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Guide to Financial Planning

Budgeting - Steps to manage income and expenses include the following:

  • Identify monthly outflows as living expenses, savings, and discretionary. Eliminate unnecessary expenses from the discretionary category. If further cuts need to be made, reduce living expenses by obtaining a less expensive auto or home. Reduce savings as a last resort. Track income and expenses monthly and review every six months.
  • Establish an emergency fund equal to six months of income saved.
  • Save on private mortgage insurance by putting at least 20% down on a home mortgage.

Education Funding - Several tax advantages are available to help save for education expenses

  • Savings bond interest may be tax free if used for qualified education expenses.
  • Coverdell education savings accounts provide tax-deferred growth and tax-free distributions for qualified education expenses.
  • Qualified Tuition Programs provide tax-free distributions for qualified tuition expenses.
  • A gift of low-basis stock allows the individual's child to sell the stock and use the proceeds to fund education expenses. This is beneficial when the individual is in a higher tax bracket and the student's in a lower tax bracket
  • Roth IRA's can be used as a savings vehicle for education purposes. Contributions are removed from a Roth IRA without tax or penalty. Parents and grandparents fund the Roth IRA with the intention of removing the contribution and gifting that amount to the student. If the student does not go to college, or has the costs covered by other means, the contributions can stay in the Roth IRA with our concern for tax penalty.
  • Cash-value life insurance can also be used as a funding mechanism for college expenses.

Insurance - The purpose of insurance is to transfer the risk of loss to a third party to prevent catastrophic financial loss should that risk become a reality. For this reason, people choose to insure the larger risks and take on the smaller potential losses at their own risk.

  • Liability insurance protects from financial loss due to specific incidents that create a liability. Automobile and homeowner insurance are examples of insurance that provide liability protection.
  • Health insurance provides financial protection from medical costs associated with illness and/or injury.
  • Disability insurance provides for income replacement in the event a person is confined to a long-term nursing home or needs in-home care for an extended period of time.
  • Life insurance provides for an immediate lump-sum amount of money in the event of the insured's death. The purpose of life insurance is to provide income replacement in the event the income earner dies.

Investment Planning - Stocks, bonds, money markets, mutual funds, commodities, real estate, and options are the most common types of investments. Most financial professionals will recommend diversifying an investment portfolio across the different spectrum of investments. Investors need to be aware of the risks involved with any investment.

  • Market risk - This is the risk that the value of the investment will be below the purchase price when or if it needs to be sold.
  • Inflation risk - If the increase in value of an investment is less than the increase in the inflation rate, the future purchasing power will be less.
  • Liquidity risk - Not all investments can be sold at a moment's notice. Some investments do not have a marketplace where they can be sold.
  • Interest rate risk - If an individual buys an interest-bearing investment and interest rates go up, the current investment value can decrease.
  • Tax risk - Buying and selling repeatedly for a profit will lead to taxable gains. The tax paid presents a risk to the investment value
  • Political risk - Specifically, when investing globally, political changes within a country can decrease investment values.
  • Currency risk - Fluctuations in world currencies will cause investment values to rise or fall, independent from the true value of the investment.

Early Retirement - Early retirees (before age 59 1/2) are allowed to take distributions from retirement plans and avoid the 10% additional tax. In order to do so, they must follow certain rules

  • Distributions must be taken at least annually in substantially equal amounts.
  • Distribution amounts are determined by life expectancy of the recipient.
  • Distributions must be taken for a minimum of five years beginning with the year of the first distribution. If, at the end of the five years, the recipient has not yet attained the age of 59 1/2 he or she must continue the distributions until attaining age 59 1/2.

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