New Book - Coming November 2010

New Book - Coming November 2010
Help! My 401(k) Has Fallen - And Must Get Up!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Retirement Calculators


There are some great tools and calculators you can use for free to help plan for retirement. Some of the best ones are those which you may not even know about.
First, not to toot my own horn, but my website, www.helpmy401k.us has a great tab called Investment Tools .
There are calculators there for almost everything. The most commonly used one is the 401(k) Calculator. You could also use the 457(b) calculator if you are a government employee, but the concept is the same.
Simply go to the 401(k) calculator and plug in your own numbers. For example, lets say you are 29 years old with $1000 in a retirement savings account. Lets also say that you earn $50,000 per year and that you follow Dave Ramsey's advice and put in 10% of your pay into your 401(k) or $5000. If you earn an average return on this 401(k) account of 8% and keep doing this until age 66, you will have saved $1,076,087 for retirement. And that does not include an employer match or a raise in pay - EVER. Personal Finance expert Eric Tyson has an idea which may help provide an incentive to save more in 401(k) or IRAs - instead of calling them those names, we should try calling these "tax-reduction accounts".
What if we did figure those in? Easy - just enter those numbers.
Well, lets say your employer matches your contribution by 50% of whatever you put in up to 4%. If you put in at least 4% or more (and we are doing 10%, remember?), that means you are getting another 2% ($1000) from the employer. Also, lets assume they will raise your pay by
2% per year as a cost of living increase. Keeping the other earlier numbers the same, you will now have saved $1,598,680 for retirement.
Here is another one which my be helpful if you are planning to pay off credit card debt. And you should absolutely do that! It will have you save more in your "tax-reduction accounts."
Let's say you have a balance of $2000 in a credit card account. Your current monthly payment is $125/month and your interest rate on the card is 17.5%. (Ugh!) If you do as Dave Ramsey says and do some "plastic surgery" on your card (cut it up and dont use it anymore!), did you know that you can pay the card off in 12 months by just raising your payment to $183/month? It's true and very easy to figure out using the "Credit Card Payoff" calculator on the site. This can be very helpful to see yourself making progress towards your goal, if you can't pay the entire amount, but know you should pay less than the minimum.
In upcoming blog articles, we will look at a few more of the calculators.
You can see these calculators and many other helpful ideas on my website, www.helpmy401k.us. You can also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker . I also host a weekly internet radio program "Improving Your Financial Health" at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach .


Friday, October 23, 2009

Wipe Out The Fear in South Bend


Feel like you are drowning in today's economy?
Inflation?
Shaky stock market?
Sinking dollar?
Unemployment?
Staggering debt?

Watching the news may seem like an ongoing care wreck - especially if you watch Glenn Beck, who always looks like he will suffer a breakdown right on camera - but as horrifying and overwhelming as the news is, you can't seem to pull yourself away.

We don't suffer from a lack of information - rather TOO MUCH information. Its all so confusing and you can feel like the rag doll being pulled apart from all directions.

How does all of this affect your ability to save for retirement? Is it possible to still have goals and dreams? Can you still retire with dignity?

Dan Rather was once quoted as saying "If all of the difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would not start out at all."

Nothing great was ever achieved without hardships along the way. As an advisor, my job is to help you resolve your fears. Let's wipe them out and provide some peace of mind.

This year, when I became an iindependent advisor and opened my own office, I've been learning that most people would rather "not lose anymore" than to win with their long term savings. To quote another great American, Will Rogers - "I'm more concerned with the return OF my money than the return ON my money."

With that in mind, my purpose has been to focus on helping people to find a vehicle that would "not lose" and still let you win. What if I could toss you a "Life Preserver" for your savings? Remember when you first learned to swim? Those kickboards or noodles came in handy, didn't they? You learned eventually that the water is your friend. Once you stopped fighting it, and let it help you, swimming became more fun, right?

Russell Pearlman recently wrote an article titled, "Problems? What Problems?" from the November 2009 issue of "Smart Money" magazine. His article focused on annuities, which have become much more popular with investors as a life preserver for long term savings.
"Don't tell that (regarding annuity cost) to baby boomers looking for retirement security at a time when their 401(k) plans are still hurting; they just keep buying annuities. Through the first six months of the year, total annuity sales were almost $127 billion, only a 3 percent drop from 2008." he writes.

Again, the message I get from my clients and others I meet is "We want SAFETY and Peace of Mind."

Can we get "Guaranteed" growth for our long term savings?
Will it be better than current CD rates?
Can we get "Guaranteed" income when I retire - also better than current CD rates?
Can we make sure the income never goes down?
And lasts for a lifetime - even if we live to 100 or beyond?
And when that lifetime does end, can we leave something for our family and loved ones?

In short - YES! Mr. Pearlman goes on to write "Are annuities for you? Experts say the peace of mind may be worth it."

Another of my favorite articles this year was written by Leslie Scism of the Wall Street Journal. "Long Derided, This Investment Now Looks Wise". "Because of such guarantees, many holders of variable annuities actually saw their accounts increase 6% or more in value last year, when the Standard & Poors 500 stock index dropped nearly 39%." Ms. Scism writes.

Contact me today to learn more about how to get a life preserver (or noodle if you prefer) for your savings. Treat yourself to some Peace of Mind!

You can contact me through my website, http://www.helpmy401k.us and follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/deanvoelker. I also host a weekly internet radio braodcast, "Improving Your Financial Health" at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cut The Fat in your 401(k)

Last week, we asked “Where’s the Beef?” Today, we ask “Where’s the Fat?”
Its very important to trim the ‘fat’ in your 401(k) plan – or fund expenses. Today on my Blog Talk Radio program, I had a listener ask about fund expenses. These can really affect your long term return on your retirement savings.

Expenses come from managing the mutual fund. The fund family charges a percentage of the assets invested to manage the fund – deciding what to buy, what to sell, and how much to buy or sell and when to do it. Less trading = lower expenses. Also the advisor on the plan may be paid from these expenses.

Knowing this, it would make sense to look for funds in your plan which have a lower expense rate. If its about 1%, that isn’t too bad, much more than that can negatively affect your returns over time.

To give you an example, I did some figuring on my financial calculator . Let’s look at a 22 year old college graduate, starting their 401(k) plan. Of course you would expect them to bump up their contributions over time, but lets say they put in $300/month with an 8% average return until age 66. They would have saved $1,340,048 in 44 years.

What if they were using a fund with expenses that were 1% more? In other words, the fund may have averaged 8%, but the real return was 7% due to higher expenses. With all the other factors being the same, we now have a total savings of $993,985, which is a difference of $346,063. OUCH! If you figure on taking 4%/year of the nest egg at retirement for income, that means we would need to live on less income -$13842 per year less. See where 1% can make a big difference?

So look carefully at your statement. Don’t just look at ‘performance’ but also fund expenses, which do affect long term performance. Have an advisor help you with this and also help you determine how much to save, so you can have the type of retirement you want.

You may contact me through my website at http://www.helpmy401k.us. You can also follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/deanvoelker. I also host a Weekly Internet Radio Broadcast “Improving Your Financial Health on Blog Talk Radio http://www.blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach

Friday, October 9, 2009

Where's The Beef?


During the 1980’s there was a very popular commercial by Wendy’s. An elderly lady ordered a burger at a generic fast food counter. Upon seeing how puny and pathetic her tiny burger was, she grilled the sales clerk repeatedly - “Where’s the beef?” The commercial was a huge hit and “Where’s the beef?” was a well known catch phrase.

These days “Where’s the beef?” could easily be applied to the 401(k)s & IRAs of many people. In Daniel R. Solin’s book, “The Smartest 401(k) Book You’ll Ever Read”, he points out that “the typical twenty-something only invests 50.4% of his or her account in stock mutual funds.” You can’t keep up with inflation that way! Mr. Solin goes on to say that as we get older, that figure is also pretty timid. “The typical worker in their forties invests only 54.3% in stock funds.”

It doesn’t matter how old you are. Even people on the verge of retirement should be invested in stock mutual funds with a good part of their long term savings. After all, you could be retired for 20-30 years.

