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By Jonathan Arnold
Manager, Inlanta Mortgage Grand Rapids

You've heard the Grand Rapids Real Estate market is on fire. You've been scheming and dreaming to trade up to your dream home. Or maybe you're going the other direction, selling the empty nest at peak profitability for a more carefree condo lifestyle. Either way, spring 2017 is a great time to list your house in Michigan.

But before you start staging, cleaning out closets, or calling your real estate agent, have you thought about what's likely to happen the minute your house hits the market in this climate? The good news is, it will likely sell. The bad news is, it will likely sell -- immediately. Which means that finding -- and securing -- your dream home in a hot market becomes an exercise in stress-seeking behavior as you try to juggle finding just the right house, selling your existing house, and having somewhere to live in the middle.

It Doesn't Have To Be This Way

Savvy homeowners can save themselves time, trouble and possibly grief if they make just one call before listing their homes. That call is to the Inlanta Grand Rapids Mortgage Team to be connected with a lender partner to open a home equity loan before it's listed. Note: It must be before the house is listed!

Traditionally, people facing the financial juggling involved in selling and buying a home have chosen among bridge financing, borrowing against their 401Ks, or proactively getting a home equity loan before listing their homes on the market. While the best option will depend on your individual financial standing, the team at Inlanta feels that in the current market, the HELOC offers more advantages and flexibility than other solutions, allowing the homeowner to get the jump on the home they want before putting their existing home on the market.

Interest-Only HELOC - Home Equity Line of Credit

If the house is not yet listed you can probably get a home equity line of credit (HELOC). With a HELOC, you can draw the amount you need for the new house, subject to a maximum draw.   The advantages include typically competitive rates, flexible terms and even Interest-Only products. The key advantage to the HELOC is that it allows a homeowner to access the equity locked up in the existing home before it's on the market.

Bridge Financing - Too Reactive vs. Pro-Active

In the old days, "bridge financing" was the instrument commonly used to help homeowners buy another home while selling their existing home. However, in the current mortgage climate, a bridge loan isn't usually available unless you have a binding contract of sale on the old house. This also means that you can't start looking until conditions are met. The sale agreement is the lender's security. Bridge loans differ from traditional real estate financing. Interest rates are higher than a fixed-rate mortgage loan, and closing costs can be as high as mortgage loans. At the end of the day, if you rely on a bridge loan secured on a sale, you may miss opportunities when the right house comes along.

Do The Math on the 401K

Some pundits recommend borrowing against your 401K as a low-risk way to finance a new home before closing on your existing home. But this makes no sense when the stock market is giving stronger returns than the interest charged on home equity loans. Money pulled from the market creates exponential losses over time.

So if you're getting ready to enter the spring market, get a jump with a call to Inlanta for a referral to our partners who specialize in smart products like the interest-only HELOC. We'll help you map out the right amount to keep in reserve for commissions and closing, and get you started started on the happy trail to your dream home.

Contact us for information on our HELOC partners.


Jonathan Arnold has been working in the mortgage industry since 2003. He prides himself on taking the time with each and every client to evaluate not only what is best for them today, but also what will be best for their future. As the Grand Rapids Branch Manager at Inlanta Mortgage, Jonathan ensures that each client is confident in making their homeownership dreams a reality.

Contact Jonathan at

or follow him on LinkedIn ( )

Visit the Grand Rapids Inlanta website at:

Forest Hill Financial, Inlanta Mortgage and Securities America are separate entities

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We are just three months shy of the New Year and this is a great time to get a jumpstart on coming out ahead at tax time. A little strategic thinking, planning and taking action now could give you a reduction in your tax bill come April, perhaps boost your retirement savings and college fund savings. You might even see a significant reduction in any debt you might owe.
A great place to start is to take a close look at your investments. Your portfolio may benefit from a rebalance, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve made any changes. With the recent volatility in the market you might discover that your allocations may not match your risk tolerance. 
If you have a 401(k) look into maxing out your contributions before the end of the year. If you’re under 50 years old, you can contribute a total of $18,000. That’s a $500 increase over last year. If you’re over 50, you can contribute up to $24,000.
Are you enrolled in a Flexible Spending Account? If so, now is the time to see if you have excess funds that must be used before year’s end. Even if your employer lets you carry over an unused balance, you may be better off stocking up on eligible items that can round out your first-aid kits. Some eligible items include sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher, diabetic testing kits, and hot and cold packs. 
Other items to look at include your credit rating and any high-rate credit card balances. If your credit score is good, you could benefit from a zero percent balance transfer offer since the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates in the near future. When the Fed raises interest rates credit card companies usually follow suit.
Making these adjustments now will help you breathe easier at tax time. And that’s always a relief.
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Greece, China, Puerto Rico, the sudden long drops, followed by the upside down turns of the global marketplace is not thrilling. In fact as an investor it is a time when many people scream, “Stop the ride I want to get off!”
Before you get off the ride, though, you might want to review your asset allocation along with your risk tolerance. Getting off the ride when the market is down means you’d be selling low.
This might be the time to sit down with your financial advisor and rebalance your portfolio. If you haven’t done that in awhile, or never, it is that counterintuitive process where you sell winners and buy losers in order to achieve and/or maintain the desired asset mix. Do you have enough cash on hand? Are you properly allocated between stocks, bonds and alternative assets?
Even if your gut is telling you that you want off the roller coaster, don’t let fear be your guide. If you sell now, you may have miscalculated your risk tolerance in the first place. That’s common when the market is performing well and novice investors think they’ve got the stomach for the long-term ride.
You have to understand that market volatility is a constant. The cacophony of the current events in Greece and China should be ignored unless you’re heavily invested. However for the most part, these two countries represent at most 1 or 2 percent of the most investor’s portfolios. Don’t let the panic of other markets influence your decisions. Talk with your advisors. Get a real picture of what’s going on.

