Knowing where your information is coming from is crucial to your consumption of knowledge. Deciphering among the credible and non-credible can be a challenging feat, but there are some basic questions you can ask yourself before forming a conclusion or deciding an outcome based off the data obtained from the media. It’s obvious that the way we collect information has changed dramatically, and the amount of material available to us is insurmountable and only continuing to grow. Consequently; as a direct reflection of the growth of good information, the growth of false or misleading content has developed itself as well. Leading us to ask the question, how do you navigate the bad to ensure you are consuming only desired, factual information? Here’s where I can help.

Some questions to ask yourself:

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Well it is finally over. No more political advertisements interrupting my enjoyment of the World Series. My Facebook feed has finally started to get back to cat pictures, fake news, and 12 people I need to wish a Happy Birthday. The question on everyone’s mind now is, “what does this mean?”. The reality is for some time we may not know exactly and uncertainty is not fun for anyone. A few things are certain and those are what we need to concentrate on right now, especially when it comes to our retirement planning.

  • Have you planned for the possibility of a market sell off?
  • Many thought this would happen immediately if Trump won the Presidency but as we have seen the opposite was the immediate reaction as the most indexes roared for 7 straight days higher. That’s not to say the danger is over or likewise that a collapse is pending just around the corner. One thing we do know for sure is that we are at all-time highs in most indexes and that alone should have you making sure you have prepared your portfolio. The number of people we see for initial consultations that tell us they are moderate or even conservative in their risk tolerance only to be shown the way they are investing is sometimes quite a bit more aggressive, is still surprising to me. Many of you are investing still like it is 1999 or maybe more appropriately like it’s 2007. Make sure you know your risk tolerance and your portfolio reflects it properly.

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If you're anything like me then you dread going to the doctor, you dread going to the dentist, you dread shots, medical checkups, exams and tests that you can't pronounce the name of.  Just like most people when I hear the phrase "checkup", my "I don't want to do that" sensors immediately start to go off.  The term checkup is innocent enough but it can be associated with varying levels of pain, discomfort and scariest of all: the unknown!  Of course for me anyways these feelings and associations all happen in the blink of an eye, subconsciously. As a parent of two it certainly is my job to help my children understand the benefits of getting a checkup and to help them overcome the fear, the uncomfortableness and the potential pain of the dreaded exam.  So, in that parental spirit and without further ado, here are my six reasons why doing a mortgage checkup is less painful than a medical checkup and something every homeowner should have on their annual to do list:

  1. Convenience…scheduling a Doctor appointment can sometimes be quite the production arranging schedules, taking off work and having to drive across town can be a headache. When you get your mortgage checkup you can do it from the convenience of your own home, be in your favorite bathrobe or slippers watching your favorite reruns of SNL or Seinfeld, with your cat or dog snuggled on your lap. Some people prefer a face-to-face meeting, but generally most of our clients would rather start with a conversation over the phone that usually takes no longer than a half hour.
  2. Minimal preparation…let's be honest, you will be hard-pressed to find one loan officer anywhere in the country that will require you to "fast" prior to getting your mortgage checkup.  You may want to have a paystub handy, a recent mortgage statement and maybe your tax returns if your income is more complex; however, for the initial conversation most of the information is available right off the top of your head. So go ahead indulge in that pumpkin spice latte and grab that breakfast sandwich; getting a mortgage checkup will not require you to "fast" for 12 hours in advance of your appointment!
  3. Painless...A mortgage checkup is virtually painless!  You won't have to bend over and cough, be stuck with needles or subjected to any other types of physical invasions of your personal space!
  4. The Results can enrichen you...At the end of a mortgage checkup you may find out that you can eliminate your PMI, drop your interest rate, reduce your loan term and retire sooner, reduce your monthly payment, qualify for the purchase of an investment property or that you are in great shape already! Unlike being told you have high cholesterol and need to lose weight, a cavity that needs to be filled, a mole that needs checking into or additional test that need to be done, the results from a mortgage checkup will only help you save money, improve your credit scores and confirm that you're on the right track financially!
  5. 5....Knowing that you're in good shape on your mortgage, nothing is reporting erroneously on your credit and that you're in the lowest interest rate possible is most important. But, also that you're tracking to have your loan paid off on target and that your mortgage is working for you will help you sleep better at night, giving you the peace of mind we are all looking for!
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I recently returned from a trip to North Carolina. The reason for the trip was simple. We wanted to spend a few days with some friends who do not live near us, and we wanted to enjoy the beautiful countryside without the interruption of all of the news and noise that populates our life.