Stocks have been the only investment which has beaten inflation over the long term. And we NEED to prepare for inflation! Did you know that in 1989 (20 years ago), a loaf of bread costs an average of 0.67? And a postage stamp was just 0.25?

Mr. Solin also points out that “If you invested $1.00 in blue chip stocks in 1926, it would be worth $3077.33 today. That pencils out to a 10.42 average yearly return.”

Don’t be too fancy trying to pick the “right” fund. Look for mutual funds with long histories (10 years or longer) and low expenses. High management fees can really affect the return on your investment.

We will be looking at a few other ways to put some “Beef” back into your 401(k) in a future article.

You may contact me through my website at http://www.helpmy401k.us. You can also follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/deanvoelker. I also host a Weekly Internet Radio Broadcast "Improving Your Financial Health on Blog Talk Radio http://www.blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach
 

Friday, October 2, 2009

Digging A Hole


Do People still invest in CDs anymore? (Don’t answer that.) I know that they are the “investment” of choice for a number of folks and for banks. Let’s be honest though – Rates are TERRIBLE!!
As of today, Oct. 2, 2009, according to bankrate.com, the best rate on a 12 month CD in the USA is 2.05 at India Bank. For a 3 Year CD, the best available rate is 2.97 at Flagstar Bank.
When I called banks in the area, I actually had to keep a straight face when Diana told me about their “Special Rate” of 1.5% on a 13 month CD – only for current customers, though. Woo-Hoo!!

CDs do appeal to those who want “safety”, which means the FDIC Guarantee. That means your money is guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (i.e. the U.S. Government) OK, I feel MUCH BETTER about THAT!!

About a year ago, as part of the new financial legislation, the FDIC raised its limit on the maximum amount guaranteed from $100,000 to $250,000. I’m not sure exactly how that helps Joe Lunchbucket, but there was quite a bit of fuss made about it last October.

Dave Ramsey has often referred to CDs as “Certificates of Depression” and with good reason. Did you know that for 11 of the past 20 years, CDs actually have a “Real Return” that is Less Than 1%? Once you consider inflation and taxes on the interest, it is really about the same as burying your savings in the backyard.

As a retiree, wouldn’t you like to get a better return on your savings? What if you could have your nestegg generate income for you of at least 5% of the principal – and have that income paid to you for the rest of your life?
Often when I meet with clients, I learn about their situation and their goals and suggest an appropriate solution which will help them with their long term savings. Clients normally can see the value, but may get hung up on time frames with CD money. A common response may be “That sounds great. I’ve got a CD due in a couple of months. Call me back then, and we will get back together. I can’t touch it until then.” (The Early Withdrawal Penalty looms overhead like the ‘Grim Reaper’.)

So, being a good guy (I don’t want to see anyone lose money.) I mark the date on my calendar and follow up with them as they asked me to. Except now the situation has changed. The CD was renewed. OR the due date was different from what they thought. OR the dog needs braces. OR….. Bottom Line - EVERYONE (most of all the client) LOSES.

Soooo, this being October, I called 3 leading banks in South Bend to see just how “scary” the Early Withdrawal Penalty is. At Wells Fargo , I was told that the penalty would be forfeiting 6 months of interest on a 16 month CD and 3 months of interest on a 12 month. First Source Bank had the best rate locally on a CD – 1.5% on a 13 month CD, which also came with a penalty of 6 months of interest for early withdrawal. National City Bank (soon to be PNC) told me that you could lose 1/2 of your interest for the remainder of your term or 3 months of interest, whichever is greater.

OK, lets do the math. Let’s say you have a CD of $10,000. You have about 3 months left on the term. Let’s give you the BEST rate (a whopping 1.5%) and the stiffest penalty for taking it out early (6 months interest). $10,000 x .015 x .5 (6 months is 1/2 of a year) = a loss of $75.

But what do you gain? There are only 2 types of money – liquid cash (you need it NOW) and investment savings (you need it LATER). What if you invested it into something that gave you an average return of 5% or more? $10,000 x .05 = $500 after 1 year. Last time I checked, $500 – $75 = a GAIN of $425. And I want the best for my clients. So let’s leave the “scariness” to the little ghouls and goblins on Halloween.

Remember to invest for the long term!

You can always contact me through my website, http://www.helpmy401k.us/. You can also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker My weekly Internet Radio Program is “Improving Your Financial Health” on Blog Talk Radio at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How To Find A Financial Advisor in South Bend





So the stock market has rebounded from its low point in March, 2009. As we are wrapping up the 3rd Quarter of this year, I have been reflecting on a few thoughts.
Although we have seen some market recovery, for many of us, 2009 has been more challenging than 2008.

* As I talk with people, I am sensing more uncertainty over the future of the economy and
their plans for retirement.

* Unemployment continues to stay at a high level. Some regions are higher than others
nationally. The Michiana area, with its long ties to the RV and automotive industry, has
experienced higher unemployment than other areas.

* Most recently, according to today’s South Bend Tribune we learned that the Braking
Division of Robert Bosch Corp. will be sold to Akebono Braking Industry of Tokyo, Japan. This
puts more strain on our area’s economy and could result in additional job losses.

* Many of those I have talked with are continuing to look for ways to pinch pennies, cut
corners and make their money last.

The one thing which hasn’t changed is that people still need to live their lives in dignity when they finally retire. And with people living longer than they used to, that takes Savings & Planning. Costs of living will continue to rise as well.

If you are living in the South Bend, IN area, how do you find someone who can help you develop the right strategy for you to reach your goals in these trying times? There are several qualities you should look for when shopping for an advisor, no matter where you live.

* Is he/she a Good Listener? Can you share your dreams & goals with them?

Do they make you feel important? Do they ask you questions such as “What is
important about your savings to you?” and “What would you like your retirement to be
like?” If all they do is tell you about the latest stock tip, or if they do all the talking, it
may be time to look elsewhere.

* Do they have a reasonable amount of experience?

Advisors can sometimes fall into 2 groups. You may not want an advisor that the ink on
their license has not yet dried. Most of us if asked would prefer an experienced advisor,
although you may want to find out if they are accepting new clients, or is there a
minimum amount to invest. There is a great website, http://www.financialadvisormatch.com/.
You can plug in the area you live in and it can give unbiased information on advisors in
that area. Also you can look up an advisor by name.

Another great website to learn information is http://www.linkedin.com/ which is a
professional networking site. This can give you great information about your
Advisor, much like an on-line resume.

* Does he/she have the “heart of a teacher”?

This is a comment often made by financial talk radio show host, Dave Ramsey.
Dave has grown in popularity because people are getting back to basics and
want common sense advice. Most people want investing concepts made simple.
Can your advisor help make this ‘fun’ to learn? Or do they talk in technical jargon?

* Does he/she talk about WHY Investing is so important for all of us?

Can they look at your budget with you and help you determine what type of income
you’ll need at retirement? By helping you know how much income you need (after
Social Security and any other sources of income), you should have a much better idea
for how much you need to be saving - AND put together a plan to do it!

* Will they offer to review your 401(k) and other statements for FREE?

Some advisors are “fee” based and charge by the session or by the hour for advice.
Others work on commission and are only paid when investments are made. For most of
us, this is the fairest method. There will always be times you have a question, and
advice should be free. Depending on how much you invest, you may also qualify for
volume discounts, also known as “breakpoints”.

* Is your advisor independent, or do they work with a larger firm?

This is really a matter of personal preference and there are pros & cons to each. Also
there are great advisors with either side. Many people prefer an established name brand
firm, while others enjoy the personal attention they may get from an independent.
In some ways, you could compare working with an advisor to eating at a restaurant.
There are large national chains, and also individually owned local restaurants which
have found their own niche.

There was a great article earlier this month (Sept 14, 2009)
“Schwab Says Independent Advisers Attract Brokerage Firm Assets”
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20603037&sid=aYTCv4DGu76Y
by Alexis Leondis of Bloomberg.com. The article shows the results of a survey done by
Charles Schwab about where clients are holding their assets. Ms. Leondis states,
“Almost 90% of the independent Registered Investment Advisors said that they gained
assets in the last 6 months and 45% of the assets came from so-called full-service
brokerage firms.”