As a matter of fact, the 10 largest diversified international funds have less than 9 percent of their portfolios allocated to Chinese stocks and even lesser amount to Greek equities, according to Morningstar, a mutual fund research firm.
Keep in mind your investment objectives before you decide to jump out of the market. And also take into consideration that rebalancing your portfolio comes with trade-offs. While doing so can cut the risk of your portfolio and may help you stick to your financial plan, you could also incur capital gains taxes from selling appreciated assets in taxable accounts as well as transaction costs to execute your strategy.
According to a 2010 study on the benefits of rebalancing by the Vanguard Group, "Just as there is no universally optimal asset allocation, there is no universally optimal rebalancing strategy. The only clear advantage as far as maintaining a portfolio's risk-and-return characteristics is that a rebalanced portfolio more closely aligns with the characteristics of the target asset allocation than with a never-rebalanced portfolio. As our analysis shows, the risk-adjusted returns are not meaningfully different whether a portfolio is rebalanced monthly, quarterly, or annually." (
If your investment strategy is still in line with your objectives, you may just want to hang on and see the ride through. Doing nothing in volatile times is often the very best thing to do.

For general informational purposes only. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific professional financial advice

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When the DOW opened down 1,100 points on August 24th, did your heart take a nosedive into your stomach?  And if you’re one of those investors who have decided to save a few bucks and trust your investments to a robo-advisor, what kind of guidance or reassurance did you get from that advisor? Did you panic and sell out of the stock market fearing it would continue to plummet? If so, you weren’t alone.

If you had a real financial advisor to talk you back from the ledge, you may have rallied later in the day just like the stock did. You could have saved a lot more than you lost.

Nothing could more poignantly emphasize the value of a real, live human financial advisor better than this most recent event. Only a real advisor will keep you from selling at the worst possible moment. So much focus has been on the cost of financial advice in the form of “backdoor payments and hidden fees.” What no one is talking about is how real financial advice can help you save so much more. You wouldn’t sell at the lowest possible price and buy at the highest.

Instead of placing your focus on the cost of financial advice, why not turn your attention to the real benefits. Thousands, tens of thousands of dollars and more were lost on August 24th by the average investor who had no one to turn to. Unfortunately, this kind of experience is harsh. Perhaps now though the real value of good financial advisor is better understood.


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We’ve entered an age where yet another industry is slowly beginning to give way to robots. It makes sense when you’re dealing with repetitive actions that can be accomplished precisely and without damage to human muscles. However, when you consider the volatile and personal nature of finances, it’s difficult to reconcile a world where “robo-advisers” will be handling investments. Yet, robo-advisers are here and robo-adviser companies are growing by leaps and bounds. 

The very phrase “robo-adviser” conjures up images of the Star Wars character, R2D2, but that’s not exactly the correct image. Just what is a robo-advisor and can they really serve investors better than a trained, experienced and educated living human being?

Robo-advisers are online wealth management sites that provide automated investment services. Currently they represent a small, but fast growing segment of the market. No human interaction is required. They use computerized algorithms to manage mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), index funds and other retirement products.

Typically robo-advisers follow a passive investing strategy in an effort to try to minimize risk. They are low cost and sometimes even no cost, which is what makes them so attractive and has fueled their popularity among younger investors over the last few years.

Finances are emotional and highly personal

Could you imagine trusting your health to a robo-doctor? Your financial health is second only to your physical health and wellbeing. When you trust your finances to a robo-advisor you are left with huge portions of your financial life completely unattended. A good financial advisor does far more than merely deciding which funds you should have in your portfolio.

Nonetheless, many people are turning their investments over to robo-advisors. And even though robo-advisers must be registered and are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), they are held to a “suitability” standard, not a fiduciary standard like real advisors are held to. Human financial advisers are legally required to give you the best possible advice while robo-advisers will offer or suggest investment that are just suitable. So your best interests are not being served.

Get Real

Will a robo-adviser call you to explain when something critical happens with one of your investments? Will they answer the phone and walk you through a confusing letter you might get from the bank? Will a robo-adviser know you and have an understanding of your short and long-term financial goals? Will they be there to guide you through the unexpected ups and downs of your life? Of course they won’t.

