5 Basic Principles You Should Follow to Achieve the American Dream

bigstock-Family-Moving-Home-With-Boxes-6143817Coined by author James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America, the “American dream” is described as,

“‘[T]hat dream of a land in which should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement… It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Everyone’s path to reach the American dream is different. Yet there’s always some common ground — namely, that through hard work we hope to retire comfortably and on our own terms.

Five basic principles to help you achieve the American dream.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen from a number of recent polls, Americans’ finances aren’t necessarily on solid footing. U.S. personal savings rates are pretty poor, debt levels among middle-class families are high, and distrust of the stock market still exists following the credit bubble and mortgage crisis that precipitated the Great Recession. Now more than ever the American dream appears to be on the brink of disappearing.

But it doesn’t have to.

If you follow five basic principles, you too can achieve the American dream of a comfortable retirement for you and your family.

1. Get a degree.

It’s perhaps one of the oldest debates: “Should I go to college?” Not going to college means saving potentially five- or six-digits in student loan costs, but not getting a degree could constrain your ability to move up the socioeconomic ladder. However, as Pew Research showed in a study two years ago, not going to college could have dire consequences on your ability to comfortably retire.

Based on Pew’s analysis, which looked at the median salaries of millennials ages 25 to 32 who were working full-time, those with high school degrees were earning $28,000 annually. By comparison, millennials who obtained bachelor’s degrees or higher were netting $45,500 per year. Both of these figures are in 2012 dollars. This $17,500 difference could be huge over the course of four decades: Not only can this income difference be invested and compound many times over, but presumably the college graduate will have greater opportunities to move up the economic rungs to collect an even higher wage.

If you want to get your retirement savings off on the right foot, you need to seriously consider getting a college degree.

2. Save as much as you can.

Secondly, Americans need to kick their loose spending habits and learn to live on a budget. A Gallup poll conducted in 2013 showed that only around a third (32%) of U.S. households kept detailed monthly budgets. Not keeping a budget makes it very difficult for you to understand your cash flow, and if you don’t understand how money is entering and exiting your checking account, you’ll have a tough time optimally saving for retirement and funding your emergency account.

Thankfully, the solution is easier than ever these days: budgeting software. There are countless choices when it comes to budgeting software, and all programs handle the grunt work of doing math. Many can even help you formulate a strategy to save money. But budgeting also takes resolve on your end. This is where some keen budgeting tips can come in handy. Make sure you’re doing what you can to get everyone in your household involved so you all remain accountable for your spending habits, and consider having what you save automatically deposited into a savings or retirement account on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis to reduce the urge to spend.

The earlier you start saving, the quicker your nest egg can grow.

3. Invest for the long-term.

The next step would be to take the money you’ve saved and look to invest it for the long-term.

Although your investments could take on many forms, it is strongly suggested that you consider putting at least some of your money to work in the stock market. I know what you might be thinking, and yes, the stock market does have its pullbacks from time to time. Since 2000, we’ve witnessed two separate 50%+ drops in the broad-based S&P 500. However, we’ve also witnessed all 35 stock market corrections of 10% or greater in the S&P 500 completely erased by bull market rallies since 1950. Over the long term, stock market valuation tends to rise at a rate of 7% annually, including dividend reinvestment. This means you could double your money almost once every decade, assuming this average holds true.

 

Additionally, you’ll want to focus on buying solid businesses, because trying to time your buying and selling activity is almost assuredly not going to turn out well. A study by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, using S&P 500 data from Lipper, between Dec. 31, 1993 and Dec. 31, 2013, shows that investors who held throughout the entirety of both huge 50%+ drops still gained more than 480% over the 20-year period. By comparison, if you missed the 10 best trading days, your return dipped to just 191%. If you missed a little more than 30 of the best trading days over this approximate 5,000 trading-day period, your return would fall into the negative. That’s the power of long-term investing and compounding in action.

Questions about retirement savings, estate planning, or investments? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 732.312.1564, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

4. Be tax-savvy.

The fourth thing you’ll want to do is aim to give back as little of your wages and capital gains as possible to the federal and state government. There’s no way of getting around completely paying taxes (so don’t try it!), but there are things we can do to reduce our tax liability.

