Stacy’s Savvy Financial Advice

Stay Savvy with our founder Stacy Francis’ latest articles on financial planning, budgeting, debt management, investing, divorce, retirement planning, and more.

Stacy Francis founded Savvy Ladies in 2003 with the mission to educate women about their finances and empower them to make proactive choices. Inspired by her grandmother who stayed in an abusive relationship due to financial reasons, Stacy has been determined to never let another woman become powerless by financial instability.

Get the resources, knowledge, and tools you need to make smart and informed decisions about your money and your life.

In addition to being the Founder and Board Chair of Savvy Ladies, Stacy is the President, CEO of Francis Financial, Inc., a boutique wealth management and financial planning firm. A nationally recognized financial expert, she holds a CFP® from the New York University Center for Finance, Law, and Taxation, and is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®), a Divorce Financial Strategist™ as well as a Certified Estate & Trust Specialist (CES™).

Stacy has appeared on CNBC, NBC, PBS, CNN, Good Morning America, and many other TV & Financial News outlets. Stacy too is ofter sought out for her advice and can be found quoted in over 100 publications such as Investment News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today.  She shares her wisdom and expert financial advice here for you to learn and get savvy about your finances.

Financial Knowledge is Power. Be Empowered and Find the Advice You Deserve.

Know that Savvy Ladies is here for you! Should you like to seek advice on a personal financial question, please visit our Free Financial Helpline and get matched with a pro bono financial professional, click here.

STACY’S $AVVY ADVICE

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.

Taxes: Quick Tips & Free Resources for Women

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I know most of us look forward to tax season as much as a trip to the dentist, but we all have to do it. One of the best ways to overcome anxiety and experience less stress around taxes is to get informed and ask for help from professionals. Women especially have to be informed because we have special tax issues.

  • Women tend to live longer than men.

  • Women earn less money compared to men.

  • Women hold two times as many single home mortgages as those by men.

  • Women-owned business have special tax implications.

With all these issues facing women and their taxes, it is crucial to know where you can get help. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to find help with taxes. Aside from finding your own accountant, you have other options. Some of these options include:

  • Savvy Ladies’ Helpline – Submit your question and we’ll put you in touch with a tax expert. It’s confidential and 100% FREE.

  • Understanding Taxes – An interactive online tax tutorial by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This program is split into two parts: a) the HOWs of taxes and b) the WHYs of taxes.

  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) – This program is designed to help those individuals whose incomes are less than $36,000. Another advantage is that VITA has locations in very convenient places such as libraries, schools, shopping malls, community and neighborhood centers, and other locations. You can search for a VITA location near you.

Lastly, keep in mind the following five tips (courtesy SCORE) on how to start tax season by filing taxes correctly:

  • Consult an advisor.

  • Pay estimated federal and state taxes four times a year.

  • Keep good records of both income and expense.

  • Ask your tax advisor about special deductions.

  • Schedule a tax-tune up at least once a year.

Remember, it’s important you stay ahead of the tax game by being organized and well informed. It will only make your tax season that much easier and (hopefully!) stress-free.

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.

Top Tax Tips for Prudent Parents

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

There are tax breaks for parents and children; you just have to constantly keep up with the tax changes. Here are a few ways you can save on taxes.

Take advantage of tax credits – You may be able to claim the $1,000 Child tax credit for each child under 17 by the end of the calendar year. If you adopt, you may be able to take the maximum Adoption credit of $13,190 in 2014 and the employer adoption assistance program income exclusion. But please note that your alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability isn’t reduced by any of these credits.

Give your kids a bonus this year! By giving your children income-producing assets, it can save your family in taxes. For children ages 14 and older, all income – earned and unearned – will be taxed at their own, generally lower, marginal rates. In 2015, you and your spouse together can give up to $14,000 of assets free of federal gift tax to each of your children without using any of your lifetime gift tax exemption. Keep in mind that unearned income beyond $1,600 will be taxed at the parents’ marginal rate for kids under age 14.

A head start for your teenager – Roth IRAs are perfect for teenagers in low tax brackets with many years to let their accounts grow tax free. The contribution limit for minors is the same as for adults under 50: the lesser of $5,500 (in 2015) or 100% of earned income from a legitimate job reported on their tax returns.

