General Financial Planning

TIAA Changes More Than Just Its Name

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Written by Karen Folk, CFP®, Ph.D., Founder & Advisor Emeritus of Bluestem Financial Advisors

Overview

Both my husband and I have been loyal clients of TIAA (formerly TIAA-CREF) for over thirty years.  Throughout our academic careers, we chose TIAA over several possible providers.  We were attracted to their low cost mutual funds and long nonprofit heritage of service to teachers.  Founded in 1918 as the Teachers Insurance & Annuity Company to help teachers retire comfortably, they have become a leading retirement plan provider for academic, research, medical, cultural and government employees. 

Recently, as an account holder, I have grown concerned by TIAA’s behavior towards us as consumers.  We have noticed increasing encouragement by TIAA representatives to consolidate and rollover other retirement assets to their platform.  We were notified in 2015 that TIAA had appointed a full-time representative locally.  We were subsequently contacted on multiple occasions asking us to meet with this representative.  After researching this individual on LinkedIn, I noted his past experience included sales roles with other large brokerage firms, but listed no Financial Planning credentials beyond the minimum required licenses.

A recent New York Times article “The Finger-Pointing at the Finance Firm TIAA” (October 21, 2017, Gretchen Morgenson), revealed some rather dramatic changes in TIAA that have led to whistleblower complaints to regulatory agencies as well as a lawsuit.  The whistle-blower complaint filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, obtained by The Times, “was filed by former TIAA employees who contend they were pressured to sell products that generated more revenue for the firm but were more costly to clients while adding little value”.  This was followed by the NY Times article “TIAA Receives New York Subpoena on Sales Practices” (Nov 9, 2017).  The NY state attorney general has subpoenaed records from TIAA to investigate possible regulatory infractions. 

Both articles increased my concerns about whether the changes I noticed at TIAA are contrary to their long tradition of unbiased advice at low cost.  As we investigated further, my husband was surprised to learn that parts of TIAA stopped being a nonprofit in 1997 – he, and I am sure many other TIAA clients, was not aware that much of TIAA is now a for-profit enterprise. 

The NY Times October 21st article explains that, in 2005, TIAA established the Wealth Management Group.  This group offers investment management services for a fee, a fee which is in addition to the underlying administrative and investment fees charged by TIAA funds.  The lawsuit and whistleblower complaints claim that TIAA’s Wealth Management Group, now called “Individual Advisory Services”, is pushing customers into higher-cost products that generate higher fees.  Given that TIAA continues to highlight its nonprofit heritage and its salaried employees, my concern is that TIAA clients are not aware of this conflict of interest. 

Based on my own experience, experiences reported to us by clients, and the NY Times articles, we did some additional research we thought worth sharing.

Our ADV Takeaways

We started by reading TIAA’s Form ADV, Part 2A, of the TIAA Advice & Planning Services’ (“APS”) Portfolio Advisor Wrap Fee Disclosure Brochure.  The ADV is a public disclosure document required by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of all professional investment advisors.  The Form ADV discusses investment strategy, fee arrangements and service offerings.  In my opinion, the relevant items are:

Compensation arrangements.  In the “Advisor Compensation” portion of the ADV, TIAA states several times that “The compensation does not differ based on the underlying investments chosen within the solution, nor does the Advisor receive any client commissions or product fees.” While true, these “salaried” advisors do in fact earn “credits” towards their annual variable bonuses based on a number of factors.  The ADV states clearly, “the annual variable bonus gives Advisors a financial incentive to enroll and retain client assets in the program” (i.e. a managed fee account, more complex solutions, or other TIAA products such as life insurance).   The ADV states again that “Advisors have an incentive to and are compensated for enrolling and retaining client assets in TIAA accounts, products and services, but do not receive any client commissions or product fees.”  Advisors are also compensated for “gathering, retaining, and consolidating” any new TIAA client accounts that they persuade clients to transfer to TIAA from other brokers (e.g. Morgan Stanley, Fidelity, Merrill Lynch, etc.).

My Concerns about TIAA Financial Advisor Compensation

In addition to the base salary received by all advisors, TIAA provides additional compensation in the form of variable annual bonuses to individual advisors. These bonuses are determined not only as a percentage of the amount of assets under management advisors accumulate, but also by the amount of wealth advisors are able to transfer from existing funds into their TIAA managed brokerage accounts. This means, that, while advisors receive a base salary (“no client commissions or product fees”), the bonus structure heavily influences advisors to move client assets to new managed accounts with added management fees, and to sell complex solutions (i.e., TIAA annuities or TIAA insurance) to their clients. In my opinion, this adds a conflict of interest similar to that of conventional brokers who receive higher commissions for selling certain products or certain funds.  Yet, TIAA continues to emphasize its “no client commissions or product fees” mantra.

My additional concern about TIAA is that their recent more aggressive sales tactics seek to funnel existing TIAA clients nearing retirement into much higher cost TIAA Advice & Planning Services Advisor managed accounts.  Enrolling in these accounts could result in retirees unknowingly paying additional fees to the advisor on top of the mutual fund fees they now pay in their current TIAA accounts.  Accepting a TIAA Advisor’s Advice & Planning Services proposal contract includes substantial additional fees which may not be apparent to a customer who does not mine the depths of the lengthy ADV, Part 2 disclosure document.

How much would an unsuspecting TIAA client who converted to a TIAA Advisor wrap fee account pay annually?  The TIAA fee schedule for Advisor & Planning services accounts is an asset-based program fee.  (reproduced below from the Form ADV):

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If a TIAA client with $500,000 in assets chose to work with a TIAA Advice & Planning Services advisor in a program account, their annual fees (in addition to annual mutual fund fees) would be $4,925; for a client with $1,000,000 in investments accounts, their annual fees would be $8,925.  My concern is that TIAA clients contacted by or directed to a local TIAA advisor may not understand or realize the higher fees that come with that advisor’s proposals.  

A final concern deals with TIAA directing existing clients to their local representative for a “review”, as we personally experienced.  That “review” comes with a hidden incentive for the local representative to propose an advisor managed account.   In addition to our being contacted by phone several times, the TIAA website has been redesigned to feature a prominent “My Advisor” icon on every page in the upper right.  Existing clients who login to view their accounts and use that icon are directed to call their local TIAA representative.  Why is the local representative “My Advisor” rather than TIAA representatives reachable by phone whom we have dealt with in the past? 

