The Equifax Breach and What to do

Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, recently revealed that hackers had gained access to company data that potentially compromised sensitive information for 143 million American consumers, including Social Security numbers, addresses, names, driver’s license numbers, and credit card numbers (THAT’S NEARLY HALF THE US POPULATION).

The three main credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, maintain reports on when consumers attempt to obtain a credit card, car or even a mortgage loan, their payment history, and the amount of available credit. Some companies use one or all three of these companies when consumers seek a credit card, mortgage or other loans.

Since the personal information was stolen, along with 209,000 credit card numbers, the breach will increase the opportunity for identity theft to occur.

BE PROACTIVE

Review the Federal Trade Commission’s website on the breach HERE

Equifax has set up its own program to help people find out if they were one of the millions affected by the hack. It requires a multi-step process that takes place over the course of at least one week.

http://bit.ly/2xutn6S

Equifax will advise if it’s likely your information was hacked and then it’s your responsibility to register to get Trusted ID Premier, which provides the following security

  1. 3 Bureau Credit File Monitoring
  2. Equifax Credit Report
  3. 1MM Identity theft Insurance
  4. Social Security number scanning

The service is free for 1 year and you will not be required to provide a credit card number to be charged after the year is complete.

Equifax has an updates page at https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/

Equifax will not be contacting individuals to notify them about the data breach. Check-in with your loved ones to ensure that they are also aware and protected

How to Not Go Broke Supporting Adult Children

by David Ragland

You’ve worked hard, you’ve saved, you’ve downsized, and the nest is finally empty. Life is good. But then one of your kids loses his job. Or she starts falling further into debt. Or decides to send your grandchild to a private school he can’t afford.
Now what do you do? Is your only choice to dip into retirement to support an adult child? How do you manage the feelings of guilt and obligation versus your own needs?

Your Retirement Reality

Once the nest is empty, the kids are off the payroll, right? Or just theoretically? Because your retirement may depend on it, know that it is never too late to talk to your kids about money. Even if that “kid” is approaching middle age.
This is particularly true because during your last ten years in the workforce when you’ll most likely reach your maximum wealth-building potential and accumulate a significant portion of what you need for retirement. This is the time to put more into your 401K, downsize and reduce expenses, and really focus on reaching your retirement goals. Sure, there will be unexpected expenses, but ongoing unexpected expenses from your children shouldn’t be one of them.

Build Your Financial Support Team

But I know. You love your kids. You’ve made sacrifices for them since they were born. Shifting the dynamic can be hard when children become adults and their financial footing is still wobbly.
“These can be really difficult situations,” says Wendy Dickinson, PhD and licensed psychologist at GROW counseling in Atlanta. “When we have parents who are in a crisis because of a failure-to-launch young adult, or an adult child in a health crisis, or perhaps an adult child dealing with an addiction that becomes a bottomless money pit, one of the first things that we do is a thorough assessment. We need to determine 1) what is the goal 2) what would the parents not be able to live with and 3) to what extent the parents are willing to learn to set boundaries.”
Dickinson says that setting a goal is extremely important because it will guide the rest of the process:

  • Does the parent unit want to require the young adult to be responsible for their decisions?
  • Do they want to appropriately financially support them during a difficult time?
  • Do they want to provide for some but not all of their needs?

Essential to the process of goal setting is clear communication and a willingness for the parents to be open and vulnerable about what they are feeling and what they need.
“I always spend some time talking to parents about what they could NOT live with – it’s really helpful in establishing a threshold of behavior. For example, would they not be able to live with their grandchildren being hungry? Or their kids/grandchildren not having the medical attention they need? Sometimes parents will say they are not going to pay for anything, except unlimited counseling if their son/daughter is willing to participate with a goal of getting better. I find there are usually exceptions to what parents are willing to pay for, and in the process of setting boundaries it’s important to be clear about these exceptions upfront if possible.”
Finally, Dickinson says, the parent unit needs to learn to set boundaries. This can be a challenging because boundary setting has most likely been difficult for these parents during their child-rearing years. “Much could be written about navigating the process of boundary setting, but regarding the topic of money, I specifically think it’s important to be clear, consistent and compassionate,” says Dickinson.
“Clear and consistent relate to the goal-setting process and learning how to have difficult money conversations. The compassion that is critical is in separating the feeling from the behavior. It’s OK to empathize with your child even if you are standing firm on the financial support. Often parents interpret ‘boundary setting’ to mean they have to be cold, stoic, or disconnected. Rather you, as the parent, are the biggest cheerleaders for your kids – your encouragement can be the very thing that pushes them to take a risk and realize that with a little work they are able to achieve financial autonomy.”

