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What is a financial advisor and do I really need one?
Some think that only wealthy people need financial advisors. Whether it’s a financial planner, wealth manager, money manager, retirement planner, or a slew of other similar titles, they generally all mean the same thing: financial guidance for people who want a strategy to achieve some future monetary goal.
Planning for life events
Eventually, we all experience some big life event, whether it’s paying for college, or buying a home, starting your own business, or caring for aging parents. Often times, your financial goals can overlap, collide, or simply seem unmanageable. A financial advisor will not only help you navigate the journey, but they’ll also work with you to prioritize your efforts. Sometimes you just need a more structured savings and investment strategy that can lead you to a more comfortable and less overwhelmed mindset.
Maximizing your current assets
Sometimes the help of a financial advisor is about managing the funds you already have. Many people use an advisor’s expertise to invest their savings and maximize the opportunity to put their money to work. They can help manage an investor’s tax liability, too. A financial advisor that specializes in tax-deferred investment vehicles can help you determine the most advantageous time to take a distribution from your retirement plan or identify beneficial tax-sheltered options.
Regardless of intellect, an investor may lack the appropriate knowledge when it comes to choosing investment options. Trying to balance the relationship between risk and return with your time horizon and your financial goals can be tricky. A smart investor seeks out and leverages the guidance of experts, even if they have investment experience. Don’t ever underestimate the value of professional advice.
Getting back on financial track
For some, their finances are one step away from crashing and burning. If you’re struggling with debt, a consolidation plan might be a wise first step. Financial advisors can develop a plan–not a get rich quick fix–where you’ll learn discipline, recognize your spending habits, and be held accountable so you can move toward improved financial health.
When you work through your goals with an advisor that has in-depth knowledge of your financial situation, you’re able to create realistic expectations and learn to plan accordingly. Recommending appropriate investment vehicles and a savings strategy can help guide you through the uncertainty.
While some advisors require a long-term arrangement, there are many who offer free consultations and no-obligation appointments to review your financial plan–or lack thereof. Check out the services offered by your local bank or credit union and set up a meeting. If they don’t give you a gold star and a pat on the back, they’ll be sure to recommend a realistic strategy. Either way, you win!
Investing 101: What is a CD and are they right for you?
Why do people invest their money? It’s likely because they’re saving for something—a trip, a home, a child’s college education—or simply because they don’t want to work until they’re 108. People earn money by working, but putting your money to work is also an excellent way to build wealth and help you afford the things you want in life.
Investing is the most effective way to grow your money over the long term, but risking what you already have for the prospect of something more in the future can be a scary thought. Couple that with the complexities of the financial markets and it’s easier just to stuff some cash under your mattress.
The truth is, investing doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, there are some conservative options that can help you earn extra cash without pushing you beyond your comfort zone. Both seasoned and novice investors can benefit from the safer, simple choices, like a CD, for instance.
What is a CD and how does it work?
A certificate of deposit (CD) is a promissory note that’s issued by a bank or credit union. It comes with a future maturity date and a fixed interest rate. When you invest in a CD, you, as the investor, agree to loan your money to the issuing institution for a specific period of time and a predetermined rate of return.
When you purchase a CD, you give up access to your funds until the maturity date. For forfeiting your liquidity, you earn compensation in the form of interest. Once the CD matures, the bank refunds your initial investment, which is called the principle, plus your earned interest.
CDs are issued for different terms. Long-term CDs typically offer a higher rate of return compared to short-term CDs. Why? Because your restricted access to the funds is for a longer timeframe and the longer you’re required to hold your investment, the higher level of risk and uncertainty you assume.
How risky are CDs?
On the spectrum of risk and return, CDs are considered conservative investments. Federally-insured bank CDs are backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC), and Credit Union issued CDs are guaranteed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Even if the issuing institution collapses, your investments are protected.
The risk that you assume with CDs is interest rate risk. When you invest in a CD, you agree to a specified rate of return. As the financial markets fluctuate in response to economic and political factors, you want your CD’s rate of return to remain competitive. If CD rates rise, your current investments could be locked into a lower rate for an extended period of time. While you don’t run the risk of losing your investment and your earned interest, but you could miss out on the opportunity to earn more money than with your current CD.
One way to reduce that level of risk is called laddering. You can stagger maturity dates among several CDs so that matured deposits can be reinvested at potentially higher rates and you’re able to gain periodic access to cash, if necessary.