Our main physical activity was our daily hikes in the mountains. On day 2 we woke to a soaked earth and wet leaves. During the night, the wind and the rain combined to create a slick surface. In addition the trail we were taking featured exposed roots, rocks, and a steep drop off to one side, causing us to make adjustments to how we hike this trail.

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If you die without an estate plan, your loved ones may have to go through the probate court process, wasting time and money. In probate, you run the risk that the court’s decisions may not be consistent with your goals; rather, intestate succession (the process automatically applied when there is no trust or will) determines how your assets are distributed. Estate planning does not have to be expensive; however, even the most basic plans will offer you the following benefits:

  1. Designate Beneficiaries. Who would you like to leave your assets to? A will outlines these intentions; however, improperly titled assets can quickly undo the intentions of your will. Titling assets and designating beneficiaries with the advice of an attorney can avoid unintended consequences.
  2. Appoint a Guardian for Your Minor Children. The decision of whom you choose as a guardian for your children is perhaps the single best reason for creating a will. Choosing a guardian can eliminate interfamily disputes and any questions about your intention; you are able to appoint who you want to take care of your minor children in the event of your death.
  3. (In some cases) Create a Trust for Your Children. Parents should consider leaving assets in trust for the benefit of their children. Assets can be distributed immediately upon your children reaching a certain age, or, many families choose to make disbursements at various ages to prevent wasteful spending. Parents are able to name a trustee to manage the trust assets and make distributions for the benefit of the children over time.
  4. Designate Who Will Handle Your Financial and Health Care Decisions. Your estate plan will include financial and health care power of attorney designations. These appointments grant legal authority to whomever you want to make financial and medical decisions for you in the event of death or incapacity.

As the proverb states, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Read more at http://www.keilenlaw.com/articles/

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We often hear from our friends and family, various tips on money and saving for retirement, but are they the ones that should really be giving us the advice?

The generations that pre-ceded the millennials typically have a different way of thinking when it comes to money. Does this mean that we shouldn’t take their advice and follow in their footsteps? Not exactly, but take the advice with a grain of salt. The financial world is ever changing and the one that previous generations grew up in is vastly different than the world we live in today. Here are a few of the topics that advice is commonly given on:

1. We hear “Don’t get a credit card.” – You should actually get a credit card to build up your credit. Just because your parents or grandparents paid for everything in cash, doesn’t mean that you can’t use this tool to help grow your credit score. A prompt and consistent record of credit card payments can have a significant impact on curving this score. There are also some significant rewards associated with certain credit card providers that can provide for numerous rewards such as cash back, airline vouchers, and hotel stays.

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The first few days after getting engaged are a complete whirlwind.  Your days are filled with phone calls, texts, an incredible amount of love expressed from friends and family, and a billion questions that you probably don’t have the answer to.  Once it settles down, reality sets in, and planning begins.  The average cost of a wedding in the United States is over $32,000.  Like Wut?  Now for some brides, that’s totally reasonable, and if you have the money HEY, why not?  “It’s the most important day of your life!”  However, for my fiancé’ and I, $30,000 could go towards so many other things.  It’s $30,000 you could have for retirement, multiple vacations and so much more.  We just aren’t willing to drop that much money for one, single, day.  Nor are we willing to ask our parents (and neither should you), who are all in retirement to sacrifice their income and future, for our big day.

With a budget well below the national average, my fiancé and I sat down and really thought about what we had to have and what was most important to us, and what we could do without.

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By the time you are in your 30’s you should be on the road to building a solid financial future. Whether you think you don’t have the means to save or continue putting it off and will “save later” keep this in mind; more than one-third of American’s don’t have anything saved for retirement. (US Department of Labor) Many of you that are younger may find investing interesting, but not sure where to begin. Below are six great ideas of what you should be doing to prepare for retirement as young as 30. 
 
1. Paychecks Save at least 15% of your income on an annual basis. You can even automate it, so saving is systematic. 
 
2. Guard against lifestyle inflation. As your career grows, your salary is likely to grow. Yet, just because you have more money in the bank, doesn’t mean you should spend it all. Each time you get a salary bump, increase the amount you save.
 
3. Start envisioning your retirement. Your retirement may be years away, but having an idea of the kind of life you want during retirement is extremely important. Do you want to travel the world or spend time with family? Really think about the things you may want to do and the lifestyle you want. Keep in mind that you are saving now for the life you want later. 
 
4. Pay attention to taxes. Taxes are not only a significant amount of your income, but they are a sure thing. Take a solid look at your accounts and options, and do the math. Paying taxes today rather than in the future may be more beneficial.
 