Real advisors are there for you when you need them. They are trusted with the most intimate details of your life. They understand your personality and they go through life’s ups and downs with you. They get to know your family. They attend weddings, anniversaries, graduations and funerals. They plan your estate and help you with your taxes, college funds and so much more.

You want an advisor who will answer the phone when you get a confusing letter from the bank and walk you through what it means. You want someone who knows you personally and understands your short- and long-term financial goals.

Your finances are too important to leave in the hands of a robo-advisor. To make the most of your financial life, you need a real financial advisor.

Mathematical algorithms are amazing and have contributed significantly to the financial world. However nothing beats the insight and experience of a real financial adviser.

Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.






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A quiet revolution is happening in the financial world and it’s starting to get a lot of buzz. The role of the investment adviser may be in danger of being taken over as young investors turn their money-management over to robo-advisers.

Robo-advisers present prospective clients with a series of online questions to determine risk tolerance. Then, based on the answers, they select investments that are supposed to meet a individual clients’ specific temperaments and goals.  The question is, are robo-advisers going to be able to generate the stable wealth for clients that can see them through the unpredictable ups and downs of life events and prepare them for retirement?

According to the Wall Street Journal, just in the past six years alone more than 200 companies have made it clear that they believe robo-advisers are the future, at least for some investors. These companies have taken the dive into the business of helping investors plan their portfolios online and include venture-capital-backed startups as well as the likes of two fund giants, Fidelity Investments and Vanguard Group as well as brokerage firms such as Charles Schwab.

With most robo firms there is typically no human interaction. With some firms there may be a brief first interaction, however clients are generally kept at arm’s length. The investor opens and funds the account online and the firm takes over and manages the money automatically from that point. The new robo-adviser requires very low and in some cases even no fees. This single fact is one that has higher-priced brokers and registered advisers worried, not only about their profit margins but their careers. Only those clients with complicated investment needs will require the expertise of a human financial adviser.

Wealth-management is currently handling assets upwards of $18 trillion.  Robo-advisers represent a small yet rapidly growing segment of this market. Currently, according to a Boston research firm, the Aite Group, digital wealth-management assets, including those managed by robo-advisers are projected to reach $55 to $60 billion this year, an increase from $16 billion at the end of 2014.


Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.


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Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age in record numbers. The question many have is, when is the best time to claim Social Security benefits?

Several things must be taken into consideration when making this decision. The most important is one of life expectancy. Do you take your retirement benefits at the earliest possible age of 62 or at the very latest possible age of 70?

Many of the wealthiest people are using a delaying tactic called File and Suspend to manipulate the system and receive the highest benefits. The President is moving to put an end to this so I won’t go into the details.

The truth is that every person has unique circumstances when it comes to retirement. However, there are factors that can lead you to make smarter decisions about when to claim your Social Security benefits. The following five areas of consideration are intended to help you make smarter decisions.

1. Like any meaningful life decision, take this one seriously.

When you’re in your early 60’s and still employed, you may or may not have any idea how long you’ll remain employed. And, if you lose your job, is it likely you’ll easily be employed again? That too, is difficult to predict with certainty. Likewise, if you’re healthy, you simply don’t know if you’re going to remain healthy nor do you know how long you’re going to live. With so many unknowns in the equation, you will want to make the most comprehensive review of potential life situations. Plenty of retirees feel like they could have planned a little better had they taken the decision making process a little more seriously.

2. Don’t use your break-even age

If you speak with a financial advisor who suggests determining when to claim your Social Security benefits based on your “break even” age, don’t do it. Breaking even is rarely an important consideration at retirement, and the entire concept is based on a theoretical investment scenario.  

It works like this according to a US News article, “In the comparison between a person claiming at 62 and at 66, he assumes the early claimant invests the money for four years, producing a tidy sum by the time he or she turns 66. Because that early benefit is only 75 percent as much as it will be at age 66, the break-even point depends on how long it takes the higher payments that begin at 66 to be invested and produce a nest egg that's the same size as the one generated by payments—plus investment gains—that began at age 62. He then does the same thing in a comparison of benefits beginning at age 66 and age 70.” (

3. What are the risks inherent in longevity?

What are the financial risks associated with living a long life? Is your estate set up to appropriately care for your needs should you become incapacitated yet live beyond typical life expectancy?  Will you remain solvent? A robust discussion with your financial planner about all the related longevity risks will set you up to make a smarter decision regarding when to claim Social Security.

4. Think about your personalized life expectancy

It is also important to consider your own personal life expectancy based on your age, health status, and family health history, not simply overall average life expectancy statistics. More and more retirees are living longer than expected and a growing concern is whether or not they’ll outlive their retirement income. This is where Social Security becomes an increasingly important source of income and the decision of when to claim becomes more important. Take all factors into consideration.

