Purchasing a home is often far-and-beyond the largest financial commitment that we will make, and one not to be taken lightly. In most cases, the purchase will involve a substantial down payment and the need to borrow a large sum of money to complete the purchase. Add to this the time, energy and stress that invariably accompanies a major purchase, and it’s easy to see how the pleasurable pursuits of visiting open houses and contemplating design schemes are quickly replaced with the cold reality that credit scores, mortgage applications, and cooperative board packages provide. Keeping your Cortisol levels in check requires a detailed plan of action that progresses through every important phase of the home-buying process. Continue reading
Ask a financial planner whether to save for retirement using a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA and you may receive an unsatisfying answer: it depends. While the Roth IRA is a much-loved planning tool, whether it’s the best option for you will depend on several factors, but math is not one of them. Continue reading
For many, owning a home is part of the American dream and one that the United States government actively encourages through a variety of subsidies that are designed to give more Americans the keys to their own home. Homeownership is thought to create stronger communities, build family wealth and foster economic development. Creating incentives to expand homeownership has been a staple of U.S. housing policy for decades. Continue reading
The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, directly and indirectly, impacts equity-based compensation arrangements through several key components and provisions of the law. While the effect of these provisions remains to be seen, they may provide the recipients of equity-based compensation with an array of new planning opportunities. Continue reading
Following the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, the law’s impact on charitable organizations has come to the fore. Although the law provides for an increase in cash gifts to public charities from 50% of the donor’s adjusted gross income (AGI) to 60% of AGI, the donor must itemize their deductions to realize a tax benefit for their gift. The new law’s increase in the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married couples filing a joint return is expected to result in a sharp reduction in the number of households that itemize their deductions, reducing the marginal tax benefit of gifts to charity by more than 25%. The impact of the law on charities remains to be seen, but with an estimated 72% of charitable gifts coming from individual donors it may be profound. Fortunately, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 has made permanent a hitherto underutilized incentive for older Americans to give to charity. The Qualified Charitable Deduction (QCD) is in vogue once again. Continue reading
On November 2nd, following months of buzz but few details, the House of Representatives introduced the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”, the opening salvo in what is sure to be a contentious process of turning complex legislation into law before Congress’s self-imposed year-end deadline. Continue reading
It’s that time of year again. If you’re one of the roughly 45 million Americans enrolled in Medicare, get ready for some year-end shopping. Medicare open enrollment for Medicare Supplement and Advantage plans and Medicare prescription drug plans runs from October 15th until December 7th. Open enrollment presents a great opportunity for seniors to manage their health care costs for the coming year. Continue reading
It’s shocking that the calendar somehow says June. Wasn’t it just January? You made all those resolutions, likely including some about your finances. Mid-year though, where do you stand?
It’s time for a financial checkup.
A lot can happen in six months. Has there been a birth, a death, wedding, divorce, job loss, new job, illness? Any such event can call for a course adjustment or correction. Maybe you did a budget at the beginning of the year, but given such life changes it’s no longer realistic.
Review your current expenses and spending and see where you need to tweak your budget. Maybe you’ve gotten promoted and you can put more money toward retirement savings, or pay down debt more aggressively. On the other hand, if you’ve lost your job, you will need to get tough on cutting expenses.
If you’re looking for guidelines, Elle Kaplan, CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital is a fan of the 50-30-20 plan. “Fifty percent of each paycheck goes to needs like housing, utilities and medical expenses, 30% is spendable income for ‘wants’ and 20% goes to your financial priorities – saving, investing and meeting your financial goals.”
Life changes may also precipitate the need to review your beneficiary designations on your will, trusts, and life insurance policies, for example.
Get a jump on year-end expenses. If you haven’t been saving already, start stashing whatever amount works for you, toward holiday costs like gifts, travel, decorations, and entertaining and festivities that might require additions to your wardrobe. “Setting aside money now can save you from getting derailed later,” says Kaplan.
Take on taxes
Perhaps in the serenity of summer taxes seem less taxing. Now is great opportunity to review your tax withholdings and make any estimated take payments, says Jon Gassman, CPA and CEO of The Gassman Financial Group.
Take a look at last year’s tax return and your most recent pay stub (or, if self-employed or have fluctuating income, look at year-to-date revenues and expenses). Review that in light of this year’s finances, along with the IRS withholding calculator to determine how much you might owe in taxes this year and update your withholdings as needed, suggests Andrew Housser, CEO of Freedom Financial Network.
Make some charitable donations now so you don’t have to bunch them at year-end, says Michael David Schulman of Blue Flamingo Wealth Management.
