What To Do With Your Stimulus Check Once You Receive It

stimulus check

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act was recently enacted to assist families, individuals, small business owners and medical facilities across America amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.1 As part of this legislation, many individuals and families became eligible to receive stimulus checks of up to $1,200 per person.1 Many Americans have received their checks already, while some are preparing to receive theirs shortly. If you or your household received a check, here are some things you may want to consider doing with it.

#1: Cover the Essentials

The stimulus checks are designed to help Americans who may be financially struggling due to COVID-19. Whether you’ve been furloughed, forced to reduce hours or dragging financially, you should use this money to cover any immediate, essential expenses like rent, utilities, groceries or internet.  

This check should be looked at as a mini emergency fund. Look at your bills over the coming weeks and determine how you can best utilize these funds. If you’re currently receiving unemployment payments from the government, remember to account for this income when making your financial strategy as well. If you are still coming up short after the stimulus check has been used up, remember to check with companies (power companies, insurers, gyms, cable companies, etc.) regarding any relief efforts or forgiveness policies they may have enacted amidst the global pandemic.

#2: Fill Your Emergency Fund

Many adults say they don’t have enough saved to cover a $400 emergency.2  With so many people living paycheck to paycheck, this extra bump in funds could be the cushion needed to prepare for any potential financial surprises.  

Even if your income remains unaffected by the pandemic or you find yourself with some additional dollars leftover, it’s never a bad idea to tuck some away for a rainy day. If you don’t have an emergency fund, saving any surplus from your stimulus check is a good way to start one. An ideal emergency fund should have three to six months’ salary to help cover unexpected expenses such as job loss, medical bills, home damage, car repairs, etc. 

#3: Address High-Interest Debt

Total household debt in America was already quite high before the pandemic hit.  Now, overall American debt is soaring. While some of these debts include lower-interest debts like auto loans or student loans, an extremely large portion of the overall amount is attributed to credit card debt.3

If you’re currently facing any amount of high-interest debt, such as credit cards or personal loans, paying this down should be a top financial priority. If your current financial situation allows it, use your stimulus check to make a dent in (or pay off completely) any high-interest debt your family may have.

#4: Support Local Businesses

It is extremely important to patronize local shops in your community if you are able to. Whether you order food from a local restaurant, purchase gift cards from your favorite boutique or frequent your local coffee shop or bakery for take-out, small business owners have been some of the hardest hit during these times. Many of these small businesses don’t have the backing of a larger corporation or franchise and are experiencing a severe drop in revenue that could jeopardize their ability to stay open after the pandemic.  Your patronage could make a big difference in their ability to continue operation.

#5: Donate It

If you are fortunate enough to be financially comfortable during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to consider giving to those most affected – medical facilities, food banks, shelters, etc. The devastating impact of COVID-19 means assistance is needed now more than ever before.

While the ability to make physical donations (such as clothing, toys, pantry items, etc.) may be limited right now, you can still use your stimulus check to provide crucial monetary relief.   You can search for charity organizations using tools such as Charity Navigator or The Better Business Bureau’s Giving Alliance or you may hear about local nonprofits that are in need through social media or word of mouth.  

#6: Fund Your Future Retirement

Even if you are far off from retirement, putting any excess income into a retirement savings account can be a rewarding move. You may consider using your stimulus check to pad your IRA or 401(k) if you are able. The power of compounding interest means that $1,200 could turn into a couple thousand or more by the time retirement rolls around.

In these unprecedented times, many of us are left wondering what the best next move is when it comes to our stimulus checks. No matter what you choose to do, remember to be intentional with these additional dollars. If you have any questions regarding how to move forward when you receive your stimulus check, please contact us.  We are here to help and we are all in this together!

  1. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/3548/text
  2. https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/2019-economic-well-being-of-us-households-in-2018-dealing-with-unexpected-expenses.htm
  3. https://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/hhdc.html

Coronavirus and Student Loan Debt: What You Need to Know

student loan debt

By the end of 2019, student loan in America reached $1.48 trillion.  There were approximately 45 million borrowers across the United States.1  The COVID-19 pandemic has created even greater financial instability for many Americans and those that have student loans may have more difficulty paying them than ever before.  

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was recently enacted to provide a wide array of assistance for families and businesses.  The legislation also made some important changes to assist federal student loan borrowers. 