Whether he/she works independently, or with a larger firm, your advisor can’t prevent
market declines. However, working with someone you are comfortable with should at
least help you to feel better about the future of your retirement.
Best wishes in your search!

Dean Voelker is an Independent Registered Investment Advisor in South Bend. He has
been licensed in Indiana and Michigan since 2003. You can follow Dean on Twitter, and also find his profile at Linked In and Financial Advisor Match. Dean also hosts a weekly Podcast program
on Blog Talk Radio, "Improving Your Financial Health".  
 
 
 

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Raising Arizona - More SOLUTIONS for College Costs

Last time we looked at some solutions for college savings such as a regular savings plan and also working part time during High School.

What if you do those things, but it still isn´t enough to cover college costs? Or perhaps you are getting started late in the game?

Here are some ways to help pay for college even if you haven't saved much. (Besides winning the lottery or robbing a bank.) The first way is actually pretty obvious - although families don´t utilize it as much as they should. Contact the Financial Aid department from your college and make sure you have applied for any and all scholarship money that you have a chance to qualify for. Don´t leave any "free" money on the table.

Going along with this scholarship idea, does Johnny (or Jill) play any sports? Recently, on my Blog Talk Radio program, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/401kCoach/2009/09/02/Improving-Your-Financial-Health
I visited with Charlie Adams, the Senior National Speaker for the National Collegiate Scouting Assocaiation of Chicago. Charlie helps many high school athletes get scholarships to play various sports in college. Normally when I think of athletic scholarships, I would think of football and basketball at large universities.

However, Charlie points out that there are plenty of scholarships given to students who are decent athletes and good students. Colleges offer a wide range of athletic opportunities such as golf, lacrosse, cross country, and rowing. In fact, Charlie´s son Jack earned a scholarship to Millsaps College in Mississippi for cross country.

Charlie also talks about a book, "Athletes Wanted" by Chris Krause. http://www.ncsasports.org/about-ncsa/about-chris-krause The book points out that employers have a growing need to ¨hire quality people for their companies. Recruiters love interviewing candidates who have played collegiate sports. They have learned the value of goal setting, teamwork, time management, and motivation. So if Johnny or Jill have some athletic skills, look into this as an option.

One thing to keep in mind - Johnny and Jill need to keep their grades up. To qualify for scholarships at smaller schools in sports, there is more of an emphasis on the "Student" part of student-athlete. You may contact Charlie Adams at www.stokethefirewithin.com.

What if your child doesn't play sports? Could they be entreprenuers? There are several examples of students who saw a need and figured out a way to fill the need and profit from it. They learn (on their own) valuable skills in sales, marketing, and business management. This would also set them apart from other candidates when its time to leave college and interview for work. Here is an article on "Teen Money Making Ideas". http://teenmoneymakingideas.com/how-college-students-can-make-money-in-the-summer-in-12-of-the-top-home-based-businesses/

If Johnny starts a business and it really takes off, he may find his career in the process. There was once a college student named Bill Gates who actually dropped out of Harvard to focus on his Microsoft business full time. (Of course the reason was that he felt he wasn´t learning anything new about computers.)

If you like this option, you may want to look at books about young men and women who have started successful businesses. A great website for information is http://www.quintcareers.com/college_entrepreneur_resources.html

"OK" you think. "But I´m not Bill Gates or Shaquille O´ Neal.What else can I do?"
There are other ways to learn entrprenuerial skills in organizations which are already established. Looking back on my college years, I had an opportunity to work with the Southwestern Company. www.southwestern.com. Southwestern has been around since 1855. They have a long history of helping college students to earn money for college. Students also learn some valuable lessons in the process - motivation, goal setting, business management, how to sell, and how to deal with all types of people.

Southwestern works with over 3000 students per year in the US and the UK, and the average First Year student earns $2733/mo during the summer months. Like many other opportunities, as a student gains experience, they may become more proficient.
http://www.southwesterninfo.com/FAQ.aspx Please contact Southwestern for more information.

If none of these really work for you, there is one more idea on paying for college, and its also a great one. Talk to a local recruiter about military service. For the student who hasn't yet figured out what they want from college or what they want to do in life (and at 18, who really has it figured out?), the military gives you time to figure things out. Military service also teaches skills such as teamwork, goal setting, perseverance, and time management. And they can help you to pay for school. http://www.military.com/money-for-school/tuition-assistance/army-tuition-assistance

I've met a number of people who have served for 4 years, then went to college with money from the government. As I mentioned in my last article, a 20 year old freshman has a good chance of being more mature than an 18 year old. Wouldn't you agree then that a 22 year old freshman with skills learned in the military would be even more mature and ready to learn? It certainly adds to a resume, and can lead to all types of career choices later.

I hope these have been helpful ideas. None of them involve taking out a loan, and if we can avoid that, we'd all be better off. You can contact me at my website, www.helpmy401k.us or follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker. My Blog Talk Radio program airs weekly and the archives may be heard at www.blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Raising Arizona (and Arizona State and Others) - SOLUTIONS

In my first part on this, we looked at the problem of rising college costs. I believe we are at a point where students must “do their homework” before taking out a college loan. You want to be sure that you will get a good return on your investment and be able to pay it back easily. Ideally, you’d like to NOT take a loan at all. College is now a “business” decision, not a right.

I wouldn’t be a good advisor to bring up a problem without mentioning some viable solutions. There are enough good ideas, that I will talk about a few now and a few more in my next piece. None of these are magic – but if you apply these common sense ideas you’ll be better off than doing nothing. So here are some ways to Make College More Affordable.

* Saving in a 529 or UTMA plan (regularly)

The key word here is “regularly”. You can set up either of these plans as soon as your baby is born. (And I highly recommend that!) Did you know that if you were to save $100/month for 18 years (216 months) at an average return of 8%, you’d have saved $46,865? And $200/month over the same period = $93,730.

The 2 plans are different, but the idea is the same. The 529 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/529_planallows for tax-free withdrawals for college related expenses. Here in Indiana, since 2007, you can also get a 20% tax credit on any contributions to a 529 plan. Put in $5000 and you get $1000 back in the spring. Also, money can be transferred between family members. If it isn’t used for college, you are simply taxed on the growth at withdrawal.

UTMA (U -T – M – A ….you ain’t got no alibi, its UTMA!) OK, so I should give up on ‘cheerleading’ – but I couldn’t resist. This is the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act. A parent or guardian acts as a “custodian” for an account in the child’s name. http://www.fairmark.com/custacct/regret1.htm until the child reaches age 21. At that time, the money is turned over to the child. This is also counted in the child’s assets when you go to apply for financial aid later.

One advantage that someone may see in the UTMA is that it doesn’t matter if the money is used for college or not – although there are no tax benefits. They have full control over the money.
Personally, I prefer the 529 plan (for the tax benefits) and have set one up for both of my daughters. Whichever plan you choose, (talk to your advisor) the most important thing is to save something regularly.

Another note here – a common question I get is whether families should contribute to retirement or college.If you must choose – retirement savings trump college. ‘Nuff said.

* Part Time Work

Wow, real genius stuff here, Dean! I told you this wouldn’t be ‘magic’. But think about this. I believe students should learn the value of a dollar – and appreciate the value of education. When I was in High School, I cleaned tables and washed dishes for a local family restaurant. Part of my pay went into my ‘college’ account.

Currently minimum wage for “flipping burgers” is $7.25/hour. What if Johnny flipped burgers for 3 years at Mc Donald’s and put $400/month into his college savings? In 3 years, Johnny would have saved $14,400. Between this idea and the last one, we’ve put a good dent into Johnny’s college costs, and haven’t even gotten to financial aid yet.

Not able to save as much as we’ve talked about? Getting started ‘late’ with savings? What about putting off college for a year or 2, to build up savings. There is no law that says YOU MUST enter college immediately after high school. (I checked). In fact, chances are very good that Johnny (or Jill) may be more mature at 20 and get more from their college experience, having spent some time in the ”real world”.

I’d much rather see Johnny (or Jill) wait a bit and not be burdened with debt after they graduate. If they do this, they must focus on the idea that college is still in the plan - flipping burgers is only temporary.