Rounding out the Team

In addition to finding a counselor who can provide guidance and recommend strategies, you can also lean on your financial planner, accountant and/or attorney. You want a team that has your back especially as you get older. They need to understand your goals and your challenges — including your children’s financial situations — and be there to help you draw the line. They may need to play the bad guy and that’s OK.
You may also want to talk to your financial planner about including your adult child in a meeting so they can see the realities of your budget, as well as the benefits of a financial plan. And unless you can really afford it, don’t distribute an inheritance before you die. We’re all living longer and the expenses associated with aging continue to rise. You may need that money.
The challenges of family and money are nothing new, but how you deal with it can be. Communication is key as is finding the support you need to stay focused on what’s best for your situation. And know that regardless of how old your children are, it’s never too late.

Comment

David Ragland

David Ragland is a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®), Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) and Chief Executive Officer of IRC Wealth, a private asset management company based in Atlanta. Holding both a BBA and a Master’s degree in Accounting from the University of Georgia, David began his career in the tax division of Ernst & Young. He then served as CFO for several companies, gaining experience in taking companies public and propelling them on to the INC 500 List of Fastest Growing Companies. A vibrant, energetic speaker, best-selling author of Wealth Made Simple (yes, really), businessman and Ironman triathlete, David Ragland understands and articulates the core ingredients that motivate, energize and push people across their personal finish lines.

Instead of Spending, Teenagers Can Turn to Saving

by Samantha Cueto

When Should Teens Start a Savings Account?

As soon as a teenager begins to spend the money that they earn, they should start considering opening a savings account. According to an ING Direct study, a surprisingly large percentage of teenagers amounting to approximately 83% admit they are clueless when it comes to how they should be spending their money.

How Teenagers can Earn Money for Their Savings Account

Around 35% of teenagers attain jobs, according to a graph from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is a moderate percentage considering how most teenagers focus on educational classes or internships for their resumes during the summer. Teenagers can attain their money inside homes through some of these popular options:

  • Some teens can receive small allowances each week, in return for completing chores throughout the house. Yet there are fewer parents who have been giving their teenagers money, and may even consider the prospect of chores as something that is more of a responsibility rather than an optional task nowadays. Therefore, this option may not be the easiest opportunity to earn money, and can only depend on what a parent’s perspective of allowance is.
  • Teens can babysit or tutor their neighborhood’s children, if there are any parents actively searching for either a babysitter or tutor. Teens who enjoy being in the presence of young children may find this option the most appealing, but it does require knowledge on the academic subjects the child may be having trouble with, and how to take care of children in general.

Teens who desire to work outside of a home can consider other viable jobs to earn money, such as:

  • Some retail stores or fast-food restaurants are willing to hire any teenagers vying for the occupation. Teens can learn some basic skills such as how to operate a cash register or how supplies can be properly stored. Retail stores and fast-food restaurants offer small salaries and a daily schedule that can help any teen become slightly more organized.
  • Any small tasks teens can complete around their local neighborhood can help them earn some extra cash. Some conventional examples do include, but are not limited to: washing neighbors’ cars, mowing a neighbor’s lawn, and offering cool refreshments to anyone passing by that may look dehydrated. This option does not earn as much money for a teenager than the other aforementioned ones, and are more of temporary solutions.

Teenagers who earn the money from these jobs end up spending it rather than saving. Teenagers who are interested in their future should open a savings account to pay for their dream college and the expenses that eventually come when they reach adulthood, such as purchasing an apartment or paying their bills.

Why Teenagers Should Open Savings Accounts with Their Banks

Once a teenager signs up for a saving account with their chosen bank, they can begin depositing the money they earn into their account. A savings account can even limit the number of withdrawals to six per month, which can keep teenagers on a reasonable budget instead of splurging most of their money on shopping sprees. Savings accounts also come with interest rates.
An interest rate can be beneficial to a teen if they earn it correctly. Savings accounts add a certain amount of money to the current balance if it has been deposited there for a certain period of time. The amount of interest a teenager can earn in their account depends on how much money they have deposited into their account, the bank they created a savings account with, and the general interest rate of that aforementioned bank. A teenager must also keep in mind that they would have to pay a fee if they do not maintain a minimum balance on their account that some banks can require, but not all.
A teenager who has just commenced the process of searching for the right bank may be encountering some trouble. There are hundreds of different banks offering several different options that can be overwhelmingly confusing to a teenager. Not all of these banks offer the best deals or have a teenager’s interests in mind, but there are three options that have been narrowed down so a teenager can begin their search:

