Financial Planning

July: 3 Simple Tasks to Improve Your Financial Life [VIDEO]

TASK #1: Run a Retirement Plan Projection

Run a retirement plan projection so that you know where you are and what you need to do to get closer to YOUR goals. You should do this once a year to see if you are heading in the right direction. Use our free Retirement Check-Up Wizard here to get a general idea of where you stand with your retirement plans. If you want a more thorough calculation you should work with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. They’ll have access to more sophisticated software and will look at your entire financial life. If you are working with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ you will want to revisit their projections at your annual review to account for changes in your financial life.

TASK #2: Increase Your 401(k) Plan Contributions

For most people, setting a goal to max out your 401(k) or 403(b) plan contributions should be key. If you’re saving in a 401(k) or 403(b) and aren’t already on track to max it out, increase your contributions by 1%. Re-evaluate in 6 months and increase your contributions by another 1% until you ultimately max it out.

TASK #3: Review Your Investment Strategy

Has anything changed over the last 6 months that would cause you to have to make changes? Births? deaths? New goals? If so, review your plan or speak to your CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ to help you make smart choices

For more financial planning tips, download my free report: “8 Steps to Organize and Optimize Your Financial Life”. Thanks for reading!




3 Helpful Financial Tips For June [VIDEO]

#1 Finish Your FAFSA

If you have kids going to college in September your FAFSA is due by the end of the month. You Should have submitted it already (particularly if you watched the financial planning To-Do’s for March), but if you’ve waited until the last minute make sure you get it in soon.

#2 Meet With Your Planner

Schedule a meeting with your certified financial planner if you didn’t meet at the beginning of the year. The halfway point is a great time to check in and see how you are doing and if your planner has any advice on how to make improvements. If you are going to meet with someone for the first time make sure you meet with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. The CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) designation is a professional certification mark for financial planners granted by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board). To receive authorization to use the designation, the candidate must meet education, examination, experience and ethics requirements.

#3 Check Your Budget

Time to check in on your budget! It’s been a little over six months since the start of the year. How are you doing? Do you need to make any adjustments?

Tools like First Step Cash Management can help you proactively plan and monitor your cash flow.

Organize&OptimizeCoverFor more financial planning tips, download my free report: “8 Steps to Organize and Optimize Your Financial Life”. Thanks for reading!


How Trusts Can Help You Control Who Gets What [VIDEO]

A lot of people think trusts are only for the super-wealthy which is not entirely true. A trust can benefit anyone who wants to manage how they leave their money to their family. The trust can give you control over who gets what and when, how they get it, and why.

A trust can benefit anyone who wants to manage how they leave their money to their family.

Create Containers for Your Assets

Trusts are like containers you can put things into. You the grantor can place assets like your house, life insurance policies, investments and other possessions into a trust. These assets become property of the trust and are managed by your trustee.

Pick Someone You Can Trust

You appoint a trustee to ensure your wishes are carried out. As grantor, you decide who receives the assets inside your trust. Typically, your spouse, your children, grandchildren and charities of your choice are the beneficiaries who receive the assets held in trust.

Some trusts are designed to manage who receives your assets and others may offer tax planning benefits

Decide Where Your Money Will Go

When you create a trust you determine how the funds inside your trust will be used and when they will be dispersed. For example, you may want to use assets in your trust to jump-start your children’s careers when they are 25 or supplement their retirement when they turn 60. You may want to pay college tuition expenses for your grandchildren or provide annual scholarships to your Alma Mater. Your appointed trustee ensures everything is managed according to your instructions.

There Are Many Kinds of Trusts

It’s important to know there are different kinds of trust for different purposes. Some are designed to manage who receives your assets and others may offer tax planning benefits.

Here are some examples:

  • Living Trust
  • Special Needs Trust
  • Marital Trust
  • Credit Shelter Trust
  • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust
  • Charitable Remainder Trust
  • Qualified Personal Residential Trust

Make sure you work with financial experts so that your trust is properly structured to carry out your specific intentions. A trust can offer you and your family many financial advantages. You’ll want to talk with  an estate planning attorney find out how you can create a lasting legacy for those you love the most.