For many it was a long, hard winter, that numbed the brain and now there’s the distraction of summer fun. But there’s plenty to pay attention to. “This winter changed the game for the rest of the year and can seriously impact your portfolio all the way down to your asset allocation strategy if you’re not paying attention,” says Nick Ventura, CEO and president of Ventura Wealth Management.
The market went form a general risk-on trading attitude to a risk-off trading attitude, he says, meaning simpler, more reliable stocks are in vogue. Others, based on the bull phase, sense trouble, since they came down a lot in value and people feel unwilling to commit to long-term risk, he adds.
Consider the higher geopolitical risk. “The atmosphere and tensions in Russia exemplify this point. Geopolitical situations may seem small, but they often pose some type of threats to investments. Russia’s situation alone impacts investments – the country supplies about 40% of natural gas in Europe. When reviewing your asset allocation in your portfolio, make sure you review the current market situations too,” says Ventura.
Are you managing your debt?
You undoubtedly vowed to get out of debt. Measure your progress by confirming that your holiday spending is paid off. “If your credit card debt still exceeds what it did on November 1, 2013, get busy. Set that as your new goal. Stop charging and power pay each card until you are at lest back to your pre-holiday debt level,” says Gail Cunningham, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
Check your credit report. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies offers a single free credit report each year. You can get one at annualcreditreport.com. Review it for errors and take action if you find any. Repeat the review at the end of the year.
Assess whether you’re being astute with your credit cards. CreditCards.com has list of questions you should ask yourself during a mid-year financial review, including — Does my current card still fit my lifestyle? Are there any loyalty programs that I’m not taking full advantage of? Can my score afford a new card?
“People tend to place far less emphasis on managing their debt than they do on their investment strategy. In doing so, they may be missing an important opportunity to improve their financial lives,” points out John Inhouse, III, a managing director at Merrill Lynch.
Most everyone wanted to save more this year. How are you doing? Make sure that your emergency savings fund is on track. While setting aside three months worth of household income is suggested by some, realistically you should aim for six-nine months, says Gassman.
Check in on your savings goals, such as your children’s education, retirement, family vacation and home improvements. If you’re falling short, see where you can make spending adjustments, or assess whether you want to take on a part-time job, or otherwise find ways to generate more income to bridge the gap.
Invest in yourself
The best asset you have in life is yourself. Your financial success is generally tied to the long-term success of your career. “Consider your current position, compensation, and your long-term upward career mobility. What were your accomplishments during the first half of the year? What value can you add in the second half, should you consider other careers?” asks Anthony Criscuolo, a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group.
While he’s not saying jump ship, think about ways to improve your skills and enhance value to your company. “A more successful career can pay huge financial dividends through higher salary, better job security, and ideally higher job satisfaction.”
Maybe you’ll find that you’re right where you hoped to be financially, or maybe you’re not even close. Instead of beating yourself up over goals not set or met, give yourself a do-over says Cunningham.
She says to start now with six goals you can accomplish by year-end. For example, “consider doable goals such as socking away money for holiday spending so that you can have a debt-free Christmas this year or getting financially organized so that you can stop paying bills late and incurring late fees and dinging your credit.”
Says Kevan Melchiorre, a private wealth advisor with Busey Wealth Management, “It’s never too late to right the ship.”
As any small business owner will attest, success can be habit-forming. But what are the habits that lead to success? With a nod to author Stephen R. Covey, here are seven habits that highly successful small business owners use to achieve their goals and enjoy happier, more fulfilling lives:
1. Focus on Why You Want to Succeed. “Set your major goals in the context of why you want to achieve them, not just what you want to achieve,” says Karen D. Walker, president of Oneteam, Inc., a consultancy in Shelburne, VT. “Having clarity about intention will increase the quality of your decisions and will keep you going when there are bumps in the road.”
2. Schedule Meditation Time. People often preach the benefits of relaxing or exercise, but fail to make time for them in the hectic rush of the day. Jonathan Gassman, a CPA in Midtown Manhattan, meditates each morning – and then sets his smart phone to remind himself three times during the day to “pause, close my eyes, and meditate.” Take the same approach with exercise – don’t try to fit the gym or a walk in around other tasks; put it in your schedule, as if it were an important meeting.
3. Express Gratitude. Saying “thank you” will not only make other people smile – a study from Northwestern University found that expressing gratitude on a daily basis can make you more patient and a better decision-maker. Gassman has another neat reminder to stay thankful: “I keep five pennies in my left pocket and, during the day, I must either express gratitude or thanks to at least five people,” he says. “Each time I do that I move a penny from my left pocket to my right.”