One of the smartest moves you can make is contributing to a Roth IRA. Although there are numerous investment tools we can choose from, the Roth IRA is arguably the best, because investment gains within a Roth are completely tax-free as long as no unqualified withdrawals are made. In addition, there are no age contribution limits with a Roth IRA (unlike a Traditional IRA), meaning you can keep contributing well beyond age 70. There are also no minimum distribution requirements. This point is important if you want to allow your money to continue growing, or aim to have a hefty inheritance to pass along to your family.

Also, take into consideration where you’re living, as well as how you plan to withdraw your money during retirement. All 50 states seemingly have different tax laws, with some states being far more tax-friendly than others. If you choose to live and retire in a tax-friendly state, you could wind up saving a lot of money over the course of your lifetime and during your golden years.

Having a withdrawal plan in place prior to retirement means that you’ll have laid out exactly how much money you’ll need each year when you retire. Having a plan in place can potentially keep you from withdrawing too much money from say a 401(k) or investment account each year, and having that withdrawal bump you into a higher tax bracket. Making small adjustments can save you big bucks come tax time.

5. Understand how to use debt.

Finally, it’s important that you maintain discipline when it comes to utilizing debt, as high levels of debt can cripple your ability to save, and can crush seniors’ budgets during retirement.

What you’ll want to keep in mind is that there are different kinds of debt, and they’re not all bad. Student loan debt can be a good thing since it allows you to get a better paying job, but what you may want to consider is not aiming for Harvard. In-state colleges can often be cheaper than the most prestigious colleges, and may even offer a better return on your investment.

What you’d want to avoid is racking up debt on credit cards because you wanted the latest outfit or gadgets for you home. Since nearly all vehicles depreciate in value over time, auto loans are another notorious source of bad debt you should try to minimize.

Check out First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Long story short, the better you manage your debt, the less likely it is to keep you from being able to sock away a good chunk of your income for an emergency or retirement.

The American dream has, and always will, require hard work, so be financially proactive and go claim your piece of the pie.

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Original article courtesy of Sean Williams of The Motley Fool.

Top 5 Financial Regrets…and How to Avoid (or Move Past) Them

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When was the last time you heard the phrase “no regrets”? Maybe it was accompanied by the acronym “YOLO,” or you saw it written in script on a sappy motivational poster.

It’s time to get real. Most of us do have regrets — especially when it comes to our finances.

According to a new survey from Bankrate.com, 75 percent of Americans say they have financial regrets. Apparently, we’re the most remorseful when it comes to saving — especially for retirement, and after that, emergency expenses. The site reported 42 million Americans regret not starting their retirement saving earlier, and that those concerns increased with age. Millennials said they regretted excessive student loan debt most, with 24 percent of respondents under 30 listing it as their chief financial regret. Other top concerns included taking on too much credit card debt and not saving enough for a child’s education.

There are no do-overs in finances, unfortunately, but you can do better. Here are the top 5 financial regrets with suggestions for how to turn the situation around.

1. Retirement Savings

If you’re feeling behind, you need to get on the automatic bandwagon. Saving by automatic contribution (a 401(k) or similar plan) works because you make a good decision one time and get to dine out on it for years.

If you’re starting late, you need to aim to stash away 15 percent of your income (including matching contributions). Not there yet? Ratchet your contributions up 2 percent a year until you hit that mark. Also look into catch-up contributions that allow you to contribute an extra $1,000 to an IRA or $6,000 to a 401(k) if you’re 50 or over. Working longer can also help. The money in your retirement accounts can continue to grow, and when it comes to Social Security, you’ll get an increase in benefits of about 8 percent per year (guaranteed) from age 62 until age 70.

How will you begin preparing for your retirement today? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

2. Emergency Expenses

“Everybody can start saving for those minor emergencies, because it’s not really a question of if, it’s just a question of when,” says Aron Szapiro, policy and finance expert at HelloWallet.com.

He’s right — it’s only a matter of time before a minor health expense or unexpected car maintenance comes into play, and the only way to prepare is to start saving. Let your first goal for your emergency fund be $2,000. Once you’re there, congratulations — you’re ahead of many Americans (63% of whom don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency). Then, aim for three months’ worth of living expenses. You’re on your way to being ready for anything.