* Go to School, Live at Home

Being in the Chamber, I often attend networking events. Recently I had a chance to visit IUSB (Indiana University at South Bend). I was very impressed with the quality of the facilities and was very surprised to learn that their enrollment exceeds 7500 students. http://www.iusb.edu/about/ (You may have heard there is another school here in South Bend).

People are saving quite a bit by having Johnny and Jill live at home while going to college.Because IUSB is affiliated with Indiana University, many programs are similar. For those not living in this area, I would be willing to wager that you have a similar local university nearby.

In the next article I will continue to explore some other ideas which can help make college more affordable.

You can contact me at www.helpmy401k.us and follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker.My weekly Blog Talk Radio program, “Improving Your Financial Health” is at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Raising Arizona (and Arizona State and Others)

OK, I know - cheap marketing gimmick to get you to read it. Sorry I don't have anything Nicholas Cage here. However this may be more valuable information than the movie.

Inflation affects everything - the price of bread, milk, gasoline etc. But one thing that seems to have gone up even more drastically is the cost of college. When I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1986, I left with about $3000 in student loans, which was easily repaid in a few years.

Today, student loans can reach $19,000 or more for a graduating senior from a public college.
http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/departments/financialaid/?article=averagestudentloans For
private schools that figure may be even higher.

Want to study law or medicine? For as long as I can remember (back to my finger painting days), those were the "good money" jobs. Both professions require years of post graduate education and loans can easily climb into the $100,000 range. Recently, I saw a young female med student on the news questioning President Obama about his healthcare proposal. Her concern was that at graduation, her total student debt would exceed $300,000 - yes that was not a typo. She wasn't sure if her future income would be sufficient to pay it back.

Really?? I think some thought should have gone into this before taking the loans. Its hard to blame either the President or his healthcare bill for that. Out of curiousity, I checked to see what a monthly payment on this would be. To pay off $300,000 in 12 years at 5% interest would require a monthly payment of $2775.00. Now you could take longer or the interest rate may be different, but this gives you an idea. Certainly its out of my ballpark.

Dave Ramsey always encourages his listeners to look at the opportunity cost of buying something - whether its a car, a flat screen TV, or even college. http://www.daveramsey.com/etc/cms/go_to_college_5788.htmlc

What that means is - even if you have the money, what other opportunities might you be missing? What else could the money be used for? When it comes to college, can you really afford it if it means loading yourself down with debt? What is your re-payment plan going to be?
How likely is it to get a career in your chosen field of study that will allow you to re-pay the loan?

I'm not anti-college. I just want us to think and ask questions first before jumping in.

In the early days of the United States, colleges such as Harvard and Yale were primarily for the wealthy. As the country grew and times changed, state schools offered a wider range of programs and more people were able to attend college.

"No qualified student who wants to go to college should be barred by lack of money. That has long been a great American goal. I propose that we achieve it now." Former President Richard M. Nixon said this in a special message to Congress in 1970. A lot has happened in the past 40 years. Are we back to a point where college is only for the wealthiest among us?

As a Financial Advisor, I will say that college does require financial planning and disciplined saving. Flipping burgers for the summer will only scratch the surface.

In my next part on this, we will look at some solutions which can help with college costs.

You can contact me at www.helpmy401k.us and follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker. You can also listen to me on Blog Talk Radio at www.blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Top 10 Things About Being a Financial Advisor in 2009


This was something I came up with today, mostly while driving to an appointment.
Hopefully you find 1 or 2 of these funny!
Top 10 Things About Being a Financial Advisor in 2009
10. Mac & Cheese for dinner again?
9. IRA means "I Raided my Account"
8. Going to Networking Meetings = FREE Food!
7. My Healthcare Plan = Take 2 aspirin. If that doesn't work, take two more.
6. My vocabulary now includes words like "Tweet", "Re-Tweet", "Un-Friend" and "Blog"
5. Drycleaning means airing out the suit when its "dry" outside.
4. "Honey, I sold the kids on E-Bay."
3. I've got "followers" from Spain who promise I can make a fortune on the web.
2. Really starting to look at those "Take a Penny" trays literally.
and the Number One thing about being a Financial Advisor in 2009 is.....
1. Going to Facebook Anonymous meetings. "Hi my name is Dean. I'm a Facebook-aholic."
Have a Great Weekend! You can contact me for real financial advice at http://www.helpmy401k.us. You may also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker, and my web broadcasts at http://blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If You Knew You'd Get a "B"



Soon, all the kids will be back in school. My daughter can’t wait to see her friends and show off her new outfits. Back-To-School time usually also means plenty of sales which should get the cash registers ringing in your local retail shops.

Since we are just getting started, it’s too early to think about report cards and grades yet….or is it?

What if you knew at the beginning of the year, that your grade at the end of the year would be at least a “B” and no worse – no matter what? Better still, what if you got an “A” in one quarter, and a “C” in the other quarters – and at the end of the year, you got to keep the “A” as your grade for the year?
If that were true, how would you feel about going to school? Would you be more relaxed? Would you want to learn more? Would school be more fun?
Well, GUESS WHAT!! I can’t do much about Johnny’s math grade, or Susie’s US History Course, but I can provide solutions which may improve your confidence in investing.
How can you do that, you ask? Variable Annuities can provide Safe Growth and Safe Income.
Recently, Leslie Scism of the Wall Street Journal wrote “Because of such guarantees, many holders of variable annuities actually saw their accounts increase 6% or more in value last year, when the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropped nearly 39%.” in her article “Long Derided, This Investment Now Looks Wise”. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204900904574302270919454880.html

Currently, you can earn as much as 7% or more on your principal base when you aren’t using it for income. That means if you start with $100,000, by the end of the year, you would have $107,000 to draw income from later – no matter what happens in the market. (As long as you leave it there.) And it can grow tax-deferred until you begin to take it out.

What if your account does better than 7%? Also, what if it only does better than 7% for one quarter? Wouldn’t it be great to keep the best quarter and lock it in for the year? Well….you CAN!

What if you could do this every year while you are building your Nest Egg? What if you went into the school year knowing you would at least get a “B”….and might get an “A”?

Then when you begin to take income from your savings, you can take 5% from the nest egg you’ve built for the rest of your life. The check would go up or stay the same, but never go down. (As long as you aren’t taking more than 5%.) Would that be OK?

There are some drawbacks to a Variable Annuity, which Ms. Scism also points out in her article http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204900904574302270919454880.html the most obvious being the cost of the extra protection. George Lambert also points this out in his article, “The Cost of Variable Annuities” http://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/06/variableannuity.asp in which he looks at the different types of protection – Growth Protection, Income Protection, and Death Benefit.

Another drawback is that when you consider investing into a Variable Annuity, you need to take a Long Term approach – like any other investment. Speak with a reliable advisor about whether or not it may be appropriate for you based on your time horizon and income needs at retirement. Early withdrawals may result in steep surrender charges, although many plans allow you to withdraw as much as 10% with no surrender charge.

The main advantage of course is taking the uncertainty over today’s economy out of the picture. And if you knew you’d get at least a “B”, wouldn’t you sleep better at night?

For more information on annuities, or other investment ideas, you may contact me at http://www.helpmy401k.us/. You may also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker. I am also hosting a weekly internet radio podcast at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Most Magical Place



Having 2 very young daughters, I’ve become quite familiar with the Disney Channel, but its amazing to think of how large this company is and how it affects our lives in many ways, known world wide for family friendly products.

This is NOT an opinion or endorsement of Disney Stock - simply a few interesting facts about its history. The Walt Disney Company (DIS) has been part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since May 6, 1991.

The Walt Disney Company started in 1923 in the rear of a small office occupied by Holly-Vermont Realty in Los Angeles. It was there that Walt Disney, and his brother Roy, produced a series of short live-action/animated films collectively called the ALICE COMEDIES. http://studioservices.go.com/disneystudios/history.html

“Mickey Mouse” which still serves as the logo and mascot for Disney was originated in 1928, as one of the short animated films.

In 1937, Disney's innovative first full length animated feature, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, was released. Walt Disney saw a need to increase the size of his studio, and moved it to Burbank, CA. He was involved with all aspects of the design, even the animators chairs. More movies such as FANTASIA, BAMBI, CINDERELLA, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and PETER PAN were produced in the 1940’s and 1950s.

