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Take Control of Your Finances With a Financial Plan

Imagine the structure of your house: there’s a foundation, a frame, a roof and the siding. What would happen to your home if one of those major pieces was missing? Now imagine your financial situation as also being comprised of equally important parts. These parts can be more generally broken down into your assets and liabilities, your protection from risk, your investments, and your tax situation.

Together, these parts reinforce your financial foundation so that you can be more prepared to protect and preserve your wealth in tough economies and volatile market conditions. But, without one of these important parts, your financial foundation is less stable and could be exposed to challenges that may arise in the future. These vulnerabilities in your financial situation can wreak havoc on your long-term objectives, your family, and your lifestyle.

By taking into account your current financial situation including your assets and liabilities, your protection needs, your investments, and your tax situation, while exploring options on solidifying your financial core, you can protect yourself from setbacks along the way and pursue your future goals more confidently.

Let’s start with the basics – assets and liabilities

Your income is central to pursuing all your goals. Basic financial principles dictate that what you bring in must exceed what you send out. All the excess income should be applied toward your investment goals and simultaneously to build and emergency cash reserve, and pay down debt such as your mortgage and credit cards.

Build your cash reserve

You must have cash available when you need it for emergency situations. So when something unexpected happens such as a job loss, you can pay your day-to-day expenses without tapping into your assets that are set aside for your long-term financial goals. That’s why it is critical to have a systematic savings strategy to build an emergency cash fund of at least 6 months. This way you will be able to cover short- and long-term emergencies.

Your short-term reserve will cover frequent minor emergencies such as a leaky roof or car repairs. Your long-term cash reserve is for more significant changes such as a job loss or a disability. A short-term cash reserve typically consists of short-term liquid investments such as savings accounts, money market accounts, whereas a long-term reserve investments offer lower liquidity but higher rates of return such as certificates, Treasury notes, and CDs.

An added layer of protection may include establishing a home equity line of credit as part of your emergency fund. Keep in mind, it’s much easier to qualify for a home equity line when you are employed.

Without a sufficient cash reserve as a safety precaution, difficult financial times can lead to worse times especially if those times include you withdrawing cash from your long-term investments to get by, which can worsen not only your current tax situation but also your future standard of living.

Pay down debt and borrow smart

In a society where credit is provided left and right to people, it’s common to have debt. If you have debt, you have to be smart about it. Managing debt is difficult especially when you are not meeting your day to day expenses. One way to manage your debt wisely is to pay down your high interest debt first and work your way down to lower interest balances.

Say you have a credit card balance with an interest rate of 17.99% and a car loan of 4.99%. It makes sense to put down more dollars for your credit card first because overtime you are paying more per dollar borrowed than you are for the car loan.

Now, say you have an opportunity to consolidate both of these debts in a home equity line of credit that offers a fixed rate of 4.99%. This may be a considerably better option because you can save on interest and negotiate a lower monthly payment, and perhaps reap tax advantages. And the extra money that is saved as a result of the consolidation, use it to pay down the new balance faster.

Also, another opportunity is to refinance your mortgage. Mortgage rates continue to be quite low hovering around 5%. Lowering your mortgage rate could reduce your payment and therefore free up some extra cash for you that you can contribute toward your other investing goals. Talk to your financial advisor about the best options to take in order to reduce your debt and increase dollars saved so that you can produce your longer-term objectives.

Make sure you are protected

Everyone needs insurance. No one likes to think of how an unexpected illness or disaster can wreak havoc on your financial situation. But an unexpected event can wipe out years of careful saving in a very short period of time. The fact is that most people have substantial gaps in their coverage, or don’t have protection at all.

Consider life insurance to protect your family from your eventual passing. This is why it’s important to have life insurance. If your loved ones depend on you for financial support, and that financial support is gone, they may not be able to survive financially. So first make sure you take advantage of life insurance options provided my your employer. Also, consider an individual policy, which is portable and will provide coverage no matter what job change you make or even if you are no longer employed.

Consider disability income insurance to protect your income. Imaging if you experience a sudden illness or injury that renders you unable to work. How would you meet your day-to-day expenses? Though it seems unlikely that you will experience a sudden disability, the fact is that more than 30% of Americans will become disabled at some point in their life. Take advantage of any disability coverage provided by your employer, which typically replaces 40%-60% of your base salary and an individual policy to close the gap. Plus, an individual disability income policy is portable so you can take it with you regardless of where you work.

