Continuing the theme of Praxis – Part 4 in an 6 part series

Aristotle said: “Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it (Praxis); men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave.”

Personal financial planners, must not only have knowledge and experience, they most also possess ethics. And if we follow along Aristotle’s line of reasoning, ethics or “just acts” are acquired by ‘doing just acts/being ethical.’ And in financial services, ‘doing just acts/being ethical’ is a challenge. [Read more…]

Nothing ever becomes real till it’s experienced – Part 3 in an 6 part series

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced – Even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it . . .”

This quote by John Keats has been a part of my life for the last four decades. And I have been waiting for a venue to apply it. My series of blog postings on the personal financial planning profession has provided just such an opportunity. The quote is from a letter by Keats to his brother and sister, George and Georgiana. The letter is long, but the sum of the matter is that knowledge acquired from books has little merit until actually applied in life.

And in point of fact, his observations have been supported by several studies and decades of research. The “sum and substance” of the studies is that “experts” in their various fields are experts as a result of the time they have put into their profession. This correlation between “time in grade” and superior performance is across all disciplines.  Everyone from a chess grand-master to a physician benefits by time practicing their profession. [Read more…]

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…]

Debt & Moderation

I typically begin a posting with a quote. Today’s posting on the need for, and the responsible use of debt, provided several challenges in the quote department. One challenge is current popular opinion which states that all debt is Biblically and morally wrong. The second challenge, and perhaps very revealing, is that quotes on the responsible use of debt, outside of economic circles, is very limited.

In our practice we use debt with our clients in a variety of ways: asset protection, short term cash flow needs, and as an investment. The ‘true north’ in the application of debt in financial planning is moderation. Moderation as a quotable phrase provided a more substantial harvest. [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…]