A Financial Education Event
 

Financial First Aid Kit – Military Appreciation Month

In honor of military appreciation month, I’d like to highlight our Army son, Joshua. When he was born we started saying, “If he had been our first, he would have been our last.” That little boy had more energy and could get into more scrapes than all our other children combined. When he was eighteen months old, he stripped down to his diaper, took a plastic sword and chased his four older siblings around the house, thus earning the nickname “Conan, the baby barbarian.” By that age, he had also jumped off the top bunkbed (three stitches) and “flown” off our travel trailer (four stitches). Joshua was the reason we purchased a serious first aid kit. He’s now an Army Lt jumping out of airplanes at Fort Benning.

Just as every family needs a good first aid kit for those unexpected accidents, they also need a financial first aid kit, or practical ways to help safeguard their financial future.

  1. An Emergency Savings Account – This account is not an investment account, it doesn’t include IRAs, retirement accounts or CDs. Its purpose is not growth, but safety. These are funds that are accessed in the event of spouse unemployment, emergency home repairs, or unexpected auto repair bills. The best way to build this account is to establish a family budget. Go to your base’s Family Readiness Center to develop a budget for your current season of life. I recommend automatically transferring funds from a paycheck or checking account into a savings account every week. A good guideline is to save three months of living expenses for dual income households or six months for a single income family.
  2. Life & Health Insurance – For life insurance, you will need enough money so that your dependents could invest the money and live modestly on the proceeds. For military members, the best buy is still SGLI, or Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance. Members are automatically insured for the maximum amount of $400,000 unless an election is filed reducing the insurance by $50,000 increments or canceling it entirely.  Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) is a program extended to the spouses and dependent children of members insured under the SGLI program. FSGLI provides up to a maximum of $100,000 of insurance coverage for spouses, not to exceed the amount of SGLI the insured member has in force, and $10,000 for dependent children. The rates are inexpensive. If your situation requires additional life insurance or you are transitioning out of the military, look at USAA for the best rates for military members and their families. For health insurance, there’s healthcare.gov where you can find out about open enrollment season and how to get insurance plans changed or updated. Another good place to research a variety of plans is found at eHealthInsurance where you can compare plans. There’s also
  1. A Will –Here’s another easy one, that’s as easy as making an appointment with the JAG or taking advantage of mobile services that are sometimes offered at military conferences such as Yellow Ribbon. The main section of this critical document will assign a guardian for your children. In many states, the surviving spouse may only get one-third to one-half of the assets that were in your sole name. Your children get the rest and if they are minors, a court administrator could handle their money until they become adults. Make sure that the beneficiary designations on any 401(k) plans, IRAs, life insurance and bank accounts are also up to date. Another option is legal zoom, which can prepare a quick will at a low cost.
  2. A Retirement Account –A surprising number of military spouses, or reservists do not take advantage of the terrific tax-deferred accounts offered by their employer, which include 401(k) plans. The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a Federal Government-sponsored retirement savings and investment plan and has great rates with low fees for administering the account It’s part of the new Blended Retirement System that is currently in place. This plan offers the similar tax benefits that many private corporations offer their employees under 401(k) plans and they are full portable upon leaving the military. Be sure your current TSP funds are not in the “G” fund for maximum benefit.
  3. A Good Credit Rating – The best way to rebuild good FICO, or credit score, is found in three steps: pay more than your minimum payment (even if it’s only $5/month more), pay a day early rather than a day late (set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your credit card company for minimum payments) and never let your available credit fall to less than 30% of the total credit available (for example, $2000 on a $6000 credit line.)  Each year, get a free copy of your credit report by going to Annual Credit Report or go into the base’s Family Support Center where they can also run a free copy of your report and check your score.
  4. A College Fund for Those Babies!–Select a college savings account that has low fees, a good selection of investments, plus a tax break. One of the many options is a Qualified State Tuition Plan, also known as 529 Plans. Be sure to research your state of record and their plans. These contributions will be tax-deferred and could even be tax-deductible from your state income tax if you are a resident of that state (check with your tax specialist). When the money is withdrawn for college, it is only taxed at the student’s income tax rate. If the child does not go to college, the money can be designated for another beneficiary or removed at a 10% penalty.