Conclusion

TIAA has an exemplary not-for-profit heritage of serving education professionals with low cost, well-rated funds.  While the TIAA Board of Overseers continues their service to nonprofit employers, the new TIAA Advice & Planning services business structure follows a more common brokerage firm model.  Specifically, the way their advisors are compensated appears to incentivize TIAA salaried employees to steer clients to higher cost managed accounts and other insurance products and to gather additional assets held outside TIAA.  I believe that this managed account model introduces a conflict of interest for advisors to serve the best interests of TIAA clients.   Per the TIAA whistleblower’s complaint, this bonus compensation structure pushes advisors to move clients into products “more costly to clients while adding little value”.   While a TIAA advisor’s proposed investment portfolio may appear more diversified due to including a larger number of TIAA funds, the client’s original choices of fewer funds without the managed account fee may serve that client’s interests just as well at a much lower cost. 

In addition, a TIAA advisor managed account provides solely investment advice.  While tailored to your “goals”, I believe investment decisions should be made in the context of a comprehensive financial plan, not as an isolated component.  Without incorporating tax planning, management of other risks and a detailed cashflow analysis, tailoring an investment portfolio to “your goals” can lead to unintended consequences, especially when making decisions about retirement income from a portfolio.  As for financial planning advice, I recommend consulting a trained Certified Financial Planner™ professional who, as a fiduciary, is bound to act in your best interests.  Why pay TIAA to manage your accounts when, for a similar fee, a fee-only planner can provide a financial plan that includes portfolio management in the context of a comprehensive plan?

While Bluestem Financial Advisors continues to enjoy a strong working relationship with TIAA through the SURS state retirement program, transparency is of the utmost importance to us, and we hope it is for you as well.  Buyer beware: a proposed portfolio promoted to you by your local TIAA advisor may come with much higher ongoing expenses than just continuing to self-manage your original lower-cost TIAA mutual fund choices.  

 

Selecting the Right SURS Plan for You

Overview

While starting a new position at an Illinois Public University may be an exciting time, there is a lot to do.  Beyond meeting your colleagues, learning the ropes of your new department and developing your new courses (if instructing), there is one big decision that needs to be made.  You need to select a Retirement Plan through the State Universities Retirement System (SURS).  This decision is complex, so do not put it off!  The following may provide some guidance when making your decision.

As background, there are two Tiers to the SURS Program.  Tier I, which has more generous pension benefits, only applies to participants enrolled before January 1, 2011.  (In some cases, if you were employed by a University system before January 1, 2011 but not a participant in SURS, you may still qualify for Tier I).  Tier II applies to those enrolled on or after January 1, 2011.  Because this post will mostly affect those enrolling in Tier II, what follows describes solely Tier II rules.    

So let’s get started!

Weighing the Options

When you begin employment at the University, you must select among three plan offerings; Traditional, Portable, or Self-Managed Plan (hereafter referred to as SMP). Once made, your plan selection is irrevocable and cannot be changed. Choose diligently, but do not delay. While SURS contributions begin immediately, you will lose employer matching under the SMP plan until you opt in. This could mean missing out on up to 6 months of employer matching by delaying your decision!  If you fail to select a plan by the 6-month deadline, you are automatically enrolled in the Traditional Plan.

Of the three choices, both the Traditional & Portable Plans are considered Defined-Benefit pension plans. In these plans the employer assumes all of the investment risk. The retirement income that you will receive is determined by a formula that takes into consideration your earnings and length of service.  The SMP Plan is a Defined-Contribution plan. The employer contributes a pre-determined percentage of your earnings to the SMP plan on your behalf.  Those funds are deposited into your account to be invested at your direction (self-directed).  This means you are responsible for selecting and managing the investments now and into the future. Your future retirement income depends on the balance of your SMP account at retirement. 

Identifying all possible factors and predicting all future outcomes is impossible.  We advocate making your plan decision based on being well informed and considering what you know today.  Here are some factors we consider when helping clients choose a SURS plan:

Investment Control

If you want to direct investment decisions and are willing to assume the risk of market performance, the SMP may be the choice for you.  Once enrolled, you direct where funds are invested and you have the ability to periodically review and make changes to the funds selected.  You currently have two choices of custodians for these investment accounts; Fidelity and TIAA-CREF.  Each provider has a wide range of investment choices.

If you prefer to have the employer retain the investment risk and receive a retirement benefit similar to a pension, then the Traditional or Portable may be the more suitable option.  These plans are professionally managed by the investment staff with SURS.  No matter the outcome of investment performance, your benefit is guaranteed.

Investment returns vary considerably making the effects of this factor very difficult to determine.  For someone who enters the system earlier in their career and then leaves, the ability for the SMP pension accounts to continue to grow and be combined with other retirement plan savings throughout their working years may be a benefit.  This could potentially favor the SMP.  Someone nearer the end of their career may benefit more from a guaranteed benefit not dependent on investment returns, but based on earnings history and length of service.  This may favor enrolling in the Traditional or Portable plans.

Flexibility

The trend has been toward a more mobile workforce, where multiple job changes throughout one’s career are not uncommon. Academia is not immune to this trend. Therefore, flexibility and portability of benefits may be more important than in the past. The Traditional plan has the least flexibility for departure.  Once vested (after 10 years), your only options after leaving are to wait and draw benefits at full retirement age or to take a refund of only your own contributions (credited a fixed 4.5% interest rate). Your employer matching contributions are forfeited if refunded in the Traditional plan.   A refund of your own contributions is the only option if you leave SURS with less than 10 years of service.

The Portable and SMP plan come with the ability to take the employer matching contributions with you when/if you leave the university SURS system.  Under the Portable plan, your refund is determined based on your contributions and the employer contributions plus an effective rate of interest determined periodically by SURS.  The SMP refund is also based on your and the employer contributions, plus or minus the actual performance of investments you selected. 

In the Portable and SMP plans, 5 years of service are required to vest and entitle you to take employer matching contributions.  Before taking any benefits, make sure you are aware of the tax consequences. These distributions may be paid directly to you or rolled to another qualified retirement plan. Finally, you may also forfeit retiree health insurance benefits in the event of taking or transferring a refund from all three plan types. 

Survivor Benefits

In exchange for reduced flexibility, the Traditional plan offers the most generous survivors benefits. Survivors would receive 2/3rds of your accrued monthly retirement benefit, payable to your eligible survivor.  This benefit comes at no extra cost to you. 

