On the 12 Days of Christmas

by Susan Hirshman

As I was driving the other day, the song … On the twelve days of Christmas my true love gave to me….came on the radio.  It made me think – who really is our true love and what is it really that we want.

Who really is our true love?  Well, I am not Dr. Phil but we must first start with ourselves. And what is it that we really want? From a financial perspective most people tell me it’s “ peace of mind.”

So I took a little literary license and came up with a new song for the holidays.

On the 12 days of Christmas I gave to me the best gift of all…peace of mind….

Here are twelve things you should think about and examine

Day 1 – Review your life insurance coverage.  Is it working as projected?  Is the pricing up to date? Is the coverage in line with your needs?

Day 2 – Examine (or create) your retirement goals.  Are the assumptions realistic?  Is it a priority?  Are you on track?

Day 3 – Look at your emergency savings.  Do you have any? Is it liquid? What do you want it to cover?

Day 4 – Review your disability coverage.  Do you have any?  Do you know what your policy covers, for example is it your own occupation or any occupation?

Day 5 – Go thru your estate plan (or lack thereof.) Are the guardians you named for your children still the right choice?  Is the executor the right choice?  Has your life circumstances changed and those changes are not reflected in your will?

Day 6 – Appraise your need for long-term care insurance.  What is your family’s health and longevity history?  Do you have family members that would be willing and able to take care of you in the manner that you choose?

Day 7  - Assess your diet. Studies have found that discrimination based on weight in the work place is more prevalent for women than men, especially white women in professional occupations.

Day 8:  Study your portfolio performance.  Are you an emotional investor? Do you end up buying high and selling low?  How long do you usually hold on to a mutual fund?

Day 9: Take a break from TV.  Reduce your TV watching by less than 8 hours a year and you can gain financial success. Snookie won’t be able to help you but by taking a few hours to get financially educated (read Does this Make My Assets Look Fat? A woman’s guide to finding financial empowerment and success), then take around 5 hours to get organized and develop a plan, and then take an hour 2x a year to review your plan.

Day 10 – Re-evaluate your umbrella policy.  Do you have one?  Is it sufficient? When was the last time you revisited it? Experts report that only 10%of people have the proper umbrella policy.

Day 11: Make sure you are familiar with all your finances. Do you know what would happen to you financially if you were to get divorced? 25% of couples married for twenty years get divorced.  Furthermore, the “grey divorce” (people over 65) is the fasting growing group of people to get divorced

Day 12:  Go over your credit cards.  Understand your interest rates, payment options.  Make sure you are not paying more than you have to.

The Scoop on IRAs and Tax Losses

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

My friend who is a stockbroker wrote heaps of sell tickets for his clients back in December of last year. This may seem controversial, considering that finance gurus always advise us to sell high and buy low and it has been a long, long time since stocks traded as low as they did at the time. However, selling stocks in a down market has one huge advantage: you can deduct the losses from your taxable income. Especially thinly traded, volatile stocks that have performed poorly throughout the year tend to be hammered to the ground in December, only to rebound in January as investors with a long-term, bullish perspective pick them back up again.

Taking advantage of these losses in your regular, taxable accounts is a no-brainer. But at times, it can pay off to take tax losses in your retirement accounts as well.

Before you read any further, take note that you can never deduct losses in traditional IRAs or 401(k)s. The reason for this is simple: you already made a deduction when you put the money in the account!

However, if you have a Roth or traditional nondeductible IRA, you may be able save a few tax dollars, as long as your cost basis is higher than your current account value. Unfortunately, this type of transaction has several drawbacks.

First of all, in order to deduct a loss, you need to liquidate the entire account. When you want to build it back up again, all the usual limits and restrictions will apply to you. Furthermore, losses in these accounts cannot be deducted directly from your taxable income – they can only be used as parts of an itemized deduction. Therefore, they are much less beneficial for this purpose than losses in regular, taxable accounts.

To sum up, taking a tax loss in your Roth or traditional nondeductible IRA may make sense if you have accrued only a tiny balance and you itemize. If you have a large amount of money saved up, you don’t itemize, or your account is either a 401(k) or a traditional IRA, don’t bother.

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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.

Why You Need a Roth IRA

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I met with a new client last week; a woman in her early thirties eager to get started on her nest egg. A discussion of her financial goals and priorities revealed that she hoped the not-so-distant future would bring her not only a home of her own, but a few children as well. When I recommended a Roth IRA, she was all frowns. What's the point? she wondered.

