Don’t Overlook Legacy Planning

You have to be willing to get a little dark to talk about legacy planning. But the sooner you do, the better off you may be.

The lack of a legacy plan can cause chaos and stress for the people who survive us. This topic was the subject of a recent article from Investopedia, “Estate Planning: 16 Things to Do Before You Die.”1 The article paints a clear picture of what you should do to make your passing easier on the people you care about. A few of the key points are highlighted here.

A good place to start is to itemize your possessions. Grab a piece of paper and conduct a thorough inside and outside tour of your home to create a comprehensive inventory of all your valuable possessions.

The lack of a legacy plan can cause chaos and stress for the people who survive us. This topic was the subject of a recent article from Investopedia, “Estate Planning: 16 Things to Do Before You Die.”1 The article paints a clear picture of what you should do to make your passing easier on the people you care about. A few of the key points are highlighted here.

A good place to start is to itemize your possessions. Grab a piece of paper and conduct a thorough inside and outside tour of your home to create a comprehensive inventory of all your valuable possessions.

The lack of a legacy plan can cause chaos and stress for the people who survive us. This topic was the subject of a recent article from Investopedia, “Estate Planning: 16 Things to Do Before You Die.”1 The article paints a clear picture of what you should do to make your passing easier on the people you care about. A few of the key points are highlighted here.

A good place to start is to itemize your possessions. Grab a piece of paper and conduct a thorough inside and outside tour of your home to create a comprehensive inventory of all your valuable possessions.

Preparing for Retirement as a Couple

It may seem obvious that preparing for retirement as a couple is a good idea, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to miss key components.


If you have a spouse or partner that you’ll be spending retirement with, you’re going to need to do a lot of planning. There are houses, kids, vacation funds, college funds, and inheritances to think about. Certainly, planning around those kinds of topics would have to be done together.


One guide suggests starting by outlining your big-picture goals together.1 Obviously, each member of a couple is going to have a few things that are very important to them but getting on the same page about goals will make the rest of the planning process easier. 

These conversations about the future are very important because they may lead to some surprising revelations. For example, one spouse may dream about retiring as early as possible while the other partner may be happy with their work and would like to continue with it for years into the future.


Or, in another scenario, one spouse may dream about a tidy beachfront condo with a balcony while the other partner may be set on the idea of taking an RV tour of all America’s beautiful national parks. The quicker each spouse spells out their ideal retirement, the sooner you can begin designing a retirement strategy that considers the kind of retirement you both want.


Another step in preparing for retirement as a couple is saving money together. In broad terms, each person is responsible for their retirement, and if both you and your spouse are working you may both have retirement accounts through your employers. Every couple is different, but it can be helpful to approach retirement preparation just like how you make financial decisions about things like buying a home or a car with your spouse. It probably makes sense for you to make savings decisions together.


That may involve contributing different amounts to each spouse’s 401(k), IRA contributions, and other decisions. Of course, another factor that may apply to couples is if one partner does not work outside of the home.

Of course, another factor that may apply to couples is if one partner does not work outside of the home. If that’s your situation, a spousal IRA may be a good way to go because it allows you to set aside funds in a tax-deferred account for the benefit of the unemployed spouse.


Strategizing when each spouse will claim their Social Security benefit is another very important thing that couples should do. Married couples are in a prime position to maximize lifetime Social Security income by carefully timing their individual and spousal claims. This planning element is dependent on you, your age, the age of your claim, and your spouse.


Beginning your planning several years before turning 62 — the earliest age that you can begin collecting Social Security — can make a tremendous difference for your retirement finances.


It might be beneficial to enlist the help of a financial service professional to help you identify more of the things you can consider as a couple. The most important part of going on a journey together may be preparing for that journey together.


Keeping your spouse or partner in mind during the preparation phase is a great way to do that.



Life Insurance Basics You Should Know

Many people use life insurance as a safety net that will allow family members to pay bills, go to college, or support a business in case of the insured’s untimely death.


Ultimately, the thinking is, if you’re the beneficiary on a life insurance policy, you could have some degree of protection for your financial future.


Life insurance is a topic that you may feel you know at least a little bit about, but if you’re like many people, once you dig a bit below the surface you can encounter some things that are a little more complicated. A recent Forbes article, “10 things life insurance beneficiaries should know”1 shared some things that may be beneficial for beneficiaries to know.

One of the first things a beneficiary should know is that they don’t need a physical copy of the policy to make a claim. This is an especially important point because after someone you care about has died, the last thing you need is the stress of trying to track down life insurance paperwork. After all, many people typically purchase a life insurance policy years before their passing, which just increases the likelihood of a policy getting lost in the shuffle. 


