New Book - Coming November 2010

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

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,
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 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”
by Alexis Leondis of 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,
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. 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

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".

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

"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. 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. 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.

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, or follow me on Twitter at My Blog Talk Radio program airs weekly and the archives may be heard at

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 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. 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. (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 and follow me on Twitter at weekly Blog Talk Radio program, “Improving Your Financial Health” is at