Spot Identity Theft Quickly

f you’ve ever had your credit card number stolen or found unauthorized activity on one of your financial accounts, you know what a headache financial fraud can cause. A 2016 study found that 13.1 Americans became the victims of identity theft in 2015, costing them $15 billion. Over the past six years, fraudsters have stolen over $110 billion from U.S. consumers.1

One of the best ways to prevent identity theft from causing you financial damage is to spot it early. Here’s how:

You check your credit report and find an account you don’t recognize.

Checking your credit report annually or signing up for a credit-monitoring service (free for customers of some financial institutions) is one of the best ways to quickly spot identity theft. Ask your credit card company or bank if they offer customers free credit monitoring.

You check your credit card statement and see transactions you didn’t make. Checking your statements regularly can help you identify fraud and errors. If you see a small charge you don’t recognize, don’t brush it off as unimportant. Fraudsters often charge a small amount to test whether a stolen credit card number is still valid.

You receive notification of suspicious activity from your financial institution. If you have signed up for fraud alerts, your bank or credit card company may notify you of transactions that don’t match your usual pattern of usage. If you receive a message or phone call, be sure to respond immediately and check your other accounts for similar activity. Contesting fraudulent transactions is key to limiting the financial fallout.

Bills stop coming. If you’re used to receiving paper or emailed statements from your credit card company, utility provider, cell provider, or insurance company, be wary if you stop getting them. One way identity thieves cover their tracks is by changing the mailing address on an account or discontinuing paper statements.

You are declined for a loan. Unfortunately, many consumers don’t find out that they’ve been victimized until they discover that their credit has been tanked by fraudulent activity. If you apply for a loan and are denied for bad credit, immediately check your credit and begin the dispute process for any fraudulent accounts.

Identity theft and financial fraud can be very expensive and time-consuming to fix. Spotting the warning signs and acting quickly can help minimize the damage. If you believe that you have been the victim of identity theft, immediately contact the three credit reporting agencies and your financial institutions. You may also have to file a report with your local police department.


  1. http://www.iii.org

How to Prepare for Intermediate Financial Milestones

You know you should be saving for retirement, but what about your other goals? Intermediate goals can be more challenging to plan for because they have a shorter timeframe ¬– three-to-seven years – and may be given short shrift by busy people who are focused on their long-term finances.

Identify your goals

Intermediate financial milestones, goals you want to achieve in the next three-to-five years, are important to your overall financial strategies. Think about what you want to accomplish over the next few years. Common goals might be:

  • Paying off debt.
  • Buying a first or second home.
  • Purchasing a new car.
  • Going on a dream vacation.
  • Starting a business.
  • Sending a child or grandchild to college.

After you identify your goals, think about what it will cost to accomplish each goal. If you’re not certain about the exact cost, come up with a minimum and maximum estimate to give yourself wiggle room later.

Set a timeframe

Once you’ve identified your goals and what they will cost, setting a timeframe for these goals will tell you how long you have to save the necessary money and give you a date to work toward. Much like training for a marathon, putting a date on the calendar can put you on the path to identifying what it will take to meet that goal.

Create a savings and investment strategy

Once you have identified your goals and set a reasonable timeframe for completion, it’s time to bring in your financial professional. He or she can help you develop a savings and investment strategy that breaks down your goals into annual (and even monthly) objectives to help keep you on track.

Assess progress regularly

The secret ingredient to accomplishing your goals is setting milestones and regularly assessing your progress. Without regular check-ins, it’s tough to know whether you are moving toward your goals. Much like a coach or personal trainer, your financial professional can help you stay focused and provide needed encouragement and feedback. If you’re not making progress, regular meetings can give you the accountability you need to get back on track.

With many of us focused on saving for retirement and meeting daily expenses, it can be easy to let other financial goals slide. However, taking time now to think about what you want to do with your life in the next few years can make it much easier to ensure that important goals aren’t left to chance.

Recovering From Financial Mistakes

We’ve all made financial mistakes. Whether it’s living beyond our means and accumulating debt, buying a too-expensive house, saving too little for the future, or any other blunder – we’ve all been there. Here are some tips for learning from these errors and moving on:

Forgive yourself. It’s easy to beat yourself up over things you did or didn’t do. Try to let go of those negative feelings and think about how you’re going to learn from your actions. Think about what you would say to a close friend who confessed a similar error; give yourself the same support and forgiveness you would offer a loved one.

Speak the truth about your mistake. Being honest and forthright with yourself, your loved ones, and your financial professional is a powerful step on the road to recovery. While it can be hard to share something you’re not proud of, the act of sharing can help rally your team around you and hold you accountable, helping you avoid the same mistake again.

