Give the Gift of Financial Wisdom this Christmas

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

This year, the best Christmas gift for your adult children may be the gift of financial wisdom. Unfortunately, most young adults successfully graduate from school without a practical understanding of personal finance.  Starting out with a solid foundation and some smart financial habits can help your children live a happier, more fulfilling life.

Upon graduation from school, young adults are starting with a blank slate.  They are probably accustomed to a frugal lifestyle that is more about friends and experiences than expensive cars and fancy restaurants.  Before they take on a host of new financial commitments, encourage them to establish a lifetime habit of living below their means and saving for the future.  Work with them to develop a budget, establish an emergency fund and save for the future.  Help them to avoid the common tendency to increase their expenses in lock step with their income.  They can experience more freedom and opportunity by living below their means and gradually increasing their standard of living.

Another concept that is not taught in school, is the difference between good and bad debt.  Help your children understand the danger of high interest rate credit cards and consumer debt.  Encourage them to limit the number of credit cards they use and to get in the habit of paying credit card balances in full every month.  Also explain the importance of establishing a good credit rating by paying their bills on time.  Help them understand that low interest, tax deductible mortgage debt can be useful where high interest credit card debt can be very detrimental to their financial security.

It’s also important for them to understand some basic investment concepts including the power of compounding.  For example, if they invest $100 per month for 30 years for a total investment of $36,000, in 30 years with a return of 6%, their money can grow to over $100,000 due to compounding.   They have the benefit of time! By investing early, they have tremendous opportunity to grow their money into a sizable nest egg by retirement.

Understanding the importance of diversification and the relationship between risk and return is also essential.  Encourage your kids to avoid putting all of their eggs in one basket and help them understand that getting a higher return requires taking more risk.  It’s best to invest in a variety of investment options with different levels of risk and return.  Caution them that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is.  There is no free lunch!

To augment the personal wisdom that you can share, consider buying your kids a book on personal finance for Christmas.  Some books to consider include The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason, Coin by Judy McNary, The Young Couples Guide to Growing Rich Together by Jill Gianola and the Wealthy Barber by David Chilton.

Minimum Liability on Car Insurance Not Adequate for Most Drivers


Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

The state of Colorado requires you to carry liability insurance in case you injure someone or damage someone’s property.  Colorado law requires liability insurance of at least $25,000 for bodily injury per person, $50,000 bodily injury per accident and $15,000 for property damage.   The law also requires insurers to offer uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage and medical coverage unless you waive them.   Generally, they also offer optional comprehensive, collision, towing and rental car coverage. 

However, the liability requirements set forth by the state of Colorado are not adequate for most car owners.  The amount of liability coverage you need is dependent on your net worth or what you have to lose, if you are at fault for an accident.  If you cause a serious car accident, where several people are injured, the medical expenses could easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  With minimum liability coverage, your insurance is only obligated to pay $50,000.  In this situation, an attorney representing the injured parties would probably sue you for the rest of the medical expenses.  If you don’t have any assets this would be a futile effort, but if you have a lot of assets, this could wipe you out. 

As a general rule, according to Darrell Wilson a local insurance agent who operates Alliance Insurance Group of Colorado Springs, anyone with a reasonable level of assets should carry liability insurance of $250,000 – $500,000 for bodily injury per person, around $500,000 for bodily injury per accident and $250,000 – $500,000 for property damage.  He suggests looking at your personal situation to assess how much you have at risk.

In addition to liability insurance, be sure to carry adequate uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.  According to Wilson, between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 motorists are either uninsured or underinsured.  This coverage provides protection if you are in an accident caused by someone with inadequate insurance.  It’s advisable to set your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to levels similar to your liability limits.

If you have a reasonable level of assets you should also consider an Umbrella Liability Policy equal to 1 to 2 times your net worth.  Umbrella Liability insurance is usually above and beyond the coverage provided by your auto and home policy, but verify this with your insurance agent.

It’s advisable to meet with your agent to review your insurance coverage at least once every two years.  Periodically, you should also compare the rates you are paying, but make sure you are looking at comparable policies.  In addition to price, evaluate an insurance company’s financial stability and their record of customer satisfaction with previous claims.  On the internet, you can find information on financial stability through A.M. Best or Standard and Poor’s, and information on customer satisfaction through JD Power or Consumer Reports.   Also ask your friends and family for referrals, just about everyone has some experience with car insurance.

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.

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One of the most common questions I hear from clients is whether they should invest in a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. Let’s start with an understanding of the difference between the two. The biggest difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA is when you pay taxes. I like to think of it…

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