Financial Education Resources

Recent ACP Member Blogs

  • Flowers are born to bloom. With every spring blossom, they open themselves up for the nutrients they need to survive. But blooming is far from simple or predictable. In order for flowers to bloom, they need the right access to light, temperature, water, and wind. Each of these elements plays a role in the lifecycle of a flower and when one goes wrong, it can be difficult for them to open up. Like flowers, we too are born to bloom. We want to thrive in our environment and use the tools and resources we have to build a beautiful life. But there are many things that stand in our way. One element that has certainly proven itself a formidable opponent is the coronavirus pandemic. This virus has impacted nearly every facet of our lives: from work to relationships to hobbies and more, our way of life has altered in profound ways. We have had to rely on technology for family visits, church attendance, and even jobs. In the swirl of this global health crisis came drops in the market, loss of jobs, and general uncertainty about one’s financial future. Today isn’t about speculation, forecasts, or predictions. Instead, today is an opportunity for a breath of fresh air, a chance to focus and reflect on your finances for the rest of the year. While we may still be weathering this storm, there is a way to bring light and life to your finances this year. Let’s get your finances to full bloom together. 1. Adapt your plan to life changesEveryone is experiencing a change in one form or another, and it is important that your finances accurately reflect that change. If this pandemic is any indication, nothing stands still, not even your finances. Take the two new pieces of legislation introduced in 2020: The SECURE Act and the CARES Act. While each targets different groups, they are both designed to provide reform and adapt to current circumstances. The SECURE Act implemented new stipulations designed to help retirees save more for retirement namely making it easier for employers to establish 401k plans, doing away with the age limit to contribute to IRAs, and increasing the age for RMDs to 72. While the CARES Act provided economic relief due to the pandemic, it also suspended RMDs for 2020 and allowed retirees to dip into their 401k for COVID-related expenses without penalty. The point here is that things adapt; perhaps your income has fluctuated or you have newfound medical bills or you are caring for a loved one. The first thing to do is understand, recognize, and manage that shift and bring your finances along for the ride. Once you have a firm grasp on your situation, you’ll be better able to take productive steps in the right direction. 2. Re-work your spending and saving habitsMore likely than not, your finances have been impacted in some way from the pandemic. Perhaps your part-time job has stalled or maybe your nest egg took a bigger hit than you anticipated. No matter what, you will need to start re-working your spending and savings habits to best reflect where you are now. This might mean that you have to spend less on discretionary spending like eating out, gifts, and travel, and refocus your spending on the things that you need. When you take a good hard look, you’ll be able to find places to cut back and redirect those dollars to another source like your emergency fund or investment accounts. Take the time to really dig deep and evaluate your current spending habits. How have your spending habits changed?What adjustments can be made to your retirement spending plan that reflects those changes while still keeping you on track to reach your goals?These questions will help you take a critical look at your spending habits and ways to improve them moving forward. The other half of this equation is saving. Perhaps you had to dip into your emergency fund to cover some expenses due to the coronavirus. Don’t worry, that is what an emergency fund is for: emergencies. Now is a good time to start directing any other discretionary income to build up that emergency fund and get you back on solid footing. You might also look at contributing more to your retirement funds like IRAs or other portfolio investments. While it might seem scary to not only remain in the market but also add funds to it, retaining your long-term financial strategy is often the best course of action. 3. Review your taxesOur team at Step by Step views taxes as a year-round element. We are always looking for new ways to add proactive tax strategies into your financial plan. Given the current world climate, you may need to make some tax adjustments. Will your RMD strategy differ this year?How will any loss of revenue impact your Social Security strategy?Do you need to withdraw more from your portfolio than initially planned? Our team can help walk you through these nuances and add stability to your tax situation. Proactive tax planning will help you lessen your tax bill and strengthen your financial plan. 4. Concentrate on your goalsIt is tough for situations to be out of your control. Many people have been experiencing this lately and it isn’t fun. But the antidote for this stress is taking action. Instead of focusing on the things that are outside of your control like the market, focus your energy on the things that you can control like your income plan, spending, saving, and your financial goals . In times of uncertainty, you can use your financial goals as a guidepost. Take a look at both the short-term and long-term goals that you set for yourself at the beginning of this year. You might find that your short-term goals were redirected but what about your long-term ones? Here are some questions to ask yourself. What are your long-term financial goals?Have those goals shifted? If so, how?Is your financial plan still set up for you to reach those long-term goals? If not, what productive changes can you implement to help get you there?In general, your long-term financial goals remain relatively constant. The coronavirus didn’t stop your goals or make them any less valuable to you. In most cases, trusting the financial plan you and your advisor team built around your goals is the best thing to do. It can help stabilize and ground you, providing hope for days to come. 5. Focus on what really mattersDifficult times give us the opportunity to center ourselves on the things that matter most: family, loved ones, community, spirituality, and more. It is important to give yourself the mental space you need to dedicate your time and energy to what matters most. Now is a good time to give yourself (and those around you) a break. Try to find moments of grace in your life and let your goals, values, and priorities be your guide. 6. Work with a team you trustWith all of the changes happening in the world, it is crucial to work with a financial advisor you trust. You need a team that understands your unique financial situation and can build a plan around that to help you reach your goals. Married retirees today are facing unique challenges like reassessing their charitable giving strategy, making a new plan for RMDs, understanding their investment strategy, and more. Our team specializes in navigating people through these changes and challenges. Are you ready to refocus your finances this year? Schedule a call with our team today.