Here are some answers to a few important questions regarding student loan debt during the current pandemic: 

Question #1: Are Interest & Payments Suspended on All Student Loans?

The suspension of payments applies only to student loans that are held by the federal government. However, your FFEL (Federal Family Education Loan) lender or school may suspend interest and payments voluntarily, but they are not required to do so. 

Regarding your federal student loans, all interest and payments are suspended through September 30, 2020.2 

The benefits authorized by the CARES Act do not apply to private student loans that are owned by banks, credit unions, schools or other private entities. If you are trying to suspend payments to these institutions, you will need to contact them directly to find out what your options are. 

Question #2: Should I Apply to Suspend My Payments or Interest?

Until September 30, 2020, there will be no interest accrued or payments due for federal student loans.2 There is no action required on your part as these payments will be stopped automatically.  

Question #3: What Should I Do if I’m Behind on Payments?

On March 25, 2020, the Department of Education announced that it would not be withholding federal tax refunds, Social Security payments or garnishing wages from those who have defaulted on their federal student loan payments.3 In addition, private collection agencies contracted by the government will put a pause on attempting to contact defaulted borrowers. 

No defaulted federal student loan will collect interest until September 30, 2020.3

Many of us are experiencing a certain level of financial stress as we navigate this “new normal” through the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are able to continue to make regular payments to your federal student loans, it is beneficial in the long-run.  However, it is important to know your options have changed. If you have any questions relating to your student loan payments or other financial matters, please contact us.  We are here to help! 

  1. https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/interactives/householdcredit/data/pdf/hhdc_2019q2.pdf
  2. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/748
  3. https://studentaid.gov/announcements-events/coronavirus#defaulted-loan-questions

Tips for furloughed workers during the shutdown

A sign declares the National Archive is closed due to a partial federal government shutdown in Washington

Before we get started, lets recognize that this isn’t the first time there’s been a shutdown, and it probably won’t be the last. But that doesn’t change the fact that so many workers are now reaching their third week of no pay. There are roughly 800,000 federal employees who are not receiving paychecks right now, many of whom are located right here in the DC Metro area. While some are technically on a “leave of absence”, many are being expected to work for no pay. What’s worse is that federal employees already make, on average, quite a bit less than their private sector peers. On top of this, while most workers are expecting to be paid retroactively once the shutdown is over, it’s not mandatory.

First and foremost, take a look at your monthly budget and find items you can easily remove.

Another helpful tip is to contact your bank. In fact, one institution headquartered here in the DC Metro, Navy Federal Credit Union,  is extending a zero-interest loan up to $6,000 with no fees and a grace period. Many banks are willing to make exceptions. Bank of America and Wells Fargo also have outreach programs that assist federal employees. Most institutions have similar processes in place for their employees that allow them to contact creditors and landlords in order to ask for assistance.

Another step that federal employees can take is to proactively reach out to creditors. Best move? Develop a simple letter that explains your situation: “I am a government employee who has lost income due to the government shutdown. Due to these events, my income has been drastically reduced for the time being and I am unable to make my payment in full this month.” On top this, don’t forget to include account numbers and contact information with the letter.

While filing for unemployment may seem like the best “quick fix”, that isn’t necessarily true. A large portion of these federal employees can apply for unemployment while on temporary leave of absence. Unfortunately, this doesn’t cover everyone. For those who are expected to report to work without pay (as mentioned above), do not qualify for these benefits. In most states (and D.C.), if you collect unemployment benefits, and then receive retroactive your pay, you will indeed be require to repay the government.

If you are a government worker who participate in the Thrift Savings Plan, you may take loans from their retirement savings if the furlough is expected to last 30 days or less. You may not take the loan if your leave goes beyond that period. However, remember than once you remove money from your retirement account, that money is no long invested in the market. You will also be required to repay the money, so this should be used as a last resort.

One last note to keep in mind: Be skeptical about picking up work while you are on furlough. Even though the government is shut down, you are still an employee of the federal government. Because of this, certain employment (outside the scope of your federal job)may be restricted.

While these tips may bring short-term relief, the best course of action is to develop a long-term plan for these types of situations. This will be the first time that a government shutdown has extended past two pay periods, making the financial situation for many households that much tighter. No one knows how long the current shutdown will last, or when the next will arise, and that is exactly the reason to be prepared for these types of scenarios.

