Family-focused advisors offer personal touch

Editor’s note: President and co-founder of Paraklete ® Financial, Inc., Susan Tillery CPA, PFS, CFP, was recently interviewed by Reuters concerning the rising demand for financial services.

(Reuters) – Baltimore financial adviser Lyle Benson describes his work as that of “Personal CFO” or chief financial officer.

His boutique financial planning firm manages money, but it also does everything from bill paying to estate planning, even assisting clients’ adult children negotiate terms for their first automobile purchase or mortgage.

“We coordinate and work with all of our clients’ advisers” including attorneys, accountants and insurance agents, says Benson. “We make sure everyone is on the same page and working together.”

The services necessary to quarterback a client’s complete financial life, often referred to as family office services, are not just for the ultra-rich. Benson says anyone with investable assets of more than $2 million can benefit from such comprehensive oversight. At his firm, those services are used by more than 30 percent of clients. Please click here to continue reading

Of elephants, blind men & financial planning —Part 1 in a 6 part series

The endless bickering over the regulation of financial planners is wearisome at best. It seems that every organization and entity is on this bandwagon: the Government Accountability Office, the Security and Exchange Commission, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the Federal Trade Commission and the Financial Planning Coalition. And the sum total of all their time, talent and treasure are the following findings: No single law governs providers of financial planning services. Therefore,

• Almost anyone can call themselves a financial planner.
• Financial planners may have an inherent conflict of interest in selling products from which they receive a commission or managing assets from which they will receive asset management fees
• Consumers are confused by the numerous titles and designations that financial planners may use.
These results are not new and are the same conclusions, which were made over 30 years ago! [Read more…]

Use credit wisely and build a strong reputation

Establishing credit is a great deal like establishing a reputation. Ben Franklin said “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”  Establishing credit, whether a consumer is just beginning, or starting over, can be daunting. However, I have seen that with a little knowledge and a few simple steps a consumer’s credit may be established in short order.

The first step in the consumer’s journey is to check their credit report. The credit report is the reputation that a consumer has built over time by those “many good deeds”: timely payments on credit cards, car loans, mortgages and student loans; payment of rent or utility bills; responsible management of a checking account. These items are all a point of reference for a credit report. [Read more…]

Where to begin – Personal Financial Ratios Part 2

In my last posting I began a dialogue about personal financial ratios. I used “Habit 2, ‘Begin with the End in Mind’” from Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. I went on to say that like Habit 2, the “personal financial ratios are a goal to strive toward, a goal to be obtained.” The first step in working with personal financial ratios is to create a “spending plan.”

Unlike the term budget, a ‘spending plan’ emphasizes choice in spending decisions. It is a necessary building block for the future. Once the spending plan is completed it should be reviewed in light of the personal financial ratios. Objectively, if we give away 10 percent of gross income, save 10 percent of gross income, and pay taxes of 30 percent of gross income, then we should be creating our spending plans with a goal of living off of 50 percent of our gross income. [Read more…]

Begin with Personal Financial Ratios

In his ground breaking self-help book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey presents an approach to being effective by attaining goals and aligning oneself to “true north” principles of character. Habit two teaches “Begin with the End in Mind.” Whenever I teach students or clients the importance of personal financial ratios, I always make sure that I share this principle. The personal financial ratios are a goal to strive toward and a goal to be obtained.

The first step in the process is to create what is commonly referred to as a budget. Susan Tillery, CPA / PFS, CFP® has coined the phrase “spending plan.” I find this title to be very empowering: it emphasizes choice in spending decisions. Once the spending plan is completed it should be reviewed in light of the following financial ratios. [Read more…]

A Voice for Moderation

“In life,” said he, “these were so squint of mind

  As in the handling of their wealth to use

No moderation – none, in either kind.

—The Comedy of Dante Alighieri, L’Inferno,

In his tour of Hell, Dante confronts those who have been condemned for the sin of greed; and in particular, greed with regards to wealth. He describes the greedy as being closed minded and having no moderation. It does seem that wealth has that effect on many.