The Portable plan only offers a default survivors benefit if you die before reaching retirement.  In that case, the benefit is 50% of your accrued retirement benefit (as compared to 2/3rds under the Traditional plan).  Upon retirement, you can choose to purchase a survivor benefit greater than 50% at a cost to you of reduced lifetime payments.

The SMP plan does not provide an automatic lifetime survivor’s payment.  You or your survivor are always eligible for a refund of your own contributions and earnings.  After 1.5 years of service, employer matching and related earnings are also refundable to survivors.  Your survivor may choose a lifetime payment with this refund, with the amount of such payment based on your SMP account balance at that time.

Salary Cap

Current salary and future earning potential is another consideration when choosing a plan. Under current rules, the Traditional and Portable plans are only based on salary up to $111,571.63 (2017 limit, adjusted annually for inflation).  If you select one of these plans and exceed the salary limit, your contributions to the plan (8% of salary) and employer matching contributions (7.6% of salary) will only be based on your wages up to the limit.  

Those who have salaries in excess of the salary cap (or the potential to exceed the limit as future salary grows) may favor the SMP.  Under the SMP plan, contributions are based on earnings up to $270,000 (2017, adjusted per IRS rules). For example, a participant with annual earnings of $200,000 would gain an additional $6,720.56 in employer matching contributions per year (7.6% of the difference between $200,000 and $111,571.63) over the Traditional and Portable plan limits, as well as their own additional contributions of $7,074.26 (8% of earnings) above the two lower contribution limit plans.

Eligibility for Retirement Benefits (Annuity)

All three plans are designed to provide you a monthly stream of income throughout retirement called an Annuity.  You are entitled to a benefit in the Traditional and Portable plans when you have reached 10 years of service credit and have attained the age of 67.  You may draw as early as age 62 with reduction of benefits.   

For the SMP you may begin a retirement annuity at the age of 62 with 5 years of service credit, age 55 with 8 years of service credit, or any age with 30 years of service credit.  As benefits are based on your SMP account balance at the time, there is no reduction for early benefits.  However, you are purchasing a private annuity with a monthly benefit amount that will vary based on age and other factors you choose at retirement.

Final Notes

I’ll note that many clients consider the SMP plan a safe refuge from the troubled finances of the State of Illinois.  The idea is that funds are held separately, in-trust, and therefore safe from the creditors of the State.  This is true.  By Federal law, SMP funds must be deposited in a timely manner to your account, including employer matching.  State matching of the other pension plans has not always been made timely, which is a big part of the pension underfunding problem.

However, this advantage of the SMP does not make the Traditional or Portable plans “unsafe”.  The Illinois constitution states that pension benefits cannot be diminished, which guarantees participants their right to future benefits.  Previous attempts at pension reform have tested and found this guarantee to be true.  Unlike municipalities and territories, Detroit and Puerto Rico being recent examples, a State may not go bankrupt and therefore discharge the indebtedness of pension through bankruptcy.  While it is yet to be seen how the state will solve its current financial crisis, it must pay the promised bill of pensions. 

Regardless of whichever plan you choose, I would also encourage you to fund additional savings beyond your mandatory pension contributions.  While the SURS system does provide generous pension benefits, the pension was not designed to cover all your needs beyond working years.  Additionally, depending on your work history, you may not qualify for social security benefits as you do not participate in the social security system with SURS earnings.  Even if you have a past earnings history in social security, your social security benefits may be reduced.  While there are many savings options out there, the 403b and 457 savings plans offered through the University are often a good place to start.  We recommend supplemental savings of at least 7% and ideally 10% of earnings beyond your required SURS contributions. 

Conclusion

Navigating this initial decision on retirement plan choice will have a lasting impact on your future financial security.  Compounding the importance of this decision, it must be made in the flurry of other important activities of moving, starting a new job, selecting other benefits and adapting to your new role.  If you need help interpreting these decisions in your own financial life, or want the peace of mind that you have considered the entire picture, please let us know.  The majority of our clients are members or retirees of SURS.  We have helped hundreds of clients through the complexities of pension decisions.  If you would like our perspective or professional opinion on your own decisions, Contact Us today.

 

Guest Blogger: This post was co-written by Eric Schaefer, a senior studying Financial Planning at the University of Illinois.  Eric is working towards becoming a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and is currently an intern at Bluestem Financial Advisors, LLC.

 

Paying too much in taxes? Find a tax-focused financial planner

The following post is shared content from the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners. 

Tax-focused financial planning is not just for the one percent. On the contrary taxes are the hub of the financial wheel with consequences to virtually all financial decisions. Under-planning and overpaying simply delays financial independence. So, why don’t more Americans engage in tax-focused financial planning?

The disconnect between financial planning and tax planning is costing American taxpayers dearly. Aside from the many who intentionally allow higher withholding throughout the year just to claim a sizeable refund in April, are those who overlook the tax implications of their retirement distributions, investment allocations, estate planning decisions or education savings. All have tax liabilities attached, either in the short or long term.

Accountants and tax preparers might identify those consequences in hindsight, when it’s too late to avoid tax penalties. And, financial advisors,who often simply state, “consult your tax advisor” are just washing their hands of the tax consequences of their advice, leaving it up their client to connect the dots. Indeed, it is this short-sighted, often rear view, of taxes as a once-a-year task, rather than a pervasive feature of financial life, that makes the tax-focused financial planner uniquely positioned to advise clients in all aspects of their financial lives.

“All aspects” is a hefty claim. Yet, tax-focused financial planners are informed not only by their clients’ financial profile, but also by the real context and implications of their advice. Cash flow and financial behaviors, the expectations for children and demands of aging parents, job security and income growth are as important as retirement planning, investment strategy and the tax consequences for the all-of-it. It’s holistic. It’s fiduciary based. And, it’s decidedly uncommon.

Focusing on history, is as bad as ignoring it, and tax preparation is often just that: passive and backward-looking. Tax planning is anticipatory, active and looks forward, sometimes even beyond the current year to future years.

Those knee-deep in regret over the tax return they’re filing in April, might reconsider their approach for 2017. With a tax-focused financial planner, planning for their 2017 tax return would already be underway.

To read more on the subject of tax-focused financial planning check out the Tax Alpha White Paper written by fellow ACP Advisors Jonathan Heller and Robert Walsh (edited by Bluestem’s very own Karen Folk and Jake Kuebler). For more information on the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners visit their website at www.acplanners.org.