5. Prepare to go with the flow, or in other words, stay flexible

Flexibility is key in life and especially when it comes to Social Security decision-making. Postponing claiming your benefits as long as possible while you are healthy and employed is a good strategy. The longer you postpone, the greater your benefits. However, should your life circumstances change, you can change your mind and claim your benefits whenever you choose after 62 and all the way to 70. The best-laid plans are always subject to change. So don’t dig your heels in and think that you have to stick to any given plan. Course corrections are part of life. And with so many factors out of our control, making sure there are plans in place to cover our loved ones, when circumstances change, you’ll be able to go with the flow.

Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.


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The Social Security Administration has made an assumption about what retirees should want that could reduce your Social Security benefits by 4% annually. On top of that you’ll also lose out on an entire half-year of Social Security income.

How this happens is as follows. Say you come in to the Social Security office to apply for your benefits just a few months shy of your 70th birthday as you are directed to do by the SSA. You’ve decided to delay your retirement benefits until the latest possible date in order to get the most Social Security. You fill out the application. Then you go home thinking your full benefits are going to kick in when you turn 70. Much to your surprise, you receive a lump sum check for six months of what they refer to as “retroactive benefits.” You may think nothing of it or you may pick up the phone and call. If you’re a numbers person you will also notice that the amount they’ve sent is not the full amount you expected.

This is not a clerical mistake. It’s written into the directives that every agency representative must follow. Social Security's default assumption is that you want to receive retroactive benefits. This also resets your entitlement back to what it was six months prior to when you submitted your application and wipes out a half year of Delayed Retirement Credits. You also lose 4% off your monthly benefit check for the remainder of time you collect your benefits.

You didn’t ask for this retroactive act and if you don’t want to lose your full benefits, you must specifically tell Social Security not to provide retroactive benefits. You also have a one-year window to require the SSA to let you repay the retroactive amount you received, request a do-over, and claim the benefits you originally intended.

It’s pretty awful of the Social Security Administration to pull the wool over the eyes of so many unsuspecting retirees. Don’t let this happen to you. You delayed your benefits and you deserve to receive them in full.

Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.



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Even if you have millions of dollars set aside to see you through life, the toll of long-term healthcare can derail even the best financial plans. Establishing a solid plan for long-term healthcare is essential no matter your income level.

Recent polls indicate that nearly half of wealthy individuals have not done much, if any planning for the potential need for long-term care. They do however feel secure about being able to meet their medical costs now and in retirement, while the less wealthy are more concerned about how they’ll meet their medical costs.

Not planning for long-term care is like playing Russian roulette. It’s a big gamble and could put the financial assets of many at risk. No matter where you are financially, the importance of putting a long-term care plan in place is integral especially if you want to leave assets to heirs.

A variety of options are available such as universal life insurance plans that provide a way to set aside health costs, while offering a way to preserve a portion of an estate. You might also consider elder care planning assistance with third-party providers who assist with home care services and nursing home selection. A great place to begin is to meet with your financial planner to help you explore the options that best fit your financial circumstances.

Planning for long-term care before you need it is just one of those items to complete so that when the time comes all your ‘I’s’ are dotted and all your ‘t’s’ are crossed.  And there is no amount of money that offers that kind of peace.

Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.


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A vast majority of Americans don’t give much thought at all to long-term healthcare.  Across the board, the wealthy are like most other Americans when it comes to this subject. They just don’t think about it.

One reason many do not consider provisions for long-term care is because it can come with a hefty price tag. However, the cost of not considering it can be financially devastating.

We’re Living Longer.

With one of the largest segments of the population approaching retirement age and the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation already retired, the need for long-term healthcare costs is becoming more and more apparent. According to a 2010 study, “The fact is that the average American will need adequate assets for 25-30 years – or longer than previous generations. On average, one in five 65-year-old males will survive to age 90. A 65-year-old woman has a three in 10 chance. And, if they’re married, there’s an even chance that one of them will live to celebrate a 90th birthday.” (

The Need is Unpredictable

It’s true that the need for long-term healthcare is unpredictable. And there’s always the chance that if you do make provisions, you won’t use it. That’s the best-case scenario and if you have a plan in place that provides for this circumstance, whatever money that’s been set aside and is not used will go to the designated heirs.

Then again, if you do have a plan in place the question is, will it be enough? Putting a long-term healthcare plan in place before it’s needed is more than just a financial decision. You have to consider how not having it will impact your family and the resulting social dynamics.

Escalating Costs


The sooner you put a plan in place, the better simply because the costs of healthcare and long-term care continue to escalate. Wealthy or not, long-term healthcare for a loved one can cost millions. The wealthiest Americans will be able to self-insure their long-term health care needs. But think about what could happen to a couple with assets of $2 million. If one of the spouses require unplanned for long-term health care, the costs can derail the best-laid plans and leave the other spouse in dire straights if the husband or wife passes on.