5. Rebalance your investments every 6 months. Invest in a well-diversified portfolio allocation based on your time horizon and risk tolerance. Every six months do a rebalance and make sure you are back in line with your intended allocation. Six months is a good check in to make sure you are sticking to your plan to reach your retirement goals.
 
6. Learn to negotiate. Research what similar companies and positions are paying as well as what added skills people in a similar position may have. Take the time to continuously invest and hone in on your skills. Negotiate and strategize with your employer to build the income you desire. Whether you have a salary of 30 or 300 thousand, the numbers will run the same. It is pivotal to not only start saving for retirement as early as you can, but to also understand how much you really need. Call today to meet with an Independent Financial Advisor for your complimentary review.

The student debt crisis is completely out of hand.  It has become one of America’s biggest financial mistakes not only topping $1.3 trillion, but growing more than $2,000 every second.  This is leaving millions with crippling debt that will follow them for decades to come.  How did we get here? 

We all have financial goals, and one of the most common goals for parents is paying for their son or daughter’s college education.  Although admirable, when someone wants to help foot the bill you can’t, and shouldn’t if you are putting aside your own retirement plans. CollegeCalc, says the average public university in Michigan will cost between $8,000-$12,000 dollars per year which is just for tuition. That doesn’t include the high interest rates backed by the government or any of the extra costs that come with higher education.

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Both, Clients and Financial Advisors, need to be on the same page in order to work together effectively. The start of the New Year is a good time to discover whether your resolutions are compatible.

So, whether you are looking for a financial advisor for the first time, reassessing the one you’re working with or looking to work with someone new, be sure to ask to speak with current and past clients of the advisor you are considering working with.  Get as much information about the successes, experience, education and ongoing training of the advisor that you can. If you are reassessing, be honest and tell your current advisor why you are reconsidering the relationship if appropriate. It’s your life and your money, so be committed to understanding everything your advisor suggests before diving in to a specific course of action. If you don’t understand something, keep asking questions until you do understand.

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The beginning of a New Year is the best time to establish your investment strategy for the year. If you work with a financial advisor, it’s important that you are both on the same page, so this is a great time to see if your resolutions are aligned.

If you are the client of a Financial Planner or are looking to hire one, the first and most important step is to set a resolution to Get a Plan. That means establishing your financial objectives, deciding where you want to end up and how much you can comfortably contribute to your plan on a regular basis along the way.

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For the first time in its history, changes being made to Social Security law will actually eliminate benefits currently being received by spouses, divorced spouses or children on the work record of a spouse, ex-spouse or parent who has taken advantage of the long used File and Suspend strategy. Those Social Security benefits will only continue when the worker restarts his/her retirement benefit.

This one change alone will cost millions of households tens of thousands of dollars by forcing those who have suspended their benefits in order to collect higher benefits at age 70 to restart their benefits at permanently lower levels. Most will have to do this in order to maintain their family’s living standards.

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Some married and divorced couples may face retirement feeling a little less secure in light of some pending changes to Social Security. Congress is fiddling with eliminating two strategies that have been employed for decades that will have a significant effect on couples at or nearing retirement age.

File and Suspend

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December 15th is right around the corner. Time to make your healthcare coverage selection is running out fast. If you haven’t selected your health coverage yet, don’t put it off a moment longer. Review the checklist of items below that I’ve adapted from a list on Forbes.com. I’ve included the most important points for your consideration in order to help break down the process for you and make your decision making process faster and easier. Print it out, take it to the office and go over each point carefully and completely.

1.Evaluate Your Medical Coverage Offerings

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The government deadline for picking health care coverage falls right smack in the middle of the holiday season; December 15th. If your company offers benefits, the election deadline could be even sooner. With the distraction of the holidays it is easy to miss deadlines or miss opportunities by not spending the necessary time to consider the best options.

Rushing through the election process could end up costing you more money and could have an impact on your health. The results of a 2014 Aflac study reveal that a whopping 46% of people spend just a half hour or less reviewing their health-plan offerings. 

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It’s probably the last thing you want to be doing as we head into the last quarter of the year. However, if you spend some time now reviewing the year and how you might take advantage of some opportunities that are available now, you could be very happy come the time to file your taxes during the first quarter of the 2016. USA Today provided a great overview of items to consider at the end of 2014. Many of those same opportunities are still viable as we move into the end of 2015. The article provides year-end tax strategies to use before December 31st.

(http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/12/16/taxes-w-2-strategies-tips/19903397/)

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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.
 

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." (http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/10/time-to-rebalance-your-retirement-portfolio.html)
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.

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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.

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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?

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