This is such a common question; it deserves a blog of its own. After all, why would you make your contributions on an after-tax basis, when you could just as easily open a traditional IRA and cash in on your tax breaks right away? In this day and age, what could possibly beat the magic of instant gratification?

  1. With a traditional IRA, the withdrawals you make in your golden years are taxable, at your current rate. With a Roth IRA, once you’ve made your contributions, you never pay tax on the capital again (provided, of course, that you play by the rules). Since the amount you'll withdraw from the account will be much larger than the amount you put into the Roth, in most cases, your total tax bill will be considerably smaller with a Roth IRA. Remember? You don't retire off the money you set aside - but off the money you make off the money you set aside.

  2. If, like my client, you are aching to buy a home and start a family, note that you can withdraw money from a Roth IRA without becoming subject to the penalty tax, to pay for a first home or college tuition for yourself, your spouse or your children. No such exceptions apply for traditional IRAs.

  3. A Roth IRA is typically more beneficial for your heirs, should you kick the bucket.

Note, however, that there are strict income limits for contributions to Roth IRAs. Singles needs to make between $5,000 and $101,000 per year (phase-out between $101,000 and $116,000), while married couples must have an annual income of less than $159,000 (phase-out between $159,000 and $169,000). As long as you fulfill this requirement, chances are, a Roth IRA is a great option for you.

Recommended Reading: Jump-Start Your IRA!

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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.

Your Financial Fitness Checkup

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Leaving the organic produce store yesterday, a flier on the revolving glass door caught my eye. It was entitled “HEALTH CHECKUP: Do You Have the Supplement Basics Covered?” and listed five types of supplements - multivitamins, enzymes, probiotics, fatty acids, and green vegetables - as the foundations for good health. Not only is it nice to know that I take all the necessary measures to ensure my physical well-being, this also translates very well to financial health.

Do you have the personal finance basics covered?

  • Do you make more than you spend? Are you able to pay all your bills in full, on time, or do you need to make more and/or spend less?

  • Do you have an emergency fund? Do you have enough money to cover six months worth of expenses, and is this money easily accessible?

  • Are you in the black? Do you pay off your credit cards in full every month? If not, draft a plan to get rid of those balances!

  • Have you thought about retirement? Do you have a 401(k), Roth IRA or similar, and do you contribute to it regularly?

  • Have you protected yourself against disaster? Do you have the insurance coverage you need, including medical, disability and homeowner’s insurance?

Yes on all? Congratulations! Chances are you’re in great financial health.

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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.

6 Smart Money Moves in Your Thirties

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my friend’s thirtieth birthday party. A week later, she called my office to schedule an appointment. While I was delighted to accommodate her, I couldn’t help but scratch my head a little. She never asked me about money before. What was going on? 

It turns out that like so many people entering their thirties, she suddenly felt overwhelmed with financial responsibilities. Would she ever be able to pay off her student debt? What about buying a home? And retirement, it had dawned upon her, wasn’t as far off as it had seemed before. Nor was the whole baby thing.

It is true that your thirties bring a ton of financial responsibilities - but it is also a decade of wonderful opportunities! Below are six smart money moves and stepping stones toward a prosperous future.

  1. Learn to prioritize and keep your expenses down. While a few people pick this up in their twenties, many people never do – and they rarely enjoy a better-than-average standard of living.
  2. Pay off your credit cards. Not only will you save a bundle on financing charges, but as your FICO score improves, you can obtain better rates for mortgages and many other things.
  3. Build an emergency fund. Most experts recommend that you keep enough money to cover six months worth of living expenses in an easily accessible account. This is especially true today.
  4. If you haven’t done so already, start saving for retirement. You are best off stashing this cash in an account that scores you tax benefits, such as a 401(k) or a Roth IRA.
  5. Watch your debt. Get into the habit of spending less than you earn, making room for savings. Stay clear of high-interest and toxic debt.
  6. Review your insurance coverage. Chances are you have some sort of medical insurance already. Other types to look into include long-term disability and homeowner’s insurance (if you are planning to buy a home).

You don’t have to deal with them all at once. Just keep them in mind, and work on them whenever possible.

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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.

Cash Crunch in Your Forties: Your Children’s Future or Your Own?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

This dreadful dilemma was the main topic of discussion at a recent Savvy Ladies event. And the economy being what it is, alas, it is one to which far too many of us can relate. We all want what’s best for our children, so what could possibly be more important than securing them a top-notch education? On the other hand, past big 4-0, retirement is no longer a hazy, distant concept but something very real, approaching at rocket speed. So when faced with job loss and financial hardship, how do we prioritize?

