Monitoring the “speedometer” of your financial plan

You receive a late night call from your son or daughter. They’ve taken a short cut on the way to visiting you, but they’ve run out of gas and they’re lost.  You want to help them, but first, you’ve got to figure out where they are.
It’s a situation that reminds me of how a lot of my financial planning engagements begin. Simply by seeing a financial planner, my clients have started on the right road to meet their financial goals. READ MORE

HARP 2.0 to the rescue

If watching home values fall and gas prices go up leaves you feeling like you’re caught in the middle and being squeezed real hard, it may be time to make some changes in the financial areas that you can control.  For most people, the place to start is with housing expenses.
If your housing expense is your largest expense, you may want to downsize or refinance.  Can’t refinance because your home is underwater?  Now you may be able to — thanks to HARP 2.0. READ MORE

Checking the health of your pension – mandatory or optional?

Checking the Health of Your Pension – Mandatory or Optional?  
I don’t mean to spoil your sleep, but while you slumber peacefully in the early dawn, the United States Senate is proposing a change that could affect the required contributions to your pension.  Should you be concerned?   Ask the American Airline employees who found their plans underfunded when their employer declared bankruptcy.   READ MORE

Student debt – the monster in the closet

The rising costs of education continue to put the “squeeze” on my clients’ retirement plans.  The truth is that paying for your children’s college educations can cause real strains on vital retirement assets.
Sometimes, it’s too late for clients to re-establish their own retirement savings if paying the college expenses for their children has drained their financial resources. That’s something we may have been able to manage, and to prepare for, if these well-meaning people had met with me five or ten years earlier.  READ MORE

When small change is hardly chump change

Since budgeting counseling is an important part of my financial planning practice, I get a kick out of finding easy ways to save money.  So, when I read that there was an update on the Department of Labor’s progress toward their 401(k) fee disclosure laws, I was curious.  After all, with better disclosure  more transparency, and increased competition, it should be easier for every 401(k) participant to save on the fees that they pay for the administration and management of their accounts.
So far, Wall Street has claimed that disclosure is “too complicated,” READ MORE

‘Tis the season to shop and be merry

This is the time of year when I say that it’s not always better to give than receive. Don’t call me Scrooge.  I want you to give only as much as you decided you would when you made your budget. (Don’t have a budget?  That’s a different subject for a different day.)  In other words, I am asking you to keep the promises you made to yourself.   READ MORE

Coming to your mail box soon…cost basis decisions!

Some of you may have already received a notice from your mutual fund companies or your brokerage firms asking what method you would like used to determine the cost basis of your holdings.  Perhaps you’re not sure 

 what cost basis is, 
 what are the different methods to calculate cost basis,
 which method is best for you, or how you will make a choice,
 and why you’re even being asked? READ MORE

College planning – it’s more than choosing a college

Have you heard the news?  It just got tougher to pay for graduate school.Before the recent agreement on managing the debt ceiling, students were able to defer interest on “government subsidized” loans until six months after graduation.  And if they made the first 12 monthly payments on time, they received a “credit” equal to the 1% loan origination fee they paid.  Now, students begin owing interest on their debt while they are still in school, and they have lost the “credit” that reimbursed loan origination fees.  Paying more for graduate school makes paying less for college even more important.   READ MORE

Disclaimer trusts – what are they? how do they work, and should you have one?

When I consider the effect of the 2011 changes in federal estate taxes I see some brand new reasons for my married clients to replace their Marital A-B trusts with Disclaimer trusts.

The reasons to choose, or to switch to, a Disclaimer trust include increased flexibility in estate tax planning and the possibility for more liberal access to joint assets for the surviving spouse.  On the negative side, this type of trust does require the surviving spouse to take action within nine months of the death of the first spouse to die.  It’s not an ideal time for many people make major decisions. READ MORE