If you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, you only need to know the name of the life insurance company. From there, you can reach out and inform them that a customer has died, and then they’ll provide you with a claim form. 


While you won’t need the actual policy to file a claim, you will need to provide the life insurance company with a certified copy of the policyholder’s death certificate. Once you have the claim form, you should attach the death certificate to it. From there, you’ll be ready to submit the necessary paperwork to make your claim.


Another thing that beneficiaries should bear in mind is that a life insurance payout is tax-free. You read that right: Life insurance benefits are tax-free for the designated beneficiary, no matter how large the payout amount is. You don’t have to report life insurance proceeds as income unless the policy was transferred to you for cash or other “valuable consideration,” which does not apply to most beneficiaries.1

There are several different types of life insurance policies, which leads to another of the basics you’ll want to keep in mind: It’s possible that a beneficiary might not get the full policy face amount. If the policy was a cash value life insurance policy, and the policy’s owner took withdrawals against the cash value or loans that weren’t paid back, the life insurance company will reduce the payout amount accordingly.1

Let’s say the policy in question had a face value of $1 million, but the policy owner took a $50,000 loan from cash value and neglected to pay it back before their death. The life insurance payout will be reduced accordingly by $50,000, plus any loan interest. And, since a beneficiary may not even know about the policy, let alone the policy’s owner’s actions, this might come as quite a surprise.

That’s just one example of how the specifics of a life insurance policy can impact the beneficiary’s payout. If you’re unsure about your life insurance policy or you want someone to walk you through your options, it can be a great idea to start with a financial services professional.


Life insurance policies can be part of a wide-ranging retirement strategy that keeps your legacy in mind.




Please keep in mind that life insurance typically requires health underwriting and, in many instances, financial underwriting.  Guarantees are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

Do Your Best to Avoid Common Retirement Mistakes

One of the secrets about building a retirement strategy that will help you reach your goals in retirement is avoiding common mistakes. It can be difficult because there are a lot of them. But avoiding those mistakes will help you feel confident that your finances will see you through your retirement and potentially even leave a legacy for your heirs.

One of the very first things you can do to avoid common retirement mistakes is to start saving right now. Every dollar you save today continues to potentially grow until you retire. As much as possible, cut back your spending a bit and put that money into your savings, because the payoff when you retire could be considerable.

Another mistake is not documenting your strategy to achieve your goals. A strong and wide-ranging financial strategy that factors your life expectancy, planned retirement age, where you’d like to live, your general health and your preferred retirement lifestyle can keep you focused and on track to the kind of retirement you truly aspire to.1

Just simply working can help you avoid another mistake: quitting your job too early. Many people leave a job without realizing they’re walking away from money in the form of employer contributions to their 401(k), profit-sharing, or stock options. And speaking of those contributions, you may want to consider maxing out your company match. If your employer offers a 401(k), sign up as soon as possible and make sure you’re maximizing the amount of money you contribute because that will allow you to enjoy a full employer match if one’s offered.

If your employer doesn’t provide a 401(k), consider a traditional or Roth IRA.

The next common retirement strategy mistake is investing unwisely, some people are comfortable with a self-directed investing approach because of the flexibility of choices it provides them.

Self-directed investing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you have the willpower to avoid biting on those “can’t-miss” stock tips that, in reality, might be pretty risky.1

As you get further into your journey toward retirement, it can be easy to fall into the trap of not rebalancing your portfolio. It can be a good idea to look at your portfolio on an annual or quarterly basis to make sure your asset mix is still performing.1 And, when we’re faced with the kind of economy we are right now, having someone to keep a keen eye on your portfolio is even more important.

And, the closer you are to that date when you can push away from your desk and call it a career, the more important it may become to review your portfolio allocation. Of course, that all depends on your unique journey to retirement.

Working with a financial service professional can potentially help you identify and avoid mistakes on unique to your journey to retirement.




Steps to Get Your Financial Life in Order

We all want to feel like our lives are in order, and that is especially apparent when things like the coronavirus show us how little we can control.

One thing you can control, however, is improving your financial situation. That was the subject of a recent article on The following highlights the steps noted in the article to help obtain financial order.

The first thing you need to do when it comes to getting your finances in order is to do a thorough examination of where your finances are at right now. Calculate your net worth by comparing your assets against your liabilities.

Assets are things like bank accounts, stocks, mutual funds, retirement accounts, and real estate. Don’t include your home or your automobile in your assets unless you’re planning to sell them. Conversely, your liabilities are your credit cards and other debts. Don’t include your mortgage in this category unless it was included in your assets.