For more financial planning tips, download my free report: “8 Steps to Organize and Optimize Your Financial Life”. Thanks for reading!

Why You Need a Will and How to Create One [VIDEO]

Many people are not sure if they need a will because they don’t think they actually have an estate or they simply procrastinate in getting the document drafted. If you are wondering whether you have an estate or not, you most likely do. Simply put, if you own anything you have an estate. So, if you have any assets held outside qualified accounts (i.e. savings accounts, a house, cars, etc.) or have people you care about and/or rely on you (i.e. children, a spouse, etc.), you should have a will. The problem is most adults in America do not have a will. In fact, 58% of American adults don’t have one! So, here’s what you need to do to avoid being part of the 58%.

58% of adults in America do not have a will!

What is a Will?

A will is a legal document that defines who is going to take care of your children and outlines what to do with your assets when you’re gone. If you die without a will the state will decide who will inherit your assets. Having a will allows you, not the government, to control your assets after your death.

What is Involved in Creating a Will?

To do it right, I suggest working with a lawyer to make sure your will is structured properly so that it is valid and enforceable.

Here is a checklist of things to address:

• Name A Guardian: If your children are minors make sure you name a guardian for your kids.

• List of Assets Make a list of all your assets and where they are.

• Determine Values: Determine the values of your real estate, insurance policies, investments, business ownership, personal possessions and anything else that has economic or sentimental value to you or your family.

• Who Will Get Your Stuff?: Decide who will receive these assets and when (Typically your surviving spouse will be your primary beneficiary).

• Provide Instructions: Provide instructions on how and when to distribute assets to your children, grandchildren, and the Charities of your choice.

• Executor or trustee: Name an executor or trustee to oversee and carry out your instructions.

• Power of Attorney/Medical Directive: Grant the power of attorney to someone you trust to make health care and financial decisions if you are not able to make these decisions yourself.

• Update Regularly: Update your will every three years to make sure it fits your present situation and conforms to current state laws. This way you know your family, your loved ones, and your assets are all protected.

TIP: Update your will every 3 years to make sure it fits your present situation and conforms to current state laws.

When you have people who you care about and who count on you it’s best to prepare for the unexpected. So, if you don’t have a will in place now is the time to get going. If you do have a will but haven’t reviewed it in some time you may need to make updates.

Get Organized!

Getting all your stuff in order is one of the first steps you’ll need to take in order to prepare your will. The video below shows the online system we use to help our clients get organized. It helps gather the information you need to give your attorney so they can create your will. As a thank you for reading this post, I am offering free access to this great system to help you get started. Simply send me your email request at and I’ll get you up and running quickly.

For more financial planning tips, download my free report: “8 Steps to Organize and Optimize Your Financial Life”. Thanks for reading!

3 Important Financial Tasks To Do May

While you are making plans for that memorial day cook out, schedule some time this month to take care of these important tasks to help keep your financial life on track.

#1 Check Your Credit Score

It’s a good idea to check your credit score several times throughout the year. You want to make sure you there aren’t any errors which may have caused your credit score to take a hit or you haven’t been the victim of fraud. I recommend using to check your credit score for free. You will need to sign up and answer several security questions to get access to your information but in my opinion it’s the best spot to go.

TIP: Go to to get your credit score for free!

#2 Check Your Credit Report

Your credit report is different from your credit score. The credit score is a numerical value based on information you can find in your credit report. The report will show you the record of your financial activity that’s available to creditors. You can get a copy of your report for free from Check the report for any errors or unusual activity. If you do find anything inaccurate or suspicious you’ll want to contact the agency that released the report to try and get that cleaned up. Keep in mind that there are 3 credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Each agency is required to provide 1 free report every year. So, the smart move is to request your free report from one agency this month, then 4 months later request from another agency. If you spread the reporting out throughout the year you’ll will do a much better job of staying on top of any credit issues than if you get them all at once.

Tip: Go to to get your free credit reports!