 

If you’re a family with a “Conan,” then make sure you have a First Aid Kit on hand. But don’t forget the fact that your family need a Financial First Aid kit as well.

I wanted to issue a special thank you to all our military families who serve, we appreciate you!

Smart Money Habits for Millennials (and Their Mamas)

The Kay Family had five babies in seven years. That roughly adds up to 3 kids in diapers at once, 10 years of not sleeping through the night, 4 teenage drivers at the same time, 3 kids in college at once and today, we have 5 millennials in their 20’s simultaneously.

Fun .

But the good news is that they eventually slept, pottied, drove, graduated and even mastered money habits in the journey. Here are the habits we helped teach our millennials to make sure they didn’t have to move home, they could remain financially independent, have a great start for their families, and still buy their mama nice birthday gifts.

Habit #1 – Create and Live By a Spending Plan

Many millennials have heard of the value of creating a budget and even have apps that help. But it’s of little use if they don’t know how to stick to it. Here are my favorite apps to help:

  • Mint Budgeting App – I met the founder of Mint, Aaron Patzer, in a green room, years ago, when we were both going to be on ABC News in NYC. At the time, he was building his success with Mint. I just remember him being (as he says in the video) “full of myself.” Ha! But his budgeting app is probably the best out there because it makes it easy to create a budget. You connect the Mint app to your bank and the app uses your details to help create a personalized budget.
  • PocketGuard Budget App – This app also connects to your bank accounts and shows you what you currently have in your pocket. It tracks your money to show what you are spending and automates where you’re going off budget and where you need to cut back.
  • You Need a Budget – This app’s claim to fame is that it creates a budget you can stick to based on the info provided in your bank accounts and spending habits. It even teaches you what to do if you overspend and how to live on last month’s income. This is the only app that cost money in my list and it’s $50 for the year, but there are hoards of devotees that say this app helped them to finally live on a budget.
  • GoodBudget – Back when dinosaurs roamed the financial space, there was an “envelope system” where you put the money you needed in each envelope labeled with expenses such as gas, food and entertainment. It helped Bob and I get out of 40K in consumer debt in only 2.5 years when we were first married. This app is the digital version of that system, making sure that everyone knows how much is left in the “envelope.”

You might need a money buddy to stay on track, too. Tiffany Aliche, The Budgetnista, talks about her journey on our fun podcast The Money Millhouse and how she went from broke to anything-but-broke through techniques that kept her on track.

Habit #2 – Cook Creatively and Consistently

Money evaporates when you order out for lunch or dinner more than one or two meals a week. Bob took leftover dinners (the

re’s a microwave and fridge at work) for our entire marriage and we calculate that he’s saved $20,000 by doing this! Make Pintrist your pal or watch The Food Network to learn easy ways to create nutritious and tasty meals. Ask for an Instant Pot for your next birthday and make more than you need for dinner so you’ll have leftovers for either lunch or dinner later in the week. Or freeze the leftovers. My daughter lived with roommates for a few years and they would assign different nights for each of them to cook to simplify the work. Cook more and your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

Habit #3 – Care About Your Retirement

When we take our Heroes At Home Financial Event on the road, we teach young service members the miracle of compounding interest with the mantra: start early, start small and stay committed. Be sure to start with funding a Roth IRA and take advantage of your company’s matching portion of your 401(k). Lacey Langford, an Accredited Financial Counselor gave some great tips on a segment called “I Aint Afraid of No Money.”  She discussed retirement planning from her experience in working with the military (but many tips apply to civilians as well.) If you’re military, be sure to go into your Family Readiness Center to discuss the Blended Retirement System and what your options are for your situation. It’s free and a benefit you can use early and often.

Habit #4 – Count the Cost of Debt

The average millennial college grad owes 37K in student loan debt and the average household owes $8500 in credit card debt. Work on minimizing the debt you accrue and pay off the debt you have so that you’ll have the flexibility to move or wait on the right job. One of my sons worked for JC Penney, and they eliminated his entire department. Most employees were freaking out because they had student loan debt, consumer debt and car debt—but not our son. He made a practice of living on less so he wouldn’t accrue debt and he was able to have less worry in the process of finding a new job.

