Regardless of if a market is a bear or a bull, getting your financial life in order is always a must. Recent reports state that 28 percent of Americans are living with no emergency savings, let alone any type of future investment plan. And while the Metro-D.C. area may not exactly fit the average of the above number, it never hurts to do a double check on any of your saving endeavors.
By Hunter Woodall
We tapped some of our Top Financial Professionals for tips and advice on how to get Northern Virginians’ financial status in order.
How to Plan for the Unknown:
Financial tips for divorce from Sandi Atkins
Sandi Atkins is the president of Focus Wealth Management. She started the practice when she was 27 years old and has been serving the Northern Virginia area ever since.
“It’s very difficult,” Atkins says. “There’s not an easy answer ever.”
1. Understand what you have.
A lot of people have investments tied up in RIA accounts and retirement accounts, 401(k)s and employer plans. It’s really important to understand the rules of those.
2. Have a competent attorney.
In order for a spouse to receive their share of the benefits they need to have a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. It’s really important that the document’s done correctly so that each spouse can protect their benefits.
3. Look at the big picture.
Make sure to figure out how much income is being generated by the family, and then figure out what the expenses are. Then make sure to allocate the income so both spouses have income to live.
College Saving Tips
from Shawn McLaughlin
Shawn McLaughlin has over 29 years of financial experience and is an Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF). Among other achievements, he is the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Virginia College Savings Plan (VCSP).
“Once you get a social security number on that child, open an account,” he says. “Eighteen years is going to fly by.”
1. Open a 529 plan.
It gives parents the opportunity to put money into an account for a child, and while the money is in there and grows, there are no taxes due on the money. Unlike an IRA, when the child reaches the college age—when they pull the money out to pay for room, books and board—the money is tax free when it comes out.
2. Start saving early.
Whether its $50 a month or a higher amount, McLaughlin recommends saving early and often to be able to afford the rising cost of higher education. Put a little bit of money in it each month; treat it like a gym membership.
3. Take advantage of local schools.
Virginia has a higher public education that is regarded as one of the best in the country. McLaughlin points out that staying in Virginia to go to college is an affordable option for families.
Tips for Risk Management
Orr is the founder of the Orr Financial Planning firm. Since retiring in 1999 from the Senior Foreign Service, Orr worked at various financial planning firms before starting his own firm in 2003.
“You have to cross the ability threshold first,” Orr says. “The ability always trumps the willingness.”
1. Ability to bear risk
The more money you have, the more ability you have to bear risk. The younger you are, the more ability you have to bear risk than someone who’s older. Someone who is young has time to recoup; they have time on their side where as someone else does not have as much as time. Markets go up and down, but over long periods of time, they always go up and pay handsomely.
2. Willingness to bear risk
Some of us are less likely to take risk than others of us. Some people don’t like the volatility of the stock market. For other people, risk is part of life, and they’re willing to accept it.
3. Designing a portfolio for a young person
When we design a portfolio, what we’re looking to is those two things: someone who’s young, and has a lot of ability because of the earnings in front of them. Their wealth is in their human capital, their ability to earn money. Young people can be very, very aggressive because of their ability to bear risk.
4. Designing a portfolio for an older person
Someone who has less ability on the time scale maybe has to have a much more conservative portfolio. We look at ability first, and there’s no hard or fast rule on that, because ability defines whether you even think you have the willingness or not.
Top Investment Tips
Steve Cassaday is the president and CEO of Cassaday & Company. He has been advising investors since 1977 and has appeared on “CBS Evening News” and “Fox On Money.”
1. Consolidate all of your finances with one institution.
By consolidating, you will receive one statement with everything on it. This makes it easier to track your finances and makes sure there are no issues. Nothing bad happens when you consolidate.
2. Save, save, save.
Save systematically and regularly to build wealth over time. The best way to save is to participate in your company’s retirement plan. Leave your money alone and let it percolate.
There are four asset classes available: stocks, bonds, hard assets and cash. An investor’s portfolio should have a combination of all four of these in order to succeed.
4. Do not attempt to time the market.
Timing the market is a waste of time. More money has been lost trying to avoid a bear market than was actually lost in a bear market.
5. Establish principles and adhere to them.
“It takes tremendous mental discipline,” Cassaday says. “That’s why most investors don’t do well.”
5. Make a budget and stick to it.
There are plenty of budget templates online. It is an especially helpful exercise for recent college graduates so that they truly understand how much money they need to earn to afford their lifestyle.
6. The secret to success is not talent or timing, but temperament.
Your temperament can be defined as your ability to stay invested during tough times. Emotional decisions are recipes for disaster.
7. Investing is for the long term.
If you are unemployed, it is better not to invest until you are working again.
8. Assume you are going to live to be 100.
When you are planning your retirement, assume that you and your partner are going to live to be 100 years old.
9. Understand volatility.
Volatility and risk are the same thing. Investments that are volatile change rapidly, and volatility is the rapidity of change. Stocks and hard assets are more volatile than bonds and cash. An investor’s age should not factor in to how much volatility a portfolio should have.
10. Avoid debt.
Other than your home and your car, you should have no other debt. If you can’t afford something, don’t buy it.
from Brandon Corso
Brandon Corso works as the director of Financial Planning with Edelman Financial Services, LLC. He helps co-host a finance radio show, as well as advises clients on retirement planning and college planning, among other areas of expertise.
“Time grows money more than anything else,” Corso says.
1. Invest in stocks.
While there are other options available, Corso says stocks are the best way to go. They give the best rate of return compared to the other investment classes, and they’ve given the best return by a large margin.
2. Start saving early.
The earlier you start, the more you’re going to end up with in retirement. The amount you save is more important than the return you’re going to generate.
3. Save as much as you can.
Corso recommends using the retirement plan available through your current company in order to maximize your retirement options. He says to save to the maximum.