One of the basics of personal financial planning is moderation on both the planner and the client’s part. Some synonyms for moderation are: self-restraint, self-discipline and self-control. In recent years, as I have reviewed the work of other personal financial planners, I have seen a lack of moderation. [Read more…]

The Buck Stops Here!

The Recession of 2007 – 2009 generated a great deal of blame and finger pointing. In my mind I visualize the recession as a “multi-car accident” with everyone fleeing the scene and pointing their fingers at the “other guy” as the responsible party. No one hung around to be accountable.

Actually in U.S. history, no one is more accountable than President Harry S. Truman, the haberdasher from Independence, Missouri. He inherited the “multi-car accident,” World War II, the Cold War, and global inflation. But on his desk was a reminder of a strong truth: “The Buck Stops Here.” Many do not know that prisoners in the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma, made this sign. On the reverse side of the sign are the words “I’m From Missouri.” [Read more…]

Unbridled Optimism!

I must confess I am an unbridled optimist. I have always been the glass runneth over type, as opposed to a half full or half empty—kind of person. At social events, I will not shy away from the “doom and gloomers.” I usually confront them with a positive comment. The conversation goes something like this: “I can’t wait till so and so is out of office because they are ruining the country.”

My response is, “the only way to ruin a country is for its citizens to abandon it.” William James said, “Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer felt that “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”

Here is more good news to confront the “naysayers.” The IRS has just released the “Fall 2013 Statistics of Income Bulletin.” And the news is good—go figure. For tax year 2011, taxpayers filed 145.4 million individual income tax returns. This is an increase of 1.7 percent from tax year 2010. Even better, the adjusted gross income reported on these returns is up 3.5 percent from the previous year. And the icing on the cake is taxable income for 2011 rose 4.4 percent. And knowing the taxpayers predilection for understating income and overstating expenses, I would say the news is even better.

So, has the U.S. government rescued it citizens? I would say, “No.” It’s the citizens of the United States that not only rescued themselves but saved the planet during 2007 – 2009. More particularly, it was the U.S. small business owner, who regardless of economic circumstance—famine, war, or recession—is able to make a living for themselves and their families.

If you are looking for optimism to begin the New Year, then look no further than your neighbor and all those who embrace the “can do” attitude of America. And the next time bad news is heralded at an event, share some good news. Automobile sales are up. Housing sales are up. We have a surplus of oil and we are about to export natural gas. Just being an American is cause for optimism.

Think Before You Take That First Step!

I recently received the following question from an attorney and wanted to share it with you because it could help you as you work with and support your clients and friends who have the same situation. “‘My father asked me, ‘Now that I have turned 65, I plan to draw on your mother’s Social Security benefit and continue working. How do I go about doing this?’ My parents are both 65, are highly compensated ($300,000 plus), and plan to continue working into the foreseeable future. Is this a good idea?”

After I fell out of my chair, I asked the attorney where his father got this idea. He said an insurance agent trying to sell him Medicare Advantage suggested this as being a good strategy. Good is a very subjective word. Also, not knowing all of the facts and circumstances is problematic. However, more likely than not, this is not a good idea. Claiming a Social Security retirement benefit sooner than it is needed can be a costly mistake. The mistakes in this scenario are found by looking at the Social Security rules, the income tax rules; as well as, general principles for retirement planning. [Read more…]

Tis the Season . . .

December 31, 2013 is fast approaching and the deadline for making charitable gifts and receiving an income tax deduction is fast upon us. I often wonder who is giving and how much is being given. One source for such statistics is the National Philanthropic Trust.

Some of the numbers are encouraging, especially in light of the Recession of 2007 – 2009. The percentage of U.S. households which give to charity is 88%.  Charitable giving is up 3.9% which exceeds the consumer price index. Of total giving, the largest source is from individuals (73%), followed by foundations (14%), bequests (8%), and corporations (5%) [Yes, there are rounding errors—not my issue]. [Read more…]