Review Plans With Financial Adviser


Several options exist for long-term healthcare. However the landscape of insurance and other provisions is constantly changing. Products are continually designed, redesigned and phased out. Looking at and reviewing all of your options with a financial adviser who knows the ins and outs of the product landscape is advised. Protecting and optimizing your income while reducing the risks in retirement is the payoff.  The cost of not considering the potential need for long-term healthcare is far more costly.


Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.


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Retirement age sneaks up on us before we know it! And it’s happening to as many as 10,000 Americans every day. Prepared or not, many employees are often forced to take early retirement due to economic setbacks and other corporately conceived reasons.  While some people start planning for retirement with their very first jobs, many don’t think about planning till the eleventh hour. Some don’t plan at all. Hopefully you’re somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

No matter what, unless tragedy strikes and you become disabled or die, retirement will become a reality for everyone at some age. How you meet retirement says a lot about how you’ll spend your retirement years.  I have prepared a list of steps to address before you retire that will help you meet this stage of life with dignity and grace. Hopefully you will also arrive with a portfolio that will keep you financially and psychologically secure through the rest of your life.

 For help every step of the way, work with a financial advisor. Forest Hills Financial is experienced at helping retirees successfully glide into this phase of life. We’d love to help you.

Step One.

Decide how you are going to spend your time. Make a real plan for what you are going to do during the first six to 12 months in retirement. Think about what you plan to do for the rest of your retired life. Being active is important. Establishing a routine helps those who have gone to an office or job for their entire adult lives. Regular involvement in sports such as golf and tennis, hiking, cycling and yoga are great to participate in and will keep you feeling youthful.

Step Two.

Do your best to realistically determine how much money you will need to spend on a monthly basis. Include the fun things too like gifts, vacations, and an occasional new car. Don’t forget taxes and emergencies.

Step Three.

Health care is now in your hands. If your employer paid part or all of your health insurance, you’re pretty much on your own now. Payments for Medicare, MadiGap and private insurance will be your responsibility. Make the best estimate you can knowing that foreseeing every necessity is virtually impossible.

Step Four.

Buy long-term care insurance. Now. Need I say more?

Step Five.

Refinance your mortgage. After you retire it is often impossible to borrow money and sometimes because of age retirees are forced to pay higher rates. If you foresee needing the equity in your home, refinance before you retire.

Step Six.

Boost your cash reserves. Make sure your rainy day fund is enough to cover at least six months’ worth of expenses.

Step Seven.

Evaluate your sources of income. You have already figured out what you’ll spend on a monthly basis. Now determine where that money will come from.

Step Eight.

Revise your investment strategy. The way you’ve handled your investments over the past 30 years is not how you should handle them for the next 30. While preparing for retirement, you were focused on asset accumulation. When you’re in retirement, you need to focus on income and on keeping pace with the increasing cost of living. Assets must be flexible and liquid so you can meet needs you did not anticipate. New words will enter your vocabulary: rollovers and lump sums.

Step Nine.

Review your estate plan. Review your will and trust. Don’t have them? Get them. These documents can protect you and your assets while you are alive and benefit your spouse and children when you pass on.

Step Ten

Perhaps the most important thing of all, if you are not excited about retiring, then don’t. Many people quickly become bored after retiring. It’s OK -- even exciting -- to return to school or the workplace. Many do this, often in completely new fields


Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.


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In the U.S., 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age everyday. These statistics beg the question: If you are nearing retirement age, how ready are you, psychologically and even more importantly, financially for this life event?

Every individual will have different needs and desires for their retirement years. No matter what those are and how they differ, the more clearly you envision your future during retirement and plan before hand to be as prepared as possible, the more you’ll enjoy this phase of your life.

Some of the topics that need to be visited as you get closer to retirement include deciding how you’re going to spend your time and how much money you’ll spend each month. You want to take into consideration gifts, vacations, taxes, and emergencies among others. The cost of health care is a biggie to consider, without an employer no longer paying part or all of your medical insurance. If possible, start boosting your cash reserves before you retire.

A reputable financial advisor is a good person to have a relationship with now. If you have someone you’ve been working with, it’s a good time to sit down together and review your portfolio. If you’ve never had a financial advisor now’s a great time to establish a relationship with someone who can help you understand your options and decide what your needs will be.

At Forest Hills Financial, we’ve been helping people enter retirement gracefully with the means to live the way they most enjoy. We would be happy to help you position yourself for retirement with the greatest of ease.


Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.


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You may think that breaking up with your financial advisor is a crazy idea, but believe me it’s not as off-kilter as you think. Especially, if you’re like many people who hire a financial advisor then never revisit the decision you made until it’s time to retire. Or maybe you inherited your financial advisor due to a death or other life situation and have just left the investments in their care. Inertia is one of the most difficult forces to overcome.

 While your financial advisor may have had your best interest in mind when you first hired them, they may not actively monitor your account to keep pace with the economy and with investment vehicles that may serve you better as your life and circumstances change. If you inherited the advisor, you may find that the person you inherited them from had not looked into their investments in some time.