Be sure you also pay attention to your credit score. Rod Griffin, from Experian, came over for a discussion on coffee and credit. He works with us on our tours and he teaches that if you have bad credit, you’ll pay an average of 360K more (over your lifetime) for the use of basic credit, than the person who has a good score. Improve your score by paying on time, paying more than the minimum balance due and make sure you never use more than 30% of your available credit.

Habit #5 – Choose Contentment

This is a tricky habit because it’s a mindset that you choose. There will always be something to spend money on to make you go off budget or get into financial trouble. There’s the new phone, tablet, car, vacay, boyfriend/girlfriend, baby, or a plethora of other reasons to want to spend more and have more. This is where your friends, family and even faith come into play. Coveting what others have or do is a lesson in futility and discontentment. Your friends either contribute to this mindset or they keep you focused on what matters most. If keeping up with their lifestyle is an important platform in your friendship, then you may want to find new friends. Remember that this financial journey is a marathon not a sprint. I’ve always said, “you can have it all—just not at the same time.”

What is one habit you are good at? What is one habit you want to improve upon? Share it with us, a friend or even a money buddy, so that you can be fiscally healthy in 2018 and for a lifetime.

 

Red, White, and Scammed: Part 1

 

We have a long tradition of military service in our family. My grandfather was a bombardier who died in WWII, my father is a retired chief master sergeant in the Air Force, my husband, Bob, flew Air Force fighters for 25 years, our son, Philip, graduated from the Naval Academy and cross commissioned into the Marine Corp, our next son is a junior at the Air Force Academy, and the youngest son a plebe at Westpoint. In fact, the photo you see is Bob, pinning on the Philip’s Airborne wings–the very wings Bob earned 30 years ago when he was a cadet at the Air Force Academy!

Enlisted men and women are easy marks for sleazy car dealers, insurance scammers predatory lenders, and identity thieves. So pervasive are the rip-offs and so troubling is the debt incurred by military personnel that US Department of Defense officials recently labeled the situation a threat to national security. Here are a few things to keep in mind and to share with your military friends and family.

Q. The DOD has labeled the fraud situation among the military as a threat to national security. How does getting scammed impact lives overseas?

ELLIE: It’s all about distraction. When military members are distracted, whether it’s worry over identity theft or trying to wondering if their spouse is able to deal with messy finances at home—then that’s when accidents happen. Distraction leads to worry which leads to accidents. And when accidents happen, then there is loss of life. So if we want to help save lives overseas, then we can all do our part to protect our military members by exposing rip offs and scams whenever possible.

Q. What kind of paycheck does a typical recruit make & what are some of the questionable ways that local businesses try to get a piece of that paycheck?

ELLIE: They earn about $1800 per month & these paychecks can be carved to bits by bad deals. For example, a computer store outside of Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois employs attractive women to troll for new sailors. Once they get them inside the store, they are pressured into buying a very basic laptop for more than $4000, which is three times as much as the computer is worth. Then they finance the deal and the computer ends up costing even more with the store also making money on financing.

Q. What are some other common ways that the military is ripped off and people should be aware of?

ELLIE: There was recently a multi-state investigation launched into life insurance scams that were being perpetrated against military members just before they took off to the Middle East. These scamsters sold soldiers extremely overpriced or misrepresented policies, taking advantage of the emotional situation of leaving families to go into harm’s way. This investigation ended with the companies offering more than $70 million dollars in refunds to thousands of service members. When it comes to life insurance, military members are offered SGLI or Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, which is a legitimate source for low premiums, so there’s really no need to secure other private insurance!

Q. Tell us about the “Red Cross” scam that is getting a lot of attention among military families?

ELLIE: This is fairly despicable, as it prays on the emotions of family members. A con artist claiming to be with the Red Cross will call a parent of a servicemember or their spouse, telling them their loved one has been injured and they need their social security number to authorize help for them. In some cases, they ask for an initial cash payment. Military members need to clear any report of injury through the chain of command or by contacting the base family community services.

Q. It seems that our military is very young, what is the average age of a service member and do they receive any kind of personal finance education as part of their training?

