you find motivation and satisfaction. It can be a place where you explore practical advice you want to share with your loved ones – perhaps on enjoying life, managing money or even facing unexpected difficulties. Your ethical will can address your children or heirs individually or as a whole. It can express the difference they have made in your life, what you love and admire most about them, and/or what you hope for them in the future.

You may consider yourself too young to create or need an ethical will, but whether you’re single, a new parent, recently divorced, an empty-nester or a retiree, there will never be a point when it won’t help to understand and clarify your values. Not only can writing an ethical will help to shape your vision for your life, but it can help to answer the question of how you want to be remembered. Also keep in mind that no matter what stage you’re at in life, it can only be beneficial to share with others the lessons you’ve been taught and the love and compassion you feel towards them. By creating an ethical will you can ensure there isn’t anything you’ve left unsaid to your loved ones. It may even be the greatest gift you leave behind.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®, CDFA
Senior Financial Planner
HoyleCohen
San Diego, CA


3 Comments

We’re Married. Now What?


With six wedding ceremonies to attend this year, 2012 has been the year of marriage celebrations for me. It’s an exciting time in many of my friend’s lives and I couldn’t be happier for them! However, as the months after the ceremony roll on, questions have been popping up as to the best way to merge finances, what debt to pay down first, what steps to take to change names, and what else is out there that they haven’t even considered. In hopes of assisting my friends along with the many other newlywed couples out there, below are some items to consider in the days and weeks after your marriage:

Name Change: Post wedding, make sure you obtain at least 3 copies of your official marriage certificate from the county clerk, which is where your name change will be indicated. You’ll begin the name change process by first obtaining a new social security card (visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov for more information). From there, visit the DMV to update your driver’s license and then move on to your passport, employer, voter registration, bills, bank accounts, etc. It may be helpful to make a list of all the accounts you’ll need to update.

Taxes: You and your spouse may begin to file your taxes as “Married Filing Jointly” in the year that you are married. Be sure to check in with your accountant as to if that is the best route for you two and update your withholding elections through your Human Resources department if appropriate.

Money Mergers: Hopefully you and your spouse had more than just one conversation about money pre-nuptials. Some things to consider in the days ahead are whether or not to open a joint account. If you decide to go this route, also discuss if you will maintain separate accounts or if everything going forward will be deposited into your joint account. Work out a detailed spending and savings plan and ensure the two of you are on the same page with how your money is being managed and spent.

Assets & Liabilities: Create a list of all of your accounts, including Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, checking, savings, and any other personal cash or investment accounts. Decide if any accounts (aside from retirement) should be consolidated and if you’d like to add each other to titles of cars, property, or any other assets. In addition, review your investments and take some time to adjust your allocations so that it is appropriate based on your combined goals. Also create a list of any outstanding debts such as: credit cards, student loans, mortgages, and car loans. Prioritize your debt re-payment plan by focusing on those balances with the highest interest rates first – likely your credit cards.

Insurance Needs: For items like car and health insurance, evaluate each of your plans and pick the better of the two. Your car insurance should provide the best coverage for the most reasonable price. For health insurance, ensure that your current doctors are available under your spouse’s plan or that you’re okay with making a change if necessary. With life insurance, first determine the amount of coverage needed by considering outstanding debt and the loss of household income that would occur should something happen to either you or your spouse. For young couples just starting out, look into term coverage, which should provide coverage at the most reasonable rate.

Beneficiary Update: An item that is commonly overlooked by newlyweds is the updating of beneficiary information. If you and your spouse determine that you’d like to name each other as beneficiaries, be sure to contact your HR department at work and any companies that hold a life insurance policy or retirement account for you to make necessary updates.

Estate Planning: In the months ahead, consider establishing Durable Power of Attorneys for finances and health care and creating a Will that addresses your combined assets and wishes.

The list above won’t address all of your financial concerns as newlyweds, but by taking the time to go through each item together and consulting your accountant, financial planner, or attorney, you will start your new marriage on a financially healthy road to success.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®, CDFA
Senior Financial Planner
HoyleCohen
San Diego, CA


4 Comments

SETTING S.M.A.R.T. GOALS


How often in life have you been able to accomplish something without first defining what it is that you’re attempting to do? For example, have you gotten a new job without first deciding to apply for it? Did you purchase a new car without first contemplating your options and then deciding it was time for an upgrade? It’s likely that in each of these circumstances your first step was to identify your goal(s) and from there establish a plan of attack to reach them. The same scenario applies to organizing your financial life. One of the very first steps in financial planning is setting goals. Setting goals allows you to define your hopes and dreams for your future, both short and long-term.