  • Capital One 360 Savings Account is a superb option for a teenager because there is no minimum balance or deposit that can come with most banks. Teenagers can also find their Automatic Savings Plan extremely helpful, which transfers money automatically to the account and can be adjusted or stopped at any time. The interest rate is only 0.75% per year, which may sound small but will have money growing in no time.
  • The Barclay Dream Account is an online banking account option that will earn the most interest. If deposits are made continuously for six consecutive months, there will be a 2.5% bonus on the interest earned. If no money has gone through withdrawal for six consecutive months, another 2.5% bonus will also be added on the interest earned. It also promises no monthly service fees have to be paid and there is no minimum deposit number to open the account.
  • All of Ally Bank’s accounts can be opened as a custodial account, meaning that a parent will have control over the account until the child they’re saving for becomes 18. In-trust accounts can also be opened, meaning the income can be split between a parent and their child once the child reaches legal age as well. Ally Bank doesn’t require a minimum balance when opening an account and no fees have to be paid monthly. The interest rates vary depending on which account a teenager and their parents decide to choose. CDs, or certificates of deposit, are also a viable choice in Ally Bank.

Samantha Cueto is a teenager herself. She is a rising sophomore at Dominican Academy in Manhattan.

Is it a Good Idea to Close Credit Cards I don't Use?

by Rebecca Eve Selkowe, J.D

3 myths about your credit score:

I never really talked much about credit scores before, but that is starting to change now as I’m realizing how much unnecessary worry, concern, and confusion swirls around them.

So first things first. Your credit score is one credit bureau’s opinion of how likely you are to be able to repay the money you borrow.

Annnd… we’re done here!

[drops mic.]

Heh.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that – what factors go into it, what it means, how to have a good one – and based on what I hear from my very smart, very educated clients, a lot of mystery, too!  Here are the top three myths about your credit score, debunked.

Myth #1: If I never use my credit card, I’ll have good credit. WRONG. Your credit score is based on large part on how good you are with credit.  If you don’t actually use credit, no one will know if you’re good at it.  So if you don’t use a credit card, you won’t have bad credit, but your score definitely won’t be as high as it could (and, if you’re financially responsible enough to respect credit cards enough to fear them, as high as it should) probably be.

Myth #2: I should close any credit cards I don’t use. I hear this all the time. I scream “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” and start lifting things up and smashing them.  Okay I don’t really do this… but I want to.  Unlike in, ahem, other areas of our lives, when it comes to your credit score, size matters! Your score is based on part on how much credit you have available to you AND on the length of your credit history (how long you’ve been using a particular account). Closing cards reduces the amount of credit you have.  Closing your oldest card shortens your credit history.  New accounts, bad.  Old accounts, good.  HULK SMASH!

Myth #3: My credit score is the same as my credit report.  NOPE.  Your score is BASED on your report.  You can get your credit report for free each year, but it will not include your credit score.  You definitely want to make sure you’re on top of that report to make sure everything in it is accurate.  You can get your score for free, too, but you may have to do some finagling.  Your score is useful, but the report is even more useful.

There you go. Three myths about your credit score. Pop quiz next week! :)

If you have your head buried in the sand about YOUR credit score, it’s time to get it out. Good, bad, ugly, you have to know that number.  You may be surprised, you may be devastated, but you know that saying “start where you are?”  That’s you and your credit score.

So go check it.

Did these surprise you? Did you know these already? Are you all, tell me something I don’t know? What other questions did this raise for you?

Should I be zeroing out my credit card every month?

by Rebecca Eve Selkowe, J.D

The best way to use your credit card is to pay the balance in full every month – that way, you don’t have credit card debt and you don’t pay interest. However, if you are using your credit card all the time, the balance will never be $0.

(It’s very confusing.)

Credit cards work on a “statement cycle” and a “grace period.” The easiest way to understand what this means is to use an example. Let’s say your Visa bill is due on the 20th of every month, and your statement cycle ends on the 23rd. Let’s say it’s February. How do you know what to pay this month?

Everything you charged from December 24 to January 23 (and anything you hadn’t completely paid off up to that point) makes up your January statement balance. That January statement balance will be due on or before February 20. If you pay the entire January statement balance sometime between January 23 and February 20, you won’t pay any interest. WOO HOO!

BUT! If you used the card in February, you’re still going to see a balance on the card when you pay it on the 20th. Not to fear… on February 23 that statement cycle will close and everything you charged from January 24 to February 23 will be due on or before March 20!