3. Credit Card Debt

Sit down with a notepad and make a list of everything you owe and — this is key — the interest rate for each debt. It’s usually a smart move to make paying off credit card debt your first priority, because it usually has the highest interest rates. Szapiro says there’s “something magical” about paying it down.

“If you have a really high interest rate of 18 percent or 20 percent, every dollar you put towards the credit card is a guaranteed return of 18 percent or 20 percent,” he says.

That’s a pretty significant return rate, and it’s risk-free.

(Note: There is one investment you can make that beats that credit card interest rate return — grabbing employer matching dollars offered in a retirement plan. If you have credit card debt and need to save for retirement, aim to do both simultaneously, even if you don’t do either fully until the credit card debt is gone.)

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

4. Student Loan Debt

Although student loan debt is a top regret for many Americans, especially millennials, taking it on can be an investment in future salary and capital. Federal student loans tend to have low interest rates and sometimes have tax benefits, and there are forbearance options in the event of major financial difficulty.

You can also look into options to refinance your student loans at today’s low interest rates (just know that doing so takes forbearance and other payment options off the table). However, don’t prioritize paying off student loans over saving for your future. The latter will serve you better — especially if there are matching dollars in play.

5. Saving for Children’s Education

Regrets for not saving are understandable — but because financial aid exists, you have to put retirement first. That said, a smart way to start is with a 529 plan, which in many states offers an immediate tax benefit. Some plans also offer the option to contribute small amounts of money (e.g., $25) every month or pay period (again, automatically) which adds up over time.

“There’s no one magic number. It’s not like saving for a down payment for a house or something where you have a specific goal, a specific time you want to do it,” says Szapiro. “It’s something where the more you save, the more options you’ll have.”

Our Investment & Retirement Center can also assist you with setting up a 529 College Savings Plan – be sure to contact them today at 866.750.0100, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to get on the right track!

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

11 Things To Do With Your Money In The First Five Years After College Graduation

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A lot changes during the years that separate college graduation from five-year reunion. After caps and gowns come first jobs and apartments, then–far too often–bad bosses and roommates, leading to second jobs and apartments. A few years later your Facebook news feed will become a sea of engagement photos, foretelling weekends inundated with weddings. In the meantime, former classmates will become lawyers, doctors, MBAs–and occasionally parents.

Throughout all this you’ll wonder how you became old enough for a lease, for taxes, for a bridesmaid’s dress. You may also ask yourself: How am I going to afford all this? As your life evolves in the early years of adulthood so do your finances, the relationship you have with your money and what you need it to do for you.

If you are at the start of this journey, congratulations. Now is the best opportunity you will have to keep out of financial trouble and develop a solid foundation. But if there is no need to panic if you’ve already got a few working years under your belt, you’re not old yet. Small changes can still go a long way.

1. Build a cash cushion. Cars break down, jobs get lost and family members get sick. Emergencies will be emotionally trying, but they don’t need to be a financial drain. With each paycheck move some money into a savings account, preferably through automation. Long term your goal should be to have enough cash to cover three to six months of expenses, but it’s okay to start small. Consider a 52 week money challenge, in the first week save $1, second week $2 and so on, after a year you’ll have $1,378. Ready to commit to more? To determine where on the three to six month spectrum you should aim, evaluate your job security, the availability of jobs in your field and if you can expect family help.

2. Get health insurance. You can typically stay on a parent’s health insurance plan until you turn 26. For plans bought via government marketplace you have until the end of the year. Employer coverage usually ends in your birthday month, but you get a 60 day Special Enrollment Period leading up to your 26th. Use this window. This way coverage can start as soon as your old insurance lapses and you’ll avoid paying a penalty for every month you aren’t covered. The fine is the higher of 2.5% of household income (to a maximum) or $695 per adult per month (up to $2,085).

3. Do your 65 year-old self a favor. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan open an account and invest at least enough to take full advantage of company matching contribution (free money!). If not, open an individual retirement account and contribute as much as you can. In either case, create a road map to be making contributions of 10-15% of your income before your five-year reunion. Why? The power of compounding means saving a little bit of money now will go farther than saving a lot later on.