Consider long-term care insurance to take care of your family and your assets. More than 70% of people over the age of 65 will need long-term care. So odds are you will need long-term care at some point in your life. Unfortunately, long-term care is expensive, whether it’s at a home, assisted-living facility, or in a nursing home. With a long-term care policy you can protect your lifetime of savings from being wiped out quickly because you have to pay for your long-term care services. So your family doesn’t have to suffer from financial burden.

Informed and active investing

Investing is key to any long-term success. The markets can go up and down, which can be frustrating. Staying on track and keeping your long-term goals in mind involves discipline, regular investing, diversification, and a knowledgeable strategist to guide you on structuring your portfolio.

Stay disciplined

Having a well-thought out investment strategy is critical, but equally important is monitoring that strategy and sticking to it for the long run. Markets that are in flux and causing mayhem may keep you away from sticking to the plan and compromise your long-term plan. Your Financial Advisor can help you maintain an objective focus on your portfolio.

Make investing a habit

Volatile markets tend to make investors nervous about the decisions they originally made in their portfolios causing to mess around with purchasing and selling at wrong times and thereby incur losses. These periods when your emotions overpower your investment composure make it really easy for you to get bumped off track. Keep in mind, your Financial Advisor devises strategies to take advantage of both long-term as well as short-term macroeconomic trends.

Dollar-cost averaging. This investment strategy involves allocating a set dollar amount toward the purchase of shares on a regular schedule such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, regardless of the market’s performance. This ensures that more shares are purchased when prices are low and fewer when prices are high. Over time, this may lower you average cost per share.

Managed accounts.Through this strategy, a knowledgeable and professional money manager oversees your portfolio, monitoring your investments and performance to make sure they are aligned with your investment objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance. He also designs strategies to take advantage of various opportunities that may come about from market volatility in the long- and short-term. Having a professional money manager may take the emotion from your investment decisions.

Annuities. When you purchase an annuity, you can systematically invest into it by making regular scheduled contributions. Each contribution is allocated to the subaccounts you have selected. Through an annuity you can get a guaranteed income stream for life. Annuities can take a lot of the worries such as unexpected market events, market performance, inflation issues, and future life events away from investing. An annuity can take these risks out of the equation by providing retirement income that may include guarantees based on the claims-paying ability of the company that issues the annuity.

The practice of timing the market to buy and sell individual securities based on the market’s ups and downs is difficult, but positioning your investments based on economic trends whether those trends are expected to unfold in the near term or long term may uncover opportunities. The strategy of putting your money to work in the market for the long term while managing it for the short term also is tried and true. Staying invested for the long-term will ensure that you won’t miss out the market’s good performing days as long as you carefully hedge against downside risk in the short-term.

To make sure you continue to invest on an ongoing basis, take advantage of systematic investing opportunities. Also consider the strategies below to complement your long-term investment plan:

Make sure to mix it up

Diversifying across multiple asset classes is the key ingredient to hedging against risk. A well-rounded portfolio containing a mix of investments such as different types of funds, securities, alternative assets, real estate and so on can help you reduce the risk that your portfolio will fluctuate widely in value. More importantly, when you diversify, you set yourself up for potential opportunities of many different types of securities rather than only a handful.

Diversification works together with asset allocation, or in other words how you strategically divide your investment dollars across the many asset classes such as stocks, bond, cash, or alternative assets. Within each asset class, you should have several investments that are aligned with your investment objectives and long-term goals. For instance, your equity portfolio might include individual stocks, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds across different sectors and market capitalizations including domestic and international markets.

An investment plan for different stages of your life

There is no such thing as an investment plan for life that is static. Where you are in life affects how you can handle financial loss. Clearly, a major setback in your retirement funds is very different for someone who is 60 vs someone who is 24. So it only makes sense as your priorities, risk tolerance, and time horizons changes that your investment plant should change too. Your Financial Advisor can help you plan according to where you are in your life and what’s important to you at that point. By aligning your investment mix with your circumstances, your risk tolerance can be in the right comfort zone if you hit a rough patch.

Smart tax strategies

You should also consider positioning yourself for tax diversification in your investment portfolio to minimize your overall tax exposure. This especially important as the tax environment changes and rates increase for higher taxpayers.

Your portfolio can be structured to include a combination of investments such as taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-free to help you achieve the right balance of risk and opportunity.