What You Need to Know About Credit

You sit down in your mortgage broker's office because you can’t stand the news. Your credit is so bad you will not be able to secure a loan to buy the dream home you just bid on. Can you imagine? After months of taking time off work to run from one open house to the next, you forgot to check your credit report to make sure your credit was in order. What independent credit reporting agencies say about you and your credit can and will make the difference between your ability to buy a car, a house, or even a simple pair of shoes.

Your credit report contains everything about your credit history, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Details you would never dream of sharing with even your closest of friends are listed neatly for all creditors to see. Your last residence, your employment history, your bill payment history, how many credit cards you have, how much you owe, and how much access to credit you already have are just a few of the juicy details contained within your report.

So what hurts your credit? Paying bills late, defaults on loans, too many credit cards, canceling your credit cards, large balances, medical bills that were lost in an insurance shuffle can all end up creating black marks on your credit report.

Many major life events, such as marriage and divorce, purchasing a home, or having a child are also financial changes that involve and can affect your credit.

Even worse, many credit files contain inaccuracies that can harm your credit rating. Just as reviewing your credit card statement can reveal charges you did not make, reviewing your credit report can reveal activity on accounts you don't use or new accounts you did not open, alerting you to the possibility of identity theft.

Few Savvy Ladies know that they can fight an improper charge on their credit card. The Fair Credit Billing Act, which was passed in 1974, makes sure the law is on your side. In fact, your credit card company is required to investigate and either correct the mistake or explain why the bill is correct within 90 days. They must acknowledge your complaint within 30 days.

Make sure to put your complaint in writing and send it via certified mail to "Billing Inquiries," which is listed on the back of your card statement. According to the law, your dispute letter must include your name, address, account number and a description of the problem. Visit Bankrate.com for a sample dispute letter to help you on your way. The deadline for notifying your credit card company of a billing error is 60 days from the date the bill was mailed to you. Keep in mind that the 60-day clock starts ticking on the day your issuer mails your billing statement, not the date you receive it. So by the time you receive your bill, you actually have 50-odd days to get a dispute letter back to your card issuer.

Request your free credit report online or by calling 1-877-322-8228. You can also contact any of the following “big three” credit reporting agencies: EquifaxExperian, or TransUnion.

Happy, Birthday, Barbie!

On March 9th, Barbie celebrates her 58th birthday. Whether you loved Barbie as a little girl or thought she was a negative role model for women, there is no denying her part in women’s toy history. Ruth Handler created the Barbie doll and co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband when she saw her daughter choose paper dolls of grown-up women over baby dolls. Ruth developed a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future. Barbie has had a lot of success as well as controversy over the years. In the 90’s, Barbie-related merchandise sales reached $1 billion annually and Mattel estimates three Barbie dolls are sold every second. Some women believe that Barbie’s various careers broke down gender barriers and served as inspiration to girls showing them they could be whatever they want. Others thought that her clothing and “Dream Houses” would encourage girls to be materialistic. In 1992, a women’s group criticized a talking Barbie doll for the phrase “math class is tough.” Barbie’s physical appearance has perhaps been the most controversial, with some claiming she set unrealistic expectations for girls. In 2016, Mattel released a new range of Barbie dolls that included three new body shapes and a variety of skin tones. Barbie has been working full time for 3 decades and she has had a number of fascinating careers from teacher to astronaut. As she nears retirement, let's take a look at her retirement plan.

Barbie nears retirement

Barbie knew to begin investing early. She established her 401k and put away a little bit each month. She eventually increased her contribution to the maximum of $18,000 a year. She has accumulated $420,000 (her 401k took a big hit in the 2008 financial meltdown).

401k accumulation = $420,000

According to her my Social Security Account, she can begin collecting at her Full Retirement Age of 66 years and 10 months.

Social Security = $2,613 per month

Current Salary = $95,000

Barbie used the T.Rowe Price Retirement Calculator to see if she was on track.

Here are her results:

Barbie t rowe price retirement
Barbie t rowe price retirement

Barbie will need to make some adjustments to meet her goals

  1. To replace her income at 75% she will actually need $5,938 per month. If Barbie waits until age 70 years to collect her social security, her monthly benefit will increase to $3,337 ($724.00 more per month).
  2. She may consider working a couple more years or increasing her 401k contribution (after the age of 50, the maximum is $24,000)
  3. Barbie used the T.Rowe Price Retirement Calculator to see if she was on track. See if you are on track!

Click here for more articles on saving for retirement.