How will you begin preparing for your retirement today? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

4. Give yourself a student debt-free deadline. Student loan repayment plans are typically structured to take 10 years. If remaining student-indebted well into your 30s doesn’t sit well, consider giving yourself a cutoff. “A deadline can be a great strategy if it based in reality,” says Karen Carr, a financial planner at the Society of Grownups. Use a loan repayment calculator to determine how much time you can shave off by paying more than the minimum. For example, a borrower with $30,000 in debt, a 10 year loan term and a 6% interest rate could conclude payments more than a year early by paying $400 a month rather than $330 – check out First Financials Student Loan calculator. Repeat this exercise every time you get a raise, tax refund or other windfall.

5. Crack down on your credit. Got credit card debt? Build a plan to pay it down, taking the same basic steps as you would to cut down your student debt timeline. Another one of our calculators – Credit Card Payoff – can be used to determine the amount of money you would need to put toward your debt each month to reach a desired pay off date.

Don’t even have a credit card? Experts suggest asking yourself if you have self-control and, crucially, whether you’ll be able to commit to paying your balance in full every month. If not, either steer clear of credit cards or open a card with a very low credit limit. If you can control your spending urges, a card paid on time can be a good way to boost your credit score. A solid score will come in handy if you ever want to get a mortgage or refinance your student debt. Used responsibly, rewards points and cash back are also nice tools for subsidizing things you may not otherwise be able to afford.

Check out First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

6. Plan to be flexible. An average college graduate will hold 5.8 jobs between ages 22 and 28, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a related trend, the Census Bureau has shown that people in their 20s move homes almost twice as often as the general population. This flux is why it is best avoid decisions the will lock up your money at this point in your life. The unexpected will occur.

A friend who responded to an informal poll for this story wrote about signing a two-year lease on her first post-college apartment. She liked the idea of avoiding a rent increase (multi-year leases lock in a rate). She also saw it as a way to feel grounded in a new city. A year later she ended up paying for that decision when she got the opportunity to move closer to family and friends, but couldn’t get out of her lease or find a sub-letter who would cover the full rent.

Life’s unpredictable nature is also why, if you can’t do both, you should put away a small cash pile before saving in a traditional retirement account. IRA and 401(k) contributions are made pre-tax, so if you withdraw funds before age 59 1/2 you’ll in most cases need to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty in addition to regular income taxes. Another option is funding a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k). With these accounts you’ll make contributions post-tax, which is more costly short term, but means in an emergency you can withdraw your original contributions (although not earnings) without tax or penalty.

7. Learn five practical skills. We pay for convenience, which is fine, but expensive. Determine which services actually improve your life. (Maybe you’ll decide a wash-and-fold service is worth an extra $25 a month, but $3 on coffee each morning is not.) Don’t allow not knowing how to do something force you to pay for services. Commit to attaining a few practical skills that can save you money in the long run. For example, learn to: cook a few basic meals, change a tire, fill out a tax return, paint your nails, sew. For more inspiration read about roommates who saved $55,000 with a buy nothing year.

8. Ask your significant other how much she/he earns. A 2015 survey of couples found that 43% of people did not know their partner’s salary. Of those 10% were off by $25,000 or more. Find out. Knowing how much your partner earns will help you set realistic expectations of what your life together should look like now and in the future. If gaps exist around basic questions like salary, couples might have other opportunities for improvement on the financial front, such as sorting through and tackling important issues together around the next big milestones in their lives. By taking time to engage in conversation and plan, your chances of creating a strong foundation and achieving your goals are greatly enhanced.

9. Negotiate.  In a recent survey, job search and review site Glassdoor found that just 41% of U.S. employees negotiated their most recent salary offer, the rest accepted the salary they were first quoted either for a raise or new jobs. Jessica Jaffe, Glassdoor spokesperson notes, “Of the small portion who did [negotiate], 59% were able to get more money. This shows negotiating can pay off.” Sites including Glassdoor compile information on average salaries by company and job title.

10. Decide if you’ll need a graduate degree. Step 1: Determine if going to graduate school will get you where you want to go by talking to recent grads, consulting people five to ten years ahead of you in their careers and researching average post-grad salaries for your field, location and school of choice.  Step 2: Figure out how you are going to pay for school. How much will you need to fund with loans? Will your employer pay your tuition if you return after graduation? What if you go to school part-time, will your company cover any credits? Do you qualify for any scholarships? How much can you save toward future costs?

