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How to Interview Your (Potential) Financial Adviser

As individuals need help with their finances and investments they will likely turn to the help of a qualified professional. Their future financial adviser may come via referral from a trusted friend or family member, or through an extensive Internet search. The following is a list of questions (and answers to look for) that individuals can ask their potential adviser to see if he or she is likely to be a good fit and more importantly, act in the client’s best interest. Are you a fiduciary? If yes, move to question 2. If no, thank them for their time and move to the next adviser on your list. Advisers that are fiduciaries are legally bound to put their clients’ best interests first. In other words, regardless of compensation, products offered or company affiliation, fiduciary advisers must act in the best interest of their clients. Everything else is secondary. How do […]

How to Prioritize Your Time and Money

Sometime ago I wrote about needs versus wants. Along those lines I’d like to talk about priorities. It’s pretty common that we heard our friends or family say “I don’t have the time” or “I don’t have the money” (of course, we’ve never said these words). And periodically, I’ll hear these words uttered by my students (no time to study), generally after a not-so-good exam score. But what these folks are really saying is “It’s not a priority right now.” For many of us, it’s not about having more time or more money. It’s really about prioritizing the time and money we have. When we reprioritize what’s important to us, it’s amazing the things we can accomplish and the money we can save. Here are some tips to prioritize your time and money. In fact, for many folks time is money. Prioritize your savings. This can be done by paying […]

Have You Saved Enough for Retirement?

One of the reasons that retirement funding is a mystery to most folks is the uncertainty that comes with trying to determine how much is enough – enough savings set aside so that we don’t run out of money during retirement. The answer to this question begins with an understanding of your day-to-day living expenses, and how those expenses may change in retirement. This is a simple enough process, although it does take some effort. The difficult part is to determine what the funding requirement is in order to provide the income you’ll need to cover your living expenses – for as much as forty years or more! There is a rule of thumb (more on this later) that you can use to come up with a rough guess – but without using sophisticated computer modeling and analysis, your level of assuredness is limited. According to a recent survey by […]

How to Invest

Occasionally, someone will ask me a question in the following different ways: “Did you see what the market did today?” or “How did the market do today?” To be honest, I’d love to use the line that Charley Ellis has used from the movie Gone with the Wind; “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Professionally, my response is more in line with “I couldn’t tell you.” or “I don’t follow the market really.” The response is not meant to be rude or abrupt, but more to simply say that for most investors (myself included); they shouldn’t be worried about what the market is doing on a day to day basis. This is especially true for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. A price weighted index of 30 stocks is hardly representative of the market, yet it’s what most people think and refer to as “the market” when they ask […]


A number of years ago while in my garden I was tending to my raspberry patch. It had been a long winter and I feared that many had not survived the cold Wisconsin winter. In the spring, the vigorous plants shot through the soil and in just a few months I had a glorious stand of robust plants. To my chagrin, the tall, leafy canes were lacking berries. I didn’t even see any flowers blossoming. For two weeks I would go out and check the patch to see if there were any signs of blossoms or berries and each time I went out, I can back in to the house disappointed. Had something happened? I began to question what the winter had done to them or if I had prevented their fruiting in any way. After all, this was a pretty easy variety to grow and ever-bearing nonetheless. Just as […]

There is No Free Lunch (or Dinner)

A few days ago my mailbox was graced with the postcard you see at the top of this post. In case the print is too small it’s essentially an offering for a free dinner at a local restaurant while the dinner’s hosts plan to offer a seminar on achieving more retirement income. My initial reaction was to laugh at the card, and then my laughter changed to concern. How many individuals were sent this malarkey? Here are some of the “finer” bullet points from the list of discussion topics: Avoid the long delays and costs of probate Opportunities and solutions to help protect your assets for the future Avoid significant tax losses when passing on your assets It became apparent that this free dinner seminar was nothing more than a sales pitch for a company to sell life insurance and annuities to unsuspecting individuals. A search on the Internet provided […]

Why Financial Planning?

I am always advocating creating a plan for your financial life – but why plan? Maybe we can identify some factors which may motivate you to develop plans for your life, incorporating financial factors with the rest of your life. Following are some of the more important factors that you may want to think about: It is a way to prepare for the inevitable future. This fits in with one definition of planning, which is “intelligent cooperation with the inevitable.” Planning identifies problems and points the way to solutions. Taking a systematic, thorough look at the situation and thinking about the future possibilities can bring these things to light. It helps us to do first things first. In other words, it provides a rationale for assigning priorities. Should we save more for retirement, or for college? Should we pay off our home mortgage? Planning helps to coordinate your various goals […]

Is a Reverse Mortgage Right for You?

As individuals near retirement there may be a need for additional income in order to support their living expenses in retirement. On this blog we have discussed creating income streams in retirement with annuities, Social Security optimization, and withdrawal strategies in qualified accounts. For some individuals these streams of income may not be enough. Another potential vehicle to assist with providing income in retirement is a reverse mortgage. Reverse mortgages are where an individual or couple uses the equity in their home to received monthly income payments. Generally, once the owners pass away or sell the home, the loan is paid off with the remaining equity in the home. There’s also a limit on the amount a homeowner can borrow. The most popular form of a reverse mortgage is the home equity conversion mortgage (HECM) offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). To qualify, individuals must be […]

Should You Self-Insure?