Comment

Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Stacy Francis is the Founder, CEO and President of Francis Financial, Inc., a Wealth Management and Financial Planning firm. With over 18 years of experience in the financial industry, she is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA™), and a Certified Estate Planning Specialist (CES™). She is the Co-Director of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners’ (ADFP) Greater New York Metro Chapter and a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and an honoree member of the Private Risk Management Association (PRMA). A nationally recognized financial expert, Stacy has appeared on ABC News, CNBC, CNN, PBS Nightly Business Report, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fine Living Network, and The O’Reilly Factor. Stacy attended the New York University Center for Finance, Law and Taxation.

How To Create Greater Financial Intimacy in Your Relationship

by Dr. Kristin Davin

Not all relationships require financial intimacy to function, but financial intimacy does require a deep connectedness to exist.
— Timmons

Money is a complicated topic. It’s also a main contributor to divorce. So, the early and more often couples discuss this dicey topic, the better. Discussions around money can quickly spiral out of control and become circular arguments with no end in sight. How couples navigate this conversation has as much to do with how they were each raised around money as it does with how they are currently living their lives. The likelihood that you will end up with someone whose family experiences with money are similar to yours is slim to none. Yet, it is important to remember that these experiences help shape how they perceive the role of money in their life and the degree to which they are – or are not – financially astute and responsible (Timmons).

It should come as no surprise that most couples would rather ignore the subject and pretend that money issues don’t need to be addressed (or have teeth extracted!) – and think if we “tap our red shoes three times, the problems will magically disappear” (they won’t). The only guarantee that comes with ignoring financial problems is that they will grow in size and become bigger problems –both in the short– and long–term. Some couples believe – erroneously – that talking about them only creates a larger vacuum of problems, circular conversations, and “road that leads to nowhere” – fast. But that’s the opposite of what really happens.

Yet, despite couples that are hesitant to disclose, there are ways to build greater financial intimacy even if, in the moment, it doesn’t feel that way. Taking the steps, even small ones in the beginning, will encourage greater intimacy, promote a unified relationship, and create hope for the future – together – over time . However, having these conversations is easier said than done – at least in the beginning. In theory, it might work fine, but in actual practice it feels painful, like you are crawling out of your skin.

But, despite the obstacles, with the right ingredients – effort, intention, willingness, support, safety, commitment, time, and the mindset by both parties that talking about their financial relationship is vital to keeping their relationship healthy – success is possible. Both partners must agree to be on board and make an investment in both their present and their financial future. This investment is fueled by their commitment as a couple and a belief that having these difficult and uncomfortable conversations will, over time, strengthen their relationship and resolve.

Learn here the 7 Steps To Greater Financial Intimacy

Women & Retirement: Don't Wait, Start Saving Today

Poor and alone isn’t the retirement any of us dream about. And the following statistics conjure up some very scary images:

(Sources: Dee Lee’s Everywoman’s Money: Financial Freedom; Social Security Administration.)

  • More than 50% of all marriages fail.
  • After a divorce, the average woman sees her standard of living drop by as much as 30%.
  • The average age of widowhood is 56 years old.
  • The average woman lives to 80. (The average man, age 74.)
  • The poverty rate for elderly women is twice that of elderly men.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to start investing or to invest more!

Of course, the steps you need to take to ensure that you have enough money during retirement depend, in large measure, on your current age and situation. Here’s a breakdown of some things to consider, depending on just how long you have until retirement.

Gen X

As a group, younger women tend to be savvier than their older sisters about managing their money. And that’s a good thing because getting an early start is half the battle. During your younger years, the key is to save whatever you possibly can. That’s because the magic of compounding becomes all the more powerful the longer your time horizon. Consider this: If you save money throughout your 20s and then quit saving at 30, chances are you’ll come out dramatically ahead of someone who starts saving in their 30s and contributes for twice as long.

Baby Boomers

Perhaps, surprisingly, for a generation of women who accomplished so much in the workplace and in politics, boomer women are less in charge of their financial lives than their younger sisters.

Older baby boomers are starting to set their sights on the end of their working days. But for many women of this generation, early retirement isn’t a likely option. In fact, many will have to work longer or even take on a second job to make up for years of poor retirement savings.

Recognizing that many people are nearing retirement unprepared, the government is making it easier for them to save. Folks aged 50 or older will be able to make slightly higher contributions to their IRAs via “catch-up” contributions of up to $6,500 in 2014. Increased contributions will also be permitted in 401(k) accounts. This might not sound like a lot, but over several years, it can make a big difference.

Divorcées and Widows

One issue that can affect women of any age is divorce. When Prince Charming turns out to be more toad than prince, many women feel unprepared to manage finances on their own.

While nobody wants to assume they’ll wind up getting divorced or widowed at an early age, the fact remains that you need to take personal responsibility for making sure you have a comfortable retirement. With a bit of planning, it shouldn’t be too hard. By saving more now, you’ll free up time during retirement to focus on the things that really matter, like showing your granddaughter what being a happy old lady is all about!