4. Create a “Must-Do” List. Feeling overwhelmed by a to-do list that never shrinks? “Blow up your to-do list (which doesn’t work), and make a daily list of three must-do things, and a weekly list of six must-do’s,” says Jim Grew, president of The Grew Company, a Portland, OR consultancy. “They must be doable in the day or the week, respectively. If needed, cut them into daily and weekly pieces. Write the daily list each day first thing, and weekly list before you start Monday. Don’t cheat: adding to the list won’t get more done.”
5. Push Stuff Off. Small business owners often try to do it all, which sometimes distracts them from the most important tasks. Grew tries to avoid as much as possible, by greeting every idea, request, or possibility with a response that begins with “D.” Delete: Get rid of it immediately. Delay: Ignore it. Often others will fix it, or it will shrivel of itself. Delegate: Look for someone who can do at least part of it. Then give the entire task to them, making available the help they need. He says, “Delegate entire tasks, expecting that the other person will need some guidance. Check in, listen, help only when needed; not when you want.”
6. Be a Question Asker. It’s great to be the person who has all the answers; but there’s also a huge benefit to knowing the right questions to ask. Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks and CEO of MSCO, a management and marketing firm, believes in spouting “Why?” throughout the day: “Why do we have this strategy? Why can’t we cut our costs?” He continues: “Ask random questions to discover where employees stand on key projects. Use this to keep raising the bar on the culture and send the message that good isn’t good enough.”
7. Plan For Tomorrow Today. “Do you remember the days of pre-packed lunches and crisply ironed uniforms in the morning?” says Jody Johnson, co-owner of Action Coach Business Coaching. “Preparing for the next day before hitting the hay will make you more likely to wake up and get started on work.” She adds: “Leave your phone and computer outside of your bedroom to keep bedtime distractions to a minimum; you’ll be thankful for your clear head when you wake up.”
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Every now and then I get annoyed, even exasperated, at situations in which I find myself at work and in my personal life. Often, all these situations need is a bit of course correction to get back on track. I use the following process to step back, assess the situation, get clarity, and devise an action plan to move toward the ideal result.
- Start by listing all of your current frustrations and irritations. I list what is bothering me – in all areas of my life. These can be things that are distracting me, angering me, taking up my mental energy. It might be business results from the last quarter, not having enough quality time off, dealing with too many office distractions, gaining weight.
- The next step is to brainstorm for each item on your frustration list: what is the ideal goal? Write down the ideal goal. The ideal goal should manifest exactly how you would like life to look, for example: get back to a weight of X lbs, spend quality time with my children on the weekend instead of checking my blackberry, divide day at work so that 90% of my time is focused on business-related activities.
- The third step is to create a strategy. For each item that I listed, what do I need to take to resolve these annoyances or frustrations? Examples may be: delegating more in my office so that I can focus on what I should be doing, review my business plan to ascertain how I am tracking against my goals, schedule a meeting to discus all the projects with the team and what responsibilities they have, go back to keeping a food journal and exercise more.
- Finally, we create an action plan to implement the strategy. The action plan should answer the question: what, specifically, do I need to do over the next 30, 60, and 90 days so that I will be able to make some progress in these areas. For the strategy to exercising more, this may include: rejoining the gym and scheduling 1 personal training session a week for the next 8 weeks. For the strategy of delegating more, this may include sitting down with the office manager to identify frustrations and figure out who is best to manage those projects and tasks.
Here is an example, using 6 common frustrations, illustrating exactly how to use this tool to get the results that you want. Good luck!
|Frustration||Ideal Goal||Strategy||Action Plan|
|1. Health||1. Weight is 185, living a healthy lifestyle||1. Restart the my Evernote food journal and go to the gym every other day||1. Call the nutritionist and join spin class|
|2. Constant interruptions between email and drive by meetings||2. No interruptions and distractions,||2. Block time during the day to respond to calls, emails, and team questions||2. Set an out of office reminder that emails will be checked twice a day, please don’t expect instant responses. turn off email notifications. Let the team know the ideal times to discuss issues with me,|
|3. Revenue Stagnant||3. Exceed our revenue goals||3. Review the Revenue Targets with the team||3. Have regular meetings with the team to report the #’s with weekly progress and status reports|
|4. Team results are not where they need to be||4. Team is engaged, own the projects||4. Team meeting to discuss||4. share with the team exactly what their duties & responsibilities are as well as their KPI’s and track them|
|5. Loops not closed||5. Communication is off the chart||5. When clients communications arrive, let the client know that you received it and a response will be provided by a certain day||5. Meet wit the team and implement a follow up plan for closing loops|
|6. Kids||6. Weekend belongs to family||6. Have a family meeting and schedule activities for the weekend||6. Book the next 8 weeks|