If you are federal employee who has questions about your day-to-day income during the shutdown, and are wanting to talk to a professional, please feel free to reach out to us. We are more than happy to assist you in this time of instability.

 

How Much Money Do You Actually Need in America?

Sherman Wealth Management | Fee Only Fiduciary

In my line of business, we talk a lot about wealth management. The idea, of course, is that financial planners and wealth managers assist you in creating a road map for your money that helps you grow savings for lifestyle goals like retirement, purchasing a home, or sending your kids to the college of their dreams. The term “wealth management” often begs the question: What does “being wealthy” mean? And when do you need a financial planner to help you manage your wealth?

How Do People View Wealth?

A recent study has shown that the definition of being wealthy rises as people age. Bloomberg states that Boomers tend to view $2.4 million as a requirement to be “wealthy” whereas millennial’s view wealth as a $2 million requirement. That’s a fairly large discrepancy – and it’s pretty clear what’s causing it. The younger we are, the more likely we are to view our financial future with a sense of optimism. We also tend to be more short-sighted in our financial planning, and believe that a smaller amount of wealth will last longer.

As we age, we become more realistic about our finances. We start to see the big picture, and that honest truth is that we often need a lot more money than we realize.

What Does Wealth Mean to You?

Despite the discrepancy in what quantifies “wealth” among generations, one thing stays the same: people view wealth as several consistent things. They believe that wealth is:

  • Options
  • Freedom
  • The ability to stop worrying
  • A secure future
  • Caring for yourself and your loved ones

Many people also say that being wealthy equates to taking time for themselves in their daily life. According to the same survey, the majority of millennial’s believe that they will be wealthy in the future. However, the same optimism doesn’t translate to Boomers and other generations.

The Importance of Saving

The key to building wealth is saving a lot, and saving early. The sooner you can start to prioritize saving in your budget, the sooner you can begin to take advantage of compound interest. I’ve discussed this in previous blog posts, but to review:

Compound interest is essentially a snowball effect. As a snowball rolls down a hill, it grows in size. Even if you start with a small amount of money invested, it picks up more and more snow with each revolution. By the time you reach the bottom of the hill, the snowball has grown significantly, and will continue to grow faster the more you have invested.

This demonstrates the importance of saving early on in your financial life. Although many millennial’s feel positively about their opportunity for wealth, they won’t be able to capitalize on these goals if they don’t prepare now.

The Importance of a Financial Plan

This wealth study by Bloomberg also indicated that most people, unsurprisingly, felt more secure in their finances when they worked with a financial advisor on constructing their financial plan. Many millennials have yet to employ their own financial advisor, and it’s time to rethink that trend.

At Sherman Wealth, many of my clients are millennial’s. I enjoy working with families and young professionals to both clearly define their goals and help them build a plan that moves them in the right direction. When advisers have the opportunity to work with millennial’s to grow their wealth, they have a leg up on pre-retirees who focus on financial planning as they near retirement: time.

When you implement a financial plan early in life, you have time on your side. With time, your wealth can grow significantly, and working with a financial adviser can help you make the right money moves early on to set yourself up for success in the long run.

Are You Ready?

In my recent video reviewing MarketWatch’s article on what you need saved for retirement by the time you’re 35 years old, I stressed the importance of saving early. It’s critical to start growing your wealth, even as a millennial who has many years until retirement, through targeted savings and a smart investing strategy. The critical thing to remember is you’re not just saving for retirement – you’re saving for all future goals like buying a house, sending your kids to college, or living well throughout your life. Saving is truly the only way to ensure wealth in your future, which means that saving is the only way to ensure options, freedom, and a lack of worrying about money as you age.

If you’d like to discuss your saving strategy, schedule a consultation today. Building a comprehensive financial plan that prioritizes saving while mitigating the impact of taxes and investment fees is key to growing your wealth and building a financial future you can rely on, and I’d love to help.

Patient Investors Come Out on Top

patient-investors

Many feel they don’t have the money they need to invest, so they forego savings altogether. Sound familiar?