  • In Estate Planning in the Time of Corona, we discussed some of the ways in which estate planning may have changed during the pandemic. While some of the logistics and methods used to execute an estate plan may have changed, the excuses we use to avoid this work may have remained the same—with the added [] ©Bring Clarity to Your Finances™. Why Are You Avoiding Estate Planning? is a post from Bring Clarity to Your Finances™
  • You can't live without your spouse... but will living together in retirement drive you crazy? Make sure that your retirement goes smoothly by taking these things into consideration.
  • Every once in a while, we get the following question: “I came across these old stock certificates. What should I do with them?” Stock certificates come from any number of places, particularly when you’re clearing out the effects of a deceased loved one. (Feed generated with FetchRSS )
  • As husband and wife, you have been there to support, love, and encourage one another each and every day. Through all of life’s journeys, the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows, you have been together every step of the way. Teamwork has been a cornerstone in building and growing your life together. You have used it to develop dreams, hopes, and designs for your life, and retirement planning is no different. Your retirement goals, lifestyle, and income plan have all been created together. Married couples also have a unique opportunity to create a Social Security plan that supports both people. One part of that plan comes from understanding spousal Social Security benefits. What are spousal Social Security benefits, how do they work, and what can you do to maximize them? Let’s find out. What are spousal benefits?Spousal Social Security benefits allow one spouse to claim benefits off of the other spouse’s work record. This system helps support households that had one spouse serving as the primary earner. The benefit amount depends on a few factors including the age you collect, your spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA), and whether you have your own benefits available to you. The maximum spousal benefit is 50% of the primary earner’s PIA. In order to be eligible for a spousal benefit a few things must be true: You are at least 62 years of ageYou have been married for one year (or more)Your spouse has already started collecting benefitsThe earliest age to collect spousal benefits is 62, but similar to collecting early off of your own record, this will decrease your monthly benefit by about 30%. While it might make sense for some couples to collect early, be sure that you discuss this with your planner before permanently reducing your benefit. Most likely, your full retirement age will be somewhere between 66 and 67. Consult the Social Security Administration’s chart to gain a clear sense of yours. Remember, the maximum benefit you can receive is 50% of your spouse’s total benefit. Unlike traditional Social Security, spousal benefits don’t accrue delayed retirement credits eliminating any incentive to collect later than your full retirement age. In order to start collecting benefits, your spouse must already be collecting their own benefits. Keep in mind that the amount of your benefit is always based on your spouse’s primary insurance amount. This means that your benefit won’t be reduced if your husband or wife collects their benefits early. Spousal benefits can be complex. To help, let’s take a look at a fictional example of a married couple to illustrate how this works. Mae and Skye have been married for 30 years. Skye is a successful entrepreneur and Mae works part-time at the local library and raises their 4 children. Skye’s maximum monthly benefit is $2,000 and he collects at his full retirement age. If Mae claimed spousal benefits at her full retirement age, she would be eligible for $1,000. But if both Skye and Mae are eligible for their own benefits, the Social Security Administration would pay benefits off of their individual work records first before any spousal benefits kicked in. Let’s say that when her kids went to school, Mae not only worked at the library but also followed her passion of designing floral arrangements. It may have just started with a few local church events but steadily grew into a top floral business for graduations, weddings, and other events. In this scenario, Mae’s Social Security benefit would be $1,500. Since this is higher than what she would have received from a spousal benefit, the SSA would pay her the higher of the two amounts. But if Mae stayed at the library, her monthly benefit would only be $500. In this case, the SSA would pay her the $500 off of her work record and supplement another $500 from spousal benefits to reach the $1,000 maximum. Understanding survivor benefitsShould your spouse pass away, you are eligible for a survivor benefit as early as 60. Each year that you claim benefits before your full retirement age, your benefit is reduced. But if you have already reached your full retirement age, you can collect your late spouse’s full benefit. Widows and widowers do have a unique opportunity to make the most of their benefits. Unlike traditional spousal benefits, survivor benefits allow you to restrict your application. This means that you can apply for either your survivor benefit or your personal benefit and switch applications at a later point. This strategy usually makes sense for people who have strong work records themselves. They can start by claiming their survivor benefit and wait until they have accrued all of their delayed retirement credits and apply off of their own work record at 70. If you and your spouse have both claimed benefits and then one of you passes away the Social Security Administration will continue to pay the surviving spouse either their own payment or their late spouses but not both. Keep in mind that you would receive the higher of the two amounts, making claiming Social Security benefits a strategic long-term decision. Every couple’s needs are different. Be sure that you work with an advisor who can help you make the most of your benefit in the short and long term. Social Security + YouSpousal benefits are an important part of your retirement income plan. It is vital that you and your spouse make strategic decisions about Social Security because it will impact you in the short-term but more importantly in the long run as well. There are different strategies to consider when it comes to claiming benefits but it all comes down to your income needs, retirement goals, lifestyle considerations, and future needs. Ready to craft a Social Security strategy for your needs? Schedule a complimentary initial strategy session with our team today.