Explore your options
As with any investment, be sure to familiarize yourself with the fine print. A common concern with CDs is penalties for early withdrawal. If you experience a hardship and have to cash in your CD, it could significantly affect your earned interest or even your principle. Today, there are specialty CDs like penalty-free CDs, Bump Up or Raise Your Rate CDs, IRA and Jumbo CDs. If you’re considering an investment, be sure to speak with your financial advisor to determine which options will meet your individual needs, both in the short and long term.
Information about Meltdown and Spectre
You may have heard news reports about Meltdown and Spectre, two computer bugs affecting electronic devices. We want to assure you that the security of our members’ information is our top priority and we have, and will continue to protect it from viruses such as these.
We have a robust Information Security Program to keep our members’ information safe and we have been working closely with our vendors to address these bugs specifically. For more information about Meltdown and Spectre, please click here.
15 ideas for how to get out of credit card debt
When it comes to money, there are few things more gut-wrenching than seeing those credit card statements pile up in your inbox every month. You hesitate to open them because you already know that they’ll be worse than last month. High interest, late fees, impulse purchases…it’s out of control and you need a game plan.
According to Investmentzen.com, the average American household has $16,748 in debt. And with an average interest rate of more than 15%, that’s no small chunk of change. Compounded with the worry and stress of managing that burden, the number of consumers looking for realistic ways to pay down their debt grows every day.
We came up with 15 easy but effective ways to help you dig yourself out of debt as quickly as possible:
- Create a spreadsheet. Be sure that it details all of your debt so you can see the full picture. You’ll know where you started, be able to track your progress, and know when to celebrate the milestones.
- Toss offers for new credit accounts. The more credit you have available, the greater the opportunity you have to build up a balance. It’s too much of a temptation!
- Stop making purchases with credit. Pay cash whenever possible. It will take some sacrifice at times, but you’ll be sure to spend less and only buy what you need.
- Negotiate a lower interest rate. If you’ve been a long-time customer with an on-time payment history and a worthy credit rating, your current creditors may be willing to lower your rate to keep your business.
- Track your spending. Some consumers honestly don’t know where their money goes. Write down every dime you spend for one month, and you’ll soon find out where your money goes when it disappears.
- Create a realistic budget. Start with the necessities. It’ll help you identify those areas where you can lower your expenses—like cable subscriptions, gym memberships or cleaning services—so you can redirect it to paying down your debt.
- Find ways to earn extra cash. Would a part-time job fit into your schedule? How about consigning some clothes on Poshmark.com or Swap.com? Ever wanted to be a mystery shopper? House sit, babysit?
- Curb your social media interaction. Keeping up with the Joneses takes a lot of hard work. New clothes, new golf clubs, a fancy family vacation…they all cost money. Don’t let them tempt you.
- Start cooking at home. It’s a lot easier–and tastier–to eat out, but it also costs more. It’s time to channel your inner Rachael Ray and get cookin’. That includes lunch, too.
- Send extra cash to your highest-interest credit card. Just don’t forget about making the minimum payments on your other credit cards to keep them current.
- Consider a balance transfer. If your credit card has a high interest rate, you may be able to find one with a 0% promo rate. Be careful though– read all the fine print about transfer fees and interest rates after the promotional rate expires.
- Consolidate your debt. A debt consolidation loan from a bank or a credit union may help you pay off your credit cards all at once. Then focus on making one large monthly payment to repay the debt consolidation loan.
- Track your progress. It’s hard not to obsess over your progress. Set reminders every few months to measure your success and find a fun, inexpensive way to celebrate!
- Keep your goals front and center. Will paying down your debt help you buy a home? Finally get a good night’s sleep? Pay for your daughter’s wedding? Whatever it is, it’ll keep you motivated when you slip up, or things aren’t moving as quickly as you’d like.
- Talk to a credit counselor. If your debt is too overwhelming, there are highly reputable, non-profit consumer credit counseling organizations that are experts in this area. Their services are free of charge. They’ll help you create a budget, review suitable options for dealing with your debt and design an action plan specifically for your situation.
Once you’ve reached your goal, it’s important to guard against the bad habits that helped you get here in the first place. Following a budget and using credit responsibly will help you maintain healthy financial habits. With that comes less stress and greater peace of mind, and who doesn’t want that?