If this is you, the time has come for you to stop shooting yourself in the foot, and start saving today. Consistency while saving is key, and can make all the difference over time. Each dollar that you contribute to your portfolio adds up. In the long run, your investments early on can make a real impact, and when the time comes to withdraw your hard earned savings, the interest you’ve earned on your investments will help to provide a comfortable retirement or any long term goal you might be saving towards.

Start Saving Now

Consider the difference of waiting to begin saving. At age 27 you will need to put away $214 a month to reach a goal of $1 million. When you start at age 37, you will need to put away $541 a month to reach your goal. If you wait until age 47, that number rises to $1,491 a month and if you wait until age 57, you’ll need to put away a hefty $5,168 a month. Waiting until the last minute (age 62) would mean having to stash $13,258 a month to reach $1 million by the age 67 – ouch!

When you factor in things like compound interest, the negative impact of delaying your retirement savings becomes increasingly obvious. Compound interest is often compared to a snowball. If a 2-inch snowball starts rolling, it picks up more snow, enough to cover its tiny surface.

As it keeps rolling, the snowball grows, so it picks up more snow with each revolution. If you invest $1,000 in a fund that pays 8% annual interest compounded yearly, in 10 years you’ll have $2,158.93, in 20 years that will be $4,660.96, in 30 years it will be $10,062.66, and in 40 years it will be $21,724.52. It takes patience, but with time you can turn $1,000 into $21,724.52. That sounds like a lot of money, but if we’re being realistic, $1,000 is often spent on:

• A weekend skiing with friends
• A few months of dining out with friends or your spouse
• A new piece of furniture, or tech that you may/may not need

By hitting “pause” on these non-essential goals, you can easily start saving today and take advantage of compound interest.

No matter where you are right now, the crucial point is to begin putting money aside immediately to achieve your long-term financial goals.

What are your future goals?

Travel? Education for your kids? Paying off your mortgage?

Even when you contribute a minimal amount annually, if you’re consistent with that contribution over many years, the growth your investment will make can maximize your wealth in the long ron.

The idea that you don’t have enough money right now to make your investment worthwhile is hurting you and your future. Resist the urge to overthink how much you are investing, and just act by giving what you can to your future savings today. Remember: every dollar counts, and the satisfaction of watching your investment grow over time will give you peace of mind and a freedom to plan for the future.

Don’t Jump Ship When Things Go South

Many investors view themselves as being rationally-minded individuals who don’t take sudden action when the markets become turbulent. Too often, though, people do try to time the markets, and wind up making a wrong decision as a result.

Derek Horstmeyer of the Wall Street Journal writes “Most investors think of themselves as rational and immune from the behavioral elements that periodically roil markets. Human factors, however, do continue to affect our personal portfolio decisions—usually to the detriment of our long-run returns.”

Thinking too much about the “perfect timing” when growing our portfolios is a strategy that will more often than not cause people to lose money in the long run. A far better investment plan is to focus on the big picture, and less on a perfect portfolio – where every decision is made at the exact right time.

Timing the market is less important than time in the market, and getting caught up in getting that “perfect timing” is almost certain to cost you money. Aiming toward a good, solid return on your investment is a smarter strategy than worrying about every detail affecting your portfolio. All too often, people panic as soon as things start to go south (pulling out when the market has already hit bottom and putting in more when at the top). As a result, they often don’t experience this stated return in full. By resisting this urge to make a rash decision, investors showing behavioral restraint may actually wind up saving 1-2 percentage points a year.

Starting early is a critical component to a successful portfolio. It is never too late (or too early) to start, so the sooner the better. Beginning in 2011, studies were conducted where participants were shown a computer generated rendering of what they might look like at their age of retirement. They were then asked to make financial decisions about whether to spend their money today or save that money for the future.

In each study, those individuals who were shown pictures of their future selves allocated more than twice as much money towards their retirement accounts than those who did not see the age-progressed images. Seeing the images gave the participants a connection with their future selves that they did not possess before. As a result, their saving behavior changed dramatically because, “saving is like a choice between spending money today or giving it to a stranger years from now.”

Picture Your Retirement

Instead of viewing your future self as a stranger, think of how you actually might look. Then think of the financial decisions you are making today and how they will affect you in the future.