So how much will you need to retire?

That depends. A quick rule of thumb is you will need 80% of your pre-retirement income in order to live comfortably. For others you’ll need more — that is, if your idea of retirement involves more than shuffleboard and a rocking chair!

Recommended reading: The Random Walk Guide To Investing by Burton G. Malkiel

You’re in Balance! But Are Your Investments?

Twist and turns… Up and down… The investment markets are going through another wild year—fortunately, this time, the volatility is generally in a positive direction. But the dramatic swing in stock returns after three bear years, along with dramatic swings in some other types of assets, raises a few questions for all investors. Is my portfolio balanced?

Rebalancing a portfolio must be done at least once a year. It involves periodically readjusting your mix of assets. Smart Savvy Ladies start by establishing an initial asset allocation, assigning percentages of the portfolio to assets such as stocks, bonds and cash, and perhaps other types of investments such as real estate and commodities. The allocations are further broken down by subcategories, such as different types of stocks and bonds.

The target allocations should be appropriate for that Savvy Lady’s investment goals and financial circumstances, as well as comfort level with certain types of investments. A Savvy Lady with no children and nearing retirement, will likely have a different asset mix than a Savvy Lady right out of college in her early accumulation years.

Why rebalance just because a portfolio no longer matches its original allocation? Why not just let it ride—especially if the market’s going up? Because if you don’t, you increase the risk that you won’t achieve your investment goals! Say you had 55 percent in stocks and 45 percent in bonds in the early 1990s. Unless you rebalanced along the way, by the end of 1999, that mix might have become “unbalanced”—say, 80 percent in stocks and only 20 percent in bonds.

You know what happened next. This stock-heavy portfolio, (especially if it was loaded of tech stocks) suffered more when the stock market declined drastically over the next three years than it would have had it maintained its original 60/40 balance through periodic rebalancing.

How much to allow a specific asset category to shift before readjusting it is up to you, but a common guideline is five percent. To rebalance, consider directing future investment funds into those underrepresented categories until it’s back in balance. You also can readjust by selling off some of the overrepresented assets (the winners) and buying the underrepresented (the losers)—selling high and buying low. Savvy Ladies always sell high and buy low!

The Best Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

The best way to keep an eye out for identity theft is to read your statements from credit card companies, banks and credit unions, and to routinely check your credit reports for suspicious activity.

Credit reports. You know that you need to check your credit report at least once a year! Whether you need to correct errors, make sure you are not the latest victim of identity theft, or keep closer track of your bill-paying habits, your credit report is the key to protecting the financial you.

By federal law you have free annual access to your credit report, and you can attach a “fraud alert” to your credit report as protection against identity thieves who might apply for credit using your name. You can order your report at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.

Review your free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion. If an identity thief is opening financial accounts in your name, these accounts may show up on your credit report. Look for inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and wrong amounts on your accounts. Also be sure your personal information – like your social security number, address, name or initials, and employers – are correct.

According to AnnualCreditReport.com, make sure you recognize the accounts and loans on your credit report. Then, check that the information on your credit report is correct: your name, account status (open or closed), history, etc. If you find information that you believe is not correct, contact the company that issued the account or the credit reporting company that issued the report.

For more information read this article published by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Financial accounts and billing statements. Look closely for charges you did not make. Even a small charge can be a danger sign. Thieves will sometimes make a small debit against your checking account and then, if the small debit goes unnoticed, return to take much more.

Don’t ignore bills from people you don’t know. This is another potential red flag. A bill on a debt you never borrowed may be an indication that someone else has opened an account in your name. Contact the creditor to find out.

Paperwork and old files. Be sure that anything you toss in the trash or recycle bin does not contain any personal or confidential information. A quick way to prevent thieves from stealing your identity this way is to shred all documents or use one of these handy little stamps.

When it comes to identity theft, it’s true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Insuring a New Marriage

Reevaluating their insurance coverage isn’t uppermost on the minds of most newlyweds, and it won’t ensure a long and happy marriage. But the right insurance can go a long way toward shielding you against the kinds of financial calamities that can strain and sometimes break a marriage. Life insurance It’s a given that couples should have life insurance if they have or expect to have children, or if one spouse earns most or all of the couple’s income. But it is often suggested that life insurance is not needed where couples have no dependents and where both spouses work in comparable-paying jobs. This may be suitable in some cases, but you may still want to consider additional life insurance beyond what is offered at work.