In 1954, Walt Disney had a vision of creating a Family Theme Park. Disneyland was completed in July, 1955. Disney World Magic Kingdom opened in Orlando, FL in October, 1971. To this day, Disneyland and Disney World are the standard for cleanliness, customer service, and family fun in theme parks. Sadly Walt Disney died in 1966, and did not see the opening of Disney World.

Today, the Disney entertainment empire includes Disney movies, the ABC family of networks, ESPN, the E! Entertainment Network, and of course the Disney Channel. Disney has helped launch the acting and musical careers of such recent stars as Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers to name a few.

Disney issued its first public stock on November 12,1957. http://corporate.disney.go.com/investors/stockinfo/quote_1957.pdf The stock closed on its first day at $13.88. It has split 7 times since then, the last split happened in 1998. http://corporate.disney.go.com/investors/split_history.html. One share of DIS stock over that time due to splits & spinoffs would be worth close to $6000 today.

For more information, you can contact me directly at http://www.helpmy401k.us and you may also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker.
 
 
 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Something's "Fishy"



All this talk about "fishy" comments yesterday got me to thinking.....
 
Another great American Fast Food chain is Long John Silvers. According to their website, www.ljsilvers.com , the restaurant was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island".
The first restaurant opened in 1969 in Lexington, Kentucky, as a response to other fast food chains which were becoming popular at the time - specializing in quick service seafood. The chain began as a division of Jerrico, Inc., which also operated Jerry's Restaurants, a chain of family restaurants which also began in Lexington, KY throughout the Midwest & South.

In the UK, fish and chips became a cheap food popular among the working classes in the second half of the nineteenth century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_and_chips Deep-fried "chips" (slices or pieces of potato) as a dish, may have first appeared in Britain in about the same period. There was a mention of "chips" in Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859) "Husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil".

Earlier Long John Silvers restaurants were known for their Cape-Cod style buildings, blue roofs, small steeples, and nautically-themed decorations such as seats made to look like nautical flags. Most early restaurants also featured separate entrance and exit doors, a corridor-like waiting line area, food heaters that were transparent so customers could see the food waiting to be served, and a bell by the exit which customers could "ring if we did it well." Many of these buildings had dock-like walkways lined with pilings and thick ropes that wrapped around the building exterior.

Until its bankruptcy in 1998, Long John Silvers was a privately owned corporation. It was then acquired by Yorkshire Global Restaurants, which also owned A & W American Food Chains. In March 2002, Yorkshire was purchased by Tricon Global Restaurants, Inc. which had spun off from Pepsico, Inc. Tricon owned Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut worldwide. Tricon then changed their name to Yum Brands, Inc. (NYSE: YUM)
Until then, Long John Silvers had served Coca-Cola Products. Once the acquistion by Yum Brands was in effect, they switched to Pepsi. Currently, Long John Silvers has more than 1200 restaurants worldwide – and more than 200 additional locations in Yum Brands, Inc. multi-brand restaurants. Nearly four million customers each week "throw boring overboard".
This is NOT an endorsement or an opinion of YUM stock. From 1997, Yum Brands/Tricon has grown from $8.06/share to a high of $41.73 on April 30, 2008. http://finance.aol.com/charts/yum-brands-inc/yum/nys/tech-chart Yesterday, August 6, 2009, YUM closed at 36.05.

For more investing information, you may contact me at http://www.deanvoelker.com . You may also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker, or Blog Talk Radio at

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Real Thing


Recently, I've been thinking about what else to write about. We've covered a wide range of topics - annuities, tax-free bonds, mutual funds, the importance of savings, and 401(k)s.
Although I am licensed to buy & sell individual common stock, I strongly believe that most people should own them within mutual funds. There are a number of companies that have some very interesting stories though. One of them is Coca-Cola.
This is NOT an opinion of Coca-Cola's stock, or an endorsement - merely some history, which I hope you will find as fascinating as I do.
According to Wikipedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca-Cola , the first Coca-Cola recipe was invented in a drugstore in Columbus, GA by John Pemberton in 1885. Pemberton developed it as a non-alcoholic version of French Wine Cola. The first sales were at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, GA on May 8, 1886. It was initially sold as a patent medicine for 5 cents a glass at soda fountains. Many people at that time believed that carbonated water was good for your health. Pemberton claimed Coca-Cola cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, headaches, and even impotence (the first "Viagra"?).
Asa Candler acquired a stake in Pemberton's company in 1887 and incorporated it as Coca-Cola Company in 1888. Due to some controversy in ownership, Candler incorpoarted a second time in 1892 as THE Coca-Cola Company. Coca-Cola was sold in bottles for the first time on March 12, 1894. The first outdoor wall advertisement was painted in 1894 as well in Cartersville, GA.
Although the company grew and even had a celebrity endorsement from baseball star and Georgia native, Ty Cobb http://www.tycobbfoundation.com/ common stock for Coca-Cola never went public until 1919. http://beginnersinvest.about.com/od/investmentbanking/a/aa073106a.htm
In 1919, you could buy one share of Coca-Cola (NYSE - KO) for about $40/share.
However, the price quickly fell to $19 due to a sugar shortage. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=990CEEDA1131E433A2575AC1A9619C946195D6CF Times were tough due to World War I. I'm certain many people gave up on this investment, and lost out. Had they stayed invested over the long term, that ONE SHARE of Coca-Cola stock, with splits and dividends reinvested is worth OVER $5 MILLION TODAY!!
Coca-Cola joined the Dow Jones Industrial Average on March 12, 1987.
For more information, please contact me at http://www.helpmy401k.us. You may also follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/deanvoelker.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Caught In The Web


One of the truly wonderful things about being an Independent Financial Advisor is that it has really allowed me to open myself up and explore new and different ways of connecting with prospective clients.
I'm sure you'd agree that the past couple of years have been difficult for investors, haven't they? Difficult because of disappointing returns on your savings. Even if you don't consider yourself a stock market investor, you are discouraged with interest rates on your CDs and savings accounts.
However a dangerous side effect to all of this has been that many people have scrapped solid investing principles. They have become like ships without a rudder, not knowing where to turn, and fearful of trusting anyone or anything. Times like these are when we really NEED professional advice more than ever, wouldn't you agree? So where do you find good sound professional advice? Whom do you trust?
For someone like myself, I'm learning that traditional marketing methods - cold calling, mailers, and print ads have been less effective than usual in reaching out to others and making connections. Have you noticed that over the years, TV and Radio Programs include MORE ads and LESS programs? http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/entertainment/2005/07/28/2005-07-28_kelley__too_many_ads_on_netw.html
Its like that old Wendy's ad (oops there is another one!) "Where's the Beef?"
We've become jaded and resistant to traditional marketing. Again, my belief is that people need professional advice NOW more than ever. For me, its also very important to connect with clients whom I can truly serve. A great client is one that we have established a bond of trust. They have shared their goals and dreams with me, and they are open-minded to my advice. When they hear my advice, they can easily see that I want to help them reach their goals, and my advice is truly in their best interests.
So how does one find "great clients" without traditional marketing methods that aren't effective?Using social media websites has been one solution. Writing this blog has been fun, and its allowed me to provide professional advice which anyone can use and benefit from.
Linked In (www.linkedin.com/in/dvoelker) is a great site to reinforce my professional side. It is my online resume and helps me to establish my credentials. I'm also very active in my local Chamber of Commerce (www.sjchamber.org). This provides some great networking opportunities.
Twitter (www.twitter.com/DeanVoelker) allows us to say anything to the whole world (in 140 characters or less). This is a good way to post notices for my blog or other articles of interest.
Facebook (www.facebook.com/dean.voelker) is an absolute blast, which has allowed me to show a more personal side, as well as professsional. And of course, all of these sites allow you to access my own website (www.helpmy401k.us), which serves as another excellent resource for retirement savings.
Most recently, at the suggestion of my friend, Brian, whom I've know since high school, I've also begun a weekly internet radio broadcast (www.blogtalkradio.com/401kcoach). Brian has extensive radio experience and has been very helpful in helping me get started. This show has been a lot of work, but also fun to do, and certainly helps to set me apart from other advisors.
I've always been a believer in giving. What goes around comes around. My faith in God tells me that we will get throught this challenging time, and be stronger for it. Someone recently told me that God is never in a recession. Have Faith!
Please contact me at www.helpmy401k.us if I may be of service to you in any way.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Climbing The Mountain




Thanks to my 7 years old daughter, I’ve been exposed (repeatedly) to the music of Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana). Although my musical tastes are more in line with 1970’s & 1980’s Classic Rock, I have to admit that Miley’s music is pretty good.