The answer is quite simple: stick to your retirement savings plan, and direct whatever’s left toward the college savings account. It may sound selfish, but the truth is, no one’s going to give you a scholarship or a favorable retirement loan. And not only do your children have time on their side, greatly enhancing their chances to pay back whatever balances they may accrue, but the less savings you have set aside for them, the more financial aid becomes available to them. Once your financial situation starts to improve, you can certainly lend them a hand.

Ask any child what he or she would prefer – a bit of student loans or an aging parent crashing on the couch for, say, fifteen years. I’d say chances are high he or she will opt for the student debt.

So stick to your retirement savings plan. Then help your children.

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.

Spousal IRA 101

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A woman approached me after maternity yoga last night. My husband is stoked about this child, she told me, and when my maternity leave is up, he would like to be a stay-at-home dad for a couple of years. I already know this means he won’t be able to keep contributing toward his 401(k), but is there another way for him to keep up his retirement savings? 

A smart question, and she should really give herself a pat on the shoulder for planning ahead. And yes, provided that she makes enough money and that they file a joint tax return, he can contribute toward a traditional or Roth IRA (income limits apply for Roth IRAs). Even if her employer does provide a retirement plan, she may also be able to contribute toward a traditional IRA (or a Roth, as long as her income is below certain limits).  

Putting her and her husband’s case into numbers, they are each eligible to contribute $5,000 toward a traditional IRA in 2009 ($6,000 if they are over 50), as long as she makes enough money to cover the contributions. If they prefer Roth IRAs, their joint adjusted gross income must be less than $176,000 (phase-out between $166,000 and $176,000).

Clear as mud, isn’t it?

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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.

Limiting Damage if You Have to Raid Your Retirement Savings

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

No matter how hard we try to focus on the positives and maintain an optimistic outlook on the future, no doubt things are getting ugly out there. This really dawned on me while reading a report from a recent out-of-state Savvy Ladies meeting. The main topic of discussion was IRAs – and not how to maximize contributions to them, but how to pull money out of them to cover living expenses.

As a general rule, pulling cash out of your IRA should be your very last resort. Not only does it jeopardize your retirement, but it is one of the least tax efficient ways to free up money, as such distributions are taxed according to your current bracket plus a possible 10% penalty tax. You also miss out on immense potential yields, as the money would have grown tax-deferred or tax free in the case of Roth IRAs for many years, had you left it in your IRA.

Still, these are tough times, and tough times call for desperate measures. If you have no other choice but to pull money out of your retirement account, at least keep the following in mind:

  1. You can loan money from your IRA without any tax consequences, as long as you reinvest the amount in full within 60 days. If you expect that your situation will be resolved shortly, this may be a viable option.
  2. If you have a 401(k), you can take out a loan against it, without a penalty. Note, though, that if you quit or are involuntarily terminated, you must pay back the balance in full or your transaction will be treated as a distribution.
  3. Also if you have a 401(k), under certain circumstances, you may be eligible for a hardship distribution.
  4. You may be able to take a distribution from your IRA without facing the 10% penalty tax (although you will still be charged according to your current bracket) to cover medical expenses adding up to more than 7.5% of your income or to buy your first home.
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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.

Personal Money Management: Dos and Don’ts

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

What a day! I met with a total of six different clients, updating their portfolios and helping them set financial goals for the new year. This is what I love the most about this time of the year: change is in the air, and people want to know what they can change in order for this year to bring them closer to their financial goals and dreams. While the unique circumstances – and actions needed – are different in each case, below is a list of general money management dos and don’ts:

  1. Don’t cease to contribute to your retirement accounts no matter how the market is performing.

  2. Do make sure you have emergency cash at hand – aim for six months worth of living expenses.

  3. Don’t try to predict the future. We are all tempted to do it – but believe me, you are better off spending your time and energy on improving your own situation.

  4. Do save. One good thing about the recession is that it makes us think twice about overspending. You now need your saved dollars more than ever.

  5. Don’t give up on the stock markets. With prices for stocks and mutual funds invested in stocks the lowest in years, this is also the best buying opportunity in a decade.

  6. Do invest internationally. Not only do the fundamentals look better for a good deal of developing markets than for the US, but it is also a wonderful way to diversify your portfolio.

  7. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify.