#3 Check Your Beneficiary Designations

This is one of the most overlooked financial tasks. Not sure what a beneficiary designation is? The designated beneficiary is the person selected by an owner of a retirement account to inherit the retirement account balance. Oftentimes people select their beneficiary (or ignore it completely) when they open their accounts but never go back to update that information over time. You want to be sure your money will go to the right people should something happen to you. That can change over time due to births, deaths, divorce, etc. So, be sure to check any insurance policies, 401(k)s, IRAs and other retirement plans and make sure the people listed to inherit your assets are in fact the people you still want the to get your money. If you haven’t even selected anyone, now is the time to it. By making the selection your assets will go to the right people, avoid probate and be less of a headache for those you care about when you are not around.


For more financial planning tips, download my free report: “8 Steps to Organize and Optimize Your Financial Life”. Thanks for reading!




7 Tips to a Financially Secure Retirement

If you haven’t retired already, at some point you’ll probably want to. Financial security in retirement doesn’t just happen. It takes planning, commitment and money. You’ll need enough money to potentially live on for at least 20 years, probably more. With the average life expectancy in the U.S. at nearly 80 and growing (1), you’ll want to be sure you can maintain the lifestyle you envision throughout your retirement years.

To help you focus on what you should be doing to succeed, here are 7 planning tips:

1. Make Saving a Habit

If you are already saving every month, awesome! Keep going! If you’re not, start now. The sooner you start the more time your money has to grow.

2. Know Your Retirement Expenses

This is much easier to do the closer you get to retirement. A twenty or thirty year old may have no idea what those numbers will eventually be. If that is you, concentrate more on the other tips. For those of you with retirement in your sightline, figure you will need AT LEAST 70% of your pre-retirement income to live comfortably. Knowing what you need is the key to getting what you need. The key to a secure retirement is to have a clearly defined goal.

3. Participate in your 401(k) or 403(b)

If your employer offers a 401(k) plan or 403(b) plan sign up and aim to contribute to the maximum. Over time, compound interest and tax deferrals can make a huge difference in the amount you accumulate for retirement.

4. Invest Wisely

Diversify your savings to reduce risk (i.e. don’t put it all on black!). In a nutshell, risk simply means how much money could you potentially lose with your investments. To check your current tolerance for risk use our free tool. It will give you something called your Risk Number™ which is a great starting place to see how much risk you can emotionally handle. You can then compare that to the Risk Number™ of your current portfolio and see if they match up or if you potentially need to make changes. Keep in mind, your investment mix may need to change over time due to age, goals, and circumstances, so it’s always a good idea to monitor your risk tolerance and portfolio allocation. Remember, financial knowledge and financial security go hand in hand.

5. Check Your Social Security Benefits

Social Security benefits provide supplemental income to you and your spouse during retirement. If you are counting on social security to bail you out, think again. Social Security provides enough for you to live around the poverty line. Check the Social Security website to see how much the government will pay you every month.

6. Ask Questions

The more you know, the better your chances of enjoying financial security in your retirement years. Talk with your accountant or financial advisor. Better yet, book a meeting with me right now! Ask questions and get good advice. Build a plan, and stick with it.

7. Make Planning for Your Retirement a Priority

Use our retirement check-up tool to find out if you are on the right track. It’s never too early or too late to start saving for your future. However, the longer you wait or leave things to chance, the less likely you will live a financially secure retirement.

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” -Alan Lakein

If you know anyone that could benefit from this advice, feel free to share this video with them. Good luck on your journey toward a financially secure retirement.

For more financial planning tips, download my free report: “8 Steps to Organize and Optimize Your Financial Life”. Thanks for reading!

3 Important Financial Tasks To Do in April

#1 Finish Your Taxes

For 2016 the deadline to submit your tax return is April 18th. The reason for this is that typically Washington, D.C. celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16th, the day President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a bill ending slavery in Washington, D.C. This year, however, the 16th falls on Saturday, so Emancipation day is being celebrated on April 15th and the tax filing deadline is pushed to April 18th.

Nevertheless, by April you should have your tax return completed. If not, and you can’t make the deadline for filing, April 18th is also the deadline for filing a six month extension Just keep in mind, if you owe money you will still need to pay your taxes by April 18th even if you file for an extension.

#2 Update Your W-4 Withholding

Once you’ve completed your tax return you may need to update your withholding allowance on your W-4. What’s your withholding allowance? According to Investopedia it is “the employee-claimed exemptions on the tax form W-4 that employers use to determine how much of an employee’s pay to subtract from his or her paycheck to remit to the tax authorities 1.” The more allowances you claim, the less income tax will be withheld from your paycheck.