Take inventory and create a strategy to recover. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How big is the problem?
  • What financial resources can I commit to fixing it?
  • Who do I need to talk to?
  • What is my ultimate goal?
  • What steps do I need to take to achieve that goal?

If you don’t know the full financial ramifications of your mistake, sitting down and defining it in terms of dollars and cents can help you overcome paralysis and feel in control again. If you need advice, consult your financial professional who can help you create a recovery plan and put you on the path to financial success.

Understand why you made the error. We all have beliefs, codes, and mental scripts that underpin our financial decisions. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we have a belief or script until it leads us into making an error. Take the time you need to process your mistake and try to unearth the root of it.

Turn your mistake into a teaching moment. Once you understand the underlying cause of your problem, think about what you can do to prevent yourself from making that same mistake (or series of mistakes ever again).

Is It Ever OK to Drop Life Insurance? Run the Numbers First

IF

you are seeking to cut costs, reducing or dropping your life insurance may seem like a safe bet. In some cases, it might even be a good idea. However, think very carefully before making changes to your policy; once you drop coverage, you will probably pay a higher premium due to being older.

There are some key points in life where reviewing your coverage makes sense:

You pay off your mortgage. For most Americans, a mortgage is the single biggest debt they owe and a big reason for getting life insurance. Once you have paid off your mortgage, it may be a good idea to review your coverage and see if changes should be made.

Your children leave home. One of the first things many prospective parents do is increase their life insurance coverage to protect their new family from the financial aftermath of their death. Once the kids leave home (for good), you might want to review your coverage and determine whether you still need as much as you have.

You have fewer financial obligations. Whether you have cut back on your lifestyle or paid off your debts, you may reach a point in life where you have fewer expenses to pay. If your life insurance coverage is still based on old calculations, it’s a good idea to sit down with your professional and review your coverage. However, if your changed circumstances have come around because of a job loss or other unexpected event, think twice before canceling your life insurance; you might be leaving your family without needed protection.

Dropping a life insurance policy isn’t a decision that should be made lightly, especially if you have a whole life or convertible term policy. Think carefully about whether the short-term savings in premiums is worth leaving your family without the coverage.

If you think you want to reduce your life insurance or haven’t reviewed your coverage in some time, give us a call to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Benefits of Purchasing an Annuity

There are many reasons to own an annuity and there are some situations in which using tax-deferred money to purchase an annuity can be a good idea.

You want to turn some of your retirement savings into guaranteed income.

Income that you can’t outlive is another primary benefit of annuities and one that many Americans consider as they prepare for living 20 or 30 years in retirement. If you are close to retirement or already retired and want to build an income stream to supplement what you receive from Social Security, using some of your IRA money to purchase an annuity may be an option for you.

You are attracted to the other features of an annuity.

Annuities are popular with many investors because of features like enhanced death benefits, indexing, withdrawal flexibility, inflation protection and other options to choose from. An annuity is simply an investment product with advantages and disadvantages to consider. If an annuity is right for your situation and you understand all the features and fees involved, holding it within your IRA may not be a bad idea. Determining whether an annuity is right for you is a decision that should be made in consultation with a financial expert who understands your entire financial picture.

Most of your retirement savings is in tax-deferred accounts.

Most Americans have the bulk of their retirement savings in tax-deferred accounts like IRAs and 401ks. If you have significant assets outside of retirement accounts, it’s worth running the numbers with your financial professional to determine the best place to hold the annuity. However, if most of your retirement money is in a tax-deferred account, using a portion of it to buy an annuity might be your best option.

How we can help.

Ultimately, your personal tax, investment and retirement situation will dictate whether purchasing an annuity within your IRA is a good idea. Annuities are complex investments and we strongly recommend that you speak to a financial professional who understands your needs as well as a tax specialist who can help you understand any tax wrinkles that might apply to your situation. If you would like to discuss annuities or retirement preparations with an expert, please give us a call.

Do You Really Need to Prepare to Live to 100?

How long do you plan to live? Ridiculous question, right? If we could know exactly how long we will live, it would make life (and retirement planning) so much simpler. But, we don’t know. We can look at many variables to come up with estimates, but our predictions aren’t perfect.

Faced with increasing lifespans, many Americans worry about the risk of running out of money later in life. According to longevity statistics, there’s a 72% chance that at least one member of a married couple will live to age 85 and an 18% chance that one of them will live to see age 95. If your retirement income calculations assume that you’ll only live to 75 or 80, and you or your spouse live longer, you may withdraw too much and deplete your savings too soon.

To combat longevity risk, it might seem logical to assume that everyone will live to be 100 and plan for a very long retirement. However, using a default assumption that is too high can be as damaging as using one that is too low.