  8. Do track your spending. Most people have an Achilles heel – one area where they literally leak money. Finding this Achilles heel and becoming aware of it can make all the difference for your financial future.

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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.

My 401(k) Is Getting Rid of the Match – Should I Still Contribute?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A client called me up with this excellent question yesterday. Of course, as long as your company matches your contributions, you should contribute as much as you can toward your 401(k). It is unwise to turn down free money, and especially free money that will grow and grow and grow – tax deferred – and make up a good portion of your nest egg. But what happens when your company ceases to match your contributions?

You always want to contribute toward some sort of retirement account - preferably by maxing out your 401(k) and a type of IRA if you can (certain income limits apply for Roth IRAs). The main difference between an IRA and a 401(k) – apart from the fact that 401(k)s generally have the added benefit of free company matches – is that with a 401(k), many times, you have limited investment options. Though many employers will add, say, a certain mutual fund upon request, some won’t. If the latter is true for your company, you are stuck. You cannot rollover a 401(k) unless you leave the previous employer and are no longer employed.

However, you may want to consider rolling the money in your previous employer’s 401(k) into a Rollover IRA and contribute toward that account instead. As long as this rollover takes less than 60 days, you will not face any tax consequences.

Of course, if you are already invested in the funds you like the best, there may be no reason to shake things up. You may be better off keeping the money where it is.

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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.

When Your Parents Need Help

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A new Starbucks just opened a block from my office – what a treat! It was an even bigger treat to run into an old friend there yesterday. Catching up over lattes (hot chocolate for me since I am pregnant), I learned that she has a fabulous new job, a gorgeous husband, and the best son in the world. Unfortunately, she is unable to enjoy any of it because she is so worried about her parents. Picking up their mail the other day, she found numerous overdue bills. Even worse, when she asked them about it, they acted very strange. In case you are one of the many people whose aging parents may need some financial assistance, here are a few tips: 

  1. Be courteous. True, they may have made mistakes or be desperate for money, but nothing will get easier if you start bossing them around. Chances are, it is not easy for them to ask for your help – even less easy to accept it. Don’t make things any harder than they need to be. 
  2. Gather all the facts. If you are going to straighten out their money problems, you need to see everything – every bank account, IRA, 401(k), insurance policy and credit card account that they may have. Only when you have a 360-degree view can you make sound decisions.
  3. Think long-term - in this case all the way to the end (for them, that is). Don’t start pouring money over them, but rather work out a long-term plan for how you can restructure their finances to make their dollars last longer. Then fill in the holes where needed.

I Was Planning to Retire in 2009 – Now What?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

For years, I would run into the same neighbor every time I went down to the corner shop – an incredibly dedicated and brilliant science teacher called Matt. For years, that is, until he realized his dream of retiring and buying a ranch in Utah last fall, leaving his wife behind for a couple of years until the time would come for her, too, to stop working. So you can imagine my surprise when I ran into him once more – last week! When my mouth fell open, he explained that he was substitute teaching for a couple of months. The value of his nest egg was so much lower now, complementing his investment income had become a necessity.

This may seem tragic, but the truth is that many people on the verge of retirement now find themselves with significantly smaller nest eggs. And unfortunately, there is no magic way to undo the damage. Instead, most near-retired people are faced with some harsh choices: a leaner lifestyle or a few more years in the workforce. Of course, the best solution for you may be a combination of the two, like working part-time for a while and settling for a less extravagant lifestyle, at least until the storm is over. The most important is that you do not:

  1. Cease to add to your nest egg because the value has fallen off. You will need that money - now more than ever.
  2. Shift your investment strategy away from your ideal asset allocation, in favor of all income-generating securities. Yields on the latter are pretty much insignificant at this time, while the downside for mutual funds invested in stocks is significantly smaller now than it was, say, a year ago. If anything, you should be doing the opposite!
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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.

Retirement Savings Dos and Don’ts

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I had dinner with my best friends last night – a monthly tradition that usually turns into a full night of fun. Not this time, however. It turned out my friends were all in a state over their retirement accounts. Their mutual funds invested in stocks were trading at lousy prices, they couldn’t find any decent-priced income generating securities anywhere, and when it comes down to it, what’s the point in investing anyway if your account value can get cut in half?

We covered so many savings and investment basics that night - over Spaghetti Carbonara and Tiramisu - I thought I should share.