It should only serve as a reminder to bring a little more order to your overall financial plan. With that in mind, you can set financial goals. Drafting a list of real goals and then having the discipline it takes to meet them is a powerful financial step. If you’re one of the millions of Americans whose net worth is at zero or is negative, perhaps your goal should be to get out of debt as quickly as possible. By spending less and getting out of debt, you open a whole new financial world for yourself.

We can’t truly understand our financial habits until we craft a comprehensive budget. Start by listing your income and expenses. Compare a handful of months to see where you’re consistently spending your money. Then simply subtract your expenses from your income. What do you find?

If the amount is negative, or simply too close for comfort, consider ways you might be able to cut back on your spending. If you’re left with a number that’s comfortably in positive territory, you might consider building a budget that helps you continue spending appropriately, including additional dollars earmarked for retirement purposes. The zero-based budget, which gives every dollar a task each month, is a good system.

Getting out of debt is something that many Americans should consider. But the idea of really attacking debt can seem daunting. For many people, it’s like staring up at a mountain you know you must climb. But once you’ve climbed it and gotten to the other side, you’ll be enjoying a whole new financial life.

No matter how much debt you’re currently carrying, you probably want to pay off high-interest debt as quickly as possible. Interest can slowly choke the life out of even the best designed financial strategies. For example, someone with a substantial credit card debt could very likely be paying more each month in interest than they’re making on their investments. Ultimately, that’s unsustainable.

All of this may help you get closer to arguably the most important step: saving money. You could make a strong case that nothing secures your finances better than diligently saving money. That could be in an emergency fund for unexpected short-term needs, or retirement accounts for long-term income. By saving money now, you’ll better position yourself to address things like future home and auto down payments, a child’s college tuition, or unexpected expenses and investment opportunities.

Taking control of little things can make you feel better about the big things. Contact your financial services professional to learn more about how you can take control of your financial picture.



How to Avoid Social Security Scams

You’ve worked too hard for your money over the years to lose it to scammers.

But, unfortunately, Americans lost almost $153 million to scammers impersonating government agencies in 2019, and more than $37 million to Social Security-specific scams.

These are people like you, your neighbors, friends and family. These are parents and grandparents, who presumably have a limited amount of money for their retirement and the legacy that they hope to leave behind for their families. The scams have become common enough that the Social Security Administration is speaking out to help people identify scams.

The Social Security Administration wanted to point a few things out in addition to drawing attention to scams. First, if you receive an unsolicited call from someone who says they’re with the Social Security Administration, chances are they’re not. Many of us have received these calls already, or know someone who has, and some scammers are more believable than others.

In addition to the Social Security Administration cracking down on scammers, the United States Department of Justice has done its part to help by bringing civil actions against any telecommunications companies that have knowingly allowed scam phone calls to be passed along.

That crackdown has made an impact. But regardless of the changes, the bad news is that the bad guys are quick to adapt. For instance, when the government has made it harder for scammers to robo-call unsuspecting Americans, they switched to text messages to continue the scam. On top of that, the Social Security Administration is even seeing emails that use official-looking documents to lure people in.

At the end of the day, it seems like if there’s a way to communicate with you, these scammers will try to take advantage of it. That’s why it’s so important for people to be aware of scammers. Even people who think they’re taking the right amount of precaution can be deceived.

It’s easy to understand why when it comes to Social Security. People are rightfully emotional about Social Security and susceptible to scams related to it. Social Security is a vital component to so many Americans’ retirement strategies, and when threatened with the prospect of Social Security going away, many people lose sight of the potential scam.

The best way to sniff out potential Social Security scams is to consider how the caller contacted you and if you initiated the contact. According to the Social Security Administration, a phone call that you didn’t initiate is the very first and most obvious sign that you are dealing with a scammer. These phone calls can be very convincing, and scammers can use software that even makes it look like the call is coming from the official number of the Social Security Administration.

If you are concerned that you may have been targeted, the Social Security Administration launched a hotline for people to be able to easily report scams, and there’s also a website. You can call 800.269.0271 or visit to alert them about potential scams. The money you earned and put away for retirement is yours — make sure your careful with it and vigilant about scams so it doesn’t end up in someone else’s hands.

Make Tax Season A Little Easier

Tax season is many things to many people — particularly their accounts. But one thing you rarely hear tax season called is “easy.”

A recent article is hoping to make the season a little easier.1 Here are a few of the things that you can draw inspiration from.

One way to make it easier on yourself is by gathering all the necessary documents as a starting point. From the W-2 that you get from an employer, to the 1099s that you can receive for various forms of income to your mortgage interest statement, there are a lot of important documents that you’ll need to complete your taxes. By gathering all those documents before you get started, you make it easier to walk through the entire process.