If you have undergraduate debt, you can usually defer payment for the years you are in grad school, but your loans will continue to accrue interest. This means you will leave graduate school more indebted than you go in, regardless of whether you need loans to fund this next step in your education. In this case, a key calculation in the years before grad school is whether you should use extra money to pay down undergraduate loans at a faster clip or to hide it away to eventually put toward tuition. Phil DeGisi, chief marketing officer of student debt refinance startup CommonBond, says that decision should depend on interest rates. If the average rate on loans for the type of grad school you’d like to go to is higher than the rate on your student loans you should focusing on saving. If the the rate on your student loans is higher focus on paying down debt. If both rates are high, figure out if you can refinance your undergraduate debt to a lower rate.

11. Save and pay for something you really want. In the first few post-college years, most people are afraid of non-essential spending. How can you justify a new dress or a vacation if you haven’t reached your emergency fund or retirement savings goals? Start by saving every $5 bill you receive – you’ll be amazed how quickly it adds up. $100 for a great new pair of sunglasses and then with a little more effort, you can save $1,000 to go on that vacation you’ve worked so hard for. It feels great when you know you didn’t take away from your other goals, since you were using money that would have otherwise been spent, not money you were saving. Most importantly, paying for things that you truly wanted, with money you had saved for that purpose shows that you have control over your finances. As Bonneau points out, it’s “hard to regress in lifestyle,” but relatively easy to build sustainable habits now.

Be honest with yourself about the way you spend. Use a digital spending tracker or notebook to hold yourself accountable and to find places where you can cut back to focus on your priorities. Maybe that’s a vacation fund, a shoe fund, a charity fund, an education fund or an other-peoples’-weddings fund. You decide.

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Original article courtesy of Samantha Sharf of Forbes.

9 Hacks for a Perfect Monthly Budget

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While the word “budget” may want to send some of us screaming in the other direction, creating a successful budget is actually one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves. It not only helps you out financially, but it does a ton to reduce the day-to-day anxiety so many of us feel when it comes to our finances.

If you’re losing sleep over your monthly finances but don’t know where to begin, here are eleven helpful tips for getting started with a monthly budget.

Grab Your Calculator and Block Out Some Time

Grab your calculator, a pen and paper, and open that Excel doc — and most importantly, block out some time for this. Really figuring out what you spend can take a few hours, and one of the most important parts of this process is simply scheduling some time to do it.

Record Your Take-Home Pay

The first step in any budgeting process is to figure out how much you take home each month. Don’t include anything that automatically gets subtracted, like a 401k or taxes — you just want to know what you actually have in your pocket each month.

Subtract The Essential Expenses

Subtract all of the “essential” expenses you absolutely have to pay each month, like student loans, rent, car payments, cell phone, etc. Take time to really think about every bill that comes in.

Allocate For Savings

You now have the amount of money you can use for personal choices — as in you can literally do whatever you want with it. Things like groceries, clothes, and take out all fit into this category. And in a piece for Nerd Wallet, financial writer Anika Sekar says this is now when you allocate for savings (or “paying yourself first” as some retirement planners put it). She recommended saving at least 20 percent after taxes, which comes to about 12-16 percent pre-tax. If you already accounted for a retirement fund in a previous step, you can factor it into this assessment.

Assess The Numbers

Now is the time when you assess the balance of your numbers. In a piece for the financial site Learnvest, financial writer Laura Shin recommended the 50/20/30 rule of thumb. This system says that no more than half your income should go to necessary expenses, no more than 20 percent should go to savings, and no more than 30 percent should go to everything else. If your ratio is coming off far from this, think about re-balancing.

Get Into The Nitty-Gritty

Now it’s time to break down that 30 percent, “personal choice,” portion of your budget. Figure out all the little things you spend on each month — from coffee, to manicures, to ordering in. It’s important to be realistic during this process.

Make Some Cuts

It’s entirely possible that after completing the above step you realize that you spend way more than your allocated 30 percent on random stuff. This is the stage where you might need to figure out where you can cut some expenses. Maybe it’s making coffee at home, or limiting yourself to a take out order just once a week, or maybe it’s not letting yourself “just pop in” to a store after work because you know you always end up buying something.