In Case of Emergency

Guest Blogger: This post was written by Eric Schaefer, a senior studying Financial Planning at the University of Illinois.  Eric is working towards becoming a Certified Financial Planner. He serves as President of U of I’s Financial Planning Club and is currently an intern at Bluestem Financial Advisors, LLC.

 

 

One of the cornerstones of a financial plan is protecting against the unexpected. We often address this through purchasing adequate life insurance coverage, maintaining proper emergency reserves (“ready cash”) and developing a thoroughly diversified investment portfolio. However, many overlook planning for unexpected financial events, especially those that may be particularly unpleasing.  One such topic is, have you and your family thought about what you would do in the event of an unexpected medical emergency?

Following up on the HIPPA authorization article featured in our Fall Newsletter (Click Here to Subscribe), we would like to elaborate a bit further on the importance of having a medical emergency plan by highlighting a few key actions items to consider:

1.) To ensure family can get updates on you during a medical emergency, make sure that your HIPPA privacy forms are filled out completely and with the necessary signatures. Parents, if you have an adult child or student away at school, make sure they complete and sign the HIPPA form as well.  You may also want to complete clinic specific authorization forms at their campus medical facilities. This will ensure that no matter where they receive emergency treatment you will have the appropriate access to their records and care providers. 

2.) Upon admittance to the hospital, if the patient is unconscious the staff will first look for an EMERGENCY CONTACT card in a purse or wallet and/or check for an “in case of emergency” (ICE) contact in their phone. Modern cell phones often allow ICE contacts that can be accessed while our phone is locked.  Some add on applications can also digitally display a Medical ID card from the lock screen. 

If you aren’t the best with technology that’s OK! This would be a great opportunity for your children to show you by setting up their own digital ID on their phone. It’s also not a bad way to kill two birds with one stone. Additional information on how to set up and where to find these applications is listed below.

In the event that you either do not have a smart phone or would prefer to use a more traditional method for confirming your identification, there are many websites with Medical ID card templates that you can print out. Those with chronic conditions, allergies, or who are fashion oriented may consider Medical Emergency ID jewelry. What better gift to get your significant other, son or daughter than a necklace with their blood type and YOUR name and phone number on it?

3.) The alternative to carrying Medical ID cards or filling out numerous forms at different healthcare facilities would be to have a medical power of attorney, also referred to as an advanced healthcare directive. This is the most effective of all the options mentioned and an essential item in your estate plan. These medical power of attorney documents are state specific, so you will want to be sure to fill out the appropriate version for where your child plans to spend the majority of their time. Not only will this compliment a comprehensive medical emergency plan, but it will also afford your children the opportunity to begin thinking about and discussing with you the importance of life planning and determining what is truly important to them.

Here at Bluestem we would like to encourage all of you to address your physical well-being with the same careful and considerate preparation as you do with your financial well-being. Hopefully you nor your family members will ever be in a situation where you must utilize any of the items mentioned above, but in the event that you are, we hope that this post will have helped you make the necessary arrangements.

 

Additional Resources:

ACP Fall 2016 Newsletter

iPhone Medical ID & ICE Setup

ICE Setup for Any Smartphone Platform

Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule

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The U.S. Department of Labor just released its long-awaited fiduciary rule. The new rule aims to protect consumers saving in retirement accounts by amending the definition of fiduciary. The rule, in the pipeline for several years, applies to IRA, 401k, 403b and other retirement accounts that fall under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Advisers and Brokers giving advice on investments in retirement accounts will now be required to act in the client’s best interest, i.e. when they offer advice on investment products in retirement accounts they must provide impartial advice and avoid conflicts of interest. Prior to this, they were only required to sell “suitable” investments to clients. While the rule does make a gallant effort to protect consumers, it also gives many concessions to commission sales-focused advisers. The rule implementation timeline was extended to January 1, 2018 (causing many to argue this simply gives more time for large companies to fight the rule); the rule also allows brokers to continue to sell certain products as long as they enter into a legal contract with the consumer that, among other things, discloses any conflicts of interest. How many consumers will read and understand such contracts? The rule has received considerable opposition from large investment firms, mainly those in the industry who are heavily sales-focused. Their major complaints revolve around new compliance regulations and the fact that the rule will dramatically alter their former commission based-sales approach. The prior “suitability” rule has no requirement to put the consumer’s best interest above the advisor’s interests.

While many in the financial services industry are upset by the new rule, others, like Bluestem, welcome the new consumer protections and are thrilled that the DOL is making an effort to help protect individuals saving for retirement. As a Fiduciary, Registered Investment Advisor, Bluestem always has and always will put our client’s best interest first. We are proud to be a fee-only financial planning firm and will continue to offer unbiased advice and stellar service to all of our clients. While other firms need regulatory nudging to get on board with fiduciary standards, we live by them every day. In fact, the financial planning organizations we belong to, NAPFA and ACP, believe that the new rule is a step in the right direction to add much needed consumer protections.

So how does this DOL rule affect Bluestem? In a nutshell, it doesn’t. It’s very possible that there may be some new regulatory compliance procedures for us, but in the big picture, Bluestem isn’t making any changes. Bluestem is passionate about fee-only, no product sales, financial planning. It’s this passion for fee-only planning that has kept us on the right side of this issue from the beginning. While others will be clamoring to further water down the new rule or put up a fight to protect their outdated and biased way of offering “financial advice”, Bluestem will continue our efforts to provide trusted, clear-cut advice and spread the word about our professional fee-only alternative to product sales masquerading as financial planning.

Student Loan Forgiveness for University Employees

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Guest Blogger: This post was written by Mary Carroll, a senior studying Financial Planning at the University of Illinois.  Mary is working towards becoming a Certified Financial Planner. She serves as President of U of I’s Financial Planning Club and is currently an intern at Bluestem Financial Advisors, LLC. One of the biggest fears students have is getting a zero on an assignment. There are times however when the goal of the assignment IS to get a zero. That’s right, you may be able to zero out your student loan debt in five steps. This assignment may not be an “Easy A”– but it could save you thousands on your student loan repayment.

Before we jump into the five steps, a quick history lesson: In 2007, President Obama signed into law the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program to ease the overwhelming student loan burden for many entering full-time public service jobs, often at lower pay than in private sector jobs. PSLF is designed to forgive the remaining balance (and accumulated interest) on federal student loans for certain borrowers after they have made 120 qualifying payments while employed full time by certain public service employers.