Are your spending and saving habits today matching up with how well that future self is able to live tomorrow? Every delay you make toward saving for retirement, or investing wisely means a further burden you will place on yourself later on. In fact, starting your retirement saving early is actually more important than earning higher returns at a later date.

The importance of starting now can’t be stressed enough. Luckily, fee-only, fiduciary advisors exist to help everyday people in making wise choices and to lessen the anxiety associated with what can seem like an overwhelming task.

The good news is you don’t even have to be a millionaire to get this customized service. Working with a professional will enable you to maximize your return on investment and tailor a savings plan just for you. Don’t delay getting started. The benefits of starting early and often far outweigh how much you actually save.

Teaching Children Financial Responsibility: Start Early

close up of family hands with piggy bank

Would it surprise you to know that students graduating from high school enter college with little to no knowledge about their finances, how to budget, or save for their futures? The problem has become so severe that 40% of these students wind up going into debt in order to fund their social lives and 70% of these students wind up damaging their credit ratings shortly after college graduation.

Unfortunately, it seems as though this debt will not be going away anytime soon.  The average student loan debt for the class of 2016 increased by 6% from the previous year and the financial literacy rate in the U.S. has not improved over the past three years. While college enrollment and the number of college graduates has continued to increase, financial literacy lags among these young people at record lows. Where does this disconnect come from?

Few states offer personal finance or economics courses and even fewer states test students on the financial knowledge they have acquired. It therefore comes as no surprise that American students (and we can infer American adults) have one of the lowest levels of financial literacy when compared to other countries.  While the number of student loans has increased,

  • 44% of Americans don’t have enough cash to cover a $400 emergency
  • 43% of student loan borrowers are not making payments
  • 38% of U.S. households have credit card debt
  • 33% of American adults have $0 saved for retirement

Why does it matter? How is it affecting the economy?

Students are graduating with loans they can’t afford to pay back and with minimal financial knowledge in planning for their futures. According to Student Loan Hero, Americans have over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt, which is more than double the total U.S. credit card debt of $620 billion. This debt is becoming a major barrier to home ownership. 43% of student loan borrowers are not making payments and most of these individuals do not have any savings. A lack of sound financial knowledge will affect the economy as these millennials enter the labor force burdened with student loans.

As parents, we play a vital role in educating our children about the importance of personal finances.  In the Sherman household, we are teaching our children the importance of finances on a daily basis. Our 4 year old son is learning about savings by doing chores in return for an allowance, which he saves in his piggy bank. He is learning to save and spend his money wisely.

Parents can begin educating their children at home in order to increase the financial literacy of their kids. By demonstrating wise financial habits, parents can serve as role models for their kids. Talking in an age appropriate way to your children about the dangers of debt and the importance of saving a portion of any money they earn instills financial values and lessons your child can use throughout life.  You may find that using an allowance is a way that you can teach your kids about saving and spending appropriately. Since it has been shown that kids who manage their own money have been found to demonstrate better financial habits in the future, giving your kids the opportunity to spend and save their own allowance or money earned is a good way to prepare them for later on. Even a simple trip to the store can be used as an opportunity to start the conversation about the danger of credit cards and how they should only be used in an emergency.  Educating your kids at an early age will enable them to better learn and practice sound financial habits while under your watchful eye and cause them to be less likely to make irrational decisions once they are out on their own.

kids managing money

 

This issue is not only affecting students and young adults.  Many professionals with advanced degrees have spent countless hours studying and researching information in their particular field.  Despite all of the hours spent earning their degrees, many of these people have never taken a single course in financial education and are surprisingly not prepared to deal with the important financial decisions affecting their futures.  As a result, many extremely smart and successful people are making critical financial errors which can negatively impact the amount of money they have saved upon retirement.

Beginning in 2011, studies were conducted where participants were shown a computer generated rendering of what they might look like at their age of retirement.  They were then asked to make financial decisions about whether to spend their money today or save that money for the future. In each study, those individuals who were shown pictures of their future selves allocated more than twice as much money towards their retirement accounts than those who did not see the age-progressed images.  Seeing the images gave the participants a connection with their future selves that they did not possess before. As a result, their spending/saving behavior changed dramatically because “saving is like a choice between spending money today or giving it to a stranger years from now.”

The benefits of educating your children about the importance of personal finances are undeniable, and you’ll be able to set them up for a promising future and help them prepare for retirement. Visit us online for more information about how we can help improve your financial life.