 In many instances financial advisors get their clients set up in particular investments and turn their attention to attracting new clients. More often than not, a majority of financial advisors are salespeople for products that generate commissions for themselves but less often generate the promised returns for their clients. It is no wonder that financial advisors have to live with a bad reputation. A good financial advisor, on the other hand, is absolutely priceless.

Interviewing financial advisors does take time. However, finding that one gem who is going to be involved in making certain your money is working for you with all the leverage possible will be worth every moment required to seek them out. And in the long run will make breaking up with your current financial advisor a liberating, not to mention enriching experience.

A little bit of research into the types of fees you are paying will give you a clue to your advisors motives. Perhaps your tolerance for risk has changed. Maybe you were willing to pay certain fees when you established your account than you are today. Maybe you simply want ongoing communication regarding your account as opposed to a monthly statement.

Investment objectives can change continuously. At least they should. Every stage of life has a new set of circumstances that should be taken into consideration. A good financial advisor will initiate a conversation when it’s time to think about them.

There is an old school of financial advisors and a new school. The old school is on its way out. The new school of financial advisors is like a breath of fresh air. The old school way was a person of authority telling investors what to do with their money. There was no questioning involved. After all, they were akin to a doctor, educated about things the average person knew nothing about.

Today’s financial advisors are inclusive as opposed to exclusive.  We welcome questions and the opportunity to educate our clients. We are certainly not anti-profit, however, we also refuse to be salespeople and instead want to be consultants to our clients. Above all, authenticity is a quality to look for in a new financial adviser as are openness and questioning uniformity. No two investors are alike. Your investments should be as unique as you are. And that means it could be time walk away from your old financial adviser.

Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.





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While breaking up with your financial advisor may not have all the legal complications of ending a marriage, it can be an agonizing decision to make. Especially if you’ve been in a long-term relationship with your financial advisor and you’ve discovered he or she has not really had your best interests at heart.

According to a recent survey by Spectrem Group, 4 to 6% of U.S. investors change financial advisors in any given year. A variety of reasons are attributed to the ending of these relationships. High on the list are major life events such as death, divorce or inheritance, as well as lack of communication and frustration with complex or hidden fees.

If you inherited your financial advisor, the good news is you can now shop around for your very own. Finding a financial advisor you trust may take more time than you’d like and there is a lot of paperwork involved, however getting the right one could save you thousands of dollars, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The questions below are provided to help guide you to a relationship with a financial advisor that could last a lifetime. Whether you are breaking up or making up, keep them with you when you are interviewing prospective advisors or considering keeping the one you have.

1.       Are you willing and able to act as fiduciary?

2.       Who is your typical client?

3.       How often will we communicate and who will initiate it?

4.       Do you see any conflicts of interest?

5.       How are fees disclosed and what are they?

6.       Discuss their FINRA and/or SEC record with me

7.       What happens to me if something happens to you?

8.       What specific licenses do you hold?

Pay attention to whether the advisor you’re interviewing is listening or selling.  Unless you’ve asked about something specific, if product is the primary topic discussed you most likely need to look elsewhere. Make sure you like the advisor and feel comfortable with him or her.  It would be difficult to discuss such an intimate topic as finances with someone you don’t genuinely feel comfortable with.  Bottom line, if you are not comfortable with your current financial advisor or with one you are interviewing, don’t be afraid to walk away and keep looking until you find the perfect match.

Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.





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Are you aware of how 401k plans came into existence? Most people are not. The fact is they came about by accident when a benefits consultant read a sentence in the government’s Revenue Act of 1978 regarding deferred compensation. This astute consultant took it upon himself to inquire whether the statement would apply to all compensation. When the answer was in the affirmative, the 401k Retirement Savings Plan was born.

In 1985, there were a mere 30,000 401k plans. By 2013 that number had soared to 638,000 plans with 89 million plan participants. The 401k Plan is without question the most popular vehicle for retirement savings.

Recently a wave of 401k related lawsuits have been filed against companies for a variety of issues, which may mean the 401k may not be the best place for your money. These suits have made their way all the way to the Supreme Court.

Mismanagement, Excessive Fees

The Supreme Court is looking into several issues. Most of the suits allege mismanagement and outrageously high fees.  The question being raised is whether the company offering the 401k Plan is responsible for monitoring the suitability of investment options and whether they are responsible for remaining proactive in monitoring the plan instead of stopping their responsibility after the funds have been in place for more than six years.

Groups such as the AARP, The Pension Rights Center and the U.S. Solicitor General agree that since the 401k plan is essential to a saver’s retirement security, the plan sponsor should be held responsible for monitoring the investment options and making sure the fees are not excessive.

Be Responsible for Your Retirement

Do you think it is the responsibility of your company or the government to plan for your retirement? Ultimately, each individual is responsible for making sure they are going to be financially ready for retirement. 401k Plans have been all the rage and they have been entered into with trust that the company has in mind the best interest of their employees. Wrong. No one is going to take care of you.