Depending on if you use an online tax preparation service or a tax professional to help you, it’s possible to get into the tax process without realizing that you don’t have some of the forms you need. That can be a real pain.

Looking at your return from last year can be a good starting point to ensure that you have all the documents that you need. A lot can certainly change from one year to the next, but you can gain some insight about what you’ll need for your taxes this year by looking back at what you needed last year.

And speaking of changes from one year to the next — as with all financial matters, it can be a good idea to visit with a financial services professional that can help you make educated decisions.

Opinions vary greatly regarding tax season because some people think of it as a time when they get a boost on their bottom line and other people dread it as a time of year when they often end up paying in a chunk of money. But there’s one way that it can be very important: By serving as a financial benchmark, of sorts.

As the old saying goes, death and taxes are the only certainties in life. And, as an offshoot of that, tax season is also a certainty. You know that it’s going to come every spring. So, if you take time to view it

as a benchmark, or a milestone, where you take a step back and look at your entire financial picture, it can be very valuable regardless of if you end up getting money back or paying in.

When you take that approach, tax time doesn’t have to be just about taxes. Make no mistake, it will be about taxes, too, and that’s necessitated by the federal government. But no one will be requiring you to take a look at your financial picture every April. If you use it as a reminder to chat with your financial services professional, or to talk to a new one, you can make sure you’re not neglecting your retirement strategy.

And any built-in reminder to re-evaluate your retirement strategy is a good one.


Why 401(k) Decisions Matter

Fewer companies offer pensions today than did for earlier generations, and that means 401(k) accounts remain important for many people as a source of retirement income.

Here’s an interesting twist: Because 401(k) accounts are generally tied to jobs, Americans’ increasing trend of working more jobs over the course of their career can mean that 401(k) rollovers are more common and more important to handle properly.

Bureau of Labor Statistics research shows that younger baby boomers averaged almost 12 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 48.1 When switching jobs, you can make a decision about rolling over your

401(k), but often you don’t have to. Sometimes, not deciding is the equivalent of deciding to leave your 401(k) where it is, with its existing allocation and fees. It all depends on the employer plan.

Let’s say you’re one of those people. Even if you only invested in 401(k) accounts at half of those jobs, that’s a lot of accounts to, well, account for. Knowing the rules surrounding rollovers can be important.

It can be helpful to frame this discussion by talking about the way that 401(k) accounts are tax advantaged. One way to explain it is this: When you put money in a 401(k) account, you are essentially making a deal with the government. The government lets you put the money in without paying taxes on it and you agree to leave the money there until you retire (or are at least close, which the government defines as age 59½). If you take the money out early, you aren’t keeping your end of the deal and the government hits you where it hurts: your wallet.

To be clear, you’ll be taxed when you take money out of your 401(k) regardless of when you do it. The penalties only come into play when you don’t wait until the agreed-upon age to take those withdrawals, with a few exceptions. The exceptions include total and permanent disability, loss of employment when you are at least age 55 and a qualified domestic relations order after a divorce.2

The combination of taxes and penalties may be especially painful if you decide to withdraw money from your 401(k) early. After taxes and penalties, you may be left with only two-thirds of your account balance. Plus — particularly if you are young — you’re sacrificing the potential growth that could come from keeping your money in a retirement account.

So, while it might be tempting to consider your 401(k) a windfall, you would want to think very carefully about cashing it out.

While you can’t avoid taxes (other than the few exceptions mentioned earlier) you do have some control over when and how you’ll pay them. Here’s how: Your 401(k) distributions are viewed by the IRS as ordinary income; that’s true whether you take $1 out of your account or $1 million. If the amount of a distribution pushes you into a higher tax bracket, you can end up paying a higher tax rate on every dollar that falls over that threshold. That hurts.

Everyone’s situation is unique, but there are a few ways to help limit potential tax impact. You may have heard many of your friends and family members talk about taking their tax-deferred distributions over time in smaller amounts. Another solution is balancing withdrawals from tax-deferred accounts and tax-advantaged accounts, like Roth IRAs or properly structured life insurance policies. Since those accounts include money that has already been taxed, it won’t be treated as ordinary income and could help you control your tax bracket later in life. After all, much like in life, it’s not about the money you make but the money you keep.

Talking to a financial services professional can help you determine if your 401(k) is working for you. No matter what, it can’t hurt to be informed!




Why Working In Retirement Doesn’t Always Work

As we’ve all heard, even the best-laid plans can go awry.