Want to Get More “Financially Fit” in 2018? Set Savings Goals Now

Sorting

One of the most important elements of a good financial plan is regular saving. Unfortunately, it is one of the biggest stumbling blocks as well, with 57% of Americans reporting they had less than $1000 in savings in a 2017 survey. To make matters worse, 1 in 3 American has no retirement account, and only 1 in 4 Americans has over $100,000 in their retirement account.

These are concerning figures, particularly now. As interest rates keep rising – short term treasuries at their highest in nine years – and the market continues its climbing streak, you’re missing out if you are not putting savings to work for you.

Why aren’t more people saving when, according to a recent you.gov survey, “saving more money” was the 4th most popular New Year’s resolution for 2018?

One factor our clients have cited that kept them from saving in the past is discouragement due to past failures. The solution is to make sure your goals are SMART goals: goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and linked to a Timetable.

It is important to set Specific and Relevant immediate, short, and long-term savings goals that you can visualize – like a beach vacation, a bigger home, or a child’s graduation ceremony. Tying savings goals to images that align with your life and your values can make them more emotionally compelling and easier to keep in mind.

Equally critical is to make your goals Measurable and set a Timetable: how much you are planning to save each month, or by a certain date. Don’t set figures or dates that are impossible; make sure they are Attainable as well.

Just like physical fitness, financial fitness is best achieved by setting specific, achievable, and measurable goals. A defined goal, whether it’s “save 5% of each paycheck” or “add extra hours to save for a vacation,” gives you a much better shot at success rather than a simple “I should be saving more.”

A huge part of good financial planning is goal setting. A good financial planner can help you calculate the long-term benefits of saving more and on a regular sustainable basis. It’s particularly important that your financial planner is a fee-only Fiduciary: that means there will be no “additional charges” or investment recommendations with commissions for the broker that could throw off your savings calculations.

And if you’d like help defining financial goals and evaluating whether you are saving enough to achieve them, please feel free to contact me for a free introductory call. We are always on call to help you realize your highest financial potential.

A New IRS Withholding Tax Calculator Eliminates the Guesswork

4

Last week, in response to confusion surrounding the 2018 tax law that was passed in December, the IRS released an updated online Withholding Calculator. The tool is designed to help taxpayers make sure they are not wildly underpaying or overpaying what they will owe.

The new law is highly complex and made changes that included increasing the standard deduction, removing personal exemptions, increasing the child tax credit, limiting or discontinuing certain deductions, and changing the tax rates and brackets.

The online calculator should go a long way to help employed taxpayers plan ahead, particularly those in middle-income and upper middle-income brackets.

This is important because you don’t want to be withholding too much –in effect giving the government a free loan of money you could be investing in your home, the market, educational savings funds, or just your day-to-day needs. On the other hand, you don’t want to be withholding to little and risk facing an unexpected tax bill or penalty at tax time in 2019

According to the IRS some of the groups who should check their withholding are:

  • Two-income families
  • People with two or more jobs or seasonal work
  • People with children who claim the Child Tax Credit (or other credits)
  • People who itemized deductions in 2017
  • People with higher incomes and more complex tax returns

According to Acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter, about 90 percent of taxpayers would have “some adjustment one way or the other” to the amount they are withholding. That’s most of us.

The changes do not affect 2017 tax returns due this April. Your completed 2017 tax return can, however, help you input data to the Withholding Calculator to determine what you should be withholding for 2018 to avoid issues when you file next year. And if you do need to change the amount you are withholding (remember- 90% of us might), there is also a new version of the W-4 form to download and submit to your employer.

More information is available from the IRS here: Withholding Calculator Frequently Asked Questions.

And if you have questions about how these important changes may affect you, please call us for a free consult or reach out to your CPA.

8 Financial Mistakes to Avoid in Your 20s and 30s

8 financial mistakes to avoid in your 20s and 30s

Your 20s and 30s are an exciting time. You’re starting to build the life you envision for yourself, or perhaps you’re still seeking out new experiences to learn more about yourself and your goals.

These are years when we expect to learn and grow by exploring jobs and careers, cultural experiences, social experiences and other educational opportunities. But too many of us forget to explore and master one of the most critical parts of building the future we want: financial literacy and financial planning.