There are five “Rights” to Student Loan Forgiveness to ensure you don’t get it “Wrong”:

1) The Right Loan: applies to Federal Direct Loans ONLY. Direct Loans include subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, PLUS loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans. This program does not apply to any private student loans.

2) The Right Repayment Plan: You must be using one of three repayment plans that base payments on income: • Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) or Revised Pay-As-You-Earn (REPAYE) • Income-Based Repayment (IBR) • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

3) The Right Kind of Employment: Full-time employees at Universities (that are not-for-profit) and tax-exempt organizations under section 401(c)(3), such as the University of Illinois, qualify you! “What qualifies as full-time employment?” Is a common question. The answer is an average of 30 hours per week for the year. As a teacher (or other employee) under contract for at least 8 months for the year, you meet the “full-time standard” if you work an average of at least 30 hours per week during your contractual period. Additionally, the PSLF program applies to other jobs besides University Employees. Qualifying public service employment in the government, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, full-time AmeriCorps position, the Peace Corps, or a private “public service organization” qualify you as well.

4) The Right Number of Payments: Rinse, lather, and repeat 120 times (once a month for ten years). The only payments that count are payments that you have made while doing Steps 1-3 any time after October 1, 2007. This means that payments made before electing an income-based payment plan and prior to beginning public service work, won’t count toward the 120 number you need. Payments must also be made on-time (meaning no later than 15 days after their due date).

5) The Right Documentation: Show your work!! How many times do you have to tell your students that one? Show your work and turn in an employment certification form periodically to the Department of Education. They will let you know if you are on the right track to receive loan forgiveness. You don’t want to get to the end of your 120 payments only to learn you messed something up!

An added bonus point to the assignment: Typically, when a debt is forgiven the IRS includes the amount forgiven as taxable income in the tax year the loan is forgiven. However, any amount forgiven at the end of the 10 years due to the PSLF program is forgiven tax-free. This means you avoid paying federal income tax on the amount forgiven, which is an additional savings! Thank you, teacher!!

Don’t be tardy – start on these 5 steps today!

For more information check out the resources provided below.

Unsure of what type of loan you have? Visit: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/?login=true Income Drive Repayment Plans: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans/income-driven Employment Certification Form: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-employment-certification-form.pdf https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-loan-forgiveness.pdf https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service#qualifying-payment

Cycle of Market Emotions

You are probably aware of the stock market activity over the past week. Friday saw the largest drop of the week, rounding out weekly losses in the 5-6% range. This, in turn, fueled massive negative media coverage over the weekend. No doubt, the negative news adds to fears and is one of many factors leading to further losses in the market. As usual, we encourage you to hold steady through the current market gyrations. One soundbite repeated over the weekend news cycle is that the market has not seen a single day drop like Friday’s since 2011. Do you remember which day it was? My guess is that, unless the last drop significantly affected your life or financial plans, the answer is no. The uncertainty of the future can be scary. Our natural first reaction is fear and trying to avoid further losses. Our brains are hardwired to react this way. However, acting on this emotion would be a mistake. It would lead to selling when the market is low, when in reality, that is the complete opposite of the approach you should be taking. The chart below illustrates this.

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I predict one of two possible outcomes of the market in the next year:

1. The market will continue to decline as the world economy sorts through its current concerns. For our retiree clients, they will ride the downturn relying on the safety of their bond ladders without fear of where their next paycheck is coming from. For our working clients, they will keep working, contributing regularly into the market and buying stocks while they are on fire sale. Over the long term, the market will recover!

2. The market will recover in the next few weeks and we will quickly forget about the conditions of the past week.

Cycles such as the one we are currently experiencing are part of investing. Doing nothing when the market is getting a little haywire may seem counterintuitive or that we are avoiding the problem. The reality is that sticking to a long term plan through market changes takes resolve and commitment to the stated investment goals. Fighting instinct is hard, but doing so leads to better investment performance in the long run and, more importantly, a better chance of realizing your financial goals.

Sorting out Maximization versus Optimization

Financial Planning is often thought of as a quantitative field. Planning is done to answer questions such as how much should I be saving, how should I invest or how can I reduce my tax liability. Numbers are collected, plugged into a formula and out comes a result. When questions are answered individually, solutions can be maximized to seek the best result. For example, maximizing portfolio returns might be done by gathering facts about time horizon (period of time funds will be invested), risk tolerance (how much risk you are willing to take), and investment choices (what choices are available in your investment plan). The problem with maximizing is you are often constrained to looking at a single piece of a larger financial picture. Are your choices about investing impacting your tax situation? Are immediate financial goals competing with longer term goals? Taking a comprehensive approach to planning can help here by taking time to understand the bigger financial picture. Where are the trade offs between decisions? How will one decision affect another? How do you balance a series of choices that all impact each other?

This is how I would define Comprehensive Financial Planning. Working with an advisor knowledgeable in multiple areas of finances; taxes, insurance, investing, retirement, and so on. The advisor working with you to create a plan considering how each area will impact the other. Comprehensive Planning can achieve good results, but can it achieve the Optimal Results?

Sometimes planning hits a wall where the best recommendation conflicts with what you are willing to change. The best answer is not always the most acceptable answer. To reach a goal under current circumstances, perhaps the best answer is to work longer, work more, spend less, delay satisfaction and save more. In reality, finances are really just a tool used to achieve life goals. Sometimes, it is better to adjust the goal than to adjust the financial situation.

The following is an illustration we often use with clients. It shows many values one might hold in their life. In each area, we ask them to rank how satisfied they are, by placing a dot to represent the level. The innermost circle represents low satisfaction and the outermost represents complete satisfaction. The ultimate goal is to balance each area out so that when you connect the dots, they form a truer circle.

Life balance Example

In Example 1, the person is very out of balance. A lot of time and energy might be focused on career, giving a lot of satisfaction in that area plus leading to financial security, but leaving insufficient time for family and social activities. In the planning realm, decisions might need to be made to correct this imbalance. With this illustration, it might become clear that some financial goals can be sacrificed in exchange for other life goals.  To reach Example 2, it would be more acceptable to cut work hours, save less, but have more time to devote in the areas of social and family activities. 