Consider A Money Tracking App

If all of this seems overwhelming, consider a money-tracking app on your phone. DailyWorth.com recommended Mint.com, Goodbudget, and Mvelopes as a few of their top choices for personal budget helpers, but you can definitely research around to see which one best suits your needs.

Remember — Treat Yourself Sometimes!

Budgeting doesn’t mean restriction. It just means knowing where your money is actually going. Don’t get overwhelmed at the thought of a monthly budget or think a solid budget is out of reach. Just remember it’s about informed choices so you can enjoy the money you make!

Article Source: Toria Sheffield for Bustle.com, http://www.bustle.com/articles/159271-9-hacks-for-a-perfect-monthly-budget

13 Money Tips for Married Couples

Fotolia_48240524_Subscription_XXL-2-Copy-1024x683Marriage brings both happy times and not so happy times – with most troubles stemming from financial issues, there are ways to get through them. For the 70 percent of people who will be married at some point in their lives, financial advisors say there many ways to benefit from the power of two. Here is a list of their best financial advice for married couples.

1. Talk openly about money even before you marry. “As soon you are married, or even before you get married, you should start talking about your goals and financial assets,” says Derek Gabrielsen, a wealth advisor with Strategic Wealth Partners in Seven Hills, Ohio.

2. Define shared goals. “You talk about building a life together – buying a home, having children, their college education and how you will protect each other’s health care and retirement,” says Diane Pearson, personal chief financial officer of Legend Financial Advisors Inc. “Financial planning might not be romantic, but there is some peace of mind in sharing the same goals.”

3. Stay in harmony with your shared financial plan. “A financial plan is just the starting point. Life happens and you need to make adjustments,” Gabrielsen says. A financial plan can serve as a reminder of what your big goals are and how to reach them. Financial planners can also act as intermediaries on tough financial questions.

4. Share costs. From home purchases to food shopping, there are efficiencies. By combining savings, couples can qualify for lower fees on bank transactions and retirement accounts. Account management fees typically fall below 1 percent a year for people with combined accounts of $250,000 to $500,000, and can be up to 2 percent for smaller accounts. Checking and personal loan fees can also be combined for significant savings.

5. Communicate about what you need. Women need to be more confident so they can engage in discussions about investing for retirement which recently issued a study on affluent women that shows low levels of participation. While 90 percent of the women surveyed said financial expertise matters, only 40 percent are confident that they have any, and fewer than half wanted to build their knowledge. Couples need to plan together, and women are too inclined to stay on the sidelines.

6. Pool long-term assets for maximum growth and safety. When you pool resources, you have more for down payments, better access to credit and you can invest more in growth opportunities, Pearson says. For homeowners, joint ownership can also add a layer of protection from creditors.

7. Share goals and diversify assets. “The more you have invested together, the more creative you can be in your asset mix,” Gabrielsen says. “It means you can diversify more widely to protect against risk if you combine assets. To get the most out of it, you need to coordinate both spouses’ holdings into one nest egg.” With a larger pool of money, “you have the leeway to add a few growth stocks with upside that you might not put in a smaller account,” he says.

8. Take advantage of tax benefits. “You might pay a bit more in income tax going from single to married, but there is a savings in taxes overall,” says Popovich, an expert on financial issues in same-sex marriages. In the case of the estate tax, couples can transfer $5 million to each other tax-free. “The ability to transfer assets to each other is really important,” he says.

9. Respect each other’s money skills. “Couples rarely have the same financial expertise, and it’s not always men who have more,” Pearson says. “The spouse with skills can lead. One might focus on day-to-day bill paying and cash flow, the other on investing. But both need to be involved with decisions or it can lead to bitterness.”

10. Support each other through ups and downs. “Spouses can really do a lot to take the pressure off each other,” Gabrielsen says. Women have moved near equality to men in terms of income and in a recent survey, they out-earned their male spouses.

11. Don’t give up on communication, even in a separation. An acrimonious divorce can be costly for both partners. Some people think they can hide income or property. “You really have to go to a lot of trouble to hide assets,” Gabrielsen says. Open communication about financial assets and costs can make the other parts of a split-up easier for all involved.