  1. Ceasing to contribute to your retirement account is a don’t. With many nest eggs now considerably smaller, adding money is more pressing than ever.
  2. Rebalancing your portfolio is a do. The investment climate is much different now than, say, a year ago. Your portfolio should reflect this.
  3. Buying income-generating securities, such as mutual funds invested in bonds, is a don’t. Why? Because with every investor on the planet rushing to buy them, yields are infinitesimal and you won’t make money. It is much better to wait until the public has recovered from the shock and is rushing to buy securities with more risk exposure – thenyou can score yourself much higher yields.
  4. Shifting your investment strategy toward mutual funds invested in stocks is a do. Have you ever heard the expression “buy low, sell high?” I thought so. With the lower stock prices today, the downside to buying such securities is much smaller.
  5. Thinking long-term is a do. True, short-term forecasts are looking pretty ugly. But if you apply a long-term perspective, things immediately brighten up. After recession follows economic growth and boom. Always. If you keep this in mind, you can make smart investment choices. Just as the falling real estate prices are only going to hurt those who need to sell within the foreseeable future, the fact that stocks and mutual funds are trading for practically nothing won’t hurt your savings unless you are trying to get rid of them.

 

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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.

Writing Your Will

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I facilitated a workshop at a conference last week, on the topic of wills 200 men and women attended my session. Considering how many attendees the conference had, which was over 5,000, I was shocked to see how few took an interest in estate planning. Shocked and concerned, actually. Why? Because everyone needs a will – if not for their own peace of mind, then to make things easier for their heirs during a time that is tough enough as it is.

Put simply, just like a prenup details what should be done with a couple’s assets in case of a divorce, a will outlines how your assets should be distributed after you die. And just like state laws take over when divorced couples do not have a prenup, you get stuck with a universal will if you do not bother to write your own. This means the state will decide who in your family gets what, often putting your spouse in a less-than-pretty situation.

So what should your will cover? Basically, it needs to state what should be done with your property when you die. It also needs a statement at the end containing your explanation that it is indeed your will, your signature, date and place of the signing, along with witnesses’ signatures and statements from them that they really did sign your will, in your presence, and watched each other sign.

We highly recommend that you work with a estate lawyer to write a will. But you do need to be at least eighteen years old, and in a sane state of mind.

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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.

Five Things to Ask Yourself about Your Retirement

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

My mom flew in from Michigan last week to spend some time with us here in New York. We just went out for dinner celebrating the anniversary of her retirement and how smooth and easy this transition from employed to retired has been. She was beyond thankful for the crucial-yet-easy-breezy questions I had her answer many years ago, to make sure she wouldn’t hit any bumps on her way from the workplace. For those in a retirement state of mind, I thought I should share.

1. Have you taken a thorough look at your retirement needs and wishes, and translated this into dollars? Make sure you consider things like living expenses, airfares for visiting family, vacations, transportation, food including restaurant visits, and of course a realistic number for medical expenses.

2. Are you contributing enough to retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans and IRAs for your retirement goals to be realistic? Meaning, at the rate you are setting money aside and that your money is growing, will you have enough when you retire?

3. Are your investments suitable for your risk tolerance and time frame?

4. Do you use the ideal type/s of retirement account/s to make the most out of your invested money? Are there other types you should consider?

5. Do you review your investment portfolio regularly to make sure your investments bring you the best possible returns? If they don’t, do you rebalance your portfolio?

Don’t sweat if you have answered “no” to some of the questions above. It’s better to implement some changes now than later. Working with the right financial planner – or simply a financially savvy friend or family member – you, too, can transition successfully from career woman to the retirement of your dreams.

 

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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.

What Are Living Trusts and How Do They Work?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

During a charity dinner last night, one of the women mentioned that she and her husband are drafting a trust. The discussion then went from wills to trusts and back to wills again as the other people at the table tried to grasp the differences.

With this in mind, here’s the 411 on living trusts.

  1. The main difference between a will and a living trust is that trusts are confidential.
  2. There are two main types of trusts: revocable and irrevocable. Revocable trusts can be changed; irrevocable ones cannot – so you’d best be beyond sure of what you want to do before you commit to one.
  3. One may ask, then, why anyone would draft an irrevocable trust, when they could just write a revocable one? The answer is money. When you die, the assets in your irrevocable trust are not considered part of your estate, so they are not taxed.
  4. If your estate is under the estate tax exemption amount (currently $2 million, but it will be $3.5 million starting next year), you may not need a trust, but may be fine with just a will.
  5. Finally, a trust may be a good idea if you want to provide for children, disabled relatives, or others who may not be able to manage their own assets, as this duty will be transferred, seamlessly, to your elected trustee.