It is not uncommon for our clients to begin to see these trade offs. When you reach financial independence, choices becomes less about accumulating more. Instead, focus shifts to using money to do things like buy time (outsourcing housekeeping or yard work to free up time to be spent with family). Or, maybe the career becomes less important as salary or advancement opportunities are forgone in exchange for time to focus on social endeavors.

To me, this is the process of Optimizing a financial plan. Taking the time to step back and see the big life picture. Not only making the right financial choice, but making the best use of financial resources to achieve all of life’s goals. If you are ready to optimize your life, contact us today.

Identity Theft Actions

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In a previous Blog post, Protecting Your Financial Life in the Digital Age, we discussed ways to protect yourself against identity theft. While it is important to take all the precautions you can to protect yourself it is also important to know what to do if you should fall victim to identity theft. Below are several actions to take if you find your identity has been compromised. Action 1: At a minimum, you should place a fraud alert with the three Credit Reporting Agencies.  This should limit a potential thief’s ability to establish new credit in your name.  Complete instructions can be found with this link.

For added protection, consider freezing your credit. This will limit any new credit from being established under your name while the freeze is in effect.

To freeze your credit, contact each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies:

  • Equifax — 1‑800‑525‑6285
  • Experian —1‑888‑397‑3742
  • TransUnion — 1‑800‑680‑7289

You'll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5 to $10. This fee may be waived with a verification that you are a victim of identity theft.

After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting agency will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze.

american-express-89024_640Action 2: Request credit reports from at least one of the three Credit Reporting Agencies.  Review your report for any lines of credit that you don’t recognize.  The report will have instructions on disputing your account if needed.  Reports may be accessed for free at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

Action 3: Contact custodians of your bank and investment accounts to inform them of your identity theft.  Banks may assign new account or credit card numbers.  Investment custodians may flag your account to avoid distributions of funds without additional steps to authenticate requests.

Action 4: Consider filing a Police Report and an Identity Theft Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (link here).  Document all communication with banks and financial institutions.  Keep dated notes of phone calls and copies of all correspondence.  Official disputes should be in writing and sent with tracking (such as certified mail with a return receipt).

Action 5: If you are victim of Tax related fraud, also consider these steps.

Generally you will need to file a paper tax return.  Along with the return, Form 14039 – Identity Theft Affidavit will need to be attached to alert the IRS of the fraudulent activity.  For subsequent years once your identity has been authenticated, the IRS will provide you a PIN Number to file future returns electronically.

Consider requesting a tax transcript to see what return was filed under your social security number.  This can be done at http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Get-Transcript.

Consider reviewing your Social Security statement to ensure that your earnings history is reported correctly.  This can be done at http://www.ssa.gov/.

#GivingTuesday

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There is no doubt that the holiday season is officially upon us. It is difficult to go out and about and not be inundated with signs for holiday shopping deals. Around every corner is another flashy ad encouraging you to be a good consumer and spend spend spend. That said, there is nothing wrong with holiday shopping and gift giving, but what about giving back in a different way? We have all heard about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, but how many of us are familiar with Giving Tuesday? Giving Tuesday is a nationwide initiative that encourages individuals and organizations to spend the Tuesday after Thanksgiving practicing generosity. So, after you have filled up with food on Thanksgiving, loaded your shopping cart on Black Friday and clicked your way to consumer bliss on Cyber Monday, why not spend Tuesday, December 2nd celebrating generosity by donating to your favorite charities? There are many reasons why people give: altruism, gratitude, recognition, compassion, generosity, the list goes on and so do the benefits. However, one benefit we can all appreciate is the ever famous tax deduction. Recently, Jake Kuebler appeared on WCIA’s Current to discuss charitable deductions and budgeting for charitable giving. For some of Jake’s tips on giving be sure to check out the full segment below.

Bluestem would like to wish you all a very Happy Holiday season!

Kuebler shares insights with Investor's Business Daily

Recently, our own Jake Kuebler spoke with Investor's Business Daily's (IBD) Aparna Narayanan about ways young Advisors are adapting traditional business models by using new technology and social media. Jake’s experience as a young business owner, as well as his leadership on NAPFA Genesis, has given him ample insights into the changing landscape of financial planning. The article hits on several of these new ideas, which you can click here to read. IBD

Protecting your Financial Life in the Digital Age

The news of cyber vulnerabilities and retailer hacks seems never ending. This  past week, another major fast food chain, Jimmy Johns, announced a data  breach and possible loss of consumer payment information. Other recent big  breaches include Target and Home Depot. Then came news of another security  bug, “Bash” aka “Shellshock”, endangering the security of many websites. To  help you protect your financial information in the digital age, I compiled a list of  financial best practices and some recommendations for keeping yourself safe:

Credit versus Debit:

To protect yourself from fraud, ditch your debit card and stick with credit. Debit cards do not come with the same consumer protections as credit, even if the debit card carries a Visa or MasterCard logo. If your bank issues a debit card for ATM access, request an ATM only card that cannot be used in stores or do not carry the card unless you plan to make a cash withdrawal from an ATM.

Credit Monitoring and ID Theft Insurance? Generally I do not recommend these products. Credit monitoring only alerts you of suspicious activity. You can do this yourself by checking your credit regularly (a service we provide for our clients). As for insurance, you are not generally liable for fraudulent activity. Therefore, ID theft insurance is covering only out-of-pocket costs for fighting fraud. Insurance does not compensate for the aggravation and your time, only actual costs such as postage.

A more effective way to prevent fraudulent accounts from being established in your name is to freeze your credit with each of the three credit reporting agencies. Here is a guide offered by Financial Radio Personality, Clark Howard: Clark Howard Credit Freeze and Thaw Guide

Keep in mind that freezing your credit has its own downsides. Applying for or opening new credit will require work on your part to “thaw” your file. Also, some identify verification services rely on your credit file. Without access, you may not be able to validate yourself online.

19-08-7Paper versus Electronic account statements:

Let’s face it, paper statements are just as vulnerable as electronic. Use whichever format you prefer and the one that you will be more likely to review promptly. Reviewing statements is your best defense against unauthorized activity.

Paper Statements can get lost in the mail and potential thieves can steal from your mailbox. Best practice would be to have a locked Post Office box to receive financial mail and never mail anything sensitive except through a locked mail collection box (Blue USPS Mailbox).

For electronic statements, do not count on your financial institution to retain digital records forever. Download them to a local (secure) computer and back them up regularly. Consider automating your computer backups with a system such as Mozy, Carbonite, or Box.com.