How do you know if you need to update your withholding allowances? Well, are you getting money back? Do you owe any money? Either way if those are large numbers you should consider changing the number of allowances you are claiming on your W-4. Speak to your tax preparer to help you figure out what changes you should make.

#3 Spring Cleaning

It’s great that Spring and Taxes go hand in hand because it gives you the opportunity to purge once you’ve completed your return. You’ll want to shred documents you no longer need and file those you do. Better yet, start using an online filing system like FileThis to help you automatically aggregate all your electronic documents. This way you don’t have to deal with paper at all!

Wondering how long you need to keep your documents? Here’s the basic rule: Keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. For more details on how long to keep your documents, read this post on the IRS website.

For more financial planning tips, download my free report: “8 Steps to Organize and Optimize Your Financial Life”. Thanks for reading!

How to Take Advantage of A Down Market

This article was originally published on

You’ve heard the old saying about investing success: Buy low and sell high. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? The problem is, no one knows exactly where the peaks and valleys are until after the market has reached them. That’s why it’s important to have an investment plan and stick to it.

How can the average investor find success in buying low and selling high? Here’s the secret: continually contribute to a diversified portfolio and rebalance it when your portfolio’s allocation falls outside its target range.

The Secret: Dollar Cost Averaging

Dollar-cost averaging is the key to a long-term investment strategy. It means contributing a set amount of money to your portfolio on a regular basis.

If you contribute to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, you’re already doing this; every time you get paid, a certain percentage of your paycheck is deposited and immediately invested into your portfolio. There’s no consideration of market conditions. It doesn’t matter if the market is up or down; your money will get invested.

Here’s where the magic happens with dollar-cost averaging: When the market is down, it’s like getting your investments at a discount. You get to buy more shares of the same investment for less money.

Compare that to the alternative — a lump-sum portfolio, in which a larger sum is invested at one time, without regular additional contributions. With lump-sum investing, the available cash has already been invested, and taking advantage of sale prices becomes more difficult.

How Do I Benefit When the Market Recovers?

When you’re contributing regularly to your investment portfolio and purchasing shares at a discount during a bear market, you increase your upside potential when the market recovers.

When you take a lump sum of money and invest it, you initially have many more shares in a given investment than you would have if you spread those contributions out over a longer time. When the market declines, your lump-sum portfolio declines with it, but you’re not buying any additional shares at a discount like you are with your dollar-cost-averaged portfolio. You could end up with the same number of shares in both portfolios, but the average price per share in the dollar-cost-averaged portfolio will be lower.

This is why your 401(k) and 403(b) portfolios will seem to perform better than your lump-sum investment portfolio. In fact, they often do perform better because, over the long term, you end up purchasing your investment shares at a lower overall cost per share. So when the market recovers, you can be proud of yourself for buying at the bottom.

Stay Invested for the Long-Term

Dollar-cost averaging gives you an advantage over lump-sum investing, but in either case it’s important to stay the course and stay invested. Heading to the sidelines during market volatility greatly reduces your chances of long-term investment success.

The key phrase here is “long term.” If you are investing for the short term, market volatility is not your friend, and frankly, you probably shouldn’t be investing at all. Having a short-sighted view of the market causes many to abandon ship at the worst possible time and potentially end up buying high and selling low — the exact opposite of what you should be doing.

If you do have a lump-sum investment portfolio, don’t fear. You can still take advantage of market downturns by rebalancing your portfolio. What this means is that you move money out of the best-performing asset classes — whether they be stocks, bonds or Treasuries — and into the underperforming asset classes. This allows you to maintain your target asset allocation and helps you avoid being “overweighted” in an asset class that has performed well but may decline in the future. This is the essence of buying low and selling high.

Be the Tortoise

Although market downturns are no fun, they’re inevitable. The reason you have the potential to receive higher rates of return on your investments is because you take on the risk of losing money.

The best advice is to be the tortoise, not the hare. When you’re in the accumulation stage and building your nest egg, practice a slow and steady approach to investing. Stay the course, no matter what the markets are doing.