One of her best songs, “The Climb” is popular right now, and it’s a very inspiring song. Hearing “The Climb” makes me think about how saving for retirement can be much like climbing a mountain. There may be obstacles along the way, but we keep climbing, and the climb is actually the best part of the process.

There are really 2 parts to climbing a mountain, going up and then coming back down. This makes a great analogy when thinking of your retirement savings. “Going up” is building your nest egg. “Coming down” is when you are beginning to take income from the nest egg you’ve built. Both parts are just as important, aren’t they?

If you are in the “Going Up” stage, and trying to build your nest egg, having a year like 2008 can be discouraging. What if you could get at least 7% or more every year on your savings? What if you were able to get even more in years when the market does better then 7%?
How about if I also told you that if you stayed invested for 10 years, you would DOUBLE your original investment? (By the way, according to the Rule of 72, that would be an average compound return of 7.2%.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_72

Lets say you have an account which grows by 10% at the beginning of the year, hits its peak in June, then tails off for the rest of the year. What if I told you that the highest Quarterly Gain (in this case the end of June) would be locked in for you, in helping to build your nest egg?

The next year, the same thing would happen. The benefit base would increase by either 7% OR whatever the highest quarterly gain was.

What about “Coming Down” the mountain and taking income? How about if I told you that beginning at age 63, you would be able to take 5% from the benefit base you built and you could take 5% for life? Wouldn’t it be great to know that your pay can go up, if the account continues to grow - and your pay won’t go down?
And for those who can wait until age 75 to begin taking income, would you like to be able to take 6% FOR LIFE? Sounds pretty good so far? Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable climbing your mountain if you had a “safety net“? For more information, please contact me at http://helpmy401k.us/. You may also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker.
 
 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

This Time Its Different - II

Recently I posted an article, titled “This Time It’s Different”. Most people when asked about the idea of investing in the market, have responded that “They are waiting to see what happens” and yes, “This Time It’s Different because…..”

If you read my previous article, “This Time It’s Different”, http://5reasonsyoushouldownaroth.blogspot.com/2009/07/this-time-its-different.html I referred to a study done by Hartford on the Recession of the mid 1970’s (1973 & 1974), arguably the closest parallel to our present economic situation. The low point in the market was Sept. 30, 1974. The Dow closed at 607.87 (not a misprint) This was down more than 40% from its high in 1972, when it crossed the 1000 mark for the first time. http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389×4124348

The stock market had gone through back-to-back negative years for the first time since the Great Depression.

We should set the stage a bit at this point. In 1972, we were still heavily involved in the Vietnam War, which was highly unpopular, and dragged on for several years. Also, in 1972, the Watergate scandal began. This resulted in the indictment and conviction of several of Nixon’s closest advisors, and ultimately in the resignation of the President himself, on August 9, 1974. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watergate_scandal

To make matters worse, the Oil Embargo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis was put into effect by OPEC, which refused to ship oil to the US due to their support of Israel at that time. Unemployment had reached a high of 6.7% in 1974. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/06/business/economy/06jobs.html

So things in 1974 looked pretty bleak. I recently read a letter written by Jim Fullerton of the Capital Group to shareholders at that time(November 1974). Here are some highlights from Mr. Fullerton’s letter.

“Each economic, market, and financial crisis is different from previous ones. But in their very difference, there is commonality….. Today there are thoughtful, experienced, respected, economists, bankers, investors, and businessmen who can (tell) you why this time the economic problems are different; why this time things are going to get even worse – and hence, why this is NOT a good time to invest in common stocks, even though they may appear low…..This time is a whole new ball game.”

“In 1942 everybody knew it was a whole new ball game…..The Germans had overrun France. The British had been thrown out of Dunkirk. The Pacific Fleet had been disastrously crippled at Pearl Harbor. We had surrendered Bataan, and the British had surrendered Singapore. The U.S. was so ill-prepared for a war that……75% of our field artillery was equipped with horse-drawn, French 75mm guns.” (Mr. Fullerton served in WWII.)

“In April 1942, inflation was rampant…..On April 8, 1942, the lead article in the (Wall Street) Journal was: ‘Home Construction, Total far behind last year’s. Private Builders hardest hit.’…..Washington D.C. also considered more drastic rationing with price fixing, or still higher taxes as a means of filling the ‘inflationary gap’ between increased public buying power and the diminishing supply of consumer goods.”

“A leading stock market commentator wrote: ‘The market remains in the dark as to just what it has to discount. And as yet, the signs are still lacking that the market has reached permanently solid ground for a sustained reversal.”

“Yet on April 28, 1942, in that gloomy environment, in the midst of a war we were losing, faced with excess-profits taxes and wage and price controls, shortages of gasoline and rubber…..and with the virtual certainty…..that once the war was over, we’d face a post-war depression, the market turned around.”

“Now I’d like to close with this: ‘Some people say they want to wait for a clearer view of the future. But when the future is again clear, the present bargains will have vanished. In fact, does anyone think that today’s prices will prevail once full confidence has been restored?’ That comment was made by Dean Witter in May of 1932 – only a few weeks before the end of the worst bear market in history.”

“Have Courage! We have been here before – and we’ve survived and prospered.”

Jim Fullerton

As of today, July 23, 2009, the Dow is up nearly 200 points, crossing the 9000 mark for the first time this year. This is a gain of over 38% from its low point of 6547 on March 9, 2009. Yes, This Time It’s Different.

For more information, you may contact me at http://www.helpmy401k.us. You may also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Credit Myths

There is an old saying that if you tell a lie loud enough and long enough, then over time, the lie will become accepted as truth.

Like many of you, I had bought into the credit card myth. I believed that having a credit card was aprt of life and that you "needed" one to rent a hotel room or make other purchases.

Recently, I've discovered that one of the best ways to Improve Your Financial Health is to perform some "Plastic Surgery". There is an overwhelming feeling of freedom and relief when you take a pair of scissors to that piece of plastic in your purse or wallet.

Dave Ramsey discusses this in further detail in his Financial Peace University course.
www.daveramsey.com

Imagine how much simpler your life would be without credit card payments or other loan payments. Imagine being totally debt free, or at lest debt free except for your home.
How much money could you save if that were your situation?

If you had $10,000 or more in a savings account, to be used only for emergencies, would you be able to worry less about the possibility of something happening?

One of the best definitions I have heard of "Financial Security" is this:
Financial Security means being able to afford almost anything you want - AND wanting very little.

When you tell a lie or spread a myth long enough, it will eventually be accepted as truth.

Here are a few "myths" about credit which have been told to us over & over again through marketing and the media.

Myth: You need a credit card to build credit.
Truth: A credit card does not "build" credit. In mnay cases, it can even destroy credit.

There is NO positive side to credit card use. You will spend more if you use credit cards. Even by paying the bills on time, you are not beating the system! Most families don't pay on time. The average family today carries $8,000 in credit card debt according to the American Bankers' Association.

When you pay cash for a purchase, you can "feel pain" of the money leaving your hand. This is not true with credit cards. Flipping a credit card up on a counter registers nothing emotionally. If you use credit cards instead of cash you will spend 12-18% more. This is money you could have saved.

Myth: What about my credit score or FICO score? Don't I need a good score for getting a job,
getting loans.
Truth: The FICO score (Fair Issac Corporation) was created in 1958 as a way of determining the likelyhood that a person will pay their debts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_score_(United_States)

In other words, it is a debt score. It measures what debts you have and how likely you are to pay them. People with no debt over a period of several years actually have a ZERO score. Wouldn't it be better to have ZERO debt as a measurement of managing your money, than a 'score'?