While no one wants to outlive their savings, most of us also want to be able to enjoy retirement as much as possible. Putting off retirement to save more or forgoing retirement fun to have more money later can also have consequences.

To customize your own longevity assumptions, consider factors like:

Your current health and lifestyle

If you are generally healthy, get regular exercise, eat a balanced diet, and visit the doctor when needed, you might have a better chance of living longer.

Your family history

One of the best predictors of your lifespan is that of your parents and close relatives. If your family members tend to live well into their 80s and 90s, you may need to adjust your longevity assumptions higher.

A margin of error

No one can predict their own lifespan with any accuracy. We can use as many variables as possible, but they are just our best educated guesses. One way that retirees can hedge their longevity assumptions is by creating income streams that will cover basic expenses. Social Security, annuities, and other sources of income can help you ensure that you still have income if you live longer than expected.

Use These Tips to Protect Your Money When Traveling

Traveling soon? Save yourself a headache by using these tips to help keep your money safe while you’re away.

Notify your financial institutions if you’ll be traveling abroad. Few things are more annoying than to have your cards blocked for fraud when you can’t easily call and fix the situation. Give the institution dates and locations of your travels and ask them to place a note in your file.

Set up online account access. Make sure that you can check your account activity while you’re traveling and can compare purchase amounts against receipts to make sure you’re not being overcharged. Set up online payments and online transfers to stay on top of your bills and manage money while you’re away.

Consider setting up a special travel checking account. If you’ll be using a debit card to get cash from ATMs (often cheaper than changing dollars directly), don’t use the debit card linked to your main checking account. Many ATMs are not secure, and you want to limit the amount of money a fraudster could access. Instead, set up another checking account at the same institution and put just enough money to get you through your trip. If you need more, you can usually transfer money between accounts online.

Carry multiple forms of payment. Never assume that you can use a credit card every place you go. Visa and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted cards abroad, but cash is often king. If possible, carry multiple types of credit cards to increase the odds that a merchant will take one.

Clean out your wallet before leaving. If you typically carry a wallet full of identification, credit cards, loyalty cards and more, empty it before you depart. Carry only the ID and cards that you’ll need for the trip and leave the rest at home.

Carry a spare stash. Pickpockets are a scourge in many popular tourist destinations, and you don’t want a lost wallet to derail your vacation. Store a spare credit or debit card, cash reserve, and photocopies of your passport or other identity documents in a safe place.

Don’t trust room safes. Though you don’t necessarily want to carry around lots of cash, hotel room safes are notoriously insecure. In most hotels, management (and even housekeeping staff) have access to a master access key. Instead, hide money and documents in the bottom of your suitcase or in a hard-to-reach spot in your room.

Be wary of free wi-fi. If you will be using open wi-fi or a hotel computer, be very careful about entering passwords and other sensitive details. Make sure you log out of every account and clear the browser history before ending your session. Consider changing your email and banking passwords before traveling and then change them again as soon as you return.

Fun Money Games to Play with Grandchildren

One of the best gifts you can give a grandchild is the gift of being financially savvy. Unfortunately, many children leave home without understanding basic financial skills such as how to set a budget, use a credit card, or invest for the future. Give the children in your life a leg up with these hands-on money games.

Play Grocery Store Math

When you go to the grocery store, set a budget for the trip. Bring a notebook and divide a page into two columns. Write the budget on the top of the page and write your shopping list in one column. As you fill your cart, write down the price of each item on the list and subtract it from the total budget to keep a running total. If you find yourselves running over budget, use the experience as a teachable moment.

Discuss:

  • Will you have to put things back?
  • Can you afford to set a higher budget?
  • Can you choose generic items to lower the cost?

Post Work for Hire

If your grandchildren are old enough to help around the house, ask them if they’d like to earn extra money by doing odd jobs for you. If so, set up a bulletin board in your kitchen and keep it filled with tasks. Write down the job you need to have completed on the outside of an envelope with the wage you’ll pay. Put the cash inside the envelope and pin it to the board. A job board is a great way to teach kids a work ethic while getting some chores done. As they grow older, consider letting them bid on jobs or discuss pay with you to teach them important negotiation skills.

Sort and Name Coins

Help young children identify coins and learn their values using a muffin tin and a fun coin-sorting activity. Collect coins from around the house and pour them into a bowl. Ask the children if they can name any coins and how much they’re worth. If not, show them each coin and name them. Then, place a different coin in each muffin cup and ask the children to sort the bowl of coins into the appropriate cups. You can also help children learn different names for the coins. For example, teach them that pennies are the same as one-cent coins.

Make the time you spend with your grandchildren educational as well as fun by using games like these to teach them valuable money skills.