Everyone should have either a will or a trust. Which one is more beneficial for you will depend on your circumstances.

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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.

The right time to retire

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

When should I retire? a woman called me up to ask today. I found it charming; quaint, even, to make such a complex question sound so simple. If only it were so simple that I could just have spouted out age 65 or 55. Would not it be wonderful if you just KNEW what date you could and should retire?

Looking at it from a finance point of view, you can retire when the combination of the retirement benefits you will receive and the average yield from your invested capital is at least as high as your expenses. Keep in mind here, that your expenses may change when you retire. You may wish to travel the world, or spend a year touring the States in an RV. You may want to move to be closer to your children, or simply to a warmer climate. Your expenses may go up, or down, and you need to take all that into consideration before you act. You may also wish to leave money behind for your loved ones, in which case you may need to work a little longer to set the money aside. You may be in good health, or poor.

But apart from the money stuff (which, by the way, qualified professionals will gladly help you with), the most important thing you’ve got to ask yourself is: do you want to retire? Do you enjoy your job? Would your life be more rewarding if you retired, or less? What are you looking to get out of the upcoming couple of years? Would you miss your coworkers awfully if you left your job, or do you look forward to mid-week lunches with your husband?

Whatever your reasons for retiring or not retiring are, there is a financial side, and an emotional side. And only you can balance that equation.

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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.

Generate a steady stream of retirement income

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I feel like we all need to have extra strong antacids to deal with the chaotic behavior of the market. With the US stock markets as steady as, say, a blind man on stilts, stability and safety are the topics on everyone’s minds. How do I put my money to work without losing sleep?

For most of us, the first things that come to mind are bonds and certificates of deposits – even interest-paying bank accounts. The problem is, all financial instruments are priced according to the Finance 101 factors supply and demand. Meaning, when everyone and their brother are bidding on top of each other for, say, blue chip bonds, the returns slide and slide . . . until they are so small, inflation will eat every dollar you make. Right now, the situation isn’t all that different from the beginning of the post-depression era. Now, history doesn’t always repeat itself, but the point is, income stuff is great if it’s priced right, but currently it is set up for failure, with no room for error whatsoever.

What to do?

The secret – not as much of a secret, perhaps, as investors in the know have practiced it for ages – is to be a contrarian. We all know on some level that the key to successful investing is to buy low and sell high, yet very few of us do. All financial markets are cyclical. Sooner or later, stocks are going to climb again, and when they do, people dump their income generators. This is when you want to buy them – when you can get a good yield for a low price. For now, place some stink bids for the funds and stocks people can’t wait to get rid of. And when everyone else want to buy your stocks, let them, and buy into the income-generating securities they are dumping. Sure, it takes quite a bit of courage and discipline. But if you want to live your retirement in style, it is so worth it. Buy when the price is low and sell when the price is high is the surest way to ultimate financial success.

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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.

Maximize your cash flow

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A client came into my office today, worried about how in the world she’s supposed to set money aside for retirement, when she is living paycheck to paycheck. A highly relevant question, I’d say. Because let’s face it. No matter how savvy an investor you are, or how genius your financial planner is, if you don’t have money to invest, none of that is going to matter. And while a lucky few receive huge sums of money at an early age, for the grand majority of us, this money is going to come from employment and/or business endeavors. So what are the best ways to maximize your earnings?

Well, the first, obvious one, is to chose a lucrative career. You are more likely to make the big bucks as a doctor than as a nurse, and as a lawyer than a paralegal. But for those of us who have already chosen a profession and completed the education, there are plenty of ways to make the best out of it, such as

1. Being a fierce negotiator. If you can make yourself indispensable to the company you work for, you will find yourself in an ideal situation for negotiations. Be tough – although not ruthless or rude – and you just might find yourself with a bigger paycheck.

2. Playing the field. Even if your boss is not willing to raise your salary, chances are another company will value your skills more. Keep your eyes and ears open, and a better opportunity may fall into your lap.

3. Having a side business – or going out on your own altogether. Only you can determine when the time is right for this, but if you play your cards right, you may be able to multiply your income.

4. Scoring some investment income. It is no secret that many people made a killing in real estate a couple of years ago. Other people make it big time from trading art. For creative and hungry investors, there will always be interesting opportunities out there. 

Get creative. The more money you make, the more money you can invest, and the brighter your future will look.

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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.