The result is that many people enjoy their 20s and make important life changes in their 30s (or vice versa) without understanding how best to support their career and personal goals with a rock-solid financial plan. You could end up flying high, but forget to build a safety net!

Here are some key mistakes to avoid as you’re getting started:

1. Letting the Chips Fall Where They May: No Budget

A first job—or second, or third—is a great feeling. You’re earning money and it’s yours to spend. And too often, we spend it until it’s gone. While a budget may sound restrictive, it actually gives you more freedom because it keeps you from overspending in areas you don’t care about so you have the money you need for what’s important. A budget helps you understand where to splurge—on quality that lasts longer, for instance—and where it’s best to economize, such as buying a used car instead of a new one.

2. Keeping Too Low of a Profile: No Credit Rating

Many people just starting out have low credit ratings, or worse, no credit rating at all (if you’ve always used your parents credit cards, for instance). With a low credit score, your costs will be higher for things like insurance, car financing and mortgage rates. Building good credit now, by getting your own credit card and paying it diligently, or even getting a credit-building loan, will establish a good rating that will help you down the road.

3. Putting It off Until Tomorrow: Living on Credit Cards

Credit cards can be a godsend, particularly the ones with loyalty points. But those points pale in value beside the damage that finance charges can do. Do treat your credit cards like a smart way to keep track of your spending, but don’t spend more than you actually have. Paying credit cards off in full each month not only keeps you within your budget and keeps you from accruing finance charges, it also helps you build a great credit rating for when you do need to borrow money. (For related reading, see: 10 Reasons to Use Your Credit Card.)

4. Living on Perks Instead of Salary: Not Paying Yourself First

We’ve all been to that job interview where they say that the salary is low but they have a great exercise room, volleyball team and popcorn machine. That popcorn won’t pay the rent and it won’t pay a down payment when you find that great condo. Create a savings plan and pay yourself first before you splurge on lifestyle perks like vacations and expensive shoes. That plan should include saving for short-term goals, saving for an emergency fund, and starting to save for retirement. While retirement may seem a long way off, the earlier you start, the more you harness the power of compound interest. Make sure your budget includes saving and contributing, on a regular basis no matter how small the amount, to an IRA or 401(k) before you start spending.

5. Living on the Edge: No Emergency Fund

While it’s hard to imagine needing emergency funds when you’re young and just starting out, you never know what the future can bring. Crises like Hurricane Sandy and the 2008 crash left a lot of people struggling without a safety net, but even something as simple as a pet’s sudden illness can present a huge challenge when you’re on a tight budget. Try to start contributing to an emergency fund that you keep in highly liquid funds for when the unexpected happens. (For related reading, see: Building an Emergency Fund.)

6. Playing the Odds: No Health Insurance

Many young people who are in peak health think that they can skip—or skimp—on health insurance. While you may indeed be fit and healthy, that doesn’t protect you from potential sports injuries, appendicitis, bouts with the flu or—perish the thought—a car accident. High medical bills are the biggest cause of personal bankruptcy. Get the best coverage you can afford: you’ll be amazed how quickly it pays for itself.

7. Going With the Flow: Not Setting Financial Goals

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you’re heading,” goes the famous quote attributed to Lao Tzu. That means it’s a good idea to think about where you’d like to be—in a year, in five years, in 20 years—and make sure that’s the path you’re on. Simple goals like “I want to save $20.00 a week,” or more elaborate ones, like “I’d like to work for myself from a house on the beach,” all begin with awareness and taking the first small steps. Set a few goals; you can always change them later, but if you don’t, you’re drifting without being mindful of where the currents are taking you.

8. Taking Your Eye off the Ball: Using a Non-Fiduciary Advisor or Commission-Based Investment Site

It’s never too late to become financially literate. The internet is full of great tips (like these) and sites that can help you organize your finances, and it provides access to a range of advisories. Having a financial advisor guide you is an excellent idea but blindly trusting just anyone can be dangerous. Many non-fiduciary advisors are compensated by the financial products they recommend, products that may not be the best ones for you. Make sure the advisor you consult is a fiduciary, i.e. someone who is legally obligated to only recommend options that are in your best interest.