Taking over the family business – Hiring your children to work for you has its advantages. If you own a business, you can hire your children and fully deduct their pay. Even more savings can be found if your business is unincorporated and your children are under 18. You will owe no payroll or unemployment taxes on their wages! But don’t worry about cranky kids, your children will benefit too from working for you. They can earn as much as $4,850 and pay zero federal income taxes. But we’re not encouraging child labor here; the children must perform actual work for wages in line with what you would pay non-family employees.

Paying for higher education was never easier than now – Section 529 plans are state-sponsored plans that enable parents to either secure current tuition rates with a prepaid tuition program or create tax-free savings accounts to fund college expenses. Distributions used to pay qualified higher education expenses are income-tax free.

Good news for students with loans – Taxpayers paying interest on student loans may be able to deduct up to $2,500 of interest above the line.The first-60-months limit has been eliminated, and income phaseout ranges are now adjusted annually for inflation.

What Is Your Money Personality?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Personalities are as different as snowflakes. And our personalities around money are no exception. Deborah Price, money coach and author, suggests there are eight money personalities that people fall into.

By understanding your own personal mythology and the history behind your current money type, Deborah believes you will become conscious of patterns and behavior that are preventing you from having the life you desire.

Read below to learn to understand how your money personality was formed and what you can do to change it.

The Innocent The Innocent takes the ostrich approach to money matters. Innocents often live in denial, burying their heads in the sand so they won’t have to see what is going on around them.

The Victim Victims are prone to living in the past and blaming their financial woes on external factors. Victims generally have a litany of excuses for why they are not more successful, and they are all based on their historical mythology.

The Warrior The Warrior sets out to conquer the money world and is generally seen as successful in the business and financial worlds. Although Warriors will listen to advisors, they make their own decisions and rely on their own instincts and resources to guide them.

The Martyr Martyrs are so busy taking care of others’ needs that they often neglect their own. Financially speaking, Martyrs generally do more for others than they do for themselves.

The Fool A gambler by nature, the Fool is always looking for a windfall of money by taking financial shortcuts. Until the Fool becomes enlightened she will continue to attract money easily, only to have it quickly slip through her fingers because she’s simply not paying attention.

Creator/Artist Creator/Artists often find living in the material world difficult and frequently have a conflicted love/hate relationship with money. Their negative beliefs about materialism only create a block to the very key to the freedom they so desire.

The Tyrant Tyrants use money to control people, events, and circumstances. The Tyrant hoards money, using it to manipulate and control others. Although Tyrants may have everything they need or desire, they never feel complete, comfortable, or at peace.

The Magician The Magician is the ideal money type. Using a new and ever-changing set of dynamics both in the material world and in the world of the Spirit, Magicians know how to transform and manifest their own financial reality.

Any of these sound familiar?

Read more about the games we play with our money and our “types” of relationship with money in Money Magic: Unleashing Your True Potential for Prosperity and Fulfillment by Deborah Price.

Stacy Francis is president and CEO of Francis Financial, Inc., a fee-only wealth management practice dedicated to investment advisory services for women, couples and those experiencing divorce. She is also the founder of Savvy Ladies®, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers women to take control of their finances.

What Type of Spender Are You?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

One of my hubby’s friends works with statistics. He’s one of those people who take an honest interest in how many pets we have per capita in different states, and how many more children families produce in Arkansas than in New York. His latest thing is spending habits. I perked up when he told me his findings. After spending years and years analyzing who spends how much on what, he has started to divide spenders into six different categories.

1. The frugal spender. I know it sounds like an oxymoron. My hubby’s friend defines a frugal spender as “a person who spends as little as possible.”

2. The impulse spender. This person aims to be frugal, but can’t resist pulling out the plastic when he or she spots a good deal.

3. The indulgent spender. While this person may keep tabs on money spent on staples, he or she loves the sweet things in life: spas, vacations, designer clothing, five star restaurants, etc.

4. The balanced spender. This person buys mostly cheap things, with a few luxury items thrown into the mix.

5. The continuous over spender. This is the most dangerous kind of spender. Always in the red, this person fails to learn from his or her mistakes and continues to rack up more debt.

6. The guilt trip spender. This person is often a divorced parent or a cheating spouse. He or she often tries to mend a bad conscious by shelling out the big bucks.

Any of these sound familiar?

For additional reading on the topic of money personalities, check out What Is Your Money Personality?

Stacy Francis is president and CEO of Francis Financial, Inc., a fee-only wealth management practice dedicated to investment advisory services for women, couples and those experiencing divorce. She is also the founder of Savvy Ladies®, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers women to take control of their finances.