At some point in our lives the question arises as to whether or not it makes sense to keep some of the insurance we have. Please understand that this post is not about encouraging the reader to drop any insurance coverage, but perhaps give some perspective on whether or not it makes sense to do so. Consider the case of life insurance. Generally, the younger we are the more life insurance makes sense. When we’re young we have many years until retirement and have high human capital; the ability to earn great amount over our working lifetime. Our financial capital is very small; we haven’t accumulated any assets such as retirement savings. As we age, our human capital decreases. Our financial capital increases and is high when we retire. Thus the need for life insurance diminishes. It’s at this point that an individual can consider letting their term insurance policy […]

The Power of Dollar Cost Averaging

If you’re like most investors systematically saving for retirement through their employer or with an IRA chances are you’re taking advantage of dollar cost averaging. Dollar cost averaging is a method of investing a specific dollar amount, generally monthly, no matter how the market is reacting. It’s also a way for an investor to fully fund a retirement account without requiring the maximum amount allowed in one shot. For example, let’s assume that an investor under the age of 50 wants to save to an IRA. The maximum contribution to the IRA for 2015 is $5,500. Should the investor want to save monthly and still invest the maximum allowed for the year, he would simply divide by 12 and invest a sum of $458.33 monthly. The beauty of this strategy is that the investor takes advantage of market swings, whether high or low. If the market is considerably high (as […]

How We Can Serve You

I wanted to write a short post this week letting our readers know that even though the majority of them may not be located in the state of Illinois, we are generally still able to help and work with you should you want to use or services. Here are a few ways that we can make your experience working with us as “local” and as professional as possible. We use email – a lot. This is arguably the main way we communicate with clients. It’s not that we’re above using the phone, but with our schedules we are frequently out of the office. Email lets us stay in contact with you regardless of where we’re at. We use video conferencing. Whether we’re in the office or traveling for business we can easily have a face to face conversation with you if you’d like to put a face with the name. […]

I Have the CFP®, Now What?

This week, several anxious individuals will sit in front of a computer screen at a testing center and will answer 170 questions over a six hour span. These folks are sitting for the national CFP® exam that’s given every March, July, and November. Question topics range from life insurance and annuities to taxation, investment planning, estate planning and ethics. Successful exams takers will be allowed to use the prestigious marks (assuming all other requirements are met). If you’re one of these folks – first of all congratulations! You put in a lot of hard work, studying, and relinquished personal time in order to be successful. You should be proud. But I would also encourage you to not fall to the temptation of thinking, “you’ve made it.” In other words, I hope the exam has taught you that there’s so much we don’t know as planners and the CFP®  is merely […]

How to Choose a Financial Planner

Before you sign a contract or buy a product consider the following before choosing your financial planner. Make sure they’re a CFP®. At the very minimum, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ has the met the education, exam, ethics and experience requirements in order to be qualified to discuss your financial planning needs. Anyone can call themselves a financial planner, but not everyone is a CFP®. This should be the starting point of your search. Just because the planner is a CFP®, doesn’t mean you should automatically work with them.

How to Easily Maximize Your IRA

Recently I had a chance to have some fun with some of my undergraduate students. Polling my entire class I asked them to make a list of wants (not needs) that they frequently spent money on. Answers varied from smartphones (and the respective bill), cable and satellite TV, dining out, coffee shops, beverages (you know which ones), and appearance (spending extra to dye hair, pedicures, etc.). Here’s a list of how each expense was broken down as told by the students. In other words, it was their numbers not mine.

One of the Best Investments to Make

Traditionally when we think of investing our minds turn to stocks, bonds, mutual funds or real estate. While these may or may not be the best investments for an individual’s portfolio there is one investment that is almost always the right choice for any individual – human capital. Human capital is an individual’s worth of their own potential. Coined by economist Theodore Schultz, human capital can be invested in like any other asset in order to add value to an individual’s life through earnings, health, and quality of life.  

A Financial Checklist for 2015

As 2015 begins and the New Year’s resolutions start to fade, here’s a financial checklist for 2015 that can help make those resolutions a reality or enforce some good habits you’ve started.

Asset Allocation Vs Diversification

Asset allocation and diversification are not the same. Perhaps some readers may benefit from a brief explanation of the two and how it may impact your investments. An investor may have excellent diversification but poor asset allocation and vice versa. Let’s start with asset allocation. When we speak of asset allocation we’re talking about how we’re going to invest in a particular category of investments called asset classes. That is, we are choosing which assets are going to be in our portfolio. Generally, assets classes that investors may choose from are stocks (equities), bonds (fixed income), cash, commodities, and real estate.

Stay Away From This Asset Class in 2015

Admittedly, this is a pretty deceiving headline. We see headlines like these every day in the newspapers, TV and from colleagues at work. The truth of the matter is that there are certainly going to be assets classes that will behave horribly while other asset classes do extremely well. The point is, neither you nor I (or anyone else) will accurately be able to predict which ones will do better than others. For every person that says stocks will have a meteoric rise in 2015 there will be just as many that will say to avoid them. You’ll have others saying that bonds are doomed while others will sing their praises. Buy gold, sell gold; buy real estate, sell real estate. The point is no one knows which asset classes will do well and which ones will fall.

Make SMART Goals as You Plan

Goal planning is the real “meat” of financial planning. That is to say, once you’ve covered the issues of organizing your information, developing and improving your net worth, and providing for the safety issues, it is now time to consider exactly what you would like to do with your money and your life. This is a very personal set of decisions – no one person makes the same choices. Perhaps you’d like to open your own business, and become your own boss. Maybe all you’d like to do is to finish working after 30 years and spend your time playing with your grandchildren. Or maybe you’ve finished up college and now you’re beginning to earn some money, and so you’re planning on starting a family and buying a home. Setting your goals is very important as you begin a savings and investing plan, because without a goal in mind, it […]

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