When those plans involve retirement, the stakes are high. Let’s say you were planning on continuing to work in retirement to supplement your monthly income. It’s easy to see how a change in those plans could impact you significantly.

Sadly, some people interviewed by Business Insider found that to be the case in a recent article.1 Among the workers interviewed was a salesman with 42 years of experience and a veteran of the screen-printing industry. Each of them said that finding a new job as an older worker was a challenge, and they wondered if their experience was common.

The answer may be yes, at least as a trend. A study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that age can impact callback rates.2 The study found that older female candidates for administrative positions were called back at a 47% lower rate than their younger competitors. For women seeking sales-related positions, the rate was 36%.

There were discrepancies among male applicants, as well. Receiving a call back is just one measurement of job search success, but it can be a strong one. As other pre-retirees and retirees discovered, even if you aren’t looking for a job, layoffs or forced retirement could change your plans.

A study that workers who enter their 50s holding full-time, long-term positions were often being pushed out of their positions by employers. Overall, the study found that of this group, 56% experienced employer-driven job loss, and only 16% were still working.3

The ProPublica study also points out another uncomfortable finding. Of those people who had some employment setback, such as an employer-driven job loss, only 10% were able to ever earn as much as they did before their employment setback. Even looking at data years later, those workers remained noticeably behind their peers who didn’t experience an employment disruption.

While that’s a lot of doom and gloom, there is reason to be hopeful about your future, as long as you are heading into it with your eyes wide open. Pre-retirees and retirees who know they’ll be depending on continuing income sources to reach their retirement goals can plan accordingly. Additional budgeting can trim your bottom line and working with a financial services professional can help you prepare a workable strategy for income in retirement.

The point that this research makes is important: It may be natural or easy to assume that you’ll be able to keep your full-time, long-time job if you continue to perform, and you want it. And that could be a dangerous idea.

If you have questions on how your retirement strategy can be changed to adapt to the future, you may want to reach out and set up a time to talk with a financial services professional.

That way, if your best-laid plans go awry, you’ll have a backup plan in place to help you adapt on the fly. At the end of the day, everyone wants the retirement they’ve always dreamed of — make sure you develop a strategy that can help you absorb the unexpected and stay on course.





Misconceptions That Could Derail Your Retirement

It’s hard enough to prepare for retirement when you’re working with correct information. Factor in the misconceptions that are out there, and it can feel downright impossible.

That seems like a good reason to try to cut through some of the misconceptions. The Motley Fool investigated three examples in its October 2019 article, “3 Money Myths That Could Ruin Your Retirement.”¹

The author, personal finance and retirement writer Katie Brockman, breaks down each of these things that she considers myths and how they can impact your retirement. “Myth” is a strong word, and “misconception” might be a little more accurate since each comes from some factual basis, but the end assumption is flawed in some way.

Take, for instance, the first misconception: The idea that you will spend less in retirement. According to the article, it’s likely that spending will change during retirement for most people. But it just might not be different in the way you’re expecting. The article cites a report from J.P. Morgan that showed nearly 80% of retirees experienced a significant change in their spending, but more than a third of them found themselves spending more than they had before retirement during at least some retirement years. For many of the survey respondents, the years they spent the most often came early in retirement.

You can imagine the challenge that would come with suddenly spending more than expected! So, this misconception could be expensive. You may average less spending per year over the course of your retirement, but that average may include years of more spending.

Another misconception from the article is that if you wait until you have a higher income, it will be easier to save for retirement. At first blush, it’s easy to rationalize this idea. Making more money would mean there’s more money to save. However, building a retirement nest egg can take years. If you put off saving for retirement you may find yourself needing to save an even larger percentage of your income. Missing out on years of potential annual rate of return can result in challenges later in life. Saving early, even if it’s a small amount, can have strong financial results.

The final misconception in the article deals with Social Security. In the article, they caution against assuming Social Security benefits can be your primary source of retirement income. According another Motley Fool article,“The Average Social Security Benefit Is Probably Smaller Than You Think²,” in 2019 the average Social Security check was just over $1,400. For many people, that’s likely not enough to cover all your monthly expenses. When you look at the potential growth of medical expenses in the future, you may feel even less enthusiastic about covering your costs with Social Security benefits alone.

What will be important is for you to maximize your Social Security income when the time comes. Working with a financial services professional can help you determine the right time and strategy for your personal financial situation.

Social Security, monthly expenses and delaying savings can all have a large impact on your financial future. Misconceptions, myths and incorrect assumptions about these issues can further cloud your vision of the future. By ruling out the information that isn’t helpful, you give yourself an easier path to retirement and make decisions that can help you realize your retirement goals.