Myth: Wouldn't it help to get a debt consolidation loan? That is a good way to get out of debt.
Truth: When you do a debt consolidation, you just move the debt from one place to another. 88 percent of the time people do debt consolidation, they don’t change their behavior and go right back into debt. You can't borrow your way out.

The best way to eliminate debt is by putting together a budget, and putting your debts on a sheet and knocking them out one by one, starting with the smallest balance.

Myth: 90 Days Same as Cash or 0% Financing is a good deal.
Truth: This is an advertising gimmick. Businesses are in business to make a profit.

When companies use this method, they simply build the extra right into the price. Then when you don't pay it off in 90 days, they can charge you interest on top of it at rates from 24-35%. Worse, they will backcharge the rate all the way back to the date of purchase. And they know that most of the time, people won't pay it off on time. Again, the reason for doing this is to make a profit - once when they sell the item, and again when they can charge you interest.

Please contact me for more information. You may reach me through my web site. www.helpmy401k.us. You may also follow me on Twitter. www.twitter.com/deanvoelker

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How Do I Keep My IRA From Being Eroded By Taxes When I Die?

Recently, I have been reading “The Retirement Savings Time Bomb…and How To Diffuse It” by Ed Slott. Ed is a highly renowned CPA and tax advisor. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today. His book focuses on strategies to keep money in your savings, and away from the IRS.

One strategy of his, which I also recommend to my high net worth clients is the use of Life Insurance for estate planning. Because Life Insurance proceeds are not taxable, it’s a great way to pass money to your beneficiaries without creating a tax burden for them.

Ed uses a great story to make his point on why insurance is important. With his permission, I have included an excerpt from his book. Ed Slott’s website is www.irahelp.com.
******************************************************************************
If you’re not a baseball fan, then the name Bill Buckner probably doesn’t ring a bell. But if you follow the game, you’ll recognize it as one of the most ignominious names in the history of baseball.

Bill Buckner was the first baseman for the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series when the Sox were matched against the New York Mets. It was Game 6. The Red Sox were an out away from winning a World Series for the first time in 68 years. The ball was pitched, the Mets batter swung and connected with a thunderous c-r-a-c-c-k-k, sending the ball straight to first base and the outstretched arms of Bill Buckner, who flubbed the catch before the stunned but elated crowd in New York’s Shea Stadium, letting the ball roll between his legs!

Thanks to this colossal error, the Mets were able to pull their fanny from the fire, win the game that night, and go on to win Game 7 and the World Series title. The city of Boston has never forgiven Bill Buckner. Last I heard, he’d moved to Idaho, which apparently still wasn’t far enough for Boston fans. To Boston Red Sox fans in particular, and to baseball fans in general, Bill Buckner remains but one thing: The Man Who Dropped the Ball.

Now, what if I told you the Bill Buckner was also one of the best players ever to play the game of baseball? Would you be shocked? Disbelieving? I know I was when I heard that exact statement mad in a recent show about Buckner called “Beyond the Glory” on the Fox Sports Network. Being an accountant by trade, I decided to do my own audit of Buckner’s statistics to see if the show was right.

But how would I find those statistics? Easy. I went to a local baseball card store and asked the owner if he had any Bill Buckner cards for sale. He looked at me like I’d sprouted two heads.
“Why would you want a Bill Buckner card?” he asked. “Nobody wants them. That’s why I don’t carry any. We’d never sell them.” But I persisted, and he said he’d check around the baseball card grapevine to see if he could come up with one.

I went back in a few weeks and, lo and behold, he’d managed to dig up a few old Bill Buckner cards for me. “How much?” I asked.

He said, “They’re worthless. You can have ’em for free.”

I thanked him, took the cards home, and quickly checked Bill Buckner’s statistics. Fox was right. The numbers were astounding!

Bill Buckner played 22 seasons. Only 25 players in the history of baseball have pleyed more games then he did. He’d gotten more hits than 70% of the players currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame, including such superstar names as Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench, and even Ted Williams. He had 500 more hit’s the Joe Di Maggio!

When Buckner played for the Chicago Cubs, he won a National League batting title. He was also an exceptional fielder. He genuinely was one of the greatest players the game of baseball has ever had. And yet he will be forever locked in the Baseball Hall of Shame for that one slip-up at the end of his career that cost the Red Sox the World Series.

As I pondered the ill-fated career of Bill Buckner, I found myself thinking, “He’s a lot like an IRA. He had such a brilliant career, accumulated so much, but in the end lost it all due to one error, and now his name is mud.”

Is that how you want your family to remember you? As the guy (or gal) who dropped the ball?
Most people don’t think about it much, but the combination of estate and income taxes can easily consume an IRA of any size. Combined, estate taxes, along with federal and state income taxes could easily exceed 90%.…..

When it comes to retirement accounts, its not enough to earn great investment returns. Yes, that is important in building the account, but even if you earn 30% per year, every year for 30 years, what good is it if, at the end of the line, up to 90% of the account’s value is lost - which can happen if the funds aren’t there to pay the combined estate and income taxes on an inherited IRA, and so the IRA itself must be used to pay those taxes.

If an IRA must be tapped to pay tax when the IRA owner dies, the result is a cycle of taxation that doesn’t stop until the beneficiaries are so punch drunk that they don’t know what’s happened to them, let alone to their IRA…..

Do something now while you are still alive and options to protect that money for your heirs still exist. Life Insurance is your retirement account’s best defense to offset the tax burden which beneficiaries may face.
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For more information, please contact me at http://helpmy401k.us. You may also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker

Thursday, July 2, 2009

This Time Its Different

Last year (2008), the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell about 34% (www.djindexes.com), then dropped ANOTHER 20% in the first 2 months of 2009.

It is estimated that investors accounts have declined in value by about $10 TRILLION DOLLARS TOTAL. http://www.businessweek.com/mediacenter/podcasts/cover_stories/covercast_03_05_09.htm

Severe recessions such as this one can test the resolve of even the most experienced investors.
It is easy to say "This time its different." Many people are still feeling that way.

However, it is important to keep in mind a few points.

* Financial decisions (any financial decisions) should not be based on emotion.
* Historically, after every past recession, the market has gone on to hit new highs.
* Declines in the market & economy, even our most severe ones, have been temporary.
* Since 1926, the Dow Jones has had TWICE AS MANY positive returns as negative ones.
Despite more than 12 recessions dating back to 1926, $1.00 invested in the Dow in 1926
would have been worth $2045.00 at the end of 2008.

The late Sir John Templeton, founder of Franklin Templeton Investments liked to say, "The Four most expensive words in the English Language are 'This time it's Different.' "

The National Bureau of Economic Research www.nber.com http://www.nber.org/cycles/
states that the United States has weathered a recession EVERY decade since the 1920's. https://financialprofessional.hartfordinvestor.com/planco/om/P7135.pdf - Page 4.

As painful as the recessions are, when we are experiencing one, they have always been short lived, about 11 months on average. It can be difficult to predict when one will end, and announcing the "end" may take a while. According to NBER, they have waited an average of 15 months before declaring an "end". This way they avoid confusion. If there is further economic turmoil, it can be linked to a new recession, rather than the old one.

While we are "waiting to see what will happen" rebounds are often quick and robust. Stocks tend to recover about 6 months before the economy does. According to Morningstar www.morningstar.com, stocks are referred to as a leading indicator. On average, stocks have returned about 25% from market lows to the "end of the recession".

Did you know that the Dow Jones has increased by nearly 30% since its low point on
March 9, 2009? Have you been "in" the whole time, or did you go to something "safe"?

3/9/2009 - 6547
7/1/2009 - 8504

"The most expensive words in the English Language are 'This time it's different'."
Sir John Templeton

If you went to cash, thinking you were being "smart", think again. Cash can actually slow your recovery, and make it much harder to get your savings back.

In a recent study, Hartford shows data from the recession of 1973-1974, which had been our most severe until the present one. The study (please contact me at www.helpmy401k.us for more information) shows 4 seperate scenarios, each starting with $100,000 invested in equities on Dec. 31, 1972.
(Equities are represented by the S & P 500 Index. Cash is represented by the 30 Day Treasury Bill Index.)