Be sure to check out our next post: 5 More Financial Mistakes to Avoid. You’ll enjoy your 20s and 30s even more knowing that you’re also building a solid future.

The views expressed in this blog post are as of the date of the posting, and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This blog contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected.
Please note that nothing in this blog post should be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any security or separate account. Nothing is intended to be, and you should not consider anything to be, investment, accounting, tax or legal advice. If you would like investment, accounting, tax or legal advice, you should consult with your own financial advisors, accountants, or attorneys regarding your individual circumstances and needs. No advice may be rendered by Sherman Wealth unless a client service agreement is in place.
If you have any questions, please Contact Us.

3 Ways to Make Budgeting a Success in the New Year

developing a financial budget

At the end of each year – and the beginning of the new one – most of us think about things we’d like to accomplish in the coming year. It’s a time we engage in self-reflection, ideas for self-improvement, and new – or ongoing – resolutions and goals.

One of the most common resolutions is losing weight, but we all know how that goes: crowded gyms in early January, inevitable drop-off when February rolls around. In fact, a study done by the University of Scranton shows that only about 8% of people actually achieve their resolutions.

Financial resolutions often include starting – or finally sticking to – a budget. Unfortunately, that resolution is all-too-often hard to stick to as well. (For related reading, see Financial New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep.)

Why do so many people have trouble sticking to their resolutions? One of the main reasons is having unrealistic expectations. Overconfidence doesn’t just affect fitness goals, it affects investors’ behavior as well.

How can you make this the year you stick to your goals?

Take Baby Steps

Be reasonable in assessing where you are with your finances and don’t try to tackle everything at once. Start by listing all the areas of your financial situation you would like to improve. Then prioritize the individual elements in order of importance to you, and start by taking on one or two at a time. (For related reading, see: Achieve Your Financial Goals With a Financial Plan.)

If one of your goals is to start – and stick to – budgeting, don’t give yourself super-strict boundaries. Instead, start by creating good habits one at a time. If you want to pay off all of your credit card debt, for instance, take a look at how much debt you have and create a realistic weekly or monthly plan to start paying it off. If you want to buy a house in five years, you could decide to spend less now on something that you currently enjoy. (For related reading, see: Got a Raise? Here’s How to Avoid Lifestyle Creep.)

Focus on one or two goals at a time, see how it goes, and make progress – and adjustments – to stay on track.

Be Specific

Instead of saying “I am going to save more this year,” or “I am going to save $5,000 this year,” try to specify exactly how you plan to do it. Start with something like: “I will take $100 from each paycheck and put it into a savings account.” By giving yourself a tangible – achievable – steps, you’ll be better able to track how well you are sticking to it.

In addition, try to think about what it is that you are trying to accomplish. Why do you want to save an extra $100 each paycheck? Are you saving up for a car? Trying to pay off debt? Building up an emergency fund? When you add purpose to your goals, it makes it more compelling and easier to accomplish. (For related reading, see: Why Investors Can Be Their Own Worst Enemy.)

Stay Accountable

Know yourself: accept who you are and what that means. Are you someone who might let things build up then feel too overwhelmed to jump back on track? Think about sharing your goals with a friend or family member and set times to check in with them and go over your progress. If you want to go to the gym three days a week, think about getting a workout partner. If you want to save an extra $100 from each paycheck, see if there is a friend that has the same goal and you can do it together, comparing how it’s going throughout the journey.

Most importantly, understand that this is a process. Some weeks will be better than others, but, if you can follow these three steps – set realistic goals, set specific goals, be accountable – hopefully you will be part of the 8% that gets it done this year. (For related reading, see: The Importance of Personal Finance Knowledge.)

To read more about budgeting:

Financial Budgeting and Saving

Should You Start to Save… or Pay Down Debt?

This article was originally published on Investopedia.com

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The views expressed in this blog post are as of the date of the posting, and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This blog contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected.
Please note that nothing in this blog post should be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any security or separate account. Nothing is intended to be, and you should not consider anything to be, investment, accounting, tax or legal advice. If you would like investment, accounting, tax or legal advice, you should consult with your own financial advisors, accountants, or attorneys regarding your individual circumstances and needs. No advice may be rendered by Sherman Wealth unless a client service agreement is in place.
If you have any questions regarding this Blog Post, please Contact Us.