Working couples typically raise their standard of living: a bigger apartment or house, nicer cars, new furniture, vacations. So the question becomes, if one of them dies, will the survivor be able to afford to maintain the higher standard of living on his or her own salary? Probably not—unless each has sufficient life insurance to cover the gap.

One or both spouses may bring debts to the marriage, such as student loans or credit card debt. The surviving spouse probably won’t be responsible for debt accumulated by the deceased before the marriage (though there can be complications in this area). But the deceased’s estate would have to pay off the debt, thus leaving less for the survivor. The couple also may accumulate new debt together that the surviving spouse may find difficult to pay off without life insurance.

Life insurance may be necessary to cover funeral expenses and possibly out-of-pocket expenses incurred from medical treatments associated with the death. The advantage of getting life insurance early for many newlyweds is that they can lock in low premiums while they are young and healthy.

Lastly, while group term insurance is probably available at work, it can’t go with you if you leave your job, and is often insufficient. You’ll want to acquire additional life insurance at a time when you are most insurable.

Rename beneficiaries If either one or both spouses bring existing life insurance to the marriage, they’ll probably want to name their new spouse as beneficiary. Otherwise, death proceeds could end up going to an ex-spouse or a parent.

Disability insurance Competing with life insurance premium dollars are other insurance needs for newlyweds, and high on that list should be disability insurance. This insurance is designed to partially make up for lost wages should you be unable to work due to an injury or long-term illness. Statistically, young people are more likely to suffer a lengthy disability than to die prematurely.

Group disability coverage at work typically is not sufficient, so you may want to supplement it with a private policy. While any employee, single or married, should consider this, it becomes even more important when you have a spouse, particularly one who may be dependent on your income.

Health insurance Married working couples should review their individual health plans at work to see if they want to go with coverage under only one employer and possibly save premium dollars, or in some other way coordinate coverage between the plans.

Auto insurance Couples will probably want to insure their autos with a single company in order to get a multi-car discount. Married drivers usually can get lower rates, too, so be sure to tell your agent you’ve gotten married. Coordinating other property and casualty insurance with the same carrier can also save premium costs.

Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance While this is coverage you should get even when you’re single, it becomes more critical when you get married. For one thing, you’re likely to start accumulating more expensive possessions that you want to be sure are covered. For some valuables, such as the wedding ring, you may need to insure them with a separate rider.

Don’t overlook renter’s insurance. Newlyweds commonly live in apartments or rented houses before buying their first home or condo, yet they often mistakenly believe that the landlord’s insurance will cover damage to their personal property. Renter’s insurance is inexpensive and easy to get.

Be Savvy With Your Tax Refund

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by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

One of the only positive aspects to tax season is your refund. A new pair of shoes, dress or a vacation are all tempting choices for us to spend our tax return money. While a small splurge is a must, these extra dollars also give you a chance to improve your finances for the long haul.

There are five important areas you can invest the money returned from Uncle Sam that will help you get ahead much more than buying that cute pair of shoes.

1. Pay off all your credit card debt-

  • Paying just the monthly minimum on your credit cards is not a smart move. By doing such, you are not using credit wisely.
  • Over time the amount you owe will keep accumulating, bringing the original purchases you made to be more than triple the initial cost.
  • You do not build any equity by using credit cards.
  • Paying off your debt will strengthen your credit rating, which then leads to a lower interest rate.

2. Open an emergency fund-

  • You should have at least 3-6 months of your living expenses saved in an emergency fund for unexpected emergencies.
  • A Capital One and Ally savings accounts have interest rates upwards of 1%.
  • You receive 24-hour access to your funds and it takes about five minutes to open an account.

3. Open an IRA-

  • The greatest advantage of opening an IRA is to invest in your retirement. IRAs offer significant tax advantages as well.
  • IRAs are free to open.
  • You can invest $5,500 for 2015 before April 15th, 2016. If you are over age 50, you can sock away up to $6,500.

4. Invest in yourself-

  • Your biggest asset is not your bank account balance, it is actually your earning capacity.
  • Spend your money on continuing education classes that will increase your marketability, promotion chances and employment value.
  • You could also start your own business to bring in extra income over time.

5. Pay down your mortgage-

  • More than half of your monthly mortgage goes towards paying off your interest payments.
  • It provides a return on investment more reliable than anything the stock market can offer.
  • If you pay more than your monthly payments, it goes directly to your principle. Hence, you can shave a lot of time off your mortgage.

Consider these five ways to spend your tax refund and you will have greater financial security now and beyond.