In the study, they wanted to see how long it would take to recover the original $100,000 for the Low Point in the Market (Sept. 30, 1974)

Investor A (stayed in Equities) - back to $100,000 in July 1976 (1.75 years)
Investor B (moved to cash for 6 months, starting 9/30/1974) (5.3 years, or Jan. 1980)
Investor C (moved to cash for 12 months, starting 9/30/1974) (also 5.3 years)
Investor D (moved to cash for 18 months, starting 9/30/1974) (6.2 years, or Nov. 1980)

Yogi Berra sometimes said, "Its deja vu all over again."

In a challenging economy such as this one, isn't this precisely when you need a financial professional working side by side with you?

For more information, please contact me at http://www.helpmy401k.us. You may also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lets Say I Live To 100

People are living much longer these days. With modern medicine, technology, and taking better care of ourselves, reaching 100 is much more common than it used to be. According to a Wall Street Journal article from April 14, 2008, Hallmark sold over 85,000 “Happy 100th Birthday”
cards in 2007. And that is just Hallmark. Currently the average life expectancy for a Female is 87 years, and 85 years for a Male.

Living that long is great, but it can also raise concerns about your savings. What are you doing to make sure your money lasts that long also? Can your savings generate income for the rest of your life, even if you live to 100 or beyond?

Also, how prepared are you to keep up with rising costs? Did you know that 20 years ago (1989), the cost of a postage stamp was 0.25 and a gallon of gas was about 0.97? Compare those prices with today. A stamp is 0.44 and a gallon of gas…..well it fluctuates more than the stock market. As of today, it is about 2.45, and last summer had peaked well over 4.00.

If you are retired for 20 years or more, costs will go up. How can your savings handle that? Can you give yourself “Pay Raises” and still make it last?

One last question for consideration - this past year was one of the most challenging ever for investors. How can you grow your income, make your money last, and do it “Safely”?

Here are some tips that may help answer these burning questions.

* Talk with your advisor. And if you don’t have a strong relationship with your advisor, or
you don’t feel they have your best interests in mind, find a new one. Your advisor needs to be a
great listener, and your partner - NOT just a stockbroker. Tell them what your needs are.
What is most important to you about your money?

* Be Open Minded. If your money is going to last for your lifetime, CDs aren’t going to get it
done. Especially at the current bank rates today. There are other ways you can invest, and
let your money grow over time safely. A good advisor should learn as much about you as
they are able - just like a doctor who will learn your history before prescribing anything.

“Whatever you fear most has no power - it is your fear that has the power.”
Oprah Winfrey

* Be Diversified. I’ve always thought of “diversification” like clothes in your closet.
You need to have clothing for summer, winter, fall, casual wear, dressing up,
working in the yard…..ALL occasions and ALL types of weather. Investing needs to be
the same. Would you like less risk? The best way to do that is by diversifying.

“Money, you should pardon the expression, is a little bit like manure. It doesn’t
do any good unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”
Barbra Streisand

For more information on how to make your money last to 100 or beyond, please contact me at
www.helpmy401k.us. You may also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Income For Life

One of my clients once told me that the biggest lesson he learned in retirement was this. You don't retire on a Lump Sum of Money. Rather, you retire on the INCOME which the Lump Sum of Money can create. Think about that statement for a bit. Let it sink in. In fact, let me repeat it, because this is what retirement means. You don't retire on a Lump Sum of Money. Rather, you retire on the INCOME which the Lump Sum of Money can create. You spend your working career saving, accumulating, investing, and building a "lump sum". At some point, you will want to use it for income.

Soooo.....what exactly is a "Lump Sum of Money"? Is it $100,000? $300,000? How about $1,000,000? More than that?

The best way to answer that is that the amouth may be different for everyone. However, we can help you to narrow down what you amount should be at retirement. Here are 4 steps.

1. Determine your monthly budget. You don't want any debt at retirement. Leave plenty of
room for "Miscellaneous" expenses - travel, kids, hobbies. If you aren't working, you are
spending.

2. Determine your Social Security Income amount. There are 3 categories for Social
Security income - Reduced Benefit (usually age 62), Full Benefit (usually age 66), and
Enhanced Benefit (age 70). As the terms suggest, if you take Social Security at an earlier age,
you are "stuck" with a smaller amount of income - and "Grounded For Life." There has also
been a growing movement for proposed changes in Social Security in order to make the
money last longer. At least one of those changes includes pushing back the age for Full
Retirement Benefits, which would force most of us to work longer. Whatever benefit amount
you select, you need to know the amount so it can be applied to your budget.

3. Do you have other sources of income? These may include rental property, part time
work, or anything else which generates income.

4. Look at your budget again, and deduct your budgeted expenses from your total
income.
This sounds simple - and it is- however you would be surprised at how many people don't do
it. Do you have enough income to cover your expenses? Is there money to do "special" things
you want to do in retirement? Travel? Golf when you want?

If there is a "gap", how much is the gap? Let's assume there is a gap of $800/month. $800 x
12 months = $9600/year. Now let's take $9600 and divide it by .04. (4% is a reasonably
"safe" amount to withdraw from a lump sum.) $9600/.04 = $240,000. Now we have a "lump
sum" goal of saving for retirement. This can be saved in your 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA, or
ordinary savings. Do not retire until you have this amount saved to cover your additional
budgeted expenses.

In a future article we will look further at annuities and how they can provide income for life. We also need to consider the impact of inflation on your savings.

For more income on annuities or on budgeting, please contact me at http://www.helpmy401k.us. You may also follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/deanvoelker

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Using Protection?

That should have gotten your attention!

In my last post, I discussed some basics of annuities. Annuities can offer some protection for your savings which other investments, such as stocks or mutual funds do not. Keep in mind that the value of your account may still go down.

Lets talk about a few protections which you may get from an annuity.

GUARANTEED DEATH BENEFIT - The first one, common to most annuities, is the Guranteed Death Benefit. What is means is that if you invested a sum of money into an annuity, your beneficiaries will receive at least that amount (minus any income or withdrawals taken).

For example, lets say that John puts $100,000 into a variable annuity. The market goes south, and the value of the annuity dips to $80,000, when John dies. If he has not taken income, his heirs will get the full $100,000. Now lets say that the market goes up, and the account grows to $120,000. When John dies, his heirs get $120,000. In this case, it would not matter if he has taken income - if the account value has grown from his original investment, his heirs get the account value.

GUARANTEED GROWTH - There are a lot of different insurance brokers who provide annuities, and not all of them offer this. Whichever provider you use, I would certainly recommend using a large, stable, reputable (Name Brand) company. The protection is only as good as the insurance company backing it.

I have become familiar with Jackson National Life, one of the largest annuity providers in the US. They have an AA rating in Financial Strength from Fitch & Standard & Poors, which is Very Strong. What that means to a client is that they should feel secure with the protections they are getting on their money. (Source: Jackson Life http://www.jackson.com/)

Jackson offers a Fixed Account Option on its annuities. The Fixed Option offers a 1 Year Interest Rate, which is reset each year, but is never less than 3% (Special Benefit Value). 3% actually looks pretty good right now, doesn't it?

Lets say that John starts out at age 55 by investing his $100,000 in a Fixed Index Annuity. Assuming that the annuity value has grown by 3% per year, by age 65 (10 years) it will be worth $134,392 minimum. (Source: Jackson Ascender Plus Select Brochure, http://www.jackson.com/).

A Variable Annuity should provide more growth over time, however its performance is related to the stock market. The Standard & Poors Index, also referred to as the S & P 500 represents the largest 500 companies in the USA. It has been the measuring stick for comparing investment performance.

If John had been investing his $100,000 in a Variable Annuity using the S & P Index, Jackson lets you have a "win-win". If the market goes up, the account will also go up. If the market goes down, the account value stays the same. This would have been particularly valuable in 2008 when the S & P declined by 42.9%. The value in John's account would have been the same. Had John kept his money invested over the last 10 years, he would have $145,825 today. (Source: Jackson Ascender Plus Select Brochure, http://www.jackson.com/)

I will look at Guaranteed Income Options in another segment. I will also look at additional charges for these features (where they apply). Please keep in mind that an annuity is not for everyone. You should consult with your advisor to determine if an annuity is right for you.

For more information, you may contact me at http://www.helpmy401k.us/. You may also follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DeanVoelker .