Why Do I Need Emergency Funds and How Do I Use Them?

Harold Wilson, former British Prime Minister joked, “I am an optimist, but I’m an optimist who carries a raincoat.”

You probably already have some cash stored away for the inevitable rainy day. Indeed, you should have savings for those one-time, non-recurring expenses that come up-a water heater replacement, a roof repair, the auto insurance deductible-but this savings should actually be separate from your emergency funds.

It is critical, especially when preparing for retirement, to have an additional pot of funds for the financial storms that could potentially wreak havoc on your lifestyle.

Your emergency fund is a key component to the strong foundation of your financial plan. Having this money prevents you from otherwise racking up credit card debt, tapping into your retirement accounts, or selling off assets to pay your bills.

You should have twelve months of living expenses set aside in a safe, liquid savings account. Remember, the purpose of this money is not to earn money but to be there for you in a true emergency. Don’t take risk or give away liquidity for a little bit of profit. A savings account is your best bet, just remember to stay under the FDIC insurance limits at each bank.

It is important to calculate how much you will need in your emergency fund using your actual monthly expenses, not your monthly income. Different people earning the exact same salary may have vastly different monthly obligations.

For example, if you have no debt, no dependents, and live pretty frugally, you can probably allocate less toward this “bucket” and invest more of your money. On the other hand, if you have three children to support, along with a sizeable mortgage and credit card bills to cover, your emergency fund would be a bit more padded.

You can use the free, online financial planning tool, My Financial Plan, available from Snider Advisors, to help you determine the right number.

An emergency fund should only be used in the event of paycheck disruption or variances in portfolio income. When you are employed, this means that you should not draw your emergency funds unless you have suffered a job loss, an illness or disability that prevents you from working, the death of a spouse, leave of absence to care for an aging or sick family member, or any other circumstance that gravely affects your income.

Once you retire and begin living off your investments, the natural fluctuations in the economy and financial markets will create variations in your retirement income. Your emergency fund will make those fluctuations manageable. Cash is your most effective tool for smoothing out the effect of market volatility on your retirement income.

Let’s say you need $4,000 a month from your portfolio to cover your living expenses in retirement. You have a $1 million portfolio that produces an average annual return of 7% over a long time horizon. That works out to $5,833 per month, before compounding.

In normal times, you would withdraw $4,000 a month from your portfolio, leaving the remaining $1,833 per month in earnings in the portfolio. The reinvested dollars create the growth you need to keep up with inflation.

Now imagine that the economy and the stock market take a tumble. Your investment returns, for some period of time, drop to $2,000 per month. What do you do? You do not sell off the assets at a loss. This is called eating your principal and it results in a very bad situation for retirees called reverse compounding.

Instead, you pull the $2,000 in earnings from your investment portfolio. You make up the difference, between the $4,000 per month you need and the $2,000 a month the portfolio is currently producing, using your emergency funds. That is what you have set them aside for. Being savvy and thoughtful about your money, you know that this sort of variance will, at times, occur.

After some period of time, the market begins to improve somewhat and your portfolio returns increase to $3,000 per month. Now you are supplementing your portfolio returns with only $1,000 per month from your emergency funds.

Eventually, because we do assume stock markets are mean reverting – meaning that they cannot exist indefinitely in a state of extreme- your portfolio returns come back in line with the expected rate of return for the portfolio. At that time, you are no longer supplementing your portfolio returns with your emergency funds.

The nature of mean reversion is that the pendulum swings both ways. So, just as we had a period of underperformance, we expect there will also be periods when the portfolio over-performs.

What do you do during these periods of boom? Do you spend the extra money on new cars and fancy vacations? No. You use those periods of time to replace what you took from your emergency funds so that when the next economic downturn occurs, you have sufficient reserves to smooth your portfolio income.

This system of managing portfolio variability in retirement is very easy and very effective. Likewise, you can more easily weather a temporary disruption in your salary during your working years with emergency funds as a buffer.

Planning, in almost any endeavor, is the key to success. It’s great that you have your raincoat and umbrella for the rainy day, but in the event of a flood, your emergency savings will be your ark.

This is not financial, legal or tax advice. Our goal is your financial success, but all investments involve risk including the possible loss of principal and results will vary. If you are interested in the Snider Investment Method, please read the Owner’s Manual for a complete discussion of risks and benefits. More information can be found on our website or by calling 1-888-6SNIDER. Past performance is not indicative of future results.