Financial Advice after Losing a Spouse

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

After the funeral is over and everyone has returned home you are faced with the overwhelming task of getting your financial affairs in order.  It’s natural to feel disinterested, distracted and confused with all the decisions that need to be made.  Over the next few years you may feel like you are in a fog and you may have trouble concentrating. During the first couple years be easy on yourself and avoid making any major decisions.  You may be approached by a lot of people trying to give you advice and sell you products, avoid any major changes or decision for at least a year.  Don’t buy or sell a house or make major decisions on where you want to live, avoid any major changes to your investments and avoid making any significant gifts to charity or family members at this time.  Be aware of salespeople who use scare tactics to coax you into making decisions before you are ready.  Take it slow, give yourself time to grieve.   In a few years you may have a completely different perspective on how you want to proceed. 

There are some things that need to be done right away.  Initially it is important to be sure you have enough liquidity to cover your living expenses.  Start by getting organized – if you have always handled the household finances you know what bills need to be paid and where all of your assets are.  If not review all of your current bills and go through the credit card statement and check register to get handle on bills that will need to be paid.  Pull together all of your financial statements to understand your current situation.  Evaluate you current income situation to be sure you have enough money to cover your expenses.

Relatively soon you will want to apply for any benefits for which you may be entitled.  This may include Social Security, Veterans Benefits, Life Insurance or a Pension.   If you spouse was working, be sure to contact their employer to apply for any unpaid wages or survivor benefits.  This is also a good time to make sure you have adequate health insurance.  You should also contact your home and auto insurance company to make sure your coverage is intact.

At this point you may want to assemble a financial support team to help you through this difficult time.  Depending on the complexity of your situation, it may be helpful to hire an Estate Planning Attorney, a Certified Public Account and a fee-only Certified Financial Planner to help you settle the estate, file tax returns, retitle assets and eventually develop of financial plan.  Ask friends and colleagues to recommend and help you select trusted professionals.

More to Rental Property Than Meets the Eye

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

With low interest rates and the fear of another drop in the stock market, many people are looking for alternative ways to earn investment income.  Many investors find the tangible nature of real estate appealing.  Although real estate may seem like the logical alternative to stocks and bonds, investment in real estate can be very complex, time consuming, and wrought with risk. 

Before buying, perform a realistic cash flow analysis on the income and expenses associated with the property you are considering.  Begin with start-up expenses associated with acquiring the property, including the down payment and any necessary improvements. Next tabulate the routine expenses that you will incur with a rental.  These may include mortgage payments, insurance, property taxes, home owner’s association dues, routine maintenance, and legal and accounting fees.  As a rule of thumb, maintenance and repairs run about 1-2% of the market value of your home, depending on the home’s condition.  Also consider an emergency fund to cover large unexpected repairs. 

Managing rental real estate can be very time consuming.  Seriously think about whether you want to manage the rental yourself or you want to hire a property manager.  Do you have the time and the desire to manage the property? If you do it yourself, you will need to market the property, evaluate potential renters, maintain the property, respond to tenant issues, collect rent payments and potentially evict tenants.   You also may want to learn about fair housing laws, code requirements, lease agreements, escrow requirements, and eviction procedures.  If you don’t have the time or the temperament to manage the property, consider hiring a property manager.  Property management fees usually run about 10-12% of rental income.

Some additional risks to consider when renting property include the possibility of major damage inflicted by a tenant, drawn out eviction processes, and law suits for negligence and safety issues.

After evaluating your expenses, do some income projections.  Research rents paid for similar properties in your target neighborhood.   Be sure to incorporate a reasonable vacancy rate.  According to the Colorado Division of Housing, the average vacancy rate in Colorado Springs has been about 6%, for the last 4 quarters.

Include the tax benefit of deducting depreciation into your analysis.  To calculate annual depreciation, divide the initial value of your rental home, not including land, by 27.5.  Unfortunately, you will probably have to recapture (repay to the IRS) this deduction upon sale of the property at a maximum rate of 25%.

Subtract your projected expenses from your projected income to determine your net profit.  Will the net profit you expect to gain from the property compensate you for your capital, time and risk?  In addition to the profit from rental income, be sure to factor appreciation of your property into your analysis.  Additionally, if you have a mortgage, your equity will increase every year as you pay off your mortgage.