Budgeting for College Students: Where to Start
College marks a significant transition period for many young adults — it’s a time of newfound freedom and the financial responsibilities that come with it.
Whether your funds come from family, student loans, scholarships or your own wallet, you’ll need to budget for expenses like textbooks, housing and, yes, a social life. Knowing who’s footing the bill, what costs to expect and which ones you can live without — ideally before school starts — can reduce stress and help you form healthy financial habits for the future.
Have the money talk
Before you build a budget, go over some important details with the people — parents, guardians or a partner — who will be involved in financing your education. Discussing your situation together will ensure everyone is in the loop and understands expectations.
“One of the biggest obstacles we have [with] teaching young people financial literacy and financial skills is not making money and expenses a taboo subject,” says Catie Hogan, founder of Hogan Financial Planning LLC. “Open lines of communication are far and away the most important tool, just so everyone’s on the same page as far as what things are going to cost and how everybody can keep some money in their pocket.”
Here are some topics to start with:
- Who is paying for college and how. Have a conversation before the start of each school year to decide if your family will pay for costs out-of-pocket or if you’ll need to get a job, rely on financial aid, use funds from a 529 plan or combine these options.
- What expenses to expect. In addition to tuition, you’ll have to budget for other college costs, like transportation and school supplies. Make a list of likely expenses, estimate the cost and agree who pays for what. (See more on expenses below.)
- FAFSA and taxes. Whether a parent or guardian claims you as a dependent or you file taxes on your own determines whose information is required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and who can claim tax credits and deductions. Discuss your financial status before each school year and address any changes, like a raise or job loss.
- Credit cards and bank accounts. If you’re considering opening a credit card account for the first time, are younger than 21 and don’t work full time, you’ll need a co-signer: a parent or other adult. You’ll want to talk about ground rules, like only using a credit card for emergencies and defining what constitutes an emergency. Approach new financial products with caution and be careful not to take on debt. If you plan to directly deposit funds from a job or allowance, look for a checking account that offers low (or no) fees.
Anticipate your expenses
To determine what you’ll spend each term, keep these college-related expenses on your radar:
- Textbooks and school supplies. Course materials could eat up a large chunk of your budget. The average estimated cost of books and supplies for in-state students living on campus at public four-year institutions in 2016-2017 was $1,250, according to the College Board. Also plan for purchases like notebooks, a laptop, a printer and a backpack, and read the do’s and don’ts of back-to-school shopping for money-saving tips.
- Room and board. When it comes to food and living arrangements, weigh your options. Compare the cost of living on campus and getting a meal plan versus renting an apartment and shopping for groceries.
- Transportation. Will you take a bus, bike or walk to and from campus or work? If you absolutely need a car, be prepared to cover gas, maintenance and insurance.
- Clothing. Budget for seasonal clothing and job-fair outfits.
- Discretionary spending. You deserve a break from studying. Leave room in your budget for fun stuff like entertainment, travel and social activities.
Track your spending and cut back where you can
The basic principles of budgeting, like living below your means, still apply regardless of the source of your funds. Whether you’re working or receiving help from your parents or financial aid — or all of the above — figure out how much money flows in and out.
You don’t have to go through a grueling process, like filling out a spreadsheet every day; you’ll have enough homework. Just set aside some time at least once a month to review your money situation. Budgeting apps and online banking can help make the process more manageable.
“Just knowing that you can log into your online banking and take inventory of what you have and the income coming in, I think that’s more than enough,” Hogan says.
Start with the common culprits: food and fun. “Looking at what is the least expensive meal plan you can get without going hungry is a big money-saving tip,” Hogan says. “And a lot of campus activities and groups and all that [are] really great, but they can weigh really heavy on your budget, so don’t overcommit.”
Keep your future self in mind
If you’ve managed to stay afloat as a student, you’re in good shape. Continue on a financially healthy path by thinking about life after graduation. If you’re working and able to build a cushion, set financial goals, like creating an emergency fund or saving for a trip — and don’t forget about any student loans you might have to pay off after graduation.
“You obviously don’t want to burden yourself so much that you have anxiety about it while you’re in college, but I think having a healthy grasp of reality … is helpful in terms of knowing what kind of lifestyle you can really afford to live in college,” says Kyle Moore, a certified financial planner in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The article Budgeting for College Students: Where to Start originally appeared on NerdWallet.
Georgia’s Own and Gas South
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