Whether you have a 401k or not, look into it with a financial advisor to make sure the plan is best for your needs and is growing as well as possible. If the plan is not being utilized to its full potential or as it should be, look into other options.

Take it upon yourself to start exploring and learn about alternative solutions that may be even better options for your retirement savings. Perhaps it is not in your best interest to have all your money in one place. Don’t wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling. Your company should also be taking action to look into their plans before the rulings come down. Companies could be held responsible for plans that are not up to snuff. In fact, your company may be moving away from mutual funds and looking at lower cost ways of investing.

Don’t wait. You will be retiring some day. Save as much as you possibly can in the most secure and well-planned way. You may notice your company plan following your lead.


Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.





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401K Plans have traditionally been used as incentives to lure and keep employees. They have become increasingly popular with large corporations as well as small, to mid-size businesses. However, the Supreme Court is looking more closely at corporate 401K plans. The end result could be more profitable for the participating employees and a potential sticking point for employers.

The reason the Supreme Court is looking into two separate cases regarding 401K plans is to determine the responsibility employers have to provide good plans. For instance, there are many different share classes, some of which are far too expensive and may not offer employees the most beneficial return on their investment. Most employers, once they’ve signed off on a company 401k plan, will rarely, if ever review that plan again. Even though the economy goes through its ups and downs, no one is monitoring the 401k to determine whether or not it is up to snuff.

There are specific rules that must be followed and the Supreme Court is looking deeper into the fiduciary responsibility of employers to make certain the employees are being served as best as possible by the company plan.

If you own a business, the prudent thing to do even before the Supreme Court reaches its decision, is to start getting an independent analysis of your company’s plan. Look into the fee structure to make sure it is fair. Look into the share classes. In most cases, your company hasn’t considered the status of your 401k Plan in 10 to 15 years.

 In addition, if the office manager is the one responsible for selecting the 401k, they could be considered the fiduciary and could be held accountable even though they do not own the business.

Start the evaluation of your company 401k Plan as soon as possible! You could avoid serious fiduciary problems as a result of the Supreme Court cases and could end up being of greater benefit to your employees.


Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.


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In 2013 I decided to start looking for ways that Forest Hills Financial could be more involved in a local organization.  One that could speak to all of my advisors, employees, and clients.  I knew that we were all individually working with and supporting, both financially and through volunteerism, multiple charities.  I much of an impact could we make if we started to change our focus and commit to collectively supporting one charity? By late 2013, we decided that for 2014 and beyond that charity would be Kids’ Food Basket. 

Kids’ Food Basket has the accessibility I envisioned for my advisors, employees, and clients. They can all be hands on. Kids' Food Basket offers numerous outlets to get involved in, from volunteering time, packing Sack Suppers, bringing a Wish List food item to a client event, or giving a monetary amount if they choose. 

The involvement with Kids' Food Basket has evolved more than I ever expected in only the first year. Forest Hills Financial participated in Feast for Kids and Go Orange Week this past March, helping to expose the community to the Kids' Food Basket mission through our various media relationships. We had a terrific response from our clients and community partners hosting our first annual charity golf outing in which we raised more money than we could have dreamed for a first time event.  Our own Alicia Schragg can be complimented for this, as her tireless effort really paid off.  We are even more excited for 2015 and our second annual golf outing and what it promises to bring in both awareness and monetary contributions to the attack on childhood hunger. 

 As we have spent more time working with Kids’ Food Basket, the passion we have at Forest Hills Financial has continually evolved. I now serve on the Fund Development Committee at Kids' Food Basket. My assistant, Alicia Schragg, serves on the Kids Helping Kids committee, which educates students and empowers them to create service projects to raise awareness and funds for Kids' Food Basket. We are already discussing new and exciting ways we can continue to contribute and help Kids' Food Basket grow and reach more hungry children.

Looking back at 2014, it has been a great year to be a part of Kids’ Food Basket. We are so excited for our continued relationship in 2015! Being involved in an organization that is community driven is truly an inspiration to all of us at Forest Hills Financial. 

When you start helping a charity, you think of all the positive you can bring to them and their mission.  I would say that what our involvement with Kids' Food Basket has brought us and our clients -- from smiling children, to the knowledge that we are truly helping a child get the nourishment they need -- is just as rewarding.

Here’s to many more years of Forest Hills Financial and Kids’ Food Basket working together to make sure no kids go hungry in our community!


Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.





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As people prepare for retirement, social security is one component of the equation that will be used to determine the amount of retirement income one will have to live on. If saving and planning has come natural, social security can be viewed as a supplement for your retirement.  If you have struggled in saving and properly planning, your dependency on Social Security retirement income will likely be greater. For many of us, retirement will be a substantial time in our life, and planning on how we are going to pay for it is increasingly difficult. With that being said, this is just one of many factors to consider when planning for retirement and more importantly to address your own situation with a professional independent advisor.   


To receive a report on your estimated social security retirement benefits, visit . Once you have created your account you can then download your estimate.