Don’t Let Financial Scare Tactics Steer You Off Course

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

It’s a formidable task to sort through the barrage of financial information from all the various media sources.  It can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.  Information is often slanted when a reporter or writer has a subtle personal or political bias.  Even heavily biased information can appear objective if the messenger has a strong belief that their story is factual.   While it’s always necessary to filter information for personal bias, financial messages designed to intentionally mislead can be especially harmful.  We are constantly bombarded by advertisements and headlines that deliberately twist the facts to scare us and encourage us to buy products or services.

All of this may sound obvious; we should be smart enough to recognize when someone is trying to sell us something or trying to pull something over on us.  However, we have to be diligent to differentiate between legitimate news and sensationalism.  Producers and editors of financial magazines, television shows, and newsletters use exciting headlines to increase circulation and keep people tuned in.   It is common for the media to exaggerate negative information to generate an emotional reaction.  As an investor, you need to keep dramatic headlines in perspective and avoid changing course based on media hype.

A more sinister scare tactic is the threat of impending doom used by some unscrupulous people to sell products such as gold, variable annuities, and financial newsletters. Recently several gold dealers have been running compelling marketing campaigns to convince you that the financial world is on the brink of disaster.  They use well known actors with an authoritative flare to scare you into believing your only salvation is gold. Depending on your situation, it may be logical for you to have some amount of gold in your portfolio.  However, you don’t need to convert your entire portfolio to gold just because a few gold dealers imply they have exclusive access to top secret information predicting imminent financial demise.

You should also be on the alert for unethical firms who use scare tactics to sell variable annuities and financial newsletters.  Some unscrupulous salespeople try to scare people into making inappropriate purchases in variable annuities by preying on their need for security.  A variable annuity may be a good option, but don’t be tricked into buying something you don’t want or need due to exaggerated threats about a pending financial disaster.  Additionally, I have recently observed a newsletter editor greatly exaggerate the impact of recent legislation to encourage people to buy his newsletter.

Appealing to our sense of fear is an age old sales gimmick.  Be on your guard, marketing campaigns have become very sophisticated.  Before making any changes, fully understand what you are buying and make sure it fits into your overall financial plan.  Avoid emotional reactions to media hype and salespeople claiming to predict the future in order to sell their products.

Investing in a Volatile Market

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Here are some things you should keep in mind when investing in the stock market; the market will fluctuate, there will be years with negative returns, the stock market is for long term investing, and the media and prognosticators will greatly exaggerate negative information to create news and get attention.  If you keep this in mind, you can dramatically improve your long term investment returns and sleep better at night.  Based on numerous studies conducted by DALBAR, the average investor earns several percentage points below the market average due to market timing and emotional reactions to market fluctuations.  It’s how we are wired.  When the market goes up, we feel good and we want don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to make money.  As a result, we buy stock when the market is at its peak.  On the flip side, when the market drops we worry about losing money, and sell when the market is at the bottom.  It’s hard to make money in this cycle of buying high and selling low.  When investing in the stock market, try to avoid overreacting to the inevitable short term fluctuations in the market.

Other factors that can help you ride out dramatic fluctuations in the market include establishing a solid financial foundation and maintaining an asset allocation that meets your investment timeframe.  Establish a solid financial foundation by living within your means, minimizing the use of credit, and maintaining an emergency fund of 3 to 6 months of expenses.  A strong foundation helps you avoid pulling money out of the stock market at inopportune times should an emergency arise. 

Once you have established a strong financial foundation you can start investing in the stock market.  One key to success with stock market investing is establishing an asset allocation that’s in line with the timeframe in which you will need money.  Money that is needed in the short term should not be invested it the stock market.  As a general rule, do not invest any money needed within the next five years in the stock market.  Over long periods of time the stock market has trended upward, but in the short term there have been periods with substantial drops.  Give yourself time to ride out the natural fluctuations in the market.  

Additionally, it is important to diversify your money across a wide variety of investments.  You can reduce the amount of risk you take by diversifying across different companies, municipalities, industries, and countries.  When one type of investment is doing poorly, another may be doing well.  This helps to buffer the losses you may experience in your portfolio.  An excellent way to diversify is through the use of a variety of different types of mutual funds.  Mutual funds pool your money with money from others to invest in a large number of companies or government entities based on a predefined investment objective.

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