12. Use flexibility in Social Security and employer benefits. Social Security pays spousal benefits even for those who don’t work. Health care insurance and other benefits are useful, even when both spouses have their own. “Couples don’t always have the same time table for retirement,” Gabrielsen says. “They enjoy more flexibility when it comes to staggering their retirements, and I know a lot of boomers doing that.”

13. Perform regular financial checkups. “I find it very rare for couples who just want to go off and each do their own thing financially,” Pearson says. “Most people want to find a financial path and want stay on it. But it requires communication between spouses, creating a financial plan and updating it when things change.” Although it sounds basic, the Wells Fargo survey of affluent women found that less than half of them have a financial plan.

*Original article source courtesy of Richard Satran of US News.

8 Energy & Money Saving Tips for Spring

bigstock-Business-people-meditating-out-65025178The weather is warming. Wildflowers are blooming. Trees are sprouting new leaves, and people are swapping coats and scarves for shorts and colorful dresses.

There’s no doubt about it – spring is in the air. And with a new season comes a new opportunity to re-evaluate your home-energy usage and prepare for warmer months. To help kick off your eco-friendly home makeover, here are eight tips to curb your energy use and ultimately save you money this spring.

1. Give your AC a tuneup. When the temperature starts rising, air conditioners start working overtime. Give your AC a tuneup early to ensure it runs efficiently, economically and safely throughout the season. When servicing your AC, you should replace your filters, check your refrigerant levels, and clean your evaporator coils. You may want to schedule an inspection and maintenance visit from a certified HVAC technician, who can make sure your system is up to speed and catch problems before they become major expenses. Routine maintenance can reduce your AC’s energy consumption by 15 percent.

2. Check your water heater. We may not need to heat our house during the spring, but most of us will continue to use hot water to shower and wash dishes. To avoid costly repairs in the future, drain a quarter of your water heater tank to remove sediment and debris at least once a year. Adjust the thermostat to 120 degrees, and you can avoid scalding temperatures while cutting down energy costs.

3. Clean out your fridge. It’s one of the biggest energy hogs in your whole home, with the average fridge using nearly 14 percent of a household’s energy. By properly cleaning out your fridge, you can reduce its energy consumption and cut down your electricity bill. Start by rolling your refrigerator away from the wall and using a duster or vacuum hose to clear the dirt and dust from the coils. Remove unneeded and old food from your fridge to allow air to circulate and increase efficiency. You shouldn’t leave your fridge completely empty, however; by keeping it about two-thirds full, you can prevent air from leaking out when you open the door. If your fridge is located near the oven or is in direct sunlight, you may want to move it to a cooler location to make it easier for the appliance to maintain a cold temperature.

4. Seal cracks. In warm weather, cool air can escape through the cracks and openings in your home as hot air leaks in. If you uncover sources of air leakage, you can seal the openings with a clear or paintable caulk. By sealing the air leaks in your home, you can cut energy costs by almost 30 percent while creating a healthier home environment and boosting the durability of the structure.

5. Be smart with your thermostat. Most experts agree that 78 degrees is the ideal temperature to save on energy costs while maintaining comfort during warm weather. For every degree you set your thermostat above 78 degrees during warmer weather, you could save an estimated 6 to 8 percent off your energy bill. When you leave your house, it’s an energy-smart move to raise your settings so that cooling will only occur if the temperature exceeds 88 degrees.

6. Embrace natural ventilation. In the springtime, you can often create a cross breeze that flows through the house for a natural cooling effect. Open your windows in the evening to flood the space with cooler air, and then close them in the morning before the day warms up to capture the cool. You might also consider installing insulated, thermal-back window coverings to keep heat from coming in through your windows.

7. Stay out of the kitchen. When you cook with a stovetop or oven, you can end up heating up your kitchen and adjacent rooms by several degrees. Save your AC from having to work overtime by cooking with a microwave or grilling outdoors whenever possible.

8. Invest in Energy Star appliances. If you are planning to purchase new appliances this spring, be sure they are Energy Star qualified. Energy Star refrigerators, dishwashers, and heating and cooling systems run more efficiently than older models and can reduce your home energy use by up to 50 percent. Not only do these appliances help you save on your bill, they can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption. When you choose Energy Star appliances, you’re not only saving money, you’re helping to protect the environment.

*Original article source courtesy of Maria Lalonde of US News.