I recently reviewed Social Security benefits and I noticed something new.  On the page that lists your individual estimated benefits, there is an asterisk. Here is what is says:


*  “Your estimated benefits are based on current law. Congress has made changes to the law in the past and can do so at any time. The law governing benefit amounts may change because, by 2033, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 77 percent of scheduled benefits.”


The social security administration is saying that the retirement payments citizens have been paying into for their entire work life, is underfunded.  If you are between 10 and 15 years away from collecting a social security retirement check, you may want to consider discounting your estimated payments for the purpose of planning your durable retirement income.


In addition, it was reported that the federal government’s safety net program for private pensions is running a near $62 Billion long term deficit.  The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) has two separate insurance programs, one for multiemployer plans and a larger one for single employer pension plans.  The multiemployer plans, which has suffered the most, insures benefits for more than 10 million workers.


The agency said that the projected long term deficit in its multiemployer program rose to 42.4 billion, compared to 8.3 billion last year. The increase is largely due to the fact that several large multiemployer plans are now projected to become insolvent within the next decade.  Without a significant bailout, the multiemployer federal safety net will likely go bankrupt according to the agency’s annual report. 


So here are a few questions for you. When you are planning income for retirement, and a portion of that income is in a government insurance programs like social security, a government insured pension or it is insured by PBGC, how likely is it that you can depend on getting the full amount that you are expecting? Do you know the financial strength of your pension? Are you depending on income from a source that is underfunded?


What should you do?  Consult with an independent financial advisor that has a solid reputation for problem solving and is skilled at income distribution. This could be different than the advisor you worked with during the accumulation phase of your life.

Work on developing a plan that makes sense and fits your financial situation.  While I do not believe that all social security benefits or all of the pensions will become worthless, I do believe it is likely that they will become vulnerable to negative adjustments in the future.


If you would like to go over your options, you can call my office to set up a no charge, no obligation appointment.  


Bart Steindler

Vice President/COO

Forest Hills Financial Inc.


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Chances are if you have been investing for any amount of time you have learned that a proper asset allocation has a percentage of Bonds and a percentage of stocks.  It may also include something loosely called Alternatives.  When people hear the words “Alternative Investments”, they have a knee jerk reaction based on a dated idea of what they entail.  You may think of the commercials on Satellite radio or late night TV promoting metals or owning your own gas well and think to yourself, “No thanks”.  Recent research shows that by doing so you may be selling yourself and your portfolio short.

The 2013 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments found when they gathered info from 835 US colleges and Universities that many of these stalwarts of investment conservatism were heavily invested in Alternatives.  With an average return of 11.7% in 2013 no one would accuse them of being overly aggressive as the S&P surged well over 32% in the same time frame.  It would be interesting to note that in 2008 the same study indicated a loss of 25% on average also significantly different than the -34% return of the S&P 500.  It was followed in 2009 with a return of 24% versus the S&P of 28%.

It may surprise you to know, the one major difference besides the amount of money, between an endowment and your investments, is its use of alternatives.  The report shows Endowments on average have 51% of their investable assets in Alternatives.  This is a far cry from the 5% (maybe) you may have.  A recent report by Mainstay Capital also shows High net Worth investors are increasingly raising their exposure to Alternatives as well; to almost 22% and of those surveyed, 26% of those saw that number most likely rising in the near future.

So when we look at this data there are two things to consider. First we need to realize that no 2 investors are the same and you should never invest like someone else unless it is appropriate for you and your situation.  Doing something you read about in an article without making sure it fits your situation would be akin to purchasing the sports car your single friend has when you have 4 kids at home under the age of 5.  It could be disastrous.

Secondly we need to look at what our ultimate objectives are.  In this day of 24 hour news we have become indoctrinated on return, but lessening volatility should be just as much of a concern.  In the last 41 years the endowments studied have had back to back losing years only twice, in 2000-2001 and 2008-2009.  If you remove the fact that they operate on a fiscal calendar and thus are June-June and look at them from Jan-Dec then it is only once. ONCE.

If you listen to my syndicated radio show, “The Keeping Your Money Show” you know I believe volatility can ruin your portfolio.  Its effects can be devastating especially if you retire at the wrong time or need to make withdrawals during a significant downturn.  Could lessening the volatility of your portfolio be worth giving up some return?  That may remain to be seen but in many instances for many people, maybe even you; it may make a lot of sense.  

So should you move half of your money in to Alternatives?  Most likely that would not be a good option for you.  In many instances your state regulatory agencies may not even let you.  What you should do is continue being opened minded to the conversation.  While you may not have 300 years like an endowment at a university you probably have a lot more years left than you are planning for.  Alternatives just may be the key to making sure you have some money left when you get there.

"Investing in alternative investments may not be suitable for all investors and involve special risks such as risk associated with leveraging the investment, potential adverse market forces, regulatory changes, potentially illiquidity. There is no assurance that the investment objective will be attained. Please see your financial professional prior to investing." 


Jaime Westenbarger


Forest Hills Financial Inc.


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