Passwords:

Use a secure, unique password for each financial website. Make your password long (12 or more characters) with combinations of upper and lowercase, numbers and symbols. When possible, enable two-step verification. This will require a separate authentication when a website is accessed from an unrecognized or new device. The two-step verification works because an access code is sent in a text message to your phone or in an email. The code is required to access your account in addition to the usual password, and thieves don’t have access to your phone or email from their device.

Consider a password manager system to generate and store your passwords. I use a system called LastPass. I only need to memorize one password, and LastPass can store all the rest. However, make sure your master password is very secure and change it often.

Shopping and Banking Online:

Only access financial information from your own devices and only if you have up-to-date security software with real time protection. Public computers or those used by others (e.g. in hotels or internet cafes) may have spyware or key loggers trying to capture passwords and other secure data.

Avoiding Scams:

Reputable institutions will not call you to request verification of non-public information (Social Security Numbers, Account Numbers, etc). Calls such as these are most likely scams. If you get a call requesting this type of information, hang up and call back the institution with a number you know to be real such as the phone number on the back of a credit card or website. In addition, the IRS almost never calls taxpayers, especially as first contact. Any notices regarding your returns will be by a letter sent through the US Postal Service.

Have any more tips? Leave a comment with your thoughts or suggestions.

Real Change Happens at the Margin

I recently finished my second half marathon, finishing the race just under my target time of two hours. While pleased with reaching a personal goal, there is nothing really compelling about my story. No overnight success, no major rise to overcome great obstacles. There was a time when running for fun would sound crazy, let alone running for hours on end. I started running 14 years ago to get into shape. I cannot say I really even enjoyed it at the beginning. My first runs were on a basement treadmill, 1 mile at a time. Soon a single mile was easy, so I pushed it to two and then three. For a challenge I decided to run a 5k, which lead to another and then another. Each time I aimed to cut my time by pushing my regular runs just a little faster and a little further. Each time I hit a goal, I moved the target just a little bit further. A little longer distance, a little shorter time.

My evolution has been slow and incremental. My progress from year to year is minimal, barely even noticeable. Review these changes over years, and the results are slightly more impressive. Change happened from minor adjustments made over time and the result of those adjustments compounded over time.

In a post appearing on The Daily Good, author James Clear outlines this same strategy. He describes how marginal changes led Great Britain’s cycling team to win the Tour de France in 2012 and 2013. Then, he shows the following illustration of how small changes, stacked onto one another lead to substantial changes over time.

Click image to view the full post.

This is a principle that we use daily with our Financial Planning clients. Big changes may happen at the beginning of our relationship, but planning is a long term process. An incremental series of good decisions and judgment based on an end goal will lead to long term success. As we work together year after year, we provide the long term perspective that keeps decision making on track and also reduces errors in behavior.

How can you apply this to your own financial life? Comment below if you want to share your own story.

Millennials' Guide to Getting Rich

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If you read the rest of this post, you will find my title to be a bit flippant.  Had I added the work "Quickly" to the end, it would be downright misleading.  Except for the rare instance where someone inherits a fortune, wins the lottery or marries a multi-millionaire, getting rich is a slow and boring process.  This fact is mostly overlooked by the media.  Boring does not sell newspapers or generate web hits and therefore good financial advice is rarely a media event. That is why I was excited to see some press on a newly released e-Book written by Financial Advisor and author William Bernstein for Millennials (aka Gen Y, born 1980's through early 2000's).  Concisely written, the book summarizes how to actually build financial freedom, aka wealth.  Spoiler alert, the method is simple but the application will take effort on your part.

The book is so short, it is hardly worth summarizing on this post.  You should seriously consider taking 30 minutes to read the ~14 page guide yourself.  Purchase the e-Book for $0.99 on Amazon's Kindle Library or download free in PDF format.

What really resonates about this book is the simplistic method he advocates; live below your means (save 15%), educate yourself on the basics, keep the portfolio simple because you will not beat the market.  These are all key parts of our approach to financial planning.  Success comes not from taking big risks or complex strategies, but by being diligent and making good decisions.

I will not underplay the "making good decisions" factor.  We are all human and we all make errors in judgment.  Some errors are unavoidable, but others come from fear, greed or other emotional roadblocks.  Decisions need to be made objectively in context of your current situation and future goals.  Doing this on your own is incredibly difficult.  Even the most savvy among us regularly make less than objective decisions.  For many, this is the value of having a Financial Planner.  To act as the objective, informed third party and provide a fresh perspective.

Be sure to check out some of the press on this book, including an interview on NPR's Here and Now and a summary by columnist Scott Burns.

Behave your way to Success

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This past week I had the opportunity to visit Salt Lake City for the Spring Conference of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). The theme of this year’s conference was Behavioral Finance. A hybrid of psychology and economics, this exciting field aims to explain our behavior and decision making in our personal finances. Some examples of application to our behaviors around money include:

  • Tendency of individuals to overestimate their own abilities and believe they are above average. This explains why so many fall for the fallacy of active investment management. They try to beat the market by selecting investment securities based on prior performance or time their purchase of securities to beat the market.
  • Focusing too narrowly on frames of references or over-weighting recent events. For instance, a short term fluctuation in the market might cause an individual to perceive higher risk than actual longer-term risk and sell stocks at exactly the wrong time.
  • The power of momentum, when we fail to take action that is in our best interest. In other words, procrastinating on actions we know we need to make but simply put off. This may affect getting that life insurance policy, signing our estate documents or rebalancing our portfolio.

The point of Behavioral Finance research is to explain how our past experience and mental processes can get in the way of day to day decisions. Even more importantly, it seeks to understand how to overcome these mental biases. Dr. Meir Statman, Professor and Author of What Investors Really Want, describes these biases as similar to having less than perfect vision. By understanding where our behavior and economics intersect, we can correct that vision and make better decisions.

Understanding behavior and how it can affect reaching financial goals is a top value of hiring a Financial Planner. Value does not come from number crunching, projections, or investment management alone. Value received is your advisor seeing the whole picture of your life, and tempering emotions with appropriate decision making. A trusted advisor encourages you to reach your goals by keeping you accountable and on track through a series of small, incremental decisions.

5 Excuses for Not Hiring a Financial Advisor

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Are you thinking about hiring a Financial Planner, but failing to take action?  We see many people who put off the decision for far too long, costing them time or money.  Here are some common reasons many fail to hire an advisor  and misinformation that you may have heard about financial advisors.