ELLIE: Yes, they are young, in fact, the average age range of military members is between 22 and 28 years old. Of the groups I routinely speak to around the world, I’d say that the average 22 year old has an even younger wife and a baby as well—so it’s a lot of responsibility for someone so young. The good news is that since 2004, service members learn about personal finance as part of their early training. When I go to give my “Heroes at Home” message I teach about finances and also encourage them to use the resources they have available to them on base. Army Community Services, Airman and Family Readiness Centers, Fleet and Family Support Centers—all of these have personal finance counselors there who are ready and willing to give free financial counseling to service members and their families. It’s what I call my $300 tip, because a couple hours with the caliber of financial professional at any of these centers is equivalent to paying $300 to a CFP or CPA.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)
http://www.elliekay.com/

Investing with Ellie – Mid Year Investment Thesis

 

I’ve been on television and radio, as well as in live conferences lately giving my mid-year investment update. Due to so many requests, I’m posting the update today. Just remember that there’s no such thing as a safe investment and that any investment advice is something that must be evaluated by individuals as to what will work best for them personally.

Also, remember that before you invest in the stock market, an ETF or buy Gold as an investment, make sure that you’ve paid off all consumer debt, have funded your 401(k), built up a basic savings account with six months of income and funded an IRA.

What we know is true:

 

  • The bloom has falloff the rose in Europe. The market seems to be pricing in a 50% chance of a “bad outcome” –thus the current market pricing.
  • The end of disparities has seemingly brought US eco numbers down to earth. (Still not terrible).
  • US corporate balance sheets are at a 50-year high.
  • US equity valuation multiples are at a multi-decade low.
  • US GDP now estimated @ 2%. GDP is simply NOT in recovery mode yet.

 

 

 

 

  • Although things appear bad, keep in mind two things:  First, a lot of terrible news has already been digested in the market (and the market has adjusted to receive that news). Two, setting yourself up for Armageddon has, thus far, never worked out very well.
  • Housing Market:  The sheer fact that median rental yields are more than 1.5% higher than the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage should help support property prices. This suggest more residential property investment is becoming cash flow positive meaning there is scope for rents to cover interest and principal. I would recommend the SPDR Homebuilders ETX (XHB) for passive exposure to the US housing recovery.
  • Oil:  Brent crude prices have fallen $25 (WTI 40%) per barrel from the recent highs earlier this year. The recent price drop has been driver by: soft global supply demand, risk sell off due to global macro uncertainty, liquidation of substantial derivatives positions. I expect global crude prices will recover and would recommend: BP
  • Gold:  My friend, Larry Shover, author of Trading Options in Turbulent Markets  (Bloomberg Financial) says: “Gold is the end driver of global liquidity” and he is right. Industry consolidation and supply potential in western China provides a lot of expansion opportunities. In addition, bear in mind that China’s jewelry consumption per capita is less than 10% of the US. Everyone should have some exposure to it. I recommend the ETF (GLD).

 

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R) 

 

Raiders of the Lost 401(k) – Loans? Withdrawals? Good or Bad?

Ellie was on ABC News and KLOVE discussing the attack facing 401(k) accounts.

The 401(k), which has long been known as the ticket to retirement for millions of Americans is under attack from within and has taken a hit in recent years. In the second quarter of this year, a record 2.2% of participants in 401(k) plans took hardship withdrawals from their savings, which is up 2% from the same figures available a year ago. What is the long term impact of raiding your 401(k)?

Q. The news about early withdrawals on 401(k) plans is worrisome and yet thousands of participants are making these decisions in increasing numbers. Why do you think people are taking the early withdrawal?

ELLIE: I think that it is worrisome when you are borrowing on tomorrow’s retirement to handle today’s financial issues. But I think that the vast majority of those who are taking this money out are doing it to pay their bills. Some have had their hours cut or maybe a spouse has lost their jobs. Others have seen their kids college fund shrink to where they cannot afford to pay tuition for this year and they’re raiding their 401(k)s to pay that hefty bill. It’s just a sign of the hard economic times in which we are living. Our parents’ generation tended to work for someone who gave them a pension check for the rest of their lives. This means that current workers may not have been raised with the mindset that they control their own pensions and need to make funding their own retirements a priority. There’s an alarming trend that involves looking at 401(k) accounts as “now” money when it’s really “later” money, that really must be saved for later.

