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.




More People Are Saving For Retirement, But Many Still Aren’t

More people are saving more money for retirement than they have in the past few decades, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Office. That’s great news!

Now for the not so great news. The report, titled “Retirement Security: Income and Wealth Disparities Continue through Old Age,” found that there’s still a lot of ground to cover to get retirement savings where they may need to be.

The report found that 30 years ago, in 1989, about 4% of low-income households and up to 65% of high-income households had set aside money in a retirement account. Those percentages increased to 11% and 86% of households, respectively, in 2016.

The report largely credits that increase in the number of people who are saving to more employers offering defined contribution plans. These include the tax-code-numbered plans that you are likely familiar with, like 401(k)s and 403(b)s. Another process that gets credit for the increase, according to the report, is that more employers are automatically enrolling their employees in their employer-sponsored defined contribution plan.

In 2018, Vanguard reported that 48% of their plans had an automatic enrollment option. In many cases, automatic enrollment applied to new hires only at first, but many plans have been expanded to include existing employees. This helps frame the decision to enroll for the employee as an opt-out rather than an opt-in.

And it’s not just that more people are saving. More people are saving more. That’s thanks in part to the fact that enrollment is not the only automatic feature of many employer-sponsored defined contribution plans. Most of these plans — 66% — also have automatic annual deferral rate increases. These increases in contributions can help employees automatically adjust for potential inflation and save just a bit more each year.

While these are encouraging statistics, the number of low-income households that are saving for retirement have not returned to levels seen before the 2007-to-2009 recession. In 2007, 16% of households in the low-income category had some kind of retirement account.

Among those retirement accounts, the defined contribution plan reigns supreme in terms of usage. According to The Vanguard Group’s “How America Saves 2019: The Retirement Savings Behavior of 5 Million Participants,” more than 100 million Americans are covered by defined contribution plan accounts.

Even with that many individuals participating, the report cites that a significant amount of those who are eligible for these types of plans fail to participate. Those who decline to participate are missing out on another potentially valuable opportunity: employer matching contributions. A third of all plans provided both matching and nonmatching employer contributions. These contributions can help increase the balance of a retirement account.

So, the good news is that more Americans are opening retirement savings accounts. If you’re one of them, you are doing the right thing to help prepare to have income in retirement.

If you’re not, there’s still time. If you have access to a defined contribution plan that you aren’t utilizing, it’s better to put something away than nothing. And that’s only one option of many that can help you prepare for retirement.

Contact a financial services professional today to get started on a strategy that can help take you to retirement and beyond.


Are You Prepared For a Bear Market?

If you’ve ever visted New York City, you may have seen the famous bull statue in the financial district.

That bull is considered a sign of optimism, indicative of what’s known as a bull market. A bull market generally refers to a time when the stock market is rising and is expected to continue to rise, but it can refer to any group of securities in which that is the case.

The reverse of a bull market is a bear market. A bear market is generally a period marked by pessimism and potentially falling prices in the stock market.

The good news is that we are currently enjoying the longest bull market on record. For more than 10 years, we’ve experienced a rising market that has seen numerous record highs and only a few market corrections (in this case, drops) to level it off.

While many investors, pre-retirees and retirees have enjoyed the fruits of a long-term rise in the markets, we unfortunately can’t expect that to continue forever. And that means the potential for a bear market exists.

While the causes of bear markets often vary from event to event, many economic slowdowns usher in bear markets. Signs of an economic slowdown include low employment, shrinking disposable income, weak productivity and a drop in business profits. A market correction can easily transform into a bear market due to prolonged periods of investor uncertainty. Bear markets can develop when the market isn’t able to support stock prices — like when the tech bubble burst in the early 2000s.

When we experience a bear market, sooner or later, will you be prepared for it? And how will you react? During those times, it may be more important than ever to remain committed to your overall investment strategy. On the flip side, your strategy may need a change.

One tool we use at our company to help you evaluate your strategy and whether you should stay the course or change it is the Color of Money Risk Analysis. This 11-question self-assessment quickly and clearly evaluates your current financial outlook and provides a Color of Money Risk Analysis score.

The Color of Money Risk Analysis is a simple way for you to categorize your retirement assets into red, yellow, and green money, giving you an easy way to see how your assets could be allocated.

Red money are assets that are subject to risk and that can lose value but that also provide growth opportunity.

Yellow money assets, like red money assets, are subject to risk and can lose value but are professionally managed. Professional money managers could help reduce risk and provide growth opportunities.

Green money assets have a less amount risk. They may not have as much growth potential as other assets, but your money is less likely to shrink.

Once you’ve received your score, we can begin analyzing how your savings is currently allocated. From there, we’ll help make sure your assets are properly aligned with your risk tolerance.

No matter if you use our Color of Money Risk Analysis or another tool, there is value in having an up-to-date understanding of your risk tolerance. Talking to a financial services professional is a great way to get started in that direction.

That way, when a bear market inevitably arrives, you might feel more prepared for it.

One in Three People Over 50 Aren’t Prepared For Retirement

Think about three people you know who are over 50. Odds are, at least one of them isn’t prepared for retirement.