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Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Stacy Francis is the Founder, CEO and President of Francis Financial, Inc., a Wealth Management and Financial Planning firm. With over 18 years of experience in the financial industry, she is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA™), and a Certified Estate Planning Specialist (CES™). She is the Co-Director of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners’ (ADFP) Greater New York Metro Chapter and a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and an honoree member of the Private Risk Management Association (PRMA). A nationally recognized financial expert, Stacy has appeared on ABC News, CNBC, CNN, PBS Nightly Business Report, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fine Living Network, and The O’Reilly Factor. Stacy attended the New York University Center for Finance, Law and Taxation.

March is Women's History month

Do we have something to celebrate? This year marked a milestone in the movement for gender equality and the advancement of women. The world has recognized that gender equality is critical to the development and peace of every nation. Women are not only more aware of their rights; they are more able to exercise them. This includes being empowered to make strong decisions about financial issues. Unfortunately, there is not one country where women are truly equal with men. Where are the best – and worst – places for women to live? The answer is not as obvious as it may seem. The worst countries for women to live in – by our standards at least - are likely to be poor and war-torn, or unsympathetic to women’s rights. However, it is surprising to find that the gap between the haves and have-nots makes the US “shocking” for many women, says a University of Adelaide academic, Barbara Pocock. Many women are being left behind because of the low minimum wages, a welfare system aimed at pushing people back into work, and expensive health care.

As women, there is a natural fear of money. We learn so much about healing and restoring other aspects of our lives – such as relationships, body image, parenting - and yet we are sometimes afraid to tackle anything to do with the business of financial reality. We are afraid of not having enough, of losing what we have, and of having more than enough.

So how can we find serenity in all that financial angst? We can start by being honest with ourselves. Compare notes with your friends; untangle some of your economic package; figure out the specific symbolic nature of your relationship to money versus the reality of what you need for you and your family to get by; and isolate the lies you’ve bought into about money.

It’ll be scary and painful at first, but it’ll get easier as you continue to learn and embrace the topic of money. If we are to change the past that put women at a disadvantage in most societies, we must implement what we have learned on a larger scale. It is fundamental to create more economic opportunities for women. Promoting gender equality and facing financial reality, is not only women’s responsibility -- it is the responsibility of all of us. Let us rededicate ourselves to making that a reality.


Tax Preparation & Filing Made Simple

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Tax season is here! Time to panic over lost receipts, missing information on cost bases for stocks, and 1099s that won’t ever show up; or, time to spend an afternoon with your CPA; or, click a few buttons on your computer keyboard? It all depends on how organized you’ve been and how well you’ve prepared throughout the year, not just in April. Below are a few tips for how to reduce your tax-related paperwork, now and in the future.

Meet with a CPA This is by far the easiest way to take the tax filing burden off your shoulders. CPAs file people’s taxes for a living, so you can trust that they know all the tricks and traps. Save yourself time and hassle by asking friends, colleagues or family for a referral.

E-File If you do not wish to use an accountant, you can find a variety of simple and user-friendly e-filing programs online. Many of them are free, as long as your income is below certain limits. Save yourself some wrestling with your printer and a trip to the post office by filing online. The Manila Folder Throughout the year, you will need to save documents such as receipts and transaction reports from your investment accounts. Whenever you receive one of these documents, stick it in a labeled manila folder. If you’re paperless, create a folder on your computer for the same purpose.

Take Advantage of IRA Accounts Saving in IRA accounts will save you heaps of paperwork, as this eliminates the need to track cost basis and sales price for each security, and include these in your tax report. Once the money is in your traditional IRA or 401(k), it is off your tax record until you start to make withdrawals, at retirement. In case of a Roth IRA, you never have to worry about it again!

Take the Standard Deduction True, many people save a lot of money by itemizing . . . but it does require both time and effort. If your objective is to keep things simple, take the standard deduction. However, it is usually worth it to itemize. It could save you a lot of money.

Filing your taxes is never fun – unless, of course, you are expecting a huge refund! Use these tricks to simplify your tax filing process and minimize the time you need to spend in your home office, shuffling paperwork.

Comment

Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Stacy Francis is the Founder, CEO and President of Francis Financial, Inc., a Wealth Management and Financial Planning firm. With over 18 years of experience in the financial industry, she is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA™), and a Certified Estate Planning Specialist (CES™). She is the Co-Director of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners’ (ADFP) Greater New York Metro Chapter and a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and an honoree member of the Private Risk Management Association (PRMA). A nationally recognized financial expert, Stacy has appeared on ABC News, CNBC, CNN, PBS Nightly Business Report, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fine Living Network, and The O’Reilly Factor. Stacy attended the New York University Center for Finance, Law and Taxation.