#1 – I do not have enough money

I will concede that Financial Planners have a reputation for only serving the wealthy.  Many firms  have portfolio minimums, often in the mid-six-figures or more.  However, Financial Planning as a profession (not sales as discussed below) is relatively young and still evolving.  Early models of the 1980’s and 90’s were built around investment management.  Financial planning was a manual, time intensive process.  Large portfolios were needed to cover the high cost of doing comprehensive financial planning.

However, this is rapidly changing.  Financial Planners, like all entrepreneurs, are continuously developing new business models to serve a wider base of clients.  New efficient technology has pushed down the cost of providing services.  There are many groups of advisors and companies who provide financial planning services to a wider audience.  For instance, online companies such as LearnVest are springing up to provide basic planning services at ultra-low cost.  For more customized services, there are advisors who provide hourly consultations, such as those in the Garrett Planning Network.  Finally, there are advisors that provide ongoing, holistic services to the middle market, members of the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners.

My point here is, there are many types of advisors out there.  You have to be willing to put a little time into your search to find the right fit. The right advisor will provide services in line with your needs, have expertise in issues you face, and communicate with you in a manner that you understand and trust.

At Bluestem, we not have a minimum portfolio size for new clients.  We are a growing firm and always accepting new clients, but we do limit our growth each year to ensure that we provide the best service we can to new and existing clients.  This means we are selective about the clients we take on in order to ensure that our expertise and services match their needs.

#2 – Financial Planning means “Sales”

I sometimes get uncomfortable when people ask me what I do for a living.  Not because I am ashamed, but because of the response I get to saying Financial Planner.  There is is a lot of negative connotation behind the title.

The problem lies in the lack of regulation or consistency of the title Financial Planner/Advisor.  Pretty much anyone can use the title, regardless if they are actually providing planning services or are just a salesperson for investments or insurance products.   There have been efforts to clarify, but the sales industry is quick to mimic true financial advisors or confuse consumers. Even so, those selling products cannot copy what a true Financial Planner really does, so let me tell about that.

A true financial planner is interested in who you are.  They want to learn your goals, ambitions and values.  They understand that maximizing your income and wealth are important, but only because that helps you achieve something more.  Money is not the end result.  Once they understand who you are and what you are about, they help you begin piecing together a financial strategy to achieve those goals and values.

They understand there are many pieces to your financial life to manage; human capital (career), taxes, insurance, children, legal, retirement, and the list goes on.  A planner is there to help you make decisions that encompass all the different areas.

I have been called a Jack of all Trades and Master of None.  In the context, it was meant to be negative, but it has some truth.  My knowledge is broad by design.  I need personal skills to learn about you and technical skills to see how all the pieces fit together.  I also have to recognize how changing one financial piece of your life will affect another.  I am a professional and recognize my limitations.  When depth of knowledge is needed, I maintain an arsenal of professionals to assist.  Attorneys, Insurance Agents, CPAs, Real Estate Agents, and Brokers may be brought in when needed.  Alone they may not know the whole picture, but I am there to assure that a cohesive result is achieved for my clients.

If you are looking to hire an advisor, be willing to ask lots of questions.  You should be especially interested in hearing about the process of working with the advisor.  Results are important, but there are no guarantees in life.  There are too many unknown variables for a professional to make promises they cannot keep.  Do not be influenced by flashy marketing with anecdotal success stories and past performance statistics.  That may not indicate success for your future.  Focus on hiring someone who has a solid process to help you evaluate your needs, anticipate changes and help you adjust course as needed.

#3 – I can do it myself

I concede, this one is actually true.  You probably can do it yourself. Be honest with yourself, will you?  Will you devote the time to set goals, educate yourself, evaluate important financial decisions, monitor your progress and adjust as needed?  Most of us will not.  It is too easy to get caught up in day-to-day life to think about our own future objectively or strategically.

Would it surprise you to know I hired my own Financial Advisor?  It is not because I cannot do it myself.  It is because I know there is value in having an objective third party.  Someone who can cut through my own emotional and mental roadblocks.  Someone who can force me to take a long term view and someone who can coach and encourage me to keep moving in the right direction.

There are many reasons someone might hire an advisor.  Some people like to manage their own plan, but hire an advisor for an objective review to validate that they are on the right track.  Others find they have little patience for the process and do not enjoy learning the ins and outs of financial planning. They hire an advisor to delegate and turn over the responsibility to a competent planner.

#4 – I cannot afford to hire an Advisor

Many of us are willing to make an investment if we expect the future benefits will be greater than the initial outlay.  The same should be true of hiring an advisor.  I believe any advisor you hire should, in the long term, add more value than the cost of their services

As clichéd as it may sound, sometimes peace of mind can be one of the biggest values in hiring an advisor.  Research from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board) has shown that families that take time to plan have better financial preparedness for meeting goals and dealing with emergencies, save more and are more confident about their finances. Is it worth your money to sleep better at night, avoid arguments with a spouse over money, or to know you are on the right track?

Maybe you are skeptical and want to see hard dollar savings.  Morningstar, an investment research firm, has attempted to quantify the value of hiring an advisor.  They define gamma as value an advisor adds to an individual through the financial planning process.  These values include added investment returns through optimizing portfolio allocation, withdrawal strategies and tax savings.  They postulate the added return could be as high as 1.59% of your portfolio.

This research does not even include the savings of avoiding mistakes such as incorrect tax returns, buying the wrong financial product, paying unnecessary fees to high cost institutions and financial products.  How about the cost of inaction?  How much are you paying because you fail to take action?

#5 – This is not the right time OR I do not have the time

I hear this a lot.  Someone will reach out because they are experiencing a life transition that comes with a financial pain or have an important decision to make.  The person is so caught up in the life transition, they ignore or procrastinate making needed financial decisions.  They deal with the symptoms, not the underlying problem.

I think a person’s overall health and well-being is like a wagon wheel.  Each spoke represents one aspect of the person’s life.  The spokes include physical, mental, relationship, spiritual/moral/religious, and financial health.  In order for the wheel to be round and turn easily, you need to devote equal time and energy to all.  Otherwise, your wheel may become flat in certain sections and have trouble moving you forward.

Another way to put it, if you ignore one area of overall health and balance, you may end up harming the whole system.  Taking the time to make a plan will take an investment of time and energy, but will pay off with future peace of mind, flexibility and independence.