At least, that’s the premise of an article the USA Today recently published, “A third of adults age 50 and over aren’t prepared for retirement1.” Are you one of those adults who’s not prepared for retirement? How can you determine if you’re in that group?

It’s not always easy to determine if you’re on track for a healthy retirement, especially when you may have many years left before your retirement. One useful way to determine if you’re on the right track is to try to have a retirement savings goal in mind.

You can start by looking at your current income and estimate what percentage of that income you’ll need in retirement to cover your expenses. You can use a retirement calculator like the ones provided by and to help come up with an estimate.

While calculators can be useful, they may also provide an incomplete picture at times. That’s why you may want to meet with a financial services professional to examine your personal situation to help determine your long-term options. Your financial services professional can help you examine that retirement calculation and find how much you may need to increase your savings.

Once you’ve determined your possible future income needs, you may find that you need to begin saving more of your current income. While this is always easy advice, it can be hard to put into place, especially during times when money is tight. It can be discouraging.

Depending on your situation, you may even be tempted to avoid saving more simply because you feel the situation is too dire already. However, even saving a little today can grow over time. Starting can be as simple as determining where your income is currently spent. Track your spending by dividing it into categories. Creating the lists that detail your spending by category can be an eye-opening experience and you may find areas that you can reduce or adjust to impact your savings.

It may be that you find that you need to take drastic measures to get your retirement savings back on track. Social Security will likely be a part of your retirement income. Your financial services professional can also help you maximize your potential Social Security benefit, and this could help you address your savings deficit, if you have one.

Social Security is a part of many people’s long-term plans, but many people don’t realize how much they may need to supplement their Social Security benefit in order to live a life like the one they had before retirement. In fact, according to the Social Security Administration’s Monthly Statistical Snapshot as of July 2019, the average monthly retirement benefit is just under $1,400. And remember that’s just the average, not a guarantee. Your personal benefit could be very different.

If you take that average monthly benefit and multiply it by 12 to get an annual income figure, you’re looking at less than $17,000 a year. For many people that wouldn’t replace much of their current income. It may seem more like the amount of money that one would make from a part-time job. That is why I believe it should only be counted on to be a part of your monthly retirement income. This is only one component of determining if you’ll be ready for retirement.

Contact a financial services professional — it’s a great way to help you get an idea of what income you’ll need in retirement and how you’ll get there.





Exclusive rights to this material belongs to GPS. Unathorized use of the material is prohibited.

Unearthing Three Harsh Realities of Retirement

As you prepare for retirement, it may be helpful to know that there are some potential realities that traditional retirement advice may overlook or ignore.

A few of these were highlighted in “3 Harsh Realities Retirement Advice Almost Always Ignores,” an article published on Yahoo Finance on June 24, 2019. Let’s dig into each of these realities.

It’s common for people working on their retirement strategy or savings goals to hear the same kind of advice over and over. Save more, invest wisely and be aware of the risks that can pop up before and during retirement. That seems like an easy idea in theory. But in practice, it can be much harder to do.

One thing you don’t always hear acknowledged is how hard it can be to save instead of spend. If you want to save more and accumulate wealth, you have two choices: spend less or earn more. This leads to many additional options, like getting a second job or developing new budgeting techniques. The harsh reality is that most financial planning early in life demands sacrifice.

Our consumer-driven society encourages immediate gratification. Saving for enjoyment down the line is responsible and smart — but is rarely fun. To overcome this challenge, you must be prepared to skip some popular trends. It may require you to live a life that’s different from most of your friends and family.

A second piece of advice that isn’t always discussed is that you may need to overcome the fear of losing everything. Striking out on your own and finding your own path to financial security is never easy. It’s also never easy to overcome the fear of losing. For example, you may say that you’re going to stick to your financial strategy no matter what the market does, but it’s much harder to follow through on that plan when the market is volatile. Bad news gets headlines and market downturns can inspire any investor to look at changing course. It can be helpful to try to avoid the 24/7 media frenzy that the stock market can create and stick to your plan.

A helpful tool in this process can be to examine your risk tolerance. A financial services professional can help you with determining your risk tolerance and an investment mix that aligns with it. You should note that asset allocation doesn’t guarantee a profit or protect against loss. All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. Working with a professional can help you align your investments with your risk tolerance and potentially protect some of your emotions from this roller coaster effect.

Finally, you should know that you can’t possibly prepare for every financial risk or scenario. Understanding your risk tolerance allows you to examine which options may be a fit for you, but it’s impossible to get rid of all risk. Challenges like unexpected healthcare costs or long-term care changes could be around the corner. It’s possible that the next big upheaval related to retirement is a scenario that we can’t even imagine.

These realities shouldn’t discourage you from moving forward with your retirement dreams. They may have affected your financial strategy in the past, but hopefully by talking about them today and putting them in the spotlight, you’ll gain the confidence you need to continue your financial journey.

The reality is, retirement is coming whether you’re ready or not. But working with a financial services professional may help you feel a little more prepared.

Exclusive rights to this material belongs to GPS. Unathorized use of the material is prohibited.