Reduce Stressful Decision-Making

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

My brain short-circuited today at Subway. Did I want tuna, or turkey, or veggies, or chicken? I’m sure you know the feeling. Your head spins with what-ifs and doubt and anxiety until you can’t think at all. And this was only a lunch sandwich!

Moving into finance, decisions can be extremely stressful – and rightfully so. While it is true that you can’t buy happiness, doubtlessly, where, how, and when you invest your money will have a huge impact on your future. Taking a wrong turn can cost you your dream home, or chain you to your office chair for another couple of years. So what’s the secret to worrying less?

First of all, accept the old words of wisdom “embrace change, because it’s inevitable”. Not only does your life situation change continuously, but so does the economy, the business world, and the laws and regulations that affect personal finance. If the thought of spending hours every week staying up to date with all these changes makes you sweat – don’t worry about it, just find someone who can do it for you. Politicians all rely on trusted experts for decision-making, and so do most successful business people. A financial advisor could be the solution for you, or a friend or family member with a flair for all things financial. You can appoint anyone you want, as long as you feel comfortable and trusting this person takes stressful financial decision-making off your shoulders.

Another tool that can be of great help is the good old-fashioned gut feeling. Your intuition is always there for you – and it is always right. If you learn to filter out noise and really listen to it, there is no better advisor. And when you act from a point of clarity, results are never far behind.

Should all this fail, there’s always what if/so what if-thinking. Whenever a what-if keeps you up at night, turn it around and instead ask yourself “so what if?” Most of the time, you will find that the worst-case scenario isn’t so scary after all.

No scarier than a sleepless night, anyway.

Provide a Safety Net for Your Family

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I spent last night in bed with the latest Eckhart Tolle book and, not surprisingly, it got me thinking about the ever-changing nature of the universe. From Sartre to the Dalai Lama – this is one of the few things on which all the wise men agree. No matter how much we wish it would, nothing remains the same forever, and especially not our life situations. We get promoted, lose jobs, relocate, marry and get divorced, have children, and lose relatives. As though this weren’t enough to keep us up at night, all these things affect our finances. While the following four actions most likely aren’t enough to make you the next Buddha, they may very well add an hour or two to your shuteye.

1. Leave some equity in your house. That way, if you (or someone in your family) run into difficulties, you can always free up cash by upping your mortgage. But as nothing is more frightening than drowning in debt, save this option for emergencies only.

2. Keep a credit card you don’t use, for code reds only. As you may have noticed, when you don’t use a card, the issuing bank tends to up your limit to tempt you to use it. You can, but only when you have no other choice.

3. Keep a financial “cushion” – enough money to get you through six months without a job. No matter how secure your current employment feels, there is always an element of uncertainty. Put this money to work for you so it doesn’t get eaten up by inflation, but make sure it’s in liquid investments only so you can access it quickly and easily, should disaster strike.

4. Diversify your portfolio. While some investment risks are impossible to insure against, keeping your money in a variety of securities, industries and countries will certainly dilute many of them.

Stacy Francis is president and CEO of Francis Financial, Inc., a fee-only wealth management practice dedicated to investment advisory services for women, couples and those experiencing divorce. She is also the founder of Savvy Ladies®, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers women to take control of their finances.

15 (Frugal) Ways to Date Your Mate

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Maybe you have a date with that special someone on Valentine’s Day or a romantic dinner with your significant other. Whatever the situation, below are some ideas for a great cheap date with your honey that will save you lots of cash without skimping on the romance.

  • Eat a simple, nutritious dinner at home, and then go out for a truly decadent dessert.

  • Pick wildflowers together.

  • Go for a bike ride, hike, or run together.

  • Pack a picnic lunch and go to the park or the zoo.

  • Take a class together in something fun and creative: glass blowing, pottery, drawing, creative writing, or photography.

  • Browse in a bookstore together.

  • Attend a local high school or college sports game.

  • Take a road trip to a nearby town, or even another neighborhood in your own city. Stroll around, talk with locals, have a drink at a local café.

  • Read aloud to each other from a favorite novel, poem or short story.

  • Attend a theater performance by your local college or community group.

  • Go to a flea market or garage sale.

  • Attend a local lecture on a subject of interest to both of you.

  • Send the kids out to someone else’s house and stay in and cook together.

  • Visit a museum on a free or pay-what-you-wish day.

  • Have a water balloon fight in the park. Or play on the swings.

You might also want to check out NYC on the cheap and healthy.

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