When thinking about and setting your goals, ask yourself what would have to happen in the next 3, 5, 10+ years in order for you to be happy. From there, begin to document and shape your goals and ensure that they are S.M.A.R.T.
S.M.A.R.T. goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

For a goal to be specific, the more details, the better! You want your goals to include as much information as possible. For example “I want to save $25,000 for a down payment on a home in the next 4 years” is a goal that answers “how much?” “how long?” and “what for?”

Measurable goals should enable you to monitor your progress. How close are you to meeting your goal? How much more do you need to save?

Attainable goals are those that are realistic in nature. While we may all want to win the lottery or have a huge house or great new car – your goals should be set within reach. Perhaps maxing out your 401(k) contribution, taking advantage of a Roth IRA, or building up a sufficient emergency savings is a good place to start.

You want your goals to be relevant to your life. Your goals should reflect your and your family’s needs, values, and desires. Make sure your goals are meaningful to you or else you won’t be motivated to achieve them.

Timely goals are those that come with a deadline. Ask yourself how long it will take you to accomplish your goal. Working within a timeframe allows you to better track your progress.

When setting your financial goals, remember to write them down, prioritize them, and keep them in a place where you can see them often. Include your significant other or family in the goal setting process to make sure you’re all on the same page. Your goals will be the groundwork of any financial plan you create. Not only will having clear vision of what you hope to accomplish keep you on track, but you will be inspired to stay organized and turn your dreams into a reality.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®, CDFA
Senior Financial Planner
HoyleCohen
San Diego, CA


5 Comments

My Divorce is Finalized. Now What?


Many people mistakenly believe that once their divorce is finalized, their days of filling out paperwork and forms are over. The truth is you’re close to being done with all the documents – but not quite there. In the beginning days after your divorce is finalized, obtain a copy of your certified divorce decree and take some time to review the below checklist and ensure you have all applicable items in order or scheduled on your calendar and ready to be addressed:

  • If you’ve reverted back to using your maiden name (or changed your name at all), update your driver’s license, social security card, automobile title and registration, any insurance policies, employer records and any other important documentation. (Note: It’s generally free to change your name as part of your divorce decree, but will cost you money if you do it at a later point).
  • If you’ve moved, update your mailing address and have all mail forwarded to your new home.
  • If a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is required per the divorce decree, follow-up to ensure it is drafted, entered into and implemented. Check with related investment companies, pension plans, 401(k) administrators and benefits departments to ensure the QDRO is on file and executed.
  • If permissible under the divorce decree, update beneficiaries on any retirement accounts and life insurance policies.
  • Prepare and execute a Quitclaim Deed for any transfers of real property between you and your ex-spouse.
  • Based upon the divorce decree, prepare and sign transfer of title paperwork where required for any automobiles or watercraft.
  • Remove your or your ex’s name from any jointly held accounts.
  • Close jointly held credit accounts and ensure you establish (and use) credit in your own name.
  • Ensure that your bank accounts are registered in your name only. Order checks with your new name and / or address on them. (Note: When ordering checks for a new account, ask that the check numbers start with 1000 instead of 1 or 100).
  • Once all joint accounts are closed, wait 2 to 3 months and order a new copy of your credit report.
  • Notify your tax preparer and update your tax withholdings to reflect your new filing status (likely Head of Household or Single) and / or withholding requirements.
  • If necessary, explore options for new medical insurance coverage or apply for COBRA health insurance.
  • If you haven’t done so, evaluate the need to obtain life insurance on your ex-spouse to replace any potential loss in spousal or child support income. Or, if required, ensure that you or your ex-spouse obtain additional life insurance to ensure continued care should you predecease monetary obligations. Ensure you provide and/or ask for proof of any compulsory policies.
  • Set up direct deposit and/or income withholding for child support, spousal support or alimony payments and keep track of any payments made or received.
  • Work with an estate planning attorney to write and execute a new will, trust, and powers of attorney. In some states, marriage or divorce can revoke a previous will. Ensure that you revoke all power of attorney privileges previously granted to your ex-spouse in writing and place special consideration on who you designate as your executor and successor trustees and the responsibilities and tasks that will befall them.
  • If you were married to your ex for more than 10 years, keep a copy of both your marriage license and divorce decree on hand. Once you are eligible, you will have the right to claim upon your former spouse’s social security benefits, which may result in a larger benefit than your own.
  • Update and change all passwords on your online access accounts.
  • Review the divorce decree for any other miscellaneous items or actions required of you or your ex.

Remember to keep copies of all executed documents on file. Though the above checklist is a standard overview, it may not be comprehensive or fit your exact situation. Work with an attorney or trusted expert when working through these “next steps” after your divorce and remember to review your divorce decree closely and ensure you understand what is required of both you and your former spouse.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®, CDFA
Senior Financial Planner
HoyleCohen
San Diego, CA

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,884 other followers