Q. Aren’t there certain stipulations associated with a 401(k) hardship withdrawal? How easy is it to get?

ELLIE: I think that the increased percentage of those who qualify for an early withdrawal indicate the financial strain that many families are facing because this kind of withdrawal is not easy to get. Under IRS guidelines, 401(k) administrators can grant hardship withdrawals only for specific reasons, including tuition payments, the purchase of a primary residence, unreimbursed medical bills and prevention of foreclosure.

Q. The IRS has guidelines for hardship withdrawals, can companies also impose additional limits on their employees?

ELLIE: Yes, and in most cases the company rules are even tougher than the IRS. So if that number of Americans managed to actually secure a 401(k) hardship withdrawal, then it is a huge indicator of how the financial difficulty that many Americans are currently experiencing in our present economy.

Q. Of all the reasons you mentioned for taking a withdrawal, what is the number one reason that participants are raiding their 401(k)?

ELLIE: The number one reason is to pay the mortgage in the face of a foreclosure. In the second quarter, nearly 10% of households with a mortgage were at least one payment behind on their loans, this is according to the Mortgage Bankers Association report that came out last week. Families who feel they may lose their homes often believe they have no choice but to tap their retirement savings. But many of those families have not yet exhausted all their resources. If it’s a short term problem, then talk with your mortgage lenders and see if they will suspend or lower your payments over the next three to six months until you are back on your feet again. They can also go to MakingHomeAffordable.gov, which is a federal government website with the goal of helping families by providing free HUD-approved counselors who can help you modify your mortgage. These are far better options than raiding your retirement fund.

Q. What about those families who are tapping into their 401(k) to pay tuition, you say this is a very bad money move, why?

ELLIE: As a mom with three kids who have graduated from college, two kids in college and two more headed toward college, I believe I can speak to the importance of getting that college degree. That having been said, I still think that those families who pay for tuition with their retirement dollars have their priorities wrong. There are other ways to pay for college, including taking a year off and working, going to a junior college for a couple of years, getting funds through an internship or work/study program or even getting a loan. You can get a loan to fund college but you can’t get a loan to fund your retirement. I never think it’s wise to borrow on your own future to pay for your child’s short term goal.

Q. What are some of the taxes and other penalties that arise when you take a hardship withdrawal?

ELLIE: These taxes and penalties are the main reason I say that it’s not a good idea to raid your 401(k) and one of the primary reasons is that, depending on your tax bracket, you could end up giving a third or more of your money to the IRS. You’ll have to pay income taxes on the entire amount of your withdrawal, at your ordinary income rate. And if you’re under 591/2, you’ll also have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty. Since the average age of those who took the hardship withdrawal in the second quarter was between the ages of 35 and 55, this tells us that most workers who took the cash are paying the penalty!

Q. You also say that there is an intrinsic “opportunity cost” that arises at the time of withdrawal, what is this cost?

ELLIE: When you take a hardship withdrawal, you’re prohibited from contributing to your 401(K) PLAN FOR SIX MONTHS! That means you’ll miss out on any investment gains you could hae earned by contributing during that period. You’ll also miss out on the company match, which is a guaranteed return on your investment and depending on the match, it’s usually much more than what you can earn in the market if you made your own investment. For example, if your company matches 50% of what you put into the account, you just won’t find another investment out there where you would get a 50% return on the money you put into that investment. So there’s a double jeopardy penalty associated with early withdrawal. You’ll pay for it now and you’ll pay for it later—then at retirement, you’ll pay for it all over again because you won’t have that money in the account.

Q. What about the fact that you can deplete an asset that is off limit to creditors, how does this impact a participant?

ELLIE: While raiding an account to avoid bankruptcy or foreclosure is a well intentioned money move, it’s also foolish because if you end up in bankruptcy anyway, then you’ve passed up the benefit you have in the fact that most retirement accounts are protected under bankruptcy laws in most states. And when it comes to 401(k) accounts specifically, it’s important to know that when filing for bankruptcy protection, creditors will go after your assets to repay your debts but federal law protects your 401(k) from creditors.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)