On the other hand, during the decumulation stage of your portfolio, you may need to minimize your exposure to equities to protect yourself from not having the money when you need it. Most importantly, during this stage, make sure your retirement income plan accounts for the inevitability of market downturns — and follow through on that plan.

I hope this gives you the confidence you need to stick to your investment plan no matter what is happening in the markets. If you don’t have a plan, start building one and set the goal of seeing it through.

For more financial planning tips, download my free report: “8 Steps to Organize and Optimize Your Financial Life”. Thanks for reading!

Top Money Posts: Week of March 7, 2016

My Recent Posts on Nerdwallet’s ‘Ask an Advisor’

From Around the Web

  • Market downturns can have an adverse affect on a retirement income plan. Here are my tips for dealing with this inevitability.
  • Here’s a quick look  at your other options for college savings besides a 529 plan.
  • Retiring at 40 is a tough goal to achieve. Learn 5 lessons from people who actually pulled it off.
  • Many people have concerns about paying for traditional long-term care insurance policies since they may never use them. To combat these concerns, insurance companies have developed hybrid LTC policies that combine life insurance with long-term care. Are they right for you?

Great Resources

  • Need a simple and easy to use tool to help you keep track of your budget. Take a look at (YNAB). Great for people who love tech that can help improve their life!
  • Got taxes on your brain? The IRS has a pretty good YouTube channel. It’s particularly worth checking out their videos on ID theft.
  • Use our retirement Check-Up tool to see if you are on track with your retirement savings goals.

If you like this post, you might also like my FREE report: “8 Steps to Organize & Optimize Your Financial Life”. Check it out here!

Is There a Magic Number For Your Retirement Savings?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but I don’t believe in the ‘magic number.’ Unfortunately, your wants and needs along with the unpredictability of life cause your ‘number’ to change over time. If you are not regularly assessing your financial situation, having a single number stuck in your head could be counter productive to your success.

So What Do I Do Now?

Instead of focusing on your ‘magic number’, I recommend building a solid retirement plan, setting a goal to save 10% -20% of what you make, invest your money, and regularly review and update that plan. In order to more accurately determine how much to set aside for retirement, you need to have a clear idea of how much you are spending annually to support your current lifestyle. Next, you will need to think through how those expenses may change in retirement. Will you move to a less expensive location? What about commuting expenses? How often will you need to purchase vehicles?  Once you’ve thought through those possibilities, or any others, you will want to think about the lifestyle you hope to have in retirement. Do you want to travel or are you a homebody? Do you want to join a club or take up a new hobby? Think about how much each of these activities may cost and work that into your plan.

What Else Should I Look At?

The next piece of the puzzle is to take a look at any guaranteed income you may have from Social Security, pensions, or annuities. The more guarantees you have the less you’ll need in savings to replace your income during retirement. Also, it’s a good idea to think about whether you will continue to do some type of work to assist in meeting your income needs. My final recommendation is to factor in your health. Are you relatively healthy or do you need to plan for additional medical costs during retirement?

Run the Numbers

Truthfully, the closer you get to retirement the more accurate your projections will be. However, when you are younger you can still work with approximations and run monte-carlo simulations on your numbers. Just be sure to revisit those numbers on a regular basis to account for changes in your income, spending habits, and lifestyle. As a rule of thumb, you will typically need to replace 70%-90% of your pre-retirement income to maintain your pre-retirement lifestyle. But, keep in mind, this is merely a rule of thumb. Your personal needs can vary depending on the factors I just discussed.

How much you’ll need for retirement is directly dependent on the lifestyle you envision. If you are willing to make some sacrifices or have enough guaranteed income you may not need to save as much. On the other hand, for most people, if you want to maintain your current lifestyle you’ll need to save and invest regularly and monitor and adjust your retirement plan on an on-going basis in order to create the retirement lifestyle of your dreams.

Want a quick assessment of where you stand for your retirement? You can use my Retirement Check-Up tool to see how you are doing right now and if you might need to make any adjustments to your plan.

For more financial planning tips download my free report: 8 Steps to Organize & Optimize Your Financial Life. It’s packed with helpful advice, useful tips and valuable resources.

To learn what I can do for you visit